26 July 2017
In the video above, a religious sister from Syria describes how Christians there have continued to cling to their faith. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Pressure continues to involve Christians in Kurdistan referendum (Fides) Political leaders of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan continue to try and involve Christians in support of the referendum convened for next 25 September, seeking to proclaim full independence from Baghdad...
Security forces sent to Lebanese Christian town near Syria (Al-Arabiya.net) Security reinforcements were sent to the Lebanese Christian town of Al-Qaa after reports that gunmen may have entered. A number of suicide bombers attacked the Lebanese Christian village last year killing a number of people and wounding dozens more. ISIS was responsible for the bombings in the village of Qaa on Lebanon’s border with Syria...
Syrians rebuild a mosque in Aleppo — and rebuild their community (The Independent) The crumpled heap of stones, all that is left of the minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo, asks questions of us all. How do we “restore” or “repair” or “rebuild” a jewel of Seljuk civilization from which millions of Muslims — perhaps even Saladin himself — were called to prayer five times each day for 900 years in one of the oldest cities of the world?...
Coptic Church launches campaign against female genital mutilation (Fides) The Orthodox Coptic Church is about to launch an intense awareness campaign among its faithful against the practice of female genital mutilation, which continues to be widespread among Coptic Christians in different areas of Upper Egypt...
Ethiopian Rosh Hashanah blends unique customs (Jewish News Service) Despite relative isolation from their Jewish brethren around the world for millennia, Ethiopian Jews have coveted the same dream of celebrating Rosh Hashanah “next year in Jerusalem.” Though unique, the Jewish New Year festivities in Ethiopia bear many similarities to the holiday’s observance in the broader diaspora...
25 July 2017
Tags: Syria Egypt Ethiopia Lebanon Copts
While visiting CNEWA’s New York offices, Andrij Waskowycz, president of Caritas Ukraine, urged the people of the West to remember the suffering people of his homeland. (photo: Greg Kandra)
We were privileged to welcome a visitor from the East to our New York offices this afternoon: Andrij Waskowycz, president of Caritas Ukraine.
He shared with our staff some of the urgent and important work his organization is undertaking in his corner of the world — in particular, he said, dealing with what he called “the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” which has displaced millions throughout Ukraine and parts of Eastern Europe.
Mr. Wascowycz spoke, in particular, of three areas Caritas Ukraine is focused on: assisting the elderly; serving “street children” who have been all-but-abandoned by their families; and helping confront problems in migration and human trafficking.
The needs of the Ukrainian people have only grown since the “Maidan movement” uprisings of 2013, he explained, and the staff at Caritas Ukraine has also grown — from a couple hundred a decade ago to now over 1,000.
Beyond the basic humanitarian needs of the people, he said, Caritas must also try to create a future for them: bringing them jobs and what he called “a normal life.”
“We have to assist them with their whole life,” he said. “We have these highly traumatized people and we have to assist them now and also in 10 years. This is something we have to do, to redirect ourselves.”
Caritas Ukraine, he added, is the “church in action,” but it cannot work alone.
When asked what message he’d like to convey to the world, he put it bluntly:
“Don’t forget Ukraine.”
It is a forgotten war, he said, part of “an invisible crisis,” often overlooked. It doesn’t get a lot of media coverage, or dominate the headlines. But the crisis is real and it is far from over.
“People are suffering in Ukraine,” he said quietly. “Don’t forget them.”
To learn more, check out these stories from ONE:
Out From Underground
A Letter from Ukraine
Prayer and Protest
25 July 2017
A boy carries his belongings in Mosul, Iraq, on 23 July. Some Iraqi Christians who are making their slow return to ancestral lands say it will take time to rebuild their lives and trust of those who betrayed them. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
As some Iraqi Christians make a slow return to the region around Mosul following the defeat of the Islamic State group, many say it will take time to rebuild their lives and even longer to rebuild their trust of those who betrayed them.
“The war isn’t finished yet and neither is the Islamic State. There is no stability and there is still fighting in Mosul,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, who visited Mosul on 20 July, touring churches left badly damaged during the city’s three-year occupation by the extremists.
“How can Christians return when there are homes destroyed and there are no services? But most important is safety. The return of Christians needs time,” Patriarch Sako warned, in remarks carried by Radio Free Europe.
Although Iraqi forces declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Mosul early in July, the patriarch said the region remains unstable, leaving Christians uncertain about their future in their historic homeland.
“Trust must be rebuilt because the Christians of this region have endured such abuse and violence, leaving deep wounds,” Patriarch Sako said.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, also warned that although Islamic State may be defeated militarily, “it doesn’t mean that its mentality, ideology or culture will be ended.”
