Full name: Athra Kado
Hometown: Alqosh, Iraq
Occupation: Syriac [teacher]
Why did you decide to join the NPU? After June 10, 2014 — the invasion of ISIS in Mosul — we started recognizing that nobody can help us, except ourselves. When ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plains — there was a movement by ADM (Assyrian Democratic Movement) and some military offers [who were] Assyrian to create a military force.
I was in Germany at the time, at an Assyrian youth exchange. I agreed 100 percent with the idea — to have our own force. So I joined my brothers as soon as I got back, [on] Aug. 16.
I became a part of NPU because I believe that NPU — as an independent Assyrian force supported and recognized by the government — will be the only force that can save our people in our homeland. At least in the Nineveh Plains — to liberate our villages and towns. To be the force which will protect our lands after ISIS. So [that] what happened in 2014 will not be repeated again in the future, because if we [were] ready in 2014, it would [not have happened].
For those that do not know, what is the NPU? NPU — Nineveh Plain Protection Units — is an Assyrian force, started at [the] end of 2014. The leaders worked hard with the Iraqi government and with the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) — because the [KRG] is the force who is controlling the Nineveh Plains militarily, the Peshmerga. At the end of August 2014, more than 2,000 men registered. Our leaders asked the central government [for] support. Then in November 2014, NPU published a statement, and continued working to be recognized.
[Finally] a group of men were on the ground by the support of our own people and [by] ADM. Then in February, we started basic military training [at a] camp called Chamchamal — financed by our people's support, and trained by a group of Americans. We were recognized by the central government. But they didn't support us because they asked to have our own military base, so NPU worked for it with the central government and the KRG, until we got the permissions after more than eight months, in November 2015. We started building our own camp since then with donations from our people and some other good people from other nations, Western countries too, without any support from any government.
In February 2016, the central government started paying salaries for our men, and just salaries without any other support, and they are still paying, but just for 300 men. We asked for more [soldiers] but we didn't get the permission yet. And then the central government gave us one-third of what we need for weapons — just small weapons, Kalashnikovs, and a couple PKs (machine guns) after the battle of Tellesquf.
Who are the NPU's affiliates? We are part of [Iraq's] national security, [aligned with the] central government — Baghdad. We are recognized officially. We cooperate with all forces on the ground as a force against ISIS.
What is the goal of the NPU? [To] liberate our villages and towns in Nineveh Plains and to control the security with other forces, like the Yazidis and Shabak [people].
How many NPU soldiers are there currently? Are they all Assyrian, or are they made up of other ethnicities? Now we are 300, only Assyrians — from all the churches — soldiers and officers. Those 300 have been recognized by the central government and we have hundreds that have been registered and we are asking for more than four months to be recognized officially, so they can be on the ground too, but there are difficulties we are facing with that. A couple hundred will start soon, as promised by the government. If we had permission [from earlier] we would be thousands by now.
Are NPU soldiers being trained to take back Mosul? Our fight will be specialized for the Nineveh Plains. We are ready — those who already trained, and are making NPU grow more to participate in the Nineveh Plains' liberation, not Mosul, because Mosul has to be taken by a military with tens of thousands of soldiers.
Were you on the force that helped liberate the village of Badanah? How was that experience? Yes, I was in [the] Badanah liberation with my other brothers from NPU. It was a great experience. [It was our] first attack by ourselves with the coalition's support. We had another fight with ISIS in Tellesquf on May 3. When ISIS attacked the town, our guys stopped ISIS for more than 20 minutes, until our ammo finished. Three of our guys were injured and we participated in the liberation too.
The support of the international coalition led by America is what we need. Badanah is the first operation and it's the way to liberate our areas from ISIS in the near future. It gave us all as soldiers and our people a good experience and more self confidence that we can do what other nations in the area are able to do, and we will do whatever it costs to save our people in our lands.
What is the NPU in need of? More soldiers? Weapons? We need more support for our soldiers, and to push the Iraqi government and the KRG to recognize the volunteers that have been registered with NPU — so we can grow more and be able to liberate and protect our people on our lands.
Do you think Mosul will be liberated? Mosul will be liberated, because there is hundreds of thousands [who] are refugees and can't live with the terrorism of ISIS, and even those people who are living in Mosul now, but it needs more time.
Do you think Assyrians among other minorities should have their own autonomous region in the Nineveh Plains? First our people and other minorities are asking for a province, Nineveh Plains Province, and that is the first step for having our own autonomy — to have our own economic percentage as any other province in Iraq, and to have our own forces in the area. After [a few] years, the minorities in the Nineveh Plains [should] choose if they want to continue being a province under [the] central government or [be] its own region. Since 2003, we have been struggling because of the conflict between the big [players] in Iraq. They are fighting for our lands in Nineveh, without even counting us as the original people of this area!
What is your dream for Iraq? Democratic, peaceful and to treat the ancestors of this land as its first citizens — for the authorities in Iraq to give rights to Assyrians as the original people of this land.
In your opinion, whose fault was it that Mosul fell to ISIS? Authorities and leaders of political sides in Iraq, in addition to the ethnic and religion racism, with the support of neighboring countries.
Are there any female fighters with NPU? Are they allowed to join? We are thinking about a project like that. We have females who are willing to join, but we didn't start that project yet because of the lack of support.
Any final words you would like to share? The international community needs to open their eyes and support the right sides in the Nineveh Plains. We don't need any guardians to control us. We can control our lands militarily, economically and politically — we just need part of the support from the authorities in Iraq, and the KRG. We have the right to get that support as the only ancestral nation, with Yazidis, in this land. And to our fellow Assyrians around the world, there is no guaranteed future anywhere in the world for our people except our homeland and we are trying to do our part in [that] duty, but we need your support, everyone, everywhere ... together our nation's dream will come true.
Portions of this interview have been edited. Photos courtesy of Athra Kado via Jessy Bethzabday.