In the latest development in the fight against ISIS, a brigade composing exclusively of Iraqi Christians graduated on Thursday to help take back towns and villages occupied by the Islamist terror group.
According to a report from Agence France-Presse, the new brigade will answer to the Iraqi government located in the country's autonomous Kurdish region, a place where its Peshmerga fighters have played a key role in fighting ISIS militants. Abu Bakr Ismail, the commander of the training academy, elaborated on the composition of the Christian brigade.
"Around 600 peshmerga from our Christian brothers in the Nineveh plain joined this course, which focused on physical training, military lectures and shooting exercises," the Kurdish special forces major general said. "All the participants are volunteers... and want to liberate their land from IS and then protect it."
AFP reported that the Nineveh plain, where many of Iraq's Christians lived, is located in an area between the main ISIS hub of Mosul and the Kurdish capital of Arbil. ISIS fighters started occupying the area seven months ago.
"Up to 100,000 Christians fled their homes overnight in early August when IS fighters who had already conquered large parts of Iraq thrust into areas controlled by the peshmerga," AFP wrote.
Assyrian Christians in the area have faced intense persecution from ISIS along with other minorities. According to AFP, the brigade called themselves the "Tiger Guards."
"The new brigade ... was formed out of the remnants of an Assyrian force first created in 2004 to protect churches in the region," AFP wrote.
According to AFP, Iraq's Christians generally adopted a low profile and opted not to have "strong home-grown militias" when sectarian violence rattled the country a decade ago. However, ISIS started conquering areas where they lived, prompting up to 100,000 Christians to flee their homes overnight in early August; those who did not flee expressed a willingness to take up arms against the terror group.
"Several other Christian groups have formed in recent months in northern Iraq," AFP wrote. "They do not fall under the peshmerga's command but are hosted and supported by Kurdistan."
The Assyrians are considered one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. However, they may get a boost from the West after the European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday that called for protection of that group and other religious minorities, including the Yazidis.
"Christians in particular have been deliberately targeted by various extremist or jihadist groups for many years, forcing more than 70 percent of Iraqi Christians and more than 700,000 Syrian Christians to flee their countries," the resolution stated.
The resolution took great pains to call on the international coalition "to do more to prevent abductions of minorities, such as the abduction of hundreds of Assyrian Christians in northern Syria." It also labelled ISIS's actions in the region as "crimes against humanity" and considered them as "genocide."