After Islamic State militants broke through Kurdish army forces Tuesday, killing one American and three Kurdish fighters, local Christians voiced gratitude that the attack failed, but remain shaken and on edge should there be another assault.
“The people of Alqosh and other cities nearby have been very afraid. But we thank God that this time the battle was won,” Fr. Ghazwan Baho told CNA.
Fr. Baho is the parish priest in Alqosh – the last major Christian city on the Plain of Nineveh not taken by the Islamic State. It sits roughly ten miles north of the Christian village of Telskuf, which was invaded by Islamic State militants in the early hours of May 3.
Telskuf had been seized by Islamic State in 2014, but was liberated by Kurdish army forces last year.
Islamic State's assault on the town yesterday marks the most recent attempt to gain back some of the territory lost due to the intervention of the Kurdish army, called the Peshmerga, and airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. Fr. Baho explained that the attack began at 3a.m., when about 20 car bombs “infiltrated beyond the line of Kurdish defense in Telskuf.”
“After a hard 15 hour battle that continued with the help of the Kurdish army coalition, they managed to free the Christian city at 6:00 in the evening,” he said.
Among the losses are one American soldier, Navy Seal Charles H. Keating IV, three Kurdish soldiers, and what Fr. Baho described as “dozens” of soldiers from the Islamic State. Additionally, three Christian soldiers from the Kurdish army were wounded, and are recovering in the hospital.
After receiving news of the attack, Christians in Erbil rallied to offer spiritual support for the residents in the area as well as the troops fighting.
Roni Marzina Momica, a young, recently ordained deacon for the Syriac Catholic Church in Iraq, led a women’s prayer gathering at Mariamana shrine in Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, just hours after hearing about the attack and the injured soldiers.
He told CNA that they had prayed specifically “for the Christians soldiers who were injured today because ISIS attacked Telskuf …that God would give them strength and power to come back and give them life.”
Their prayers were answered.
After having surgery late Tuesday night to remove the bullets they were shot with and to cure their other injuries, Deacon Momica said that today all of the soldiers “are doing good.”
Deacon Momica, who himself is displaced from Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), a city now in the hands of Islamic State, said that two of the injured soldiers are from the same city, and are friends of his. The three wounded soldiers are Fouad Masoud, 48; Rafid Kahak, 27; and Wahab Ena, 18, who is also from Bakhdida.
His father is believed to still be in the city, though Islamic State militants seized it in August 2014. Ena has had no word from his father since, and doesn’t know whether or not he is alive, as Islamic State has not allowed anyone to leave since seizing the city.
Deacon Momica recounted how in a phone conversation, Kahak told him that they were already inside Telskuf when Islamic State began their early-morning assault.
After being injured, he “began praying that God give the strength and power to get out...He didn’t want to stay in this place because if ISIS entered and caught him they would kill him,” the deacon said, explaining that Kahak carries a cross with him at all times, and had begun praying to God for help, when a plane arrived and carried them to safety.
Deacon Momica told CNA that he spoke with the soldiers after their surgery late Tuesday night “and they are good now. I even spoke with them five minutes ago, and they tell me they are good.”
However, while this battle has been won, the war is far from over, and Christians, especially in Alqosh, remain uneasy about what the future holds.
Since Alqosh is the only remaining Christian village on the Nineveh Plain, Fr. Baho said that if it falls, “that’s it” – Christianity in Iraq is finished.