FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Time Runs Out for Christian Iraq

by

The last Christians in northern Iraq are fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years, as a deadline passed for them to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.

It is the greatest mass flight of Christians in the Middle East since the Armenian massacres and the expulsion of Christians from Turkey during and after the First World War. Isis, which now rules an area larger than Great Britain, has already eliminated many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria, where those who had not escaped were given a similar choice between conversion, payment of a special tax or death.

Christians leaving Mosul – which was captured by Isis on 10 June – in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions.

A Christian man said: “The Islamic State [Isis] stopped my relatives at a checkpoint when they were fleeing and when they found out they were Christians, they took everything they were carrying, including their mobile phones. They left them only with the clothes they were wearing.”

Mosul is one of the most ancient centres of Christianity and on the east bank of the Tigris river that flows through the city is a mosque housing the tomb of the Biblical figure of Jonah. This is now in danger of being destroyed by Isis, whose puritan and iconoclastic version of Islam is opposed to the worship of tombs, shrines, statues and pictures.

Tens of thousands of Shabak and Shia Turkmen, demonised as polytheists and apostates by Isis, have fled their homes following raids by Isis gunmen.

The persecution of Christians, of whom there were over one million in Iraq before the US and British invasion of 2003, was slower to develop.

But a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that from 14 July a number of homes in Mosul were painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani (the Arabic word for Christian). Others were painted with the letter “R” for Rafidah, a word commonly used by Sunni to describe Shia.

Mosul previously had a great diversity of Muslim and Christian communities, all of which are vulnerable. The Christians are mostly Assyrians, known as the Church of the East, or Chaldeans, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church.

The Yazidis are linked to the Kurds and have a 4,000-year-old religion that centres on the Peacock Angel.

The church of Mary in Mosul, 225 miles from Baghdad, was closed by Islamic militants
The Shabak, also ethnically connected to the Kurds, are mostly Shia, though some are Sunni, while the Turkmen are majority Sunni with a Shia minority.

Christians were ordered by Isis to attend a meeting with them on 16 July, but they refused to go and a decree was issued the following day offering the three options of conversion, payment of jizia or special tax by non-Muslims or expulsion on pain of death.

The decree had the black logo of Isis and was issued by “Caliph Ibrahim”, who is otherwise known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader. But even before the decree was issued, the report says that money was demanded from Christians: one merchant with a mobile-phone shop was asked to pay between $200 (£117) and $250 a month.

Two Christian nuns and three orphans were kidnapped for 15 days when they stopped at a petrol station. Christian churches in Mosul have been progressively occupied and despoiled. The reclusive Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches jihad at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the internet

Chaldean Archbishop Nona told HRW that four cars had come to his archdiocese compound: “Each car carried three gunmen, most of them with masks. They broke open the doors and took some small statues from inside the property and broke them outside. They took control of the premises and placed their black banners on the roof and entrance.

“They told neighbours, ‘this is our property, don’t touch it’.”

Isis’s treatment of the Shia, or any Muslims they do not believe are orthodox Sunni, has been even more brutal than that of the Christians. A statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed, but so were 13 Shia mosques and shrines. Some 28 Yazidi border guards were held captive for ransom for 25 days, repeatedly beaten with guns and sticks and denounced as “infidels”.

HRW says that “between 13 June and 10 July, Isis rounded up at least 83 Shia Shabak men from villages on the eastern outskirts of Mosul. Seven of the men were later found dead and the rest remain missing”.

Isis raiding parties have been plundering Shia villages, seizing men whose names are on lists, as well as driving off sheep and cattle and telling people to leave.

One man said that Isis told people in one village that the Shia “‘shouldn’t be living here, leave by Friday’. Before they left they tried to make people chant ‘Islamic State! Islamic State’.”

Isis may not be liked by the Sunni population, though there is not much they can do about it for the moment. But there is also deep fear about what government forces would do if they recaptured Mosul.

One woman says that Mosul University has been bombed, adding that she dreads the time when the army of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “will reach us in Mosul, killing its people or turning them into  refugees”.

The Sunni majority has not been targeted by Isis, whose members, a source living in the city said, are mostly non-Iraqis. He added that people “sense that the locals (Baathists, ex-army and tribes) are biding their time.

“There is no sympathy for Isis. The shops have been told to get rid of ‘unsuitable merchandise’ (eg women’s wear, sportswear, etc) and they are complying’.”

The draconian measures are coming from foreign fighters from Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. Their language is barely intelligible, so here is no attempt to communicate. Money is very tight, so it seems it is going into buying arms.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail