Mosul (AsiaNews) - The Christian presence in Iraq, especially in the Mosul area, is "in danger". Pope Francis' latest appeal "is important for the closeness and support shown by the pope," but it is also a "clear signal the extent of the crisis and the risk of death" that hangs over the Christian minority in Iraq, said Mgr Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, northern Iraq.
Since the crisis broke out, about 500,000 people, Christians and Muslims, fled last month, causing a humanitarian, economic and political crisis. Back in May, well before the al-Qaeda linked Sunni jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) made its quick move, Mgr Nona had raised the alarm about the "tragedy" experienced by Iraq and its people.
"We knew how the serious the situation was but nobody talked about this part of the world, no one spoke about Mosul, and these are the results," said the archbishop.
Recently, ISIS militants seized the see of Chaldean archdiocese in Mosul, sacking the building and destroying every Christian symbol. They did the same to Mosul's Church of St Ephrem, home to the Syriac Orthodox archbishopric.
They did so despite a call by the imam from the nearby mosque to respect places of worship. Local sources told Ankawa.com said that Islamists responded to the appeal by the local Muslim leader by saying that "there is no bishop nor church in the Islamic state."
Two days ago, "they came and planted the flag in the archbishop's building," Mgr Nona told AsiaNews, and "now occupy it. The situation has not changed." There have been no more news since then, he added. "If this is their attitude and behavior towards minorities, toward other groups, it is an extremely negative signal for everyone," he said.
If some families were able to return Qaraqosh and other villages, the situation is very different in Mosul, which remains under Islamist control. "The reality is serious," the prelate warned, "especially for families who have less and less resources to survive, relying on nothing."
The archbishop of Mosul also warned that nothing is known about the fate of two nuns and three children seized in recent days. "We are doing everything we can" for them, "but there is no clear information about their whereabouts."
The nuns and the three children, from an orphanage, were on their way to Mosul when they were stopped by ISIS militia.
"I would like to launch an appeal to all political leaders to find a way out of this serious situation as well as a common path towards dialogue in order to save the country from the danger of division," said the prelate, who is just back from last week's Synod of Chaldean bishops. "I pray that Christians may find support and help; we need a hand from everyone in this difficult situation."
Meanwhile, in Baghdad Iraq's new Parliament meets today for the first time since last April's election. The crisis caused by the ISIS offensive is at the top of its agenda. Many are trying to set up a government of national unity as a way to provide concrete action for the country and its people.
The focus will be on whether or not to replace Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whom critics blame for stoking sectarian tensions during his eight years in power.
Masoud Barzani, the leader of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, said that Iraq was in effect already partitioned, and that he intends to hold a referendum on independence within months. He added that whilst Kurds would play a part in a political solution to the country's crisis, independence was what he described as their natural right.
The crisis is the worst since US troops pulled out in December 2011.
Violence has claimed the lives of 2,417 people in June, making it the deadliest month so far this year, the United Nations said on Tuesday. The figure exclude however deaths in embattled Anbar province, which is largely controlled by Sunni militants. (DS)