Islamic State might get ousted, but Christians still worry about safety

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA

By Dale Gavlak

Iraq (CNS) — Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able
to return home after Islamic State militants are flushed out of the
battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. They say their safety must be guaranteed
at all costs.

the liberation of the Ninevah Plains region is successful, infrastructure is
rebuilt and there is security, I would want to be among the first to
return,” said Fadi Yousif, who teaches displaced children in the Ashti II
camp for displaced Christians in Ainkawa, near Irbil. “It’s my home. I
love that place. But what is absolutely essential is that we have real security

in an unfinished concrete building, Yousif and other displaced people live in
containers that take the place of homes lost to the Islamic State. He said his
home region would be a different place from what he remembers due to the
dispersal of friends and family abroad because of the long wait to rid the area
of the Islamist extremists.

60 percent of my friends are now living in exile, whether in neighboring
countries or Europe. My mother, father and two sisters are now in Lebanon. I
have a brother in Jordan. My uncle is in the United States. Only another
brother and I are still in Iraq,” he said. It was unclear whether Yousif’s
family would regather in Iraq following the liberation.

Fadi, a 37-year-old Chaldean Catholic mother, also is concerned about safety.
She and her family of six live in Ashti II.

swear, I never saw something like this except in a horror film. But I actually
witnessed people being killed and saw dead bodies with my own eyes,” she
said of her escape from the Islamic State’s assault on her village of Qaraqosh two
years ago.

course, we are frightened to return. What are we going back to? The houses and
churches have been bombed. My children, particularly my youngest son, is very
frightened about the idea of returning there,” Um Fadi told Catholic News

Christians like, Saif Haney, told CNS they will never go back home because they
heard that Islamic State militants used their family houses as execution dens.

Iraqi Christian political leaders are calling for the inclusion of armed
Christian militias to participate in the liberation of Mosul and the Ninevah
Plains, their ancestral homeland, alongside U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraqi
troops and Kurdish fighters.

that may not happen, Christian political leaders such as Yousif Yaqoob Matti want
to see Christian defense forces built up to protect Mosul and the Ninevah
Plains after their liberation. They said this is necessary because although
many Christians would prefer to have an international force, such as U.N.
peacekeepers in the area, this is unlikely to happen.

battle for the Ninevah Plains against Islamic State will be complex, but the
military forces involved must perform as one, unified entity,” Matti told
CNS. “After the liberation, demining efforts will take place and
electricity, water and other necessary infrastructure will need to be rebuilt.
It is hoped that after four months, people may be able to return safely.”

Maalizadeh of the North Carolina-based Norooz Foundation has traveled to Mosul’s
frontline villages ahead of the offensive. His and other nongovernmental
organizations have provided badly needed food and medicine to displaced
Christians and Yezidis.

is a small Christian force left to protect so many lands,” Maalizadeh told
CNS. “It is so important for the international community to help these
forces to not only protect the land, which they have, but once the area is
liberated, to provide security to ensure that Christians can return home.”

man who identified himself only as John, a Syriac Catholic from Hamdaniyya, is
Um Fadi’s neighbor in Ashti II camp. Although he and his family are desperate
to forget the past and to leave Iraq, that might not be possible.

can’t leave Iraq, but we want to. Although Kurdistan has been kind to us, there
is really no work here, so we have run out of money,” he told CNS. “We
have to have a future for ourselves and our kids, so we need to go somewhere
else. We don’t see that happening in Iraq because so many wars and conflicts
have erupted here.”

and his family have already been displaced already twice: They had to flee the
capital, Baghdad, for safety to Hamdaniyya and then escape to Ainkawa following
the Islamic State takeover of their area.

money isn’t the objective. The only thing we want in life is what everybody
else wants,” he told CNS. “It’s to be able to live in your own home
without any concern about what can happen to your kids. I want my children to
grow up that way, feeling secure.”

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