Pope Francis Prays For ‘Victims Of War’ In Iraq’s Mosul

 

Pope Francis prayed Sunday for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in Iraq’s Mosul, where the Islamic State group ravaged one of the world’s oldest Christian communities until the jihadists’ defeat three years ago.

With the crumbling stone walls of the Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church behind him, Pope Francis made a plea for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East to stay in their homelands.

The 84-year-old pontiff said the “tragic” exodus of Christians from war-scarred Iraq and the wider region “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind”.

The IS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province to flee. Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003.

The faithful had gathered on Sunday in the courtyard of the Al-Tahera Church, whose roof collapsed during fighting against IS in 2017.

It is one of the oldest of at least 14 churches in Nineveh province that were destroyed by IS.

Boutros Chito, a Catholic priest in Mosul, said the pope’s visit could change the way people think about his city, the ancient centre of which still lies in ruins.

“Pope Francis will announce to the whole world that we are the people of peace, a civilisation of love,” Chito told AFP.

The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilised to protect Francis on what is perhaps the riskiest day of his historic trip to Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS sleeper cells.

‘Boost our morale’

Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s dwindling Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.

On Saturday, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace”.

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service in the ancient site of Ur later that morning.

Watching from afar as IS swept across Nineveh in 2014, Pope Francis said at the time he was ready to come and meet the displaced and other victims of war in a show of solidarity.

Seven years later, he is visiting both Mosul and Qaraqosh, one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns whose residents still speak a dialect of Syriac, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

It, too, was largely destroyed when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.

“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said Father George Jahoula in Qaraqosh.

To honour the pope, local artisans wove a two-metre (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac.

It was given to Francis on his first day in Iraq on Friday.

Holy mass in stadium

Francis landed early on Sunday at the airport in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, which was targeted just a few weeks ago by a volley of rockets that killed two people.

He held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, the prime minister Masrour Barzani.

Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed Iraq, taking planes, helicopters and armoured convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) in-country.

The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, with Iraq gripped by a second wave bringing around 5,000 new cases per day.

Authorities have imposed a nationwide lockdown — ostensibly to keep cases down but also to help control movements of crowds during the pope’s high-profile visit.

While Francis has been vaccinated, Iraq has only just begun a modest inoculation campaign and there are fears that the crowds gathering to see him could lead to super-spreader events.

The biggest event yet will be on Sunday afternoon, when several thousand people will gather at Arbil’s Franso Hariri stadium for the Pope’s last mass in Iraq.

Arbil has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.

Christian Exodus Does ‘Incalculable Harm’ To Mideast, Says Pope Francis

Pope Francis, accompanied by bodyguards, leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad at the start of the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. In an address to the faithful in Baghdad, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to his fellow clergy for supporting Iraq's Christians, whose population has dwindled due to conflict. Ayman HENNA / AFP
Pope Francis, accompanied by bodyguards, leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad at the start of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. Ayman HENNA / AFP

 

Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Islamic State group ravaged one of the world’s oldest Christian communities until the jihadists’ defeat three years ago.

The 84-year-old said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”

With the crumbling stone walls of the Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church behind him, Pope Francis made a plea for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East to stay in their homelands.

The pontiff said the “tragic” exodus of Christians from war-scarred Iraq and the wider region “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind”.

The IS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province to flee. Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003.

The faithful had gathered on Sunday in the courtyard of the Al-Tahera Church, whose roof collapsed during fighting against IS in 2017.

It is one of the oldest of at least 14 churches in Nineveh province that were destroyed by IS.

Boutros Chito, a Catholic priest in Mosul, said the pope’s visit could change the way people think about his city, the ancient centre of which still lies in ruins.

“Pope Francis will announce to the whole world that we are the people of peace, a civilisation of love,” Chito told AFP.

The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilised to protect Francis on what is perhaps the riskiest day of his historic trip to Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS sleeper cells.

‘Boost our morale’

Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s dwindling Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.

On Saturday, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace”.

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service in the ancient site of Ur later that morning.

