- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hundreds of Iraqi Christians are picking up arms and forming a new Christian militia, training to reclaim their homes from Islamic State militants.

New recruits are gathering at a former U.S. military facility in the hills of northeast Iraq seeking to create a force that will be able to protect their towns and villages safe even after the terrorist group is defeated, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

“I want to defend our own lands, with our own force,” said Nasser Abdullah, 26, who is helping lead training for younger recruits, The Journal reported.

Sunni neighbors that supported Islamic extremists and Kurdish forces that fled under attack, abandoning the Nineveh plains region will not be allowed to return to the area, members of the new militia say.

“Those who betrayed us won’t be allowed to live among us,” Firas Metr, a 27-year-old electrician and recruit with no military experience told the Wall Street Journal. “We need to protect ourselves, now and in the future.”

Roughly 30,000 Christians have fled the Nineveh plains area and more than 150,000 Christians have been displaced across the country since Islamic State militants began their violent rampage.

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More than 2,000 men have signed up to fight with the militia, but it wasn’t clear whether the group could afford to train everyone. Organizers hope the U.S. will help, The Journal reported.

The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act provides $1.6 billion to support “local forces that are committed to protecting highly vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere,” according to a statement accompanying the act, which was approved in December.

U.S. officials have tried to push for more aid to the region. Former Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who retired in December, helped include specific reference to the Nineveh area, which they hope will yield U.S. funding.

Mr. Levin said this week that he hoped the training was successful but was unable to comment further, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The militia has so far operated on donations, mostly from Assyrians abroad. Every recruit will be armed with a rifle, one official told The Wall Journal, though the weapons used in training are lent by Kurdish camp authorities, along with machine guns and mortars.

Several Americans were helping to train the recruits. The Americans told the newspaper they had served in the U.S. military and were volunteering to help train the Christian militia through an unnamed nonprofit organization.

One of the Americans said that U.S. officials in Erbil were briefed on the militia but were not involved.

“The Americans want to stay away from this because their view is, if you train the Christians, you’re starting some crazy religious war,” he said, according to The Journal. “Well ISIS beat you to it.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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