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What Will It Take to Return Christians to Their Homeland in Iraq?

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John Burger - published on 05/05/15 - updated on 06/08/17

But Mosul must be liberated first if there is to be any hope of Christians returning to their ancestral homes on the Nineveh Plain, as the city controls the water power and security of Nineveh, she noted.

"Will there be reconstruction aid for these towns and villages? And how will that reconstruction aid be distributed, because after the US surge in 2008 our reconstruction aid was distributed through the main power structures—the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi’itesand the Christians didn’t get their fair share," she said. "So their villages did not get hooked up on the electric grid and they didn’t get their roads and schools built and so forth."

Based on past performance of the Islamic State group, if ISIS is successfully pushed out of Mosul, the group could very well "pop up" in other places "and create terror and havoc," she said. "So we can expect a prolonged insurgency against those towns and villages in Nineveh Province. So there has to be continuing protection of the Christians in those villages and towns."

Meanwhile, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, where most of the country’s Christians have taken refuge, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that it will at least be several months before the areas occupied by ISIS can be liberated.

“If the government were to want to free Mosul first, many Muslims would flee from the city to the countryside because of the fighting. And where would they go? They would probably go to the currently abandoned Christian settlements near Mosul. This would create further difficulties," he said. "On the other hand, if the government were to begin its operations on the Nineveh Plain, however, the Christian settlements could be seriously affected by the fighting."

Archbishop Warda was skeptical as to whether international protection of Christian territories could be realized once they had been liberated.

"It would be important, but many countries will think twice before sending troops into this tricky situation. It would need to be preceded by a reconciliation process in the affected areas so that the Muslim neighbors did not see an international force of this kind as a hostile presence. I therefore believe it more likely that we will rather go in the direction of a national guard,” the prelate said.

According to Warda, the national guard would rely on local people, but be integrated into the Iraqi army. "We as a Church have made it clear from the outset that we are against a [separate] Christian militia. We suggest that our young people, if so inclined, join the Kurdish or Iraqi forces."

Restore Nineveh Now, a group that is assisting Assyrians and Yezidis to reclaim their land in northern Iraq, is "meeting with officials in Baghdad to see what part Assyrians might play," said Jeff Gardner, a spokesman for the group, which is affiliated with a start-up Christian militia called the Nineveh Plain Protection Units. 

"When will it begin? Good question," he said. "The House recently entered a bill that would send money and weapons directly to the Kurds but the administration (and Shia Baghdad) oppose it."

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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Christians in the Middle EastIslamist MilitantsMosul
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