Iraq: cultural cleansing in Mosul

The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21) 

Among attacks on religious minorities, 15 members of the Yazidi sect were killed when ISIS recaptured a group of inmates who had escaped from the city's prison when it was abandoned by the fleeing guards. Witnesses said that militiamen seperated the recaptured prisoners by their ethnic and religious identities, then killed the Yazidis and one Christian among them, while forcing the Muslims to join the ISIS militia. Some 14,000 prisoners from Mosul, Tikrit and other ISIS-held cities have reportedly been conscripted into the militia. (Irish Times, June 19; ANHA, June 13)

Aid agencies are straining to support the hundreds of thousands of people displaced from ISIS-held territory. In Erbil, capital of the autonomous northern Kurdish region, hotel lobbies are cluttered with families, with many more camping in parks or sheltering in mosques and churches. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), working with aid agencies, has set up several tent camps close to the checkpoints along the border between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. But only a few thousand people have stopped there, most preferring to escape the desert dust and heat and push on into urban areas. The KRG's police force, the Asayish, have been accused of forcibly evicting displaced families form Erbil's parks and dumping them in the remote desert camps, where some have refused to stay and again fled. Aid workers protest that displaced persons are being lost in the confusion. (IRIN, June 25)

ISIS is meanwhile showing impressive media savvy. Their sympathizers are peddling hoodies, T-shirts and dolls branded with the group's logo over the Internet. Facebook was shamed into blocking advertizements from one such retailer, Indonesia-based Zirah Moslem products. One shirt, with the slogan "Mujahideen Around the World, United We Stand," shows muscle-bound fighters wearing keffiyehs and brandishing AK-47s like heroes from an action movie. Other slogans include "We Stand for ISIS" and "We Declare War, Fight Against Zionists." (NYP, June 24; Fox News, June 23) ISIS has also issued an online annual report boasting of its advances, and launched a Twitter app—subsequently disabled. (NPR, June 25)

  1. ISIS destroys Iraq shrines

    Horrific images on BBC News July 5, respoted from unnamed "social media" sites, that appear to show the destruction of about a dozen Shi'ite and Sufi shrines and mosques as well as Christian churches across ISIS-held territory in northern Iraq. The places of worship, mostly in Mosul and environs, are blown up with explosives or bulldozed.

  2. ISIS desecrate grave of biblical prophet Jonah?

    Chrisitan Today website reports that ISIS militants have desecrated the grave of the biblical prophet Jonah. According to the report, a video posted on YouTube July 9 (not linked to) shows a tomb being destroyed with a sledgehammer, and Nineveh officials said the grave is "almost certainly" that of Jonah. Nineveh police spokesman Maj. Ahmed al-Obaidi is quoted telling Iraqi News July 4 of a wave of attacks on Christian sites in recent days. "They torched 11 churches and monasteries out of 35 scattered across the city of Mosul, and hours later destroyed statues of poets, literary and historical figures of which Mosul has long been proud," he said. The Iraqi News report refers to Jonah by his Islamic name, Prophet Younis.

  3. ISIS burn 1,800-year-old church in Mosul

    ISIS militants set fire to a 1,800-year-old church in Mosul, video footage released July 19 shows. The news comes as Mosul's Christians are fleeing the city en masse ahead of a deadline issued by ISIS for them to either convert to Islam, pay a jizya tax, leave or be killed. Patriarch Louis Sako told AFP: "Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil," in the autonomous Kurdistan region. "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians." 

    Iraq was home to an estimated 1 million Christians before the 2003 US invasion. Christian leaders now put the community at around 450,000. (Al Arabiya, July 20)