Australian churches warn of mass religious cleansing in Iraq

Iraqi Christians receive communion during a mass at the Saint-Joseph church in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on July 20, 2014. Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in Mosul on July 20, 2014 as a jihadist ultimatum threatening their community's centuries-old presence in the northern Iraqi city expired. AFP

The National Council of Churches in Australia is warning of the possibility of a mass cleansing of Christians in Iraq.

Last week ISIS militants imposed Shariah law on the nearly two thousand year old city of Mosul, home to a large proportion of the country's Christian believers and biblical sites, and dates back to the Apostolic times.

ISIS militants gave people 24 hours to leave Mosul or convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Traffic jams stretched for miles as panicked families scrambled their belongings into cars and headed to Irbil, in the largely autonomous Kurdish region.

Mosul resident Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq said he and family were warned by their neighbours that ISIS was coming to take their family home.

"They told us to grab our things and so we packed our bags and we left. On our way, we had to go through an area where they had set up a checkpoint. They asked us to get out of the car. We got out. They took our things and our bags, our money, everything we had on us."

Zaid and his family have found temporary refuge in a Christian compound in Irbil but he fears they might never see their home again. It's a fear echoed by the tens of thousands of Christian's forced to flee Mosul since ISIS started its rampage in June.

ISIS militants have routinely confiscated Christian property and marked homes with the letter 'N' in Arabic, - for "Nasarah" signifying they are Christian homes. These homes are appropriated once people have fled. ISIS has also painted 'property of the Islamic state' in black on Christian owned buildings across over Mosul.

This week Iraqi Christians used the N symbol to highlight their cause as they marched to the United Nations office in Irbil. Christians globally are also trying to draw attention to the cause by changing their social media profiles to incorporate the 'N' arabic symbol. One young female Christian protester in the Kurdish safe haven chanted, "We are the people of peace and we are the original inhabitants of this nation. We lived in peace for years with Muslims without problems. Yes to peace, no to terrorism."

When Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, there were more than 1.2 million Christians in Iraq. Church officials estimate there are now around 450,000 but the number could drop as low as 50,000.

The Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Mosul, Daoud Nikdomios, also fled to Irbil. He told SBS that ISIS is committing genocide in Mosul and urged the United Nations to pay more attention to the plight of Iraqi Christians, "People care more about helping cats, frogs and pandas than our people. We are better than cats, frogs and pandas. There are more than one thousand families who are victims of genocide." Bishop Daoud Nikdomios said homes have been ransacked, "Everything is taken from us: churches, houses, clothes, money, even the babies nappies." He described how the crosses from churches were removed, and how ISIS wanted to remove all the history of the church from Mosul.

More than a million civilians have already fled their homes. Civilian populations are feeling the brunt of the conflict as Sunni militants prepare for new offensives and the predominantly Shia government, led by Prime Minister Nour al Maliki calls for Iraqis to take up arms and defend their country against the offensive.

The National Council of Churches in Australia wants the government to use its position on the UN Security Council to get the international community to pay attention to the suffering of Iraqi Christians. The church group has so far sent $30,000 from the Australian public to the refugee camps in Irbil to help pay for emergency food and non food items for the thousands of displaced men, women and children.

Director Alistair Gee said, "We desperately need Australians to give as generously as they can to provide food, water, hygiene and other life saving assistance to what is now hundreds of thousands in displacement camps in Northern Iraq and we urge the Australian government to do all it can to arrange protection, particularly for the Christians and other groups who are being targeted."

Alistair Gee said the stories from its partner organisation on the ground in Iraq describe scenes of dead bodies on the street, innocent people caught in cross-fire, explosions rocking the streets and charred cars, "We are deeply concerned for public safety as conflicts continue to intensify.

Humanitarian access must be a priority for both groups as hundreds of thousands of civilians start to flee."

The conflict has the potential to turn into a clear-cut religious war, with the possibility of brutality on a large scale.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned the sectarian reprisals, "can only intensify the cycle of violence", threatening to push Iraq back towards the vicious civil war.

On Thursday, ISIS blew up Jonah's tomb - one of Mosul's 2000 year old shrines. Many fear the jihadist militants are on a crusade to rid Iraq of Christianity.


Source World News Australia

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