“Baghdad ha perduto la sua bellezza e non ne è rimasto che il nome.
Rispetto a ciò che essa era un tempo, prima che gli eventi la colpissero e gli occhi delle calamità si rivolgessero a lei, essa non è più che una traccia annullata, o una sembianza di emergente fantasma”
For the first time in 2 1/2 years, a group of Syrian Orthodox Church
clergy visited churches in two villages near Mosul that had only hours
earlier been cleared of Islamic State fighters by Kurdish peshmerga
Two days after entering the town of Bashiqa, peshmerga forces said they had it under control, but it's not yet fully secure.
they escorted the priests and their bishop to St. Shmoni Church in
Bashiqa and St. George Church in neighboring Bahzani, where the clergy
recited prayers in the naves. After each prayer, they rang the church
bells as bomb blasts and gunfire echoed nearby.
After an early
morning advance into Bashiqa on Monday, Iraqi forces battled Islamic
State militants in heavy firefights throughout the next two days, Gen.
Jamal Mohammad Omer, chief of staff of the peshmerga, told reporters on
the edge of the town Wednesday afternoon. Peshmerga fighters, tanks,
Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored personnel carriers
lined the road.
The offensive to retake Bashiqa from Islamic State
militants is part of a larger operation to rout the group from Mosul,
Iraq's second-largest city, which it has held since 2014. U.S.-backed
Iraqi government and Kurdish forces are advancing on the city from
Earlier in the week, about 18 hours into the
fighting in Bashiqa, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yehia al-Zoubaydi, a military
spokesman in Makhmour, a staging area for Iraqi forces, said he was
happy to see the Kurds and Iraqis fighting together against the same
"That is a beautiful thing."
Bashiqa was finally
retaken about 2 a.m. Wednesday, Omer said. Of an estimated 100
militants, the peshmerga killed more than 60 and captured an undisclosed
number of others, he said. A small number of militants remained in the
town, including snipers, but he said they would not be a problem.
"We have a plan to clear these villages," he said. Efforts were
expected to begin Thursday to dispose of booby traps, car bombs and
other explosive devices expected to be littering the buildings and
rubble of Bashiqa and Bahzani.
Later in the afternoon, peshmerga
fighters escorted the Syrian Orthodox clergy first to St. Shmoni, where
the nave was strewn with rubble, glass and fallen chandeliers. Priests
picked through the debris in the church sanctuary, salvaging vestments
and sacred books from the dusty floor. Some of the men fought back
"We see everything is ... destroyed," said Rev. Aphrem
Alkhoury Binyamen, one of the priests who served in the parish until
militants overtook the area in 2014.
Looking over the ruins, he
said the Islamic State intended to send a message: "We want to kill you,
we want to destroy you." But, he said, the Christians here "will never
"We are staying in this ground and we will pray in this church."
short distance away, through blocks of charred and flattened buildings,
at St. George, a stone church on a small hill, Binyamen kissed the
threshold and post at the gate.
Iraq's Christian community,
considered one of the oldest in the world, has seen a sharp decline in
numbers since the U.S. invasion in 2003. At the time, there were about
1.5 million Christians in the country, but the ensuing bloody sectarian
conflict forced many to flee to other Middle Eastern countries or to
Europe. According to current estimates, fewer than 300,000 Christians of
all denominations remain in Iraq
Peshmerga fighters led the way
through a large hall at St. George, where militants had left behind
camouflage coverings used by snipers. Cocking their rifles, they cleared
rooms in the buildings of the church compound.