By William J. Murray
QARAQOSH, Iraq,— The Christian town of Qaraqosh, Iraq, located on the Nineveh Plain, is in ruins. It is far worse than its appearance, which is bad enough. Other than a handful of volunteers to clean up the streets, and the 300 or so members of the Nineveh Protection Unit, or NPU, the town is deserted.
The Christian town has enemies other than the ruthless Islamic State, or ISIS, which left it in ruins. Currently the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, is blocking aid to the NPU that guards the town, because the NPU is the Assyrian Christian militia. It is the only armed Christian group in Iraq.
The Kurds and some Shia have territorial claims on the Nineveh Plain. While for appearance and funding from Washington, the Kurdish support Christian interests for now, the historical relationship between the two groups includes participation in the slaughter of Christians by the tens of thousands. There is no room for a Christian enclave, particularly one that is armed, in the future of an independent state of Kurdistan, which the Kurds are foolish enough to believe that Washington will support.
On a recent day, I personally was escorting three trucks of supplies to the NPU, one two-ton truck with food and two pickups filled with bottled water, when the Peshmerga stopped us at their main checkpoint between Erbil and Qaraqosh. I had authorized the aid, which amounted to a 20-day supply of food for the 300-man NPU garrison guarding Qaraqosh.
For more than two hours, solutions of varying kinds were explored. Taking certain measures that cannot be discussed here, we were finally able to deliver the aid to Qaraqosh. When we arrived at the NPU warehouse in Qaraqosh, the supplies for the day consisted of two bags of onions – that was all. There, we unloaded 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of rice and other supplies.
During my time in Qaraqosh, I should have felt somewhat surprised by the evil done by the Islamic State, but knowing the master it serves, I was not.
Before its destruction, the entire town was looted of everything, from simple home furnishings to heavy machinery. All looted materials from Iraq, and Syria as well, have been taken to Turkey for resale to fund the ongoing operations of the Islamic State. Of course, the Turkish government is aware that such an enormous amount of looted material is being sold at huge discounts in its nation, but it does nothing about it. The machinery from factories in Aleppo, for example, is adding value to the Turkish state. Until the snake bit one of its masters, Turkey was a patron of the various Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.
I spoke with the NPU commander in charge of the guard and the cleanup. I learned that 25 percent of the buildings in Qaraqosh were completely destroyed and another 50 percent burned out. Only about 25 percent of the buildings remain intact enough for use once glass is replaced and power, water and sewage disposal are restored. In the case of buildings burned by the Islamic State, chemicals were used to produce high enough temperatures to melt the steel supports inside the concrete. Most of the burned buildings must be demolished.
Even the pews in the churches have been taken, probably for firewood. Burned prayer books and Bibles litter the grounds. Every cross was destroyed, even decorative crosses on outside walls that did not resemble the Cross of Christ.
I stood at the very point where an Islamic State suicide bomber blew up his car bomb and killed advancing Iraqi and NPU forces during the battle to liberate Qaraqosh. Islamic State fighters prefer death, with 72 imaginary perpetual virgins, to life. Before death, their religious leaders give them permission to steal, enslave, rape and kill other human beings they view as infidels.
The arming of the NPU in the Nineveh Plain was a new development in Iraq. President George W. Bush had made the decision after the second Gulf War that Shia and Sunni militias could remain armed, but in order to avoid the appearance that the U.S. was “supporting Crusaders,” no Christian militia could exist. Christian majority towns were not even allowed to have Christian police units in their areas. Christian neighborhoods in Baghdad were soon victimized by both Sunni and Shia gangs of thieves and kidnappers, as well as dedicated Sunni terror groups bound on running off both Christians and Shia. The predicable result was a decrease in the Christian population of between 60 percent and 75 percent. An integral part of Iraq’s population was lost, a part that contributed greatly to the harmony of the nation before 2004. Christians were the moderating force in both Iraq and Syria.
After the retreat of the Islamic State from Qaraqosh toward Syria, their flag emblazoned with the phrase “Allah Akbar” was removed from the Church of Immaculate Conception. The black Islamic flag was replaced by the Iraqi Army, as they raised the national flag of Iraq. Yet this flag has written in black in its center the phrase “Allah Akbar.” This one symbolic act illustrates why the Christians of Iraq cannot expect equality and justice.
The Islamists who destroyed the town of Qaraqosh used explosives that could have been of use in battle, but instead were used to blow up bell towers and destroy large crosses and statues of Jesus and Mary. The zeal of the Islamists to destroy all traces of “infidels” was so great that not even the dead were spared their places of rest, as graves were desecrated in Christian cemeteries.
Qaraqosh is symbolic of the condition of Christians in the Middle East. They are under attack by radical enemies and under siege by those who should be their friends. Saudi Arabia continues to pour billions of dollars into Syria to establish a Sunni Caliphate, and Shia majority Iran works with the Iraqi army to defeat the Sunni uprising as the Christian minority suffers. Their suffering has been ignored for the past eight years by the White House. Those desiring to immigrate to the United States have been pushed to the back of the line by a president who prefers Sunni Muslim immigrants from the Middle East.
It would seem natural for the Christians to have a friend in Old Testament Israel, but that is not the case. The Israeli high command prefers a state of chaos on its northern border rather than having unified Arab states with standing armies. Israel has backed up this stance with missile strikes against Syrian government targets over the past six years, although those actions have assisted the Islamic State, al-Nusra and al-Qaida at times.
For different reasons, known only in the mind of President Barack Obama, the official policy of the United States has been a state of chaos in the entire Middle East. The White House has at some points assisted one Islamist group in one nation, while fighting that same group in another area. Several battles have erupted between militias backed by the CIA and the Pentagon, and at least once the United States switched sides in the middle of a battle.
Christians have never fared well during states of war in the Middle East. But the agendas of powerful nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia are better advanced during periods of chaos than during times of peace. What can be done to help the Christians of Qaraqosh and the rest of the Nineveh Plain? Prayer and assistance from a church in the West, which is now mostly silent, is the request I hear most often from the Christians of Iraq and Syria.
By William J. Murray