ERBIL, Iraq, Oct 31, (RTRS): An elderly Christian widow who survived two years of Islamic State rule over her northern Iraqi town said the jihadists threatened to kill her, forced her to spit on a crucifix and made her stamp on an image of the Virgin Mary.
Zarifa Badoos Daddo, 77, was reunited with her family on Sunday after Iraqi forces drove Islamic State from Qaraqosh as they advanced on Mosul, the militants’ last major urban bastion in the country.
The forces found her sheltering in a house they thought was abandoned or booby-trapped with explosives.
Most residents of Qaraqosh — Iraq’s largest Christian town — had fled towards the country’s autonomous Kurdish region more than two years ago as the jihadists approached, but Daddo stayed on with another elderly woman.
Her relatives had long feared she was dead. Islamic State singled out religious minorities in northern Iraq, including Christians and Yazidis, for murder and eviction after declaring a caliphate in 2014 over territory they captured there and in neighbouring Syria.
Their seizure of Mosul and surrounding towns effectively drove Christians from the area for the first time in two millennia. Daddo, who is hard of hearing, told Reuters on Sunday that the militants had not physically hurt her, but had intimidated and robbed her, made her desecrate her religion and tried to force her to convert to Islam.
“They told me to spit on the crucifix. I was crying inside but I couldn’t show it,” she said at a relative’s home in the Kurdish capital Erbil, an hour’s drive from Qaraqosh.
Then the jihadists demanded she stamp on an image of the Virgin Mary that she kept at home. “I said (to myself), ‘Oh Mariam, I will step on you but you know I don’t mean it’.”
Daddo, whose husband died in 2014, was reunited with her brother and other relatives in Erbil on Sunday. Her jubilant family slaughtered a lamb to celebrate what they consider the miracle of her survival.
The widow, with bushy grey eyebrows, decaying teeth, and a cross tattooed on the back of her wrist, sat with relatives who wept and applauded as she recounted her most harrowing encounters.
She spoke in a mix of Arabic and Syriac, an ancient dialect of the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke. Her niece said the family had lost touch with her about 18 months ago when Islamic State clamped down on telephones in areas under their control. “We didn’t know anything about her. Anything could have happened.”
Most of Iraq’s Christian population is based in the north, around Mosul, which is one of the world’s oldest centres of Christianity, dating back to the first century AD.
A quarter of a century ago there were well over a million Christians in Iraq but their numbers dwindled during the 1990s as the country faced war and sanctions, and the exodus accelerated after waves of attacks on Christians in the sectarian violence following the 2003 US-led invasion.
Qaraqosh, about 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Mosul, was a Christian town of about 45,000 people before Islamic State swept across the region. Daddo was sleeping in her garden when the jihadists entered the town in August 2014 and issued an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.