Four years after IS advanced: Iraqi bishops still worried about the future of their faithful
Four years after the “Islamic State” (IS) advanced into the Christian villages on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq the Syriac-Orthodox Archbishop Timotheus Musa Al Shamani is worried about the lack of security. “Without security and jobs no Christian will stay in Iraq,” explained the Bishop of the diocese of Saint Matthew to the Catholic pastoral organisation “ACN International”. Archbishop Al Shamani appealed to the international community to meet their responsibility. “An international peace-keeping force should be stationed on the Nineveh Plains. We want a guarantee that our freedom and our security will be upheld.”
The Archbishop believes that the USA has a special responsibility for the security of Christians. “All our politicians follow America,” he explains. Yet he is sceptical about the announcements made by the present US government that in future they will be sending relief funds directly to the Christians being persecuted by IS and not via the organisations of the United Nations. “We hear a lot of speeches from President Trump. But we want to see action,” the Archbishop says.
The Archbishop now fears a return of radical Islamic groups. “We suspect that a group similar to IS will evolve in future, whatever it may call itself.”
On 6 August 2014 the IS jihadists conquered the Christian heartland near the northern Iraqi metropolis of Mosul. About 120 000 Christians had to flee. Many of them spent years as internal refugees in Iraq or fled abroad. Since 2016 Iraqi government troops and their allies have gradually managed to re-take the areas occupied by IS. Now tens of thousands of Christians have returned to their heavily damaged homes. “ACN International” is supporting the rebuilding of Christian life and belongings to a major degree. Archbishop Al Shamani explicitly thanked the Catholic pastoral charity for its support during the refugee years. “Without the help of church organisations such as ACN we Christians would not have survived here.”
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil Bashar Warda also highlighted the support given by “ACN International”. His diocese had given refuge to a major part of the Christian internal refugees. With a view to the reconstruction work on the Nineveh Plains the Archbishop stressed the importance of making rapid progress. “This summer is very critical for us. We must make every effort to rebuild these villages. The Iraqi government has already told us that it has no money and will not be helping us.”
The Archbishop was optimistic about the financial assurances from the US government. He admitted that no money had been forthcoming to date. “But I’m firmly convinced that the United States intend to help us. It’s the first time an American government acknowledges that the people here are being persecuted on account of their faith.”.
Archbishop Warda also stressed the role of Christians in the societies of the Middle East. “The whole of the Middle East is being convulsed by violence, corruption and political upheaval. It is blighted by sin. It is Jesus who forgives these sins and heals the wounds. Who can give this restless and corrupt region Jesus other than the Christians? We are therefore not only Christians, but the disciples of forgiveness and love.”
“ACN International” has provided more than 6,9 million euros towards the rebuilding of the Christian villages liberated from IS occupation. To date (as at July 2018) 45 per cent of the families driven out have returned and 35 per cent of the houses damaged and destroyed have been made habitable again. Even churches damaged by the IS have been restored. The Catholic pastoral charity is thus continuing its relief effort for the persecuted Christians of Iraq, an effort that began in 2014 when the Christian refugee crisis in Iraq erupted. For the Christian internal refugees ACN also provided funds for housing and schools as well as for food and medical supplies. All this was done within the framework of one of the largest single relief efforts in ACN’s history. In total, ACN has supported the Christians in Iraq with €35.7 million since 2011.