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ICC Note: In one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq, a small group of monks are committed to remaining. Militants from ISIS are nearby and have shown an increasing desire to eliminate the historical and cultural symbols that do not fit with their jihadist interpretations of Islam. The Kurdish Peshmerga is currently in control of the area, but fighting is still happening nearby. Despite these risks these Christians are committed to remaining in Iraq.

05/27/2015 Iraq (USA Today) Yousif Ibrahim paces down the 1,600-year-old chamber room of St. Matthew’s Monastery passing rows of empty polished-wood pews. Ornate crystal chandeliers hang from the arched ceiling above him. The room smells of dust and incense, and its silence is peaceful. Outside of the ancient walls, however, the battle for Iraq is raging.

“We can see the battles and the airstrikes from here in front of us, especially at night. The sky lights up at night, but we of course are not scared. God protects us,” Ibrahim, one of three monks who resides in the monastery, says.

Situated on the side of Mount Al-Faf in North Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, St. Matthew’s Monastery is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. Today, the beige stone structure looks down on the rolling hills of one of Iraq’s most active front lines against the Islamic State, less than four miles away.

The horizon is spotted with pluming towers of white and black smoke from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery fire. From this front line, Islamic State territory stretches back to Mosul, the group’s largest Iraqi stronghold.

The proximity of the Islamic State to St. Matthew’s means the monastery is constantly at risk. The extremist group is known for destroying churches, museums and other culturally and historically significant sites.

Last week, the militants seized the Syrian city of Palmyra and its ruins, described by the United Nations as “one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.” The city’s fall left the world holding its breath in anticipation of the UNESCO World Heritage site’s destruction.

St. Matthew’s is safely under Kurdish peshmerga military control for now. But Sahar Karaikos, one of six students at the monastery, fears what could happen if the Islamic State advances closer. …

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