THE crisis in Iraq, which has particularly affected Christians
and other minority communities, has taken on new a dimension owing
to increasing international support for Kurdish troops fighting the
Islamic State (IS) forces. At the same time, the UK Government has
been criticised by the Churches for failing to respond adequately
to developments in Iraq and Syria.
The realisation that action from outside Iraq is needed to
protect the country's Christians, Yazidis, and others has resulted
in the EU's agreeing that individual members should be allowed to
respond to calls for military help from the Kurdish Regional
Government (KRG), which is engaged in battles with IS forces.
The drift towards greater international support of one kind or
another for the US campaign of attacking IS targets from the air
was given a boost by comments from Pope Francis. On a flight back
from South Korea on Monday, he was asked whether he approved of US
strikes against IS insurgents. The Pope replied: "Where there is an
unjust aggression, I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the
He was emphasising, he said, the verb "to stop". "I am not
saying 'bomb' or 'make war', but stop him [the unjust aggressor].
The means by which he can be stopped must be evaluated. . . One
single nation cannot judge how an unjust aggressor is to be
stopped." The United Nations was "the proper forum" for this.
An emotional call urging Western states not to be faint-hearted
in taking action against IS also came from the exiled Chaldean
Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, the Most Revd Amel Nona. In an
interview with an Italian newspaper from Irbil in KRG-controlled
Iraq, he spoke of how he had lost his whole diocese: "Please, try
to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth
nothing here. You must consider our reality in the Middle East,
because you are welcoming in your countries an ever-growing number
of Muslims. Also you are in danger." Courageous decisions, were
needed, "even at the cost of contradicting your principles".
His comments were echoed by Fr Meyassr Behnam of St George's
Chaldean Church in Baghdad: "No one wants another country's
soldiers to enter their own country, but we live in very bad times.
We want international forces to protect the villages in Ninevah,
because the government doesn't care about us."
Side by side with increasing international involvement in the
battle against IS is the continuing attempt to support the hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis who have been driven from their homes over
recent weeks. One of the British charities involved in this effort,
the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, has issued an appeal
for aid (www.amarlondon.org).
"The most terrible atrocities are now being carried out in
Iraq," said Baroness Nicholson, who chairs AMAR. "It is a desperate
situation for hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children. .
. However, while much of the Western world continues to focus on
the poor people of Gaza, little is being done for so many more
people in Iraq."
On Wednesday, a group of faith leaders, among them the Bishop of
Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, two imams, two senior rabbis
and the secretary-general of the Muslim Council, described the
situation in northern Iraq as "a tragedy of historic
letter to The Daily Telegraph, they wrote: "Thousands
of innocent people are at immediate risk of death for no other
reason than their religious beliefs." They urged the Government to
frame a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation
by the International Criminal Court. "The international community
must send a clear signal to those who are committing such
atrocities that they will be held accountable for their actions."
Calls for Britain to give refuge to some of the homeless Iraqi
Christians continue to be made. The Chaplain of St George's,
Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, told the BBC on Monday that "it would
not only be wise to offer asylum to them, but it would also give
And the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, has
released a copy of a
letter he had sent to the Prime Minister, with the support of
the Archbishop of Canterbury, posing a series of "pressing
questions". "The UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and
it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this
approach. Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that
holds together the UK Government's response to both the
humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and
He asked whether the Government had a coherent response to
"these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less
regarded than that of others. Or are we simply reacting to the
loudest media voice at any particular time?"
On Tuesday, IS released a video, A Message to America,
apparently showing the beheading of the US journalist James Foley,
missing in Syria since 2012. The militant filmed is reported to
have a British accent. David Cameron said that the murder, if it
had truly taken place, was "shocking and depraved."
A GERMAN monk, Fr Jens Petzold, who was exiled to Iraq
after his religious community in Syria was raided by militants now
cares for Christians who have fled from the conflict with the
Islamic State (IS), writes Joe Ware.
Forced out of its Syrian monastery, Mar Mousa (St
Moses), the community has also lost its spiritual leader, Fr Paolo
Dall'Oglio, at the hands of rebel militants (News, 2 August 2013).
His whereabouts are unknown.
Arriving in northern Iraq, Fr Petzold and the community
of both monks and nuns were allowed to use the Church of the Virgin
Mary in Sulaymaniyah by the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, the Most
Revd Yousif Mirkis.
This is now also home to 164 displaced Christians, some
of the thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes from the
Nenewa Plain, near Mosul. Some 1390 have sought refuge in
The tiny church, which in normal times accommodates up
to 15 people, became so crowded with 60 people that the community
also rented three old houses near by. Describing the people taking
shelter there, Fr Petzold said: "They have been robbed of
everything, their belongings, their money, their homes, businesses,
their church history."
Family members watch videos posted online by IS of the
takeover of their villages, of IS militants hanging black flags on
their schools, government buildings, and churches. Fr Petzold said,
however, that he is thankful that their loss is primarily only
material. Compared with other religious minorities, deaths of
Christians at the hands of IS militants have been relatively
Fr Petzold holds daily masses for the families in the
monastery, surrounded by children on pillows on the floor, the
adults crowded into the pews behind them. The prayers and songs are
in Arabic as well as Sureth, the ancient language related to
Jesus's own Aramaic.
He asks for prayers for the safety and protection of
those left behind with IS. He is also concerned that the conflicts
among sectarian groups are destroying what little trust remains
among communities; and for the young people being swayed to join
IS. "It's as if they have been infected with a kind of hysteria. .
. we must pray for their young souls." Despite these divisions in
society, he says, he is also seeing the miraculous generosity of
ordinary citizens from all backgrounds helping each other.
Christian Aid's partner organisation REACH was one of the first aid
organisations to deliver food and beds to the churches. These
resources have made a big difference, as the monastery's budget
covers only the three permanent members of the
Ann Ward from Christian Aid, who is in Sulaymaniyah
City, said: "Conditions for the families are quite severe, crowding
is overwhelming, and temperatures are very high. . . People are
sleeping in shifts because there is not enough space for men and
women to sleep together safely; so women sleep at night and the men
sleep during the day.
To support the Christian Aid Iraq Crisis Appeal,
which is helping people of all faiths and none in Iraq, go to
Joe Ware works in the Press Office at Christian