In the months since ISIS drove Iraq’s Christians from their historic homeland in the country’s Nineveh Plain, members of the community are preparing to reclaim their land from the jihadis — and Americans are joining the fight.
Iraq’s Christians have primarily fled to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in the country’s north, where Kurdish militias have so far proven most effective in the ground war against ISIS. Kurds and Christians have been working for months on a comprehensive strategy to expel the extremists from the region. And outside Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in breaking the months-long ISIS siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani. (RELATED: Iraqi Leaders Announce Plan To Recapture Mosul From ISIS)
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Kurdistan Regional Government has provided a military base outside Kirkuk to train a newly formed Christian “battalion.” 500 recruits are expected to undergo training this month.
A political party called the Assyrian Democratic Movement has helped organize the trainings, which so far are funded mostly by donations from the Assyrian Christian diaspora community abroad. But some members of the community, including Chaldean Catholic patriarch Louis Sako, disapprove of the idea, saying that the existence of a separate Christian militia weakens national unity in an Iraq that is already desperately fractured along ethnic and religious lines.
The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, passed in December, includes a $1.6 billion provision for local forces fighting ISIS, though it is unclear who will ultimately receive those funds. The Iraqi national military, meanwhile, is in the midst of overhauls at the hands of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who fired a substantial number of top officials in November and December for corruption. (RELATED: Iraq’s Prime Minister Exposes Vast Corruption)
As Christians work to establish their own military presence, Kurds have found another unexpected ally: Western volunteer fighters, including American veterans. One of the most outspoken, 28-year-old Wisconsinite Jordan Matson, has been in the region since September. He previously served as an Army infantryman; a recent Associated Press report describes him coming from the battlefield in a tactical vest bearing the words “Christ is Lord.”
Dozens of other Westerners, anonymous to media reports, are also fighting along the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units). The recruitment push has come from the YPG itself, which promotes its anti-ISIS campaign with a Facebook page called “Lions of Rojava.” According to an earlier profile, Matson says he joined the YPG because he “couldn’t just sit and watch Christians being slaughtered anymore.”
Western governments, including the U.S. and Australia, have struggled to form a policy toward their citizens fighting with the Kurds, some of whose forces have been classified as a terrorist organization since an armed insurgency against Turkey in the 1980s. But as ISIS extremists continue to provoke Western powers without meeting a significant response, the Kurdish offensive may prove to be an indispensable tool in the international response to the jihadi organization.
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