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ICC Note: Foreign fighters who have joined Dwekh Nawsha, a Christian military unit in Iraq tell of their stories fighting and working alongside the Kurdish fighters and with foreigners who’ve joined to support them. At first the militia men worried about having foreigners on the frontlines, but eventually the ranks were filled with soldiers from multiple nations and ethnicities. The foreign fighters often have more experience than the locals and spend time training the local fighters as they confront ISIS militants.

07-24-2015 Iraq (Al-Monitor): Dozens of foreigners have joined the People’s Protection Units since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war to fight against the Islamic State (IS). Since early 2015, the Iraq-based Christian military organization Dwekh Nawsha (Self-Sacrificers in Aramaic) has become an alternative destination for such fighters. Despite the enthusiasm surrounding their cause and heavy media attention, Dwekh Nawsha’s Western volunteers only recently began participating in combat roles in the battle against IS. This was the result of monthslong petitioning of the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“It was a lot of work to be allowed on the front,” said Louis, who did not want his full name used for security reasons. A former US Marine and Afghanistan War veteran, Louis has been with Dwekh Nawsha for six months.

He attributes the delay to “politics.” “I had to meet with many government officials — so did all of us [foreign volunteers in Dwekh Nawsha],” said Louis.

Louis claims that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq was the reason for the holdup. “[They were] worried about a Westerner getting hurt.” In the end, he said, “I convinced them I’m a greater aid than liability.”

Emmanuel Khoshaba, the secretary-general of Dwekh Nawsha’s sister Assyrian Patriotic Party, echoes this story. “At first, we faced some difficulties to let them go to the frontline,” he told Al-Monitor. Like Louis, Khoshaba ascribes this lengthy process to KRG policy. “There were no rules to establish how they can deal with foreign fighters here in KRG,” he said. Like the fighters, he spoke to KRG officials and ultimately received permission to allow their foreign fighters on the front. “We went and asked and got this permission for our foreign fighters here,” he said.

Dwekh Nawsha’s foreign fighters are busier now. When first interviewed in April, Louis told Al-Monitor, “Some days we are on the front with Dwekh Nawsha. Other times we are piecing together data, training ourselves or the militia men. And other days we are trying to acquire things the militia needs or meeting with local officials.”

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