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The Assyrian Fighters in North Iraq

By , November 27, 2014 2:51 pm

An Assyrian fighter (Dwekh Nawsha) in Baqufa, north Iraq.(AINA) — Since the formation of Dwekh Nawsha, an Assyrian Christian paramilitary force operating in the Ninawa Plains area of northern Iraq, on 11 August 2014, there have been a number of news articles about the group: in the National Geographic on 27 August, from the AFP on 27 September, in MintPress News on 8 October, my article in Al-Monitor on 30 October, by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi on 6 November, and from AP on 13 November. The group was also briefly mentioned by Robert Fisk in an article from 16 November.

Media Articles on the Dwekh Nawsha

The first article, by Rania Abouzeid in the National Geographic, described the Dwekh Nawsha being formed on 11 August. Referred to as ‘Dukha’ rather than ‘Dwekh Nawsha’, the group comprised 40 men, and was founded by the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP) with the aim of cooperating with the Peshmerga in the fight to reclaim the Ninawa Plains from the Islamic State (IS). (In an aside, the article mentions Arab Christians, an inappropriate appellation given the identification of many of Iraq’s Christians, including Dwekh Nawsha’s members, as Assyrians rather than Arabs.)

The AFP article, by Camille Bouissou and published in various places (the link above is to the Lebanese Daily Star), is problematic in that the distinction between Dwekh Nawsha, an APP-founded group which is pro-KRG and which seeks to work with the Peshmerga, and the paramilitary force of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) in Alqosh which is anti-KRG and pro-federal government in its outlook, is poorly drawn. An assertion is made that “2,000 men have already volunteered to fight ISIS”, presumably with the ADM. The ADM has maintained armed men since the late 1970′s which has long numbered around 2,000 men; furthermore, the ADM force in Alqosh restricts its activities to guarding the town, far from the front lines. While Alqosh’s residents were evacuated the group patrolled the town, when they came back the group restricted its activities to keeping watch over the plains from its office. Either way, the group has never sought to fight IS, and if anyone had volunteered for the ADM with that aim, they would have been disappointed. Both Dwekh Nawsha and the ADM force in Alqosh numbered 100 men, according to the article; when I visited both groups in early October, the ADM had 40 men in Alqosh and Dwekh Nawsha had between 50 and 100.

The MintPress News article is a flattering portrayal of Dwekh Nawsha, giving the impression that the group is more militarily savvy that it is, and that it plays a larger role than is actually does. “Each day consists of patrolling several villages on the Mosul Dam frontline, looking out for ISIS explosives that have been planted and keeping a close eye on the militants who lie in wait just a couple of kilometers away.” The Mosul dam is far from Dwekh Nawsha’s area of operations, and while Dwekh Nawsha do patrol, it must be stressed that they do so behind the Peshmerga.

I won’t describe my own article here on the grounds that this piece draws on it, being the result of visits to the Alqosh ADM force and Dwekh Nawsha on 01 and 04 October, and to Dwekh Nawsha on 15 November. One issue is worth mentioning: like the AFP article, I failed to mention a third group, a militia force apparently of around 30 men in Alqosh belonging to the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which I was later told performed a role similar to that of the ADM force: patrolling the town while the inhabitants were evacuated.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s article, published on his website and by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), has good background information on Iraq’s Christians and their situation between the Baghdad and Erbil governments, but suffers for being the result of internet research instead of fieldwork. He asserts that “the group’s role seems to be primarily defensive, and evidence does not point to Dwekh Nawsha as a vital military force to coordinate with the Kurdish Peshmerga”; the group does try to coordinate with the Peshmerga, but its role is more focussed on guarding and patrolling, and the term ‘defensive’ perhaps oversells their role as they do not generally play a role on the front line. Al-Tamimi accepts the figure of 200 men; on 15 November the group told me they had a total of around 250 volunteers but on a rotating pattern, and only weapons for 50 men; their effective force is therefore not more than 50 men. In terms of the photos published with the article, three are worth mentioning: in one, Dwekh Nawsha members hold an APP flag, it should be emphasised that most Dwekh Nawsha members are not APP members despite the group being founded by the APP. In other photos, members are shown in front of a Humvee, and using a truck-mounted machine gun: Dwekh Nawsha has neither of these vehicles, which probably belong to the Peshmerga.

