Iraq Christians tell tales of survival

IS militants forced them to spit on crucifix and convert to Islam

They were threatened, forced to spit on a crucifix or convert to Islam, but a handful of Iraqi Christians miraculously survived more than two years under Islamic State (IS) rule.

When the jihadists swept across the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq in August 2014 and told Christians to convert, pay tax, leave or die, about 120 000 of them fled.

Now that Iraqi forces have retaken many of those areas around the city of Mosul, stories are emerging of those who did not get a chance to leave and faced one of the three other options.

Ismail Matti was 14 when IS militants stormed his home town of Bartalla, east of Mosul.

He waited for relatives who had already fled to come back for him and his sick mother, Jandar Nasi, but nobody did.

They tried to flee in taxis but were turned around twice by IS and ended up in a Mosul prison.
“There were Shiite people crammed in a cell next to ours. They took one, shot him in the head and dragged his body in front of us,” he said.

“They told my mother the same thing would happen to me if we refused to convert. Sowe converted,” Ismail recounted from a church-run shelter in the Kurdish capital Arbil. The pair went back to Bartallaand were then sent to the village of Shurikhan, on the western outskirts of Mosul.

“All our neighbours were Daesh,” he said, using an Arabacronym for IS. “They would come to check if I was following the sharia [Islamic law].“If they found that I hadn’t been to the mosque to pray, I sometimes got lashes.”

Jandar, who suffers from chronic migraines, was reluctant to tell their story as she sat quietly on a bed.

Her dark, haunted gaze sometimes suddenly changed into a broad, loving smile directed at her son, as he recounted their odyssey under IS’s reign of terror.

“This boy is the most beautiful gift ever. He and God and Mary saved us from death. Wewill always be together,” she said.

Zarifa Bakoos Daddo stayed in Qaraqosh, once Iraq’slargest Christian town, when IS vehicles hurtled in.

She lived through more thantwo years of IS occupation in a house with a friend, Badriya.

“All that time I stayed with Badriya, we didn’t see any of our people, only those fellows,” Zarifa said of the militants.

“The older men used to tell us not to worry, that we were like sisters to them, but the younger ones were troublesome.”

They were briefly taken to a prison in Mosul and held therewith divorced women and widows, but eventually brought back to their house.

“One time, a young one, maybe 20 or 21, came and said we should convert. I told him we had our beliefs and they had theirs,” Zarifa recalled.

“He told me to spit on a picture of the Virgin Mary and acrucifix. I refused but he mademe. The whole time I was telling God in my heart that I did not mean any of this.”

When Iraqi forces pushed into Qaraqosh late last month, they remained trapped in the house with no food.

The security forces found them several days after retaking the town.
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