BAGHDAD/DAMASCUS/HASAKAH – Officials from the governments of Syria and Iraq, as well as unnamed sources from the territories held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have noted that there has been an unprecedented wave of conversions to the Catholic faith in recent days among the population that is opposed to ISIL and other islamist rebels. Many converts claim that a string of three “Christmas miracles” is the reason behind their newfound faith.
The first of the miracles is considered to be the targeted killing of one of the top and most prominent Syrian rebel leaders. Zahan Alloush, the leader of the powerful Jaysh al-Islam group was targeted at a secret meeting of rebel commanders and officers on a farm in East Ghouta near Damascus. He was killed by an apparent Russian airstrike, although both Russia and Syria insist that it was a precision-guided barrel bomb strike by the Syrian air force using state of the art Mi-8 helicopters. Western officials condemned the strike, saying that Russia should focus more on ISIL, instead of on extremist non-ISIL rebels.
Then a day later, on 26th December, the second miracle happened as the majority Kurdish SDF crossed west of the Euphrates river by capturing the strategic Tishrin dam in a lightning offensive, threatening to cut off ISIL’s land link to Turkey. The SDF had just finished a five-month mopping up operation against remnants of ISIL forces at the grain silo complex north of Sarrin, when it decided to move southwest and capture the dam, sustaining one casualty after he fell off a mountain.
The third miracle happened shortly after, when Iraqi forces liberated the ISIL stronghold of Ramadi after what one fighter described as “a generation of fighting” for the city.
The string of miracles has dealt decisive blows to various islamist groups in Iraq and Syria in a short amount of time around Christmas, and many have reasoned that this was in fact the divine intervention of Jesus Christ. Abu Jabal, a Catholic in Baghdad, confirmed this and added: “Our Lord Christ always protects us from harm and helps us when we need him the most. Even after my home was burned down and all of my family and friends killed by Daesh (ISIL) in Mosul, he helped me find this unclaimed rooftop in Baghdad where I now have a life.”
Muslims are not the only ones who have converted, a Syriac source from Syria’s Hasakah has told us that their Orthodox Christian community is worried about losing followers to Catholicism as well. He added that beardless Catholic “infidels” have no place among the Syrian Christian population.
The official and impartial Grand Mufti of Syria Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun has claimed that the strike on Alloush was a gift by Assad to the Christian population of Syria, not failing to mention Assad’s tolerance of religious minorities six times during the one-minute conversation, also adding that Assad “certainly loves Christians more than the Kurds and Arabs of the SDF do,” before riding off in his Ferrari.
There are those who approach the supposed miracles with skepticism. An anonymous ISIL field commander has claimed that no one really defended Tishrin dam against the SDF because all of the ISIL forces in that part of Syria have died defending the Sarrin grain silos, while potential reinforcements decided to put their faith in Allah and waited in Dabiq. Iraqi forces from Ramadi have claimed that no Christian miracles were involved in the capture of Ramadi, but just their hard work. “First the Americans wanted to take away the glory of our Tikrit operation with their air support, and now these Catholics want to take away the glory of our Ramadi victory with their Christmas!” a fighter said. A United States Air Force official informally complained to one of our reporters that it is actually the glory of decisive US air support in Ramadi that is being stolen by the newly converted Catholics, and that Catholicism is mistrusted even back home in the United States because “they rape babies.”
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was no miracle involved in the SDF’s advance, but rather that ISIL didn’t defend Tishrin dam because it knows that the Kurdish-majority SDF (called “the evildoers” by Mr. Erdogan) would be “obliterated” by Turkey if they were to cross Erdogan’s “red line” in Syria, which is the Euphrates river. He then explicitly stated that this would in no way mean that Turkey would be aiding ISIL. Indeed, the now almost usual Turkish cross-border artillery fire obliterated a tool shed and parked SDF pickup truck in Syria’s eastern Hasakah province.
All of the trouble stirred up by these supposed Christmas miracles has prompted many non-Catholic religious leaders to petition the UN to broker nation-wide ceasefires in Syria and Iraq during all Catholic holidays, to stop the spread of Catholicism due to any military gains during these times. “It’s one thing when our children die, but now our faith is endangered as well!” said a Shia militiaman in Iraq as he was finishing off with the beheading of an ISIL fighter accused of extremism.