The AP article (the link above is to the Daily Mail’s publication) also overstates Dwekh Nawsha’s activities. The piece tells us that the “men of Dwekh Nawsha now patrol Bakufa round-the-clock, in the hope that the village stays free long enough so their families can return”; this is true, but Baqufa also has a Peshmerga presence. Baqufa, like the town of Telisqof a few kilometres to the north, was occupied by IS around 6 August, and retaken by the Peshmerga on 16-17 August; Dwekh Nawsha has only recently been allowed by the Peshmerga to base themselves there instead of in the village of Sharafiyya just south of Alqosh. Most Dwekh Nawsha members are not local to Baqufa or Telisqof. Furthermore, it captions a photo of the white, blue and red Assyrian flag as being the APP flag. It also refers to the Assyrians and the Chaldeans as separate groups. While the terms ‘Assyrian’ and ‘Chaldean’ are used at various times with either ethnic or religious connotations, the APP uses ‘Assyrian’ to mean the entire ethnic group, including the adherents of both the Assyrian and Chaldean churches, and Dwekh Nawsha membership is open to any (Chaldo-)Assyrian man regardless of church affiliation.

On 16 November Robert Fisk mentioned Dwekh Nawsha very briefly in his column: “I was intrigued to visit Syria’s National Defence Forces (NDF) in Qamishli, far to the north-east of the country, which includes — like the newly formed anti-Isis Dwekh Nawsha (Self-Sacrifice) group in the Iraqi village of Bakufa — Christians as well as Muslims.” The implication that Dwekh Nawsha includes non-Christians is wrong. (The entire article is slightly odd in that it talks about north-east Syria and the Christian militias there without mentioning the Kurdish YPG forces.)

Dwekh Nawsha’s Current Position

At present, Dwekh Nawsha is found in the villages of Baqufa and Sharafiyya, and in Alqosh. They do not yet have weapons for more than 50 men, although the total number of members is higher with groups rotating between Dwekh Nawsha and in many cases their jobs in other areas of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Some members are local — for example, one is a farmer from Baqufa, others come from different regions, both in the KRI and in the IS-occupied areas. By their own estimate, around 70% of Dwekh Nawsha members have some military or police expertise, with some being serving members of the Iraqi military or police. Most are not APP members, and the group is open to any Assyrian man — the group thinks in ethnic and Assyrian nationalist rather than religious terms. (On 15 November the group said that they had contacted the ADM force in Alqosh with a suggestion to collaborate but that they had not received a favourable reply.)

Until recently, Dwekh Nawsha was based in the village of Sharafiyya just south of Alqosh. The Peshmerga in the area have now allowed the group to base themselves, and to patrol, in Baqufa, just a few kilometres north of the front line. IS occupied the area, including Telisqof, on 6 August, and was pushed out by the Peshmerga on 16-17 August; the frontline has been stationary since then, with two major IS attacks and a number of skirmishes. The Peshmerga there say that they are able to go on the offensive but that orders to do so have not yet been issued. Dwekh Nawsha’s leadership is keen to be more involved in the fight against IS, but the extent of their activities depends on the Peshmerga, which have not yet enabled a regular front-line role for the group.

Dwekh Nawsha is clearly a group with big aims, and the capacity to expand. Their activities should not be belittled, however, it is also important not to overstate their current role. With more funding the group could easily increase its reach. What they can do is limited as well by the attitude of the Peshmerga towards them, and the group is keen to expand its coordination and collaboration with the Kurdish military with a view to becoming an effective fighting force rather than a behind-the-lines auxiliary.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq to Arm Yazidi Fighters Against ISIL

By , November 25, 2014 11:33 am

Iraq to Arm Yazidi Fighters Against ISIL

Posted 2014-11-25 09:22 GMT

Iraq’s defense minister says Baghdad is ready to arm Izadi Kurds in their fight against the ISIL terrorist group. Khalid al-Obeidi also pledges weapons and ammunitions and even air-strikes to support Izadi militias. The Iraqi defense chief made the remarks in a meeting with a delegation from the country’s Izadi community in the capital, Baghdad.

During the meeting, al-Obeidi discussed the security situation in Iraq and the flashpoint city of Mosul with the delegation, which was led by Izadi lawmaker Nahla Hussein and other key Izadi figures.

