In an exclusive Sept. 29 interview with Human Events, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad” described the precarious situation in the Iraqi capital as the army of the Islamic State presses the attack on his city.
In his conversation with Human Events, White said he knew there was heavy fighting coming his way. Earlier in the day, White made the following post on his Facebook page Sept 29: “The Islamic State are now within 10km of entering Baghdad. Over a 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed by them yesterday, things are so bad.”
Seven hours later, speaking to Human Events, he said: “They could be as close as two kilometers. This is as severe a threat as we have ever known. Everyone is under threat. No one is on the streets. Everyone is in fear.”
White, who was called to the priesthood after a brief career as a doctor, came to Baghdad in 2005. White earned the nickname Vicar of Baghdad because his was the Church of England’s last cleric in Iraq. He is the founder of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. The foundation funds White’s activities, such as his free medical clinic. His St. George Church is iconic landmark of the English presence in Iraq. The church is in the center of the city near the Iraqi Parliament building and the Green Zone and the American Embassy.
The streets of Baghdad are deserted, he said. “It is like all of Iraq has gone silent. We know something is happening right now, but we cannot yet hear it.”
The canon is not impressed with the air campaign waged right now.
“As I said all the military air strikes are doing nothing. If ever we needed your prayer it is now,” he said in another Facebook posting. “President Obama is saying that he overestimated the ability of the Iraqi Army. It is so clear they have no ability. A hard thing to say but it’s true.”
The Islamic State’s forces, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, and Islamic State of the Levant, ISIL, are coming from the west, possibly following Iraqi Highway 1 from Fallujah, a city the Islamic State secured one year ago. The first high-value target in front of the Islamic State is Baghdad International Airport, which sits on the western boundary of the capital. On the southeast corner of the airport is the former Victory Base Complex, the former Baathist resort of manmade lakes, canals and palaces that served as the central hub for American military operations during our support of the Iraq.
Al Faw Palace, the centerpiece of Camp Victory, was the host location for visits by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was the command post for the Surge. If the Islamic State captures Camp Victory, it will be more than a symbolic victory. Behind the camp’s fortifications there are facilities and housing that once supported more than 75,000 military personnel.
White said earlier this morning he went out onto the streets check things out and he met with the Iraqi Army officer in charge of the security of the church and its neighborhood.
“What on earth is going on?” I asked him. “I said: ‘What are you going to do when ISIS comes? They are very close. What are you going to do?’ He told me he would take off his uniform and run away.”
White said he challenged the officer and reminded him that it was his responsibility to protect the people, but the officer would have none of it.
“He said that he was in the army for the money—that’s it, so what hope is there?”
The canon said he celebrated Anglican Mass Sunday, but without the usual crowd of 1,000 congregants. “There were maybe 160. People are too scared to turn up for church.”
Saturday, White said he went to the American embassy to say Mass and he found the mood among the Americans there was despondent.
“For the Americans, the embassy is like a prison and they cannot do anything,” he said.
“Everyone wishes it was not happening. Nobody has a solution,” he said. “They told me: ‘This is happening without us.”