Nearly 700 families from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, have shown up in the small, flat villages of Nineveh Plain in the last 10 days, seeking refuge from an outbreak of violence directed against Mosul's dwindling Christian population. Contacts in Mosul have told WORLD that anywhere from 25 to 40 Christians have been killed at gunpoint in the city since Oct. 4, and that altogether approximately 3,750 Iraqi Christians have fled the city. "We left everything behind us. We took only our souls," said Nima Noail, 50, a civil servant who left his home and is now living in a church, according to Barnabas Fund. On Oct. 16 WORLD received a list of nine Christians confirmed dead in Mosul, including a 15-year-old boy gunned down in the street while playing with Muslim friends on Oct. 4, and a man in a wheelchair killed while working in the shop where he sold spare parts on Oct. 6.
Church leaders say some Mosul Christians received threatening letters warning them to leave the city. And one church officer told WORLD that at least five homes belonging to Christians-including three on one street-were bombed. One family who fled to nearby Telkaif described how 15 masked young men stormed the family's home looking "very well-trained. They collected the mobile phones first, then they asked if there were men in the house." The gunmen were told that the father was not there, and they put a gun to the head of an 8-year-old boy. He was not shot, but the family was ordered to leave the house without taking any belongings. After they left, the gunmen bombed their home.
The violence may be related to upcoming elections, when Mosul's Christian minority could tip the political scale away from Sunni Arabs seeking to regain standing after boycotting the 2005 elections. It could also be the refined effort of remnant al-Qaeda terrorists driven out of Baghdad and Iraq's center by U.S. forces. Additional U.S. units were dispatched to Mosul from Baghdad last month, and a church leader in Nineveh told WORLD at least one U.S. embassy official from Baghdad had visited villages to speak with displaced Christians. The Iraqi government is providing $200 per displaced family, and contributions also are coming from the Kurdish regional government, the International Committee for the Red Cross (which is providing food support), and local private church-affiliated groups.