One year ago today Mosul fell. On June 10, 2014 the Iraqi army withdrew, opening the roads for fighters of the Islamic State (IS) to overrun the city.
Christian refugees in Erbil are remembering the event today with a prayer meeting and fellowship.
Through one of the partners of Open Doors in Iraq, Open Doors spoke to a young Christian man (who can not be identified due to security reasons) who fled Mosul the night of June 10.
He recalled: “Last Friday I thought of Mosul because it was June 5, the day the curfews started one year ago. We were not allowed to take our cars into the streets anymore. For five days there was heavy fighting on the other side of the Tigris River. I lived on the left bank. On our side it was relatively calm, but of course we were afraid.
“Of the five bridges that cross the Tigris, only one bridge was operational. The rest were taken down because IS feared the Iraqi army would bring in reinforcements. However, to all our surprise, suddenly the Iraqi army withdrew,” the believer said with an astonished look in his eyes. “The rumors spread very quickly through phone and social media. Many Muslims in my neighborhood stayed, but Christians especially wanted to leave the city. Despite the curfew, we packed our car with the most valuable things such as papers, some photos and clothing for two months. We then left.”
He continued: “I think that in Iraq we have enough weapons, but no loyalty. While on our way out of Mosul, we drove side by side with the Humvees of the Iraqi army. At that time, there were only a few hundred fighters from IS, and almost 4000 soldiers. But apparently they received the order from Baghdad to withdraw.
“The way to Erbil normally takes about one hour, but it took us 12. There were four checkpoints, but the first one at Kalak especially took a long time. For eight hours we waited in lines of about 3 miles long. The two-way road had become a one way direction and the cars were about 10 or 12 lines wide, six lines on the roads and another six lines on the sides of the road.
“Later I had contact with my former neighbor. He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighborhood was taken over by Da’ash.” Da’ash is the Arabic acronym of IS.
While many Christians are attempting to rebuild their lives in Erbil and other places in northern Iraq, they must live with these traumatic events. They are often reminded by what happened to them and to their people, especially on anniversaries such as the fall of Mosul.
Another Christian refugee from Erbil shared: “Today we will have a prayer meeting in our church. Not a meeting to despair or to be depressed, but a meeting to also see the goodness that God brought to our lives and to also count our blessings.”
He added that God has been good to him over the past year. “I’m part of a small church and they took care of us very well. I now live in a small apartment in Erbil and I’m happy with that. I think I will never return to Mosul again. Or maybe one more time. Just to sell the plot of land I have. Then I will leave and never come back. There are good opportunities for me and my wife in Erbil, so we are rebuilding our lives here now.”
Through local churches and partners in Iraq, Open Doors continues to support internally displaced Christians and occasionally other people groups such as Yazidis. Distribution of food packages is still needed, but Open Doors also supports initiatives focusing on long term support of the refugees through training and creation of jobs.
There are an estimated 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in northern Iraq, including over 100,000 Christians. Iraq is ranked third on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.