On Monday 23 May, the government offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from Islamic State began. Five weeks later, on Sunday 26 June, the Iraqi government declared the city fully liberated and back in government control.
They have now set their eyes on liberating Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said of the Iraqi flag, “God willing, soon it will be flying in Mosul.”
Um Afnan, 23, who escaped Fallujah on 17 May with her husband and daughters, said from a refugee camp, “Life is so difficult in the war, light and heavy weapons were used…We suffered under bombardment from both sides.”
According to the UN there are more than 85,000 people who fled the city and surrounds over the last month.
“They have been eating rotten dates and animal feed – and drinking from the river, which is undrinkable.” Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council told Al Jazeera, in relation to the situation of those who fled.
Iraqi defense minister Khaled al-Obaidi said that 90% of Fallujah is considered habitable because the fast pace fight prevented large-scale destruction, which likely means a quicker and easier return home for residents.
Known also as the ‘City of Mosques’, Fallujah is a predominantly Sunni Muslim city. The Wall Street Journal has said that for years, home-grown Sunni extremists have operated in the city, eventually paving the way for Islamic State to take over the city in January 2014.
(85% – 95% of the world’s Muslim population are Sunni Muslim. Islamic State adhere to the strict Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.)
What does that mean for Christians?
The government has said that they are focussed on liberating Mosul, another majority Sunni Muslim city in northern Iraq. Many Christian towns and villages are situated in the surrounding Nineveh Plain. It’s from these places that the majority of displaced Christians in Iraq have fled.
If Mosul and the surrounding villages are liberated from Islamic State, Christians will be free to go back to their homes. Those who fled, had to leave quickly and took nothing with them or had their belongings confiscated.
Many don’t know what situation their homes are in, but some have heard of their homes being destroyed in fighting. Some have heart of their homes being taken or ransacked by Islamic State members and sympathisers.
Those who are sympathetic to Islamic State and their ideology will make life difficult for many Christians when they return to their homes. For them, returning home won’t stop the persecution.
So what is the solution?
Recently an Iraqi Christian man shared his experience of being displaced.
He and his Muslim friend ran a business together, but the Christian man fled when Islamic State came to their town. He received a call from his Muslim friend who said, “I have taken everything of yours. I have taken your house. I am actually calling you from inside your house which is now mine in the name of ISIS (Islamic State).”
The Christian man told him that one day he would return, only to hear, “No, I will chase you to the next town to which you run now and we will take everything again.”
He smiled and said that when he sees his Muslim friend again he would love him as Jesus teaches.
The gospel of Jesus teaches of His grace to us, freely giving the forgiveness of sins for all who believe. This message will cause many to come to faith, and forgiveness to those like our Muslim friend above.
The gospel is the only solution that will help the endurance of suffering and bring true hope to Christians (and not-yet Christians) in Iraq.
It will also cause persecution for those who believe.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” – 2 Timothy 3:12
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15: 18-19
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” – Matthew 5:44
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5: 10-12
Our prayer is that the church would be strengthened, and blessed, as they trust in Jesus and experience persecution.
Through local partners, Open Doors is committed to strengthening the church in Iraq.
Pray for the church in Iraq, the second hardest place to be a Christian, to know God’s love for them.
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