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The battle of Mosul. The liberation of the city is not enough for Christians to return to their villages

The battle of Mosul, fought by the Iraqi forces against the militia of the Islamic State, is followed with concern by tens of thousands of Christians sheltered in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) since summer 2014, after having fled from Mosul and from the villages in the Nineveh Plains, escaping Daesh’s heinous violence. They are aware that their return doesn’t only depend on Daesh’s defeat but also on the reconstruction of their homes, churches and cemeteries, destroyed and desecrated during the past years of Jihadi occupation. The Christian population is called to face an equally serious challenge, namely to restore confidence in the Muslim inhabitants who had supported the Islamic State, thereby somehow contributing to its victory. Moreover, liberating Mosul may not be enough for Christians to return to their lands and their homes. The testimony of the Syro-Catholic priest, Fr George Jahola, deeply committed in assisting displaced Christians in Erbil

Throughout the past months of the Iraqi offensive to liberate Mosul from the grips of the militia of the Islamic State (Daesh), thousands of displaced Christians in Erbil have been struggling with a quivering feeling that goes from the yearning to return to caution: to wait some more time. They all cherish the hope that they will be able to recover all their possessions – their homes, land, shops, their very life and work – hurriedly abandoned in the period June-August 2014 to escape the fury of the Caliphate after the invasion of the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plains, following the capture of Mosul. Syro-Catholic Fr George Jahola, serving in the diocese of Mosul, deeply committed in assisting the Christian populations that sought refuge in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, shared with SIR what he witnessed so far.

The greatest challenge. “A large majority of homes and villages in the Nineveh Plains have been destroyed, many houses were set ablaze. They were all plundered by Daesh militia belonging to the self-defined ‘Islamic State’”, said the priest tasked by Monsignor Petros Mouché, Syro-Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and of all Kurdistan, to draw up an inventory of all damaged property (houses, churches, Christian places of worship and cemeteries) that will be integrated in a report due to be presented to donors and benefactors ahead of the reconstruction. According to detailed estimates, 6000 houses will have to be torn down and rebuilt. “Christians will never be able to return to their native villages unless they are granted security, a home and a roof over their heads –Fr Jahola pointed out-. The final Report will be presented in Erbil to the media and to the diplomats present in the city on Saturday, March 4. Our purpose is also to raise the theme of the security of Christian communities, which, it should be said, largely depends on the liberation of Mosul. When the city is finally liberated we will address the issue of security, and with good reason.”

The greatest challenge for the Christian population is to rebuild feelings of reconciliation and trust towards their Muslim neighbours.

“A high number of Christian families claim that they were betrayed by the Muslim families whom they considered their friends – said the Syro-Catholic priest -. This feeling contributes to toning down the yearning to return to their villages of origin. Some also left to create a new life abroad, far from the areas of war.”

“Christians should be returning to their home villages in the coming months of May and June. In that period we will have to work on the reconstruction of their homes and of their hearts, to recreate the fabric of coexistence scarred by the war. The State is called to do its share, ensuring everyone’s security and defence in order to thwart new invasions and attacks against the viallges.”

Military dispatch. According to Rudaw Kurdish broadcasting station, Iraqi security forces managed to take over the main road connecting Mosul to Tal Afar, thereby cutting off ISIS’s supply route. During the advance on Mosul the Iraqi forces discovered in al Kasfah (20 km south of Mosul), the largest mass grave ever found in Iraq. According to local inhabitants over 4000 victims were shot in the back of their heads and thrown in this “terror ditch”. Military dispatches released a few days ago inform that Iraqi forces took over the Jawsaq neighbourhood in the western part of the city, seizing control over a strategic bridge, the fourth of the kind, located on the southwestern banks of the Tigris River. The western and the eastern areas of the city are connected by five bridges on the Tigris river, all of which were partly destroyed by the air raids of the international coalition led by the United States in the offensive launched against ISIS in Mosul past October. The eastern area of the city was retaken a month ago. This could allow Iraqi forces to extend a floating bridge between the city’s two halves that could be used as a supply route. Iraqi forces retook also the districts of Tayaran and Maamoun in West Mosul. The advance now enables the passage of the Iraqi military from the eastern to the western areas of Mosul with mobile bridges located in the districts of Falastin and Yarimja. As the city is liberated, the forces carry out clearing operations, notably to avert the threat of suicide-bombers, a lethal weapon of the Jihadi militants of al Baghdadi’s Caliphate. There are growing concerns also for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in districts that have not yet been liberated, while thousands have fled the combat zone and have taken shelter outside Mosul or in the liberated districts in the eastern area. War dispatches have no influence on the events.

For Fr Jahola “the military defeat of the Islamic State is not enough. It is necessary to address its mentality, that is widespread across Mosul’s population who supported it and who now will need to be involved in a dialogue process to avoid cruel acts of revenge.”

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