Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle for
Mosul and the Ninevah Plain, their ancestral homeland of the past 14
centuries from which they were brutally driven out by ISIS more than two
“They’ve been waiting for this day after being forced out in the
summer of 2014, and many Christians have been living in very miserable
conditions since. A number are eager to go back,” Fr Emanuel Youkhana
told the Catholic News Service. The archimandrite, a member of the
Assyrian Church of the East, heads the Christian Aid Program Northern
“Of course the military operation is just the first of several phases
paving the way for their return. They will need security and other
guarantees before they go back,” Fr Youkhana said. “Also much
reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region occupied ISIS militants
will need to take place.”
This summer, the UN said that as the Mosul crisis evolves, up to 13
million people throughout Iraq may need humanitarian aid by the year’s
end — far larger than the Syrian crisis. This would make the
humanitarian operation in Mosul likely the single largest, most complex
in the world in 2016.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq,
told CNS Iraqi Christians view these operations “with hope and fear.”
“Everything is complicated. Still, we are waiting for what will
happen after Daesh (the Arabic slang name for ISIS), because maybe those
criminals will be thrown out of Iraq, but the mentality remains in
those who welcomed them,” Archbishop Mirkis said. “So how do we heal the
country from this kind of fanaticism, which is very deep in society?”
The Kirkuk Archdiocese has taken in and ministered to hundreds of
Iraqi Christians displaced by the brutal attacks of ISIS militants, who
demanded Mosul residents leave their homes and businesses, convert to
Islam or be killed.
Prior to the Iraqi military’s capitulation to a small group of
ISIS fighters in 2014, Mosul was inhabited by more than two million
people. It’s believed that only about one million residents remain
Some 130,000 have fled to other areas within Iraq, such as Kirkuk or
Kurdistan. Thousands of others are being housed in neighbouring
countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, while perhaps hundreds have been
resettled or are awaiting resettlement in the US, Australia and Canada.
Some live in cramped conditions in church basements. Caritas and other
Catholic organisations have been working to help them.
International humanitarian organisations are warning that Iraqis,
mainly Sunni Muslims, left in Mosul are “now in grave danger.” The
Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and others are urging the
establishment of safe exit routes for civilians to flee the city.
“Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many
families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by
crossfire or bombardment, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid
with little food or medical care,” said Aram Shakaram, Save the
Children’s deputy country director in Iraq.
“Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with
booby traps, snipers and hidden land mines. Without immediate action to
ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of
civilians on a massive scale,” Shakaram warned.
The humanitarian groups criticise instructions from Iraq’s military urging inhabitants to hunker down inside their homes.
At best, this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict, the groups
say. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military
positions and families being used as human shields, they argue.
But even if people do manage to flee, they also face some
uncertainty. Although aid agencies have been preparing for months,
observers believe camps for the internally displaced are ready for
perhaps some 60,000 people, and these camps could be overwhelmed within
The UN Office of the Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reported
it is locating additional land for extra camps to be set up. It reported
that construction of additional sites, with capacity for 250,000
people, is underway. Food rations for 220,000 families are ready for
distribution, 143,000 sets of emergency household items are in stock;
latrines and showers are being readied for dispatch and 240 tons of
medication are available at distribution points. But funding toward a
flash appeal has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case
Even if the operation rids the area of ISIS, Archbishop Mirkis said a
number of Christians have serious concerns about returning home without
iron-clad guarantees for their future safety.
“Who can give such assurances? Maybe the big countries. But those who
suffered the most are the Yezidis. The Yezidis and all the minorities
face the same problem. How can we have peace with neighbours who looted
our houses?” he asked.
He also expressed concerned for civilians inside Mosul.
“All those children, elderly and civilians are caught like in a
prison. We have to think about them too. We have to read the book of
Jonah. It can explain many things to us,” the Catholic Chaldean leader