Watching from afar as IS swept across Nineveh in 2014, Pope Francis said at the time he was ready to come and meet the displaced and other victims of war in a show of solidarity.

Seven years later, he is visiting both Mosul and Qaraqosh, one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns whose residents still speak a dialect of Syriac, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

It, too, was largely destroyed when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.

“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said Father George Jahoula in Qaraqosh.

To honour the pope, local artisans wove a two-metre (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac.

It was given to Francis on his first day in Iraq on Friday.

Holy mass in stadium

Francis landed early on Sunday at the airport in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, which was targeted just a few weeks ago by a volley of rockets that killed two people.

He held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, the prime minister Masrour Barzani.

Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed Iraq, taking planes, helicopters and armoured convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) in-country.

The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, with Iraq gripped by a second wave bringing around 5,000 new cases per day.

Authorities have imposed a nationwide lockdown — ostensibly to keep cases down but also to help control movements of crowds during the pope’s high-profile visit.

While Francis has been vaccinated, Iraq has only just begun a modest inoculation campaign and there are fears that the crowds gathering to see him could lead to super-spreader events.

The biggest event yet will be on Sunday afternoon, when several thousand people will gather at Arbil’s Franso Hariri stadium for the Pope’s last mass in Iraq.

Arbil has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.

AFP

Two Killed In Car Bomb Attack In Iraq’s Mosul

Iraqi men gather at the scene of a car bomb explosion in which two people were killed and ten others were wounded near a restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on March 8, 2019.
Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP

 

 

Two people were killed in a car bomb outside a restaurant in Iraq’s Mosul late Friday, security forces said, in the second such incident in around a week.

A statement by the Iraqi military’s media centre said one young woman and a security officer were killed in the blast, which took place in the city’s eastern half.

Ten other people were wounded.

READ ALSO: 25 Migrants Die In Mexican Road Accident

Iraqi forces ousted the Islamic State group from Mosul in mid-2017, but explosions and hit-and-run attacks have continued to plague the province.

Last week a car bomb detonated near Mosul University, killing one person and wounding 13 more.

On Wednesday night, six paramilitary forces were killed and more than two dozen wounded in an ambush south of Mosul.

Iraqi authorities have also warned that jihadists could slip across the porous border from Eastern Syria, where IS faces a ferocious US-backed offensive on its final redoubt.

AFP

Iraqi Youths Dressed As Santa Distribute Gifts To Children In Mosul

 

Some Youths in Iraq on December 26, walked through streets of the old city of Mosul, dressed in Father Christmas suits to distribute gifts to children.

See Photos Below.

Iraq’s Mosul Celebrates First Post-IS Christmas

An Iraqi receives the Eucharist during a Christmas mass at the Saint Paul’s church on December 24, 2017 in the country’s second city Mosul. Photo: Ahmad MUWAFAQ / AFP

 

Hymns and cries of joy filled a church in Iraq’s second city Mosul on Sunday as worshippers celebrated Christmas there for the first time in four years after the end of jihadist rule.

Mass opened with the Iraqi national anthem as women ululated, despite the modest decorations inside the church and the armoured cars and police outside.

“This is a sign that life is returning to Mosul,” said wheelchair-bound Hossam Abud, 48, who returned earlier this month from exile in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Like tens of thousands of other Christians, Abud fled in 2014 as the Islamic State group seized the northern city and swathes of the surrounding Nineveh province, ordering the minority to convert, pay taxes, leave or die.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church called on the congregation to pray for “peace and stability in Mosul, Iraq and the world”.

“With this mass, we’re sending a message of peace and love, because Christ is the messenger of peace,” he told AFP.

On Christmas Eve at Saint Paul’s church, Muslims stood with Christian worshippers and local officials amid candles and Christmas trees.

Outside, the portrait of a Christian killed under IS rule was displayed as a reminder of the city’s grim recent past.

Iraqi forces expelled the jihadist group from Mosul in July after months of ferocious fighting.

That was part of a string of defeats which have decimated an organisation that once ruled over millions of people across large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.

White sheets hung over the church’s window frames, blasted empty during the battle.

