Iraqi Christians

The long good-bye: The Atlantic describes the inevitable loss of Christian life in Iraq

The long good-bye: The Atlantic describes the inevitable loss of Christian life in Iraq

I remember the Nineveh Plain well. I was being driven from the Kurdish city of Dohuk in far northern Iraq to the regional capital of Erbil further south and around me in all directions stretched a flat plain. To the west were low-slung hills and in my mind I could hear the footsteps of conquering Babylonian armies as they sought to overrun the city of Nineveh in 612 BC.

Irrigated by the Tigris River, it’s actually a fertile place with crops everywhere — assuming that they’re allowed to grow.

Several millennia later, it was the ISIS armies whose footsteps were heard on this plain back in 2014 when the events at the heart of this story take place.

I must say I envy The Atlantic’s Emma Green for getting sent to Iraq to do this fascinating piece along with a photographer or two. (My 2004 trip there was entirely self-funded).

The call came in 2014, shortly after Easter. Four years earlier, Catrin Almako’s family had applied for special visas to the United States. Catrin’s husband, Evan, had cut hair for the U.S. military during the early years of its occupation of Iraq. Now a staffer from the International Organization for Migration was on the phone. “Are you ready?” he asked. The family had been assigned a departure date just a few weeks away.

“I was so confused,” Catrin told me recently. During the years they had waited for their visas, Catrin and Evan had debated whether they actually wanted to leave Iraq. Both of them had grown up in Karamles, a small town in the historic heart of Iraqi Christianity, the Nineveh Plain.

But the 2003 invasion of Iraq had changed everything, including the impression that Christians had had it easy under Saddam Hussein. Once he was gone, it was payback time.

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In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

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Irish Times gets creative to report on persecuted Iraqi Christians

Irish Times gets creative to report on persecuted Iraqi Christians

At a time when, as tmatt observes,  "journalists from mainstream media are struggling to do first-hand coverage" of religious persecution under Islamic State rule, an Irish Times reporter uses creative sourcing to get a first-hand account from the ground: "Fleeing Child Abduction, Slavery, Rape and Theft in Iraq."

Lara Marlowe, the Irish Times' Paris correspondent, found an Iraqi Christian expatriate whose sister Mariam fled Mosul with her husband Youssef in June as ISIS was closing in. Now taking refuge in Ainkawa, a suburb of the Iraqi city of Erbil, Mariam spoke to Marlowe via Skype, giving a detailed account of the atrocities she witnessed or learned of from neighbors. 

The story is a must-read. Seeing the events on the ground through the eyes of a single person helps bring home the enormity of the persecution. Marlowe's opening paragraphs use Mariam's experiences to highlight experiences common to many fleeing Mosul -- the loss of ancestral homes, the sight of anti-Christian graffiti, the betrayal by neighbors:

Mariam, a 50-year-old Christian obstetrician from Mosul in Iraq, considers herself and her family lucky, though she fears they will never again see the two-storey villa and garden they inherited from her husband Youssef’s parents.

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