The Painful Liberation of Iraqs Christian Heartland

ISIS pressured the Christians of the Nineveh plain around Mosul to flee. Now they are returning, but in the key town of Qaraqosh, the fighting rampages on.”>

QARAQOSH, IraqThe churchs interior has been blackened by volley, and the altar has been vandalized. ISIS graffiti has been smeared on the walls, and songbooks lie burned on the field. But the two priests, undeterred, make their route through the nave of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, climbing the narrow stairway to the mezzanine where the organ has been crushed, and rise on the flat rooftop next to the belfry.

Here, the tolling of the buzzer of Iraqs largest faith formerly summon 3,000 people to prayer on Sundays. Now the belfry is disfigured by cannon fire and the bell itself is croak, snatched from its chain.

Without hesitation, the clergymen climb on top of the arched ceiling extending along the sticker of the building. They are followed by a handful of men in military weariness. A makeshift crosstwo sections of plywood strung together with copper wirequickly follows, and “the mens” begin feverishly to pile up stones to create a simple foundation.

Shots ring out nearby, and mortar rounds crash down a few hundred paws from the church, but within instants the cross hampers firm. Ecstatic, Father Majid and Father Amar burst into song, and the hallelujah reverberates out in Aramaic, the ancient speech that relates Iraqs Christians to the genesis of their faith.

Losses ought to have mount. According to Major Mohammed, who heads the field hospital a few miles further back, 18 soldiers have lost their lives in Qaraqosh, and around 80 have been wounded.

Until now, the outskirts of municipality facing Mosul have not been cleared, and sniper ardor sounds out from areas that were envisaged safe. Demonstrated the armys enormous predominance in personnel equipment systems, the failure to secure the town raises questions about its performance.

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Near the warehouses where the sniper was recognized, gangs lounge next to their armored Humvees, warning off tourists from overtaking by on foot.

The Iraqis say inadequate organization air reinforce is a reasonablenes for their sluggish progress.

Sometimes we assure Daesh[ ISIS] convoys come into the town, but the coalition does not bomb them, says Maj. Jassem.

Inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the two priests are too caught up in their passions to concern themselves with the slow progress of the army and the Christian militias.

We are so happy to return to our church, says Father Majid, who can just save his eyes from welling up.

In the spacious quadrangle next to the church, where the Christians of Qaraqosh used to gather for religious carnivals, the jihadists set up dummies for target tradition, and empty cartridges litter the stone storey. According to Maj. Jassem, ISIS stored arms and ammunition in the church, knowing that it would not be bombed by the coalition.

As if at an excorcism, the priests and militiamen amass to light-colored candles and target them on the altar. Then Father Amar and Father Majid sing again, and their voices echo through the nave, for a moment dispelling the desolation that hangs over these sacred precincts.

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