Iraq (MNN) — Is the Islamic State defeated? The short answer is, “it depends on who you ask.” Many analysts, however, are leaning towards “No.”
A year ago, both Iraqi and Russian leaders claimed “final victory” over the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Now, Kurdish officials say the group is “rising like a phoenix from the ashes.” At the same time, Turkey’s president claims there is no militant presence in Syria.
Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton says it reminds him of the situation in Afghanistan. As BBC News outlines here, the Taliban has been fighting for control of Afghanistan since the mid-90’s. World leaders claimed victory at various points, but the story never changed on the ground.
“One of the workers in Afghanistan said, ‘You know, the Taliban is still here’,” recalls Nettleton.
“‘They took off their black turbans and some of them shaved their beards, but they’re still here. They’re still living down the block.’ I think that is somewhat what we see now in northern Iraq and Syria.”
World vs. Islamic State
The Islamic State began in 2004 as an offshoot of al Qaeda. It suffered a series of setbacks over the next nine years before rebranding in 2013 and emerging as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The terrorists also call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Daesh.
Over the next two years, a series of land grabs and international expansion established IS as a global threat. In April 2015, an Islamic State terrorist issued this threat in a video showing the execution of dozens of Ethiopian Christians:
“You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you accept Islam. To the nation of the cross: We are back again.”
The radicals “hunted” believers in Iraq, overtaking entire towns and marking Christian homes with an Arabic “N” for Nazarene. Last year, a report from Open Doors USA revealed that more than half of Iraq’s Christian population had left the country. Warnings of extinction began in 2013, and the Chaldean Archbishop of Basra raised a red flag again last month.
It all points to one thing, Nettleton concludes: the fight isn’t over yet.
“The work is not done against the Islamic State from a national security standpoint, or a government standpoint,” he states. “The work is not done from the standpoint of the Gospel. Many of these cities are without churches, or the Christians have fled.”
The Islamic State isn’t entirely to blame for the woes of Iraqi Christians. Believers faced oppression from the government before IS showed up, and those systems are still in place today.
Where does it leave Christ-followers? Nettleton says those who fled for their lives in previous years – but still want to return home someday – face a tough reality.
“Christians look [at Mosul] and say, ‘Much of the city is in ruins. There are still radical Sunnis there. There are Shias who are opposed to the Church. What do we go back to?’,” he explains. “That’s the issue that a lot of Christians are wrestling with: what is there to go back to, and is God calling us to go back?
“We want there to be a Church; we want there to be Christians who are living out their faith, but it is still a very challenging environment.”
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“You can give to support that work,” Nettleton says, “but start with prayer. Start with the most important thing you can do.”
Ask God to bless our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, and other areas affected by ISIS. Pray that God will call some believers to stay in these areas to shine the light of Christ and proclaim the Gospel.
Header photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.