I don’t understand how people can harm each other so much,’ sighs security guard Louis Petrus. Today, Louis has returned to his hometown for the first time: the Christian city of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, which he had to flee on 6 August 2014, when ISIS occupied the city.

‘Look at my house: it is damaged, most of my furniture has been stolen and my household effects are broken. Other inhabitants of Qaraqosh had prepared me for what I would find in the city. I had heard stories and seen pictures of the destruction caused by the jihadists. Now that I am seeing the city with my own eyes, I do not know what to feel. 

ISIS  terrorists have destroyed a lot of my possessions, but I am still quite well off, considering the damage that I can see in my neighbours’ houses: many houses have been burned or even completely destroyed. I have been blessed.’


I WANT TO RETURN

When Catholic priest Fr. Sharbil Eeso (72) returned to the liberated city of Qaraqosh, he found only destruction in the seminary, destruction caused by ISIS

‘We are not allowed to clear up the mess yet,’ he says, while he shakes off the dust from his recently recovered priestly headwear. ‘First, the damage needs to be assessed carefully and documented thoroughly, and that can only start when the city is safe. Last week, a jihadist emerged from the tunnel system which ISIS has built underneath the city. The red brigade of the army immediately shot and killed him: the boy – jihadist was only thirteen years old.’

In Qaraqosh as elsewhere in the Nineveh plain, ISIS jihadists enthusiastically used abused and destroyed Christian churches writing battle instructions on the walls.

The St. George’s Church Syrian Catholic was transformed into a bomb factory, which was in full use up until the hasty retreat of ISIS. Hundreds of bombs and grenades, in all shapes and sizes, are lying there, waiting to be fired. In addition to that, the church now contains deadly recipes, which, if used in the right proportions, can turn the chemicals stashed in the church into deadly explosives.

‘Despite all the suffering and damage, I have hope for the future,’ says Father Sharbil, laughing. ‘If our security is guaranteed, Christians can continue to live in Iraq. European Christians should do their best to keep us safe. I want to return to Qaraqosh when there is electricity and water again, although I think that safety is the main condition for returning.’


I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE IRAQ, THIS IS MY PLACE

Louis Petrus (61) also firmly intends to return to Qaraqosh: ‘I don’t want to leave Iraq, unless all the inhabitants stay away and leave. But if two or three families return to Qaraqosh, I will too. This is my country. As soon as it is safe in the city and we receive permission to live here again, I want to rebuild my life in Qaraqosh. This is my place, I shall remain here until I die.’


SECURITY CONCERNS

The Assyrian Member of Parliament Yacoob G. Yaco travels to liberated territory almost on a daily basis, to stay informed on the progress at the front and the security situation in the liberated territory. He also encourages the volunteers of the Assyrian Army: the NPU. Both he and General Faris Abderlahad Yacub (54), who coordinates the tasks of the volunteer army in the Nineveh plain have lost confidence in the Kurdish Peshmerga, because they abandoned them when ISIS invaded their cities and villages. That is why they are convinced of the importance of a security army and a Christian oasis in the Nineveh plain.

As one of the five permanent Christian members of the Kurdish parliament, Yacoob represents the Iraqi Christian community.

‘There is a lot of unease among Iraqi Christians (about future border corrections),’ he tells us. ‘The Kurds support Iraq in their battle against ISIS and the recapture of Mosul and the surrounding cities and villages. The inhabitants appreciate that, but many of the Christians suspect the Iraqi government of giving the Kurds land in return. The Kurds dig deep canals and build high fences that, according to them, are meant to stop ISIS. In the meantime, the Kurds and the Iraqi government deny being promised territory for support and they assure the Christians that no deals were made about the land. But the canals and fences are not built on Kurdish land, but on the Nineveh plain. Many Christians suspect that this border is not temporary, but the start of a permanent border correction.’ 


This article can be found in Mirror 0517.