In the chaos sparked by the American-led invasion of Iraq, a million people, two-thirds of Iraq's Christians, fled the country. Many who left didn't sell their properties, in the hope that one day they would return. But powerful individuals and criminal networks have been able to gain control of properties and in some cases expel occupants, even though there were very few documents supporting their claims.
In an interview with Al- Mada TV station, Mohammed al- Rubai, a member of Baghdad's municipal council, said: "Almost 70 per cent of Baghdad's Christian homes have been illegally seized. These houses belonged to Christians who fled from Baghdad, seeking refuge from violent attacks targeting them and their homes. The title deed documents have been falsified and the new title deeds have been lodged with the real estate registry. Many properties had been given illegally to other Iraqi citizens. Thus, it is possible that both parties [the original and new owners] can possess legally registered title deeds to the same property. The area's most affected where in the al- Wahda neighbourhood of Baghdad."
Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home], an NGO, estimated that there have been more than 7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in Baghdad since 2003.
Saad Jassim, the group's director, said: "Most of the Christians who left Iraq for Europe had their homes stolen. Since then, their ownership was transferred, and the homes are now occupied by militia commanders and politicians in or close to power."
In its 2013 human rights report, the US State Department said that internal corruption prevented the Iraqi government from effectively adjudicating property restitution claims that often disproportionately affected Christian communities.