06/11/2014, 00.00
IRAQ

Chaldean Archbishop: Christians and Muslims fleeing Mosul, occupied by Islamists

Msgr. Nona appeals urgently for aid because supplies of food and water are running scarce. The Islamists have taken control of the city. Police and military have abandoned their weapons. Faithful, priests and nuns have left the area, the churches are closed. The prelate prays for a "strong state" that is a guarantor of peace and unity. Premier Al-Maliki declares a state of emergency.

Mosul (AsiaNews) - The situation is "very difficult". First of all, there "is an urgent need to help these people who have fled" from the city, because "within two or three days supplies of food and water will be finished" goods and basic necessities "will be nowhere to be found". This is the dramatic appeal, entrusted to AsiaNews, of Msgr. Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Over the last few hours the city of nearly three million inhabitants has fallen into chaos, following the descent of hundreds of Islamic fighters who have taken control of large areas. The militiamen met with no resistance, because the army and police forces - although present in mass - laid down their arms and abandoned their posts, stripping their uniforms and mingling with the crowd.

The situation of the Christian minority is "dramatic" in a diocese that has previously mourned the violent death of faithful and pastors, including the former Archbishop Msgr. Faraj Rahho (who was kidnapped) and Fr. Ragheed Ganni.

Latest eye-witness accounts speak of at least 500 thousand people who have fled the city, located about 360 km north-west of Baghdad and the second most important city in all of Iraq, given its strategic position in an area rich in oil and gas natural. Mosul, is a stronghold of Sunni Wahhabi fundamentalism, which has woven close ties with Saudi Arabia. Attacks on oil pipelines and other sensitive targets are common practice among groups linked to al Qaeda and jihadism.

Yesterday, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked parliament to declare a state of emergency after the Islamic militias took control of the city. On the night between June 9 and 10 hundreds of armed men belonging to the Al Qaeda faction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), took control of the provincial government buildings. In the raid, the extremists also devastated several police stations, before occupying the airport and the army headquarters.

The militants now control much of the plain of Nineveh, imposing duties on the passage of goods and demanding protection money. The governor has fled and launched a television appeal to the people, urging them to resist the onslaught. However, black flags with the image of jihad are visible on several government buildings, while militants have begun broadcasting messages claiming that they have "come to liberate Mosul".

Speaking to AsiaNews, Msgr. Nona describes a "very difficult" situation on the ground, exacerbated by a mass the sudden abandonment en masse  "of the army and police". The prelate is located in a small town three kilometers from Mosul, "which is part of my diocese, which I have no intention of abandoning" he adds. "People are terrified - he says - almost all of the Christians have fled and many Muslims have also left their homes. A city of nearly three million people is now almost emptied, many have fled".

The Archbishop said that the militants "entered the city without even having to fight" although the army and police were out in force before the invasion.  He describes the military's behavior as "very strange", they "left everything without even a feeble attempt to defend the city". This is why  "people got scared and started to run away".

The situation is "particularly difficult" for Christians: families, priests and nuns are all gone and the churches are now closed. Many have sought refuge in Kurdistan, others on the plain of Nineveh and "this is the result of a policy of gradual abandonment." Unlike previous years, such as in 2008, continues Msgr. Nona, today there are no NGOs or humanitarian organizations ready to help the population, or refugees. Today, "there is no one" and the inhabitants of these towns "feel the trouble of having to accommodate other people, food and water will soon be lacking, it is impossible to give refuge to everyone ...".

The archbishop of Mosul hopes for "a real and lasting solution of the Iraqi crisis," a long-term project "for a nation divided between religious, political and ethnic groups"; There is an urgent need for a "strong state", he concludes, that "puts an end to killing and violence ... The Iraqi people are good people and deserve a common vision and a solution that is a source of peace".

The attack in Mosul comes at a time of severe crisis for all of Iraq, a country marred by sectarian violence, which - according to UN estimates - has recorded at least 800 dead, including 603 civilians, in the month of May. Last year, there were more than 8,860 victims of violence equal to the death toll from 2006/7 the worst years of unrest in Iraq. (DS)

 

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