'Every Single Christian Wants to Leave' Iraq, Says Vicar of Baghdad
The Rev. Canon Andrew White, the "Vicar of Baghdad," says he fears Christianity might soon become nonexistent in the Nineveh province of northern Iraq after Islamic State militants have seized most of the region's churches and established offices inside church buildings.
"To be honest, every single Christian wants to leave," White, the vicar of St. George's Church in Baghdad, the only Anglican church in Iraq, told The Telegraph.
"I used to say to my people: 'Don't you leave. I'm not going to leave you, don't leave me.' But now every one of them wants to leave and the ones who are left tend to be the poorer ones who couldn't get away earlier," he said.
For the first time in 2,000 years Christians were unable to celebrate communion last week in the Nineveh province, according White's interview wirh The Telegraph. The vicar also said he's afraid that soon there won't be any Christians left in the region.
With the Islamic State's rise to prominence this summer, seizing most of northern Iraq, many news reports have surfaced of the militants' atrocious treatment of Christians and their destruction of millenium old churches. As militants have told Christians in the region that they must either convert to ISIS' extreme form of Islam, pay a hefty tax or die, an estimated 200,000 Christians and other minorities have fled from the region, many with just the clothes on their back.
White's comments echo those made by Father Nawar, a priest from Nineveh, in early August where he claimed that "Christianity is finished in Iraq."
White said now that ISIS militants have captured all of the region's church buildings, there is no place to hold communion for the few Christians who are left. But not only have the militants set up offices inside the churches, they have stripped down the crosses and replaced them with the Islamic State black flag.
"Last week there was no communion in Nineveh for the first time in 2,000 years," White said. "All [the churches] are closed, all their people have run away. It is so sad."
White also said that Christians who live in other areas of Iraq, although not quite as affected, are also fearful because ISIS is enclosing upon the Baghdad region. In a Facebook post from Monday, White detailed the gloomy state of Baghdad as people remain in fear.
"Greetings from Baghdad. People are very fearful the nation looks as if it has collapsed. The usual hectic and crazy streets were this morning almost empty," White wrote."The news from our friends in areas surrounding Baghdad is equally worry [sic] the Islamic State. ISIS or DAASH, as they are known locally, are very close to Baghdad."
Although White noted that help from the U.S. and its international coalition will be key in defeating ISIS, his Facebook post stated that airstrikes might have already caused civilian casualties and urged the coalition to use ground troops becuase the Iraqi army won't be enough.
"We do not really know what is happening, all we know is that people are very afraid. We know that civilians have been killed in air strikes, we know that there are huge battles with ISIS, and we know that our army is not very efficient," White wrote.
White emphasized in his interview with The Telagraph that the only way to eliminate ISIS would be for the coaltion to bring in ground forces.
"From the Iraqi point of view, the only way we can gain some kind of real safety and real removal of the Islamic State, as they call themselves, would be by having troops on the ground," White said.