Baghdad church leader: Air strikes are not enough to drive out ISIS from Iraq

Military vehicles of the Iraqi security forces are seen during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in the Hamrin mountains of Diyala province November 8, 2014.REUTERS/ Stringer

The Patriarch of Baghdad says ground troops are necessary to push back the Islamic State in Iraq.

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said the West's policy towards Iraq was "not clear" and that air strikes alone would not be enough to force the Islamic State out of Mosul and the nearby Nineveh plains.

Thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities have been driven out of the region by the rampaging Islamic State, which has carried out acts of shocking barbarity on the local population.  

These include crucifixions and the rape of those who do not pay the necessary tax or abide by their strict Sharia laws.

"We don't know when the villages of the Nineveh plains will be liberated. I think it will take some time. The coalition forces haven't decided yet," said Patriarch Sako.  

"OK, they are conducting air strikes. But we need ground troops to push ISIS back."

The Patriarch put the number of Christians displaced from Mosul and Nineveh at 120,000 and said that up to 10 Christian families were leaving Iraq every day. 

He said they were "anxious" and only likely to return if there was "some kind of international protection" in the region.  

The West has so far been reluctant to deploy troops on the ground in Iraq, engaging in strikes on key targets from the air instead.  

In the past week, the US has come out to deny reports circulating in the media that its troops are engaged in ground combat with the Islamic State, saying that combative engagements to date have involved only Iraqi security forces. 

While Barack Obama has ordered the return of more US troops to Iraq, Reuters reports that they will be in non-combat roles.   

Patriarch Sako remains concerned for the welfare of those fleeing the violence.  

"Many believe the West is paradise but when they get there they are shocked," he said.  

"Everything is different there: the language, the culture and the society."