Christians near Mosul celebrate their first mass since being liberated from Isis

Dozens of people return to church in the town of Quraqosh for Sunday Mass as bells ring and prayers are said for the first time in two years 

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The Independent Online

Dozens of Christians in northern Iraq have hesitantly returned to church for the first time in over two years after their town was freed from Isis.

Quraqosh, to the south of the Isis stronghold of Mosul, was recaptured from the jihadis last week as Iraqi coalition forces continue their two-week-old assault to drive Isis from the city.

Church bells rang out from the damaged bell tower for the first time in years as townspeople and troops erected makeshift wooden crosses on the roof of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. 

Inside the church, the walls were blackened and charred from fires lit by Isis fighters as they retreated from the town last week, and statues lay on the floor in pieces. 

But despite the chaos, dozens of civilans and members of the security forces approached the ruined altar to receive holy communion from the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe on Sunday. 

“Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh [Isis],” Archbishop Moshe told worshippers.

“Our role today is to remove all the remnants of [Isis],” he said. “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimised us,” the archbishop - who was born in the town - added.

Qaraqosh - Iraq’s largest Christian town and one of the oldest centres of the religion in the world - was captured during the group’s rapid blitz across the country from Syria in the summer of 2014. 

Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes for neighbouring Kurdish provinces after being given an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax levied on Christians, or face death.

Dramatic footage shows Elite Iraq forces battle on road to Bartella in fight for Mosul

“Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower, these mentalities must be changed,” Archbishop Moshe said.

Iraq has seen a sharp decline in its Christian population since the 2003 US-led invasion due to ongoing violence, but even more people have died or fled the country since Isis took over multi-ethnic Mosul two years ago. 

Removing the group will signal the end of Isis as a land-holding force in the country, but analysts fear up to 1.5million Mosul residents could be caught in the crossfire as the Iraqi coalition advances.

Even if the assault is successful, the complex and competing interests of Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters, Shiite militia and the Iraqi army could spell further unrest in the city. 

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