When one hears a story of Western civilians heading to the Middle East to volunteer for combat duty, one thinks of the hideously successful ISIS recruiting drive. However, as Reuters reports, “a handful of idealistic Westerners are enlisting” with a Christian militia group called Dwekh Nawsha, “citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents.”
This could lead to some legal entanglements for the volunteers, who are generally either skirting around the laws of their mother countries or flagrantly violating them.
Dwekh Nawsha’s name means “self-sacrifice” in Aramaic, the “language spoken by Christ and still used by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.” The militia group is fighting alongside the Kurds to protect Christian villages and resist the Islamic State’s command for Christians to pay a submissive tax known as the jizya to their new overlords.
Most of their foreign volunteers are being turned back at the front by the Kurds, but Reuters had a few words with one recruit who has seen combat action against the Islamic State:
Saint Michael, the archangel of battle, is tattooed across the back of a U.S. army veteran who recently returned to Iraq and joined a Christian militia fighting Islamic State in what he sees as a biblical war between good and evil.
Brett, 28, carries the same thumb-worn pocket Bible he did whilst deployed to Iraq in 2006 – a picture of the Virgin Mary tucked inside its pages and his favorite verses highlighted.
“It’s very different,” he said, asked how the experiences compared. “Here I’m fighting for a people and for a faith, and the enemy is much bigger and more brutal.”
[…] “These are some of the only towns in Nineveh where church bells ring. In every other town the bells have gone silent, and that’s unacceptable,” said Brett, who has “The King of Nineveh” written in Arabic on the front of his army vest.
Other volunteers interviewed for the article (and identified by their first names only, out of concern for the safety of their families) spoke of their desire to “hopefully put a stop to some atrocities,” not just against Christians but also the persecuted Yazidis. Dwekh Nawsha even has a female foreign recruit, who expressed a desire to contain the global threat of radical Islam. They simultaneously admired the doughty Kurds who have done so much of the bloody ground work against ISIS, and expressed suspicion of messy Kurdish international politics, making the allied Christian militia a more appealing alternative. Most of the Western recruits described by Reuters had military or law-enforcement experience.
Australia’s ABC News offers a portrait of a Dwekh Nawsha recruit from Down Under named Khamis Gewargis Khamis, who didn’t seem concerned about using his full name:
“[ISIS doesn’t] discriminate when it comes to killing, torture and so on,” Mr Khamis told the ABC from his base in northern Iraq.
“These are barbaric people, they came here only to die for what they believe in, so you can imagine the terror that they are spreading among the families, the kids and so on.”
Mr Khamis, who is married and has two children, is stationed with other Dwekh Nawsha fighters in a town called Baqofa, around 30 kilometres from the major IS-held city of Mosul.
Two kilometres down the road is a town called Batnaya, which IS holds after driving out the Christian inhabitants.
“In the last few days [Islamic State] have been trying to come to these towns. They were somehow stopped by the coalition forces, from the air, and Peshmerga as well,” Mr Khamis said.
“We are on frontline, so last few nights there has been bombing from both sides, shelling. So yes, Dwekh Nawsha is frontline, trying to defend this town as much as we can.”
Khamis asserted that his militia unit received little help from either the Kurdish peshmerga or the central government of Iraq, appealing to Australia and the rest of the international community for help with funding, supplies, and munitions. He mentioned that he and his Western comrades in Dwekh Nawsha were aware they could be breaking a number of laws in their mother countries, and while they professed love for their homelands, they thought the urgent business of fighting ISIS demanded their presence in Iraq. ABC News reports that Assyrian community leaders in Iraq have asked the Australian government not to assess legal penalties against Australians who join the anti-ISIS militia.
The UK Daily Mail reported on the Dwekh Nawsha unit Khamis is stationed with last November, after Kurdish fighters pushed ISIS forces out of the area. The Kurds helped the militia unit get up and running to protect Baqofa, with one peshmerga brigade commander declaring, “We came here to protect our Christian brothers and their homes… there is constant cooperation and assistance. We are always together.”
As expected in this day and age, Dwekh Nawsha has its own Facebook page and Twitter account, where they solicit donations, and seem very appreciative of attention paid by world media to their cause. Their Twitter stream hasn’t been very active of late, but one of their last posts from November reads, “Bought two machine guns (BKC) with the donations of our people in California. GOD BLESS YOU!”