Small Christian militias continue to fight for Iraq–men determined to stop the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) from destroying their homeland and heritage. The Assyrian fighters are one of many groups profiled in the past year who are willing to stand up to the radical Islamic group.
These Assyrian Christians hail from the Nineveh Plain, which is just north of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The city once boasted a large Christian community, who lived peacefully among Muslims for over 2,000 years. That came to a crashing halt when ISIS stormed through the city in June 2014. BBC reports:
Assyrian Christians say they are descended from the 1st Century peoples evangelised by the disciples of Jesus Christ. They still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
They have suffered persecution before – in 2006, for example, when Sunni Muslims attacked some Christian areas. Then last year, Islamic State (IS) militants drove them from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other major Christian cities.
Former Iraqi Army General Behnam Aboosh leads this Christian militia. In 2003, the U.S. sent him home to Mosul. From there, “he watched as his country descended into sectarian chaos.” Unfortunately, ISIS forced him to take his family and leave his home. They found safety in Dohuk, which is 104 miles north of Mosul. But like many others, he is tired of running.
“We will protect our land, not just from Islamic State,” he declared to the BBC. “I tell you, on all the land they freed from ISIS [Islamic State], there is a big problem. Many people want to take our land. We will stay in our land!”
To do this, he spoke with the Iraqi Kurdistan government. BBC writes:
With some other Christian ex-officers he petitioned the Kurdistan government of northern Iraq for permission to form a defence force, to stand alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
After months of negotiations, he was given six weeks’ access to a military training area near Kirkuk. Around 500 Christians, out of 2,000 who had volunteered, received basic training. The Nineveh Plain Protection Unit (NPPU) was formed.
“The Nineveh Plain lies between Kurdistan and Sunni people,” explained Caldo Ogana from the Assyrian Democratic Movement, to the BBC why these militias are essential. “Sunnis and Kurds are struggling against each other. This area is full of oil and very rich. After ISIS is beaten, there will be another battle.”
Ogana said last year if no one fights against ISIS the world “will lose the minorities from the Middle East.” Aramic teacher Athra Kado is fighting for his family because if he left “they would be dead, killed by ISIS or another group.”
“If there are no military units from our people, to protect our own people, I don’t think there will be any Christians here in less than 10 years,” said Kado.
Stories have plastered the media in the past 15 months of Westerners who joined ISIS. However, there are quite a few who left their homes to join these militias against the terror organization, instead. One group joined a militia called Dwekh Nawsha, which means “self-sacrifice” in Aramaic, because of their “frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents.” According to Reuters:
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.
In March, The Telegraph spoke with Kino Gabriel, a dental student turned soldier, who chose to join a militia. He took part in a battle against ISIS in Tel Hamis in northeast Syria, which is torn between ISIS, jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Kurds.
U.S. Army veteran Sean Rowe, who was deployed in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, set up a GoFundMe page for Veterans Against ISIS to travel to the Middle East. The group consists of “top qualified American veterans” ready to fight against ISIS.
“The need, the void of leadership should be obvious, should be astounding,” he said. “They need help over there. People are being slaughtered over there, and the international community seems to be doing nothing.”