The Tragic Exodus of Iraq’s Christians

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All but defenseless against ISIS and suffering from punishing shortages of vital resources, Iraq’s ancient Christian communities are taking their only option: leave.

BARTILLA, IRAQ—For The Daily BeastJamie Dettmer  reports: The Christians of Bartilla are wondering if these are the final days. Since the second century and the origins of Christianity in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, they have been unfortunate in their neighbors, suffering attacks and massacres at the hands of Persians, Iraqi Muslims and Kurds. And if geography is destiny, then it is surprising they are still here, but for how much longer they aren’t sure.

Destiny is barking again as far as the town’s Assyrian Christians are concerned. A mere 10-minute drive from Bartilla and other small neighboring Christian towns, jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have set up their most advanced position on the eastern side of the city of Mosul. There are a dozen Kurdish fighters manning an opposing sunbaked checkpoint. Unsurprisingly, despite the protective presence in the area of other Kurdish peshmerga forces, the 16,000 Christians of Bartilla are wondering if they will face a terminal assault.

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Standing at the Peshmerga checkpoint, I wave at the jihadist frontier post but see no reciprocal gesture coming from the other side. The representatives of the (Muslim) second coming apparently have the gaze of W.B. Yeats’ rough beast—“blank and pitiless as the sun.” “We have had no contact with them,” says a Kurdish fighter about the jihadist guards two or three hundred meters away. The Kurd squints at me and asks if I want to go to Mosul. And then makes a slashing gesture across his throat and laughs.In Bartilla, Fr. Binham Lallou of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who was born in the down-at-heel, dusty town and returned after studying in Lebanon for the priesthood, says: “We are scared there is going to be a disaster. People are afraid of the jihadists and afraid of the Iraqi government, maybe they will come with airplanes and bomb here.” Read the rest of this entry »