The Catholic University of America

Middle East Religious Freedom Project 

                                                                         Mar Mattai Monastery and Mosul Plain

The Iraqi Kurdistan Religious Freedom Project
examines th
e important efforts, considerable progress, and remaining challenges in establishing and supporting religious freedom for all the residents of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  

Christians around the world are concerned about the saf
ety, security and well-being of Christians who live in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.  Unfortunately, most Christians in the West do not know much about the Christian communities in these regions.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Religious Freedom Project seeks to study these issues, and to build bridges between and among the Christian communities of the West and their counterparts in the Middle East.  The project began with a June 2011 fact-finding trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, and has continued with an intensive survey of the region with mapping and data analysis, an international conference of top scholars and analysts, and a delegation of American religious leaders to the KRI - all designed to lay the groundwork for a longer-term, sustained effort to create linkages between these communities.

Co-directed by  Robert Destro and Carole A. O'Leary

Activities include:

American Christian Leaders Delegation 2012

In November 2012, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick headed a most distinguished delegation of American Christian leaders to Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanied by longtime Kurdish observer Carole O'Leary, the delegation visited representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), including regional President Masoud Barzani  and Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda, to better understand the situation first-hand. Cardinal McCarrick was joined by Legate of the Armenian Church, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian; James Kowalski, Dean of St John the Divine Episcopal Church (New York); and Mr. A. Larry Ross, advisor to leading American Evangelicals.
Itinerary and Agenda.

Preliminary Findings: A Report on Religious Liberty in Iraqi Kurdistan


Religious Liberty in Iraqi Kurdistan:
An Introduction

In February 2012, Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Duhok and Amadiiyah, and Minister Falah Mustafa  Bakir, head of the KRG's department of foreign relations, spoke as part of the law school's  Middle East Religious Dialogue Series.  



Video of the remarks: introduction at 0:14,
Bishop Rabban beginning at 4:40, and
Minister Falah M. Bakir beginning at 24:25. 

Update – September 2014:
ISIS/ISIL and Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, His Excellency Bashar Matti Warda, was a host of the 2012 delegation to Erbil and offered remarks at the 2012 conference in Washington.

In September 2014, after the spread of ISIS/ISIL to northern Iraq, Archbishop Warda offered an update on the situation of religious minorities and all refugees in the Kurdistan Region.  The video is eight (8) minutes long.

Update – November 2014:
Round table on Current Status and Urgent Needs of Refugees and IDPs in Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Jiyan Merani, founder (1999) and director of the Ronahee Foundation in Erbil, will lead a round table discussion on the status of the various refugee populations, and a summary of a needs assessment she and her team recently conducted.

Of particular importance is the set of critical issues regarding the fast-approaching winter weather.  The round table will be at The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, Wednesday, Novermber 12, 10:30am-12noon.

More information at 


Conference on the Status of Christian Communities in Iraqi Kurdistan 2012

In December 2012, The Catholic University of America hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., at the new headquarters of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.   The Status of the Christian Communities in Iraqi Kurdistan" brought together leading historians of  Christianity in the Middle East, constitutional scholars on land, oil, and religious freedom,  demographers of Christian populations on the move, American Christian leaders reflecting on  their recent visit, inside-the-Beltway policy analysts and advisors, and a message from His   Excellency Bashir Matti Warda, Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq.

Conference panels on YouTube.

Mapping and Survey Data

Between November 2011 and April 2012, Michael Moran Associates, under the drection of Richard Michael, Wijnand Langeraar, and Carole O'Leary, carried out surveys and mapping of all known Christian communities in the three governorates comprising the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. This survey is thought to be the most complete survey of Christian communities in Iraqi Kurdistan undertaken in the last decade. In addition to household data, the MMA team collected information on IDPs currently living in Iraqi Kurdistan and migration of Christians from rural to urban areas.  A brief description is here; full data and analysis is on


Is Kurdistan an Iraqi Success Story? 

Op-ed in the Washington Post, March 21, 2013, by Robert Destro and Larry Ross.

Today, the KRI’s Christians live peacefully among their Muslim neighbors. Though scarred by war, Kurds and their children are optimistic about their future. It is now time to claim that victory and to take on a different role – to help them build a better future for themselves and their children.

Update - September 2015:
Bishop Rabban Al-Qas Mission to Washington

His Excellency Rabban Al-Qas, Chaldean Catholic bishop of Zahko and Amadiya, traveled to Washington to meet with a number of clerical, academic, and government officials.  His schedule included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein, KRG Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, leadership at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and faculty at Catholic University. 

Below, Bishop Rabban and Professor Monica Blanchard discuss items from the special exhibit of Syriac manuscripts at Catholic University's  John K. Mullen Library.