venerdì, gennaio 20, 2017


Iraqi forces storm ISIS-held Tel Kaif in northern Mosul

By Al Masdar News
Paul Antonopoulos

Iraqi forces stormed on Thursday the town of Tel Kaif in northern Mosul as only a few regions remain to be liberated from ISIS on the the eastern side of the Tigris river.
An Iraqi military statement has said that it’s forces have entered the town from several axes.
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the basic military plan for Mosul’s liberation had been completed “in most combat axes” with the recapture of central Mosul, adding that operations continue to liberate the Ghabat and Presidential Palaces area besides “a few other regions” in the north of the city, IraqiNews reported.
Commanders from the Iraqi army’s elite Counter-Terrorism Forces said in a press conference on the same day they had retaken all districts assigned to them in eastern Mosul, killing 3300 militants since operations launched in October 2016, the same report continued.

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giovedì, gennaio 19, 2017


Chaldean Archbishop Urges Iraqi Catholics to Stay and Help Rebuild

By Religion News
Elizabeth Bryant

Iraqi Christians who are considering leaving the country should stay put and play a role in rebuilding their war-shattered homeland, a senior prelate said in Paris.
"For me, staying and resisting as a Christian minority is the right way," Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk told reporters during a visit to France to raise awareness and funds for an interfaith educational project he oversees.
While the Iraqi conflict is far from over -- a battle is now raging in the strategic city of Mosul, although government forces have gained ground against Islamic State militants -- Mirkis focused many of his remarks on how to heal his deeply divided country.
He called for nothing short of a Marshall Plan for Iraq, referring to the American initiative to aid Western Europe after the devastation of World War II.
The Chaldean Church is based in Baghdad and represents Catholics from Iraq and neighboring countries.
Mirkis also expressed a wish that an "Iraqi Mandela" could bring peace to a divided Iraq, referring to the South African leader who brought an end to apartheid. The archbishop said he worried about the future of youngsters growing up under Islamic State rule.
"What do we do with the millions who have been educated under it?" he asked.
His visit comes as many European countries, including France, have toughened their immigration policies and are building walls against the flood of asylum seekers fleeing impoverished and conflict-torn countries.
Refugees are often disappointed, Mirkis said, finding their families scattered among different countries and disenchanted by their new lives.
"The effort and money spent to integrate these immigrants -- if we spent it at home, it would have been a thousand times better," Mirkis told reporters in Paris, calling for private investments rather than those that would shore up a "monstrously corrupt" state economy.
Iraq's Christian population has plummeted from about 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 300,000 last year, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Vienna-based advocacy group. Some fear they may disappear altogether.
But Mirkis is not among them.
In Kirkuk, he oversees a project helping several hundred university students --Christians, Yazidis and Muslims -- study and live together, as a sort of test-tube case for interfaith reconciliation.
He described another: the widow of a Japanese reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Fallujah who funded the building of a hospital in the city.
"Instead of seeking revenge, she built a hospital and offered it to those who killed her husband," he said. "There's a lesson that should be repeated."

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Working with Iraqi refugees stretches, strengthens priest’s faith

By Catholic News Service
Dale Gavlak

Working with displaced Iraqi Christians has stretched and strengthened the faith of a priest who came to Jordan as a refugee.
Father Khalil Jaar said the Iraqi Christians, who escaped the Islamic State invasion for initial sanctuary in Jordan until they find a permanent home, have become like family for him, with some even living on the compound of his parish, Our Lady Mother of the Church, in this crowded suburb of the Jordanian capital, Amman.
“I told Pope Francis that I am a privileged priest because, for me, these refugees are the saints of the 21st century,” Father Jaar recently told Catholic News Service. “His secretary said the pope was very touched by this and has started to use this same terminology: ‘the living saints of the 21st century.'”
Some Iraqi Christians helped by Father Jaar told him that despite gains by the U.S.-led coalition pushing Islamic States militants from their villages and Mosul, they cannot think of returning home and are tired of repeatedly rebuilding their lives.
“They went from Baghdad to Alqosh and other places inside Iraq they thought were safe. Then they were forced to escape to Irbil and from there to Jordan,” he said.
Now, as they are asked to return to Iraq, the priest said: “They have lost all hope of cooperating with their people. They are looking for a new life, both for themselves and their children.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, concerned for the refugee children’s future and education, Father Jaar set up a school with a recognized curriculum on the church compound. It currently educates more than 200 refugee pupils, providing a meal, uniforms, books as well as food coupons to families who have used up the last of their funds as their displacement drags on. Christian formation and English language instruction are provided. A number of the teachers and other staff are Iraqi Christian refugees.
But the loss of a major donor due to unforeseen circumstances recently put the future of the school in jeopardy. The school requires about $25,000 to 30,000 per month to operate.
“We are looking to the Lord for help. I trust him. Some weeks ago, I discussed the possibility of having to close the school with its principle, Sana’a Bekki. I told her please give me two days to pray,” Father Jaar said. “Then we received a short email from a friend saying: ‘Father, go ahead for this month, I will provide for January.'”
“The Lord sent us the exact amount of money needed to protect this school for this month and not a penny extra. He wants us to keep our faith in providence,” the priest said, acknowledging that his faith, too, is being stretched and strengthened serving the refugees.
Father Jaar said the refugees’ devotion to their Christian faith has transformed his life and challenged his own spiritual walk.
An Iraqi Christian family that fled the Islamic State in Mosul shares a space cordoned off with curtains with other like families on an upper floor of the compound. Two of the older daughters help with the school’s administration, while the younger children attend the school.
“We have clung to our Christian faith despite all the hardships we have suffered since escaping from Mosul,” Um Rita told CNS, using her Arabic familial name, which means Rita’s mother.
“At the time of escape, the militants stopped us, abducted, and held my husband for several hours. They ransacked the car, searching through suitcases, even my purse. But miraculously they never spotted my rosary, and it never fell out of my handbag,” she said, displaying the delicate crystal beads with silver cross.
“I prayed fervently the entire time he (husband) was gone and he returned safely to us,” Um Rita said. “I don’t know how on earth he came out. It’s God! He came through for us in a remarkable, miraculous way. The Lord keeps protecting every one of us.”
“Our faith has increased because we saw the Lord standing with us,” her husband said, adding that the family hopes to resettle in Australia, given the chance.
Father Jaar said he often says of the Iraqi refugees, “Happy is the country which will receive these people because they are very well qualified and educated.”
“We hope that U.S. President-elect (Donald)Trump will give some new hope for these Christians, because really they are suffering too much, especially when they feel forgotten and persecuted,” the priest said in reference to the preference given by the U.S. and other countries to resettle Syrian refugees rather than Iraqi Christians.
Recognizing Father Jaar’s work, Pope Francis has commissioned him to travel to other countries to share stories of the plight of Christians caught in the crosshairs of Mideast conflicts and Islamist extremists with a call to stand beside the Christians and provide help in their hour of need.
A priest of Palestinian origin, Father Jaar said he and his family, too, were once refugees from Bethlehem.
The priest recounted a recent visit by the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who encouraged him to give his all to the refugees, despite the challenges.
The archbishop “spent two hours with us,” said Father Jaar. “He told me, ‘Father carry on. This is the work of the church.’ And that’s exactly why we do what we do and go ahead.“

