'Thousands' of Iraqi Christians form their own militia to fight Isis militants in northern Iraq

More than 4,000 have reportedly signed up to train with militia

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The Independent Online

Christians in Iraq have reportedly formed their own armed militia in an attempt to reclaim their towns from Isis militants who advanced across swathes of the country last year.

Iraqi Christians, Turkmen, Yazidis and other minorities have faced persecution at the hands of Isis since the group's bloody rampage began across northern Iraq in 2014.

Thousands of Christians and Yazidis fled their homes in Mosul when militants ordered them to convert, pay a special tax or be put to death, leaving more than 150,000 displaced across the country.

Now, Christian men are joining a new Iraqi militia in the Nineveh Plain area in a bid to protect the few remaining towns and villages from falling into the hands of militants.

The Catholic Herald reports that 4,000 men have joined the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, which was founded by the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), the primary political party of Assyrians in Iraq, and is backed by the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Isis has advanced across huge parts of Iraq and Syria

A Christian refugee prays in Irbil

The majority of Iraq's Christians are ethnic Chaldo-Assyrians who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

The organisation reportedly has 500 Assyrian Christian troops protecting towns from Isis in the Ninevah Plain, another 500 in training and a further 3,000 waiting to be trained.

The militia is being funded by the Assyrian diaspora in countries such as United States, Australia and Sweden, according to the Herald.

The ADM says the militia's main aim to “protect the remaining Assyrian lands from further attacks by Isis and liberate the Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plain”.

Yonadam Kanna, a parliamentarian with the ADM, described the effort as part of "a fight to take back and come back to our land".

“It’s as though our roots of thousands of years have been pulled out of the ground," he told the Wall Street Journal.

However, Canon Andrew White, known as the vicar of Baghdad for leading the only Anglican church in Iraq, warned the "small group" of men forming the militia faced being overwhelmed by Isis fighters.

Speaking from an Iraqi refugee camp in Jordan, he told The Independent  its creation was a response to the fear felt by Iraqi Christians, who feel they are not protected by anyone from Isis.

"They feel they have to show that they are trying, but in reality it is not a solution," he said. "They can try and protect a few people but it will be very difficult.


“They have their own Iraqi military who are no good and we internationally are dropping bombs from the sky - and that’s no good either.

“People are frightened because they have no protection, and with no protection they are thinking ‘what future have we got’ and it’s fair enough to think that. It’s really difficult."

Sajad Jiyad, a researcher on Iraq and Middle East politics, said the militia's existence is to show Isis it will not be able to take their territories without a fight.

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the village of Qaraqush

But he too echoed concerns about what effect the militia could actually have and stressed it will need training and funding in order to enjoy any success against Isis.

"Their  current capabilities are limited and they need training, weapons, logistical support, air cover and greater numbers, in coordination with the federal government, to be able to make any sustainable progress," he said.

"In time these small militias may be positive in uniting communities and presenting a unified Iraqi stand against the terror of Daesh [the Arabic name for Isis].

"This particular militia, supported by a prominent MP and the federal government, can help with the military campaign as they are made up of locals who know the territory and land well, and have an incentive to fight with determination."