Church in north­ern Iraq re­opened af­ter two years un­der IS con­trol

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BASHIQA, Iraq: The bells have rung out af­ter two years of si­lence in the Mar Korkeis church in the town of Bashiqa, some 15 km north of Mo­sul, Islamic State’s last ma­jor city strong­hold in Iraq.

Kur­dish Pesh­merga fight­ers re­took the town on Nov 7, end­ing two years of rule by the hard­line Sunni group which per­se­cuted Chris­tians and other mi­nori­ties in the Nin­eveh plains, one of the world’s old­est cen­ters of Chris­tian­ity.

Women trilled to cel­e­brate the mo­ment when a new cru­ci­fix was erected on the church, re­plac­ing one that was bro­ken by the Islamic State mil­i­tants. The town is largely empty as the Pesh­merga have not fin­ished clear­ing ex­plo­sives and mines left be­hind by the in­sur­gents in their fight against US-backed Iraqi and Kur­dish forces who launched an of­fen­sive on Mo­sul on Oct. 17. “We want peo­ple to be pa­tient and not to re­turn here un­til we com­pletely clear the area, as we want to en­sure their safety,” said Pesh­merga Bri­gadier Gen­eral Mahram Yasin.

Af­ter seiz­ing the Nin­eveh plains in 2014, Islamic State is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum to Chris­tians: pay a tax, con­vert to Is­lam, or die by the sword. Most aban­doned their homes and fled to the nearby au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion.

The priest at the Mar Korkeis church, Fa­ther Afram, said he would pre­fer Bashiqa to re­main un­der the con­trol of the Kur­dis­tan Regional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) and not re­vert to the Iraqi cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad, about 400 km to the south. “Of course we would pre­fer to be part of the KRG, be­cause of our prox­im­ity to the area and be­cause, for the past 13 years, the regional gov­ern­ment has been look­ing af­ter us,” he said. “No­body from Bagh­dad came here to say hello, at all,” since the US-led in­va­sion that top­pled Iraqi leader Sad­dam Hussein, he said. Chris­tian­ity in north­ern Iraq dates back to the first cen­tury AD. The num­ber of Chris­tians has fallen sharply dur­ing the vi­o­lence which fol­lowed the 2003 top­pling of Hussein, and Islamic State’s takeover of Mo­sul two years ago saw the city purged of Chris­tians for the first time in two mil­len­nia.

From a Mo­sul mosque in 2014 Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi de­clared a “caliphate” span­ning parts of Iraq and Syria. The re­cap­ture of Mo­sul would mark the ef­fec­tive de­feat of the group in Iraq. — Reuters

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