Just as ISIS is being defeated. Just as Iraqi Christians begin returning to homes and villages to rebuild their lives, new conflict breaks out in the region that could again threaten their safety and security.
The Kurdish Peshmerga Militia and Iraqi Government forces, key allies in the fight to drive ISIS from Northern Iraq and destroy the Islamic State, are now in armed conflict over control of the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding area. The oil rich area of Kirkuk contains 15-25% of Iraq’s oil preserves…considered one of the largest in the world. ISIS drove Iraqi forces out of Kirkuk in their attempt to establish a Caliphate. Kurdish military retook the town, long an area of significant Kurdish population. The Iraqi Government, concerned over growing strength of the Kurdistan region of Iraq and worried about increasing demands for Kurdish independence, sent troops to recapture the town from the Kurds.
The United States, allies and supplier of arms and support to both Kurds and Iraq in the fight against ISIS is staying out of the conflict and calling for calm.
But calm is not enough for the long suffering Christians of the Middle East. Slowly returning to their homes and villages as ISIS is driven out, this new conflict presents more potential dangers. The Kurds have long been among the more welcoming and religiously tolerant groups in the region. Many, if not most, Iraqi Christians live in Kurdish controlled parts of Iraq. Peaceful relations within the Iraq Government between the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq is essential to Christian safety…and to the free practice of their religion.
Right now, this conflict is contained to one city and its surrounding area, and has the valuable oil reserves as its principal motivation. If the conflict escalates, and its purpose begins to include religious overtones, this could become yet one more terrible problem for the beleaguered Christians of Iraq. We pray that both sides use restraint, treating each other as allies once again, and that the United States, without choosing sides, will exercise its influence to protect Christians and that most precious American right — freedom of religion.