Iraq (MNN) — On Monday, Iraqi forces and their allies launched a new offensive on the city of Mosul in an attempt to reclaim it from ISIS.
Mosul is ISIS’ largest stronghold in Iraq. The major city has been under ISIS control for the past two years. Currently, the BBC estimates around 5,000 ISIS fighters are still fortified in the city.
Sirwan Barzani, a Peshmerga military commander, said the process to reclaim Mosul could take as long as two months. At the offset of the attack this week, Iraqi forces were met with heavy gunfire and a smattering of suicide car bombers.
Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs, USA says Mosul has been a symbol of power and status for ISIS in Iraq.
“[When] they took over the city, it was a part of their so-called caliphate. The fact that they controlled physical territory, including a major city like Mosul, was a big part of their appeal in their recruiting process, [saying], ‘Look, we’re a state! We’re a country! We have territory! We have cities!… If you’re a good Sunni Muslim, you need to get here. There is now a caliphate in existence, we control territory, we’re led by a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.’”
If Mosul is reclaimed, Nettleton explains the loss would weaken ISIS’ reputation and strength.
“The less territory they control, the less economic heft they have, the harder it becomes for them to spread that message and say [they’re] a functioning state. As they lose territory, that becomes a tougher sell.”
However, if Mosul is indeed freed from the clutches of ISIS, there would be a lot more question marks for the future. The most obvious ones would be: Now what? Who will be in charge?
“The population of Mosul is predominantly Sunni. The government of Iraq is predominantly Shia. So will the Sunni population of Mosul be willing to come under control of the Shia government of Iraq? What role will the Kurds play?… It’s a lot of upheaval that’s going on.”
It would especially raise several questions for the citizens and Christians who fled when ISIS stormed their hometown.
“I think particularly of the Christians who left Mosul and left the surrounding villages when ISIS came in, because I’ve been to northern Iraq and met and interviewed some of those Christians. Are they going to want to go home? Are they going to feel safe enough to go home? Or are they going to be like, ‘Well, wait a minute. Sure, you say our city is liberated, but are we really welcome there? Are we safe there? Is that where our children have the best chance of a future?’ And those are all huge questions we really don’t have any answers to right now.”
Nettleton was in northern Iraq earlier this year, and he shares, “Many of the Christians I met in northern Iraq, they had moved from Baghdad when it became unlivable, and many of them moved to Mosul. Then Mosul became unlivable and they moved to maybe an outlying village…. Then ISIS came in and they moved again, and many of them were in displaced persons camps for a time, even a long period of time.
“So when you tell them, okay, now you can move back to Mosul, they are like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been there, we’ve done that, we’ve had to move. We’re not going back.’”
As we remember and stand with our Iraqi brothers and sisters in Christ, Todd Nettleton shares these three prayer requests:
- Calling — “I will always remember, I interviewed a pastor in northern Iraq, and I asked at the end of our time, ‘How can we pray for the Christians here? How can we pray for your ministry and your church?’ The very first prayer request he said is, ‘Pray that God will call Christians to stay here…. There are so many reasons it is completely logical for them to want to leave the country and go someplace safe, go to Europe, go to Canada. Pray that God will call Christians to stay here, because if all the Christians leave, who’s going to share the Gospel? Who’s going to be a lighthouse in these communities?’”
- Protection — “I think certainly we want to pray for the protection of our brothers and sisters there, and especially that they will see a future. Because when you don’t see a future, obviously you want to go someplace else. When you do see a future, then there’s hope, then there’s a reason to stay there.”
- Favor — “Pray that Christians will be honored by whoever ends up being in control of that territory — whether it’s the Iraqi government, whether it’s Kurdish militia, whatever it is. Pray that the leaders will give Christians their due, provide protection and safety for Christians, and make that a priority as they set up whatever the government in that region is going to look like.”