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Kurdistan strives to supply ‘save haven’ to Iraq’s Christians

For each resident within the Christian township of Ainkawa, there may be multiple refugee taking shelter on this comparatively small suburb of Erbil within the Kurdistan Area. Most have been pushed out of their properties over two years in the past following ISIS’ terror marketing campaign, however lots of them fled Baghdad lengthy earlier than the militants emerged, mentioned native Christian activist, Ano Abdok.
“There have been systematic persecutions all through Iraq which left these households with little choices. Some moved right here, some left the county all collectively,” Abdok mentioned.
Ainkawa, with a inhabitants of almost 75,000, has hosted over 115,000 Christian refugees since 2013, one 12 months previous to ISIS’ brutal march into the nation. 
Giant numbers of refugees dwell in rented homes within the township, some have stayed with their kinfolk, and others have had no different choices than settling in a refugee camp close to the city. 
“All of them attempt their greatest to rejoice Christmas even when that’s laborious if you find yourself displaced and much away from house,” mentioned Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in Ainkawa.
The Archbishop expects his Church to be crowded throughout Christmas holidays as many refugees will search consolation in his sermons. 
It’s estimated that Christians in Iraq make up over three p.c of the inhabitants. In line with 1987 Iraqi census, 1.four million Christians, together with the Assyrian neighborhood, lived in Iraq. However many have since migrated to the West after years of persecution and financial hardship.
Authorities officers say multiple hundred church buildings and monasteries in Mosul alone have been demolished by ISIS militants since 2014. However Christian websites have additionally steadily been focused by extremist teams elsewhere within the nation together with the 2010 October assault on the Syrian Church in Baghdad that killed over 50 individuals, together with many worshipers.  
“I wish to guarantee our Christian sisters and brothers that… Kurdistan will stay a protected haven for the Christians and we cannot abandon the excessive values of coexistence. Terror ideologies and discrimination on the premise of religion or ethnicity could have no place in Kurdistan,” mentioned the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in a Christmas assertion Saturday. 
Kurdish authorities have tried to usher in legal guidelines to guard weak Christian communities throughout the Kurdistan Area. In some circumstances “optimistic discrimination” has been imposed to dam additional fragmentation of Christian neighborhoods within the face of increasing Kurdish cities. Accordingly, it’s comparatively troublesome for a non-Christian to personal property in Ainkawa in a bid to protect the Christian nature of the city. 
“You’re feeling Christmas in Ainkawa when you take a stroll within the streets in the present day,” mentioned Archbishop Warda. “It is actually a special feeling, not corresponding to another place in Iraq.”