Farqad Malko, another of the few Christians to have returned, said the mass was a message to IS.

“With this celebration, we tell them that residents of Mosul are all brothers, whatever their religion or ethnicity, and despite all the damage and suffering,” he said.

Sunday’s church service in eastern Mosul was “an immense joy”, she said, smiling broadly as seasonal hymns played in the background.

Saint Paul’s is currently the only functioning church in Mosul, and is only open thanks to the clean-up efforts of young volunteers.

“We must rebuild the city’s churches that were destroyed to encourage the return of Christians,” Abud said.

– ‘More expected soon’ –

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq had by 2014 pushed some 90 percent of Mosul’s Christian population to flee, leaving only 2,000 families when it was captured by IS, officials and activists say.

Sako urged Christians displaced within Iraq and those who have sought refuge abroad to return and “play an active role in (the city’s) reconstruction”.

Between 70 and 80 Christian families have so far returned “and more are expected to follow soon”, according to Dourid Tobia, an advisor on Christian affairs to the provincial governor.

Mina Ramez, 20, returned with her family two months ago, in time for the start of the new university year.

“This is our land, these are our homes, and we will do everything we can with our brothers of all religions to rebuild it,” she said.

“We will never abandon the land of our birth.”

AFP

Iraq Celebrates Mosul Victory With Parade

Celebrating the biggest victory inflicted on Islamic State since it rampaged through northern Iraq three years ago.

A parade in Baghdad on Saturday after Iraq’s military drove IS out of its stronghold Mosul.

Troops from the army, police and paramilitary forces taking part in the parade – watched by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

He’s back from Mosul where on Monday he declared victory over the militant group, saying that Iraqis had made sacrifices with their blood in order to consign IS to the trash heap of history.

The stench of corpses in the streets of Mosul a grisly reminder of the nearly nine months of urban warfare it has taken to dislodge the jihadists.

Around 900,000 people fled the fighting in Mosul, with more than a third sheltering in camps outside the city.

Civilians have been quickly returning to Iraq’s second biggest city.

Work is underway to repair homes and infrastructure – something the United Nations estimates will cost in the region of one billion dollars.

Iraq’s Abadi Walks Through Mosul After ‘Victory’ Over IS

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday toured districts in the eastern part of Mosul before heading to the governor building for a meeting with local government officials.

Abadi arrived in Mosul on Sunday and congratulated the armed forces for their “victory” over Islamic State after nearly nine months of urban warfare, bringing an end to jihadist rule in the city.

He arrived at the Federal Police headquarters at noon where he met with military commanders and listened to a briefing on the operations and is expected to make a victory declaration later on the day.

Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul three years after taking the city is a major blow for the hardline Sunni Islamist group, which is also losing ground in its operational base in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where it has planned global attacks.

Black Smoke Rising Over Mosul As Battles Continue

Black smoke was seen rising over Mosul city on Friday (June 30), as Iraqi forces continued their battle to take control of the city.

Iraqi forces on Thursday (June 29) captured the wrecked historic mosque of Mosul in which Islamic State proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate” three years ago, an Iraqi military statement said.

Taking the Grand al-Nuri Mosque hands a symbolic victory to the Iraqi forces which have been battling for more than eight months to capture Mosul, the northern city that served as Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq.

Iraq Forces Repel IS Counter-Attack

FILE

The Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have launched counter-attacks as they come under growing pressure from forces in Mosul.

Iraqi officials say the militants deployed large numbers of suicide bombers in different parts of the countries northern city but the affected areas were quickly brought under control.

At least two ISIS counter-attacks were reported in three districts, while there was some 20 air strikes against the group.

It is the final phase of an offensive to remove the militants from Mosul as the group has now been squeezed into a square mile of territory in Mosul’s old city.

Mosul Celebrates First Eid Without IS In Three Years

Mosul residents celebrated their first Muslim Eid holiday without Islamic State in three years on Sunday (June 25), amid sadness over the destruction of their beloved leaning historic minaret and hope that the battle to take back the city will end in a few days.