The two sides also talked about the suffering the Izadi Kurds have had to go through at the hands of the ISIL Takfiri terrorists.

Al-Obedi expressed appreciation for the assistance of the Izadi fighters in the anti-ISIL battle.

Kurdish forces are currently gathering to break the siege imposed on Izadi families in the Sinjar mountains in the north of the violence-hit country. Thousands of Izadis have been left trapped in the mountains since Takfiri militants attacked their homes in August.

The ISIL offensive forced many Izadis from their homes with many more seeking refuge in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

The ISIL terrorists, who currently control parts of Syria and Iraq, have committed widespread acts of violence, including mass executions, abductions and torture in the areas they have seized in the two countries.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Stock Market Report

By , November 24, 2014 11:59 pm

Iraq Stock Market Report

Advertising Feature

Rabee Securities Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) market report (week ending: 20th November 2014).

Please click here to download a table of listed companies and their associated ticker codes.

The RSISX index ended the week at ID1,382 (-0.1%)/ $ 1,493 (-0.1%) (weekly change) (-25.9% and -24.8% YTD change, respectively). The number of week traded shares was 9.1bn and the weekly trading volume was IQD9.6bn ($ 8.0mn).

ScreenHunter_1238 Nov. 24 17.29

ISX Company Announcements

  • The Iraqi Securities Commission (ISC) had approved the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) board of governors’ decision to list two banks and eight money exchange companies on the ISX. The list of these banks/companies are as the following which will be able to trade upon the completion of the procedures: 1) The National Islamic Bank, 2) The Trans Iraq Bank For Investment, 3) Al-Taif Company For Money Exchange, 4) Mo’tta Company For Money Exchange, 5) Sama Baghdad Company For Money Exchange, 6) Al- Arabiya Company For Money Exchange, 7) Al-Iraqia Company For Money Exchange, 8) Al-Harir Company For Money Exchange, 9) Atta’ Al-Ghari Company For Money Exchange, 10) Al-Muhij Company For Money Exchange.
  • According to CBI announcement published on Nov. 18, 2014, CBI approved the proposal of the custody of Economy Bank (BEFI), by referring to the letter of BEFI, no: 44/w dated on Jun. 23, 2014, for the release of IQD6bn from the subscription amount to refund the depositors. However, CBI mentioned that BEFI should update the CBI about those depositors who were receiving their deposit amounts periodically. Please note, BEFI has completed the capital increase procedures to reach IQD250bn through 53.3% rights and 13.3% bonus issues in June this year. However, new shares haven’t started to trade yet due to the suspension of BEFI from trading by ISX starting June 4, 2014. On May 29, 2014, CBI decided to take BEFI under custody starting June 1, 2014 due to its inability to fulfill its financial obligations. In addition, BEFI hasn’t published its 2013 annual report and 6M14 financial results yet, which are other reasons for the suspension of BEFI.
  • According to CBI announcement published on Nov. 17, 2014, CBI Board of Directors decided in its session held on Oct. 30, 2014 to reduce the commissions of selling dollars for the letters of credits from IQD18 to IQD16 for the purpose of encouraging merchants to open letters of credits. As a result, the sale of one dollar for letters of credits has been based on IQD1182 instead of IQD1184 starting from Nov. 16, 2014.
  • Al-Ameen Estate Inv. (SAEI) will hold its AGM* on Dec. 1, 2014 to discuss and approve 2013 annual financial results, financial issues, accumulated loss and making the optimum utilization of the capital. ISX will suspend trading of SAEI starting on Nov. 23, 2014.
  • Shares of Credit Bank of Iraq (BROI) will resume trading on Nov. 23, 2014, after they approved 2013 annual financial results.
  • Iraq Registrar of Companies approved the decision of Mamoura Real Estate (SMRI) to increase its capital from IQD15.010bn to IQD16.511bn through 10% rights issue.
  • A cross transaction occurred on IQD6.4bn Union Bank (BUOI) shares on Nov. 17, 2014. This represents 2.5% of BUOI capital.
  • Baghdad Passengers Transport (SBPT) will hold its AGM* on Nov. 24, 2014 to discuss and approve 2013 annual financial results, increasing its capital through bonus issue and electing new board members. ISX suspended trading of SBPT starting on Nov. 16, 2014.