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Goal to bring 52 disabled Iraqi children to NZ

By NZ Catholic Newspaper
Rowena Orejana

Safety is a commodity that is scarce in Iraq.
Project 52, a project launched by the Chaldean Catholic community, aims to provide safety to 52 disabled children in Iraq by eventually having them adopted by families in New Zealand.
The project was launched with a gala on November 26 at St Addai church in Papatoetoe.
Sixteen-year-old Rita Araboo walked around the church grounds selling raffle tickets in an effort to raise funds for the care of these children.
“Children, disabled or not, should not be neglected and should always be looked after,” she said. “I want them to be as privileged as I am here so they can have the right support.”
Project 52 is the brainchild of Chaldean Catholic parish priest Fr Douglas Al-Bazi. He served as a priest in Erbil, Iraq before he moved here a few months ago.
“When we gathered the kids, there were 52 disabled children. In our mentality, not all people are happy to have disabled children. That is why when we started, we thought the numbers were low,” he said.
Fr Al-Bazi had been advocating for more help for his people and vowed to continue his advocacy in New Zealand.
“Unfortunately, here in New Zealand, we have limited options to help. We can offer prayers and help but not actually ready to give a safe (place),” he said.
Fr Al-Bazi got the blessing of Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn for the project.
When he spoke to an MP, though, Fr Al-Bazi was not at all encouraged.
“I was told that ‘75 per cent, you are going to fail. We cannot bring those kids here because they are not orphans. You are not going to succeed’,” he related. “But I cannot just stop at this.”
The children’s ages range from two to 16. Some have damage to the brain. Others have eye problems or deafness.
Fr Al-Bazi added one in 25 children born in the war-torn area has autism.
“Why (help) disabled children? If you look at people without disability, they really suffered (in the conflict). How much more the disabled children?,” he explained. “They suffer double.”
Fr Al-Bazi said his dream is to bring them all here.
In the meantime though, the parish is raising funds to help the children and their families.
He said those who want to help particular children can “adopt” them in the sense of sending financial support.
“We can arrange for those who want to help to make contact with the family and the child in Erbil,” he added.
Fr Al-Bazi said the plan was to send Christmas gifts to the children on the first week of December.
At the gala, a room was assigned as a “genocide gallery” where photos of the destruction in Mosul were posted.
Fr Al-Bazi said most of the people from Mosul who sought refuge in Erbil had been living as internally displaced people for the past two years. He said it will take another three years before the place can be made habitable.
Fr Al-Bazi also received recognition from the US Catholic Charities for his efforts at raising awareness to the plight of his people.
“It is my people who deserve the prize,” he said. “For all that they are suffering, no one denied Jesus.”

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Sacerdote irakeno: “Fiducia e speranza” aspettando la liberazione di Mosul

La “liberazione” del settore orientale di Mosul e la perdita di terreno dello Stato islamico (SI) sono notizie “positive” che alimentano “la fiducia e la speranza” fra i profughi cristiani che aspettano, e sperano, di “rientrare nelle loro case”. Tuttavia, in molti aspettano di “vedere un reale cambiamento” e prevale ancora “uno scetticismo di fondo” sull’esito dello scontro. È quanto afferma ad AsiaNews don Paolo Thabit Mekko, responsabile del campo profughi “Occhi di Erbil”, alla periferia della capitale del Kurdistan irakeno, dove hanno trovato rifugio centinaia di migliaia di cristiani (insieme a musulmani e yazidi) in seguito all’ascesa dello SI. La struttura guidata dal 40enne sacerdote caldeo di Mosul ospita 140 famiglie, circa 700 persone in tutto, con 46 mini-appartamenti e un’area per la raccolta e la distribuzione di aiuti. A questo si aggiungono un asilo nido per i più piccoli, oltre che una scuola materna e una secondaria. 
“La gran parte dei profughi di Mosul e della piana di Ninive ringraziano l’esercito e le milizie per quanto stanno facendo - racconta il sacerdote - e ora sembrano un po’ più tranquilli e confortati. Un piccolo gruppo si è recato nella zona liberata di Mosul in questi giorni, a controllare le loro case. Nell’occasione abbiamo portato qui al centro una anziana signora cristiana, che per oltre due anni ha vissuto come ospite di una famiglia musulmana proprio a Mosul. Forse i miliziani di Daesh non si sono mai interessati a lei per la sua età… era anziana e non contava nulla per loro”. 
Nella metropoli del nord dell’Iraq, seconda città per importanza del Paese, da due anni e mezzo sotto il controllo dello SI le forze governative irakene hanno “compiuto progressi significativi” nei distretti orientali, anche se resta forte la resistenza dei miliziani. Dal fronte della battaglia giunge la conferma della liberazione della parte orientale di Mosul, ora sotto il “completo controllo” delle forze governative.
Nella sua avanzata, l’esercito iracheno ha preso anche il quartiere vicino al fiume Tigri in cui sorge la Grande Moschea di Mosul. Un luogo simbolico per lo SI, perché al suo interno il 29 giugno 2014 Abu Bakr al-Baghadi ha proclamato la nascita del “Califfato”.
In una conferenza stampa a Bartella, nella piana di Ninive, il generale Talib al-Sheghati ha annunciato “la liberazione… della riva sinistra”, anche se resta molto lavoro da fare per ripulire l’intera città. Non sono però esclusi ulteriori combattimenti nel settore orientale anche nei prossimi giorni, per le possibili sacche di resistenza jihadiste sul territorio. A complicare l’avanzata delle truppe governative vi è la presenza di moltissimi civili nelle zone teatro degli scontri, utilizzati peraltro come scudi umani dai miliziani dello SI. 
Intanto, secondo uno studio della IHS Markit, una società del Regno Uniti esperta di analisi in tema di sicurezza e difesa, lo scorso anno le milizie di Daesh [acronimo arabo per lo SI] hanno perso circa un quarto del territorio dall’inizio della loro avanzata, nell’estate del 2014. Il gruppo jihadista ha ceduto un’area di circa 18mila kmq e oggi controlla “solo” una superficie attorno ai 60.400 kmq, un’estensione pari alle dimensioni della Florida (Usa).
Commentando l'offensiva dell’esercito irakeno e dei gruppi combattenti su Mosul, iniziata a metà ottobre, gli esperti britannici affermano che essa potrebbe concludersi con un esito positivo entro la metà del 2017. Secondo IHS Markit, nel 2016 lo SI ha visto una riduzione del 23% del proprio territorio; un calo più vistoso rispetto al 14% dell’anno precedente, che mostrava già i primi segni rispetto all’avanzata incontrastata della seconda metà del 2014. Il movimento jihadista, sottolineano gli esperti, ha perso “aree vitali” rispetto al “progetto” iniziale che mirava alla (ri)nascita del Califfato islamico. 
Le milizie governative oltre a operare sul fronte di Mosul “stanno finendo di liberare la cittadina cristiana di Tel Kaif, ora a maggioranza musulmana” racconta don Paolo. E ancora, sono in atto i primi tentativi di bonifica “a Qaraqosh, Bartella, Karemles dove ci rechiamo ogni giorno per controllare i lavori”. Ci sono molte iniziative, aggiunge, ma “non si vede ancora un progetto complessivo di ricostruzione, di rinascita della zona. Noi ci stiamo preparando, ma senza un aiuto esterno dagli organismi internazionali, dai governi e dalla Chiesa sarà difficile ripartire”. 
I cristiani di Mosul e della piana “vogliono tornare nelle loro case, nelle loro terre”, prosegue il sacerdote, ma “la situazione resta al momento difficile, vi è ancora un problema relativo alla sicurezza e va definito il futuro della regione a livello amministrativo”. 
Superata la minaccia dello SI, conclude don Paolo, “speriamo in una fase in cui si possa trovare tutti insieme un nuovo modo di vivere in comune, un progetto serio di convivenza in cui si possa godere dei servizi senza tensioni fra confessioni ed etnie. Serve una nuova visione sotto il profilo dell’amministrazione e del controllo del territorio”.

