CNEWA head: Next few months will decide Christians’ fate in scarred Iraq
10 Apr 2017 By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The next few months will determine whether Iraqi Christians can return to their homes in areas where Islamic State had been routed, according to Msgr. John E. Kozar, international president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Msgr. Kozar, who was in Iraq March 31-April 5, cited several daunting challenges for Iraqi Christians who return to their country: infrastructure woes, burned- and bombed-out buildings, desecrated churches and security issues.
“Three liberated villages outside of Dahuk (in northern Iraq) are being resettled as we speak,” Msgr. Kozar told Catholic News Service in an April 7 telephone interview from CNEWA headquarters in New York.
“The reason people are very hesitant to go back there is the reason of security. They hold very close to them the reign of terror ISIS had produced. They’re looking for some reassurance from the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga government,” the military force that has liberated areas previously under Islamic State control, Msgr. Kozar said.
“The second reason would be there’s no infrastructure. There’s no water, no electricity, no sewage,” he said. “Those would be the single most difficult challenges that need to be overcome. The next two, three months will tell the tale.”
One town, Batnaya, was 85 percent destroyed by aerial bombing, according to Msgr. Kozar. “That one, I don’t know what the future might be for that. It looked to me like something out of World War II,” he said. Another town, Baqova, he described as “more burned out — some aerial bombing but more internal bombing — but all burned out.”
A third, somewhat larger town of 25,000, Teleskov, was “only occupied for nine days by ISIS. It was liberated after nine days, but it was then used by the Peshmerga as a staging area until three or four weeks ago. They use the distinction, ‘It was liberated, but not free,’” Msgr. Kozar said. “People accepted that to drive out ISIS from other towns and build up a fortification line so it would not come back.”
All three towns had significant Chaldean Catholic populations. Chaldeans are one of the Eastern churches, made up primarily of Iraqi Catholics.
Msgr. Kozar also visited Qaraqosh, one of the cities in northern Iraq with a significant percentage of Assyrian Catholics. He also visited with sisters who had a convent in the city.
Qaraqosh “is heavily damaged but not destroyed,” he said. “There are 4,000-5,000 homes burned out, but the structures — thanks be to God — are pretty fair, but totally looted ... including seven Catholic churches and one Orthodox church, burned internally, pillaged and defaced.”