Hour of need. Christians face multiple threats in the midst of U.S.-Iran crisis over Iraq
Excerpt: By 2017 the PMF had raised Shia flags and banners, depicting Iran’s mullahs, at the entrances to what had been majority Christian towns. In Bartella they urged boycotts of Christian businesses struggling to reopen. In 2018 local PMF units blocked the street leading to Benoka’s St. George’s Church, preventing worshippers from attending. In December that year, they opened fire on the church. Benoka went into the street to demand they stop shooting. A local PMF member grabbed him and briefly held him with a handgun pointed at his face. In 2019, threats continued. Shia gunmen fired on a Palm Sunday procession in April, forcing churches to curtail Easter celebrations. With PMF support, the local Shabak, or Shia population, have moved into residential areas once occupied by Christians and erected loudspeakers atop public buildings to broadcast Muslim prayers. St. George’s has continued to hold services, Benoka said, including at Christmas. But for the first time, last month there was no Christmas tree in Bartella. Only about one-third of the town’s pre-2014 Christian population has returned—about 4,000 people. As Soleimani’s influence in Iraq grew, Iran’s Shia militias “put our existence in peril,” Benoka said.