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Trauma forms the invisible ruins ISIS left behind on the Nineveh Plains


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John L. Allen Jr.

Jun 15, 2018


Randi Sulaiman, 24, left, and Diyar Manuel, 32, right, of the New Hope Trauma Center of Iraq in Alqosh. (Credit: Crux/Ines San Martin.)

[Editor’s note: This series has been made possible by support from Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation supporting persecuted Christians around the world.]

ALQOSH, Iraq - After the Islamic State was driven out of the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq in 2017, the scale of destruction left behind in a chain of historically Christian villages was staggering. This is one case in which numbers do, more or less, tell the tale.

  • 1,233 Christian houses totally destroyed
  • 3,502 Christian houses burnt
  • 8,217 Christian houses partially damaged
  • 34 Church properties wiped out
  • 132 Church properties burnt
  • 197 Church properties damaged in some way

To rebuild the Christian presence here meant that more than 13,000 structures would have to be restored in whole or part. Doing precisely that is the ambitious aim of the “Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project,” a joint effort of three Christian churches here with the backing of Catholic organizations such as the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus, as well as other actors such as the government of Hungary.


In an environment in which governments have essentially cut entire communities loose, refusing to provide real security or even basic public services, and where those communities are an embattled minority surrounded on all sides by often-hostile forces, the priest is the only authority holding things together.

Priests here build houses, they run public services, they distribute aid and mediate disputes - they do whatever needs to be done, driven by what their people need at a given moment to survive.

“I’m walking with normal people who have a normal life every day,” Hanna said. “I can feel what they’re feeling, and if I don’t do something about it, who will?”

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