The Pope's rosary and the destruction of Iraq's Mosul - TAHA KILINÇ

The Pope's rosary and the destruction of Iraq's Mosul

ISIS, also known as Daesh, which left its mark on recent Middle East history, served to weaken the opposition in Syria, bolster the regime and strengthen the PKK-PYD-YPG structure in the north of the country. In Iraq, the gradual capture of Sunni regions by Shiites, the displacement of its people and the seizure of their properties was the most striking result of Daesh terrorism.

You may recall the city of Mosul in Iraq, where Sunnis constitute the majority, was seized by Daesh in June 2014. In the aftermath of that, the specter of Daesh, which was propped-up by Hollywood-like shootings and social media, spread enough horror to the region and the whole world, and after international media scrutinized how "Sunni jihadist terror" was a "terrible" thing, cunningly and methodically manipulating people’s perceptions. A "rescue operation" was launched in Mosul in 2016. The city, which was heavily bombarded by the U.S. and other forces from the air, was also under siege by the Iraqi army. Finally, with the official statement made on 10 July 2017, it was announced that Mosul was "completely liberated". In the atmosphere of hatred and fear against Daesh, it was not possible to talk about the human cost of the Mosul operation in question. As a matter of fact, even today, corpses continue to emerge from under the rubble bombed by warplanes. There is one more thing about Mosul that has not been talked about enough yet: The current demographic and religious balances of the city.

When the Mosul mobilization was declared in 2016, many armed groups, which Iran controlled and financed, appeared on the field "to assist the Iraqi regular army". One of them was particularly noteworthy: the Babel Brigades. Unlike the others, this group was comprised entirely of Christians and presented itself as "the first Christian army in Iraqi history". The commander of the Babylon Brigades was a young man named Rayan al-Kaldani. According to media reports at that time, the Baghdad government was paying the Kaldani $600 per soldier to pay those under his command. Kaldani never disclosed how many fought under the banner of the Babylon Brigades. When he was asked this question, he simply replied "as much as necessary."

After Mosul was "liberated", Rayan al-Kaldani and his men also played a role in the demographic redesigning of the region, acting in coordination with the Iranian-affiliated umbrella organization al-Hashd al-Shaabi. Many villages and towns were seized by al-Hashd al-Shaabi, particularly Christian villages and lands in Mosul, in addition to Sunni settlements in the center, thanks to the Babylon Brigades.

Some of these region’s residents were not allowed to return, and they were replaced by a Shiite population. When Kaldani, who worked for the Shiites despite being a Catholic Christian, paid tribute to the Iraqi Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani, labeling him "the greatest spiritual leader of the country" in 2019, the Christians were outraged. The Union of Churches of Iraq were forced to come out and say that Kaldani does not represent them.

Rayan al-Kaldani was once again front and center at the visit of Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the Catholic world, to Iraq last week.

The Pope also personally presented Kaldani with his own rosary, which he used in rituals “as a token of appreciation.” This gesture was, of course, more than just an ordinary gift.

During the Pope's Iraq tour, one of the giant billboards hung on the streets of Baghdad read the following in Arabic: "You are a part of us, we are a part of you."

The billboard features photos of Sistani on the right and of the Pope on the left; white pigeons were flying in the background. The fact that this ambitious slogan was written in Arabic prompts one to think that the message was aimed at the Iraqi public. The Pope also paid a visit to Sistani in his home, praising him as a "wise man".

This meeting between Sistani and Francis, who is the first Pope to set foot in Iraq, can be read in so many different ways. The most striking was that the close affiliation between Catholics and Shiites was on full display. Highlighting and rewarding those responsible for the displacement and massacres that were committed in several cities of Iraq during the visit, which took place without any notable representation of Iraqi Sunnis, has revived the developments that led to the occupation of Jerusalem in 1099, in the subconscious of the Arab public. The joint efforts of the Shiite Fatimids, the powerful Egyptian-based state of the time, together with the Crusaders and the alliance they established with the Christians against the Seljuks bookended 90 years of bloody history in Palestine. When you look closely at the Pope's poses in Iraq, it is impossible not to wonder about the motivation behind this current rapprochement between Catholic Christianity and Shiites.

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