Mosul w/out Christians for First time in 1,900 Years as Radical Fundamentalists Threaten Minorities

By Juan Cole

For the first time in nearly 2000 years, there are virtually no Christians in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. The community is reported to have fled en masse after the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) of radical fundamentalists warned them that they faced the choice of converting to Islam, paying a poll tax, fleeing the city, or… the sword. The incorrectly named “Islamic State,” which is a kind of criminal cartel, said that if they chose to depart, the Christians of Mosul would only be allowed to leave with the clothes on their backs, and their homes and property would be confiscated by IS. There were an estimated 3,000 Christians in Mosul, a city of about 2 million.

IS allegedly set fire to an ancient church in Mosul that goes back to the early centuries of Christianity, though some reports dispute this allegation.

Christianity may have spread to the Jews of Babylon in the time of St. Peter. Penny Young writes:

“It is thought that the Christian population of Iraq is one of the oldest in the world. In his book By the Waters of Babylon (1972) James Wellard hypothesizes that when St Peter referred to ‘the Church at Babylon’, he may have been referring to an actual Jewish Christian community in the region of the Mesopotamian city, similar to other Nazarene communities which were springing up all over the Roman Empire to the west. The word ‘church’ was figurative. The earliest dated church building to have been found in the world so far is at Dura Europos in Syria on the Euphrates close to today’s border with Iraq. The murals were painted between 232 and 256 ad, three quarters of a century before Constantine recog­nized Christianity.”

Iraq was ruled by Iran (the Parthians and then the Sasanians) during the first six centuries of Christianity, and the religion became widespread in Mesopotamia, perhaps even a majority. After Arab Muslims conquered both Iraq and Iran in the 600s AD, most of the people of both gradually converted to Islam over the next four or five centuries. But in Iraq a large Christian population survived. The 1987 census gave 1.4 million Iraqi Christians out of a then population, probably, of 19 million. By 2003 the Christians were estimated at 800,000, with over half a million having emigrated during the years of harsh US/ UN sanctions, or having not been able to afford to have children. The US military occupation of Iraq gave Christianity a bad name and Iraqi Christians were most unfairly targeted as somehow American clients. Over half of the remaining Christians were said to have left by 2008, leaving about 300,000 or so. Now it appears that the remaining 300,000 are being ethnically cleansed in the north of Iraq, where most Christians had lived.

Mosul’s fleeing Christians have largely gone to Dohuk or Irbil in Kurdistan, and Kurdish officials have urged Kurds to give them refuge. Shiite shrines and institutions in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala have also offered to shelter the displaced Christians. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians had earlier gone to Syria and Lebanon, though it seems likely that they will try to get to Europe.

Christians are not the only group at risk. There are many small unorthodox Shiite communities in northern Iraq, and they are recipients of the same threats being directed against the Christians. There are also Mandaean Gnostics. In the period of the American occupation, the predecessors of IS such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, had routinely target Christians and heterodox Shiites for bombings and attacks.

Likewise, women are suffering, since the radical fundamentalists want to impose a kind of house arrest (“seclusion”) on them. On Sunday, IS executed a woman in their stronghold of Raqqa in Syria by stoning her for alleged adultery.

A new UN report says:

“[IS] and associated armed groups have also continued to … perpetrate targeted assassinations [community, political and religious leaders, government employees, education professionals, health workers, etc.], sexual assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, forced recruitment of children, kidnappings, executions, robberies.”

In the meantime, IS may be throwing its weight around without really controlling Mosul, where the Men of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order are allegedly reasserting themselves. IS fighters have gone south to Tikrit, now the front between the Baghdad government and IS territory. The Iraqi Army has apparently suffered humiliating checks at the hands of IS.

It seems like that IS will continue to play an out-sized role in Mosul and elsewhere until the Baghdad government and the Iraqi army get their act together.


Related video:

Press TV: “Christians are hurriedly fleeing from the city of Mosul following an ultimatum issued by ISIL”

12 Responses

  1. Suppose, as seems likely, that the Iraqi army is not any kind of organized military force at all — just a ghost structure built of corruption and delusion, erected after all the competent (or even semi-competent), experienced people were ejected from the army by the US occupation authorities. Who then is going to unseat ISIS, which gives signs of being organized? Not the ragtag ‘militias’. One could even imagine a collapse so thorough as to include Baghdad and the central government, which would certainly earn the name of disaster.

    Two options come to mind, and I’d appreciate comment on their plausibility. One is the Syrian army. This seem quite improbable, giving its current engagement in protecting Assad by destroying much of Syria. The other is the Iranian army. Presumably, a few divisions of actual troops, with actual officers and with air support, could squelch ISIS. This seems politically dodgy on multiple fronts: the Sunni-dominated areas where ISIS has its hold will not welcome them or cooperate; the US and Saudi Arabia would go bonkers. If neither military option is possible, it looks like we’re back to disaster as the most likely outcome.

    • It will be Iran. The US will be powerless to stop it because we spent so much time tying ISIS’ predecessors to al-Qaeda. Saudi will go bonkers, pour weapons into the hands of its extremist proxies, and try to stem the Iranian tide. The Middle East will finally have its first World War, and not a Jew in sight.

      But the Israelis and neocons are idiots for having encouraged this process. World wars lead to other world wars, and new powers and alliances arise from them. Israel is committing suicide by risking that.

