Mosul was Iraq’s second largest city before the Islamic State conquered it in June 2014. Right now the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces are embarking on an operation to liberate the city.
“For the first time in 1,600 years, there has been no Mass said in Mosul today.” – Archbishop of Erbil, June 2014.
Mosul’s Significance To Christians
Mosul was home to one of the largest Christian communities in Iraq before the 2003 invasion by US and coalition forces. Prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq had a Christian population of 1.5 million. By 2003 this had dropped 850,000 and now we estimate this to be around 250,000.
Mosul was an important centrepiece for the Islamic state, their largest held city in Iraq. It was from inside the grand mosque of Mosul that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the new caliphate. It is also thought that the cities liberation now could mean the end of Islamic State in Iraq all together.
On Monday 17 October 2016, Open Doors partner in Erbil sent us the following message:
“The thousands of displaced Christians in Erbil are very excited that … finally an effort is taken to take back their lands.
“Most Christians in Erbil are now glued to their televisions, phones and computer screens, trying to get all the latest updates on the battle and on the status of their villages. They hope and they pray that they will be able to return to their houses, once the situation is safe.
Several priests are reported to be at the front line currently, to pray and to be living witnesses of Christ there.”
Mosul Liberation – A Quick Advance
While it was first predicted that the assault could take months, both the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces have proceeded far quicker than anticipated.
Henriette Kats, persecution analyst at World Watch Research, is cautious however.
“Of course it is to be hoped that the citizens of Mosul (and of the neighbouring towns and villages) will be able to return to their homes when the IS militants are defeated. Although many Christians are looking forward to returning, many others are distrustful and say that they do not believe they can ever live in Iraq in safety again.”
In Many Areas, Fighting Can Be Heard
For Riven who has been living in Alqosh throughout the crisis, this is nothing new. “We regularly hear the bombings in the distance,” Riven told us. “We managed to keep IS out of our village, but the frontline is still very close.”
Riven has been living with the knowledge that Islamic State could breakthrough Kurdish defences.
“It can happen any moment, and when it happens we might just have five minutes to leave.”
Hopefully this new offensive will put an end to this fear but for now, Riven is still ready to leave with a ‘go bag’ on hand.
This Is Good News
For Christians in Erbil like Amer, who had only 30 minutes to escape, this is some of the first good news to come in two years.
So too for an Iraqi Christian dubbed a hero by Steve Chong on his visit with Open Doors.
When Islamic State swept through his town, he had only minutes to grab his wife and 5 children before fleeing. While doing so he received this chilling phone call from a former friend.
‘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.’
His response however to what he will do if he meets this former friend again, “I will love him and I will leave him alone because my Lord teaches me to do that”
God Is Building His Church
It is in the middle of this persecution that God is building His church in Iraq.
The Iraqi Christian Steve Chong met also said, “Before [Islamic State] took away everything, I was a Christian only by name but now my faith is alive. ISIS is a gift. If ISIS comes to the west it is a gift from the Lord. It will be a wake up call for a sleepy church. If you want to spend your time working for more money and more houses and just going along to church on Sundays you can lose it, but if you work for God (he points upwards), you can never lose it. So I say to the western church ‘Wake up. Wake up!’
Christians in Australia and New Zealand can pray for the church in Iraq to stand strong in persecution. Pray they would show the love and forgiveness of Christ when Mosul is liberated and they are able to return home.
Where Did Islamic State Come From?
Iraq WWL Ranking
Islamic State Timeline
|2003||#23||US led invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Husain.|
|2004||#32||Al Qaeda in Iraq is formed.|
|2006||#23||Al Qaeda in Iraq merges with other groups to become Islamic State in Iraq (ISIS).|
|2007||#21||Supporters of Islamic State in Iraq are forced from Baghdad and Mosul by US troops, sleeper cells remain.|
|2007||#21||US troop withdrawal from Iraq begins.|
|2010||#17||Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes leader of Islamic State in Iraq. He appoints several of Saddam’s ex-military chiefs.|
|2011||#8||Islamic State in Iraq sends soldiers to fight in Syria’s civil war.|
|2012||#9||‘Break the Walls’ campaign by Islamic State in Iraq, sees an increase in violence and several captured Jihadi broken from prison to join their ranks.|
|2013||#4||Islamic State take over Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, close to Iraq’s capital of Baghdad.|
|2014||#4||Syrian militants join to make the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Raqqa city in Syria is declared their capital.|
|June 2014||#4||Islamic State conquers Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, displacing 500,000 people. Bashar Warda, the Archbishop of Erbil in Kurdish-governed Northern Iraq, is reported as saying ‘for the first time in 1600 years there has been no Mass said in Mosul today.’|
|July 2014||#4||In Mosul’s grand Mosque Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declares the establishment of the new Caliphate and name, Islamic State.|
|August 2014||#4||200,000 people flee Sinjar and 50,000 Yazidis are trapped on a mountain with Islamic State fighters pursuing them. The US begin airstrikes in response. 50,000 Christians, along with its other residents, flee the city of Qaraqosh.|
|September 2014||#4||With territory rapidly being conquered the US begins airstrikes in Syria.|
|October 2014||#4||Some extremist groups in Libya merge and declare allegiance to Islamic State.|
|February 2015||#3||21 Egyptian Christians are shown to be executed on a Libyan beach by Islamic State. Later that month, 200 Christians are taken hostage in Syria.|
|April 2015||#3||30 Ethiopian Christians are executed by Islamic State in Libya.|
|May 2015||#3||The cities of Ramadi, Palmyra and Sirte are all conquered by Islamic State.|
|August 2015||#3||22 captured Christians are set free by Islamic State.|
|September 2015||#3||Russia begins airstrikes in Syria.|
|November 2015||#3||Sinjar retaken by Kurdish fighters and France begins airstrikes after a terrorist attack in Paris.|
|December 2015||#3||Iraqi forces retake Ramadi.|
|June 2016||#2||Iraqi forces retake Fallujah.|
|July 2016||#2||200 people killed in a bomb attack in Baghdad, the group’s most deadly terrorist attack.|
|October 2016||#2||Iraq government announces operation to liberate Mosul.|