Christians in northern Iraq, many driven from their homes by the Islamic State group, are forming a militia to fight back, and American donors are helping them do so. About 600 Assyrian Christians currently are being trained at two locations in eastern Iraq to lead the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, says Restore Nineveh Now spokesman Jeff Gardner. Restore Nineveh Now is a project of the U.S. Assyrian community's American Mesopotamian Organization, with support from various non-Assyrian Americans, to back the militia. The U.S. advocates kicked off a fundraising campaign late last year and paid for the military training after partnering with Iraq's Assyrian Democratic Movement political party. The training began "literally days ago," says Gardner, who recently returned from Iraq. He says the troops are being trained by a U.S. security firm he declined to identify. Though all current trainees are Assyrian Christians, members of other ethnic and religious groups are welcome to join, Gardner says. An additional 3,000 men are registered and being screened for the militia. The Nineveh Plain Protection Units are intended to safeguard unconquered Assyrian towns and the hold onto the Assyrian heartland east of Mosul if it's regained from the Islamic State group. Gardner declined to say if the militia will be involved in offensive action, citing security concerns. Assyrian Christians have historically lived in large numbers on the Nineveh Plain near Mosul. Iraq's government reportedly was close to making the region its own province before jihadi militants overran Mosul in June, evicting its Christians and seizing the country's largest Christian towns nearby. As with some of northern Syria's Christian communities, Iraq's Assyrian Christians have a natural ally in their more populous Kurdish neighbors, whom in both countries are bitterly fighting the jihadi group. Restore Nineveh Now has raised about $250,000 since December to support the militia and Gardner hopes the amount with grow much larger. The funds have not been used to buy weapons, he says. Americans almost certainly can donate to the group without facing legal consequences, experts say, as the new militia is not designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. "It's a free country -- Americans can do what they want unless prohibited by law," says attorney Lee Wolosky, who formerly worked to combat terrorist financing at the National Security Council. Notre Dame Law School professor Jimmy Gurule says Americans sometimes are prosecuted for giving to groups that are not designated foreign terrorist organizations under a law against donating money with the intent or knowledge the funds will be used to commit crimes such as kidnapping and murder. Gurule, a terrorist finance expert who worked as the Treasury Department's under secretary for enforcement in the early 2000s, says such prosecutions are rare and typically happen when there's evidence money was given to particularly odious actors with the clear intent to kill civilians. If money was given with the intent to kill Islamic State group members, Gurule says, "arguably that might fall within the literal meaning of the statute, but I'd be really surprised if the Department of Justice decided to take on such a case." "Realistically," he says, "I would be very surprised if there would be any criminal prosecutions." Gardner, the U.S. fundraising effort's spokesman, says donors can give with confidence. "We are straightforward, transparent and very upfront about why we're here and what we intend to get done," he says.
Iraqi Assyrians Form Anti-ISIS Militia, and You Can Legally Fund Them
By Steven Nelson
Posted 2015-02-06 22:52 GMT