Islamic State auctions seized Christian homes in Iraq in bid for cash

Islamic State (IS) held an auction on 16 January to sell off all of the Christian homes that the group seized in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, when it drove out hundreds of thousands of Christians in 2014. The sale appears to be an attempt to stem the group’s current financial difficulties.

“Al-Hisbah [police] of [IS] announced the opening of the Christian property auction, considering the assets property of the organisation using Islamic State property deeds and not the original deeds of the owners,” said Iraqi police Brigadier-General in Nineveh Province Zanoun el-Sabawi.

IS militants went through the streets of the city, now empty of its Christian population, with megaphones, announcing the auction to be held in a square in western Mosul. “More than 400 houses were shown at auction. The most prominent items were 19 residential buildings as well as 167 stores and storage units formerly owned by Christians,” said the police Brigadier-General.

Syrians who had fled to Mosul to escape the conflict in Syria bought most of the properties. But one woman, Umm Alaa, who came to the auction, said that she had promised to buy back her Christian neighbour’s house for her so that her home would be waiting for her when she came back to Mosul. “I know how much my neighbour Umm Wa’el suffered because she has four children,” she said.

The properties and their furniture were sold off cheaply, apparently in a bid to raise funds to help IS’s financial crisis. The group also took the decision to halve the salaries of its fighters. In a statement released by the group, the salaries of Syrian fighters will be cut to around US$200 (around £140; €185) per month and foreign fighters’ salaries will be cut to US$400 (around £280; €370) per month.

A US-led coalition began bombing IS-held oil fields and smuggling lines last October, drying up IS financial sources, and a cash distribution centre in Mosul was hit on 11 January, reportedly blowing up millions of dollars of cash.

The city of Mosul fell to IS in June 2014. The jihadists forced Iraqi Christians from their homes as they delivered an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a poll tax, or leave. After taking hold of the city, IS began marking Christian homes and properties with the Arabic letter N that stands for “Nisrani” (Nazarene, i.e. Christian) along with the statement “Property of the Islamic State of Iraq”. According to The Clarion Project (an organisation that challenges extremism), Iraq’s Ministry of Justice later published a statement declaring the expropriation to be null and void so that the Christians are still legally entitled to their homes.

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