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Residents return but concerns remain

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(20 Aug 2017) LEADIN:Families are returning to Qaraqosh in northern Iraq after the Islamic State group was driven out of the Christian town last year.But as locals rebuild their lives there, they still have concerns about their future.STORYLINE:The crosses are a clear sign of this town's religious majority.Qaraqosh is a major Christian settlement in northern Iraq, but its residents fled following the arrival of Islamic State militants in 2014. Iraqi forces retook the town in November last year.Now, they are beginning to return.Restaurants are open for business, people and cars are on the streets, and shopkeepers have begun to repair their ransacked stores.Naathem Abdul Ahed owns an electrics shop and has returned with his family after three years in Irbil.But while he works to reopen his business, he is still worried about the future."First, we have concerns about the ideology of Daesh (Islamic State group) that still exists. Secondly, we fear the various undisciplined armed groups not under the control of the state. Then we worry about the disagreement between the (northern Kurdish) region and the central government," he says.Currently, security in Qaraqosh is provided by the Nineveh Protection Units, a Christian militia group that is technically part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a group of government-sanctioned militias. Last month, the NPU clashed with a rival armed group, the Babylon brigades, after accusing it of looting a nearby monastery. But despite these signs of instability, more than 400 families have already moved back into Qaraqosh.Not everybody is returning voluntarily though. Ayman Matti Kiriakos will have to move in two weeks because his church, which has been covering his rent in Irbil, has told him it cannot pay anymore.Kiriakos is not overjoyed. His house has burnt down and his children are scared to come back. "The last time we came back to clean the place upstairs and there was some noise and they came running to me, Daddy, what was that? They asked, why is the house shaking? I mean, they get scared. I told them, it's fine, there is nothing going on."The slow pace of reconstruction is another barrier to resurrecting this Christian town.Qaraqosh is badly damaged and much of the rubbish and rubble has yet to be cleared away. Town officials blame this on bureaucratic incompetence."The work is very centralised and there is no information about the amount of money that is being spent on the projects in this city," says Louis Markos Ayub, head of reconstruction."And when we ask them for details, because it's our duty, they don't respond. These challenges can harm the reconstruction and prevent the families from returning to this area."Yet with all these problems, there is indubitably more and more life in the town. Officials think that as many as 1,000 families may return by the end of the month. St Jacob's church is almost full for Sunday service, though it is true that many attendants will return to the comfort of Irbil after sundown.Christians once constituted a significant minority in Iraq but in recent years their numbers have dwindled as many have emigrated, mainly to the West, fleeing the country's endemic sectarian violence.You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/you... Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork

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AP Archive 4111740 25e8dd76223a8ace285a3e10b7d61552 MEEX Iraq Christians Iraq Middle East Social affairs
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