A newly displaced woman runs after she jumped over a back wall and rushed to grab humanitarian packages, as smoke rises from a burning oil refinery at a processing centre in Qayyara, south of Mosul, yesterday.Reuters
Christians and other minorities who have lived in Iraq for generations are in danger of disappearing for good, even after the defeat of Islamic State, religious leaders have warned.
They spoke out as the United Nations, the armed forces, volunteers and surviving civilians began reporting new murders and other atrocities by IS as it fights to retain control of Mosul, its last remaining stronghold.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil said: "For 2,000 years, many of the towns on the Nineveh plain now being liberated, such as Bartela, Karlais and Qaraqosh and others, were known as Christian towns.
"Thousands of the people driven out from their homes by the genocidal attacks of 2014 now live in the Archdiocese of Erbil with the assistance of the Catholic Church.
"As these areas are retaken, we must not forget these Christians, whose lands and homes were stolen, and who have been living as refugees ever since. The military action will not end the nightmare they have been living for two years. They need continued support, and a commitment to rebuild."
Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil greets Carl Anderson of the Knights of ColumbusErbil Archdiocese
Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, the influential global Catholic charitable organisation, said: "While welcoming the ongoing liberation of the Nineveh plain and Mosul, we must not forget that the genocide begun by ISIS will continue through attrition and neglect unless the United States and international community prioritizes those groups that were targeted for extermination and risk disappearing altogether.
"This must include direct financial support from our government that actually reaches endangered groups like Christians and Yazidis. Those Iraqi citizens who belong to these groups also need to be given equal rights based on the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.
"We must also insist that the two-tiered system of rights - resulting in the second class citizenship of Christians and other non-majority religious groups - end if we really want to ensure that such genocide never again occurs in this region.
"Celebrations over the ongoing liberation of the historically Christian towns of the Nineveh, should not obscure the fact those minority groups who lived there for generations are now displaced and in danger of disappearing."
Last Saturday the Iraqi Parliament banned the import, sale and manufacture of alcohol - a move regarded by observers as an attack on religious freedom as many Christians and Yazidis both consume alcohol and have also for generations worked in th alcohol trade.
Yesterday, Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, told Christian Today that the challenge now was to make sure that liberated towns and cities would be safe for Christians and other minorities to return.
In her report published this week, the Center warned that the status of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in a post-ISIS Iraq is becoming increasingly uncertain. The Christian population in the country has fallen from 1.4 million in 2003 to little more than 200,000.