Thousands of Christians have fled for their lives as the militant Islamic State (IS) group advanced on the town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. Qaraqosh (population 50,000) – referred to as Iraq’s Christian capital – is located 30km southeast of the city of Mosul, which was captured by IS in June.
For the past few days, the remaining Christians in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, have been fleeing, following an ultimatum from the Islamic State that they convert to Islam, pay a special religious tax or face death.
Most of the Christian population of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, fled the city as it was overrun by fighters from the radical Sunni Muslim group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) on 10 June.
At least 5 people were killed when a series of ten explosions targeted six Christian neighbourhoods across central Baghdad early on the morning of Wednesday 10 November.
On Sunday 31 October, gunmen wearing suicide vests and wielding automatic rifles beseiged the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. The attackers entered the Chaldean Catholic church at dusk, during Mass. They shot a priest and herded the congregation into a hall, holding 120 people hostage for several hours.
A wave of car-bombs was detonated at five Iraqi churches between 6.00p.m. and 7.00 p.m. on Sunday 1st August. Four churches were in Baghdad, and one in Mosul. Bombs planted at one, possibly two, other churches failed to explode. At least 11 people died with over 50 injured.
As Sunday is a working day in Iraq, the main Christian worship services are held in the evening, so the timing of the bombs was clearly intended to cause the maximum Christian casualties. Furthermore, 1st August is a holy day for some denominations in Iraq, the start of a special month of fasting.
Iraq’s Christian community (numbering 400,000) has suffered along with the general population during the rule of Saddam Hussein but was not singled out for persecution, although there were signs of this changing last year when a new law allowed only Muslim names to be given to babies.
Indeed, most recorded incidents of persecution of Christians had come from the Kurdish controlled areas in the north – the most recent being the murder of Ziwar Mohammed Ismaeel (a Christian convert from Islam) in February by a Muslim extremist.