(Reuters) An elderly Christian widow who survived two years of Islamic State rule
over her northern Iraqi town said the jihadists threatened to kill her,
forced her to spit on a crucifix and made her stamp on an image of the
Zarifa Badoos Daddo, 77, was reunited with her family on Sunday after
Iraqi forces drove Islamic State from Qaraqosh as they advanced on
Mosul, the militants’ last major urban bastion in the country. The
forces found her sheltering in a house they thought was abandoned or
booby-trapped with explosives.
Most residents of Qaraqosh – Iraq’s largest Christian town – had fled
toward the country’s autonomous Kurdish region more than two years ago
as the jihadists approached, but Daddo stayed on with another elderly
Her relatives had long feared she was dead.
Islamic State singled out religious minorities in northern Iraq,
including Christians and Yazidis, for murder and eviction after
declaring a caliphate in 2014 over territory they captured there and in
neighboring Syria. Their seizure of Mosul and surrounding towns
effectively drove Christians from the area for the first time in two
Daddo, who is hard of hearing, told Reuters on Sunday that the
militants had not physically hurt her, but had intimidated and robbed
her, made her desecrate her religion and tried to force her to convert
“They told me to spit on the crucifix. I was crying inside but I
couldn’t show it,” she said at a relative’s home in the Kurdish capital
Erbil, an hour’s drive from Qaraqosh.
Then the jihadists demanded she stamp on an image of the Virgin Mary
that she kept at home. “I said (to myself), ‘Oh Mariam, I will step on
you but you know I don’t mean it’.”
Daddo, whose husband died in 2014, was reunited with her brother and
other relatives in Erbil on Sunday. Her jubilant family slaughtered a
lamb to celebrate what they consider the miracle of her survival.
The widow, with bushy gray eyebrows, decaying teeth, and a cross
tattooed on the back of her wrist, sat with relatives who wept and
applauded as she recounted her most harrowing encounters. She spoke in a
mix of Arabic and Syriac, an ancient dialect of the Aramaic language
which Jesus spoke.
Her niece said the family had lost touch with her about 18 months ago
when Islamic State clamped down on telephones in areas under their
“We didn’t know anything about her. Anything could have happened.”
‘WHOLE WORLD IS HAPPY’
Most of Iraq’s Christian population is based in the north, around
Mosul, which is one of the world’s oldest centers of Christianity,
dating back to the first century AD.
A quarter of a century ago there were well over a million Christians
in Iraq but their numbers dwindled during the 1990s as the country faced
war and sanctions, and the exodus accelerated after waves of attacks on
Christians in the sectarian violence following the 2003 U.S.-led
Qaraqosh, about 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Mosul, was a Christian
town of about 45,000 people before Islamic State swept across the
Daddo was sleeping in her garden when the jihadists entered the town
in August 2014 and issued an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or
die by the sword.
She said she too had wanted to leave the town, but eventually lost
hope. “I cried because I wondered where I would go,” she said. “There
was nobody left in Qaraqosh. We had no neighbors, nobody. They all
Islamic State provided her with enough food to survive, she said, but
they also made surprise visits to the house which left her terrified.
“We were two women living by ourselves. They would come at night,
sometimes they would come at four in the morning, so we were scared,”
said Daddo, wearing a black cloak that covered her hair and a purple
sash across her chest.
“They would say, ‘Sister don’t be scared, we are your brothers. You are one of us now.'”
The militants took all the valuables from her house. When she assured
them there was nothing left for them to take, they threatened her:
“They came back another day and said, ‘If you don’t give us your money,
we will empty this machine gun in your chest.'”
Islamic State repeatedly tried to convert Daddo to Islam. At first,
she argued. “I tried to tell them, ‘What is the difference between a
Muslim and a Christian? We all worship God’.”
“My heart would race when they tried to get me to convert. They would
try to get me to (say the Muslim declaration of faith). I told them I
didn’t know how to say it, and I said it in reverse.”
Eventually, though, Daddo yielded: “I would say what they wanted. My life is dear to me so I said what I had to.”
Islamic State was driven out of Qaraqosh nine days ago. On Sunday, in
a charred church, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul celebrated
mass in the town for the first time since its recapture.
Back in Erbil, perched on a couch under an image of the Last Supper,
Daddo said she was relieved to be back with family and friends. “What do
you expect? Wouldn’t you be happy? Now the whole world is happy.”