Earlier this week, ISIS began an assault on the historically Assyrian Christian city of Qaraqosh in the northern Nineveh province, just east of Mosul. Kurdish peshmerga forces moved into the city to fortify it against a barrage of mortar shells. The city, though not officially located in the Kurdistan Regional Government, has become one of the disputed areas, as the Iraqi government has abandoned it and ISIS is vying for control.
Dozens of mortar rounds landed on the outskirts of the city Wednesday night, causing tens of thousands of residents to flee towards Erbil. Assyrian Christians from Mosul had previously fled the ISIS takeover and were seeking sanctuary in Qaraqosh and in the nearby Christian city of Bartella.
Iraq’s Assyrian Christians are some of the earliest converts to Christianity and are indigenous to the Nineveh plains. Of recent, they have suffered massacres and persecution owing to the instability sowed by the American invasion in 2003. Qaraqosh has always seen as a safe haven, especially for those periodically fleeing violence in Mosul, such as in 2008.
While the attack continued, VICE News was caught in a miles long traffic jam as many residents fled in fear with nothing but the clothes on their back. Peshmerga forces, fearing car bombs and hidden insurgents, meticulously combed through the traffic, and set up tense checkpoints, causing further chaos. We also travelled to the abandoned city of Qaraqosh to speak with residents who have remained there despite the attacks. They tell us why they’ve decided to stay and protect their city.