Iraq Business News

Iraq Gets Passive Aggressive With Foreign Help

By , November 24, 2014 6:26 pm

Iraq Gets Passive Aggressive With Foreign Help

By James Dunnigan

Posted 2014-11-24 23:08 GMT

Although the United States has already sent several thousand military personnel back to Iraq, there is still resistance among Iraqi politicians about having foreign troops in Iraq, no matter how desperate the situation is with ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). The new Iraqi prime minister has made it clear that there will be no foreign troops allowed to fight in Iraq. This has led to some embarrassing situations. The most immediate one is the 200 Australian commandos who are stuck in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) because Iraq has not approved visas for them yet. Australia, responding to an Iraqi request, approved the use of these Australian troops in Iraq on October 3rd. The Australian commandos quickly get ready and headed for Iraq. By October 20th all the technical details were worked out, as far as Australia was concerned. But by early November the Iraqis had still not granted permission for the Australian troops to enter Iraq and the commandos are waiting, 1,700 kilometers away, in the UAE.

This absurd situation is more complex that it looks. Since 2003 the Shia majority (over 60 percent of Iraqis) and Kurds (another 20 percent) have dominated the Iraqi government. That means Shia Iran has a lot of influence on the Iraqi government and not having foreign troops in Iraq is important to Iran. All this plays on Iraqi nationalism as the Sunni minority is also against foreign troops. Most of the foreign troops already in Iraq are American and Iranian. The latter are there unofficially and some have been in combat. The Americans are there officially, mainly to help with training and to enable the air support (which the Iraqi’s very much want, along with the American intelligence resources and specialists). What the Iraqi politicians are less eager to have are foreign troops getting a close look at the corruption in the Iraqi military and report details to the outside world. The stranded Australian special operations troops are supposed to work, as advisors and such, with some of their Iraqi counterparts. The Iraqi government has become uncomfortable with this sort of thing. That’s because they would prefer to keep certain post-2011 changes out of the news. Since the Americans left in 2011 the Iraqi military has been politicized, meaning competence counted for much less than political loyalty and a willingness to tolerate corruption. This made the security forces incapable of dealing with ISIL. Iraqi politicians are still more concerned with military loyalty than effectiveness because even Shia politicians fear another military takeover. The Sunni dominated military took over in the 1950s and that did not work out well for most Iraqis. The Iraqi Shia believe a Shia military coup would not be much of an improvement.

Australia SOCOM (Special Operations Command) consists of several hundred elite SAS commandoes and about a thousand highly trained airborne troops in six commando companies (somewhat similar to the nine ranger companies in the U.S. 75th Ranger Regiment.) The parachute battalion from the army could easily be converted to another three companies of airborne commandos. In 2011 Australia’s SOCOM took control of army parachute units (actually, one parachute battalion), in recognition that it’s increasingly common for most parachute operations to be undertaken by special operations troops. Australian SOCOM personnel have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002.

Assyrian International News Agency

US Wins Iraq Rice Order

By , November 24, 2014 6:17 pm

US Wins Iraq Rice Order

By John Lee.

The USA Rice Federation has announced that that “after being passed over” in the previous Iraqi rice tender, U.S. rice has been awarded 120,000 MT of long grain in the current tender.

USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward said:

This is really great news for the entire U.S. rice industry … We’re sitting on a large, high quality crop, and with the Iraq Grain Board (IGB) placing the order for bulk and bagged rice, the whole southern region will win.

“We’re very pleased to have won the confidence and business of the IGB and the rice industry has worked hard to maintain a positive relationship with them …

“We know the Iraqi people like the taste and quality of U.S. rice, and our growers look forward to supplying rice to Iraq on future tenders.”

(Source: USA Rice Federation)

(Rice image via Shutterstock)

Iraq Business News

Islamic State Group Militants Recruit, Exploit Children in Syria and Iraq As Spies, Fighters

By , November 24, 2014 12:45 pm

Islamic State Group Militants Recruit, Exploit Children in Syria and Iraq As Spies, Fighters

In this Monday, June 23, 2014 file photo, an Islamic militant group fighter stands with two children posing with weapons as they watch other members of the group parade in commandeered Iraqi security forces vehicles down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, more than two weeks after IS took over the country’s second largest city. Across the vast region in Syria and Iraq that is part of the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate, children are being inculcated with the extremist group’s radical and violent interpretation of Shariah law (AP Photo).BEIRUT (AP) — Teenagers carrying weapons stand at checkpoints and busy intersections in Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Patched onto the left arms of their black uniforms are the logos of the Islamic Police.

In Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in Syria, boys attend training camp and religious courses before heading off to fight. Others serve as cooks or guards at the extremists’ headquarters or as spies, informing on people in their neighborhoods.

Across the vast region under IS control, the group is actively conscripting children for battle and committing abuses against the most vulnerable at a young age, according to a growing body of evidence assembled from residents, activists, independent experts and human rights groups.

In the northern Syrian town of Kobani, where ethnic Kurds have been resisting an IS onslaught for weeks, several activists told The Associated Press they observed children fighting alongside the militants. Mustafa Bali, a Kobani-based activist, said he saw the bodies of four boys, two of them younger than 14. And at least one 18 year old is said to have carried out a suicide attack.

In Syria’s Aleppo province, an activist affiliated with the rebel Free Syrian Army said its fighters encountered children in their late teens “fairly often” in battles against the rival Islamic State group.

It is difficult to determine just how widespread the exploitation of children is in the closed world of IS-controlled territory. There are no reliable figures on the number of minors the group employs.

But a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in the Syrian conflict concluded that in its enlistment of children for active combat roles, the Islamic State group is perpetrating abuses and war crimes on a massive scale “in a systematic and organized manner.”

The group “prioritizes children as a vehicle for ensuring long-term loyalty, adherence to their ideology and a cadre of devoted fighters that will see violence as a way of life,” it said in a recent report. The panel of experts, known as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, conducted more than 300 interviews with people who fled or are living in IS-controlled areas, and examined video and photographic evidence.

The use of children by armed groups in conflict is, of course, nothing new. In the Syrian civil war, the Free Syrian Army and Nusra Front rebel groups also recruit children for combat, said Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict.

But no other group comes close to IS in using children in such a systematic and organized way. And the effect is that much greater because IS commands large areas in which the militants inculcate the children with their radical and violent interpretation of Shariah law.

“What is new is that ISIS seems to be quite transparent and vocal about their intention and their practice of recruiting children,” said Laurent Chapuis, UNICEF regional child protection adviser for the Middle East and North Africa, using an alternate acronym for the group. “Children as young as 10, 12 years old are being used in a variety of roles, as combatants as messengers, spies, guards, manning checkpoints but also for domestic purposes like cooking, cleaning, sometimes providing medical care to the wounded.”

“This is not a marginal phenomenon. This is something that is being observed and seems to be part of the strategy of the group,” Zerrougui said in a phone interview from New York.

She said some children join voluntarily for various reasons but others are targeted.

“They are abducting children and forcing them to join, they are brainwashing children and indoctrinating them to join their group. All the tools used to attract and recruit children are used by this group,” she said, adding that children as young as 9 or 10 are used for “various roles.”

In areas of Syria and Iraq under their control, the Sunni extremists have closed schools or changed the curriculum to fit with their ideology. Their goal, according to the U.N., is to use education as a tool of indoctrination to foster a new generation of supporters.

A video recently published by an IS media arm shows what it says is a graduation ceremony for boys, who appear to be in their teens. Dressed in military uniforms, they are lined up to shake hands with a sheikh. Another scene shows the boys posing with AK-47s, their faces hidden under black masks. The video touts the children as a “generation of lions, protectors of religion, dignity and land.”

Residents of IS-controlled areas said the militants are teaching children at school to become fighters.

One resident in the Iraqi city of Fallujah described seeing his 6-year-old son playing with a water pistol in front of the house and screaming: “I am a fighter for the Islamic State!”

“I waved him to come to me and I broke the gun in two pieces,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of his life.

He also said he and his son recently stopped at an IS checkpoint. His son shouted, “We love the State!” and one of the fighters asked, “Which state?” When the son replied, “the Islamic State,” the fighter “told him, ‘Good boy,’ and let us through,” the resident said. The incident persuaded the man to move his family to the northern city of Kirkuk, now in Kurdish hands.

“The boys are studying, not to learn, but to become mujahedeen,” he said.

Earlier this year in Syria, the Islamic State group abducted more than 150 Kurdish boys, held them in a school in Aleppo province and showed them videos of beheadings and attacks, while subjecting them to daily instruction on militant ideology for five months, the U.N. and Kurdish officials said. The boys were later released.

In Raqqa province, an anti-IS activist collective has documented the presence of at least five known youth training camps, one specifically for children under 16 in the town of Tabqa. The collective, named Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, has released a video showing children crawling under barbed wire as part of their military training. The video could not be independently confirmed but is consistent with AP reporting on the subject.

Residents in IS-controlled areas in Iraq, such as Mosul and Fallujah, say it is not uncommon to see gun-toting boys in their late teens standing at checkpoints and even younger ones riding in militant convoys, usually accompanying their fathers in parades.

Another resident of Fallujah said many boys as young as 11 volunteer to join the group, but that IS often seeks the parents’ consent for those under 16. He said others join under pressure or in exchange for money.

“Once they’re done training, their skills and abilities are tested before they decide where to send them off. Many want to be on the front lines,” said the man, who identified himself as Abu Abdullah al-Falluji.

In a report released earlier this year, Human Rights Watch interviewed four former IS child fighters in Syria who described military training with the group. One, Bassem, who joined the group at 16, said he left after being seriously wounded by shrapnel in battle. A 17 year old, Amr, told the group that children in his unit signed up for suicide missions — and that he reluctantly did so as well under pressure.

Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to IS areas from all over the world, many of them with their families.

A video emerged this month showing two boys, both speaking perfect French, holding guns aloft and claiming to be in Raqqa. They stand on a dusty street; a man walks by and takes no notice of their weapons. The boys, who look much younger than 10, say they’re from Strasbourg and Toulouse. French prosecutors have opened a formal investigation to identify the children.

“Over there, you’re in a country of infidels. Here, we’re mujahedeen. We’re in Syria, we’re in Raqqa here,” one of the boys says in the video. “It’s war here.”

Salama reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

Isis Trauma Has Overwhelmed the Remaining Christians in Iraq

By , November 23, 2014 7:38 pm

A Christian refugee prays in Irbil.Two years ago Jalal Yako, a Syriac Catholic priest, returned to his home town of Qaraqosh to persuade members of his community to stay in Iraq and not to emigrate because of the violence directed against them.

“I was in Italy for 18 years, and when I came back here my mission was to get Christians to stay here,” he says. “The Pope in Lebanon two years ago had established a mission to get Christians in the East to stay here.”

Father Yako laboured among the Syriac Catholics, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, who had seen the number of Christians in Iraq decline from over one million at the time of the American invasion in 2003 to about 250,000 today. He sought to convince people in Qaraqosh, an overwhelmingly Syriac Catholic town, that they had a future in Iraq and should not emigrate to the US, Australia or anywhere else that would accept them. His task was not easy, because Iraqi Christians have been frequent victims of murder, kidnapping and robbery.

But in the past six months Father Yako has changed his mind, and he now believes that, after 2,000 years of history, Christians must leave Iraq. Speaking at the entrance of a half-built mall in the Kurdish capital Irbil where 1,650 people from Qaraqosh have taken refuge, he said that “everything has changed since the coming of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State). We should flee. There is nothing for us here.” When Islamic State (Isis) fighters captured Qaraqosh on 7 August, all the town’s 50,000 or so Syriac Catholics had to run for their lives and lost all their possessions.

The Matti family.Many now huddle in dark little prefabricated rooms provided by the UN High Commission for Refugees amid the raw concrete of the mall, crammed together without heat or electricity. They sound as if what happened to them is a nightmare from which they might awaken at any moment and speak about how, only three-and-a-half months ago, they owned houses, farms and shops, had well-paying jobs, and drove their own cars and tractors. They hope against hope to go back, but they have heard reports that everything in Qaraqosh has been destroyed or stolen by Isis. Christians who fled Mosul pray at a church in Qaraqosh Christians who fled Mosul pray at a church in Qaraqosh

Some have suffered worse losses. On the third floor of the shopping mall in Irbil down a dark corridor sits Aida Hanna Noeh, 43, and her blind husband Khader Azou Abada, who was too ill to be taken out of Qaraqosh by Aida, with their three children, in the final hours before it was captured by Isis fighters. The family stayed in their house for many days, and then Isis told them to assemble with others who had failed to escape to be taken by mini-buses to Irbil. As they entered the buses, the jihadis stripped them of any remaining money, jewellery or documents. Aida was holding her three-and-a-half month old baby daughter, Christina, when the little girl was seized by a burly IS fighter who took her away. When Aida ran after him he told the mother to get back on the bus or he would kill her. She has not seen her daughter since.

It is not the savage violence of Isis only that has led Father Yako to believe that Christians have no future in Iraq. He points also to the failure of both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to defend them against the jihadis. Christians in Iraq have traditionally been heavily concentrated in Baghdad, Mosul and the Nineveh Plain surrounding Mosul. But on 10 June some 1,300 Isis fighters defeated at least 20,000 Iraqi army soldiers and federal police and captured Mosul. The army generals fled in a helicopter. In mid-July Christians in the city were given a choice by Isis of either converting to Islam, paying a special tax, leaving or being executed. Almost all Christians fled the city.

Kurdish peshmerga moved into Qaraqosh and other towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain. They swore to defend their inhabitants, many of whom stayed because they were reassured by these pledges. Father Yako recalls that “before Qaraqosh was taken by Daesh there were many slogans by the KRG saying they would fight as hard for Qaraqosh as they would for Irbil. But when the town was attacked, there was nobody to support us.” He says that Christian society in Iraq is still shocked by the way in which the Iraqi and Kurdish governments failed to defend them. A Christian refugee prays in Irbil A Christian refugee prays in Irbil

Christians who fled Mosul pray at a church in Qaraqosh.Johanna Towaya, formerly a large farmer and community leader in Qaraqosh, makes a similar point. He says that up to midnight on 6 August the peshmerga commanders were assuring the Syriac Catholic bishop in charge of the town that they would defend it, but hours later they fled. Previously, they had refused to let the Christians arm themselves on the grounds that it was unnecessary. Ibrahim Shaaba, another resident of the town, said that he saw the Isis force that entered Qaraqosh early in the morning of 7 August and it was modest in size, consisting of only 10 vehicles filled with fighters.

At first, IS behaved with some moderation towards the 150 Christian families who, for one reason or another, could not escape. But this restraint did not last; looting and destruction became pervasive. Mr Towaya says that the Isis authorities in Mosul started “giving documents to anybody getting married in Mosul to enable them to go to Qaraqosh to take furniture [from abandoned Christian homes].”

As so many had fled, there are few who can give an account of how IS behaved in their newly captured Christian town. But one woman, Fida Boutros Matti, got to know all too well what Isis was like when she and her husband had to pretend to convert to Islam in order to save their lives and those of their children, before finally escaping. Speaking to The Independent on Sunday in a house in Irbil, where they are now living, she explained how she and her husband Adel and their young daughter Nevin and two younger sons, Ninos and Iwan, twice tried to flee but were stopped by Isis fighters.

“They took our money, documents and mobile phones and sent us home,” she says. “After 13 days they knocked on our door and the men were separated from the women. Thirty women were taken with their children to one house and told they must convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed. We told them that since they had taken all our money, we could not pay them.” Four days later, some fighters burst into the house saying they would kill the women and the children if they did not convert.

Soon afterwards, Mrs Matti was taken to Mosul in a car with three other women and a guard who, she recalls, threw a grenade into a house on the way to frighten them. In Mosul they were taken first to al-Kindi prison, formerly an army camp, but did not enter it and then their guard got a phone call to bring them to a house in the Habba district of the city. The Matti family The Matti family

In the house, she and the three other Christian women were put in one room, next to another in which there were 30 Yazidi girls between 10 and 18 who were being repeatedly raped by the guards. Mrs Matti says that “the Yazidi girls were so young that I worried about Nevin and told the guards that she was eight years old though she is really 10″.

They told her that her husband, Adel, had converted to Islam. She asked to speak to him on the phone, saying she would do whatever he did. They spoke, and agreed that they had no choice but to convert if they wanted to survive.

When they appeared before an Islamic court in Mosul to register their conversion, their three children were given new, Islamic names: Aisha, Abdel-Rahman and Mohammed. They went to live in a house in a Sunni Muslim district and from there — here the husband and wife are circumspect about what exactly happened — they secured a phone and contacted relatives in Irbil. They said that they needed to take one of their children for medical treatment in Mosul city centre, and, once there, they had a pre-arranged meeting with a driver who took them by a roundabout route through Kirkuk to the protection of the KRG.

