Final stand for Iraqi Christians

St Matthew

Some Christian families from Mosul have sought refuge in St Matthew's Monastery while others have vowed to take a stand against Islamists, writes Richard Spencer.

Captain Firaz Jacob knows he might well be mounting a last stand at the frontiers of the Christian settlement of Bartella on the outskirts of Mosul.

Less than 1.6 kilometres (one mile) down the road are the jihadeen of Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and the portly, middle-aged Mr Jacob is aware that his home-grown militia is outnumbered.

'I stand here waiting for my destiny,' he said, as he stood this week by the last check-point on the road to Mosul and the black flags waiting in the desert.

Speaking of why he and his men were refusing to give up and go, Capt Jacob said they was determined to resist the jihadists and their allies, who last week over-ran most of the rest of northern Iraq.

'We will stay here despite everything,' he announced. 'All these armed groups we have seen, but nevertheless we will remain. We love our Christian way of life, we love our churches, and we love our community.'

Between the Sunnis and Shias of Iraq lie a patchwork quilt of other ethnic groups and faiths, many of whom have been reconsidering their future in the most obvious possible way since the allied invasion a decade ago unleashed the sectarian militias and their death squads.

Anywhere between half and three quarters of Iraq's Christians - Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and the rest - have left the country and the Middle East since 2003 to start new lives abroad.

The town of Bartella, 16.5 kms (10 miles) from Mosul, is largely Assyrian Orthodox, and its 16,000 citizens currently face a very vivid incarnation of an ever-present threat. They have been car-bombed at least twice in recent years, but this time their presumed adversaries have an army.

In Biblical times, the Assyrians were the imperial rulers of Ninevah, in which province Mosul still sits today.

These are places of worship that go back thousands of years. The oldest extant church in the world, dated by its murals to the first half of the third century, is just over the border in Syria.

- Richard Spencer

Iraq's beleaguered Christians make final stand on the Mosul frontline (The Telegraph, London)

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