“Ninety-nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” pastor Haitham Jazrawi said today following the takeover of Iraq’s second largest city—and its ancient Christian homeland—by al-Qaeda-linked jihadist militants.
A mass exodus of Christians and Muslims is underway from the city of 1.8 million after hundreds of gunmen with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran the city and forced out the Iraqi army and the police. Reports indicate Iraqi army units abandoned their posts, in the process giving up U.S.-provided weapons and vehicles, including Humvees, in what was a key base of operations for U.S. military forces throughout the Iraq war. Long a city of diverse religious and ethnic makeup—with Arabs and Kurds, and a large population of Assyrian Christians—Mosul was a flashpoint during the eight-year conflict.
More than 150,000 residents fled the city today (June 10), the BBC reports, and photos on Twitter and elsewhere showed massive traffic jams on roads leading into the desert.
Iraq’s parliament declared a state of emergency, even asking Iraqi civilians to take up arms against the fighters, but the government of President Nouri al-Maliki seemed impotent to drive back the militants, who have already taken over areas near Baghdad and make up a potent force fighting the government in neighboring Syria.