Nearly 70 per cent of Christian-owned homes in Baghdad have been illegally seized, according to a member of the city's municipal council.
In an interview with Al-Mada TV station reported by Independent Catholic News, Mohammed al- Rubai said: "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."
The result, he said, was that "it is possible that both parties [the original and new owners] can possess legally registered title deeds to the same property".
A million people – two-thirds of Iraq's Christian population – fled the country during the chaos that followed the US-led invasion. According to the NGO Baghdad Beituna [Baghdad Our Home], 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."
Iraq's judiciary launched an inquiry into the illegal appropriation of Christian property in February. According to the al-Araby news service, the Supreme Judicial Council said that members of the government of the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, were among those suspected of illegally obtaining property, including churches and monasteries in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
The US administration under Paul Bremer abolished decrees on land ownership issued under Saddam Hussein, which resulted in chaos exploited by powerful individuals and criminal networks. They took over land including churches and monasteries built in the 1970s and 80s, falsely claiming the land had belonged to them.
The Supreme Judicial Council's statement said: "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 offenders will be held accountable and the victims will be given justice."
It called on Christian Iraqis living in Europe to file lawsuits to reclaim their property.