Iraqi Christians pray during a mass on Christmas at an Orthodox church in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 25. (Khalid Al Mousily/Reuters)

In northern Iraq, one Christian called the plan unnecessarily divisive and another said it could endanger others of his faith still living in the Middle East.

In Damascus, a Christian lawyer, speaking of President Trump’s pledge to prioritize Christians in refugee admissions, called it bigoted and part of a plot to rob the Arab world of its diversity.

“Who does he think he is, to discriminate between human beings?” said the lawyer, Bassam Sabbagh, 56.

The criticism by some Christians in the Arab world was a striking addition to the global chorus of consternation over Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries while allowing exceptions for religious minorities.

Trump said in an interview last week that persecuted Christians would be given priority in resettlement, and focused his comments on Syrian Christians who had suffered at the hands
of the Islamic State militant group. His order indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from settling in the United States, along with all other refugees for four months.

Who is affected by Trump’s travel ban

A federal judge put the ban on hold, but the Trump administration has appealed and predicted that it will be reinstated.

More than a dozen interviews with Christians in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and other countries revealed sharply divided opinions about the ban, with some — especially those in the diaspora or uprooted, possibly permanently, from their homes — praising Trump for highlighting the historical persecution of Christians, although they emphasized that it was unclear whether he would follow through with his pledge.

But there was notable discomfort, too, about a foreign leader showing favoritism to one minority group in an ever more divided Middle East, a move that struck some as an echo of sectarian tactics practiced by the region’s own rulers for political gain. There were fears that it would undermine the efforts of Christians who have advocated for the need to hold fast and assert their place in the region as an integral part of the multilayered identities of Iraq, Syria and other countries.

There was sadness, too, about the decision to ban their Muslim neighbors.

“We ask our friends to help us stay, not to take us from our homeland,” said Yonadam Kanna, an Iraqi Christian member of parliament from northern Iraq.

Christian history in Iraq stretches back thousands of years, he said. “It’s very important that Christians stay — if not, there will be a huge demographic change in the region.”

A fighter with a Christian militia member walks in the damaged church on Jan. 24. (Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press)

A better American plan, he said, would aid in the rebuilding of Christian towns and villages that were sacked by the Islamic State group. “Houses and churches are destroyed and burned. We call on Americans to help us repair and clear,” he said. “Nineveh has been liberated for over 100 days, but nothing has been done to rebuild and help Christians go home — it’s just talk and talk.”

“There’s no future in Iraq for Christianity,” said the Rev. Samir Sheer, who spoke at the Mar Elias Church in the northern city of Irbil after the evening Mass on a recent Sunday. “There are many militias, Shia, Sunni Kurdish. Everyone is trying to control. We hope that people can return to their houses, but it’s very difficult,” he added. “Their neighbors stole everything. There is no trust.”

That did not mean confidence in Trump’s promises. “Europe and America don’t really care, they just sell the weapons and get the oil,” he said. “If Trump says something, we still don’t know that he’ll do it. I’m not sure he’ll let in Christians. But he should.”

The Islamic State’s bloody march across the region has in many ways left no group with a monopoly on suffering. The mass graves unearthed in Iraq alone have held Sunni Muslims executed as government collaborators and members of the Yazidi minority condemned as heretics.

More than 1,700 Shiite Muslim soldiers were killed by the extremists three years ago, in the worst sectarian mass killing in Iraq’s recent memory. As their churches were torched by the militants, Christians living in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul were forced to either convert or pay a tax, or they would be killed.

Trump’s pledge seemed most warmly received among some recently displaced Christians, whose memories of near-death escapes were still raw. At a church in Lebanon, Hany Dawoud, 50, said he had been forced to move twice because of the Islamic State. The first time was in his home town of Bartella, Iraq, when his family escaped at sunrise, 15 minutes before Islamic State militants arrived, he said.

His family spent time in Qamishli, Syria, before traveling to Lebanon. “We have suffered more than anyone in this region,” he said.

“Will it increase tensions between Muslims and Christians?” he said, speaking of Trump’s promise. “Of course it will. But can things between us get much worse?”

Days after Trump issued the order, there was no evidence that Christians were being treated better than anyone else as they tried to travel to the United States. Two Syrian Christian families were held at Philadelphia International Airport and deported to Qatar, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Diana Sarkisian, an Assyrian Christian whose family moved to Australia as refugees more than a decade ago, said she has family members in Turkey whose applications for resettlement in the United States are on hold. “They have been told, ‘Don’t get your hopes up too much,’ ” she said.

“We are all human beings. The whole distinction between Christians and Muslims is totally wrong,” she said. Given the broad suffering in Iraq, affecting many minority groups, the perception that Christians were receiving better treatment could make them a target, she said.

“These are dangerous waters,” she said of Trump’s order.

Juliana Taimoorazy, an Assyrian Christian activist based in Chicago, called it a “very complicated issue.” As a former refugee whose family fled persecution, she said members of her community in Iraq are facing “extinction” and deserve preferential treatment if they want to resettle in the West.

“But if he opens the doors, no one is going to be left in Iraq, to hold our roots there,” said Taimoorazy, who raises money to rebuild Christian communities in Iraq and is an advocate of a creating a multiethnic province in the area around Mosul.

“When we see a leader who puts an emphasis on us, it’s a breath of fresh air,” she said. But “when you remove yourself, you realize the message should be unifying. I understand what Trump is doing. It should be more thought out. The way he is going about it is wrong.”

Morris reported from Irbil. Aaso Ameen Shwan, also in Irbil, and Louisa Loveluck and Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.