Christians of Iraq take up arms against ISIS

BAQUQA, Iraq – Christian communities in Iraq’s Nineveh plains have formed their first paramilitary force to thwart further advances by the Islamic State into their areas, their representatives say.

Doekh Nawsha (those who give their lives), an armed force of more than 200 predominantly Assyrian fighters, patrol Christian villages in the Nineveh plains, northeast of the city of Mosul, which has been run by ISIS supporters since early June.

“We set up this force to defend our sacred lands,” says Albert Kesso, Doekh Nawsha’s spokesman. “We know that we have hard battles ahead of us,” he adds.

In June, when ISIS captured Mosul and began attacks on Christians and Christian sites, thousands of Christian families fled the city to neighboring Dohuk in the Kurdistan Region, or to the Tilkif and Qaraqosh areas controlled by the Peshmerga forces.

“Everyone here is a volunteer, but we pay them a monthly stipend for their daily expenses,” says Kesso, who was an officer in the Iraqi Army in the 1980s. He says friends and families in Europe and America are the main donors of money to their group.

“We are here because of the ISIS carnage. No doubt we will defend our lands. But the second the ISIS threat is over, we will go back to our ordinary lives,” he adds.

After taking over the city, ISIS issued an ultimatum to Christians and other non-Sunni Muslims in Mosul to either leave the city or pay so-called “protection taxes,” according to witnesses. Christians who fled say they were told they would be treated as equals if they converted to Islam.

“We have bought our weapons in the market with our own money,” says Majid Ilia, who is a journalist but now has volunteered as the media head of Doekh Nawsha.

The Nineveh plains, with Mosul as capital, are home to different ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Christians and Arabs. The area falls under “disputed territories” in the Iraqi constitution.

Christian groups outside the Kurdistan Region have in the past advocated for a Christian federal region in the war-torn plains.

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