Iraqi Priest: The 'military defeat' of Isis does not erase the jihadist threat

With the Battle of Al-Qaim, the Islamic State has lost its last bastion in the country. UN: jihadists massacred hundreds of civilians in Mosul. Fr. Samir: Cultural, political and economic development or Daesh will return "in a new guise". Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad have dampened the joy of defeating Isis.

Erbil (AsiaNews) - From a "military" point of view, the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) "has been defeated" in Iraq and no longer has territory under its direct control"; however, the "threat" represented by the Jihadist group remains real "because if there is no unified cultural, political, and economic commitment," it will return in the future with a new face, says Fr. Samir Youssef, parish priest of Amadiya diocese (Kurdistan). His parish cares for 3500 families of Christian, Muslim, and Yazid refugees who fled their homes in 2014 to escape the militiamen of the "Caliphate."

He tells AsiaNews: "Of course, the Islamic state has suffered a tough defeat  because the heart of the movement was Iraq, not Syria, this is where they had their resources, wealth, and the strategic base of the leaders and their families".

This morning, the Iraqi army entered Al-Qaim, in the Anbar governorate, in a desert area not far from the Syrian border, the last stronghold of jihadists in Iraq. With the support of US-led coalition raids, troops have taken control of the city. The militants tourched numerous civilian homes, trying to cover the tracks of their escape. About 150,000 people lived in the area, most of whom were Sunni tribal and were the last great center still under Isis control.

Meanwhile, new evidence of the massacres carried out by the militias of the "Caliphate" in Mosul are filtering through in the aftermath of its liberation by an imposing Arab-Kurdish joint offensive. UN sources report that the jihadists would have killed about 741 civilians "in execution mode" in the final stages of the battle. Added to this are mass seizures, people used as human shields, houses hit and destroyed on purpose, civilians targeted while attempting a desperate escape to salvation. Between November 2016 and July 2017, 2,521 died in the military operations people - including 461 under US-led coalition bombings - and 1673 others were injured.

Fr Samir, among the main advocates of the AsiaNews campaign "Adopt a Christian in Mosul", underlines that "at a territorial level Isis is over", but there remain "small groups hidden in the desert between Syria and Iraq, or sleeper cells in the cities."

Adding to this is the "serious" problem of the thousands of "indoctrinated" children who have lived all these years under the jihadist yoke. "They suffered brainwashing," he adds, "and even from the language they use, you realize that the living environment has profoundly permeated them. Among these are yazids who speak Arabic, using gestures and vocabulary characteristic of the extremist movement."

The priest remembers that on the main Daesh propaganda sites [Arabic acronym for IS], state that "in the face of territorial defeat, the holy war [the jihad] continues without interruption." That is why, he continues, it will be necessary to "stabilize cities and territories, to rebuild a social and economic fabric, to pursue the unity of the nation without, however, undoing the different souls that compose it." Otherwise, "the Islamic State will return in another guise, as happened in the past after the defeat of al Qaeda: political corruption, Sunni and Shiite wars, divisions between Baghdad and Erbil with the risk of a new conflict, influence of foreign nations.  These are fertile ground for the birth of a new, more radical and dangerous jihadist group.

The conquest of Mosul, concludes Fr. Samir, was a moment of great joy for the entire population, including Christians. However, the new tensions that followed the Kurdish referendum for independence have soon made this joy disappear. The hope is that political leaders find a peace-making agreement."(DS)