Barnabas Edit: Threat to wider region, Christian presence, as ISIS takes Mosul

June 14, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Iraq, June 12, 2014: The alarming fall of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) on Tuesday (10 June) and the group’s rapid advance south yesterday to Tikrit has sent shockwaves throughout the region.

Mosul fell to ISIS on Tuesday (10 June)

Mosul fell to ISIS on Tuesday (10 June)

It marks the greatest military success of the brutal jihadist group, which is fighting to create a cross-border Islamic state in Iraq, Syria and beyond. The second “S” in the acronym ISIS (sometimes ISIL) stems from the Arabic word, al-Sham, which refers to the Greater Syria or Levant area.

It already controls considerable territory in easternSyria and western and central Iraq. Writing in theIndependent on Monday (9 June), Patrick Cockburn, said that ISIS has now surpassed al-Qaeda as “militarily the most successful jihadi movement ever”.

ISIS formed in April 2013, an expansion of an existing group, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq. But al-Qaeda denounced ISIS in February, saying that the al-Nusra Front was its only offshoot in Syria.

ISIS, which has 3,000-5,000 fighters, has gone from strength to strength, taking Raqqa inSyria last year – the only provincial capital to fall to the opposition – and large parts of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq at the beginning of this year. Thousands have been killed in its fierce campaign.

The militants have exploited the Sunni-dominated uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the disaffection of the Sunni minority in Iraq to present themselves as defenders of their co-religionists in places where they consider themselves oppressed by Shia regimes.

The US State Department said on Tuesday (10 June):

ISIS continues to gain strength from the situation in Syria, from which it transfers recruits, sophisticated munitions, and resources to the fight in Iraq. ISIS is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region.

Iraqi Christians at prayer

Iraqi Christians at prayer

Iraqi troops were able to put up little resistance in Mosul and were in fact among the hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the city. Their prospects of retaking Mosul do not bode well given that they have been unable to reclaim Fallujah after months of fighting. And the government now has even more territory to try to defend as ISIS moves south. Yesterday (11 June), the militants attacked and took the city of Tikrit, which is just 95 miles north of Baghdad. Government forces have, for now, been able to halt the militants’ advance near Samarra – a city just 68 miles north of the capital.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency and in a statement of desperation, urged citizens to take up arms to fight the militants. A full-blown Sunni-Shia civil war is a distinct threat.

Christians Endangered

The expansion of ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria is a threat to the stability of the entire region and leaves the already extremely vulnerable Christian minorities there even more endangered.

Raqqa in Syria is a terrifying picture of what life under ISIS control is like. The militants are imposing strict sharia rules and carrying out brutal penalties including beheadings and crucifixions.

Earlier this year, Christians were given a devastating ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the humiliating jizya tax and abide by a list of restrictions, or else risk being killed.

ISIS cited the Islamic concept of dhimma, which governs non-Muslims living in conquered Islamic territory. The jizya is part of a collection of rules and regulations imposed on those granteddhimmi status that are intended to mark them out as inferior to Muslims. It is a humiliating tax or tribute that the Quran commands Christians and Jews to pay “with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued” (Q 9:29). While paying the jizya does guarantee a level of protection for Christians and Jews, it comes at the high price of their accepting a sub-class status in which they are not recognised as citizens and their rights are restricted.

Earlier this month, ISIS confiscated houses and land belonging to Christians in Raqqa; the owners were forced to leave the area. ISIS has turned the main Armenian church in Raqqa into an office for the management of Islamic affairs and the promotion of sharia.

In Iraq, ISIS in its former guise as the Islamic State of Iraq, committed the deadliest-ever attack on Iraqi Christians: the hostage siege at a church in Baghdad in 2010 that left 58 people dead. The horrific incident prompted another wave of Christian emigration, hundreds of thousands having previous fled following an intensification of anti-Christian violence in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.

The takeover of Mosul has prompted yet another evacuation of Iraqi Christians from their homes. Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain had previously been considered relatively safe, and many Christians had moved there from Baghdad and Basra. But in a clear statement from ISIS that they are no longer welcome in Mosul, churches were looted and torched as the militants rampaged through the city.

It is feared that this latest exodus could be the final death knell for the Christians of Iraq. Having previously sought refuge in Syria, this is no longer an option, and as ISIS violence threatens the stability of the wider region, Christians have very few places of safety to which to run.

– patrick sookhdeo

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