IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Christians who fled the northern city of Mosul after Islamic extremists seized it described Tuesday leaving behind all the possessions, as politicians in the country still struggle to form a government following recent elections.
Most of Mosul’s remaining Christians fled when the Islamic State group and an array of other Sunni militants captured the city on June 10 — the opening move in the insurgents’ blitz across northern and western Iraq. As a religious minority, Christians were wary of how they would be treated by hard-line Islamic militants.
The militants imposed a deadline Saturday for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death. That was the final straw for many, including Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq, 27, who was forced to flee with his family.
“We had to go through an area where they had set up a checkpoint,” he said. Islamic State group militants “asked us to get out of the car. We got out. They took… our things, our bags, our money, everything we had on us.”
With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Ishaq’s family fled to the nearby self-rule Kurdish region or other areas protected by Kurdish security forces.
Like so many of the families that fled Mosul, Ishaq’s took refuge at the St. Joseph Church in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. But they may be forced to move to nearby camps designated for fleeing the growing violence.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to us,” Ishaq said. “Our future is uncertain.”
Irbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, has pledged to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups. The territory is currently home to more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria, according to the United Nations.
The U.N. said on Sunday that at least 400 families from Mosul — including other religious and ethnic minority groups — had sought refuge in the northern provinces of Irbil and Dohuk.
The Islamic State group has vowed to continue its offensive on to Baghdad, although it appears to have crested for now after overrunning Iraq’s predominantly Sunni areas. But the country’s government has been unable to launch an effective counter-offensive against the militants and politicians are still struggling to form a government after April elections.
In Baghdad, newly appointed Speaker of Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri said Tuesday that the only way to tackle growing violence is a quick consensus among feuding political parties over the selection of a new government — a process which has stalled since April elections.
“Such acts should be confronted and this can be done through the establishing of democratic institutions that will start when the president of the republic is chosen and the Cabinet is formed,” Al-Jabouri said.