Some U.S. vets are returning to Iraq as Christian warriors

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DAHUK, Iraq — In a smoky living room in a makeshift military headquarters, Brett, a former U.S. serviceman with tattoos of Jesus etched on his forearms, explained: . . .

“Jesus tells us what you do unto the least of them, you do unto me,” said the 28-year-old from Detroit who served an extended tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. He asked for his surname not to be published, to protect his family at home. “I couldn’t sit back and watch what was happening, women being raped and sold wholesale.”

Brett Royales has joined the fight with an Assyrian Christian militia. / AFP

Brett Royales has joined the fight with an Assyrian Christian militia. / AFP

So in December he traveled to northern Iraq, where he joined a growing band of foreigners leaving behind their lives in the West to fight with new Christian militias against the Islamic State extremist group. The leaders of those militias say they have been swamped with hundreds of requests from veterans and volunteers from around the world who want to join them. …

Brett’s group, Dwekh Nawsha, which means “self-sacrifice” in Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus, has only six Westerners among its 200 Iraqi Assyrian Christian fighters. But Emanuel Khoshaba Youkhana, the secretary general of the Assyrian Patriotic Party, which funds the group, says that more than 900 other foreigners have been in touch to find out how to join.

Some of the volunteers said they have come to fight for their religion — others just to fight. … The Iraqi Assyrians he serves alongside . . . stress that this is not a crusade but a fight to return to their homes. “We don’t want to fight a holy war for Christians,” said Marcus Naissan, 25, an Iraqi Assyrian fighter. “We fight for our land. . . We aren’t crusaders,” he said. “That’s how they make it look.”

Brett and others said they receive dozens of e-mails a day from potential recruits. “This place will be flooded,” Brett said. “From Australia, Asia, literally everywhere. It’s overwhelming. It’s awesome.”


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