U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq after all

The Washington Post reports that some former U.S. troops have taken up the fight against ISIS in Iraq:

[A] growing band of foreigners [is] leaving behind their lives in the West to fight with new Christian militias against the Islamic State extremist group. The leaders of those militias say they have been swamped with hundreds of requests from veterans and volunteers from around the world who want to join them.

According to the Post’s account, some of the ex-U.S. troops are strongly motivated by religion. Others simply don’t want to leave the battlefield as long as ISIS is on the march.

So far, the number of American and other foreign fighters does not appear to be large. For example, Dweh Nawsha, the militia featured in the Post’s article, contains only six Westerners among its 200 Iraqi Assyrian Christian fighters. However, the Assyrian Patriotic Party says that more than 900 foreigners have been in touch about joining the fight.

The Kurdish authorities in Northern Iraq, where the Christian militias operate, are working out how to vet foreign fighters. All recruits reportedly are interviewed before they come and some sort of background check is said to be carried out. It seems unlikely, though, that the background check consists of much.

In general, the Kurds are happy to have additional fighters. However, some fear that the influx of foreign Christian fighters will make the struggle seem like a holy war, a Christian Crusade. The Kurds insist that they are fighting only for their land.

Right now, the Kurds use Christian militias as a second line of defense. The front line consists of Kurdish peshmerga forces. However, if ISIS continues its merciless assault on Christians in the Middle East, it seems likely that thousands of Western Christians will join the fight and that their role will expand.

Free-lance American fighters have participated in foreign wars before. However, the only precedent I know of for substantial private American participation is the Spanish Civil War. American Socialists organized the Eugene Debs brigade. American Communists, a much more cynical lot, organized the Abraham Lincoln brigade, which consisted of nearly 3,000 Reds. A cousin of my father was one of them.

The Spanish Civil War has come to be called a dress rehearsal for World War II. The fight against ISIS in Iraq sometimes feels like a dress rehearsal for something ominous.

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