      • Gee, is this in any way analogous to how Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge first came to be the Top Gunmen in Cambodia, and then another former Big Bad Enemy went for various reason across that border “we” had so disingenuously and “covertly” ignored for decades, and did a cleansing regime change apparently without the Empire’s permission? Naw, the situations are nothing alike: Arabic reads from right to left, with those furrin, evil-lookin’ characters, while Vietnamese at least scans the PROPER direction, including on the bar codes on all the clothing that’s made there and fills the loyal, patriotic racks and shelves at KWalmart? (What to make of “our” love-hate with Chinese, then, with ideopictographs written every which way?)

  2. Juan,

    Thanks for posting this.

    Regarding ousting (un)Islamic State, I feel that the most moral policy is to provide massive support to the Syrian moderates.

    The combination of the Iraq army acting in Iraq and the Syrian moderates acting in Syria along with disgust of the (un)Islamic State from the Sunni population in Iraq and Syria may be too much for the small numbers of this brutal organization.

    And helping the moderate Syrians will help them overcome the torturing Assad regime which is so bloodthirsty to remain in dictatorial control, that some 170,000 Syrians have died thus far.

    As a practicing Muslim, I am outraged about the ultimatums made to the Christian community and for them to then leave their home and land.

    I am not a scholar of Islam but I know that there are multiple commands in the Qur’an for Muslims to do and enjoin the “ma’ruf.”

    Although I am not an Arab, my understanding is that mar’uf has meanings of what is universally accepted as good and right.

    Regarding the jizya, maybe it was considered normative in the far past for outlying communities to pay some amount to formally demonstrate recognition of the new religious/ethnic group that has taken over the geographical area and maybe also as to compensate from having to provide any men for protecting the state and not needing to pay any tax such as zakat for helping those in poverty.

    However, I would assume that God would want Muslims to calibrate what is ma’ruf regarding political and economic understandings of peoples within the context of time and place.

    So a community may not feel threatened 1400 years ago by having to pay some amount to the new authorities but communities of today would feel threatened.

    I am not making any “fatwa” because I am not a scholar but I do know that Muslim rulers are supposed to provide fairness, security and prosperity to all they are ruling, and thus not of course not to provide the opposite policy of threatening ultimatums.

    So for this criminal led organization to not be sensitive to others but rather threatening and brutal is embarrassing for Muslims.

    Although not confirmed yet, if any damage was done to an ancient church in Mosul, it shows that the (un)Islamic State is in violation of 22(39-41) of the Qur’an which is pasted below because Muslims are supposed to protect churches…and also in violation of the beginning of this passage which indicates that Muslims should help to protect everyone’s homes and thus not the opposite of threatening them.

    In fact verse indicates that Muslims should be willing to fight to protect all houses of worship including monasteries, churches, and synagogues. And verse 41 again uses the word ma’ruf (translated as what is considered “right.”

    “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory.

    [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is God.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.

    [And they are] those who, if We give them authority in the land, establish prayer and give zakah and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And to God belongs the outcome of [all] matters.”

    • With all due respect, Omer, God has noting do with it as man has free will. The IS thugs are just a mean and nasty criminal enterprise who know how to fight, and who have taken advantage of “the void” that was created by the warring political/religious factions in Syria and Iraq. They are just using a religion as a vehicle to facilitate their enterprise. One wonders what their endgame is since they keep killing and/or extraditing the peoples in the areas under their control?

  3. The Christian and other minority residents of Mosul are probably not going to wait to find out if ISIS is or is not in control, who have a strong presence regardless.

    Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups, like the Baathists or Sunni tribal heads, allied with the local and foreign Sunni fundamentalist radicals and a good deal of the disgruntled Sunni Muslim population in those areas had welcomed them, or at least were reluctant to resist them initially…what did they think was going to happen by accepting extremists as their own?

    Those claims by some Sunni residents “they’re not so bad, we’re better off and safer now, they won’t treat any Iraqi, including Christians, differently”, or claims Iraqi Sunni rebel militant or political leaders “We’re in control, lead and run the show, ISIS are a small part of the resistance who are helping us, its not just a Sunni revolution, but an Iraqi one” have now probably gone mute.

    At least the Sunni tribes around Tikrit are putting up a fight, despite the Shia-led Iraqi army’s pathetic failure. But they face being squeezed in as IS destroys routes around the area making movement and support difficult.

    Let’s hope all the Iraqis do finally halt ISIS’s Taliban like takeover and take back the territory lost.

  4. I was familiar with a number of Chaldean-rite Christians from Mosul, which is a city near the ancient ruins of Nineveh.

    They had sustained persecution since the fall of the Baathists in 2003 and many had feared to leave their homes since that time. Many emigrated to Germany or the U.S. following the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

    The Chaldean-rite Christians of Mosul – due to their link to Nineveh – had established an annual holiday three-day fast to honor the biblical visit of the Old Testament prophet Jonah to to Nineveh.

  5. No matter what the conflict, Christians have been continuously caught in the crossfire. The Western World is largely unaware that they are turning a blind eye to a group of people who largely helped found and form their religion. How can these Christians ever return to a country that has turned their back on them as they have been bruised and battered for conflicts that truly have nothing to do with them?

  6. So, IS at least gives a warning. Making them just fractionally less murderous than Boko Haram, for example. Both of which need to be ground to the pages of history.

    • Boko Haram actually warned Christians to leave Northern Nigeria, but Nigerian Christians have nowhere to flee too – & they will fight Boko Haram eventually if the Nigerian government cannot.

      Just wanted to point out that ISIS and Boko Haram are birds of a feather.

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