ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Members of Iraq’s Christian community once driven from their lands by the Islamic State are facing difficulties staying in their areas amid chronic deficiencies in base necessities required to reinvigorate and sustain day to day life.
Speaking to Kurdistan 24 on Saturday, the governors of two Assyrian towns in the Nineveh Plains said their people are being displaced again and are moving to other parts of the country, namely the Kurdistan Region.
Iraq’s Christian community, which was estimated to have been around 1.5 million in 2003, has significantly dwindled over the years due to constant war, civil unrest, and persecution.
In 2014, when the Islamic State emerged in Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The extremist group killed Christian civilians, forced some to convert to Islam, and destroyed or desecrated churches.
By 2018, reports on the status of the towns along the Nineveh Plains indicate many of the displaced persons have returned and are rebuilding their homes and communities. Kurdistan 24 could not verify the number of returnees.
“The poor [quality of] services such as water and electricity have forced people to turn to the Kurdistan Region again,” Isam Bahnam, governor of Nineveh’s al-Hamdaniya (Qaraqosh), told Kurdistan 24.
He highlighted that “lack of employment opportunities” is another factor that has further disillusioned prospects for residents, prompting a movement to places for a better future.
Bahnam also pointed to a growing air of uneasiness among locals, as “the district has been turned into a military base where a large number of different forces exist.”
By 2017, Iraqi security forces along with the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Peshmerga forces, and other militia fighters had cleared the Nineveh Plains from the Islamic State.
Since then, however, Christian locals and officials on multiple occasions have accused PMF members of rights violations and harassment, purportedly sectarian-motivated.
The governor of Tel Keppe, Basim Balo, expressed a similar worry among current residents which he said deters other displaced persons from returning.
“People don’t return because [Tel Keppe] has become a military base. There are multiple checkpoints,” Balo said.
“The people do not feel safe.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany