“This is our country, we had a civilization here for a thousand years and we are still citizens of this country.”

These are the words of Col. Jawat Habib Abboush, the deputy commander of a group of Assyrian Christian militiamen who banded together to protect their community after ISIS began its sweep across northern and western Iraq in 2014 after the pullout of U.S. troops.

“We joined to fight terrorism and Daesh, and to liberate our land, to protect our dignity and honor,” said Michael Rai Staef, whose hometown is still held by the militants. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS.

The NPU fighters number around 300, but the Iraqi army has only supplied them with 100 rifles – with most of the militiamen buying their own.

The Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) militia is one of several armed Christian groups fighting in the region and claims it has received training from both private American companies and U.S. military personnel, according to Col. Abboush.

The groups hope to receive more tangible support now that the House of Representatives has said direct assistance should be provided to local security forces fighting ISIS.

The House draft version of the 2017 defense bill specifies that the assistance may be given to both “ethnic and religious minority groups, with a national security mission,” but the legislation has not yet passed the Senate, and will need to be signed by the president before taking effect.

For centuries, Assyrian Christians comprised a considerable minority of the Iraqi population, but the rise of ISIS has reduced their numbers, as many were killed and others have fled persecution by radical Muslims.

The Assyrian Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Christ and His disciples, but even within that community, there is division, as other Christian groups, such as the Nineveh Plains Forces, compete for influence in the region.

The Christian militias acknowledge that their small numbers and shortage of equipment limit the role they can play in the fight against ISIS, and remain hopeful that financial support from the U.S. will come soon.

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