This month a Christian army in Iraq achieved a spectacular victory when it drove ISIS out of the northern village of Badanah. As is fitting for a war that is also being waged on social media, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) announced the triumph of its “warriors” on Facebook.
Badanah was one of many formerly Assyrian Christian villages overrun by jihadis two summers ago. NPU commander Bahnam Abush said that the military success would restore Christian confidence in the region and increase the faithful’s hope that they will “stay in the land of their grandparents”.
Yet some Iraqi Church leaders are likely to play down the liberation of Badanah. From the beginning they have harboured deep reservations about the Christian militias, which they fear will leave the faithful vulnerable to sectarian reprisals in a post-ISIS Iraq.
Defeating ISIS may not be enough to secure Iraqi Christians’ future in the region. While most of the faithful now live in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq, many Christians are suspicious of Kurdish designs on their ancestral homeland. They see themselves as the indigenous people of Iraq and trace their descent to the Assyrians of old. They do not want to be part of Kurdistan, which will almost inevitably gain independence from Iraq after ISIS is wiped out.
The battle of Badanah was the NPU’s first major military operation against ISIS, and the fight was intensely personal. The terror group is responsible for one of the worst anti-Christian atrocities in recent years: the 2010 Baghdad church massacre in which 52 Mass-goers were killed.
After ISIS seized the country’s second city, Mosul, in 2014, it stormed through the neighbouring Nineveh Plains, forcing more than 125,000 Christians to leave. ISIS fighters burned down churches and daubed Christian homes with the Arabic letter N for “Nazarene”. The faithful were forced to live as refugees, without homes or heat or food as they faced the country’s merciless winter. Many moved to Kurdish-controlled territory. Others joined the Western diaspora that began long ago with the 1915 genocide.
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