Father Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk, spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype.
“The mentality of Islamic State in terms of accepting or recognizing others who are different is still there among people. Although we are happy for the liberation of Mosul, in reality, no Christian or Yezidi will go back to Mosul. I say this with pain,” he emphasized.
“Now is the time to think about alternative places to set up public services, health care, businesses and economics in the region,” perhaps to establish these in “one of the Ninevah Plains towns, such as Telaskov, to serve Christians, Yezidis and Muslims,” he said.
Many see Telaskov as a prime location for the reconstruction and rebuilding of lives to start in earnest, because Islamic State militants spent less than two weeks occupying it, so damage is minimal.
Telaskov translates as “Bishop’s Hill” and, before the Islamic State takeover, was a thriving town of 11,000.
“Now, more than 600 families have returned to Telaskov; those formally from the town and nearby Batnaya because it is not possible to return to Batnaya due to huge damage,” Father Youkhana said.
“Life is regained, markets are open, the church is functioning and hoping the schools will be open there as well by the beginning of the school year,” he said.
Christians have expressed concerns that the current military line dividing the once predominantly Christian Ninevah Plains region will harden to become a de facto political/administrative line, dividing their numbers. In the north are towns like Telaskov and Batnaya, and the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters hold sway. Towns south of the line — where Qaraqosh, Bartella, and Bashiqa are found — are now under the control of the Iraqi army and Shiite militias.
Father Youkhana’s CAPNI organization has been able to rehabilitate more than 180 houses and properties and 17 schools north of the military line, where there is greater stability.
He expressed concerns especially for towns south of the military line, like Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian town of 50,000 before the Islamic State takeover in August 2014.
“The Shiites are now trying to monopolize it and other towns. We have the challenge about how to keep them. We believe there will be a Christian town of Qaraqosh. The question is: Who will rule it? Questions also arise about the physical connectivity of Qaraqosh to other Christian towns in the Ninevah Plains given the different political and military sides that control the divided area.
Father Youkhana also shared a fear expressed by Christians that the victims of Islamic State extremists such as themselves, the Yezidis and other religious minorities will again become victims in the reconstruction process.
“Our people are concerned that Arab Sunni Muslims who hosted and joined Islamic State and helped the extremists against us will be given priority in reconstruction of Mosul, perhaps from the Iraqi government and the Arab Gulf states,” he said. “The victims will be ignored and neglected.”
Christians are calling on the international community, along with the Iraqi government, to help them and other citizens from religious minority backgrounds. Often, Father Youkhana said, there are unfair expectations that all the help will come from Christians themselves or the Western churches.
“It is the government and the international community that should commit to support these people,” he said.
“To rehabilitate a house is not enough to return. Beyond the politics, the security, there is the livelihood of how families can survive. When 30 families are coming to a neighborhood in Qaraqosh, they need a grocery, a bakery, jobs,” he said.
“We fled in one night from the Islamic State; we may take one or two years to return home,” he added.
25 July 2017
A migrant child sits on the deck of rescue ship as it arrives on 19 April in Augusta, Italy. A Vatican representative told the U.N. Monday that the integration of migrants and refugees in host nations must become an opportunity for new understanding.
(photo: CNS/Darrin Zammit Lupi, pool via Reuters)
Vatican on migration: an opportunity for development, fraternity (Vatican Radio) The integration of migrants and refugees in host nations can and must become an opportunity for new understanding, broader horizons and greater development for everyone. This message was at the heart of a statement released on Monday by Father Michael Czerny at the UN in New York during an Informal Thematic Session in New York to gather substantive input and recommendations to inform the Global Compact on Migration...
Tensions continue in Jerusalem (Fides) The Israeli government has ordered the removal of installed metal detectors to control the entry at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. But it is too soon to tell whether this measure will have an impact on the tension and violence unleashed around the Holy City where the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are situated...
A new life in strangers’ clothes for refugees in Canada (Racked.com) Like most refugees, the Syrians arriving in Canada come with very little literal baggage. They leave behind wedding presents and photo albums, family heirlooms and art collections. A threat to physical safety, the need to flee from civil conflict, might seem like it renders material objects irrelevant. But we carry a powerful attachment to tangible things. The things we collect keep us rooted in the earth; our homes, our beds, our bookshelves and frying pans, the sneakers with the shoelaces that always come undone, and the letters collected in a box tell the story of who we are and where we have been...
How Gaza became unlivable (Al Jazeera) The United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory recently released an incisive report on Gaza (PDF), focusing on the humanitarian impact of Israel’s 10-year blockade and the internal political divisions among the Palestinians. Its findings are bleak: Gaza’s impoverishment is entirely the product of human decisions, and not the fate of nature...
