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Christians flee Iraqi towns for safety in Kurdish-held areas

Their sudden flight to safer regions is an indication of the insecurity of Iraq's Christian population.

By Ed Adamczyk
Christian Assyrian Church in Erbil, Iraq (CC/ James Gordon)
Christian Assyrian Church in Erbil, Iraq (CC/ James Gordon)

ANKAWA , Iraq, June 27 (UPI) -- The predominately Christian town of Qaraqosh, Iraq, was attacked by invading militants, forcing thousands of Iraqi Christians to become refugees -- an indication of the devastation the fighting has inflicted upon the native Christian population.

Although Kurdish forces, with help from Christian militias, kept the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from overtaking the town Thursday, the majority of residents fled to Ankawa, a Christian town near the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

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Iraq's Christian community of about 500,000 people is one-third smaller than in 2003, and most reside in the northern region of the country controlled by Kurds. Qaraqosh was seen as among the last refuges for Christians, outside the more secular Kurdish-controlled area.

"This is the last wave," said local priest Father Rayan Atto at a hastily-organized refugee center near Ankawa. "Qaraqosh was the second city for Christians after Ainkawa, and now they are here. Think about it."

In Mosul, a major Iraqi city which fell to ISIS militants earlier in June, remaining Christians were ordered to pay a tax of $250 or leave the city. There are also fears churches and an ancient monastery there are at risk. The ISIS assault has removed any thought Christians were safe in the region.

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