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Nuncio says Christians could return to northern Iraq this year

Displaced Christians pray at the St Joseph Cathedral in Ankawa, Erbil, northern Iraq (Photo: CNS)

Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, has said that Christians may be able to return to their homes in northern Iraq later this year – but only if Islamic State is pushed out first.

The archbishop, speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, a charity for persecuted Christians, said that once Mosul and the Nineveh Plains had been retaken the country must undergo a period of “national reconciliation”.

“If [Christians] do return it won’t be easy,” the nuncio said. “Besides the reconstruction of destroyed houses and infrastructure, such as schools, it will be necessary first and foremost to restore the trust in Muslim neighbours which has also been shattered.

“Many Christians feel their neighbours betrayed them, because they looted their houses. So it will not only be necessary to repair homes, but also relationships.”

Archbishop Lingua praised the new government in Baghdad, saying: “Something has been put in motion; the new government is working well. A fundamental factor is the greater involvement of all groups. The country will never be free of terrorism as long as some ethnic and religious components are barred from the governing process. If a group is excluded it must not be assumed that they will not rebel.”

Last August Haider Jawad al-Abadi was appointed prime minister, replacing Nouri al-Maliki, who had held the position for two terms.