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Iraqi Christians Trickling Back Home to Nineveh after ISIS Defeat

08-23-2017
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Some 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their homes in the Nineveh Plains in the last two months.

The majority of those coming back are Christians who were forced to flee the area when ISIS militants overrun the region in 2014 and declared a caliphate.
 
The Nineveh Plain lies between the city of Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan. Two years after ISIS invaded the region, Iraqi forces, backed by US-coalition troops, liberated the Nineveh Plain.

Returning families face the daunting challenge of rebuilding their homes and destroyed communities.

"Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown," wrote the Dominican Sisters in Erbil in an open letter released earlier this month. "Despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books," the letter continued.

Sadly what they found instead was complete destruction. Thousands of homes destroyed. Christian businesses burned to the ground. Dozens of churches severely damaged.

"We were stunned by the damage we saw," the sisters wrote in their letter. "It was badly painful to see all that overwhelming destruction."

Ayman Matti Kiriakos is glad to be home but is still afraid. The Islamic State may have been driven out of the region, but ethnic and religious tensions remain, and Kiriakos worries violence may erupt again — putting Christians and other minorities in harm's way once again.

"The last time we came back to clean the place upstairs and there was some noise {and my kids} came running to me, 'Daddy, what was that?' Kiriakos remarked while standing in the middle of his destroyed home. He told Britain's Channel 4 News that more security needs to be in place before returning families can feel complete peace.

In towns like Qaraqosh, one of Iraq's largest Christian cities, ISIS militants were especially destructive as they attempted to eradicate any evidence of Christianity.

"We immediately realized that it was not military forces or smart weapons that caused all the damage, but hate," the sisters of Erbil recounted saying "hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply winded."

Qaraqosh was recaptured by Iraqi forces in 2016 and that gave business owners like Naathem Abdul Ahed the confidence to come back home.

He owns an electrical business and returned to the Nineveh Plains after living three years in nearby Erbil.

"First, we have concerns about the ideology of Daesh {Arabic word for Islamic State group} that still exists," Ahed told Channel 4. "Secondly, we fear the various undisciplined armed groups who aren't under the control of the {Iraqi} state."

After years of neglect by the Bush and Obama administrations, some Christian leaders in places like Dohuk, Iraq, are hoping president Donald Trump will pay more attention to the plight of Iraq's minority groups.

"We believe in God first, Trump second," one Christian leader in Dohuk told Fox News. "You hear it said often here. You see, we are caught between Arabs and Kurds, between Sunni and Shia, between Turkey and Iran. Without a province, doomed."

The return of Christian refugees comes as Iraqi troops, backed by US and coalition forces defeated ISIS in Mosul in July, after months of a grueling battle for Iraq's second city.

Iraqi forces are now locked in another fierce battle as they attempt to re-take Tal Afar, a strategic ISIS bastion, some 90 miles from Syria's border.

 

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