Christians in Bartella, a predominantly Christian town in the Nineveh Plains, east of Mosul, face growing threats from ethnic militias. Christian Freedom International provided aid to Bartella as hopeful Christians were returning in 2018.
Middle East Concern reports:
Bartella was among the towns from which thousands of Christians were forced to flee in August 2014 as Daesh (Islamic State) seized control of the area. In late 2016, the area was liberated from Daesh control. While significant numbers of Christians have returned to some towns, comparatively few have come back to Bartella due to ongoing security fears.
Bartella has long had a Shabak minority (Shi’a Muslim) which now seems to be seeking to extend its control through a campaign of violence and intimidation. A Shabak militia, Popular Mobilisation Unit Brigade 30, controls Bartella and the surrounding area. Popular Mobilisation Units are state-sanctioned militias that contributed significantly to the area’s liberation from Daesh.
On May 13, two elderly Christians, a mother (89) and daughter (69), were violently assaulted in their home. Jewelry and other valuables were stolen and both women were hospitalized. The police arrested two suspects. Christians view the incident as part of a systematic campaign against Christians which aims to change the area’s demographic composition.
Although there are legal protections against the sale of land from one ethnic community to another, religious and political Christian leaders increasingly complain that Christians’ properties have been fraudulently or forcibly appropriated. They also note a rapid growth in the establishment of Islamic institutions in Bartella and nearby towns.
In July, Iraq’s Prime Minister ordered the integration of the Popular Mobilization Units into Iraq’s regular army. Members of Brigade 30 rejected this order and in recent days have staged violent demonstrations. National army and police personnel have withdrawn after being attacked. High-ranking Shabak leaders have accused Christians of collusion with the Prime Minister in making this order, which will weaken the Shabaks’ current level of autonomy.
Shabak leaders have promised “rivers of blood” if they are forced to cede areas currently under their control.
- The Lord’s wisdom and guidance for Christian leaders in the face of these threats.
- Iraqi Christians will stand strong and maintain a Christ-like witness, and know the Lord’s protection and peace.
- Iraqi authorities’ efforts to implement the rule of law will succeed, and perpetrators of violence will be brought to justice.
- Iraqi society will become tolerant, that intimidation and exploitation of Christians would cease, and that Christians would have confidence to return to Bartella and nearby towns.
- All who resort to violence and threats would be transformed by the power and love of God.