Iraq’s Christians seek autonomous region to build future safe from persecution, as they return to homes and churches ravaged by Isil

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A Christian militia fighter poses with a portrait of Jesus inside the church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh Credit: Campbell MacDiarmid/Telegraph
Campbell MacDiarmid, in Qaraqosh, Iraq
Youno Karemi Achem stood in the doorway of the church and surveyed the damage left by Isil fighters. Inside had been torched and graffitied and outside the courtyard had been used as a shooting range.

The Iraqi army liberated the Christian town of Qaraqosh late last month during their operation to recapture Mosul, the Isil capital in Iraq 15 km northwest of the town.

After fleeing more than two years ago, Christians like Achem are now visiting to inspect their properties, collect photo albums, and kiss the thresholds of their churches.

But it will be a long time before they can return permanently.

“Seeing what they did to your city, your house, your church, you think: Can we live here again?” he asked. “I don’t want to leave Iraq but this is a ghost town.”