Christians in Iraq are running out of time, and coalition airstrikes are not enough to turn back the Islamic State group that is pushing them out of their ancient homeland, said a bishop from northern Iraq.
As the U.S. Congress gets set to debate authorizing President Obama to use military force against the Islamic State, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil was in London this week, making his case to a key US ally in the fight. And other bishops from Iraq have ramped up their calls for Western powers to do more to help protect Christians in the region.
Archbishop Warda pleaded with British Parliamentarians to do all in their power to persuade the government to authorize the deployment of British troops to help to drive out ISIS fighters from the Nineveh Plain.
Like the Obama administration, Downing Street has been reluctant to send ground forces to the conflict. The coalition, which includes other nations, is attempting to weaken the Islamic State through the use of air power and by supporting the forces of Iraq and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
"The government has said efforts to defeat IS were ‘comprehensive,’" the BBC reported.
The dramatic takeover of large parts of Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State, along with the group’s imposition of the harshest of interpretations of Islamic law on the multi-ethnic, multi-religious population in its path, has elicited a very different response from Christian leaders than the pleas against war in Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s. Even Pope Francis has been open to the use of military force to defend innocent populations threatened by the Islamic State. Recently, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, said that IS militants’ burning a captive Jordanian pilot to death, “reminds us how the fight against any fundamentalist force is necessary and urgent. … We are called to unite our forces with all people of good will to fight, mainly with the power of prayer and of wholesome education."
Archbishop Warda this week told a meeting in the House of Lords where he was a guest of Lord Alton of Liverpool, "It is hard for a Catholic bishop to say that we have to advocate a military action but we have to go for that. There is no other option.”
As the Catholic Herald in the UK pointed out, Archbishop Warda’s diocese covers the Kurdish-controlled territory which since last summer has become the home to more than 120,000 Iraqi Christian refugees who fled ISIS. He said that US-led airstrikes have made some impact on the activities of ISIS but that they were “not enough” to liberate the Christian settlements on the Nineveh Plain.
“Military action is needed, a powerful one where they could really get those people out of these villages so that our people and others can return,” Archbishop Warda said. In response to a question from a member of Parliament, the archbishop confirmed that he was suggesting that Britain sends in troops. The Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga are insufficiently well-trained or equipped to defeat ISIS, he said, adding, “Someone has to do the fighting.”
Meanwhile, the bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church have called upon the international community to “liberate the occupied territories” of Iraq from the Islamic State. Meeting in Baghdad, the Synod of the Chaldean Church urged international leaders to roll back the gains of the Islamic State and to “put in place the necessary measures to protect Christians and other Iraqis, so they all return to their homes and live in safety and with dignity,” according to Fides Agency.
On Wednesday, President Obama sent Congress a proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force that would limit military action against the Islamic State to three years and allow limited use of U.S. ground troops for things like rescue operations or intelligence sharing. The resolution reiterates Obama’s view that "in this campaign it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces."
The resolution notes that the Islamic State has, among other things, "threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations; … has targeted innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence, including abduction, enslavement, torture, rape, and forced marriage."