On the eve of an ultimatum issued by Islamists to Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Chaldean bishop of Erbil, in nearby Kurdistan, urged prayers for the nation's remaining followers of Christ.
“We have hope that things will get better,” Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil said in an interview with CNA on July 16.
“But … from the circumstances, which we are following, it looks like it’s going to take some time.”
A militant Sunni organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been steadily attacking cities and communities in north and northwestern Iraq since June. The attacks have begun dividing Iraq along religious and ethnic lines.
On Friday, July 18, ISIS issued an ultimatum to the Christians of the city of Mosul, which it captured more than a month ago: convert to Islam, pay the jizya, or be killed.
The cross a top the city's Syriac Orthodox cathedral was removed.
“They control the city and I think they made it very clear that there is no place for non-Muslims in the city,” Archbishop Warda said.
Thousands of Christians have fled Mosul, seeking refuge in Christian villages in the surrounding Nineveh Plains and in Kurdistan.
The charity Aid to the Church in Need sent a grant of more than $135,000 to provide food and shelter for the displaced in the region. Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul told the charity in a recent interview that schools, church halls and abandoned houses have opened up to receive displaced persons from Mosul.
Recent U.N. estimates place the number of internally displaced Iraqis at 1.2 million, nearly half of whom have been driven from homes in the western province of Anbar. Many of those internally displaced are seeking refuge in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, which is known for its peace and stability.
Archbishop Warda said he has noticed an influx of refugees in Erbil over the past month. He said most refugees are renting out rooms or apartments from locals.
“(It's) crowded, yes, and expensive, which is also another issue” the archbishop explained. “But, that's the situation.”
He lamented that many Iraqis have been living in a state of crisis for many years.
“We hope that things will get better (and) will improve for the lives of those people,” he said.
“But from what we are observing, it's not promising.”