People attend a Christmas Eve mass in Duhok, Iraq on December 24, 2016 [Muhammet Bamerni / Anadolu Agency]
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Daesh expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of
Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in
friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.
town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Daesh in the northern
city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of
their ancient community.
the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti
daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control –
only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shia members of the Iraqi
forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.
nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and
several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds alike, with this
kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities
could again live together peacefully.
by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian
families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in
Iraq until Daesh seized it in 2014.
forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive
to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shia slogans signal a new
kind of sectarian division.
Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Daesh ,
praising the hero of Shia Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.
“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said
Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand
security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away
in Iraqi Kurdistan.
the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south
in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.
have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military
vehicles. Shia’s regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the
prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.
Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shia
slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them
as a signal that their future remains uncertain.
course we are afraid of such signs"
Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family also said
“We need international protection.”