Desperation for religious minorities in Iraq

The ancient Yazidi minority and many Christian communities face destruction, reports Middle East Concern.

During the night of 6-7 August, Islamic State (IS) militants attacked towns and villages to the east and north of Mosul with mortars and heavy weapons. The protecting Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew, leaving the area to be seized by the IS. This area, including the towns of Qaraqosh, Karamlis, Bartella and Tel Kayf, is the ancestral home of Iraq’s Christian communities and had the largest concentration of Christians in Iraq, including many who fled from Baghdad due to violence over the last few years. This area is now virtually emptied of Christians.

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has estimated that one hundred thousand Christians fled overnight, mostly on foot and with little or nothing in their possession. Many of these had already been displaced, having taken refuge in these towns in recent weeks after fleeing from Mosul. Most have now fled to cities in the Kurdish controlled areas nearby.

Earlier last week, the IS seized the city of Sinjar, a traditional home of the Yazidi minority, forcing two hundred thousand to flee to the surrounding mountain areas. There are many reports of atrocities, including summary executions of men and treatment of women as “spoils of war” (including abduction, forced marriage and rape).

The humanitarian needs of these displaced communities are overwhelming. Trapped Yazidi communities have suffered dehydration and starvation, and are grateful that air-drop operations have now started. Among Christians who have fled to Kurdish areas, many have taken refuge in Church halls and corridors, or in public schools, gardens and in the streets. There is an urgent need for water, food and shelter.

Church leaders have expressed deep concern for the future of the Christian presence in this area as many seek to emigrate. Asia News quotes Msgr Rabban Al-Qas, Chaldean Bishop of Amadiyah in the Kurdish controlled area, who says: “The majority of Christians want to get their documents and leave, go away, because they are afraid. Thousand of Christians want to escape.” He notes that the lack of effective government in Baghdad is a key part of the problem.

In the midst of this existential threat to the church in Iraq the church continues to be involved in the distribution of aid without distinction as to religion. Msgr. Al-Qas asserts that the Chaldean Church “is active, and we witness our presence with love.”

Meanwhile, on 9 August, Luke de Pulford wrote a strongly-worded article headed “The cowardice of the Foreign Office at the slaughter of Iraqi Christians”