Iraqi Christians fear returning home, wary of Shiite militia

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a men pray at Mart Shmony Church, an orthodox church in the northern Iraqi town of  Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it wa

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a men pray at Mart Shmony Church, an orthodox church in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it wa

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, Catholic priest Behnam Benoka speaks to The Associated Press at the St. George Parish in Bartella, Iraq. Benoka claimed t

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, Catholic priest Behnam Benoka speaks to The Associated Press at the St. George Parish in Bartella, Iraq. Benoka claimed t

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a child’s boot and blanket lie in the ruins of a Christian house destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State group,

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a child’s boot and blanket lie in the ruins of a Christian house destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State group,

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a house that once belonged to a Christian family lies in ruins, destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State, in Bart

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a house that once belonged to a Christian family lies in ruins, destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State, in Bart

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a woman walks in from of the Mart Shmony Orthodox Church in Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islamic

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, a woman walks in from of the Mart Shmony Orthodox Church in Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islamic

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, a woman prays during  Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church the northern town of Irbil, Iraq. Two years after it

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, a woman prays during Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church the northern town of Irbil, Iraq. Two years after it

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, a little boy is caressed by his mother during Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church the northern town of Irbil, I

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, a little boy is caressed by his mother during Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church the northern town of Irbil, I

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, an altar boy shakes people’s hands during Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church in Irbil, Iraq. Two years after i

In this Jan. 20, 2019 photo, an altar boy shakes people’s hands during Sunday service at Mart Shmony Orthodox Church in Irbil, Iraq. Two years after i

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, two women look at gold jewelry in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islami

In this Jan. 18, 2019 photo, two women look at gold jewelry in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, Iraq. Two years after it was liberated from Islami

BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — Only a fraction of Christian residents has returned to the northern Iraqi town of Bartella, two years since it was liberated from Islamic State militants.

Many fear intimidation by the town's population of Shabak, a Shiite Muslim ethnic group that dominates the militias now running Bartella. The tensions are a sign of the sectarian splits around northern Iraq in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic State group.

The large cross in Bartella's main square is one of few overt signs this town was historically Christian.

Nearby, a massive billboard shows Shiite Muslim martyrs alongside a photo of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Posters of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen killed in fighting with the Islamic State group hang on streets all around the city, along with banners to revered historical Shiite saints.