War in Iraq has returned with dramatic speed, with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a group extreme even by jihadi standards, having taken Mosul. Just 100 kilometres from Baghdad, ISIS also threatens the major city of Kirkuk and so bringing the Kurds into a wider war.
Aid to the Church in Need is reporting that Mosul’s Christian population, which had declined from 30,000 to 3,000 in the years following the 2003 US invasion, is now down to virtually nothing. They fled, along with half a million other people, from a terrorist group who had already carried out multiple beheadings and even crucifixions in the areas of Syria they control. ISIS are also notorious iconoclasts, destroying anything non-Islamic they can get their hands on, so the thought of their controlling the capital of the ancient Assyrians is extremely depressing.
As Nina Shea has reported, it is now the end game for Iraq’s Christians, with the second city now free of Christians for the first time in 1,800 years. Mosul is, of course, also called Nineveh, the present city being built on the opposite bank to the Tigris, still called Ninwe in Syriac.
The city has a vast Christian heritage, being especially central to the Church of the East, one that has been snuffed out in barely a decade, part of an extraordinary historical tragedy I chronicled in my ebook, The Silence of Our Friends.
The Christians have mainly fled to the Nineveh Plains, a region where they and other minorities still live in large enough numbers to be afforded protection. Others will try to cross into the Kurdish-controlled areas, where there is greater safety and where a much larger proportion of the Iraqi Christian population now lives compared to 2003. But there is no doubt about it: if ISIS take control of the Nineveh Plains, then it surely must be the end.
According to Vatican Insider, in Qaraqosh, the most important town of the Plain, the situation is “disturbing”:
Qaraqosh – wrote yesterday the Dominican religious from northern Iraq – is flooded with all kinds of refugees, without food or accommodation. The checkpoints and Kurdish militias are preventing many refugees from entering Kurdistan. What we are seeing and we are living in the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The monastery of Mar Behnam and other churches have fallen into rebel hands … and now they have arrived here and five minutes ago they entered Qaraqosh. We are surrounded and threatened with death … Pray for us. I’m sorry but I cannot go on writing … They’re not very far from our monastery.
We’ve watched over the past 10 years as Christians have been terrorised in Iraq and then Syria, and now Nineveh itself lies in the hands of Christian-hating jihadists. All of us feel powerless to do anything about it.