According to Iraq’s most senior Christian leader, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, there were about 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq before 2003. Today there are, at most, 500,000.
Two nuns and three orphans have been missing since Tuesday in militant-held areas of the northern province.
Meanwhile, in Baquba city, at least 13 people were killed in shelling and clashes between ISIL insurgents and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the city, which is located 60 kilometers north-east of Baghdad, dpa reports.
According to refugees, extremists have demolished several religious shrines with bulldozers and burned down historical monuments, including mosques. Gunmen from the terrorist organization “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) in Iraq, are obliterating Muslim shrines and mosques. Reported by the Iranian “Press TV” channel, informs TASS.
The report cites evidence given by refugees who escaped from the northern province of Nineveh, controlled by extremists. Those, who managed to escape, say that the terrorists crushed a number of religious shrines with bulldozers and blew up historical monuments, including mosques.
Islamists have also seized two Orthodox churches, and taken down the crosses from the domes, replacing them with black flags. A few churches in the path of the bandits have been leveled to the ground.
In their statement, addressed to believers, ISIL urged the destruction all the religious and historical sites in Iraq, said “Press TV”.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni jihadist group fighting in Iraq and Syria, is declaring an Islamist caliphate in the two countries, in an unconfirmed audio clip on Twitter. Spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani says in the recording that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the first caliph of the self-described state, and all Muslims are obliged to swear allegiance to him.
The move poses a direct challenge to the central leadership of al Qaeda, which has disowned it, and to conservative Gulf State Arab rulers who already view the group as a security threat.
Previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, the group has rebranded itself an “Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as “Caliph” – the head of state, the statement said.
“He is the imam and khalifah (Caliph) for Muslims everywhere,” the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in the statement, which was translated into several languages and read out in an Arabic audio speech.
“Accordingly, the “Iraq and Sham” (Levant), in the name of the Islamic State, is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration,” he said.
The Sunni Muslim militant group follows al Qaeda’s hard-line ideology but draws its strength from foreign fighters battle-hardened from Iraq.
It seeks to re-create a medieval-style caliphate, erasing borders from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. It deems Shi’ite Muslims to be heretics deserving death.
“It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (him) and support him…The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops in their areas,” the statement said.
“It might sound good in some circles who have always dreamed of an Islamic state of a sort, but we all know that this Baghdadi, ISIL, they are not the kind of entities that could bring back an Islamic state,” said Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdullah. “This guy (Baghdadi) doesn’t have one iota of the credibility and credentials that (Osama)bin Laden had,” he said, referring to al Qaeda’s late leader.
Fighters from the group overran the Iraqi city of Mosul last month in a lightning action and have advanced towards Baghdad. In Syria they have captured territory in the north and east, along the frontier with Iraq.
In Syria, the group has alienated many civilians and opposition activists by imposing harsh rulings against dissent, even beheading and crucifying opponents, in areas it controls.
In Iraq it has been accused by rights groups of carrying out mass executions in the northern city of Tikrit and in Lebanon the group claimed a suicide attack at a hotel on Wednesday.
“Whatever judgments are made in terms of its legitimacy, (the) announcement that it has restored the Caliphate is likely the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11,” said Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.
“The impact of this announcement will be global as al Qaeda affiliates and independent jihadist groups must now definitively choose to support and join the Islamic State or to oppose it.”