Early this morning, we learned that the fighters of ISIS (the Islamic State) have conquered all the Christian villages around Mosul in the Nineveh Plain — namely Qaraqosh, Talkeif, Tel Eskof, Qaramlesh, Bartella and Al Qosh.
I talked to Archbishop Yohanna Boutros Moshe of Mosul, whose eparchy includes these ancient Christian villages, and he informed me that tens of thousands of Christians left their homes in the middle of the night and fled to the Christian quarter of Erbil, Ain Kawa, following the invasion of the Jihadists and the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces (Peshmerga), who were defending the villages. Erbil, home to some 50,000 Christians as well as some 30,000 displaced from Mosul, is located 19 miles southeast of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which was captured by ISIS in June.
The archbishop said the commander of the Peshmerga in Qaraqosh told church leaders on Wednesday that the forces were abandoning their posts in Qaraqosh, Tel Eskof and Qaramlesh. The withdrawal of the Kurdish forces came following clashes between the Peshmerga and the militants of the Islamic State on Wednesday in the town of Makhmur near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish semi-autonomous zone.
Archbishop Moshe said that less than 10,000 Christians (out of 100,000) remained in Qaraqosh and surrounding villages; the remaining 90,000 have left at night by buses and private cars. He also informed me that tens of thousands of Christians are still waiting on the border at Erbil to get the permission to enter the city.
Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Yousif Mirkis, told the news agency, AFP: “It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene. Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described.”
The ISIS advance means jihadists are now within striking distance — in some areas just a few miles — from the border of the Kurdish Regional Government and its capital, Erbil.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Louis Raphael, has issued an urgent S.O.S. from Baghdad on Thursday. In an open letter, he wrote:
“An exodus, a real via crucis [Way of the Cross], of Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat toward Kurdish cities … they are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter. We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all people of good will and the United States and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!”
Against this backdrop, Pope Francis issued his own appeal for peace just a few hours later. According to Reuters, in a statement issued by the Holy See: “His Holiness addresses an urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, to act to protect those affected or threatened by violence and to provide aid, especially for the most urgent needs of the many who have been forced to flee and who depend on the solidarity of others.”