City had significant population of Christians prior to ISIS takeover
As the long awaited operation to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the clutches of the Islamic State group got underway Sunday, an Assyrian priest who heads a local aid organization asked for prayers, especially for stability in the wake of a rout of ISIS.
“Liberating Mosul means the liberation of Nineveh Plains,” said Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, head of the Christian Aid Program in Northern Iraq (CAPNI). “Intensive coalition air strikes and heavy shelling from Iraqi Army and Peshmerga started since Sunday evening against ISIS positions in the different front lines heading to Mosul. Normally, such intensive bombing is followed by ground troops advance, maybe this morning.”
“Let us pray for the protection of innocent lives and civilians,” Father Youkhana said in a press statement. “Let us pray for political stability post-ISIS, which is the main challenge. Let us pray for the protection of the properties and infrastructure.”
Iraq announced the beginning of its offensive to retake Mosul Monday morning Baghdad time, according to the Washington Post. In a televised address, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pledged to raise the Iraqi flag over the city once more, calling on residents to cooperate with the advancing forces.
Mosul was taken over by the Islamic State on June 10, 2014. Half a million people escaped on foot or by car in the next two days.
It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his self-proclaimed caliphate more than two years ago.
The city was once home to 70,000 Assyrian Christians. Any that are left after ISIS moved in have been forced to pay a tax for remaining Christian.
The current operation has been expected for months. For some time, radio appeals have warned civilians in Mosul to stay away from bases of the jihadists and, if possible, to flee the city. The Islamic State has fortified its defenses of the city in recent months, erecting concrete blast walls and digging trenches, the Washington Post reported.
The military planning has not been without internal struggle. Fides news agency reported last week that the United States has been involved for months in an attempt to defuse tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Erbil, and Baghdad, with regard to the future management of Mosul and the oil resources of the region. Meanwhile, the Kurdish government has been trying to gain the consent of Sunni tribal clans for the creation of an independent Kurdish state, which also includes Mosul and the Province of Nineveh.