03/27/2017, 15.36
IRAQ
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Chaldean patriarch’s sorrow over Mosul’s tragedy, ready to help thousands of displaced people

Mar Sako tells of west Mosul "difficult but necessary" liberation. Jihadis "use people" as human shields amid narrow streets and houses. Thousands have died and more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed. Controversy continues over an air strike by the US-led coalition that killed more than a hundred people. The Chaldean Church provides food aid to Muslim refugees.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Freeing Mosul from the presence of the Islamic state (aka Daesh) will be "difficult but necessary" because Jihadis "use people" as a shield in a city of narrow streets and houses, said Mar Louis Raphael Sako.

The Chaldean patriarch spoke to AsiaNews about the offensive against Daesh in west Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. "The military offensive underway in the west has killed at least 4,000 people and destroyed 10,000 houses. A real tragedy," he lamented.

Some of Iraq’s oldest churches and some of the most important monasteries are in Old Mosul, in the western sector. There buildings date from the fifth, sixth, and seventh century and are part of the country’s religious, cultural and historical heritage.

For the Chaldean primate, this is why "the liberation of Mosul is necessity. At the same time, it is necessary to protect people and preserve lives."

Over the week-end, the Chaldean Patriarchate released an official statement, in which it expressed "solidarity" with Mosul’s "innocent victims", hit by "obscurantist terrorism" with hundreds of civilians killed in the conflict.

The Chaldean Church expresses its "closeness" and pledges basic "assistance" such as food, with a particular attention for displaced families.

"On this occasion,” the statement reads, “we call on all concerned parties to respect the laws of war, as well as moral and religious traditions to preserve the lives of innocent people."

Finally, the Church urges the international community to tackle "seriously" the crisis of displaced persons, "Iraq’s greatest tragedy".

Over the past month, hundreds of thousands of civilians have abandoned their homes and property in west Mosul to escape the battle between government forces and Kurdish militias against the Islamic State, which still controls the area.

Most of the displaced have found shelter in refugee camps and reception centres set up in recent weeks. Others have found refuge with family and relatives.

In February, after months of intense fighting, the government successfully drove Daesh from east Mosul, on the right bank of the Tigris River. The offensive began on 17 October and took nearly five months to overcome Jihadi resistance in the area.

Now the goal is to take complete control of the city, notwithstanding the need to protect civilians from the effects of the offensive.

On 17 March, an air strike by the US-led international coalition apparently killed more than a hundred people when the building in which they were sheltering collapsed.

Conflicting versions have emerged about the number of victims and responsibility. Iraq’s military claim that the deaths were caused by explosive devices placed by jihadists.

Rescuers pulled out the bodies of more than a hundred people from the rubble of collapsed buildings; other sources claim that more than 240 people died. The US command has opened an investigation but so far has not released any statement.

Some local politicians are calling for greater care, noting that dropping half a tonne of bombs to kill a sniper on top of a building full of civilians is unacceptable.

"This is a carnage,” Mar Sako told AsiaNews. “Something must be done. The Islamic State uses people as human shields, and they must be stopped."

In addition to the civilians killed, there is also the tragedy of the refugees who continue to flee from west Mosul.

"Next week I am going in person to deliver aid to more than 4,000 Muslim families who fled recently,” Mar Sako said. “They are the new refugees, the latest victims of the offensive, who will now join the first displaced people."

Across the country, "We have about 3.5 million displaced people, and the number is expected to rise considering that there are still 400,000 people in west Mosul."

"We want to show them that the Church cares, that ethnic or religious differences do not matter in the distribution of aid.”

“As Christians, we do not seek revenge,” the Chaldean patriarch explained, “but reiterate our role as a bridge and agents of peace." (DS)

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