With the unstable and weak Iraqi government reportedly abandoning hundreds of thousands of citizens in some of the country’s largest cities, Iraqi Christians facing persecution from hostile terrorist groups and extremists are now fighting back. Many of Iraq's Christians are reportedly forming their own coalitions and raising funds to fend off enemies.
The Babylonian Brigades, currently with about 1,000 troops and growing, is the only coalition that has successfully formed and maintained a solid presence against the Islamic State group in Iraq. The brigades are the only groups of volunteer soldiers that are represented by the Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia run by the Shiites, NBC News reported.
NBC spoke with the group’s commander, Rayan Al-Kildani on the reasoning for fighting back against Islamic State group and the mission that the militia hopes to accomplish.
The Islamic State “displaced us from our houses, they took our money, killed our young men and women and they took our properties. Therefore, Christians decided to fight the terrorists of Islamic State group,” Al-Kildani said.
“On the battlefield you forget who you are, to which religion you belong … The only thing that you think of is how to defeat your enemy. By the will of God we will avenge what happened to our community,” he added.
He also urged all citizens to fight against Islamic State group, saying that the terrorist group “does not differentiate among Christians, Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites — they kill everyone.”
A former Iraqi army officer agreed with this sentiment and noted the historical relationship between Muslims and Christians in Iraq, which dates back 2,000 years.
Christians have “lived for years side by side with our Muslim brothers,” Abu Yasser, the former officer turned brigade member said. “We drink from the same river and eat the same food; this goes back hundreds and thousands of years.”
Since its rapid growth last year, Islamic State group has beheaded thousands of Christians and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes, specifically in major cities like Mosul. In Mosul, Islamic State group members reportedly forced Christians to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or die.
Members of the Christian community have criticized the Iraqi government for leaving the community helpless and expressed frustration at members of the nation’s military who fled areas where Islamic State group had invaded.
“The people are angry because the government just gave up on them. They told us that, in Mosul, where there had been normally a presence of 60,000 soldiers, after the onslaught of Islamic State group, in only a matter of hours, these soldiers abandoned them, laying down their weapons,” Fr. Rami Wakim, the secretary to Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, said of the Iraqi government.