Iraqi Christians came under fire again as the bloody campaign of Islamic militants spilled over from Syria into Iraq’s northern cities last week.
An estimated 10,000 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant), also known as ISIS and ISIL, advanced rapidly on Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, such as Tikrit and Kirkuk, leaving a wave of destruction in their path and sending the Iraqi army reeling in panic. By June 15, ISIS terrorists had begun to approach Baghdad.
Iraqi soldiers, policemen and government officials captured by ISIS have been summarily executed, as have some Chaldean Catholics, according to reports from sources inside the besieged region. Those same sources claim nearly all of the remaining Catholics have fled Mosul.
“All the faithful have left the city,” Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told the Catholic World Report. “Who knows whether they will ever be able to return.”
Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly 1 million Christians have left the country. An estimated 500,000 remained in the northern portion of the country among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 2,000 years. Nona said there were “35,000 faithful living in Mosul” in 2003.
“Three thousand were still there in early 2014,” Nona said. “Now, probably no one is left there and that is tragic.”
Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of Kirkuk Evangelical Church, confirmed the report.
“Ninety nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” Jazrawi told World Magazine June 10.
The region’s Catholics have been under pressure for some time, according to Catholic News Service. The agency quoted an Iraqi Catholic identifying himself only as “Danny,” who said Christians “have been the objects of kidnapping, torture and killing by extremists, hoping to extort money from us or to force us to convert to Islam, for several months.”
Father Khalil Jaar, who is responsible for aiding Christian refugees who have reached Amman, Jordan, told Catholic News Service that ISIS forces have killed many Christians, but also Muslims who oppose their efforts to impose strict Sharia law.
“All the people are suffering. But as we are a minority — minority Christians — it is normal to suffer more than others. But even the Muslims are suffering from these fanatic people,” Jaar told CNS. “They don’t have mercy on anyone, Christian or Muslim. The only answer they have is to kill them.”
According to the newspaper La Stampa, whose Vatican Insider project reports daily on Catholics around the world, at least one church under construction in Mosul has been demolished and the fourth-century monastery of Mar Benham is in the hands of ISIS militants. Vatican sources published the e-mail correspondence of a Dominican friar in the area, who told his superior the situation was “critical and apocalyptic.”
“They murdered adults and children. Hundreds of bodies have been left in the streets and in the homes, without any mercy,” the Dominican friar wrote in his e-mail.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press