Iraqi Christians Return To Ransacked Town With Fear And Hope

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iraqi Christians return to ransacked town with fear and hope

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH
By Ulf Laessing | QARAQOSH, IRAQ

With Islamic State expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.

The town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of their ancient community.

In the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control – only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shi’ite members of the Iraqi forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.

But nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds alike, with this kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities could again live together peacefully.

Encouraged by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in Iraq until Islamic State seized it in 2014.

Iraqi forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shi’ite slogans signal a new kind of sectarian division.

“Oh Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Islamic State, praising the hero of Shi’ite Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.

“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shi’ites in the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.

Soldiers have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military vehicles. Shi’ites regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.

Two Shi’ite flags also fly over Qaraqosh.

Most Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shi’ite slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them as a signal that their future remains uncertain.

“Of course we are afraid of such signs,” said Matti Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family. “We need international protection.”

Those families who have returned to Qaraqosh – once home to 50,000 people – are trying to revive Christian life dating back two millennia. However, most stay only two or three days at a time to refurbish their looted and burnt homes.

“We want to come back but there is no water and power,” said Mazam Nesin, a Christian who works for a volunteer force based in Qaraqosh but has left his family behind in Erbil.

By contrast, displaced Muslims have been flocking back to markets in eastern Mosul since Islamic State’s ejection from that part of the city, despite the battle raging in the Old City across the Tigris river which is the militants’ last stronghold.

ALCOHOL SHOP

Numbers of Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand since the violence which followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Many Baghdad residents who could not afford to go abroad went to Qaraqosh and other northern towns where security used to be better than in the capital, rocked by sectarian warfare after the U.S.-led invasion.

But with the arrival of Islamic State, residents abandoned their homes with some applying for asylum in Europe. Germany alone took in 130,000 Iraqis, among them many Christians, in 2015 and 2016. But most ended up in Erbil with relatives or in homes paid for by aid agencies.

Supermarkets and restaurants remain closed in Qaraqosh, with windows smashed and burnt furniture strewn across floors.

One of the few businesses to have reopened is Steve Ibrahim’s alcohol shop in the town center; in the absence of cafes it has become a meeting point for local people. “Business has been good so far. Everybody comes here to stock up,” said Ibrahim, who has just reopened the store with his father.

They lost everything when Islamic State, known by its enemies as Daesh, wrecked their business. Now they have invested about $400 to refurbish the shop – new tiles shine on the walls – and customers are coming from beyond the town and from across the communities.

“I sell drinks to Christians and Muslims alike,” he said. “Many people come from Mosul or other towns.”

Many of Ibrahim’s customers ignore Islam’s forbidding of alcohol consumption. While he was talking, a Sunni Muslim from eastern Mosul drove up to buy a bottle of whisky and four cans of beer, packed in a black plastic bag to hide his purchase from the eyes of more religiously observant Muslims.

“You couldn’t drink during Daesh. I am glad this shop is open again,” said the man who gave his name only as Mohammed, shaking hands with Christians enjoying an afternoon beer. “I still only drink at home.”

Later a Shi’ite from a village south of Mosul arrived to pick up drinks. “I come here twice a week. It’s the only shop in the area,” he said, asking not to be named, before driving off.

Even Ibrahim comes every day from Erbil, bringing by car supplies and fuel for the generator to power the fridges filled with cold beer. Then he drives back at night.

Whether more Christians can live permanently in Qaraqosh depends on whether the security forces win their trust.

Army and police have tried to ease fears by stationing soldiers in front of churches, and even helping Christian volunteers to set up a massive cross at the town’s entrance.

On Palm Sunday last weekend, soldiers escorted a procession in preparation for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival, and provided chairs for worshippers during Mass.

Some Christian policemen joined in, singing “Hallelujah” with civilians. But walking along rows of burnt out homes and supermarkets, others were still afraid.

“The security measures are not sufficient,” said Hatti, the photographer. “We want security to surround the town.”

(Click here, reut.rs/2ordbfj for a Photo essay on this story)

(Editing by David Stamp)

ISIS Satanic Ideology Of Mass Murder Shows It’s Ugly Face In Mosul Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

ISIS kills hundreds in Mosul area, source says

(CNN) ISIS rounded up and killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN.

Those killed Thursday and Friday were used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of southern parts of Mosul, the source said.
ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said.
The victims — including children — were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.

Latest developments

• US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, visiting Iraq, said he was encouraged by Iraqi efforts to retake Mosul.
• Kurdish officials accused Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk of supporting ISIS a day after attacks killed dozens.
• Iraqis displaced by the Mosul offensive are seeking shelter in camps, the UN refugee agency said.

Iraqi forces move on Hamdaniya

The Iraqi military launched a large offensive early Saturday to retake Hamdaniya — also known as Qaraqosh — from ISIS, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command center said.

