As the horrors of the situation in Gaza and the fate of flight MH17 dominate the news agenda so the fate of Christians in Iraq and Syria begins to slide off the agenda. But under the rule of ISIS in Mosul the few remaining Christians suffer appalling treatment. Stripped of everything they are forced to flee their homes on foot as Mosques loud speakers threaten their death if they remain. One of the organisations I support – Release International tells their story:
According to reports, IS militants stopped some fleeing families at checkpoints and confiscated their belongings, including money, jewellery and mobile phones.
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar M Warda, told Release: ‘Christians have lost their trust in the land and in the future. Since 2003 [the allied invasion of Iraq], two-thirds of the Christians have left the country. June was the first month in 1600 years in which Mosul did not celebrate any mass. The attack on Christians has been immense. In the future I imagine Iraq becoming a country where you have many Christian sites, just for tourism – due to the families that are leaving.’
Other church leaders painted an equally gloomy picture.
Gradually, a picture of life under the IS militants who have seized much of Iraq is emerging. Ahead of their invasion, they distributed videos of public beheadings, mass executions and public crucifixions of enemies they had executed.
Such was the firestorm of fear that this Sunni terror group whipped up, that the largely Shia Iraq army deserted in droves, leaving their weapons and the territory to the militants. IS has now declared a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and has become an umbrella group for various armed factions willing to pledge allegiance to the self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
‘The terror is palpable,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson, ‘and that fear is driving Christians from their homes. If IS behave true to their form in Syria, then the Christians who remain in Iraq under their control can expect to live a life of subjugation under their brutally-enforced variation of Islamic law, and to have to pay for the privilege.’
The coming of Islamic State is just the latest tightening of the screw on Christians. Persecution has been relentless since the downfall of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Christians have been killed, car-bombed and gunned down in their churches.