Inside the Christian militias defending Iraq’s Nineveh plains

Matt Cetti-Roberts writes: Gen. Benham, the leader of a new Assyrian Christian militia in northern Iraq, sits in the sparse barracks where his men train to defend their homelands from Islamic State.

In August, the jihadi militants forced Benham from his home in the central Iraqi village of Hamdaniyah, 51 kilometers southeast of Mosul. “ISIS stole everything that I made, what my father made, what my grandfather made,” Benham says.

“They took all of this from me in one minute. I only came here with my shirt and trousers, my son and my daughter.”

Christian villages dotting the Nineveh plains fell to the Islamic State last summer when the Kurdish Peshmerga withdrew. More than 100,000 people fled from the jihadi group.

Now, seven months later, many of the villages are still under Islamic State control. Assyrian Christians have little faith in the Peshmerga — although they’re allies — and have decided to take the fight into their own hands, forming lightly armed bands of politically-aligned militias.

The Nineveh Plain Protection Units, or NPU, of which Benham is a part, is one of the new Assyrian Christian militias.

In the unit’s temporary home near Kirkuk, more than 200 Assyrian Christian men are undergoing training in infantry skills, basic weapon handling and working as a unit — with help from former U.S. soldiers.

Benham served for several decades in the Saddam-era Iraqi army, but most of his men have little or no fighting experience, and some have never even fired a rifle. [Continue reading…]

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