The fall of Kabul and the takeover of the government by the Taliban this week reminded Iraqi Bishop Paul Thabit Mekko of the “tragic fate of Mosul,” in Iraq, in the summer of 2014.
In June of that year, the so-called Islamic State (IS) defeated the Iraqi Army and captured the city of Mosul after six days of fighting. An estimated 500,000 civilians fled from the city due to the conflict.
“At the time, Iraqi troops pulled back and Daesh (IS) took over the area and collected abandoned weapons,” recalled the bishop who was named coadjutor bishop of Alqosh of Iraq’s Chaldean Church only last week.
In an interview with AsiaNews, the prelate said what is happening in Kabul this week “resembles what happened in Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and northern Iraq in the summer of seven years ago.”
The current situation in Afghanistan, however, worries the bishop.
“Lately, there have been rumors about a possible withdrawal of [American] troops (from Iraq),” said Bishop Mekko, adding that it is “fueling fear and concern in people.”
“What happened in Afghanistan could happen here if [the Americans] suddenly leave,” he said.
Last month, US President Joe Biden announced that US forces, who number about 2,500 in Iraq, will end their combat mission in the country by the end of the year.
Bishop Mekko said the present situation in Iraq “is not quiet,” adding that “now and then, attacks are reported in cities and against sensitive targets,” including US military bases.
“The Islamic State is behind them, or forces (militias and paramilitary groups) who are interested in sowing confusion,” the prelate said in the AsiaNews interview.
He said that the “mindset that will rule in Kabul” is a cause for concern. The Taliban’s worldview is “similar to that of the Islamic State, of dark and gloomy domination,” warned the bishop.
“Today’s Iraq is not Afghanistan,” he said, “but it is clear that if coalition forces leave, these groups will have a stronger grip on the country.”
Meanwhile, more than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital, a NATO official said on Friday.
Thousands of people, desperate to flee the country, were still thronging the airport, the official who declined to be identified told Reuters.
The speed with which the Taliban conquered Afghanistan as US and other foreign troops were completing their withdrawal surprised even their own leaders and has left power vacuums in many places.
The Taliban urged unity ahead of Friday prayers, the first since they seized power, calling on imams to persuade people not to leave Afghanistan amid the chaos at the airport, protests and reports of violence.
A witness told Reuters several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad on Thursday when Taliban militants fired on a crowd demonstrating their allegiance to the vanquished Afghan republic, as the Taliban set about establishing an emirate, governed by strict Islamic laws.
There were similar shows of defiance in two other cities – Jalalabad and Khost – in the east, as Afghans used celebrations of the nation’s 1919 independence from British control to vent their anger with the Taliban takeover.
Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.
Kabul has been largely calm, except in and around the airport where 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.
Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face, saying they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law. – with a report from Reuters