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mercoledì, gennaio 18, 2017


Altre due chiese liberate a Mosul

By Baghdadhope*

Con una nota urgente il sito anche oggi da la notizia della liberazione da parte delle forze anti Da'esh di due chiese. Ieri era toccato alla chiesa siro ortodossa di Mar Ephrem, oggi è stata la volta della chiesa della Vergine Maria, nella zona di Darkazliya, e di quella di San Paolo, la chiesa dove per anni aveva servito il compianto Mons. Faraj Paulus Raho, il vescovo caldeo rapito ed ucciso nel 2008.  

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In Visit to North Iraq, U.S. Bishop Hears Priorities of Iraqi Christians

By Catholic News Service
Dale Gavlak

After meeting with church leaders in northern Iraq, a U.S. bishop said he will advocate differently for Iraqi religious minorities.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told Catholic News Service by phone that the Iraqi Catholic clergy do not want to see a safe corridor set up for Christians, as some in Washington have suggested.
Although security is paramount, they prefer to see reconciliation take place, enabling Iraq's diverse mosaic of religions and ethnicities to live side by side. But that means trust would need to be rebuilt, and that could prove tricky given the regional and local players involved in Iraq's multilayered sectarian conflict.
"We don't want to live in a ghetto. That is counterproductive. That makes us a target for our enemies. We have to live in a secure but integrated community where Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Sunni Muslims, etc., have relationships with each other," Cantu told CNS, recounting the remarks made by Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq.
He said the archbishop told him: "We need an integrated reality, rather than a 'Gaza' where there's a wall and someone is guarding people going in and out."
Cantu chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. In that capacity, he led a small delegation on January 11-13 to see and hear Christian perspectives in the aftermath of the Islamic State assault in 2014 and the current U.S.-led coalition's battle to flush out the militants.
Catholic clergy "really want to establish some normalcy in the midst of displacement," Cantu said. He said he was amazed by the speed with which Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil has started a Catholic university to provide education and direction to the youth.
Warda also has restored personal dignity by moving displaced Christians from camps into homes with a rent assistance program.
Meanwhile, Moshe has built a church, an elementary school and a new Catholic University of Qaraqosh, serving both Christians and Muslims, on land provided by the Kurdish authorities. All of these facilities were lost when Islamic State militants invaded Mosul and the surrounding villages in June and August 2014.
Still, "there is a reality of the wounds created by the neighbors who turned on neighbors," said Cantu. He was told that after Christians went back to check on their properties following the liberation from Islamic State, in some instances, "neighbors went in, looted and later burned their homes."
The terrifying escape from Mosul for a number of Dominican Sisters has left a profound "sadness in their eyes and voices that question what's the best for these Christians," Cantu said, "whether it is to stay in the midst of anguish and terror or seek safety and security elsewhere in the world."
The displaced Dominicans have been helping other displaced Christians with shelter, provisions and most recently, by setting up and running a school.
"I was so taken by their commitment to stay as long as there are Christians in Iraq," Cantu said.
Both Cantu and Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, made a similar visit to northern Iraq two years ago. This time they were also joined by Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.
O'Keefe told CNS that, after speaking with internally displaced Christians in Iraq, he realizes the immense challenges they face.
"The physical damage to their traditional Christian villages is severe, and security and trust aren't present to make them comfortable in going back," O'Keefe said. "They need to have their security and their full human rights respected to be able to return."
He said it's not clear how that will be accomplished. However, O'Keefe said it was "the responsibility of the central Iraqi state, the Kurdish government (in the north), and other players involved to come up with a vision where minority rights are respected and adequate security is provided."
O'Keefe felt there was a "bit of a lost hope as the Christians have to grapple with the vulnerability they find themselves in."
Although he said CRS is looking very seriously at rebuilding in the next phase, the message the delegation got from Iraqi Christians is that "rebuilding needs to follow security."
"They weren't ready yet to talk about specific plans for rebuilding. Rather they need to know how safety and security will be provided, which would allow them to stay," O'Keefe said. "That's the first problem which needs to be solved and it's inherently a political one."
To that end, Colecchi said the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace in Washington will advocate for the U.S. government to do a "much better job of working with all the political entities in the region to come up with a political solution to create an inclusive Iraq.
"Rights are based on citizenship, the rule of law, equal protection, and where towns and villages have good degree of self-rule so they can shape their own destiny and have a real voice in decisions and more immediately impact their community," Colecchi said. "That's how you create protection."
Both Moshe and Warda seek Washington's help to build local institutions, train police forces, and the judiciary, Colecchi said. But the primary need is to create the rule of law and citizen rights.
Warda welcomed last year's resolution by the U.S. Congress declaring that Islamic State has committed genocide against minorities in Iraq and Syria, Colecchi said. He said the archbishop felt the resolution would focus the world's attention on the horror as well as force Iraqis to acknowledge that genocide has taken place and to make sure it will not happen again.

