ISIS Attacks Iraqi Town Where Christians from Mosul Took Refuge

Turning churches into mosques and cutting off water and medicine.

Young refugee from Mosul

© Allen Kakony

If anyone imagined that the militia of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate would be satisfied when it pushed all the Christians and Shiites from the city of Mosul, think again.

According to the Fides news agency, Islamic State militants launched a mortar attack against the village of Tilkif in an attempt to break into one of the towns in the Nineveh Plain, where Mosul families found refuge.

"The attack started from a village controlled by jihadists,” Father Paul Thabit Mekko, a Chaldean priest, told Fides, “but was rejected by the Kurdish Peshmerga troops. In the night, panic had driven dozens of Christian families to flee to Dohuk, but the Kurdish soldiers who were controlling a checkpoint told them that the situation was under control and could return home."

Both towns lie north of Mosul, where an ultimatum from the Islamic State last wee–to convert to Islam or die–left the ancient city devoid of Christians.

The Peshmerga are known to be fierce troops, fighting for a Kurdish independence movement in the north of Iraq. 

The episode highlights the uncertainty that hangs over the whole area, as the Fides report put it: on the one hand, the attack represents proof that the militia of the Islamic Caliphate are not content with controlling Mosul and would like to extend control over the Nineveh Plain.

But the reaction of the Peshmerga, notes Father Thabit Mekko, confirms that the Kurds are determined to protect this area from jihadist militants.

“Here, now, there are only Kurdish military forces that ensure the safety of the population," he said.

While the United Nations has expressed deep concern about a genocide of Christians in the region, Christians in the country cannot wait for help from the international community. Senior U.S. officials and lawmakers butted heads Wednesday over the American response to Iraq’s expanding Sunni insurgency, with Republicans saying drone strikes should have been authorized months ago and even Democrats questioning the Obama administration’s commitment to holding the fractured country together, AP reported today.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the State Department’s Brett McGurk and Defense Department’s Elissa Slotkin said the administration was focused on improving U.S. intelligence, securing American personnel and property, guiding Iraq toward a new, more inclusive government and helping its forces strike back against the al-Qaida offshoot that has seized much of the country.

The U.S. is now conducting about 50 intelligence sorties over Iraq a day, they said, from about one flight a month a few months ago. Both stressed they saw no military solution to patching up Iraq’s political and ethnic divisions or to peeling off moderate Sunnis from the Islamic State. Republicans and Democrats accepted that point, but questioned why the administration wasn’t doing more.

Amid all the internal strife, Iraq’s Kurds have pushed into disputed territory including the oil-rich area of Kirkuk and moved closer to a decades-old dream of independence. The U.S. has been trying to keep Iraq whole. Democrats and Republicans wondered why.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the panel, questioned why the Kurds as a distinct people aren’t entitled to the same rights of self-determination the Palestinians enjoy. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, a Republican, said the United States shouldn’t be limited by Iraqi borders drawn up by the British Empire a century ago. He suggested an independent Kurdistan and a sovereign Baluchistan ought to be considered.

The Defense Department’s Slotkin said a strong, capable government in Baghdad — and not an Iraq divided into smaller countries — posed the best defense against the extremist insurgency. She implied that what lawmakers proposed might mean the abandonment of territories currently controlled by the Islamic State. "Who’s in charge of that western and north part of Iraq in that model?" she asked.