French President Emmanuel Macron visited the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which suffered widespread destruction during the war, on Sunday to defeat the Islamic State group in 2017.
Macron began his visit to Mosul by touring the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, a Catholic church that suffered severe damage during the IS rule that lasted from 2014 until the extremists “defeated three years later. Iraqi children dressed in white and saluting. Iraqi and French flags sang at Macron’s arrival.
It was the same church where Pope Francis led a special prayer during a visit to Iraq in March. During the trip, the Pontiff urged Iraqi Christians to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild while visiting the remains of the churches.
Macron moved around the church, whose walls are still riddled with bullets, amid tight security when an accompanying priest gave him details about the church built in the 19th century. The French president then went up to the rooftop overlooking parts of Mosul accompanied by Iraqi officials.
“We hope that France will open a consulate in Mosul,” Iraqi priest Raed Adel told Macron inside the church. He also asked the president to help rebuild the Mosul airport.
Macron left the church in the early afternoon and headed to Mosul’s iconic al-Nuri Mosque, which exploded in battle with IS militants in 2017 and is being rebuilt.
The mosque, also known as The Great Mosque of al-Nuri, and its iconic leaning minaret were built in the 12th century. It was from the pulpit of the mosque that the self-styled ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the caliphate in 2014.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, became the bureaucratic and financial backbone of ISIS. It took a fierce nine-month battle to finally liberate the city in July 2017. Between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed, according to an Associated Press investigation at the time, and the war left widespread destruction. Many Iraqis have had to rebuild on their own amid a financial crisis that has lasted for years.
Since the earliest years of Christianity, northern Iraq has been home to large Christian communities. But over the past decades, tens of thousands left Iraq and settled elsewhere amid wars and instability in the country that culminated in the persecution of Christians by extremists over the past decade.
The traditionally Christian cities that dot the Nineveh Plains in the north were emptied in 2014 when Christians, as well as many Muslims, fled attack by the Islamic State group. Only a few have returned to their homes since the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq was declared four years ago, and the rest remain scattered in other parts of Iraq or abroad.
Macron arrived in Baghdad early Saturday, where he participated in a conference attended by officials from across the Middle East with the aim of easing tensions in the Middle East and underscored the new role of the Arab country as a mediator.
Macron hailed the Baghdad conference as a major boost for Iraq and its leadership. The country had been largely shunned by Arab leaders over the past decades due to security concerns amid back-to-back wars and internal unrest, its airport was frequently rocket-attacked by insurgents.
Macron promised to keep troops in Iraq “regardless of the options of the Americans” and “as long as the Iraqi government is asking for our support.” France currently contributes 800 soldiers to the international coalition forces in Iraq.
On Saturday night, Macron visited a Shiite holy shrine in Baghdad before flying to the northern city of Irbil, where he met Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, the 28-year-old activist who was forced into sexual slavery. by IS fighters in Iraq.
Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, was among thousands of women and girls who were captured and forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State in 2014. His mother and six brothers were killed by Islamic State fighters in Iraq. She became an activist on behalf of women and girls after escaping and finding refuge in Germany and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism