It’s unclear whether Christians will return to liberated Mosul

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After the Iraqi army regained control of the city of Mosul, “La Croix” spoke to Faraj Benoît Camurat, president of the Brotherhood with Iraq organization.
Malo Tresca
A woman walks past a cross at the entrance to Bakhida, south of Mosul on April 13, 2017. / Marko Djurica / Reuters
On Sunday July 9, the Iraqi army regained control of almost the entire city of Mosul, which has been an ISIS stronghold for over three years.

Faraj Benoît Camurat, president of Fraternité en Irak (Brotherhood with Iraq), explains that “this liberation may encourage Christian refugee families who fled the town to return” but that they still fear the presence of “dormant jihadist groups”.

Brotherhood with Iraq is a French NGO which aims to support Iraqi religious minorities and victims of violence.

La Croix: Is it too early to be talking about the “liberation” of Mosul?

Faraj Benoît Camurat: Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi, made his first visit to the city on Sunday, July 9 and spoke of a victory “achieved” by the army.

However, he did not want to officially declare Mosul liberated out of respect for the soldiers who are still fighting there.

As expected, there are still pockets of jihadist resistances in the city.

Nor should we forget ISIS’s ability to surprise us by bringing back men who were thought to be dead…

Therefore, we will need to remain cautious in the coming weeks as jihadi groups may try to counter the idea that Mosul has been liberated and pacified.

The situation in the city is still complex as it is still very fractured.

The eastern part, which was liberated in January and February, is more or less well preserved and the houses are still in good condition. However, the western part where there is a great deal of Salafist influence is very damaged.

Reconstruction will take much longer in the latter area.

Are the Christians who fled Mosul already thinking about returning?

FBC: The city’s liberation is a symbol that affects not only the people of Mosul but all inhabitants of Nineveh.

Since the Iraqi army intensified its efforts to retake Mosul in September, refugees have been telling us that they would only feel safe and at peace once Mosul was liberated.

There may be an incentive for them to return now following the removal of this sword of Damocles – the proximity of jihadi fighters in Mosul, only a few dozen kilometers from the camps where they took refuge.

For now, we don’t really know yet whether there are any Christian families who have resettled, even in the eastern part of town.

They have suffered great trauma and many still fear the presence of dormant jihadi groups in the city.

No one knows whether the families will be able to reclaim the land and houses expropriated by ISIS.

The question they ask themselves now is whether they should return to Mosul or settle in another Christian town in Nineveh.

What kind of projects will need to be prioritized in rebuilding the town?

FBC: All essential infrastructure that provides access to drinking water, electricity and medical aid will have to be rebuilt. Many buildings have been badly damaged and a huge amount of work is needed.

I believe ISIS has left two sad legacies from its three years in Mosul.

First, there are the mines and explosives left in the city and on the Nineveh plain.

They have also built up walls of mistrust between the Christian, Yazidi and Sunni communities. By creating mistrust among these communities, ISIS has incited them to show their backs to one other and pitted them against each other.

Apart from the huge demining task, little by little we will also need to rebuild trust between these different components of Iraqi society.

This will not happen overnight but will develop from small intercommunal initiatives, whether local or commercial, which will allow stereotypes and ISIS “fatwas” to be gradually dispelled.