09/14/2016, 16.26
IRAQ
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Patriarch Sako: Demining land to return the plain of Nineveh to Christian refugees

by Louis Raphael Sako*

The Chaldean primate stresses the need to clear mines left by the Islamic State before thinking about homes and hospitals. This “sneaky hidden enemy in the ground and “everyday objects” must be eliminated. Mine clearing is necessary for the return of Christians. A 14-year-old boy dies from a mine explosion.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Rebuilding homes, churches, and hospitals can bring satisfaction for a life getting back to normal after the devastation wrought by the Islamic State; however, even before reconstruction starts it is essential to demine, this according to Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako, in a letter to AsiaNews in which he says that “Working step by step, stage by stage, rebuilding after clearing, we Iraqi Christians can return to live here.”

Even today, more than two years after the fall of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to Islamic State militias on the eve of a major operation by the Iraqi army against Jihadis, “it is difficult to know in what condition Christian villages will be after they are liberated.”

Of course, rebuilding homes and infrastructures will be necessary, but “before returning to revive our beloved cities, [. . .] a big obstacle will have to be removed.” This “is a sneaky hidden enemy, under the ground and sometimes even in everyday objects.”

“Today, we must seriously consider a post-Daesh plan after life returns to the ancient and fertile plain called Nineveh.” Here is the Chaldean patriarch’s appeal sent to AsiaNews:

Right now many newspapers mention the preparations for the battle of Mosul. Yet once the fighting is over, a great humanitarian project will have to be undertaken. For over two years, hundreds of thousands of people from the Nineveh plain – about 120,000 Christians, tens of thousands of Yezidis, kaka’is and all other inhabitants of the region – have been hoping to return to their homes.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know in what condition Christian villages will be after they are liberated. There unfortunately is no doubt that as in other liberated Iraqi cities schools, homes, clinics, hospitals and churches will have to be rebuilt.

Yet before thinking about reconstruction, before returning to revive our beloved cities in the plain of Nineveh – Teleskuf, Bqaofq, Batnaya, Tell Keff, Bartala, Ba'ashiqa, Karamless and Qaraqosh –, a big obstacle will have to be removed.

This obstacle is a sneaky hidden enemy, under the ground and sometimes even in everyday objects. I mean mines and many Islamic State booby traps left when they are forced to leave an area. Wherever it pulls out, it sows death by leaving hidden mines and explosive devices.

How many people died on the way to their homes in Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit? How many families have been bereaved as they rejoiced to find finally their homes after being displaced or becoming refugees?

The traps left by Daesh (Islamic State) should not prolong the plight of refugees in the Nineveh Plain. Today, we must seriously consider a post-Daesh plan after life returns to the ancient and fertile plain called Nineveh.

If I wish to draw the world’s attention to the tragedy it is because I do not want our children to grow up amid minefields. Our people has suffered too much for there to be more people injured, amputees, death by mines.

A young Christian of 14, Eugene Salah, died on a mine when he came to work the land with his father alongside one of our liberated villages.

Today I invite all the people of good will, all Christians, to mobilise so that the Nineveh plain can come back to life. Yes, with trust in Christ I want to believe in the resurrection of the plain of Nineveh and Mosul!

To rebuild the cradle of Iraq’s Christian communities, we have to start with large-scale demining. In the beginning of July, I asked the Fraternité en Irak (a French NGO that helps Iraq’s Christian, Yazidi and Shabak minorities) to see how to clear two already liberated Christian villages.

Currently, the Fraternité en Irak and France have announced that they will start soon to clear these two Christian villages as well as four Kaka'i villages. The project, which also aims to train Christians, is only a first step.

Sure! Rebuilding schools or clinics brings greater rewards, but if mine clearance is not done before we can rebuild nothing.

By addressing this problem early, we can accelerate the return of Christian refugees to their homes and villages. By bringing in demining specialists to the Nineveh Plain now, we can start the process of reconstruction of areas liberated from the Islamic State.

I invite all those who read these words to believe in Christ, our Saviour, and in the resurgence of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain one day. Working step by step, stage by stage, rebuilding after clearing, we Iraqi Christians can return to live here.

* Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, and President of the Iraqi Bishops' Conference

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