Indian Christians observe ‘Martyrdom Day’ (Vatican Radio) A group of Indian Christians have decided to observe Martyrdom Day on 22 July in memory of Christians who are persecuted and killed for their faith. It was the initiative of Shibu Thomas who through his ecumenical movement, “Persecution Relief” said special prayers were offered in Churches across the country. The observance is “part of a concerted effort to encourage those who continue to struggle to cope with persecution and challenge to live a true Christian life,” Thomas told UCANEWS...
Vatican turns off fountains to save water (Vatican Radio) The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water...
24 July 2017
In the video above, Iraq’s Patriarch Louis Sako visits Mosul on 20 July.
(video: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
Patriarch Louis Sako, the head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, visited Mosul last week, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was there. Check out the video above — which also features CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar — to see what the patriarch had to say.
The visit came days after the city was liberated. Earlier this month, Patriarch Sako released a statement on the status of Christians in Iraq, with a plea for Christians to embrace their homeland and their heritage:
“Now is the right time to adhere effectually to the land of their parents and grandparents, their identity, history and heritage,” Patriarch Sako wrote. “The fact that we are the indigenous people of this country and its ancient civilizations, and that our history is traced back to the oldest Christian Church in the world, should be kept in our mind always.”
The patriarch called this a “historic moment and a test for Christians” to renew their commitment and confirm their presence in Iraq. He also urged the faithful to claim compensation for their losses from the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as the international community.
After celebrating the liberation of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, the patriarch said there’s still “a long way to go” before IS is “completely eradicated from the region.“
24 July 2017
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, celebrates Mass in Marj Al Haman, Jordan, 23 July. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Mideast church leaders meeting in Jordan developed a two-pronged action plan to help Catholic families.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Catholic News Service the first step was to “change completely the preparation for the religious Catholic marriage.” Archbishop Pizzaballa explained that a revised teaching would entail “not just the immediate preparation to marriage that currently exists, but to start earlier the instruction with Catholic youth about what exactly marriage means.”
Secondly, he said the church sought to “create counseling offices in order to avoid couples immediately going to the courts” to deal with family problems that might arise.
In many Arab countries, where Islam and Islamic law predominate, there are no civil laws regarding marriage and divorce. That means that the state relies on religious bodies such as Catholic family law courts to certify marriages.
Often, civil divorce is impossible for Catholics in the Middle East, with many resorting to leaving the faith — becoming Orthodox or even Muslim — in order to find a tribunal that will allow them to escape their marriage.
With the Year of Mercy that began in late 2015, the church streamlined procedures for annulment cases, which have become a matter of urgency in many societies in the Middle East.
Archbishop Pizzaballa spoke to Catholic News Service 23 July after the conference’s closing Mass at Martyrs of Jordan Church. Delegations of clerics, judges and lawyers specializing in canon law from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Jordan participated in conference, which discussed a number of legal issues relating to marriage and the family. The proceedings were chaired by Father Emil Salayta, president of the church court in Jerusalem.
Archbishop Pizzaballa told CNS it is important to enhance the training for young people to “explain the meaning of a Catholic marriage and all the mutual commitments involved and to let them understand, with time in advance, what a Catholic marriage truly is.”
He said the main purpose of the conference was to help priests and lawyers who work in courts understand new regulations following Pope Francis’ September document bringing the basic legal instruments that govern the Latin- and Eastern-rite Catholic churches more closely into accord on several issues involving baptism and marriage.
“The decision has just been taken. Now we need to sit down with the pastoral offices, people, and other concerned offices to see what to do in order to build this,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said.
“We cannot expect in one year to have everything ready, but to build it. We are aware of the problem and we have to find not-easy solutions,” he said.
Archbishop Pizzaballa said today’s youth often have a “completely different mentality” about commitment, and preparations are needed to help them to make lasting ones.
“In the past, the youth used to ask: ‘Why do this?’ Now they ask ‘Why not?’” he said.
The papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, stressed that “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family, shows the importance of compassion that should be exercised by the church, especially on the subject of families.
He told conference participants that the Catholic courts should serve the law, demonstrate compassion and love through their judges and lawyers, and be witnesses to the greatness of marriage.
24 July 2017
Israeli security forces arrest a Palestinian man following clashes outside Jerusalem’s Old City on 21 July. Pope Francis has appealed for dialogue after a surge of violence in the area.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
Pope appeals for dialogue after Jerusalem violence (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for moderation and dialogue after a surge of violence and killings over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, the Pope said he is following “with trepidation the grave tensions and violence of the last days in Jerusalem...”
