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Iraq: Christians fear returning home, wary of Shiite militia

ISIS has been driven out, but unfortunately, this has not led to relief for Iraq’s Christians. Almost all of the Orthodox Christians in Iraq were displaced during the period of war and strife that began early in the 21st century. And now, many of those who have returned home find themselves still in danger, now from the Shiite Shabak.

Bartella was for centuries the home of a Christian community that dated back to apostolic times. Please continue to pray for the Christians of Iraq, and that the Shabak, on top of every other group that has targeted the Christians, will not succeed in bringing about the extinction of Christianity in the area.

“Iraqi Christians fear returning home, wary of Shiite militia,” by Fay Abuelgasim, Associated Press, February 11, 2019:

BARTELLA, Iraq — In Bartella’s main square in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella stands a large cross. It’s one of the few overt signs that this northern Iraqi town was historically Christian.

Nearby, a massive billboard shows Shiite Muslim martyrs alongside a photo of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Posters of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen killed in fighting with the Islamic State group hang on streets all around the city, along with banners to revered historical Shiite saints.

Thirty years ago, Bartella’s population was entirely Christian. Demographic changes over the decades left the town split between Christians and an ethnic group known as Shabak, who are largely Shiites. When the Islamic State group overran the town and the rest of northern Iraq in 2014, Bartella’s entire population fled — since both communities were persecuted by the radicals.

But two years after Bartella was liberated from IS, fewer than a third of its 3,800 Christian families have come back. Most remain afraid, amid reports of intimidation and harassment by Shabak, who dominate the Shiite militias now controlling the town.

Catholic priest Behnan Benoka claimed that the Christian community is being pushed out by the Shabak. He also said multiple cases of sexual harassment have been reported to him and even one robbery of a little girl whose gold earrings were stolen. At one point, Shabak men fired guns in the air front of the town’s church for over an hour.

Iqbal Shino, who moved back to Bartella with her family in November 2017, said a Shabak man grabbed her from behind in a market. She screamed and the man was caught by onlookers. She filed a complaint with the police but later dropped it to avoid problems.

“I feel like because I was a Christian, he assaulted me so that they can scare us to leave Bartella,” she said….

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