Iraqi Christian fighters ready to combat IS

Iraqi Christian fighters ready to combat IS
Iraqi Christian fighters training under international coalition supervision have completed a programme preparing them for battle against the Islamic State group.
2 min read
23 February, 2016
Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes after IS took control [Getty]

Around 2,500 Iraqi Christian fighters have completed a training programme overseen by the international coalition to make them battle ready to face the Islamic State group (IS).

The strategy hopes to avoid the reoccurance of ethnic and sectarian violence, which took place in Tikrit and Bayji last year by replacing the Shia-led Popular Mobilisation Forces with Christian fighters in Ninveh province, north of Iraq.

The force consists of three battalions that will work closely with the Peshmerga forces to liberate Christian areas from IS militants.

"The events of 2014, including the occupation of the terrorist organisations of our lands, have forced the Christians to form a force to preserve and protect our areas," said Shamsuddin Gerges, head of the Iraqi Chaldean Council.

"There is a continuous migration of our people but we will remain here to dispel IS militants."

Hundreds of Christian residents have been subjected to the worst forms of displacement and dispossession of rights under IS-control, with homes and churches being forcefully confiscated by the militants.

"The formation of a new force is a message to all Iraqis that Christians are holding on to their lands and are willing to defend the city of Mosul," said Gerges, as he praised the Kurdish government for their support.

An estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, however recent figures suggest as little as 200,000 remain.

"Christians have lived peacefully for thousands of years in Nineveh without any issues with any religion or nationality. We did not consider one day carrying weapons but what IS has done made us engage in combat to liberate our lands and restore our homes," a Christian fighter told The New Arab.

"IS does not represent Muslims," he pointed out.

The recruits have been training in the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU) for the past two years after IS militants progressed onto Christian territory.

The force, which has ambitions to serve as the security force of an autonomous Christian region one day, works closely with the Kurdish Peshmerga to drive IS militants out of Mosul.