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Nearly nine years after Brett first saw combat here, this Detroit native returned to Iraq to defend the Christian faith he holds so dear.
What's up, buddy?
There are a lot of kids here now. It is awesome.
Brett asked us to not to us his last name for security reasons. In 2006 he served in the U.S. army's 14th mountain division for 15 months in Iraq. Brett was wounded by a roadside bomb and is a veteran on disability.
Why come back after all the time you served here and what you've seen? Isn't it too much?
I've seen enough combat to last me a lifetime. I'm trying to do this on humanitarian grounds, trying to help out – to bring the world view here, trying to help liberate cities, trying to help protect cities. It's just a different mission this time. It is.
Perhaps his greatest goal is to protect Christianity in Iraq. Brett is a religious Catholic. Last August, the 28-year-old interrupted his studies and traveled to northern Iraq where he joined the Assyrian Christian militia Dyvekh Nawsha which means "self-sacrifice" in Aramaic.
I miss you.
It's a privately funded group numbering in the hundred under the command of the Kurdish peshmerga that is fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. The US military is providing support for the peshmerga. There are several American, British, and Canadian christian volunteers also serving, most with Iraqi battle field experience. They receive no pay but are provided with free room and board by the Assyrian Christian militia.
To mean it means everything. I come from a country where most people take for granted their freedoms. They don't understand what persecution is.
In this part of the world to be able to live free and practice your faith without being killed is huge.
We caught up with Brett in Alqosh, a Christian town just 30 miles from the ISIS stronghold in Iraq- Mosul. Alqosh was overrun last summer by ISIS fighters and then recaptured with the help of Kurdish and Christian militias this past August. Skirmishes with ISIS persist nearby.
ISIS likes to pitch attacks, they are cowards. They like to do it in low visibility, low moonlight, rain, fog, and stuff like that.
We love America too much.
We love you guys. We love this house. And we love that she stayed here.
This house is like church.
It is. It is.
Basa Musafar was the only Christian to stay and survive in Alqosh when ISIS took the town. She has transformed her house into a Christian shrine, memorializing the fallen.
Just as St. George killed the serpent, the Christian militias are depicting crushing the ISIS snake.
Do you think this is a religious war?
I think it has become a religious war. Yes. Because the atrocities they are committing are based on their beliefs. The fact that you can push Christians back so far but when we do pick up the sword, we fight back. And we are doing it so far for our faith, we're doing so far for our beliefs.
But for the moment, at least, life in Alqosh has returned to something like normal.
What does this town mean for you?
This town signifies a victory. I mean, at one point this town was completely abandoned except for one person, sometimes two.
But now, the church bells ring again here, people go about their business, people live here- that's the biggest thing. As you can see, shops are open, business is back, people are going to school. This signifies one of the few victories we have right now.
What's terrorism? Terrorism is a disruption of your daily life and I know these people are resilient. They've been able to say, "Hey look we know you're in the area but we're not going to let you destroy our lives. We will stay here and die for what we believe in, but we are going to continue to go on and operate our daily life." So it's a success.
Assyrian Christianity has survived here for nearly 2000 years, despite numerous attempts to destroy its followers. Established in in Syria and Iraq, Assyrian Christianity predates the rise of Islam by at least 400 years. ISIS is the latest serious attempt to destroy Assyrian Christians in the region.
ISIS calls Christians the crusaders. How do you feel when they say you're a crusader?
Who was here before Islam? The Christians. The Assyrian Christian population is indigenous to this land, so to me it just shows how ignorant they truly are and how uneducated they are too.
Dr. Yifat Monnickendam is an expert on Assyrian Christianity, a lecturer at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Syrian Christians have been here since Christianity started in the second century, or the fourth century, it doesn't matter. Way before Islam and way, way before the Crusaders. The Crusaders arrived in the eleventh century and remained here for 200 years, approximately. The other Christian groups in the area were here before and remained even after the Crusaders left.
Though Christians once again are worshipping freely in Alqosh, they remain under attack in much of Iraq and Syria and throughout parts of the Middle East.
Twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians recently were beheaded by ISIS fighters in Libya.
And ISIS has made it a point to publicize its destruction of ancient and precious Christian artifacts in Iraq.
Hundreds of Christians have been taken hostage, an untold number have been killed and hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced.
And yet the Christians we met insist they will never surrender to ISIS.
SAYIDA ELIAS, Resident, Al-Qush:
We will overcome them. We will never leave. They are evil. They are murderers. They will not defeat us. We will defeat them.
While the US government has yet to issue a ruling about the legality of volunteering for these militias, Brett says the international community, including Christians in the United States, need to do much more to defend people he describes as 'their brothers and sisters in Christ' — people now under attack here.
What's the message that you are trying to take to the world?
They need to open their ears. People are crying. They need to open their eyes. They need to help. We need funds, we need support.
They don't just want to kick us out, they want to kill us, and they are killing us. Jesus said before they hated you, they hated me. Before they persecuted you, they persecuted me and before they kill you, they've killed me. And it shows the resilience of the people here and sends a message to the whole world.
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