Date: March 17, 2020
by Elizabeth Kendal
Today, fewer than 200,000 Assyrians (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia) remain in Iraq; most are displaced and destitute [see: RLPB 507 Christian Crisis in Mesopotamia (19 Jun 2019) and RLPB 493, Decimation to Elimination (13 Mar 2019)]. On 26 September 2019 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing entitled 'Religious Minorities' Fight to Remain in Iraq'. As ISIS was driven from the Nineveh Plains - the Assyrian heartland for millennia - the security vacuum was filled by armed Kurds (Sunni Muslims) and Shabaks (Shi'ite Muslims, backed by Baghdad and Tehran) who rapidly colonised what is now known as the 'disputed territories'.
Today, Baghdeda/Qaraqosh - the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plains - is completely surrounded by Iran-backed Shi'ite militias. Bartella, the second-largest town - previously 95 percent Christian - is now majority Shabak. Furthermore, while Shabaks control the local government, Shabak militias control 'security' and operate checkpoints. Christians are abused as second-class citizens while their businesses face extortion, boycotts and criminality committed with impunity. As USCIRF Vice-Chair Gayle Manchin noted in her appeal for international support, Christian 'communities are now questioning whether there is any genuine hope of returning to safety and security in their homeland'.
One Assyrian shopkeeper in Bartella told America Magazine (27 Feb 2020), 'Frankly speaking, if they [the Shabak] had the chance, they'd take everything from us. If they have the chance to attack, they'd do more damage than ISIS did.' This raises the question: What could provide the Kurds and the Shabak with that 'chance to attack'? Answer: total chaos! The Kurds and Shabak could complete the Assyrian genocide if provided the cover of total chaos. Today, as Iraq faces political paralysis from the largest anti-government protests in its history and the horrific prospect of becoming a battlefield for a US-Iran proxy war, the ultimate, but not inevitable, Christian crisis (genocide) looms larger than ever.
All three imperial nations surrounding Mesopotamia - Iran, Turkey and the Arabs - desire the elimination of 'the Fertile Crescent of Minorities' which has for 100 years served as a buffer zone limiting Persian, Turk and Sunni Arab regional aspirations. If the West were truly interested in regional security, it would not support any of these imperial powers. Rather, it would support the consolidation of Mesopotamia as a safe place for ethnic and religious minorities. Russia (with its long history of Christian-Muslim relations) understands this; the West (which lacks experience and historical understanding) seems not to! If Iraq dissolves into chaos, the Sunni Kurds and Shi'ite Shabaks would have the cover they require to complete the genocide of the Assyrian people in Iraq. While this looks inevitable, there are, however, two unknowns. (1) It is unknown how the COVID-19 pandemic will influence events: it could increase the likelihood of war (as failing tyrants engage in conflict as a distraction) or it could induce restraint. (2) It is also unknown how God might yet intervene, in answer to the prayers of many, to redeem all suffering and 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5,6).
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL
* intervene in the fragile, volatile and threatened nation of Iraq to bless, protect, sustain and preserve his precious Church; may all Christians living in Iraq - be they indigenous Assyrians or Muslim converts - draw ever closer to the Lord; may they trust him with their future and grow in grace and faith every day.
* thwart every evil plot to steal Assyrian land and even eliminate the Assyrian presence; may such an evil plan never come to pass and may the Lord intervene, in answer to prayer, to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6)
* redeem these days of serious hardship, political upheaval, geopolitical tensions, military threat and deep uncertainty to draw many hearts towards peace, and to prepare many hearts to receive the Gospel.'For nothing will be impossible with God' (angel to Mary, Luke 1:37 ESV).
* reveal the plight of the four aid workers abducted in Baghdad on 20 January; no ransom demands have been made, and the whereabouts of the three French nationals and one Iraqi, who were serving with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East), remain unknown to all but the Lord.