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The US must carry out airstrikes on Islamic State [IS] militants across northern Iraq and not confine its intervention to Erbil, the Baghdad-based Chaldean Patriarch has said.
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako also voiced concern that “death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people” among the thousands of displaced Iraqis seeking food, water and shelter in overcrowded cities.
The patriarch urged US President Barack Obama to carry out airstrikes on militants in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, saying that the decision only to provide military assistance to Erbil, where 100,000 refugees have taken shelter, was “disappointing”.
Three days of US air strikes on jihadists closing in on Erbil have enabled Kurdish forces to retake some positions held by IS. Meanwhile the US is reportedly considering evacuating refugees still trapped on Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis fled when the city of Qaraqosh, which was also home to a large Christian community, fell to IS last week. The US Government today confirmed it is arming Kurdish forces.
The British Government, which has so far resisted calls for a military intervention, said today that the RAF would start dropping humanitarian aid supplies “imminently”.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, described the US airstrikes as “something that had to be done, otherwise [the IS] could not [be] stopped”. Speaking on Vatican Radio, he questioned why IS had been allowed to gain such a foothold. “Was it not a lack of intelligence? … And then: who gave to these [IS fighters] such sophisticated weapons?”
Patriarch Sako warned of the “deplorable situation” facing Christians and Yazidis who had fled their homes and were now reduced to sleeping in the streets and public parks. As well as those who have fled to the city of Erbil, some 60,000 Christians have fled to the northern Iraqi cities of Dohuk and Kirkuk, the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, and as far as the capital, Baghdad, the patriarch told the charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Mgr Nizar Semaan, chaplain to the Syrian Catholic Community in the UK, broke down on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme as he described the plight of those who had fled his home town, Qaraqosh. “Children, women, elderly people, young people are sitting on the street with no milk, nothing to drink, under the sun. Women are going to find something to eat for children, elderly people are without medicine. What kind of humanity is this?”
He urged the international community: “If you are not able to protect us, welcome us. Open your door for us. We cannot stay and die there.”
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, said the situation in the city was disastrous. He said: “We are struggling. It’s beyond our capacity. We don’t have enough space: schools, churches and homes are open. It’s a disaster.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reiterated the call he made on Friday for the UK to offer asylum to those fleeing IS.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, agreed that those refugees who wanted to travel “should be welcomed”, but emphasised their right to stay in their home country.
“The Christian presence in Iraq is hugely important. When Christians move out, humanity is closer to total breakdown. I think the most important thing is to create safety in their own country,” he said.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has announced it has launched an appeal for displaced Christians in northern Iraq.
Above: Displaced Iraqis in Erbil. Photos: Ankawa.com
Iraq crisis: British church leaders urge Government to take in Christian refugees fleeing jihadist terror 07 August by Liz Dodd
Read the Patriach's statement here
Western countries have turned a blind eye to the cleansing of Mosul’s Christians 25 July 2014 by Robert Ewan
French cardinal in Kurdistan calls for solidarity with Iraqi Christians 28 July 2014
Ex-ambassador condemns Government 'silence' over Mosul 24 July 2014