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Dwekh Nawsha -- An Assyrian Fighting Force in Iraq
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
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Emblem of Dwekh Nawsha.
The fall of Mosul in June to a Sunni insurgent offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State (IS) saw IS rapidly assert its control over the city at the expense of other factions (e.g. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam and the Naqshbandi Army), effectively making Mosul a base from which IS could launch further attacks, including incursions into Christian towns and areas of Ninawa province, such as Qaraqosh and Bartella. These attacks came in addition to the displacement of Christians from Mosul by IS' three-way choice of conversion, death/exile or payment of 'jizya' extortion poll-tax (in keeping with Qur'an 9:29's stipulation of dealing with Jewish and Christian 'dhimmis' as second-class citizens of an Islamic state). Unsurprisingly, just as in Syria where jihadi attacks in Hasakah province gave rise to local Syriac Christian military initiatives primarily in the form of Sutoro, so too we have in Iraq the case of Dwekh Nawsha [Arabic: 'al-Fedayoon'; English, 'The Sacrificers'], aiming not only to defend Christians but also to reclaim Christian areas in Ninawa province taken by IS. At the present time though, the group's role seems to be primarily defensive, and evidence does not point to Dwekh Nawsha as a vital military force to coordinate with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Christians in Iraq are of a variety of denominations, including Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Church (a Catholic-rite denomination), Syriac Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox) and Syriac Catholic. Within and between these denominations there are competing strands of identity, one of the most notable being that of Assyrian nationalism that sees Iraq's Christian population as ethnically Assyrian. Though primarily associated with the Assyrian Church of the East, this identity narrative is not exclusive to members of this church. In any case, Dwekh Nawsha's espousal of Assyrian nationalism becomes immediately apparent from the use of the Assyrian flag in its emblem. This further became apparent in an interview with the online media representative of the group, who asserted that "there is no difference between Assyrians and Chaldeans in the modern concept of nationhood"- something that those who claim a separate Chaldean ethnic identity would certainly dispute. In a similar vein, the representative characterized the Sutoro movements in Syria (which claim a pan-'Syriac identity' irrespective of church affiliation) as "Assyrians also who operate in Syria." Note also that Dwekh Nawsha does not claim any formal relations with the Sutoro groups.
Dwekh Nawsha patrol reportedly in Ninawa Plains, mid-October.
Politically, Dwekh Nawsha traces the idea of its genesis on 11 August 2014 to the Assyrian Patriotic Party, but the online media representative asserted that the majority of the group's members- currently claimed at a total of more than 200 fighters and growing (initially in August, based on Rania Abouzeid's reporting, the contingent was claimed to number some 40 members)- are not formally affiliated with the party. Below are some photos advertised by Dwekh Nawsha, indicating the group's presence in the Ninawa (Nineveh) Plains to the north and east of Mosul.
Dwekh Nawsha members paying a visit to a monastery in Alqosh (north of Mosul), a Christian locality that has not fallen under IS control.
Christians in the Middle East are generally beset by too many religious sect, ethnic identity and political divisions to form a united front to advance community interests. In northern Iraq and eastern Syria, considerable general debate exists as to whether the local Kurdish forces (in the latter the Democratic Union Party [PYD] and its autonomous administration, in the former the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG]) can serve as viable protectors or pose a supposed 'Kurdification' threat to identity. In Syria that debate has led to the split between the Syriac Union Party's Sutoro that aligns with the PYD and the Qamishli Sootoro aligned with the regime. Concomitant with the PYD's superior strength in Hasakah province, Sutoro can be assessed as more influential than the Qamishli Sootoro that has failed to expand into other towns as it hoped and seems generally reliant on donations from Christians living abroad.
Dwekh Nawsha fighter posing with a Humvee.
In Iraq the debate is whether to throw in one's lot with the KRG or to try to push for a separate autonomous region in the Ninawa plains. At this stage, however, the latter seems a wholly unviable project, and working now with the Peshmerga and by extension in the framework of the KRG looks to be the only option short of a roll-back of IS and a restoration of central government control to most of Ninawa province. That prospect is currently floundering as the Nujaifi family struggles to bolster its 'Kata'ib al-Mosul' initiative in a bid to drive out IS from Mosul.
A photo released by Dwekh Nawsha to mark the passing of one month after the founding of the group, illustrating the link with the Assyrian Patriotic Party, even as the group's public discourse also emphasizes self-defense in its messaging and not political partisanship.
A Dwekh Nawsha fighter reportedly in the Batnaya area, another Christian locality north of Mosul. September 2014.
Alternative logo of Dwekh Nawsha including the Lamassu, an ancient Mesopotamian deity associated with Assyrian identity..

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