Christians in northern Iraq are unable to celebrate communion for the first time in two millennia after Islamic State captured the area, says vicar
Canon Andrew White, vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, told the Telegraph that Isil have set up offices in the churches and have replaced crosses with the militant group’s black flag.
“Last week there was no communion in Nineveh for the first time in 2,000 years,” he said. “All [the churches] are closed, all their people have run away. It is so sad.”
Many Christians moved from the Iraqi capital to Mosul and Nineveh in the north of the country following bloody sectarian killings and other violence after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Now an estimated 200,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homes once again after Isil swept through their villages this summer, demanding that they convert to Islam, pay taxes for being Christians or face death.
Canon White said: “Many Christians here are very frightened about what has happened to their community up in the north. Some have relatives who have lost everything: their homes, furniture, cars. They have nothing left at all.”
On Saturday armed British Tornado jets flew on their first mission over northern Iraq since MPs authorised them to carry out strikes on Islamic State targets, joining a US-led coalition against the militants.
Canon White said that people he had spoken to in Iraq recognised the need for air strikes, but feared civilian casualties. He argued that Britain and America may have to consider deploying ground troops.
“From the Iraqi point of view, the only way we can gain some kind of real safety and real removal of the Islamic State, as they call themselves, would be by having troops on the ground.
“But from a British point of view, I wouldn’t want our troops in Iraq, where they could be killed. So it is a difficult situation all round.”
His congregation at St George’s Church in Baghdad has fallen to a little over 1,000 members.
“To be honest, every single Christian wants to leave,” he said.
“I used to say to my people: ‘Don’t you leave. I’m not going to leave you, don’t leave me’. But now every one of them wants to leave and the ones who are left tend to be the poorer ones who couldn’t get away earlier.”
Iraq’s Christian population has more than halved over the past decade or so, from about 1 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to barely 400,000 by July this year.