By Mark Ellis
The terror army that calls itself Islamic State is within six miles of the capital of Iraq and may attack at any moment, according to the Rev. Canon Andrew White, sometimes called the vicar of Baghdad.
Rev. White is vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad, the only Anglican church in Iraq, located just outside the Green Zone.
“People are very fearful. The nation looks as if it has collapsed,” White reported on his Facebook page September 30th. He said 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed by ISIS over the weekend.
Baghdad, the bustling city along the Tigris with 7 million people, is unusually quiet, anticipating the worst. “The usual hectic and crazy streets were this morning almost empty,” he observed. Baghdad is the second largest city in the Arab world after Cairo.
White’s friends and contacts surrounding Baghdad are apprehensive, while a veil of confusion seems to hang in the air. “Islamic State, ISIS, or DAASH as they are known locally, are very close to Baghdad. We do not really know what is happening. All we know is that people are very afraid.”
As the U.S. works on a long-range plan to degrade and defeat ISIS that may take from one to three years, what is known about current conditions does not build confidence. “We know that civilians have been killed in air strikes; we know that there are huge battles with ISIS, and we know that our army is not very efficient.”
Rev. White discovered firsthand that the morale of Iraqi troops is poor. “This morning I was with one of my soldiers who is assigned by the government to protect me,” White said. “I asked him what he would do if he saw ISIS coming. He told me he would take off his uniform and run.
“I asked if he took seriously his role as a soldier to fight and protect his people he assured he did not. He told me he just did it because he needed the money.”
On Sunday, White preached at his church from Romans chapter 11. “Despite being in Iraq I love the Jews and Arabs. Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis and G-d loves them all too,” he said in his message.
Rev. White grew up in the suburbs of southeast London in a very religious household. Trained as an anesthesiologist, he later answered a call to the priesthood and was ordained in 1990.
After serving as canon at Coventry Cathedral, he moved to Baghdad in 2005 and became the Anglican chaplain to Iraq. His main goal is to help bridge the communication gap between Shia and Sunni leaders, and to “gain trust of key religious leaders on both sides in various conflict areas.”
He has been “hijacked, kidnapped, locked up in rooms with bits of finger and toe and things.” He has also “been held at gunpoint, attacked,” and many of his staff have been kidnapped or killed, with up to 11 killings of his staff in a single year.
In spite of the dangers, his ministry continues apace. “I Have baptized five people today,” he wrote October 1st. “One of the Christian politicians came to me and pleaded with me to baptize a mother and her four children. I listened to them and it was clear they all loved Jesus. I therefore baptized them all. Afterwards the 11 year old boy came up to me and said I feel new, I said you are.”