On 10 June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the Iraqi city of Mosul. ISIS’s offensive culminated in a genocide against Yezidis, Christians, Shi’a, and other minorities, displacing ~100,000 Christians to Iraqi Kurdistan overnight. Many Christians believe that their Muslim neighbors were complicit in these raids. These suspicions have discouraged Christians from returning to liberated areas, fueled support for self-defense militias, and heightened the potential for reprisal killings and future conflict. At the same time, Muslim communities from neighboring villages have been migrating into Christian enclaves, leading Iraq’s Christians to fear the dilution of their culture and identity. Christian-Muslim relations in northern Iraq continue to be marked by mutual distrust and social segregation.
How can social cohesion between groups be rebuilt after war? Intergroup social cohesion, patterns of cooperation among individuals from different social groups who live and work in close proximity, is considered key for good governance and economic development. However, countries recovering from war often backslide into violence and instability despite heavy international investment in state-building and peacekeeping. Sustainable peace requires a combination of policy interventions, such as power-sharing arrangements, and grassroots initiatives that aim to improve interactions between individuals. Meaningful intergroup contact represents one such grassroots approach.