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ICC Note: In the village of Al Qosh, Iraq a few dozen fighters are standing guard over the residents of the Christian village to protect in case ISIS militants seek to overrun it. While in August the town was emptied of its residents and the church bells hung silently, slowly residents are returning with the hope of carrying on in the lands they have occupied for nearly 2,000 years.

10/13/2014 Iraq (DW) – While the world’s focus is on Kobani, “Islamic State” fighters are continuing their campaign against minorities in Iraq. In the ancient village of Al Qosh, a group of poorly armed Christians are trying to stop them.

Mrayma Mansour, who leads the night patrol of Assyrian Christian fighters in the town of Al Qosh, looks jumpy. He has a dagger tucked into the waist band of his fatigues and his large green eyes are bloodshot.

Around him sit his men, holding hand-me-down weapons and drinking sugary tea. The talk is of betrayal. When the Kurdish peshmerga forces retreated from the “Islamic State” (IS) advance on Christian towns at the beginning of August, Mrayma’s and his men stayed on, not knowing if Al Qosh would be attacked. IS forces were just a few kilometers south. Almost all the residents fled, fearing the worst. “We had 70-80 men who stayed and stood watch on the mountain,” he said. “They were from different local parties, fighters, men with guns. We were scared thieves would come.”

Al Qosh, an Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people, overlooks the flat Ninawa plains from its hillside perch. Families are now cautiously returning and peshmerga fighters are pushing back again on the front line, just 15 kilometers away. A lone-shopkeeper mans a corner store in the boarded up bazaar. The afternoon tolling of the church bells and the passing of an occasional vehicle punctuate the silence. The 7th century Rabban Hormizd monastery built in the cliffs overlooking the town is closed due to the security situation.

Peshmerga pullout

An air of unease still cloaks the town. A few peshmerga checkpoints dot the road between here and the front line just outside the town of Tel Isqof. Mrayma saw the peshmerga retreating from his lookout. “I saw cars and tanks withdrawing from Tel Isqof to Dohuk,” he says, “when we saw this we told our families to go because it’s not safe.”

Now the Christian fighters, who dress in camouflage and drive rusted-out vehicles, are determined to protect their beloved town, but they know they are no match for the IS forces. Instead they reassure residents and stay alert for signs of the peshmerga retreating. “If I see them withdrawing I know [IS] is coming so it is a good alarm,” he says, adding, “If they leave us and go what can we do? [IS] will kill us without weapons.”

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