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Sister Luma Khudher stumbles over blocks of stone to enter the courtyard of the convent she and other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena once called home. An image of the Virgin Mary on the wall surrounded by torn pages from religious books, tattered cloths and entwined metal rods from broken desks attests to the former life of this place.

“Growing up, it was natural to be a Christian,” says Sister Luma, reminiscing about the 80’s, when Iraqi Christians were well integrated and constituted an educated, leading section of Iraqi society. “Now, people are asking themselves: ‘Why is this happening to us?’ ‘What does it mean to be an Iraqi Christian?’ ”

These existential questions echo through the graffiti-covered walls of the convent. On one, the name of Al Qaeda’s slain leader, Osama Bin Laden, is sprayed above a rendering of the Shahada, Islam’s profession of faith. Broken crosses, smashed statues and hateful language scribbled on the walls of churches offer no comfort to those pondering the position of Christians in Iraq.

Yet, when inhabitants first returned to their liberated villages and saw the burned and desecrated churches where, for generations, they celebrated liturgies, weddings and funerals, their first reaction was to look for church bells, prop them up and start ringing them again.

“ISIS might have been defeated,” says Slewa Shamoon Aba, 76, a retired teacher and artist, “but the pervasive extremist mentality is still there.” That concern, he adds, “cannot be erased.”

Mr. Aba, who spent his life collecting traditional looms, radios, costumes and other memorabilia in the basement of his home, says he was deeply disappointed with his Muslim compatriots.

Returning to his garden, he had found his mannequins — once dressed in colorful traditional clothes he had made — in pieces. A crucifix in a Christmas grotto he had built was likewise broken.

Mr. Aba says he had taught generations of Muslims in Mosul and in other neighboring villages. “It pains me to see them radicalized,” he says.

Many Iraqi Christians believe their Muslim neighbors, people who once shopped at their stores and shared their food, looted their homes after the invasion. Some say the occupiers branded Qaraqosh a “mall,” inviting Muslims to take furniture and electronic items freely from deserted Christian homes.

Today, many Christians refuse to go back to towns with mixed religious populations, such as Tel Kaif, for fear for their safety. The same holds for Christians’ return to large, once-diverse urban centers, especially the city of Mosul. Property destruction has proven less discouraging than a sense of violated trust, and doubts linger about once more coexisting with their Sunni neighbors.

The very people who drove them from their homes, some worry, could have shaved their beards and dissolved into the civilian population.

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