Syria truce crumbles (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces have carried out several air attacks in the Eastern Ghouta area outside of Damascus, a day after the Syrian military declared a cessation of hostilities in the area, according to a UK-based monitor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Saturday had been relatively calm after the ceasefire took effect with isolated incidents of shellfire...
Christians welcome India’s new president with caution (Vatican Radio) India’s Catholic bishops have welcomed India’s new president, hoping he will be able to foster peace, development and justice for all...
Report: Young Syrian refugees being forced into child labor in Lebanon (Vox) About 280,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon have been forced into child labor, according to UNICEF. Many of these kids lost their loved ones and homes in their country’s brutal civil war. They fled to Lebanon for safety — only to find it comes at a very high price...
Catholic charity sends statues of Mary to Iraq to replace those destroyed by ISIS (Catholic Herald) A Catholic charity has sent 15 statues of the Virgin Mary to the Middle East to replace ones destroyed by ISIS. The group Œuvre d’Orient, a French association dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, has sent the statues from Lourdes to Ain Kawa, a suburb of the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has a majority Catholic population...
21 July 2017
The convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh sustained damage during the occupation. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on the challenges facing the people of Iraq:
The overwhelming need for those who are still considering returning home is the need for security at several levels. They seek assurances of a national government that guarantees them protection and their basic human and religious rights; they also seek local governance that will provide basic services; and they especially want freedom to maintain their faith and to worship as they please.
The insecurities are deep and the trust is lacking, so many have decided to wait and see before they make their final decision to return or to move on, whatever that might mean.
Despite the uncertainties and all the misery that accompanies those who are displaced, they find in the church a source of comfort and hope. Through Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist and in many good works of charity and mercy, the church represents for them a beacon of the light of Christ and a reason to endure. Nothing is certain for the refugees, except the love of God for all, especially as Jesus has shared with them on the cross.
Read more and see more pictures as this link.
21 July 2017
In the video above, Cardinal Luis Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis, speaks of the church’s concern for refugees and the dignity of the human person. Rising anti-refugee sentiment is causing concern in Lebanon. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Israeli aid gives ‘glimmer of hope’ for Syrians (The New York Times) Quietly, over the last year, hundreds of sick Syrian children and their chaperones have been whisked across enemy lines at dawn for treatment at clinics in Israel, slipping back home after dark...
Rising anti-refugee sentiment stirs concern in Lebanon (AFP) An attack on Lebanese troops raiding a Syrian refugee camp has stirred violent debate and polarized opinions, with rising calls to repatriate refugees but also warnings against racist rhetoric. The uptick in pressure comes after Lebanese soldiers were attacked as they stormed two refugee camps near the eastern border with Syria last month...
Power-sharing deal takes shape in Gaza (AP) A power-sharing deal between two former arch foes is slowly taking shape in Gaza and could lead to big changes in the Hamas-ruled territory, including an easing of a decade-long border blockade...
Report: Babies most affected by malnutrition around Mosul (Doctors Without Borders) The malnutrition we see here is primarily due to the scarcity of infant formula. Obviously, adults and children in the besieged part of Mosul suffer from lack of food and, indeed, we see a lot of extremely underweight people arriving in the camps. But once they’re out of the city, the adults soon gain weight, but not the babies. Many Iraqi mothers don’t breastfeed and the ones who do usually stop after two to three months. Conditions in the camps combined with stress and exhaustion make breastfeeding even harder...
A year later, families of those who resisted Turkey coup count cost (The Guardian) A year later, the country remains polarized, and has yet to come to terms with the traumatic putsch that is widely believed to have been orchestrated by followers of Fethullah Gülen, an ally-turned-rival of the president who leads a vast grassroots network from exile in the United States. For the families of the sehitler — the Turkish word for martyrs — the trauma remains close at hand...
20 July 2017
The video above, from 11 July, shows the extent of the destruction of Mosul, the largest city in Iraq that ISIS tried to conquer. (video: Radio Free Europe/YouTube)
Editor’s note: this week, we launch a new feature on our blog, “CNEWA Connections” — weekly posts that we hope will provide background and context to some of the stories unfolding in CNEWA’s world.
The Iraq city of Mosul has been in the news quite a bit lately and has been freed from the control of ISIS. It may, however, prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, since much of the city now lays in ruins.
While the world watches in sorrow the stories and images coming out of Mosul, and witnesses the humanitarian nightmare its destruction has created, it’s worth taking a moment to put the place in context. This city, the largest that ISIS tried to conquer, has a long history.
