Iraqis mark Christ­mas in re­cap­tured jihadist town

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Iraqi Chris­tians held a Christ­mas Eve ser­vice in a town near Mo­sul yes­ter­day for the first time since its re­cap­ture from the ji­hadists. The Is­lamic State group de­stroyed crosses at the Mar Shi­moni church in the town of Bartalla and set it alight, but vol­un­teers worked for days to ready it for the ser­vice, the first held here in more than two and a half years.

“We want to de­liver the mes­sage that we are stay­ing in this coun­try and that these are our roots and our ori­gins,” Fa­ther Yaqub Saadi, the church’s priest, told AFP. IS seized Bartalla and swathes of other ter­ri­tory north and west of Bagh­dad in the sum­mer of 2014, leav­ing Chris­tians with the grim choices of con­ver­sion, pay­ing a tax, flee­ing or death.

The town was re­cap­tured as part of the mas­sive mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul, the last IS-held Iraqi city, which was launched on Oc­to­ber 17. Wor­ship­pers trav­elled in buses from Iraqi Kur­dish re­gional cap­i­tal Ar­bil to Bartalla for the ser­vice, which was held with se­cu­rity forces de­ployed around the church in a town still marred by smashed build­ings and IS graf­fiti. For Chris­tians from Bartalla, the ser­vice was a deeply emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I can never de­scribe... our hap­pi­ness and ev­ery­thing. We feel like life re­turned to us,” said Nada Yaqub. “We felt that our cross is still around our necks. No one could take it from us,” she said. Staff Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ab­dul­ghani Al-As­sadi, a se­nior com­man­der in the elite Counter-Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice, at­tended the ser­vice, as did Naw­fal Ham­madi, the gov­er­nor of Nin­eveh prov­ince, where Bartalla is lo­cated. A group of Amer­i­can sol­diers also came, but faced some dif­fi­cul­ties when one of their heavy ar­mored ve­hi­cles be­came stuck in a muddy sec­tion of a street near the church.

While Bartalla and other Chris­tian ar­eas around Mo­sul have been re­cap­tured from IS, re­turn is still a long way off, with bombs planted by the ji­hadists still a threat and ba­sic ser­vices need­ing to be re­stored. Yaqub said that even though her house in Bartalla was de­stroyed, she still hopes to come back. “God will­ing, I will re­turn,” she said. — AFP

BARTALLA: Iraqis take pho­tos with a Christ­mas tree af­ter at­tend­ing a Christ­mas Eve ser­vice at the Mar Shi­moni church. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.