The Vicar of Bagdad reports from the area. “I have just returned from a secret visit to Qaraqosh – once the largest Christian town in Iraq, but no longer”.
Today, Qaraqosh stands 90 per cent empty, desecrated by the gunmen of the fanatical Islamic State terror group now in control. The majority of the town’s 50,000 people have fled, fearing that, like other Christians in this region, they will be massacred.
The militants, in a further act of sacrilege, have established their administrative posts in the abandoned churches.
My visit, under the noses of the gunmen, was frightening – but that is nothing to the terror of the poor souls left behind.
Since I went to St George’s Anglican church in Baghdad in 2003 – the only Anglican church in the city – I have seen countless terrible things. Many of my congregation have been killed or mutilated in the years of violence.
But I have never witnessed anything on the scale, or which has affected me quite so dreadfully as on this visit to the north of Iraq.
In the nearby city of Irbil, I found many of those Christians who had fled. Some 30,000 refugees are packed into the Kurdish capital, forming a new Christian suburb.
I spoke to one woman who had survived the massacres in Qaraqosh. She had a bandaged left hand. When IS soldiers could not remove her gold wedding ring, they had simply hacked off her finger. She wept as she told me.
The refugees are now penniless, robbed of their homes and possessions. Christian houses were daubed with the letter ‘N’ for Nazere and given to Muslim families.
I met Hana, who used to be the caretaker of my church in Baghdad, and fought to stay dry-eyed as he told me the fate of his youngest son, aged five. The boy was chopped in half in front of Hana’s eyes during an IS attack.
The family had moved north to Qaraqosh when Hana, who was a founding member of my church, retired. I baptised his remaining children there in Irbil.
The murdered little boy had been named Andrew, after me. I cry now every time I think of him.
People say to me: ‘Is it really as terrible as this? Can these atrocities be real?’
I tell them: ‘Yes. It is as real and terrible as this.’
Qaraqosh has become a place of terror. Its people were shot and some – already dead – were ‘crucified’, a final humiliation and an outrage against the individual, and the faith they had refused to abandon. I am sorry to say that I have seen the pictures printed on these pages, and am sickened.
Now Irbil fears it too will fall to the Islamists, as they expand what they claim is a new caliphate. And without Irbil there is no hope for the Christians. They are running out of places to go.
What is happening in northern Iraq is almost unimaginable. Part of my purpose on this journey was to help feed and clothe this desperate population, using £300,000 from the Anglican Church in the UK, and other generous individuals.
Posted by David Pilkington