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In Iraq's Tel Skuf, Christians Reportedly Hold Mass Again


(file photo)

(file photo)

There have been reports this week that refugees from the Christian town of Tel Skuf in northern Iraq have managed to hold the first mass in the town since it was recaptured from Islamic State (IS) militants in August.

Tel Skuf is a predominantly Assyrian town in Iraq's Nineveh Province, some 30 kilometers north of Mosul.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces managed to dislodge IS gunmen from Tel Skuf in August, amid U.S.-led air strikes targeting IS in Nineveh Province.

There are several discrepancies between various accounts of the mass in Tel Skuf, however.

According to reports in various Iraqi outlets, the mass was held in the Mar Yacob (St. Jacob's) Church, one of two churches in Tel Skuf. The Vatican news outlet Agenzia Fides, however, reports that the mass was held in another church, St. George's.

According to Fides, the mass was celebrated by a group of refugees who fled the town when Islamic State took over the area.

The refugees did not stay in Tel Skuf after the mass, according to Fides, which cited a Chaldean priest in Mosul, Paul Thabit Mekko, as saying that "a group of young men, now refugees in Kurdistan, wanted to go there with a priest for a few hours, with the intent to open the church, ring the bells and celebrate mass. After the liturgy they returned to the north, in places where they are currently living as refugees."

Tel Skuf has remained a virtual ghost town following its recapture by Peshmerga forces, with residents too afraid to return. However, some Assyrian Christians from the area have formed a militia group to combat IS, according to reports from September.

"We want to take our cities back from the Islamic State. We want to protect the Christian villages. No one wants their home, life, and land taken from them, no one wants this. I am doing this not just for me but for the Christians of my country," one Assyrian Christian, named as Tabya, told "Scotland on Sunday" in September.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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