Thousands of Iraqi Christians have established their own military group and are training to fight ISIL in the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq, The Arab Source reported.
The Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU) has 3,000 Assyrian Christian men registered to be trained, while another 500 are already training for combat. The group was founded by the Iraqi political party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Another 500 volunteers from the group are already situated in Assyrian villages in northern Iraq.
Last November the American Mesopotamian Organization, whose aim is to support the NPU, said that the primary mission of the militia is to “protect the remaining Assyrian lands from further attacks by ISIL” and then “liberate the Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plain” from the grasp of the radical terrorists.
John Michael, a British-Assyrian in Iraq, told the Catholic Herald: “This is our last stand, if this fails then Christianity will be finished in Iraq.” The religious outlet reported that the militia are receiving funds from the Assyrian diaspora in countries such as United States, Australia and Sweden.
Iraq expert Sajad Jiyad, asserts that the creation of the militia sends an important message to ISIL that these minorities will not allow their territory to be taken without a fight: “It’s also important for the locals to send a message to ISIL that they are not going to allow the demographic change to become permanent.”
Jiyad continues: “The Assyrians want their land back and they – as well as the Turkmen and the Yazidis – are sending a message that: ‘We are going to come back and we are not going to leave our villages and towns and our cultures to be destroyed. We want to come back to our homes and, no matter what we face, we’re willing to fight and take that back.’ I think that is a positive message for the entire nation.”
Last year, ISIL captured Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee. The towns of Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh were also seized by the ‘jihadists’. It is estimated that over 100,000 Christians have been displaced in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq because of the ISIL advance.
In areas now controlled by ISIL, minorities are routinely targeted by the group, specifically Christians and Yazidi Kurds.
Before 2003, the number of Christians in Mosul was approximately 60,000 before the US army invaded Iraq in 2003 when the town’s Christian population has started to decrease rapidly.
Since the advance of ISIL, some minority fighters have had success in their fight to reclaim lost territory in northern Iraq. In an offensive against the terror group last month, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters killed over 200 ISIL militants, ousting the group from large swathes. They also encircled Mosul on three sides and cut off vital supply lines to the nearby towns of Tal Afar and Sinjar.
The Kurdish forces were able to capture Makhmour, to the east of the city; the towns of Zimar and Wannah, and several Arab villages located in the Sinjar Mountains, west of Mosul; and the area around Mosul Dam, in what amounts to a Kurdish land-grab backed by Western airstrikes.
Assyrian Christians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Middle East whose foundations lie in Assyria, a historical region of northern Mesopotamia.