The trauma of the last six months has been overwhelming for the remaining Christians in Iraq. The Chaldean Archbishop of Irbil, Bashar Warda, heads an episcopal commission to help displaced Christians whom he says number 125,000, or half the total remaining Christian population. Unlike other displaced people in Iraq, the Christians are mostly cared for by the churches. He says that there will always be a few Christians remaining in Iraq, but overall “they have lost their trust in the land. Some 80 or 90 are leaving every day for Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.” Others would go if they had money and visas.

Mounting persecution since 2003 and now the final calamity of Isis taking Mosul and the Nineveh Plain has convinced many that they can no longer stay. The archbishop suspects that, even if IS is driven back and Christians can return to their homes, half of them will only stay long enough to sell their property. Almost exactly a hundred years after the Armenian Christians in Turkey were slaughtered or driven into exile, the end has come for the Christian community of Iraq. “Have no doubt,” concludes Archbishop Warda, “that here is massacre, here is a tragedy.”

Iraq’s Christian heritage

The Christian communities in Iraq can trace their history back to the early days of their faith. Most are Chaldeans, a small sect which is autonomous from Rome but which recognises the authority of the Pope. There are an estimated 500,000 ethnic Assyrians indigenous to northern Iraq, south-east Turkey, north-east Syria and north-west Iran. This group is so ancient that some of its members still speak Aramaic, the language of the New Testament.

The country’s other major Christian community is also Assyrian, and its Ancient Church of the East, having embraced Christianity in the first century AD, is believed to be the oldest Christian denomination in Iraq.

In addition to these groups, there are small communities of Syrian Catholics, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic Christians, as well as Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities.

Assyrian International News Agency

More Jihadist Training Camps Identified in Iraq and Syria

By , November 23, 2014 8:14 am

Most recently, another jihadist training camp has been identified in Syria, in the province of Latakia. It is operated by Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz (Caucasus), a group composed of Circassians, Chechens, Dagestanis, and other Caucasian ethnic groups. The group is independent and probably small, but is more than likely affiliated with the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and the Caucasus Emirate. It might also be affiliated to Junud al Sham, a predominantly Chechen group led by Muslim Shishani, a specially designated global terrorist. While Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz has officially taken an anti-fitna stance, the group has promoted Al Nusrah propaganda, according to Aymenn al Tamimi. Video has also been uploaded to YouTube showing the Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz unit in training.

In addition to the four camps identified above, more evidence has emerged about another training camp identified by The Long War Journal two months ago. Photos were recently disseminated on Twitter showing a training camp that was run by Abu Yusuf al Turki. As The Long War Journal reported on Sept. 23, online jihadists described al Turki as a commander in the Al Nusrah Front who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Turki was killed in initial US airstrikes in Syria against the so-called Khorasan Group, a name used by the US government to describe al Qaeda veterans embedded within Al Nusrah. After al Turki was confirmed killed, supporters released a video of his training camp, which is located in or near Aleppo.

Jihadist camps in Iraq and Syria

Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 46 camps have been identified as being operational at some point in time, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities. It is unclear if all of the training camps are currently operational. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.

Of those cam

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkey, Iraq Renew Cooperation

By , November 22, 2014 2:58 pm

Turkey, Iraq Renew Cooperation

By John Lee.

Turkey and Iraq have agreed to closer cooperation in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, IS).

During Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Baghdad, he and his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi said they were confident of improving relations between the countries and making them even stronger than before.

“We have a key agreement to exchange information and have full security cooperation,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the news conference.

Iraq’s stability and peace is Turkey’s stability and peace,” Davutoğlu added, before inviting Mr. al-Abadi and his ministers to a joint Cabinet meeting in late December.

(Source: Hurriyet Daily News, ABC News, Prime Minister’s Office)

Iraq Business News

U.S. Urges Iraq to Make Use of the Military Aircraft it Bought

By , November 22, 2014 3:44 am

[unable to retrieve full-text content]WASHINGTON — The United States has urged Iraq to use its new military aircraft in the war against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Officials said Washington was pressing the Iraq Air Force to begin using its new fleet of C-130J air transports, which arrived in Baghdad in 2013.
Assyrian International News Agency