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Iraqi Christians fear returning home, wary of Shiite militia

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By the Associated Press
BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — Only a fraction of Christian residents has returned to the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, two years since it was liberated from Islamic State militants.

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a men pray at Mart Shmony Church, an orthodox church in the northern Iraqi town of  Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islamic State militants, only a fraction of Christian residents have returned to  Bartella. Many fear intimidation by the town’s population of Shabak, a Shiite Muslim ethnic group who dominate the militias that now run Bartella. (AP Photo/Fay Abuelgasim)

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a men pray at Mart Shmony Church, an orthodox church in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islamic State militants, only a fraction of Christian residents have returned to Bartella. Many fear intimidation by the town’s population of Shabak, a Shiite Muslim ethnic group who dominate the militias that now run Bartella. (AP Photo/Fay Abuelgasim)

Many fear intimidation by the town’s population of Shabak, a Shiite Muslim ethnic group that dominates the militias now running Bartella. The tensions are a sign of the sectarian splits around northern Iraq in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic State group.

The large cross in Bartella’s main square is one of few overt signs this town was historically Christian.

Nearby, a massive billboard shows Shiite Muslim martyrs alongside a photo of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. Posters of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen killed in fighting with the Islamic State group hang on streets all around the city, along with banners to revered historical Shiite saints.

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