Group Profile: Nineveh Plain Protection Unit (NPU)

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Assyrian volunteer fighters pictured outside their headquarters in the Christian city of Al Qosh, Iraq.

“We are coming” is the message to the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) from a commander of the Nineveh Plain Protection Unit (NPU), an Assyrian militia, as they begin their participation in the fight to liberate Assyrian community in Iraq is significant, with about 300,000-400,000 members and a history stretching back millennia. 2. In modern times the Assyrians have faced oppression both from the Iraqi government as well as from the Kurds, their neighbors.

After the fall of Saddam in 2003, a political party emerged in the Assyrian community known as the ‘Assyrian Democratic Movement’. It took part in the liberation of Mosul and Kirkuk and was invited into the Iraq Interim Governing Council.

Despite helping the government, persecution by local Arab groups as well as by the Kurds continued.3. has led to Assyrians being disproportionately represented among Iraqi refugees. In response to this, in 2008, several Assyrian militias formed to protect Assyrian towns. These militias, numbering about 1,200 fighters, were coordinated through the Qaraqosh Protection Committee. The Committee defended Qaraqosh from IS for almost a month in July 2014. There are conflicting reports, but it appears they held out until IS cut off the water supply and forced the Kurds and the Assyrians to withdraw. 4. their retreat, the committee was successful in defending other areas, such as Alqosh.5.

In 2014, the NPU was formed largely by Assyrians to defend the Nineveh Plains, a region covering land north-east of Mosul. The government declared the plains would be a new province post-liberation, to serve as a haven for Assyrians.6. The NPU are largely self-funded, but receive some support through US advocates, as well as from the Iraqi government. Much of their equipment is either brought by the fighters themselves or is given second-hand by the Iraqi army. Combined with this, their training was handled through an unnamed US security firm.7. Currently, the NPU numbers around 500 fighters, but have screened many more volunteers. Since spring the Iraqi government has been paying the salaries of the NPU fighters as well as helping to coordinate their assaults. 8. is part of a larger move by the Iraqi government to encourage local militias to work with, rather than independently of, the government.

The NPU has been moderately successful in recent months especially with its participation in the Mosul offensive. They have been working very effectively with Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces. On the 24th of October, working with the Iraqi army, they liberated the city of Karemlesh and are currently in the process of liberating Baghdedeh.9.

Despite the successes of the NPU, the Assyrians remain divided among themselves. While the NPU is mostly operating in conjunction with the Iraqi army, another group called the Nineveh Plains Forces (NPF) is working far more closely with the Peshmerga. This NPF receives weapons and supplies from the Kurdish Regional Government, but these supplies tend to be leftovers and often of low quality, as Peshmerga forces have struggled to arm themselves. In line with this, the NPF sees itself as part of the Kurdish military apparatus.  In  a  similar  manner,  the  NPU  views  itself  as  part  of  the  Iraqi  Security  Forces (as of Nov 12, 2016 they officially view themselves as a component of the ISF under NLOC),  often  wearing  the  Iraqi  flag  on  their  uniforms. These conflicting views mean the NPU and the NPF view each other in a very negative light, with both sides claiming the other are cowards or propaganda pieces.11.

Overall, the NPU has become one of the most professional militias to rise out of northern Iraq. Interested onlookers have watched their progress closely as the campaign to Mosul progressed, and in a post-Mosul environment many wonder if this new stage of cooperation between Assyrian communities and Baghdad will continue.

Chris Gentry

Chris Gentry is a graduate from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He specializes in Turkey, Syria and Iraq particularly the military background of those conflicts. His other interest is in the religious history of the region and has worked on several academic projects related to the Druze, Ismali;i and Assyrian Christian populations. He is also the director of the Syrian Civil War Podcast.


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