Video: Iraqi troops liberate Christian town of Bartella from IS group

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© James André, France 24 | Christian militia men return to reclaim their hometown of Bartella, Iraq
Video by James ANDRE , Jonathan WALSH , Amar Mohammed Sahib AL HAMEEDAWI
by FRANCE 24
FRANCE 24 brings you an exclusive report from the newly liberated Christian city of Bartella, located close to Mosul in Iraq. The Golden Brigade, Iraq’s anti-terrorist division, recaptured the town from the Islamic State (IS) group on Thursday.

The brigade’s first action after the liberation was to place a cross on the dome of the town’s church, which had been destroyed by the IS group.

Bartella, once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, emptied in August 2014 when IS group seized the town as part of a lightning blitz across large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The IS group issued an ultimatum to the Christians of the town: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. The town’s residents fled.

In the wake of this invasion, locals from the town and surrounding Mosul region formed a militia known as the Forces of the Plain of Nineveh.

“Our aim is to defend our land. We must never re-live what we have just been through with Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group]. Our people are scattered, our children are dead, we had to live in tents. Now I want to send a message to my people: Bartella is liberated,” one of the fighters told FRANCE 24.

Iraq launched a long-awaited operation on Monday aimed at retaking Mosul, its second largest city, which fell to the IS group in 2014. It is the largest operation undertaken by Iraqi forces since the 2003 US-led invasion and is expected to take weeks, if not months.

For the liberators of Bartella, this means waiting for the Islamic State group to be completely driven out of the region before bringing their families safely home.