Army shells Iraqi town but priest refuses to leave

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Iraqi Christian Amir, centre, and his family pose in their house on August 4 in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The family, who fled Islamic State militants, has returned home to rebuild their house and their lives. PHOTO: CNS

A senior Iraqi priest refused to leave Teleskov, northern Iraq – even after military forces gathered there for battle.

Chaldean cleric Father Salar Kajo and nine Church workers remained in the Christian-majority town on the Nineveh Plains, around 19 miles north of Mosul, despite Iraqi and Peshmerga armies amassing there mid-last week.

All other inhabitants left Teleskov on Tuesday, October 24, after mortar shells landed in the town, injuring three children. Both Kurdish and Iraqi forces are aware of the presence of Father Kajo and his team.

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has received information from various sources including Father Kajo and town elders who have fled to nearby Alqosh. According to sources, last week was mostly quiet and the sporadic gun fire which occurred earlier on Wednesday has now ceased.

Iraqi forces had moved in heavy weaponry, including armoured vehicles, up to the outskirts of Teleskov, and the Peshmerga had set up defensive positions inside numerous houses. Kurdish forces from Alqosh had been moved towards the town.

With most other Peshmerga militias having reportedly stood down, local Church leaders have questioned why Kurdish forces apparently made a stand at, where the majority of the homes damaged during Daesh (ISIS) occupation have been restored. More than 70 per cent of the families that were driven out by Daesh had returned to the town.

Fr Salar Kajo. PHOTO: Aid to the Church in Need

But there are signs that further fighting could be averted following a statement issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government on Wednesday, October 25. The message called for an immediate ceasefire and halt to all military operations in the region, and promised to “[f]reeze the results of referendum conducted in the Iraqi Kurdistan” so that there could be dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi Federal Government.

The statement said: “As Iraq and Kurdistan are faced with grave and dangerous circumstances, we are all obliged to act responsibly in order to prevent further violence and clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. Attacks and confrontations between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces that started on October 16, 2017, especially today’s clashes, have caused damage to both sides and could lead to a continuous bloodshed, inflicting pain and social unrest among different components of Iraqi society. Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life.”

Aid to the Church in Need has been working with local churches to rebuild Christian towns and villages which were destroyed by extremist group Daesh after they seized the Nineveh Plains. The charity as called for prayers for peace in the Nineveh Plains.

For more information or to donate to Aid to the Church in Need, visit www.aidtochurch.org