Ransacked homes and little hope for returning Iraqi Christians
A strip of negatives lying in the rubble of a home in northern Iraq contains snapshots of life as it was before Islamic State overran the area two years ago and purged its Christian community.
In some of the frames, a woman barbecues meat on a skewer surrounded by friends or family, perhaps celebrating a birthday or engagement. Others show a man scaling a ladder propped against the wall of a house under construction.
Those images stand in contrast to the devastation that is now Qaraqosh - Iraq’s biggest Christian settlement before militants took over in 2014 and issued an ultimatum to residents: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die. Most of its population of 50,000 fled - the latest chapter of a history that dates back two millennia to the start of Christianity in Iraq and which has become increasingly beleaguered over the past decade.
Iraqi forces retook Qaraqosh about a month ago in the early stages of their campaign to drive Islamic State out of Mosul and terminate the group’s selfstyled caliphate, but it may be too late to reverse the decline of Iraq’s Christian minority.
Displaced residents venturing back to assess the damage say they will not live in Qaraqosh again unless they get compensation and guarantees of protection from the international community. A few are being brought back in coffins to be buried beneath their home town, spared the sight of destruction.
Qaraqosh has been ransacked by the militants, who stole everything of value televisions, washing machines, fridges to distribute to their followers or sell for profit. Some houses have been torched, either to create a smokescreen against coalition aircraft bombing Islamic State in support of Iraqi forces, or apparently out of spite.
“It’s worse than we expected,” said teacher Wisam Rafou Poli, trying to exorcise the militants who occupied his house by emptying its entire contents onto the street to be burned.
Amongst the debris was a militant’s underwear and the lid of a box of ammunition for 120mm mortars labelled: “The state of the caliphate. Committee for military development and manufacture; department of explosives.” “I cried when we entered the house,” said his wife Zeena, comforting their young daughter, who was mourning her favourite doll, found filthy and ripped. — Reuters