Faith Communities Forced to Flee in Northern Iraq

One of 170 Iraqi Shia and Zoroastrian IDP families from Mosul sheltering in Christian village of Bandaywa. Photo: LWF/D. Poppe
One of 170 Iraqi Shia and Zoroastrian IDP families from Mosul sheltering in Christian village of Bandaywa. Photo: LWF/D. Poppe

LWF Condemns Extremist Actions; Explores Ways to Stand with Internally Displaced in the Region

(LWI) – Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge has strongly condemned the discrimination against Christians, Shiites and other religious and ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq by the Sunni Muslim militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

Thousands of Christians are fleeing Northern Iraq and communities they have lived in for almost 2,000 years following ISIS' ultimatum last week that they convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed for their faith. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, had 60,000 Christians at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and the Christian population still numbered 35,000 in June.  Mosul is the birthplace of Assyrian Christianity, one of the most ancient Christian communities. Other faith communities are also targeted and have been forced to flee.

“What we see in Northern Iraq is an outrageous development. It pains us to hear about the suffering of people whose basic rights are being taken away. People who have a right not to be discriminated because of their faith, and who in fact have been living peacefully side by side for generations with people of other faiths – many of them forced to flee as well,” Junge said.

ISIS, which has taken control of Mosul and much of the surrounding region, has declared the establishment of an "Islamic state" or “Caliphate” on the territory of Iraq and Syria, where they have also been active. Many Christians, Shiites, Yezedians (Zoroastrians), and Kurdish ethnicity communities have fled to the Kurdish-controlled section of the Nineveh plain to the east and north of the Mosul region, and further on into the Kurdish Region, where there are already more than 200,000 Syrian refugees as a result of the conflict in Syria.

“As the LWF, we are additionally pained because the majority of those affected are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We abhor the fact that, because of extremist views, invoking the name of religion, Christians, as well as other faith communities in minority situations, are affected by these extremist views,” Junge said.

Church organizations in Mosul, whom the LWF has spoken to, report that ISIS militants have seized all churches and monasteries in the city, many of which have been burnt, looted, destroyed or converted into mosques. ISIS has also destroyed at least 24 shrines in Mosul, including a mosque that contained a shrine believed to be the tomb of Jonah – who is revered by Christians as well as Muslims and Jews.

The LWF is looking into ways to stand with the displaced and affected people in Northern Iraq. In the past few days, ISIS has cut off water supplies from central pumping plants on the Tigris in Mosul to the Kurdish controlled areas of the Nineveh plain.  Together with its partners in the ACT Alliance, the LWF is appealing for funds to ensure clean, emergency water supplies for 12,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and their host communities, and to guarantee an additional two-months’ food security for 2,500 IDP families. The LWF is also seeking to offer psycho-social services to 5,000 vulnerable individuals, who have experienced psychological and physical trauma.

While many of the initially displaced population of Sunni Arab ethnicity have returned to their homes in the Mosul area, displaced minority groups of Shiite, Christian, Yezedians and Kurdish ethnicity remain fearful for their future under ISIS, and seem most likely to remain in the Iraqi Kurdish Region or the area of the Nineveh plain for the medium term.

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