CHURCH leaders have called for prayers to end the violence in
Iraq, and protect the minority Christian community, in the wake of
the swift seizure of cities and territory by Islamist militants
over recent days.
At the same time, there has been international condemnation of
the massacres of Iraqi troops and civilians when the al-Qaeda
offshoot group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant)
(ISIS), has boasted about in video recordings.
Pope Francis, in his weekly address last Sunday, invited
worshippers to unite themselves with his prayer "for the dear Iraqi
nation, especially for the victims, andfor those who most suffer
the consequences of the growing violence, in particular the many
persons, among whom are somany Christians, who have had to leave
their homes". He said that he was "following with lively concern
the events of these last days inIraq".
Pope Francis said that he hoped that Iraqis would find security
and peace, and a future of reconciliation and justice, where all
inhabitants, "whatever their religious affiliation, will be able
together to build up their country, making a model of
Earlier, the Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd
Michael Lewis, issued a statement saying that "Iraqi Christians
have requested urgent prayer as the situation in Mosul and
surrounding areas deteriorates." Thousands of Christians have fled
from their homes in Mosul, in Nineveh province, the first city to
be captured by ISIS in the latest surge of its forces through
Nineveh was once regarded as a safe area for Christians who had
fled from other parts of Iraq. Fears were growing that the ISIS
takeover of Mosul would "further accelerate the decline of the
Christian presence in Iraq" (News, 13 June).
Christians around the world were being urged to pray that the
people of Mosul would "know the close presence of Jesus, the
guidance of the Spirit, and the protection of the Father".
Christians were also asked to pray that the Iraqi authorities would
"act decisively to improve security for all citizens of Iraq".
Reports from Mosul say that several churches, and other
Christian properties, have been destroyed. In at least one
Christian-dominated town near by, Bartella, many families remain -
but are in fear of an ISIS attack. Armed civilians are providing
protection to the inhabitants, because the Iraqi army fled from the
whole Mosul region when the Islamists launched their offensive
earlier this month.
The Rome-based lay Roman Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio spoke
of "an explosion of extremist violence" in Mosul, and in northern
Iraq as a whole, which was "jeopardising the success of a project
of religious integration and social development, based on living
together and co-operation between Christians and Muslims, which
used to be a model throughout the country".
The founder of the community, Professor Andrea Riccardi, called
on the Iraqi authorities and governments around the world to "do
everything possible to break the cycle of violence" that threatens
to fracture the country.
Professor Riccardi also called on international agencies to
"intervene promptly" to help the hundreds of thousands of men,
women, and children who were seeking sanctuary in the
Kurdish-government region of northern Iraq, their progress hampered
at times by ISIS.
An appeal to those sheltering in the north has been launched by
Christian Aid, on behalf of its partner organisations there.
Christian Aid has reported that some 200,000 displaced people are
in Dohuk, and another 100,000 in Irbil.
The Chaplain of St George's, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, has
launched an appeal on behalf of the Foundation for Relief and
Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), for funds to help meet
the immediate needs of those in the crisis. Donations can be made
through the website www.frrme.org, or by cheque, sent to FRRME at
PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hampshire GU32 9DL.
Many of the Christians sheltering in the Kurdish region of Iraq
say that they can no longer endure the anxiety and uncertainty that
surround life in their home towns and villages. They will not
return. "People are afraid of what's coming next," one woman told
the news agency Associated Press. "I fear there will be a day when
people will say: 'There were once Christians in Iraq.'"
Developments on the ground in Iraq offer little comfort to
Iraqisof all faiths; for there seems to beno hope of the violence
coming to an end soon. At present, it is by no means certain that
the Iraqi army and Shia militias can halt the ISIS advance on the
capital, Baghdad, much less recapture the many towns and cities now
in Sunni Islamist hands. ISIS is well-armed and organised, and has
a huge storeof weapons and piles of cash atits disposal. It is also
highly motivated, and ruthless in its methods.
Governments around the world, meanwhile, are still assessing
what part, if any, they should play in providing support for the
central authorities in Baghdad. The UK and the United States have
ruled out the despatch of troops to Iraq, but could still supply
intelligence, or even launch long-range rocket or drone attacks
against the Islamists.
Iran, too, has said that it will assist Iraq if the need arises.
The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, suggested last weekend that
his country might take joint action with the US, saying: "We have
not seen the US do anything for now. Any time the Americans start
to take action against terrorist groups, we can consider that."
But the RC Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Jean Sleiman
OCD, speaking from the Iraqi capital to the charity Aid to the
Church in Need, rejected the notion of outside intervention in
Iraq, saying that it was the duty of Iraqi politicians to find a
solution the crisis. "ISIS needs to be stopped," he said, "and it
needs the Iraq leaders to work together to stop it. That is more
important than getting the international community involved. In
responding to this crisis, the international community should think
of the common good, not their own interests. They should think of
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said on
Monday that "based on corroborated reports from a number of
sources, it appears that hundreds of non-combatant men were
summarily executed over the past five days, including surrendered
or captured soldiers, military conscripts, police, and others
associated with the government."
Although these numbers could not be verified, Mr Pillay said,
"this apparently systematic series of cold-blooded executions,
mostly conducted in various locations in the Tikrit area, almost
certainly amounts to war crimes."
Question of the week: Should it be left to the Iraqi
government to deal with the ISIS threat?