An estimated 10,000 Christians have been displaced from the Nineveh plains to Iraqi Kurdistan during the past few days as a result of raids by the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), surrounding the majority-Christian Hamdaniyah district. Al-Monitor has confirmed that shelters for displaced persons have been opened in the town of Ainkawa, in Erbil province.
Tamara Jirjees, who fled ISIS attacks with her four children, told Al-Monitor: “We heard the thud of strong blasts that shook our region, and my kids broke out in tears and cries of fear. We took our things and escaped to the Iraqi Kurdistan region.” She further stated, “We reached the checkpoint in Erbil in the evening, and many people were fleeing. It took us a long time to enter the province. The Kurdistan Regional Government opened schools to shelter us and offered us food and water. A representative of the church also visited us and helped us.”
Ainkawa Mayor Jalal Habib told Al-Monitor, “Ten thousand Christian citizens were displaced to Ainkawa in the past few days, and 20 schools and youth centers were turned into shelters to accommodate them. Moreover, the Barzani Charity Foundation, UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] and UNICEF … in addition to several other civil associations have provided humanitarian aid to the displaced.”
After the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation and the subsequent rise of extremist Shiite and Sunni organizations, acts of violence against Christians increased in Iraq. The most violent attacks that targeted Christians occurred on Aug. 1, 2004, with the simultaneous bombing of five churches in Baghdad and Mosul.
The violence has since expanded to target liquor stores, clothing stores and beauty salons — most of which are owned by Christians — with the aim of shutting them down. Music shops have also come under attack. Moreover, Christian women have been threatened if they fail to cover their heads like Muslims. A number of abductions and assassinations of Christian clerics have also been reported.