A member of Iraqi security forces stands guard in Baghdad on 17 June in front of volunteers who have joined the Iraqi army to fight militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have taken over Mosul and other cities. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Saad, Reuters)
19 Jun 2014 By Doreen Abi Raad
BEIRUT (CNS) — Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III said Christians in the Middle East feel “abandoned, even betrayed” by the West as a militant Islamic force occupied large areas of Syria and Iraq.
Christians “are facing the biggest challenge for their survival on the lands of their forefathers in Iraq and Syria,” the patriarch told Catholic News Service on 18 June by email from the patriarchate in Beirut.
“We are very anxious, even devastated, because of the horrendous news that keeps coming to us from Mosul and surrounding areas,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph wrote.
His comments came as the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gained control of large areas of Syria and Iraq in a violent push through both countries in June.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant includes thousands of fighters and has readily killed Muslims and Christians while functioning with military efficiency.
Earlier, Archbishop Jean Sleiman, the Latin-rite bishop of Baghdad, urged the international community not to intervene in the struggle against the militants, insisting that the priority is for Iraqi leaders to “work together” to overcome the crisis.
In an interview from Baghdad with the charitable organization Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Sleiman stressed that political consensus within Iraq would be critical in overcoming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Archbishop Sleiman described how many people were trying to leave the Iraqi capital, fearing an attack from the militant forces as reports that armed fighters were pressing south. He said many roads out of the capital were blocked and departures from Baghdad’s airport were fully booked until the end of June.
“In responding to this crisis, the international community should think of the common good, not their own interests. They should think of peace,” he said.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III told CNS that following the exodus of the large majority of civilians from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, “Christians had no other alternative” than to flee to safer areas, including the neighboring Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
“What we mostly feared in similar scenarios was the chaos following the retreat of government forces and the invasion of jihadist-organized militias, that obviously results in mass murders, killings, kidnappings as well as the attacks on religious houses, including churches, monasteries and convents,” he said.
“In the face of this new drama that now engulfs Iraq after Syria, we, Christians of the Middle East, see ourselves abandoned, even betrayed, by the so-called civilized countries of the West. The politicians over there have adopted confusing responses to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and for opportunistic reasons, have forgotten their principles of democracy, separation of state and religion and the respect of civil liberties for all minorities, women and the most vulnerable ones,” the patriarch said.