One of the last Christian strongholds in Iraq came under attack this week, and its last remaining citizens are making a desperate plea to the United States for help.
Until this week, Qaraqosh was a town where Christians from other parts of Iraq could find refuge. But late ?night, ISIS rebels started shelling Qaraqosh, provoking a mass exodus on Thursday. According to various reports, anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 citizens have fled. The Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche, has remained behind with around 1,000 of the town’s inhabitants who do not have cars or other means of leaving.
Archbishop Mouche has been calling his friends in the United States asking for urgent help, including Bishop Yousif Benham Habash, the Syriac Catholic bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance, in Newark, New Jersey, who is from Qaraqosh. morning, June 27th, Archbishop Mouche called Joseph Kassab, a US-based advocate for Iraqi Christians, and told him, “We need something done right now. The people are frantic.” The town is without water and electricity and all the businesses have been closed down. The Archbishop said they need immediate aid and relief, especially food and water. They also urgently need protection.
The United States continues to say it cannot put boots on the ground, but short of troops, it could provide arms and intelligence and humanitarian aid. Kassab says the Kurdish Peshmarga militia initially defended the town with a single battalion, but they have since reinforced their numbers with an additional three battalions.
Responding to the Archbishop’s plea for help, Kassab met with a number of members of Congress, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. According to Kassab, they are sympathetic to the plight of Iraq’s Christians, but there has not yet been concrete action, and ultimately it is the administration who must make the decision to act. “We have heard a lot of lip service,” Kassab said. “It is time for action. This is a religious genocide. We must act now.”
Prior to the Iraq war, Iraq had 450 functioning churches. Today that number is down to 53. ISIS’s recent attacks are cutting that number down further. And it is not only Christians who are under attack. ISIS has been making public announcements in towns they have conquered that anything unIslamic is forbidden, including the religions of the Yazidi, Shabak, Shia Muslims, and Christians, and the Iraqi military is unable to protect the minorities. Human Rights Watch reported on Friday, June 27th, that photographs and satellite images indicate that ISIS executed nearly two hundred men in the days after seizing Tikrit on June 11th. ISIS themselves on a now defunct twitter feed claimed to have executed 1,700 Iraqi troops.
Katie Gorka is president of the Council of Global Security.