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Militants force last Iraqi Christians to flee Mosul

Date

Alissa Rubin

BAGHDAD: By 1pm on Friday Iraq time almost every Christian in Mosul had heard the Sunni militants' message - they had until noon on Saturday to leave the city.

Men, women and children piled into neighbours' cars, some begged for rides to the city limits and hoped to get taxis to the nearest Christian villages. They took nothing more than the clothes on their backs, according to several.

The order from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant came after Christians decided not to attend a meeting that ISIL had arranged for Thursday night to discuss their status.

"We were so afraid to go," said Duraid Hikmat, an expert on minorities who had done research for years in Mosul.

He fled two weeks ago to Al Qosh, a largely Christian town barely an hour away, but his extended family left on Friday.

Since 2003, when Saddam Hussein was ousted, Mosul's Christians, one of the oldest communities of its kind in the world, had seen their numbers dwindle from more than 30,000 to just a few thousand, but once ISIL swept into the city in early June, there were reports that the remaining Christians had fled.

Many had hung on, hoping for an accommodation, a way to continue the quiet practice of their faith in the city that had been their home for more than 1700 years.

Chaldeans, Assyrians and other sects, including Mandeans, whose Christianity is close to that of the Gnostics, could still be found in Iraq, and many made their home on the plains of Nineveh in the north of the country, an area mentioned in the Bible's Book of Genesis.

Friday's edict, however, was probably the real end. While a few scattered souls may find a way to stay in secret, the community will be gone.

For the Christians displaced from Mosul, sudden departure has meant a series of treks - first to nearby Christian villages like Bartella and Hamdaniya, already badly overcrowded, then to Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of Iraq where there is more tolerance for Christians.

As the Christians leave Mosul, ISIL has painted the Arabic letter that means "Nasrani", a word often used to refer to Christians, on their homes. Next to the letter, in black, are the words: "Property of the Islamic State of Iraq."

New York Times

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