- Exodus of biblical proportions
Hounded out of their homes by Islamist violence, Iraqi Christians face what many fear may be their final festive season in the land of their fathers as many prepare for exile
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The Islamist overthrow of the Iraqi city of Mosul has emptied it of its ancient Christian population, who may never return, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul said.
Archbishop Amel Nona said he had “never seen anything like” the attack on the northern city this week, which is part of an ongoing campaign to set up an Islamic state in northern Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who are also known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group).
Mosul, historically a Christian heartland, was home to 35,000 Christians before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. In the 11 years since, its Christian population has drained to just 3,000. World Watch Monitor, which monitors Christian persecution, reported that up to a thousand Christian families had fled this week for safer areas.
The archbishop told the Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “We have never seen anything like this – a large city such as Mosul attacked and in chaos.” He went on: “Now there is probably no one left. We received threats… [and] now all the faithful have fled the city. I wonder if they will ever return there.”
Archbishop Nona said the city had been left “to the mercy of the attackers” after the Iraqi army and police suddenly withdrew. Mosul’s last remaining Christians were among the 500,000 people to flee this week after hundreds, if not thousands, of insurgents seized control of the seat of Mosul’s provincial government.
Canon Andrew White, vicar of St George's Anglican church in Baghdad, wrote: “Iraq is now in its worst crisis since the 2003 war.” ISIL, he said, “does not even see Al Qaeda as extreme enough,” and has … “destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.”
He added: “The Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked. The tanks are moving into the Christian villages destroying them and causing total carnage. The ISIS militants are now moving towards Kirkuk … to the oil fields that provide the lifeblood of Iraq. We are faced with total war that all the Iraqi military have now retreated from.”
A Dominican priest in Mosul wrote: "What we are living and what we have seen over the last two days is horrible and catastrophic." Fr Najeeb Michaeel said the ancient priory of Mar Behnam and other churches fell into the hands of the rebels on Tuesday morning, the US-based charity International Christian Concern reported. "We are now surrounded and threatened with death ... pray for us."
The militia group now controls considerable territory in eastern Syria and western and central Iraq.
Mosul's Christian population had lived with the fear of violence since the invasion and the insecurity that followed the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein. In 2008 Archbishop Nona’s predecessor, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and murdered.