Christians worldwide are being urged to pray for Iraq this week as the Iraqi interim government assumes control of the war-torn country from the US-led occupation. The long-awaited hand-over was supposed to happen today, but the United States formally handed sovereignty to Iraqi officials on Monday to outflank insurgents who had threatened terrorist attacks to disrupt the hand-over, and to avoid the complex security arrangements that a public ceremony required, according to officials.
In spite of the triumph of a sovereign state, the modesty of the hand-over revealed an Iraq too dangerous to publicly mark the most significant date since the fall of Baghdad.
Government officials are not the only ones to note this. Open Doors' Jerry Dykstra says the violence preceding the hand-over was also problematic for the Iraqi Christian minority. "We have postponed all training seminars in Iraq because of the increased violence in that area but we are still sending in literature. We have opened a Christian center in Baghdad and we're planning other things depending on the climate in the next few weeks."
However, the difference between the government and the church is that the Christian community can't breathe a sigh of relief yet.
Dykstra says believers are not confident they will be left alone as the days ahead sort out the politics. "The Christians in Iraq have been living in fear and in sort of uncertainty because of what's going to happen and they're kind of unsure about the future. Of course, they put their trust in the Lord, but all these violent acts really ups their anxiety level."
Meanwhile, according to Charisma News, intercessory and missions groups are mobilizing believers to intercede for Iraq. International Prayer Council, a worldwide network of prayer movements, has issued a Global Prayer Call relating to the hand over of power. "We feel it is right that we mobilize special prayer ... for the situation in Iraq," British prayer leader Brian Mills said. Operation World is also encouraging Christians to stand in the gap for Iraq during the transition, Charisma News reported.
In Baghdad, a Christian worker with a heart for Iraqis is asking Christians to pray, Baptist Press (BP) reported. "Several Iraqi men were killed this morning in Baghdad as they left their homes to go to work for American companies," the worker said June 21. "This is a continuing effort to destabilize the government and any companies working with the Coalition."
He added, "The incident this morning is especially troubling to us because one of our national workers lives in the same neighborhood where the men were killed.
"Several of our workers live in areas of the city where there is constant fighting against these changes. We have been very concerned about them having to travel back and forth. Three of them have missed being in different bombings by just minutes."
The worker asked Christians who care about Iraq's people to pray for the ones serving in the interim government until elections are held in January, and to also give thanks for the many witnesses the Lord has already placed in Iraq, such as Christian Iraqis, Western workers, and even believing soldiers. "Please pray for all Christians living and working in Iraq," the worker requested. "Ask that they will live as salt and light, loving everyone they meet selflessly in the name of Christ. Pray that each of these will be bold witnesses of Christ's love and forgiveness.
"And each time you hear a news item about Iraq, use it as a reminder to pray for the people of Iraq during this important time in their history."
According to Reuters, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Monday his government was committed to holding elections in January next year and planned a date of January 2.