Despite Victory Iraq’s Christians Still Face Uncertain Future
07/09/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has announced that Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been liberated from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This liberation comes more than three years after the city was captured by ISIS forces on June 10, 2014.
While visiting Mosul on Sunday, Prime Minister al-Abadi tweeted he arrived in the “liberated city of Mosul” and “congratulates the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people in achieving this great victory.” Despite the Prime Minister’s claims of victory, state television in Iraq reported that ISIS militants were still holding out in a neighborhood of Mosul.
For Christians displaced by ISIS, the announcement of Mosul’s liberation is something that has been long awaited. More than 100,000 Christians were driven from their homes in and around Mosul by the ISIS militants following the group’s capture of the city in 2014. Since then, many Christians have lived as IDPs in cities across northern Iraq such as Erbil. Christians who remained in Mosul were captured, forced to convert to Islam, pay a protection fee, or face death.
While the liberation of Mosul is surely good news for many Christians in Iraq, questions about their community’s future remain unanswered.
“As Mosul [is] fully liberated, the government should do something to help the people effected,” Rabea, a Christian displaced by ISIS in 2014, told ICC. “Will the government be able to cover the cost of rebuilding our communities?”
“Also, forces are still fighting around Mosul and other places inside Iraq because the liberation of Mosul doesn’t mean that Iraq is fully liberated from ISIS,” Rabea continued.
“ISIS’s capture of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains was more than just an occupation for Christians,” Father Albert, a Catholic Priest in Baghdad, explained to ICC. “It’s related to trust. ISIS broke the community and Christians will not be able to mix within the general community anymore. This means many will seek immigration in the long term.”
“Half of the civilians in Mosul joined ISIS,” Father Albert continued. “Christians saw many movies on social media of how civilians welcomed ISIS in June 2014. How can they trust those people anymore?”
Christians have lived in Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plains for nearly 2,000 years. In Mosul alone, the population was believed to include 35,000 Christians, down from 60,000 in 2003. All 45 of Mosul’s churches and Christian institutions have been overrun by ISIS or destroyed since 2014.
William Stark, Regional Manager for ICC, said, “Although the liberation of Mosul is something to be celebrated, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still a long road and difficult road ahead for Iraq’s Christians. For over three years, ISIS was allowed to occupy Mosul and its surrounding towns, some of which were considered Christian safe havens. During this occupation, ISIS not only destroyed much of what these Christians considered the symbols of their community, such as churches and schools, but also the homes these Christians were forced to leave in 2014. There is much healing and rebuilding needed if Christians are to return to their communities in northern Iraq. Both Iraq and the international community must take steps to insure extremist groups, like ISIS, are unable to gain a foothold in Iraq and persecute the country’s already vulnerable religious minorities. If bold action is not taken, one of ISIS’s legacies in Iraq could still be driving Christianity out of one of its ancient homelands.”