LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The violence in Syria has spilled into Iraq over the last few months. And Sunni extremists now control areas of the country's northwest. Iraqi Muslims are celebrating Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in a time of violence, displacement and fear. Many Christians, Shiites and others have fled their homes. And some wonder whether the time has come to partition Iraq, along religious and ethnic lines. But NPR's Alice Fordham reports that for many Iraqis, a divided Iraq would not be the country they love.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: I meet Ahmed Ali and his family on the Muslim holiday, Eid - a time for gifts, feasts and visiting relatives. But for him, it's a strange Eid and not a very happy one. He's not saying the usual prayers in his village, just outside the northern city of Mosul. He's fled to a Christian village called Qosh.
AHMED ALI: (Through translator) There's no mosque here, just a church.
FORDHAM: Ali and his family are Shiites who left their home when extremist Sunnis took over Mosul. They have been living a month in a kindergarten with Santa Claus and snowmen painted on the walls, where Ali, a muscular farmer, perches on a tiny child's chair to tell his story.
ALI: (Through translator) Our village is more than 300 years old and we have never had such problems.
FORDHAM: His family's been there since the village, Shreikhan, was founded.
ALI: (Through translator) Our house isn't just a regular house. It's very historic. There's a foundation underground and the roof is made from gypsum and stone.
FORDHAM: Relations are so good with the Sunni village down the hill that two months ago he married one of their girls. And as evidence of the peaceful coexistence in this mixed area, he says the Christians here, in Qosh, have welcomed him.
ALI: (Through translator) The church is very helpful. They give us food. And even the people from the town, they give us everything we have here.
FORDHAM: But fears are growing that the days of coexistence in Iraq are over. Fueled by the war in Syria, new waves of highly sectarian Sunni and Shiite militias are threatening civilians and both sides scare the Christians. Meantime, the ethnic Kurd's calls for independence are growing louder. Among some experts and politicians, the idea that Iraq should be partitioned along ethnic and sectarian lines is gaining traction. And already, Ali says most of his fellow Shiites from his village have moved to Shiite-dominated Southern Iraq. But he hates the idea of Iraq splitting up.
ALI: (Through translator) If that happens, it will be something very, very painful. I am a farmer. I have 50 tons of potatoes in cold storage. It's my home. It's my place.
FORDHAM: Over at the church, men are piling boxes of aid onto handcarts and into trucks to deliver to the families sheltering here. The deputy minister for the displaced, Asghar al Moussawi, is paying an Eid visit. He sees the signs of Iraq breaking up and losing its diversity. But he thinks that so much of Iraq is mixed, just like this area around Mosul, that it's impossible to divide.
ASGHAR AL MOUSSAWI: (Through translator) As an Iraqi, I wouldn't wish for Iraq to be divided or even head in that direction, especially because the division would happen on the basis of ethnicity and sect.
FORDHAM: For many Iraqis, commitment to be a united Iraq is part of their identity and something their leaders insist they believe in. The deputy minister even thinks Western countries shouldn't offer asylum to Iraqis, which might encourage them to leave. But rather give aid with the aim of helping them stay where they are because, as church aid coordinator Fadi Youssef says, the displaced families can't live in kindergarten forever.
FADI YOUSSEF: (Foreign language spoken).
FORDHAM: He says they've waited until after Eid tell them, but the church can't support the displaced indefinitely. He thinks they'll probably end up in Southern Iraq with the rest of the Shiites from their village. Alice Fordham, NPR News.