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Two years on

Just two years ago, in July and August 2014, Islamic State (IS) forced their way through large parts of Iraq and Syria, displacing thousands of people. Many Christians and other minority groups fled as they approached. Once in control of a town they began to rule with a strict, brutal interpretation of Islamic Law. We all know what has happened since – their horrific crimes are barely out of the news.

But it’s two years on, and although the key city of Fallujah was recently taken back from the control of IS hundreds of thousands of people are still unable to return to their towns and homes.

The day it happened:

As IS began to seize control of various areas, Christians were understandably worried. In Iraq in particular, since the 2003 war ended, half of the Christians in the country have left due to increasing extremism and the targeting of Christians.

“We were not allowed to take our cars into the streets anymore. For five days there was heavy fighting on the other side of the river Tigris. I lived on the Left-bank. On our side it was relatively calm, but of course we were afraid.”

He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighbourhood was taken over by IS.

“Of the five bridges that cross the Tigris, only one bridge was operational. The rest were taken down, because Islamic State soldiers feared the Iraqi army would bring in reinforcements. However to all our surprise suddenly the Iraqi army withdrew. The rumours spread very quickly through phone and social media. Many Muslims in my neighbourhood stayed, but especially Christians wanted to leave the city. Despite the curfew, we packed our car with the most valuable things and left.”

“The way to Erbil normally takes about 1 hour, but it took us 12. There were four checkpoints, but especially the first one at Kalak took long. For eight hours we waited in lines of about 5 kilometres. The two-way road had become one way direction and the cars were about 10 or 12 lines wide, 6 lines on the roads and another 6 lines on the sides of the road.”

“Later I had contact with my former neighbour. He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighbourhood was taken over by IS.”
A resident of Mosul, still under IS control, who fled to the safer city of Erbil, Northern Iraq.

What happened to those that stayed?

When Islamic State soldiers took over Mosul, there were still some Christians in the city. Some were too old to travel, some too stubborn – they’d lived through wars and fled their homes often – why should they have to again?

But this time it was different. Islamic State were vicious. Christians were singled out. Followers of Jesus were told to leave, convert to a strict form of Islam, pay a high ‘Christian’ protection tax or die. Buildings and homes belonging to Christians were marked with the Arabic letter N, standing for Nazarene or Christian. It was a derogatory term, and a way of identifying those that Islamic State wanted to get rid of.

At checkpoints property registration documents were taken or ripped up by Islamic State soldiers. Homes that were left empty became owned by Islamic State. Those leaving the city were stopped at checkpoints and where almost everything aside from the clothes they were wearing – including phones, jewellery and even medicines – were taken. One Christian reports his young son was made to hand over his pocket money, which amounted to 22 cents.

For those that stayed there were rumours of forced conversions, brutal punishments and deaths. The whereabouts of some that chose to stay is unknown.

Fleeing on foot…

A family with four small children, three to nine-years-old, living in Mosul were planning on leaving the following morning, but as they ate dinner, two homes next to them were hit with rocket propelled grenades and set on fire.

“We left the food and ran,” the wife said. “We didn’t even stop for our shoes, we fled in our sandals! The children were very scared.”

“Now there are zero Christians in Mosul. It was bad before, but never like this…”

They had very little credit on their mobile phones, and all the shops were closed. But they managed to connect with four other families and co-ordinate to leave together for Erbil. They were first going to hide in the basement, but then decided to flee around 10pm that night.

Soldiers on the street said they would have to walk because they couldn’t take their car – it was too late, Islamic State had already come to the area. The soldiers were not to allow people to leave… but they didn’t stop them.

“There were lots of families walking, everyone was moving, it was crowded in the streets in the middle of the night,” explained the family. They saw dead bodies on the streets. Bodies of soldiers and policemen; “We learned that just a half-hour after we left home, Islamic State came to our area.”

“Now there are zero Christians in Mosul. It was bad before, but never like this…”


  • Pray for those still unable to return home. Many are stuck in Northern Iraq. They can’t leave the country, but can’t go back to their towns. Pray they find strength and courage. Ask God that he would help them settle and integrate into new places. Pray for work, employment and safety.
  • Pray for those still struggling from the trauma and pain of leaving. Many will know someone that has died, others will have seen horrific things. Ask that God would bring healing.
  • Many of the Christians who fled found safety and help in churches in Erbil, Northern Iraq. Pray for these churches and their leaders. Ask God that they would be able to adapt to keep


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imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.