THE apparent inability of the Iraqi military to dislodge
Islamists who have imposed an increasingly proscriptive Caliphate
on a large part of the country is raising fears that Christianity
could disappear in the area altogether.
The Chaplain of St George's, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, told
the BBC that "things are desperate; our people are disappearing. .
. Are we seeing the end of Christianity? We are committed, come
what may. We will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the
end could be very near." Canon White said that Iraqi Christians
were "in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the
desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go."
The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, echoed these views,
saying that it was "an outrage that a community established in the
early centuries of the Christian era should face expulsion from
their own land, simply for their faith". The Australian government,
the international community, and the UN, he said, "must not stand
by while such persecution continues unabated".
In the view of Human Rights Watch, in a statement in mid-July,
the group Islamic State (IS) "seems intent on wiping out all traces
of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq. No matter
how hard its leaders and fighters try to justify these heinous acts
as religious devotion, they amount to nothing less than a reign of
The Islamic State has already imposed strict rules on
non-Muslims, having told Christians in Mosul that they faced death
if they failed either to convert to Islam or to agree to pay a
protection tax (News,
25 July). This threat has prompted all Christians there to
Since then, more measures have been imposed in areas under IS
control. Women have been ordered to veil their faces completely. An
IS statement said that the move would not restrict a woman's
freedom, but rather "prevent her from falling into humiliation and
vulgarity, or to be a theatre for the eyes of those who are
looking". Shopkeepers have been told to put veils over both male
and female faces of mannequins in store windows.
In a separate move, IS fighters blew up a revered religious
shrine in Mosul which is traditionally regarded as the burial place
of the Prophet Jonah. A mosque was built in recent times on an
archaeological site dating back to the eighth century BC. People in
the mosque were ordered out, before the whole edifice was
destroyed. The story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale appears in
both the Qur'an and the Bible.
The most senior Christian cleric in Iraq, the Chaldean Patriarch
of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael
Sako, has written to the secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon,
asking him to put pressure on the international community to
provide more assistance to Christians and other minorities in Iraq
who have been targeted by Islamic militants. "The instability in
Iraq threatens the entire region," the Patriarch writes. "The
instability in the region is worrisome because of the increasing
attacks mounted on Christians and minorities."
The Iraqi Christian community, Patriarch Sako continues, has
suffered a "disproportionate share of hardship caused by sectarian
conflicts, terrorist attacks, migration, and now even ethnic
cleansing: the militants want to wipe out the Christian
Mr Ban, during a visit to Iraq last week, condemned the
"systematic and despicable" persecution of minority populations by
IS and associated armed groups, saying that any systematic attack
targeting the civilian population because of their ethnic
background or religious beliefs might well constitute a crime
The Church of England's foreign-policy adviser, Dr Charles Reed,
has called on the British Government to do more to help Iraqi
Christians to cope with isolation resulting from Islamist threats.
Writing in his blog this week, Dr Reed said that, in seeking to
look beyond the Mosul tragedy, "acknowledging the deep
psychological trauma that has been inflicted on the affected
families and communities would be a good place to start. At the
moment they feel abandoned. Statements by religious leaders, and
ecumenical and interfaith bodies all help, as does the series of
prayers released this week by the Archbishop of York."
Dr Reed writes that it would be "helpful if the British
Government and others followed suit. It is pretty shocking that the
ethnic cleansing going on in parts of northern Iraq is happening in
full sight with little or no condemnation.
"Last week, the situation featured as no more than an aside in a
speech by the UK Ambassador to the UN. There has yet to be any
official statement on the subject by the new Foreign
Dr Reed continued, however: "We shouldn't allow our concern with
the fate of the Christians of Mosul to blind us to the tragedy
experienced by other minority groups - Shia, Shabaks, Turkmen
Yazidi, and others - who are being persecuted on the grounds of
their religion and ethnicity."