Thousands of Christians are fleeing the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to escape a murder campaign by Islamic extremists intent on wiping out one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
The Iraqi government on Sunday, October 13, rushed 1,000 police to Mosul, a mostly Sunni Muslim city on the Tigris river 225 miles north of Baghdad , in an attempt to stop the killings which have already led to some 4,000 Christians taking flight in the last week said officials.
Some 11 Christians have been killed since 28 September leading to the present exodus. Most of the refugees are moving to Christian villages, schools and monasteries in Nineveh province of which Mosul is the capital. The Christian community on Mosul is one of the oldest in the world and claims to have been founded by St Thomas. Many belong to the Chaldean or Assyrian churches but, even before the present wave of killings, the number of Christians in the city had halved from 20,000 to 10,000 and this remnant is now disappearing. In March the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paul Faraj Ranho, was kidnapped after celebrating mass and his body was later found in a shallow grave.
The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said that he will do everything to guarantee the safety of Christians whose community in Iraq numbered some 800,000 five years ago and is now down to 250,000. “Two national police brigades were sent to Christian areas in Mosul and churches were surrounded and put under tight security,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf.
The sectarian killings in Mosul are a setback to the Iraqi government’s effort to persuade the 4.2 million Iraqis who have fled their homes since the fall of Saddam Hussein that it is now safe to return. Of these, two million are refugees within Iraq and a further 2.2 million took refuge abroad, mostly in Syria and Jordan. So far only 20,000 families or 120,000 individuals have returned according to Abdul-Khaliq Zanqana, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s displacement and migration committee.
Iraqis are generally cynical about efforts by their government to persuade them that normal life is resuming. Most of the senior members of the government live in the heavily fortified Green Zone protected by US troops and with a permanent electricity supply and clean water, at a premium currently because of the cholera outbreak. “They say security is good but they hide behind their concrete barriers,” said Salman Mohammed Jumah, a 31-year-old primary school teacher. “They do not know what is happening on the ground. They only go out in their armored convoys.”