Islamic State (ISIS) has taken over the majority of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, which was once the largest city in the country, in the wake of the military defeat of the extremist group. 

But the militants are losing ground, and many local Christians have fled.

In recent days, ISIS fighters have also seized the nearby town of Tal Afar, killing more than 100 people, including women and children.

But the group is struggling to retain control over the city and, more importantly, in parts of the Nineveh countryside.

With a population of some 5 million, Nineveh is the most populous province in Iraq and the largest Christian community in the world.

It has a sizeable Christian community of some 3 million.

The province is divided between Christian communities of Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who are the majority in the region.

The two main Sunni Muslim-majority regions in Iraq are the Ninevah and Nineveh Governorates.

The Ninevahs are controlled by the Shiite Muslim-led government, while the Kurdish Region is dominated by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a market in the predominantly Christian town of Karbala, killing at least seven people and wounding others.

As the militants take over the Ninevic region, local Christians are facing a desperate choice: remain in their homes, or fight for their lives.

Christian community spokesman Jassem Qassim told Al Jazeera that the militants have attacked his church and the nearby churches of the nearby Qum, which have a large Christian population. 

He added that the local churches have been looted, burnt down and vandalised.

“They looted the church of the church and destroyed it,” Qassm said.

“The Christian people were also beaten by the fighters.

They also burnt down our church and burned down the nearby houses.”

Christian residents of Karbalah, a town of about 700 people, fled on Monday morning to the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) town of Tuz Khurmatu, where they were met by dozens of residents who asked them to stay behind.

“We have fled,” Qasim said.

Al Jazeera’s Christian community correspondent Menno Breslin said that the town is already in the hands of the Kurdish government and its fighters.

“We have seen the Peshmerga [forces] attack the town.

There’s no reason to stay here,” he said.”

The Christians have already left the town because the Peshmergas are now in the town and attacking it,” Breslen added. 

“There are many Christians who are in fear.

They are fleeing to the KRCK and other Kurdish towns to stay with their families.” 

“The KRG is trying to take the town, and we’re trying to protect the Christians.”

Al Jazeera has contacted the KRG for comment.

The Kurdish Region said it had no information on the reported attack on its town of Barza. 

On Sunday night, Iraqi forces recaptured the town of al-Kasasbeh, near the border with Syria, after a major assault, the Iraqi army said.

The KRK is also battling the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic Front, which the government describes as an extremist group linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (pKK). 

“We do not recognise the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (YDG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Units,” the Iraqi prime minister’s office said in a statement.

“Iraq will not tolerate the illegal, terroristic and armed groups who are trying to create chaos and insecurity in the Kurdistan Region.”

The KRL also claimed that the Islamic Army, an affiliate of the PKK, had attacked the town’s headquarters, killing a number of fighters and taking control of the weapons used by the PKK.

“We will continue our military operations in the areas of al Kasasbah and Tal Afars to liberate these villages and prevent their return to ISIS,” the KRL said.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims of the KRK.


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