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Muslim Man Sends Powerful Message to Persecuted Christians

While stories of Islamic State terrorists destroying lives and cities dominates the headlines, there are a number of Muslims offering hope to their persecuted Christian neighbors.
One of those peaceful Muslims is Marwan, a man from Mosul who decided to build a cross for his Christian neighbors after ISIS pummeled their church to dust.  
Jeremy Courtney from Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to communities in Iraq, posted a video on Facebook explaining why Marwan did this. 
"When Marwan came into this church, he couldn't accept the fact that these other guys who claimed to be Muslims were rampaging through this place, destroying the signs and icons of his Christian friends, his Christian compatriots, his Christian neighbors. And so, our Muslim friend Marwan helps fashion this cross together," Courtney says in the video. 
"Marwan's faith and kindness is something to be honored," Courtney added. "These aren't stories that we hear enough."
An Iraqi Muslim built a cross out of two pieces of metal, sending a message that Iraqi Muslims don’t stand for extremist Islamic ideology and that they support the Christians of the nation. The man, Marwan, fashioned the cross during a visit to one of the churches that was destroyed by ISIS. Marwan’s aim was to echo the unvoiced message that numerous Muslims wanted to send their Christian friends – a message of encouragement and support.

Read more at World Religion News: "Iraqi Muslim Builds Cross After Original is Destroyed by ISIS"
An Iraqi Muslim built a cross out of two pieces of metal, sending a message that Iraqi Muslims don’t stand for extremist Islamic ideology and that they support the Christians of the nation. The man, Marwan, fashioned the cross during a visit to one of the churches that was destroyed by ISIS. Marwan’s aim was to echo the unvoiced message that numerous Muslims wanted to send their Christian friends – a message of encouragement and support.

Read more at World Religion News: "Iraqi Muslim Builds Cross After Original is Destroyed by ISIS"
An Iraqi Muslim built a cross out of two pieces of metal, sending a message that Iraqi Muslims don’t stand for extremist Islamic ideology and that they support the Christians of the nation. The man, Marwan, fashioned the cross during a visit to one of the churches that was destroyed by ISIS. Marwan’s aim was to echo the unvoiced message that numerous Muslims wanted to send their Christian friends – a message of encouragement and support.

Read more at World Religion News: "Iraqi Muslim Builds Cross After Original is Destroyed by ISIS"
An Iraqi Muslim built a cross out of two pieces of metal, sending a message that Iraqi Muslims don’t stand for extremist Islamic ideology and that they support the Christians of the nation. The man, Marwan, fashioned the cross during a visit to one of the churches that was destroyed by ISIS. Marwan’s aim was to echo the unvoiced message that numerous Muslims wanted to send their Christian friends – a message of encouragement and support.

Read more at World Religion News: "Iraqi Muslim Builds Cross After Original is Destroyed by ISIS"

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Iraqi Christians eager to rebuild their lives post-IS

