"We have only 90 rounds for each of our Kalashnikovs and we haven't the money to buy more ammunition," says Sergon, commander of a band of two dozen ill-armed Christian militiamen living in the deserted village of Bakufa, close to the Isil frontline.
The 1,500 Assyrian Christians who once lived in Bakufa fled when Isil fighters from Mosul 18 miles to the south captured and later lost the village during their offensive last August.
The Isil men are now dug in a mile away from Bakufa. On a field radio we can hear one of the fighters loudly demanding in Arabic that somebody bring him some drinking water. "We also hear them talking in Turkish and English," says Sergon. "But, going by their accents, we think those speaking English are Chechens and Afghans, who don't have a common language."
The Christians of Nineveh Plain around Mosul, who lived here for 1,800 years, have become refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Turkey, Lebanon or further afield. "I wish they would come back," says Peshmerga General Wahid Majid Mohammed, commander of 420 soldiers on this section of the front, somewhat unrealistically. "It is 75pc safe here," he says, which is hardly reassuring, particularly when he adds that there is no electricity or drinking water in Bakufa. As we speak, he twice sends out patrols to assess the damage caused by the latest US air strikes, which take place several times a day. At one end of the large room where Sergon and his men are sitting with their ageing weaponry, there is a large Assyrian flag. "Once, we Assyrians were a great empire," says one of the fighters, as if seeking solace in the distant past for present weakness. Aside from their lack of weapons, the militiamen have only one vehicle, no electric generator and depend on the Kurdish Peshmerga for food.
Overall, the meagre resources of the so-called Dweekh Newsha militia, 300-strong and founded last August to show that Iraqi Christians can defend themselves, only emphasises their vulnerability in the face of thousands of well-equipped Isil fighters. (© Independent News Service)