Jihadist tensions along the Iraq-Syria border are being watched carefully by Iraqi Christians. It was not long ago that ISIS waged war on Christians and Yazidis in the Nineveh Plain, attacking towns, burning churches, forcing conversions, and killing families. Most that were able to leave were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs, facing uncertain futures in neighboring nations. Those futures are still uncertain for those who have stayed and those who are now returning. 

From the killing of Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al-Qurayshi, al-Baghdadi’s successor of head of ISIS, to the Turkish air raids in Kurdistan, to the assault on Ghwayran prison, tensions are heightening on the Iraqi-Syrian border. As the conflict escalates, ISIS affiliated militias, who once controlled half of the territories between the two nations, maintain active sleeper cells, ready to strike. 

In some areas of Northern Iraq, traveling at night can still be dangerous for fear of ISIS attacks. The prevailing opinion is that ISIS is not as powerful as it was in 2014, and with lack of resources, it can only control territories in a power vacuum like the one created by the civil war across the border in Syria. However, many in northern Iraq feel that a less stable and organized ISIS makes their cells freer to move, act, and strike. 

Violence is most certain on the Syrian side of the border, which has been embroiled in civil war since March 15th, 2011. On the Iraqi side of the border, the situation is mostly under control; however, the political climate in Iraq, and its championing of sectarianism fuels instability. Still, there is hope that Iraq will see relief and reconciliation. 

Despite the instability at the border, “life is resuming its normal course,” in much of the Nineveh Plain, according to Dominican Monsignor Michaeel Najeeb Moussa, Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul. But, the threat of violence is still looming for Christians who lost everything just seven years ago. The goal is to return and rebuild, and despite many tensions at the border, there is hope from all who remain that the climate will soon be ripe for just that. 

“There is no climate of fear [because of what is happening] especially across the border, in Syria,” the Archbishop said in a recent interview with AsiaNews, “Even in the Nineveh Plain, the situation is relatively calm and stable. In fact, Mosul is one of the most peaceful areas in Iraq today. I myself have been living there for six months. At the grassroots level, life is resuming its normal course, with its own rhythms and a basic harmony that is being built on principles of peace, fraternity, and mutual respect.”

However, there is still work to be done, and other areas of Iraq are still dangerous for Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities. Even if the situation is improving in the Nineveh Plain, Iraq still ranks fourteenth on the Open Doors 2022 World Watch List for the most dangerous places in the world to profess belief in Jesus Christ. Discrimination is prevalent and the risk of violence high, and in the words of Nadine Maenza, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “the security situation is so terrible [in Iraq and Syria] many Christians [still] can’t live there.”

Despite the tensions, Paul Thabit Mekko, Coadjutor Bishop of Alqosh in Kurdistan, head of the Christian community in Karamles says that life in the Nineveh plain is “all in all normal,” for the time being. 

American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East. Our Nineveh SEED programs are aimed at helping displaced Christians and Yazidis return to the Nineveh Plain and learn trades, and start businesses that will help sustain their families and rebuild their communities. We aim to bring hope, help, and healing to the people of Iraq.