Iraqi Christians to take up arms against ISIS

Several Iraqi Christian armed forces will “soon” join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in an attempt to regain control of their in the northern Ninveh Plain after they were seized by the militant group last year, a Christian lawmaker said Wednesday. 

“The objective is to liberate their land in Nineveh Plain and to take charge of security in these areas afterward,” said Yaco Jacob, a Christian parliamentarian at the Kurdistan Parliament. 

Jacob is member of the political bureau of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), which is one of the country’s Christian political parties, with two deputies in the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad and two representatives in the Kurdistan parliament in Erbil. 

The ADM has operated paramilitaries since the 1980s, when it allied with the Kurds to wage an insurgency against Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Christian force currently has 2,000 men who volunteered to fight ISIS. 

Christian groups began rebuilding their armed forces in August 2014, a week after the Ninevah plain exodus, seen by some as the worse disaster to have ever affected the Iraqi Christians. Other minorities like the Yazidis and the Shabaks live in the Nineveh Plain and were also affected by the ISIS’s advance on their lands. 

The volunteer fighters are made of Assyrians - the native people of the Ninveh Plain – who are also Orthodox Christians and their Catholic counterpart, the Chaldeans. Jacob said some of the forces are receiving training in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. 

“After obtaining permission and coordinating with the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, we started sending more than 450 Christian men to a military camp for training in Kurdistan.” “The Iraqi army did not fight ISIS in Mosul nor the Peshmerga fought in Nineveh plain. Christians and Yazidis were left on their one in Ninveh Plain and Sinjar,” Jacob said. 

Jacob said the 450 strong force taking training in Kurdish areas was “the first batch” and that there were plans to train more fighters. 

“We hope for second and third batches. We have the ability and capability to carry arms and defend our land under the national Iraqi security umbrella. I don’t’ speak of a militia, I speak of young men, who will be in the future part of the national security service,” he added. 

He said neither the central government in Baghdad nor the Kurdish regional government is giving them needed support to build their force. “We did not receive any help from Baghdad or Erbil,” he said, adding that the volunteer force was being sponsored by Christians living in Iraq and abroad. 

Steven Nabil, an Iraqi Christian activist, said many of the first batch volunteers were Internally Displaced Persons, including those expelled from Mosul by ISIS. Nabil said the idea to arm Christians in Iraq was being considered for years, but disputes between Baghdad and Erbil have delayed its implementation. 

“The Christians and other minorities such as Yazidis and Shabak need to arm up, the time now is different,” he said. “We need to face the enemy and not just sit in our tents,” he said. 

by Dina al-Shibeeb
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