Muslim militants in Iraq held a gun to the face of a church minister and threatened him when he asked them to stop firing shots into the air around a church in the once predominantly Christian town of Bartella, on the Nineveh Plain, in late February.
No member of the authorities went to the Christian leader’s aid, even though such use of firearms is illegal in Iraq. The intimidating practice of shooting into the sky near churches has also taken place recently in the towns of Qaraqosh and Mosul.
The latest act of intimidation was carried out by members of Shabak militia, a mainly Shia Muslim insurgent group formed in 2014 with the aim of regaining control of the Nineveh region from Islamic State (IS). The minister said that Shabak, supported by the Iraqi government, has been able to buy up properties once owned by Christians and now dominates Bartella.
He said the Christian community was “completely vulnerable” adding, “Who can guarantee us a permanent presence here on the Nineveh Plain? Who can guarantee peace and security?"
The entire Christian population left Bartella in 2014 when IS invaded, but only 1,250 Christian families – about a third of their former number – have returned in the two years since IS was driven out. About 500 families are still living in Kurdistan because of security fears and a lack of jobs in Bartella.