Christians and other non-Sunni Muslims from Mosul, northern Iraq, waiting to return after their city’s liberation from Islamic State is completed, may have many years to wait, and their chances of doing so depend on the actions of the Iraqi Government, a leading researcher has warned.
Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at the International Centre for Radicalisation Studies at King’s College, London, said that Islamic State in its propaganda had “audaciously” likened Mosul to the Saudi city of Medina in the days of Muhammad. (In 622 AD, Muhammad left Mecca for Medina after hearing of a plot to assassinate him.)
Speaking in London on 25 Jan., Winter said “there is no such thing as a post-IS world” and added that ideological measures will be needed after military victory is achieved, to address ongoing levels of sympathy for the group and its supremacist aims.
Asked what measures would be necessary for the city’s diverse non-Muslim communities to return to Mosul, he replied that it’s vital that the Shia-led Iraqi Government shows they care about the population who lived under the group’s occupation, and rebuild what was lost.
The rise of IS came amidst disaffection among Iraqi Sunnis, which increased during the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, who centralised power around himself.
“The best way to inoculate territories the Islamic State has held for a long time is trying to return to normal – not ignoring what has happened, but trying to re-establish services’ provision, repopulate areas, get people talking to each other again, get trade going again, take back to these territories everything that was lost over the last few years,” Winter said.
He added that the city’s civilian population is now “less supportive” than it used to be.
However, Mr. Winter warned that if the Iraqi Government continues to fail to look beyond sectarian divisions and provide for its citizens equally, stability will be “many, many years” away. He said he believes IS will be defeated in western Mosul in the next few months, but that it will focus on insurgency tactics to undermine Baghdad and “salvage some sort of momentum” for the group.
He was also sharply critical of US President Donald Trump’s pre-election pledge to “bomb the hell out of ISIS”. He suggested that believing the problem requires only a military response is “damaging” and will be exacerbated by a “foolish and naïve and superficial” understanding of the issue.
The Middle East Advocacy Coordinator for global charity Open Doors, which supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world, said: “Open Doors believes that equal citizenship, dignity in different aspects of life and enhanced and inclusive peace and reconciliation efforts – which give faith-based organisations a leading role – are the key three elements for achieving sustainable peace in Mosul and Nineveh.”
‘Iraq needs Christians’
Open Doors, with others, produced a detailed report on the vital contribution that Christians make in Iraq (and Syria). The report’s coordinator, who did not wish to be named, said: “We need recognition for the vital role of the Church in rebuilding and reconciliation… Maintaining the presence of Christians is not only about them; it is for the good of society as a whole. In the reports and research we’ve conducted, we have mapped, in a way, all the contributions Christians have given to Iraq.”
The report begins: “When Christianity spread across what we now call the Middle East and we see that since then until now Christians have contributed to societies in literacy, in health, in translating and contributing to the Arabic language. Some of the best early centres of learning in the world were founded by Christians. Christians were among the first to introduce charitable works and NGOs. We see them involved in politics, and in the development of the Iraqi state. Christians are among the most well-known business people. And in the future Christians, alongside other numerical minorities, are vitally important for the stability of [Iraq]. Policy-makers and researchers agree that we need to maintain diversity in order to counter extremism and radicalisation. We need diversity to ensure sustainable peace and lasting stability in the Middle East.”
The way that Open Doors is tackling these issues, the coordinator said, involves working with indigenous church leaders, engaging with governments and decision-makers across the globe, and trying to collect One Million Voices in a petition in support of a campaign to bring “Hope to the Middle East”.