Children gathered in squares of the eastern side of the city, with some playing on old swings and others carrying toy guns and rifles which were among the toys allowed by militants after they took over the city in the first days of June 2014.

Although Iraqi forces dislodged the insurgents from this part of the city months ago, battles are still raging on the western side across the Tigris.

Iraqi authorities were hoping to declare victory in the northern Iraqi city in the Eid, a three-day festival which started on Sunday for Mosul’s Sunni population and many Iraqi Shi’ites, celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Islamic State Destroys Historic Mosque In Mosul

The leaning al-Habda minaret that has towered over Mosul for 850 years lay in ruins on Thursday, demolished by retreating Islamic State militants, but Iraq’s prime minister said the act marked their final defeat in the country’s second city.

“In the early morning, I climbed up to my house roof and was stunned to see the Hadba minaret had gone,” Nashwan, a day- laborer living in Khazraj neighborhood near the mosque, said by phone. “I felt I had lost a son of mine.”

His words echoed the shock and anger of many over the destruction of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque along with its famous minaret, known affectionately as “the hunchback” by Iraqis.

The demolition came on Wednesday night as Iraqi forces closed on the mosque, which carried enormous symbolic importance for Islamic State. Its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi used it in 2014 to declare a “caliphate” as militants seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.

His black flag had been flying on the 150-foot (45-metre) minaret since June 2014, after Islamic State fighters surged across Iraq, seizing vast swathes of territory.

Russia said on Thursday there was high degree of certainty Baghdadi was now dead, according to RIA news agency. Moscow said last week its forces may have killed him, but Washington could not corroborate and Western and Iraqi officials were skeptical.

Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria.

Some analysts said the destruction of the mosque could in fact speed operations to drive Islamic State out of what had been its chief Iraqi stronghold. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went further.

“Blowing up the al-Hadba minaret and the al-Nuri mosque amounts to an official acknowledgement of defeat,” he said on his website.

The insurgents chose to blow up the mosque rather than see the flag taken down by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces battling through the maze of narrow alleys and streets of the Old City, the last district still under control of Islamic State in Mosul.

In the dawn light, all that remained was the base projecting from shattered masonry. A video on social media showed the minaret collapsing vertically, throwing up a pall of sand and dust.

Defense analysts agreed the decision to destroy the mosque could indicate that the militants are on the verge of collapse.

“They had said they would fight until their last breath defending the mosque,” Baghdad-based security expert Safaa al-A’sam told Reuters. “The fact is that they are no longer capable of standing in the face of Iraqi government forces.”

The assailants will be freer in their attacks as they don’t have to worry about damaging the mosque anymore, he said.

The minaret was built with seven bands of decorative brickwork in complex geometric patterns also found in Persia and Central Asia. Its tilt and the lack of maintenance made it particularly vulnerable to blasts.

U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition assisting in the Iraqi effort to defeat Islamic State, said Iraqi security forces were continuing to push into remaining ISIS-held territory,”

Hundreds Of Civilians Flee As Iraqi Forces Retake Mosul’s Zanjili District

Hundreds of civilians fled Zanjili district in western Mosul on Saturday as Iraqi forces fully seized it from Islamic State, Iraqi army officers said.

An Iraqi military officer said the Iraqi army’s 9th Armoured Division had recaptured the district and started a campaign to clear roads and buildings from bombs and explosive materials left behind by Islamic State to impede advance by Iraqi forces.

Lieutenant General Qassem al-Maliki of the 9th Armoured Division said a large number of families had been freed from Islamic State and evacuated from the district to safer area.

Another 9th division officer said his battalion had freed 150 families and other units freed almost as many.

Families fleeing on Saturday were not being shot at by Islamic State in contrast to the day before, an aid worker at the scene, Dave Eubank, said.

About 700,000 people, about a third of the pre-war population of Mosul, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.

With the loss of Zanjili, the Islamic State-held enclave in Mosul has shrunk to two districts alongside the western bank of the Tigris river — the densely populated Old City centre and the Medical City, also known as Shifa district.

Reuters