Mosul (Arabic al-Maw?il, “the connection, confluence, depot”) originally on the west bank now lies on both sides of the Tigris River. It is not a very ancient city, although it is close to the ruins of Niniveh, the capital of the very powerful Assyrian Empire which was destroyed by the Chaldeans of Babylon at the close of the 7th century BC. The position of Mosul made it an ideal center for trade between China and India via the Silk Roads to the east, to the Greek and Roman Empires to the west and Arabia and Africa to the south.
In pre-Muslims times, Mosul was a metropolitan see (archdiocese) of the Church of the East and was second to Ctesiphon — and later Baghdad — where the Catholicos/Patriarch resided. It was conquered by Muslim armies in the 7th century AD and later became part of the Abbasid Caliphate. As would be expected for a city on the juncture of several trade routes, Mosul was very cosmopolitan. Originally a Christian city, over the centuries it became increasingly Sunni Muslim. Nevertheless, there was a considerable Christian minority consisting of Christians of the Assyrian tradition (Church of the East and later also Chaldeans) and other Christian churches, Jews, Shi’ites and others. Ethnically, the majority of the population of Mosul was and remains Arab, although there were a good number of Kurds in the city. Many Christians in the region consider themselves Assyrian and not Arab. As might be expected, instances of sectarian conflict in Mosul were recorded over the centuries.
Mosul is the main city of the Nineveh Plain which has been home to a large Christian population spread over several small cities and villages. The Christian population of the Nineveh Plain is an ancient one, tracing its roots back in some instances to the 4th century AD.
Historians recount that Mosul was famous for its textiles and the English word, muslin, a type of fabric, is derived from the name Mosul.
Mosul and its environs were home to several pilgrim sites. Perhaps the most famous of these was the shrine of Nabi Yunas, the prophet Jonah — who, according to the Old Testament, had preached repentance to the Assyrians in nearby Nineveh and was buried at the site.
In this image from 1999, Iraqis visit the shrine of Nabi Yunas, the prophet Jonah.
(photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Originally a Christian shrine, it became a mosque as the Christian population diminished over the centuries.
Iraqis inspect the shrine of Nabi Yunas after ISIS destroyed it in 2014. (photo: CNS/EPA)
The al-Nuri Grand Mosque was built in the 12th century and underwent several renovations over the years. A huge structure, it was famous for its minaret, from which the Muslim call to prayer is broadcast. The minaret leaned at an angle similar to Italy’s famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Under the Ottoman Empire, modern day Iraq, was (wisely) divided into three vilayets or provinces: Bosra for the Arab Shi’ites in the southern third of the country; Baghdad for the Arab Sunnis in the center of the country; and Mosul for the Kurdish Muslims in the northern third of the country. After the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1917, the French and British united all three vilayets to form the new country of Iraq.
After several revolutions, Iraq evolved into one very diverse country held together by a strong man, Saddam Hussein. Kurdish revolts in the north and Shi’ite revolts in the south were common and were met with incredible brutality by the Hussein government.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq began to become unglued. Centrifugal forces surfaced and the old Ottoman vilayets provided the fault lines which continue to divide the country. In that vacuum arose first al-Qaida in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a brutal terrorist. After Zarqawi’s death al-Qaida in Iraq went underground and metastasized to what would become known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and by its Arabic acronym da’ish.
With incredible speed in 2014, ISIS attacked Mosul. The large Iraqi army fled when faced with an almost minuscule ISIS force and Mosul became part of ISIS. In June 2014 in the al-Nuri Grand Mosque in Mosul Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (whose name has changed several times, each time giving him a more noble pedigree) declared himself Caliph. ISIS was now on the world stage with a vengeance. Although Raqqa in Syria was the purported capital of the caliphate, Mosul was in some ways more important. ISIS plundered the many resources which Mosul had to offer — military equipment left behind by the fleeing Iraqi army, many banks whose funds were stolen, and a population estimated at 1.8 million, half of which fled, leaving behind properties, money, etc., which was confiscated by ISIS.
ISIS was driven from Mosul in the spring and summer of 2017 by a coalition of Iraqi troops, Kurdish militias and American advisors. The loss of Mosul was a serious loss for ISIS but perhaps a greater loss for the people of Mosul and the Christians who had fled from the Plain of Nineveh. Arial photographs show the city to be leveled. The retreating ISIS forces used explosives to destroy the Shrine of Jonah and the al-Nuri mosque. Christians who fled to Irbil in Kurdish Iraq wait and wonder if the Niniveh Plain will ever again be safe enough for them to return.
It is a sad irony that for centuries Mosul lay just across the Tigris River from the ruins of ancient Niniveh — ruins which Mosul itself now resembles.