A member of the Baghdad Municipal Council reports that nearly 70 percent of Christian homes in the city have been seized illegally.
After an exodus of 1 million Christians fled Baghdad — spurred by the chaos that ensued after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003 — there have been some 7,000 violations against Christian property owners in the city. As approximately two-thirds of Iraq’s Christian population fled the country to evade Islamic militants, their homes were confiscated and illegally placed on the market for immediate sale.
“These houses belonged to Christians who fled from Baghdad, seeking refuge from violent attacks targeting them and their homes,” Mohammed al-Rubai told Al-Mada TV, according to Independent Catholic News. “The title deed documents have been falsified and the new title deeds have been lodged with the real estate registry.”
The city’s municipal council member says that the situation is now a mess, as fights over legitimate claims to houses have become commonplace.
“Many properties have been given illegally to other Iraqi citizens.” Al-Rubai pointed out. “[I]t is possible that both parties [the original and new owners] can possess legally registered title deeds to the same property.”
The theft of thousands of Christian homes has been reported by the non-government organization, Baghdad Beituna (Baghdad Our Home) — homes that have been illegally claimed and occupied by Iraqi military and political leaders.
“Most of the Christians who left Iraq for Europe had their homes stolen,” Baghdad Beituna Director Saad Jassim explained, according to Christian Today. “Since then, their ownership was transferred, and the homes are now occupied by militia commanders and politicians in or close to power.”
Not your ordinary home search
Back in February, an investigation was launched by Iraq’s judiciary into the illegal appropriation of Christian property, which has been occurring for more than a decade.
However, the thievery was not orchestrated by ordinary outlaws. The Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq asserts that members of the government who served under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are among the perpetrators who are suspected of illegally seizing Christians’ property in Baghdad and southern Iraq — including homes, churches and monasteries.
The confusion and lawlessness were ushered in with some problematic policies that were instituted after the ousting of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“The U.S. administration under Paul Bremer abolished decrees on land ownership issued under Saddam Hussen, which resulted in chaos exploited by powerful individuals and criminal networks,” Christian Today reports. “They took over land, including churches and monasteries buit in the 1970s and ‘80s, falsely claiming that the land had belonged to them.”
And after a dozen years, it is vowed that justice will finally be served.
“All properties that were confiscated, seized or had their ownership transferred or appropriated on ethnic, religious or sectarian grounds, or those seized without remuneration will be investigated,” the Supreme Judicial Council stated. “The offenders will be held accountable and the victims will be given justice.”
The Council is now calling for Christian Iraqis who have moved to Europe to begin the process of reclaiming their property by filing new lawsuits in Baghdad.