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ICC Note: Mideast Christians, especially those displaced in Iraq and Syria are facing hard decisions when it comes to returning to their homelands. The destruction wreaked by ISIS and civil war has left many areas unlivable and many Christians untrusting of their Muslim neighbors. In the Nineveh plains, for example, is oil rich and known as the breadbasket of Iraq. Local and regional powers are expressing more and more interest in exerting influence in these areas, making Iraqi Christians doubtful of return.

12/30/2016 Iraq/Syria (Crux): As Christians in the Middle East look back on 2016, they wonder if there will be much to celebrate amid mounting challenges, particularly for those displaced by conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

“As much as we are pleased that our homelands from which thousands of Christians were forced to flee from the extremists have been retaken, we are very concerned about what lies ahead,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service by phone.

He referred to Iraq’s Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Batnayeh and Bartella, recently regained by the Iraqi military from Islamic State.

The archimandrite is a member of the Assyrian Church of the East and heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI.

Youkhana and others have expressed concerns that Iraq’s Christians may once again be caught in the country’s sectarian violence, this time by Shiite Muslims. If this happens, it will impede the Christians’ ability to return home.

Iraq’s majority Shiite population comprises the bulk of the country’s reconstituted national army, and as it liberates areas from extremist Sunni militants, Iraqi Christians have seen worrying Shiite slogans scrawled on places and property that have always been “100 percent Christian,” Youkana noted.

The Ninevah Plain, a region rich in oil and the breadbasket of Iraq, has drawn interest from regional and local powers seeking to exert influence there. Christians are challenged by the widespread devastation Islamic State militants have wrought to the area that has been their ancestral homeland for the past 14 centuries.

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