A destroyed market in Bartella after Islamic State was pushed out by Iraqi forces in October 2016. .Photo: World Watch Monitor

Iraqi Christians hesitate to return to Bartella

February 12, 2019
www.worldwatchmonitor.org

Two years after Islamic State was forced out of the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Christians hesitate to return, reports the Associated Press

Fewer than a third of the 3,800 Christian families have come back to the town in the Nineveh Plains they once shared with the Shabak, a mostly Shiite ethnic group

When IS seized the town east of Mosul in August 2014, both Christians and the Shabak fled

Today the town is largely controlled by Shiite militias, and Christians who have returned say they are harassed and intimidated by the group

A Catholic priest, Behnam Benoka, told AP that the Shabak are pushing the Christian community out of Bartella. There are reports of sexual harassment

The tensions in Bartella are illustrative of what is happening in other parts of Iraq. The vacuum that was created with the departure of Islamic State is being filled by different militias, vying for power, AP reports

These days, security in Bartella is controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces, whose fighters are mostly Shabak. They manage checkpoints and act as police

They have taken over from the Ninewa Protection Unit (NPU), which consisted of members of the Chaldean and Syriac Churches

It is one of the reasons why Christians have been slow in returning to Bartella. They do not trust they are safe under Shabak-led security forces. NPU is “part of our identity and protect it and validates our presence”, Bartella city council member Jalal Boutros told AP

During Easter 2018, World Watch Monitor reported four children were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a medical complex in Bartella. Islamic State militants were believed to be responsible for the attack

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