Iraqi Bishop Pleads for Help as Christian Persecution Intensifies

Mar Behnam Monastery

Mar Behnam Monastery

The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq is pleading with the world community for help as he watches Christians being forced out of towns they inhabited for centuries, ancient monasteries being ransacked, and the water supply cut off from any town that resists the Islamist jihadi group ISIS.

According to Catholic Online, Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldean Catholic Church, issued a heartrending plea for help as Islamic jihadists continue to threaten Iraqi Christians and other minorities in the northern section of the country with outright extinction.

“To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world,” the bishop wrote in an open letter to the world. “We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.”

Sako recounts the many abuses being inflicted upon Christians in Mosul and surrounding environs by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, Islamic jihadists who want to create a state based on an extreme interpretation of sharia – or Islamic law – throughout northern Iraq. Now calling themselves The Islamic State, the lawless group is also targeting other minorities such as Shi’ite Turkmen, Shabak and Yazidis, many of whom have been executed since ISIS began to sweep  through the area in early June.

The latest outrage came last week when the jihadis issued an ultimatum to Christians living in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, demanding that they convert to Islam or pay the jizyah – a tax all non-Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam – without specifying the exact amount. Their only other alternative was to abandon the city and their houses, taking nothing with them. According to Islamic law, upon the event of their departure, their homes became the property of the Islamic state.

st behnam seizedBishop Sako condemned this outright thievery as having nothing to do with Islamic teachings. “The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect ‘to the seventh neighbor’.”

That isn’t stopping jihadists, however. According to The Telegraph, the group recently overran one of the country’s best known Christian landmarks, the Mar (Saint) Behnam monastery. Run by the Syriac Catholic Church since the fourth century, it is located near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh which is just north of Mosul.

Jihadists showed up on Sunday, telling the monks who resided in the monastery, “You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately.”

An eyewitness said the monks pleaded to be allowed to save some of the monastery’s relics but the fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes. The monks walked for several miles along a deserted road until they were picked up by Kurdish peshmerga fighters who drove them into Qaraqosh.

Unfortunately, they won’t find much rest in that particular city. Even though it’s under the control of Kurdish forces, the jihadists cut off the water supply to Qaraqosh in order to drive out minorities. Breitbart is reporting that the tactic is working and is forcing Kurdish administrators in the town to import water at extremely high prices while they scramble to dig new wells to find water, projects that can take weeks and months to complete. Residents are now paying $10 a day for emergency water tanks, a cost that is much too high for people who are already living on limited means.

The jihadists, who are Sunni Muslims, have a centuries old hatred for Shi’ite Muslims who are the predominant inhabitants of the northern part of Iraq. This section of the country depends on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for water. The jihadists already control the Tigris water supply. Should they manage to secure the Euphrates supply lines, it could effectively eradicate all Christians and Shi’ite Muslims from Iraq, allowing the jihadists to accomplish their goal of making the entire country a Sunni caliphate.

However, much could be done to help the beleaguered populations of this country if Western nations were willing to become involved in the fight in one way or another.

Bishop Yousif Habash, who currently resides in Elizabeth, New Jersey but was originally from Qaraqosh, accompanied an Iraqi human rights activist named Pascale Warda to the U.S. State Department and Congress to seek help.

“Christians throughout the Middle East have been targeted, and we are on the verge of being exterminated,” Bishop Habash says. “The West stepped in to stop the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Muslims, so we know it can be done. The West must step in now and save the Middle East’s Christians, or we will be wiped out.”

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