Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Westerners join Christian militia to fight Muslims

Reuters, DOHUK, Iraq

Brett, a US Army veteran who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, poses at the office of an Assyrian political party affiliated with the group in Dohuk, northern Iraq, on Friday last week.

Photo: Reuters

Saint Michael, the archangel of battle, is tattooed across the back of a US Army veteran who recently returned to Iraq and joined a Christian militia fighting the Islamic State in what he sees as a biblical war between good and evil.

Brett, 28, carries the same thumb-worn pocket Bible he did while deployed to Iraq in 2006 — a picture of the Virgin Mary tucked inside its pages and his favorite verses highlighted.

“It’s very different,” he said, asked how the experiences compared. “Here, I’m fighting for a people and for a faith, and the enemy is much bigger and more brutal.”

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria in the past two years, mostly to join the Islamic State, but a few are joining the fight against the militants as well, saying that they are frustrated with their governments, which they describe as not doing enough to combat Muslim militants or prevent the suffering of innocent people.

The militia they joined is called Dwekh Nawsha. The term means self-sacrifice in the ancient Aramaic language thought to have been spoken by Christ and that is used by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.

A map on the wall in the office of the Assyrian political party affiliated with Dwekh Nawsha marks the Christian towns in northern Iraq, fanning out around Mosul.

The majority are now under control of the Islamic State group, which overran Mosul last summer and issued an ultimatum to Christians: pay a tax, convert to Islam or die by the sword. Most fled.

Dwekh Nawsha operates alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces to protect Christian villages on the front line in Nineveh Province.

“These are some of the only towns in Nineveh where church bells ring. In every other town the bells have gone silent, and that’s unacceptable,” said Brett, who has “The King of Nineveh” written in Arabic on his army vest.

Brett, who like other foreign volunteers withheld his last name out of concern for his family’s safety, is the only one to have engaged in fighting so far.

The others, who arrived just last week, were turned back from the front line on Friday by Kurdish security services who said they needed official authorization.

Tim, 38, shut down his construction business in Britain last year, sold his house and bought two plane tickets to Iraq: one for himself and another for a 44-year-old US software engineer he met through the Internet.

The men joined up in Dubai, flew to the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah and took a taxi to Dohuk, where they arrived last week.

“I’m here to make a difference and hopefully put a stop to some atrocities,” said Tim, who previously worked in the prison service. “I’m just an average guy from England really.”

Scott, the software engineer, served in the US Army in the 1990s, but lately spent most of his time in front of a computer screen in North Carolina.

He was mesmerized by images of Islamic State militants hounding Iraq’s Yazidi minority and became fixated on the struggle for the Syrian border town of Kobane — the target of a relentless campaign by the militants, who were held off by the lightly armed Kurdish YPG militia, backed by US air strikes.

Scott had planned to join the YPG, which has drawn a flurry of foreign recruits, but changed his mind four days before heading to the Middle East after growing suspicious of the group’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

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