Militants rule leaves Christian town in ruins

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By Rudaw
Hamdaniya is a mixed city consisting of Arabs, Kurds and predominantly Christians.
HAMDANIYA, Iraq– Hamdaniya was once home to 125,000 people, mostly Christians, but it is in ruins after nearly two years of Islamic State rule.
Shops are looted and demolished, homes are burned down and streets are covered with debris and bricks from bombed buildings.
In this once tranquil city, even the holy churches have felt the gruesome touch of the Islamic gunmen.

“This is where people came to pray, look what they have done to it,” says Amer [no second name], a Christian resident of Hamadaniya referring to the Mar Gorgis Church in the city which ISIS apparently used as a bomb factory.

“It’s a saddening view,” says Amer who one day decided to take up arm and fight the militants. He is now one of many Christians in the country who have joined the anti-ISIS militias.

Located northeast of Mosul, like many other towns in Nineveh Plains, Hamdaniya is a mixed city consisting of Arabs, Kurds and predominantly Christians.

Nearly the entire population fled the town prior to ISIS invasion in August 2014 and many are still in refugee camps despite the liberation of the city by the Iraqi army earlier this month.

Amer has been living in Hamdaniya all his life and knows the city perhaps better than most. He says the devastation is “unimaginable.”

“I think 70 percent of the town is destroyed,” he says.

Inside Mar Gorgis Church stocks of missiles and improvised explosives are piled up apparently manufactured by the militants themselves who used the church as a shield against areal bombing.

Salam Yaaqub, an Iraqi soldier, says most of the explosives in the church are handmade by the militants and believes ISIS intentionally used the church knowing that coalition airstrikes would avoid targeting Christian holy places.

“It seems that they used many substances in their bombs, but we found large amount of sugar here which we think they used in their explosives,” Yaaqub says.

Hamdaniya is the largest Christian district in Iraq with outskirt towns such as Qaraqosh which has over 50,000 residents, mainly Christians.