The Islamic State’s three-year occupation of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and its surrounding villages ended nearly two years ago. Yet the city and its diminished number of Christian residents remain vulnerable.
Last month the Iraqi government announced it would arm residents of 50 villages around Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, so they could protect themselves against pockets of IS fighters that continue to be active in the country.
They appear to have adopted a ‘hit-and-run’ approach, attacking local targets like a market in Kirkuk, 184km south-east of Mosul, with the aim to undermine the government in Baghdad. IS has also claimed responsibility for some of the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land in northern Iraq, destroying crops on land that the attackers say is “owned by infidels”.
Sectarian tensions that predate the IS occupation have also raised their heads again. Iranian-backed militias, known as Popular Mobilisation Forces, patrol the streets and sometimes control whole towns.
The lack of security and stability makes Christians hesitate to return to their homes and communities.
Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq — between 1.4 million and 2 million — has decreased. Estimates of the Christians left in Iraq range from 200,000 to 250,000.
“Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest churches, if not the oldest church in the world, is perilously close to extinction,” the Rt Rev Bashar Warda told Christian leaders during a visit to the United Kingdom last month. After 1,400 years of persecution, Iraq’s Christians may have come to the end of the road, he said.
Christians who decide to return face many challenges. Houses and infrastructure have been destroyed and there is the constant fear of possible attacks from the IS cells or sectarian militias.
Sources: World Watch Monitor, National Catholic Register
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