Ran­sacked homes and lit­tle hope for re­turn­ing Iraqi Chris­tians

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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