Iraq (MNN) ― At least 72 people were killed and dozens more injured yesterday when a series of bombs went off in and around Baghdad.
The attacks were reportedly aimed at Shiites, two bombs detonating in Shiite neighborhoods and another among a group of Shiite pilgrims headed to Karbala for a holy festival.
The bombings came exactly two weeks after the December 22 car bombings, which left at least 63 bodies behind.
Carl Moeller with Open Doors USA says the upswing in violence is unfortunately related to the United States' withdrawal of troops in Iraq.
"One of the great realities of our involvement in Iraq is that as we leave, the elements of extremism on both the Sunni and the Shia side are becoming more and more violent."
And it's not just Muslims who are affected. Although the recent violence has been Muslims targeting Muslims, Moeller says Christians are swept up in the crossfire.
"Today, the Iraqi Christian population has been literally devastated by violence such as this," notes Moeller. "Christians are being forced from their homes, they're forced to flee the country, they're killed."
Even in attacks where believers are not targeted directly, the increase in violence is an indication of worse things to come, "as these extremist elements become more and more uncontrolled," says Moeller.
As it is, Iraq placed ninth worldwide on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List for the persecuted church. The ranking is one place lower than it was in 2011, but only because persecution in other nations has heated up dramatically. Moeller says in fact, persecution in Iraq has gotten worse over the last year.
The result of the American-Iraqi war's end could have fatal effects for Muslims and Christians alike in 2012. "After years and years of fighting in that country...Christians have fewer rights. Christians are more persecuted."
Amazingly, however, among the few Christians left in Iraq, the Gospel is still moving.
"The persecution of Christians is actually providing a validating witness to the truth of the Gospel," says Moeller. "The fact that Christians are holding on to their faith despite all of the violence perpetrated against them is actually a witness to Muslims who are looking at that and wondering, ‘What on earth could possibly be so compelling and true to keep these Christians believing in it?'"
Pray for Iraq as it enters this increasingly hostile period. Pray for believers to reach out to their neighbors with the truth and to be protected in doing so.
To get directly involved, visit opendoorsusa.org, where you can advocate on behalf of Iraqi Christians, or support Christian leaders in the country.