- 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 international community should not intervene in efforts to halt the insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militia who have seized control of a number of cities, the Latin-rite archbishop of Baghdad said.
Archbishop Jean Sleiman said that Iraqi leaders urgently needed to work together to halt the progress of ISIS.
“In responding to this crisis, the international community should think of the common good, not their own interests. They should think of peace,” he told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
He said political “consensus” within Iraq was critical to overcome the extremists who have rapidly gained control of key cities including Tal Afar and Mosul, the country’s second city, traditionally a Christian heartland. Mosul is now all but empty of Christians.
“ISIS needs to be stopped … and it needs the Iraqi leaders to work together to stop it. That is more important than getting the international community involved.”
He added: “I hope Iraqi leaders will find a consensus about how to tackle this situation or there will be a tragic outcome.”
But he added that he did now know whether the military would be strong enough to resist ISIS. “It is a possibility that the terrorists will succeed but we don’t know.”
While US President Barack Obama has vowed to keep US forces out of combat in Iraq, last night he authorised 275 personnel “equipped for combat” to provide support and security for personnel and the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The archbishop said many people were trying to leave Baghdad amid reports of ISIS pressing south towards the capital, but many roads out of the capital are blocked and departures from Baghdad’s airport are booked until the end of the month.
Asked if he was considering leaving the city, the Archbishop replied: “I don’t know if I should stay or go. I leave this problem to my angels.”
Many of Mosul’s Chaldean, Assyrian and Armenian Christians have fled to villages around the city. Some 160 families have taken refuge in the village of Al-Qosh just outside the autonomous Kurdish zone of northern Iraq, the Associated Press reported. Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga have moved into the town to protect it. Many Christians are deciding that the comparatively liberal and prosperous Kurdish regions are offers their safest haven.
Al-Qosh mayor Sabri Boutani said this was the sixth time in 11 years that Christians from other areas have flocked to the town for refuge.
Above: A displaced Iraqi in a camp near the northern city of Irbil. Photo: CNS/Stringer, EPA