Iraqis crowd the area after an explosion in the car park outside an ancient Chaldean monastery in the Baghdad suburb of Al Doura.. (photo credit:REUTERS)
In one of the oldest lands of Christianity, Assyrian Christians are awaiting their third Christmas since extremists from Islamic State made hundreds of thousands into refugees in 2014. “Around Nineveh [in northern Iraq] the only people are the soldiers and the clergy,” says Juliana Taimoorazy of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. “They want to go back and return to their homes and rebuild in the spring.”
In 2003 on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq which toppled Saddam Hussein there were around 1.6 million Christians in Iraq. Most of these were Assyrian Christian members of the Assyrian Church of the East or Chaldean Catholic Church. They lived throughout Iraq but were concentrated in Baghdad and in the area of Nineveh Plains around Mosul in northern Iraq which borders the Kurdish region. In 2014 when ISIS took Mosul they expelled the Christians. Over the last two years it mined Christian towns such as Bakhdida and Tel Keppe, digging tunnels under the houses and damaging the churches. It dynamited the 1,400 year old St. Elijah’s monastery.