Assyrian force training for anticipated Mosul assault on ISIS

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Amid threats by ISIS in Mosul, many Christians have fled to the shelter of the Kurdistan Region.
BAQOFA, Kurdistan Region – Two hundred Assyrian men from Nineveh province who volunteered to fight the Islamic State are receiving military training and expect to be part of a future assault on ISIS in Mosul.

“We have a tough fight ahead of us,” admitted Albert Kiso, spokesperson for the fighters, adding that the force was formed last August at the initiative of the Assyrian National Party (ANP).

“We have battle experience. Some of us are former officers and soldiers,” said Kiso, who served in the Iraqi army in the 1980s.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has been under ISIS control since the religious radicals stormed through northern Iraq, rolled over the Iraqi army and captured about a third of the country.

The militants have been especially harsh on non-Muslim minorities. Nearly Mosul’s entire Christian community has fled since the ISIS takeover.

While an assault on Mosul is anticipated, US military commanders have said it will not be anytime soon, and not until the routed Iraqi army can be stitched together again with enough skilled soldiers.

The main headquarters of the small Assyrian force is in the mayor’s house in Baqofa village. Inside, lay stockpiles of light weapons and ammunitions.

“We purchased all these weapons and ammunition on the black market,” said Majid Ilya, a journalist who handles media affairs for the group. “Our task is to protect our sacred land.”

Assyrians from outside Kurdistan reject the Nineveh plain as Kurdish land. But the Assyrian population in the area has been demanding an autonomous area of their own within the Kurdistan Region.

Ilya said that funding for the militia comes from “some friends” living in Australia, America and Europe. “They are sending us money.”

While a Rudaw reporter was at the camp, a military vehicle form the Kurdish Peshmerga forces came by to drop off lunch. “We are brothers. That’s why we share our food with them,” the deputy Peshmerga commander in the area later explained.

Kiso denied claims the force was a militia for a political party, namely the ANP.

“We are rather a national force and our only goal is to protect our people,” he said. “It is true that ANP played a supportive role in creating this force, but we don’t answer to ANP.”

Kiso said that ISIS is the reason why they took up arms. “Our goal is to protect our scared land. When ISIS is finished, we lay down our arms and get back to our ordinary life.”