Touma Youssef, an Iraqi Christian known as Abu Finan, stood for the first time in 2½ years before the front door of his house in the town of Karemlash, east of Mosul. 
Sadness filled his eyes as he looked at what was left. Abu Finan, after retiring from the Department of Agriculture in Ninevah province, had spent his time enjoying his own garden, planting various types of flowers and trees.
Now his garden is gone. Islamic State (IS) fighters destroyed it when they took control of the area in mid-2014 and turned his house into a military base. They wrecked the furniture and looted the family's belongings. When the Iraqi army liberated the town on Oct. 24, all that was left in Abu Finan's house was a mess, and walls filled with slogans inciting violence against Christians.
“I returned home with my wife to clean it and try to repair the damages. I brought along several workers to clean the garden. We are getting ready to return home now. … We insist on coming back despite everything and despite all the circumstances,” he told Al-Monitor.
His wife, Amira Mubarak, was picking up remnants of clothes strewn around on the floor to burn them. She told Al-Monitor it is imperative that the state provide protection for Christians in Ninevah Valley. “We are ready to return, but we need the state to give us protection guarantees so that we don’t face the same tragedy of the past two years,” she said.
The couple has been luckier than some other families in the town, as IS did not burn down their house or otherwise destroy it, as was the case with 70% of the houses.
As Christian families are preparing to return to the liberated areas, Al-Monitor saw groups of young Christian volunteers cleaning homes and other buildings, and clearing roads.
“We, as volunteers, are working on a daily basis in Karemlash to clean houses, churches and streets in coordination with the town’s citizens," Valentine, a Christian youth who was lighting a candle in St. Addai Church in the center of Karemlash, told Al-Monitor. "We are eager to return to our liberated areas."
The Rev. Thabet Habib of the church in Karemlash told Al-Monitor, “The time has come for Christians to return to the liberated areas in Ninevah Valley, now that the military operations have ended. This return will be gradual.”
Habib said 80% of the infrastructure is destroyed in Hamdaniya district, where Karemlash is located. About half of the displaced people have expressed their willingness to return right away and the rest will come gradually, he said. However, Habib noted some obstacles that might delay the return.
“Some people are afraid of a [lingering] presence of IS members or individuals accused of being loyal to IS in the remote town," he said. "Other people have lost faith in the neighbors who partook in the looting and burning of houses. These are the same people who used to visit our areas and live with us before IS controlled them."
Habib stressed that the security situation needs to be carefully clarified and resolved. He said that people accused of belonging to terrorist groups should be held accountable and that Christians should be given guarantees that their areas will be protected. “Christians must feel that they are the decision-makers in their own areas,” he added.
Now that it has been liberated, the district falls under the control of the local police in addition to two Christian factions, the Ninevah Plain Protection Units and the Babylon Brigades, which fought with the Popular Mobilization Units to oust IS.
Despite the passage of nearly three months since the liberation of Hamdaniya, the area is not ready for all the residents to return. District Commissioner Nissan Kurumi said the first task at hand is to rebuild infrastructure and restore main services.
Kurumi told Al-Monitor, “The Iraqi government, the international community and the concerned organizations have not taken any step for reconstruction.”
Sara Bahnam, a displaced Karemlash villager, has been staying in Ankawa. Many have taken refuge in the Erbil suburb. She told Al-Monitor, “We are sick and tired of being displaced and paying rent in recent years. I will be the first to return to Hamdaniya and to my house, whatever the obstacles. The areas are now liberated from the clutches of IS.”
The population of Hamdaniya district, which is mostly Christian, was 175,000 in 2009, according to the Statistics Directorate of Ninevah, and is estimated to have reached about 200,000 before IS attacked in 2014.

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Kirkuk Archbishop: Aid for Iraq Best Targeted at Home

A high-profile Iraqi cleric says the best way to help his countrymen is at home, rather than pouring money into refugee programs overseas.
Kirkuk's Archbishop Yousif Mirkis, who is visiting France, called Tuesday for an initiative for Iraq similar to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. He said the the effort and money Western countries spend in taking in refugees would be more wisely targeted in Iraq, channeled into private projects such as building hospitals.
The Chaldean Catholic archbishop is visiting France to spread awareness about the situation in his homeland and to raise funds for an interfaith educational project targeting young Iraqis that he has set up in Kirkuk.
Iraq's Christian population has been plummeting for more than a decade. Thousands have fled the country since 2014, with the rise of the Islamic State group.
But Mirkis believes staying and resisting is the better path. He described the dynamism Iraqi Christians have traditionally contributed to the economy of their country, where many had dominated the engineering and medical fields.
Mirkis spoke of how one Iraqi medical student turned down a visa to France. There are many others like her, he said — youngsters who have decided to stay and build their future in Iraq.

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En Irak, l’épopée d’un évêque et d’un groupe d’étudiants déplacés

By La Vie
Laurence Desjoyaux 

« Le mot miracle n’est pas de trop », s’exclame Mgr Yousif Thomas Mirkis, archevêque chaldéen de Kirkouk, une grande ville pétrolière située au nord de l’Irak. Fin octobre 2016, alors que les cours vont bientôt reprendre à l’université, 71 jeunes filles viennent installer leurs affaires dans les maisons mises à leur disposition par le diocèse qui les nourrit et les loge gratuitement. Leurs familles ont été chassées en 2014 par Daech des régions d’Anbar, de Sinjar, de Mossoul ou de la plaine de Ninive et elles ont été rattachées, comme des centaines d’autres étudiants, à l’université de Kirkouk, la seule du Kurdistan irakien où les cours sont donnés en arabe et non en kurde.
Mais dans la nuit du 20 au 21 octobre, une centaine de djihadistes armés jusqu’au dents investissent les rues de la ville. Ils visent notamment le siège du gouverneur de la province, autour duquel vivent beaucoup de chrétiens. S’y trouvent l’évêché chaldéen, un couvent de dominicaines et les maisons de nombreux fidèles. « C’est pour ça que nous avons loué des maisons pour les étudiantes ici, raconte Mgr Yousif Thomas Mirkis. Nous avons pensé que la proximité avec les soeurs pourrait les rassurer... »
Un groupe de djihadistes ouvre le feu sur le mur en hauts parpaings qui ceint le gouvernorat. Ils tuent les soldats en factions à l’extérieur mais reçoivent bientôt en réponse un tir nourri. Ils se replient dans la rue attenante, celle des sœurs et des maisons des étudiantes où se trouvent les 71 nouvelles arrivées...