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul 02:43
The city is about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of Mosul.
Iraqi troops entered the al-Askary neighborhood and liberated the mayor’s building and the main hospital, raising the Iraqi flag over those buildings, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Maliky said.
At least 50 ISIS militants were killed and some of their equipment destroyed, he added.
Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga — as the Kurdish fighters are known — have made progress and isolated Hamdaniya, a US military official said in Baghdad, speaking on background.

Tal Kayf is next target

Iraqi troops are also advancing toward Tal Kayf and plan on storming the Chaldean town, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said Saturday.

Iraqi army and militia forces arrive Thursday in Saleh village in the offensive to wrest Mosul from ISIS.

Tal Kayf is about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Mosul.
It’s the closest Iraqi security forces have come to Mosul, a CNN analysis indicates.
The US military official said US and coalition aircraft were providing air support as needed Saturday. The official said land forces were working through “a hard outer crust,” and resistance would intensify as the offensive neared Mosul.
The official said ISIS fighters had infiltrated towns cleared earlier, including Bartella, requiring renewed efforts to combat them.
Kurdish security forces were going house to house Saturday in Kirkuk following a major ISIS attack a day earlier. Kirkuk is 175 kilometers (109 miles) southeast of Mosul.
Kirkuk’s police chief said 48 ISIS militants had been killed during hours of clashes.
Security officials told CNN that at least 40 others had been killed and 76 wounded in the attack, the majority of them Kurdish Peshmerga.
The ISIS attacks continued in the area Saturday, with an attempt to infiltrate the town of Laylan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Kirkuk. Nine militants were killed, according to the mayor of Laylan, Mohammed Wais, and some security force members were injured.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani described ISIS’ attack on Kirkuk as “a failed attempt by terrorists to make up for the defeats they have suffered at the hands of the Peshmerga on the front line.”
Previous attacks by ISIS militants on Kirkuk have been attempts either to capture the city from the Peshmerga or divert Kurdish troops from the fight in Mosul.
About 4,000 families are housed in four camps for internally displaced people in Laylan, said Ammar Sabah, director of the Displacement and Migration Department in Kirkuk.

Kurdish officials accuse local Arabs of helping ISIS

In the wake of the Kirkuk attack, Kurdish officials accused local Arabs and some displaced in camps around the city of helping ISIS.

Kirkuk’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar, said the militants had probably infiltrated the 600,000 internally displaced in and around the city.
Gen. Hallo Najat, another police official, told local media to expect further fighting because 30% of the Arabs there supported ISIS rather than the government or Kurdish authorities.
Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk’s governor, said: “We have prior knowledge that an operation like this could happen; we were preparing for it, but the timing was not known exactly.”
He said a curfew would remain in force for another day and urged the internally displaced community in Kirkuk to help track down militants.

US defense chief briefed on Mosul operation

Carter, the US defense secretary, paid an unannounced visit Saturday to Baghdad, where he was briefed on the Mosul offensive and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified 03:02
Carter then addressed about 50 US service members at Baghdad International Airport, recalling the US naval officer killed this week in northern Iraq and the risk taken by all those serving.
The defense chief told the crowd he was encouraged by what he has seen so far in the fight to retake Mosul.
US forces in Iraq are providing air support for the Mosul operation as part of an international coalition. US special operations forces are also advising Iraqi and Kurdish units on the ground.
After meeting with Carter, Abadi repeated his view that Iraq does not need Turkey’s help in the battle for Mosul, while acknowledging the importance of maintaining good relations with its northern neighbor. The Turkish leadership has expressed a desire to join the coalition to oust ISIS.

UN ‘gravely worried’ over human shield use

The United Nations expressed concern Friday that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul to use as human shields.

Pain still raw for Mosul's Christians in Jordan

Pain still raw for Mosul’s Christians in Jordan 02:52
Two hundred families from Samalia village and 350 families from Najafia were forced out Monday and taken to Mosul in “an apparent policy by ISIS to prevent civilians escaping,” Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told CNN.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We are gravely worried by reports that (ISIS) is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties.”

Iraqis flee violence

The first influx of Iraqis — 144 people — arrived at a new camp, Zelikan, set up to shelter what is expected to become a flood of families displaced by the Mosul offensive, the UN refugee agency said Saturday.
UN data indicate some 3,900 people — or 650 families — have so far been forced from Mosul and Hamdaniya districts, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UN refugee agency is working to establish 11 camps, five of which are already in place, to house those forced from their homes by the battle. The camps will have capacity for about 120,000 people, the agency said.
Up to 600,000 could be helped if the refugee agency obtained sufficient funding, it said. Mosul is believed currently to have a population of about 1.5 million people, it added.

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq 04:15
Charity Oxfam warned Saturday that more must be done to provide safe routes for those fleeing the conflict.
People who escaped from Hawd, 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) south of Mosul, told Oxfam that many civilians had been injured.
A woman told Oxfam her children had respiratory issues after breathing in thick smoke from oil wells that ISIS militants set afire to provide cover from coalition air attacks.