Westerners join Iraqi Christian militia to fight IS

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Westerners who have joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, take a photograph together at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq. Reuters/Ari Jalal
DUHOK — Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria, most of them to join Islamic State (IS), but there are few who have gone to fight on the other side by joining a small Christian militia.
The militia they have joined is called Dwekh Nawsha – meaning ‘self sacrifice’ in the ancient Aramaic language still spoken by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.

Dwekh Nawsha operates alongside Kurdish peshmerga forces to protect a cluster of Christian villages on the front line.

Twenty-eight year old Brett is one of the volunteers who came from overseas, a U.S. army veteran who recently returned to Iraq to fight IS in what he sees as a wider war between good and evil.

Brett, a Westerner and Iraqi Christian militia volunteer, Duhok, Feb. 13, 2015. Reuters (Ari Jalal)

Brett, a Westerner who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, poses at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq. Reuters/Ari Jalal

“We want to ensure the security here I mean it is great people and we want to be able to… The towns that we are in control right now. They have the ability to live a pretty undisturbed life, I mean the nervous are on end but they can go to work and still have a decent life and still have security knowing we are here to protect them, the church bells ring and that is what we want to do is to ensure that the church bells continue to ring and we are working on getting some of the towns out of Daesh’s [IS] hands,” he said .

Brett, is the only one of the foreign volunteers to have engaged in fighting so far. The others only recently arrived, and were turned back from the front line on Friday by Kurdish security services because they did not have necessary approval from the authorities.

Software engineer Scott served in the U.S. army for seven years during the 90s, but has spent most of his time since in front of a computer screen in North Carolina.

He was galvanized by images of IS militants hounding Iraq’s Yazidi minority, and became fixated on the struggle for the Syrian border town of Kobani — the target of a relentless campaign by the jihadists, who were held off by the lightly armed Kurdish YPG militia, backed by U.S. airstrikes.

A westerner fighter who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, stands at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk. February 13, 2015.

Scott, a westerner fighter stands at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq. Reuters/Ari Jalal

Scott had planned to join the YPG, which has drawn a flurry of foreign recruits, but he changed his mind four days before heading to the Middle East after growing suspicion of the group’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a terrorist organization as designated by the United States and Europe.

“I am here in Kurdistan to help all the people that are being sold into slavery, children been killed, Christian being displaced and basically to protect anyone who needs help regardless of their religion. I am from North Carolina, United States, and I am more than happy to be here. What I want to accomplish is to get Daesh [IS] out of this country, destroy it basically,” said Scott.

Their motives for doing so differ, but they share a belief that the IS is a threat.

“I am not too worried about Daesh [IS] and what they can do to me. I am just one man but I am here to protect the innocents at all costs and it is out of love and concern and respect for these people here and I would like to see all the communities working together, people from every race and religious background to defeat ISIS which is really a menace, not only in this part of the world but as you know they are threatening people in Europe and North America, it is a world problem and we all need to get involved,” said Andrew, another foreign fighter.

He and the other volunteers worried they would not be allowed to return to the United States if they were associated with the PKK, and also disliked the group’s leftist ideology.

A foreign female fighter who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State. Feb. 13, 2015. Reuters (Ari Jalal)

The only foreign woman in Dwekh Nawsha’s ranks said she had been inspired by the role of women in the lightly armed Kurdish YPG militia, but identified more closely with the “traditional” values of the Christian militia. Reuters/Ari Jalal

The only foreign female in Dwekh Nawsha’s ranks said she had been inspired by the role of women in the YPG, but identified more closely with the “traditional” values of this Christian militia.
The phenomenon of foreigners joining conflicts abroad is not new – French Foreign Legion and International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War – but this is the first time that social media has played a major role.

A Westerner who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, carries his weapon at the office of the Assyrian political party, February 13, 2015.
Scott, (C) a Westerner carries his weapon at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq. Reuters/Ari Jalal

Westerners who have joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants sit together at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq February 13, 2015.
Westerners sit together at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq. Reuters/Ari Jalal

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