71 étudiantes dans la tourmente de Daech

Aux premières détonations, tout le quartier se réveille. Au début, on croit à une voiture piégée. Ce ne serait pas la première fois. Mais les rafales de balles qui se succèdent terrorisent bientôt les habitants qui se terrent chez eux. Dans l’un des foyers d’étudiantes où vivent sept jeunes femmes, à 4 heures du matin, c’est la panique. Elles se réfugient dans le couloir, le plus loin possible des fenêtres. 
Quelques heures plus tard, la tension monte. Elles entendent des cris dans la maison attenante, en construction. Elles hésitent un instant puis se réfugient dans l’une des chambres, sous les lits, en se cachant avec des couvertures. Des hommes de Daech entrent dans leur foyer. « Ils sont entrés dans la cuisine, juste à côté de notre chambre, raconte Christina, l’une des étudiantes (le prénom a été changé, ndlr). Nous ne pouvions rien voir, pendant toutes ces heures nous avons essayé de comprendre ce qui se passait juste en écoutant. » Les hommes qui sont trois ou quatre, parlent de leurs plans pour la suite, se servent dans le frigo.
Abu Douraid, l’homme qui s’occupe de tous les étudiants accueillis par le diocèse de Kirkouk, comprend très vite que les jeunes filles sont en danger. Il appelle la police de la ville pour les sortir de là mais il se fait éconduire. Plusieurs quartiers de la ville sont à feu et à sang. Les snipers de Daech font plusieurs victimes. Des étudiantes dans trois maisons ne sont pas la priorité. Il décide de se rendre alors lui-même sur les lieux. Sa femme et son fils échouent à l’en empêcher. « S’il était arrivé quoi que ce soit à ces femmes, je ne me le serait jamais pardonné », confie-t-il.
Avec neuf soldats qu’il a réussi à convaincre de la gravité de la situation, il se rend dans les deux premières maisons d’étudiantes et les aident à sortir difficilement.
Dans le foyer des sept jeunes femmes cachées sous les lits, l’angoisse est monté d’un cran. Les quatre terroristes, dont un blessé, sont entrés dans la chambre où sont cachées les étudiantes. Ils s’asseyent sur les lits. « J’ai eu la peur de ma vie, raconte ChristinaEt en même temps, j’avais une sorte de certitude que la Vierge Marie allait nous sortir de là. Je n’ai pas arrêté de prier pendant tout ce temps. » Au bout de quelques heures, le silence se fait. Les jeunes filles épuisées, cherchent un moyen de sortir. 
En contact par SMS avec Abu Douraid, elles décident de prendre le risque d’aller jusqu’à la porte du couloir et de traverser le jardin. De l’autre côté du mur, les attendent neuf militaires des forces spéciales de Kirkouk. L’un des djihadistes se fait exploser dans la maison. Quelques jours après l’attaque, Abu Douraid nous montre la pièce en question qui témoigne de la violence de l’explosion.

Tous les étudiants sont revenus

Le 22 décembre, les traces de l’attaque sont effacées. Quelques 300 étudiants sont réunis à l’évêché chaldéen de Kirkouk pour une grande fête. Après les discours, les danses s’enchaînent. Sur la photo de groupe les jeunes brandissent des pancartes remerciant l’évêque, Mgr Mirkis, de les accueillir. Alors que la mésaventure des sept jeunes filles aurait pu arrêter le projet, tous les étudiants sont revenus dans la ville – même les étudiantes cachées sous les lits - pour la rentrée universitaire, parfois contre l’avis de leurs parents. « Cette année, le diocèse accueille 668 élèves. Parmi eux, 212 sont yézidis, 22 musulmans chiites et sunnites et une mandéenne (les mandéens sont des disciples de Saint Jean-Baptiste, ndlr), se félicite l’évêque. Depuis deux ans et demi, leur nombre ne cesse d’augmenter. »
À l’été 2014, lorsque l’offensive de Daech sur l’Irak entraîne la fuite de centaines de milliers de personnes des régions de Mossoul, de la plaine de Ninive ou encore de la province d’Anbar, plus au sud, Mgr Mirkis, dont la ville n’est pas prise par les djihadistes, se soucie immédiatement du sort des étudiants déplacés. Comment leur permettre de reprendre leur cursus alors que leur université est désormais tenue par l’organisation Etat islamique, comment aider les familles à financer ces études ? Comment motiver ces jeunes déplacés ? Il décide alors d’accueillir gratuitement tout ceux qui le souhaitent dans son diocèse et de les regrouper en internat. Un accord est négocié avec l’université pour que les étudiants obtiennent des équivalences et puissent reprendre leurs études où ils les ont abandonnées.
La première année, une petite centaine d’élèves, majoritairement des chrétiens de la plaine de Ninive, rejoignent le projet. La deuxième année, ils sont plus de 400 de toutes confessions. À la troisième rentrée universitaire, ils sont près de 700... « À Bagdad, où j’ai été prêtre pendant de nombreuses années, j’avais déjà ouvert des cours du soir où sont venus jusqu’à 1000 personnes par semaine, rappelle Mgr Mirkis. Mais là, c’est autre chose ! Il faut les nourrir et les loger 7 jours sur 7 ! » L’évêque tape alors à toutes les portes pour collecter les fonds nécessaires au financement des étudiants. En 2016, l’Église catholique française a lancé une vaste campagne de Carême pour soutenir ce projet. Une conférence d’information et de soutien en présence de Mgr Yousif Thomas Mirkis a lieu mardi 17 janvier, à l’église Saint Léon, à Paris.
Portés par l’enthousiasme de l’évêque qui ne leur demande rien « sauf de réussir ! », les étudiants ont tous passé haut la main leurs examens, à une exception près. « Après leur diplôme, quelques-uns sont partis à l’étranger, mais la plupart choisissent de rester, parfois même alors que toute la famille a émigré, souligne Mgr Mirkis. Je les laisse libres, tout ce que je fais pour eux est gratuit. Ce que je souhaite c’est qu’ils comprennent que l’important est de donner à leur tour, d’aider les autres. » 
Dans un pays divisé par les conflits confessionnels, la réussite de ces étudiants est déjà, en soi, une promesse d’avenir. 

