BBC News reports that if ISIS can hold Mosul and consolidate its presence there, it will have taken a giant step toward its goal of creating an Islamic region controlled by insurgents, connecting Iraq and Syria. In addition to the targeting of the overall population by ISIS insurgents, there have also been reports of ISIS violence explicitly aimed at Christians.
Iraq is divided into two parts: the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, officially governed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil, and the large remaining Arab region controlled by the Iraqi Government in Baghdad. Kurds and Arabs have their own distinct languages and culture. Most of Iraq’s oil resources are found near Kirkuk and Mosul, the border areas between the Kurdish region and Arab Iraq, making these regions among the most violent places in Iraq. Christians here are caught in the crossfire of two different raging battles-one for a Kurdish autonomous nation and one for a religious cleansing of Iraq by Islamic terrorist groups who wish to make the country purely Islamic. The Kurdish dream of sovereignty, a desire shared by three Sunni provinces in Arab Iraq as well, could become one of the most destabilizing factors in the nation.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, large numbers of Christians have either fled abroad (Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) or to the northern Kurdish region to escape the severe anti-Christian violence throughout the rest of the country, including church attacks, kidnappings, killings, robberies, rapes and threats. This exodus of Christians means a loss of pluralism and an increase of intolerance in an already divided Iraqi society.
The Archbishop of Mosul Amel Nona said that the 11-year exodus of Christians from Mosul culminated last week in the last remaining Christians fleeing their homes. “We received threats… [and] now, all the faithful have fled the city. I wonder if they will ever return there.”
Some reports claim a few Christians have already returned to Mosul, while other sources confirm Nona’s report that all have fled and are unlikely to return. An organization partnering with Christians in Iraq has told World Watch Monitor that some families who fled Mosul decided to return to their homes, unable to find refuge elsewhere and fearing they would be caught in street fights between the Iraqi Army and the ISIS forces. “Some families mentioned it is better to die at home than staying on streets.”
Chaldean Priest Qais Kage told Fides Agency, “The advance of the ISIS militiamen is favored by large tribes and Sunnis clans. What happened in Mosul is significant-such a big city cannot fall in a few hours without support from within. The chaos and political division of the country due to sectarian conflicts promotes the advance of the militants who have come from outside; the Iraqi army has left everything in their hands.”
With the increasing influence of ISIS insurgents, even Kurdistan in northern Iraq has been developing into a more and more dangerous place for Christians, and those who flee to the Kurdish region are refugees within Iraq. They face high unemployment and inadequate housing, compounded by difficulty in finding schooling (especially university level) for their children, inadequate medical care and monthly food rations due to registration problems and discrimination. The presence of ISIS has only increased the danger for these refugees.
Oh Father, how we pray for peace in Iraq and Syria! We long for the day when Christians might live amiably with their Muslim neighbors, being able to speak freely of the love of Christ. But now in their increasingly hostile environment, we pray for Your peace, Your very presence, to fill them. Protect them from harm, provide food and shelter, and guard their souls from despair. Make Your presence in their midst apparent and give them hope, not only in the life to come, but now in this fallen world-hope that You are their strength when they are weak, that You have made them to be a light in the darkness, that through the testimony of their godly lives You will draw many to Yourself. In the name of Jesus, whose light we reflect, Amen.