Islamic State Seizes Iraq's Christian Capital: Qaraqosh
Islamic State militants seized control of the "Christian capital of Iraq,” Qaraqosh, and nearby Christian villages last night. The land grab sent has sent an estimated one-fourth of Iraq's remaining Christians fleeing.
"An exodus, a real via crucis ... [Christians] are walking on foot in Iraq's searing summer heat towards [salvation in] the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them," a regional Christian leader told AsiaNews. "They are facing a humanitarian catastrophe and a real risk of genocide. They need food, water and shelter."
Qaraqosh, Iraq's most-populous Christian city at 50,000 people, is in the province of Ninevah, 18 miles southeast of Mosul, where CT recently reported the Islamist takeover of Iraq's second-largest city. The move brings IS (formerly ISIS) on the border of Kurdish territory. (The Telegraph maps where Christians are concentrated in Iraq in relation to other religious groups, and The Guardian maps where the militants have control of the region.)
Bishop Joseph Tomas, of the Kurdish city Kirkuk, said the IS offensive started on Wednesday with attacks on Qaraqosh and four other villages: Tilkaif, Bartella, Karamless, and Alqosh. The militants held complete control of the villages by Thursday, reports the Associated Press.
“All Christian villages are now empty,” said Bishop Tomas. Already, IS militants have taken down crosses on churches and burned church manuscripts, according to the BBC.
The AP reports that IS has also overtaken the Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest dam and a central resource for the country’s water and power.
As IS militants continue their sweep of northern Iraq toward the capital of the Kurdish region, tens of thousands of Christians are on the run, trying to avoid the IS ultimatum given in Mosul and other areas: convert, pay a protection tax, leave, or die.
Thousands of Iraqis fled to the mountains after the predominantly Yazidi (another religious minority) town of Sinjar fell, where they have no food and water. Open Doors reports that 45 children have already died of thirst as Kurdish troops have no way of getting to the stranded refugees.
Pope Francis has appealed to the international community to aid Iraqi Christians as they flee the harsh conditions:
“[O]ur brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are pushed out, forced to leave their homes without the opportunity to take anything with them,” said Pope Francis, according to the statement. “To these families and to these people I would like to express my closeness and my steadfast prayer. Dearest brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are deprived of everything. I am with you in your faith in Him who conquered evil!”
The United States's U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, condemned the IS’s attacks.
“ISIL’s reported abuse, kidnapping, torture and executions of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities and its systematic destruction of religious and cultural sites are appalling,” she said. “The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq as they confront the security and humanitarian challenges in their fight against ISIL.”
Meanwhile, France has welcomed displaced and beleaguered Iraqi Christians, reports the BBC. “We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” said two top French ministers.
CT regularly reports on Iraq, including the ongoing terrorist takeover of Iraq’s Christian heartland and how a Mosul Christian thanked social media users for changing their #WeAreN photos. CT also recently interviewed the vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, who declared the situation in Iraq the “worst it has ever been.”
CT also reported on the rescue of kidnapped Christians in Qaraqosh back in 2007.