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L'Iraq ci dice che anche nel secolo dei diritti umani non c'è posto per i gruppi minoritari

L'Iraq sotto il regime di Saddam Hussein era un Paese in preda a un regime violento. La repressione era fortissima. Lo sanno i dissidenti, imprigionati, uccisi, torturati. Lo sanno i curdi, il 17% degli abitanti, che rivendicavano l'autonomia. Negli anni Ottanta Saddam usò anche le armi chimiche contro di loro. Più della metà della popolazione irachena, gli sciiti, ha subito una repressione feroce dal regime, espressione dell'egemonia sunnita (minoritaria ma al potere dal 1921). Le figure politiche sciite furono colpite da una dittatura violenta che non tollerava differenze. Anche l'autorità dei grandi ayatollah di Najiaf, la città santa sciita, non fu rispettata del tutto: nel 1999 fu assassinato il grande ayatollah Sadiq al-Sadr.
Il grande ayatollah Al Sistani è oggi la maggiore figura di riferimento per gli sciiti iracheni che emerge da questa storia dolorosa. Il regime di Saddam non ha nulla per cui essere rimpianto. Mi ha sempre colpito come i cristiani, pur riconoscendo le nefandezze del regime, lo considerassero il male minore. Per loro, dalla caduta di Saddam è cominciato un tempo duro. Erano un milione e mezzo nel 2003. Oggi due terzi e più se ne sono andati: giudicano impossibile vivere nel caos iracheno. Si concentrano nel Nord. Nel 2010 un'aggressione terroristica uccise 52 cristiani che pregavano nella cattedrale siro-cattolica di Bagdad. Tanti gli assassinii. 

Ben 125.000 cristiani hanno lasciato la piana di Ninive, loro tradizionale homeland, sotto la pressione di Daesh per rifugiarsi in Kurdistan. Nel quadro della dittatura di Saddam, i cristiani avevano uno spazio (garantito e compresso), tanto che Tareq Aziz, il cui nome cristiano era Mikhail Yuhanna, ricopriva la carica di viceprernier. Eppure anche allora i cristiani fuggivano per la durezza della situazione. L'Iraq è stato, lungo i secoli, una terra in cui hanno abitato tanti gruppi minoritari, che vengono da una storia lontana. La strategia di sopravvivenza di queste realtà, invise all'islam, è stata in genere nascondersi in zone montuose o insubito discriminazioni e repressioni lungo tutta la loro storia. Il loro numero in Iraq sembra oggi intorno al mezzo milione.
Un altro gruppo particolare sono i mandei, detti "cristiani di San Giovanni", in realtà una religione di origine gnostica. I mandei non hanno templi ma celebrano i loro riti - specie il battesimo - sulle rive del Tigri, nelle cui prossimità spesso vivono. Dopo molte persecuzioni ne restano circa 6o.000. Il regime ottomano è stato sempre duro con questi gruppi: non li considerava nemmeno "gente del Libro" come i cristiani e gli ebrei, che avevano un posto nel regime islamico come cittadini di seconda categoria. Gli ebrei, una comunità storica e rilevante in Iraq (circa 130.000), sono emigrati da vari decenni e forse resta solo qualche anziano nascosto. I pogrom antisemiti del 1941, stimolati dai nazisti, furono il segnale della fine di una convivenza fino ad allora piuttosto positiva. Tra i vari monumenti ebraici, la tomba del profeta Naum (già meta di pellegrinaggi), non lontana da Mossul, è oggi custodita da un cristiano. Sono resti di un mosaico di religioni, infranto per sempre nel Novecento. Gli Stati dittatoriali e le violenze fanatiche non sopportano le minoranze. Eppure, nonostante tanti dolori, sono sopravvissuti per secoli. Oggi, nel secolo dei diritti umani, sembra impossibile che gruppi minoritari restino in questa parte del mondo. Triste contraddizione del nostro tempo!

Andrea Riccardi è il fondatore della Comunità di Sant'Egidio

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