On Oct. 17 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the ground offensive to retake Mosul from the clutches of Islamic State, which has been months in the making.
In addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, U.S. troops, British and French Special Forces, and a number of Turkish soldiers are supporting the Iraqi army in the battle, which was initially expected to take between several weeks to several months to complete. However, the process has been going quicker than expected.
Mosul is the last major stronghold the Islamic State has in Iraq. They have been steadily retreating since the end of last year in battles against Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, as well as airstrikes from the U.S-led coalition.
The attack on Kirkuk left some 80 people, mostly security forces, dead. It was largely seen as an attempt to distract Iraqi and Kurdish forces from the Mosul offensive.
According to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, at least 30 members of ISIS were still holed up in different parts of Kirkuk. However, the assault was officially declared over as of Saturday morning.
Fr. Momika explained that the seven girls were among more than 100 refugees taking university classes in Kirkuk after being driven out of their hometowns by the Islamic State group in 2014.
Many of the girls come from Mosul and other cities nearby such as Bartella, Alqosh and Telskuf, he said. All of them had studied at the University of Mosul before the invasion.
Although their families are living inside the refugee camps in Erbil, the girls, in addition to a number of boys, wanted to continue their studies, but were unable to attend university classes in Erbil.
They then enrolled at the University of Kirkuk. Since traveling back and forth everyday was dangerous, they stayed in houses the Church had been renting in the city, returning to Erbil on the weekends.
Fr. Momika said he is happy that all of the students escaped unharmed. Two of his fellow priests, Fr. George Jahola and another named Fr. Petros, who was ordained with him Aug. 5, traveled to Kirkuk Saturday to pick the girls up and bring them back to Erbil.
He also spoke about the liberation of his hometown, Qaraqosh. The town was formerly regarded as the Christian capital of Iraq before the invasion in 2014 forced 120,000 people to evacuate in one night. Most of its residents are now living in refugee camps in Erbil.
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On Saturday Iraqi and Kurdish forces entered Qaraqosh, which sits about 20 miles from Mosul. Although the town is said to be largely empty, Islamic State group militants have destroyed much of the city. They left landmines strewn along the road to Mosul.
Fr. Momika said that Iraqi soldiers have raised the Iraqi flag in Qaraqosh, replacing that of the Islamic State.
"Qaraqosh is liberated," he said. He cautioned that there are still dangers, like Islamic State group fighters who are hiding throughout the city still.
He passed on a report that Islamic State fighters "made a big, deep hole" in the ground, climbed into it and "bombed themselves" as the Iraqi and Kurdish armies advanced.
The priest, who was still a seminarian when he himself forced to flee the city, said he finds it hard to talk about what happened to Qaraqosh, "because we saw some photos, and they made us feel sad."
"There are a lot of places destroyed, and ISIS burned our church and ISIS broke all our crosses that were above the churches," he said. A very important church in the region had been destroyed.