The Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), a Christian militia in Iraq, is celebrating the hoisting up of a new cross in the destroyed city of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdeda) that once had 50,000 Christians living there.
The event heralded the opening of a new chapter in the city and, hopefully, for the Christians and other victims of Islamist genocide in Iraq.
The NPU thanked a French organization named â€œSOS Chretiens Orientâ€ (SOS Eastern Christians) that sponsored the cross and the rebuilding of homes in the area. I took a tour of one NPU memberâ€™s home in this city in January, a video of which can be seen here.
Those I met expressed that their churches and homes may have been destroyed, but their faith is stronger and they are determined to return and fill the church pews more than they did before. The excitement is palpable on the NPUâ€™s social media, with Easter holiday celebrations taking place again and preparations being made for the Christians who will soon return.
In a recent video, the NPU asked the international community to establish a safe-zone for the
Christians and other minorities like the Yazidis. The group wants a province for these minorities in the Nineveh Plains that is separate from the Kurdish Regional Government that rules northern Iraq.
The NPU has gotten some limited support from the U.S., but not enough. The militia has sent another 100 recruits to the Qayyarah military base for training. NPU leaders are hoping for more American and Iraqi support so the force can grow to 5,000 men.
One of the concerns about the NPU is whether it could exasperate tensions with the Kurds, who the NPU accuses of committing persecution. The Kurds deny this and point to the Christians that serve in the Kurdish Peshmerga as evidence of their religious tolerance.
The other concern is that the NPU is technically the authority of the Iraqi government and its Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iran-backed coalition of militias. For example, this picture below taken by Seth Frantzman shows a poster with the symbols of the NPU, Iraq and the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces.
Of course, we canâ€™t blame the Christians here for this Iranian influence. ISIS took over the area and committed genocide. It was Iraqi and Iranian-backed forces who kicked them out and those forces are the Christiansâ€™ new neighbors. If those concerned about Iranian influence in the recovering Christian areas, the answer isnâ€™t to criticize them for it and look the other way. The answer is for churches in America and the U.S. government to get involved so this influence can be checked.
You can watch a new documentary about the NPU here.
Be your brotherâ€™s keeper! Host a screening of Clarion Projectâ€™s new film, Faithkeepers, which documents the violent persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, and find out what you can do to help stop the genocide.
Ryan Mauro isÂ ClarionProject.orgâ€™s Shillman Fellow andÂ national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, pleaseÂ contact us.