Nestled in the hills a mere 12 km north of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, is a secret military camp which is training ex-Mosul citizens in the art of war, so they can fight and reclaim their homes.
In an unprecedented show of allegiance, these volunteer fighters and trainers from various religious sects are setting aside differences and working together for the greater good.
“The people that are here are from the various tribes and all the religions, be that Sunni, Shia, Christians, Kurdish, Arabs, Turks, Yazidis, or Shabaks,” says general Mohammed Tariq via a translator.
The 21-day training camp of the Hashed al-Watani, or National Mobilization Forces, formed in December 2014 and began training sessions the next month. It has already put out around 3,000 soldiers, 750 to 1000 men at a time, and has thousands more on the wait list to get in.
While the militia itself is forming only of ex-Mosul citizens who are volunteering their lives and time, there is an interesting international presence. The US has already allegedly helped by supplying portable buildings to be used at the camp and the Turkish are helping by providing trainers for the soldiers.
“We can use aid from Kurdistan and every other nation except Turkey, they are purely for training purposes,” says the general.
The general is also aware that it will take more than just the Hashed al-Watani militia for a successful campaign against ISIS in Mosul. Lucky for him, he does have some pretty hefty backup.
“It (the campaign) is pre-agreed upon with two teams: the Iraqi Army will participate and there are Kurdish division also that will help in the liberation of Mosul.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to arms and equipment, the militia finds itself in the same boat as the Kurdish forces: lacking.
“The most aid we need is weapons and utilities,” the general answers when asked what he’d like from outside forces.
It seems the lack of weaponry is basically the only thing putting off the start of an offensive and has little to do with other offensives happening throughout Iraq.
“As of timing, we do not know.” The battle of Anbar and other battles, “are not correlated,” and whether or not these battles are concluded, “the fight for Mosul is still happening.”
Despite the lack of arms, the general says that he and his men wake up ready to fight. It is the spirit and determination of the soldiers that may help make them successful in the campaign to capture back their homes.
One of the very first men to join Hashed al-Watani, deputy officer Mohammed Hussein, says that they have one goal, “to defeat the ISIS thugs,” and that they are “ready and willing to do that.”
An Iraqi police officer, who fled Mosul with the rest when ISIS invaded, is now training to be a soldier at the camp. He has had three of his brother killed in Mosul by ISIS, but says he will not be fighting for revenge.
“I am fighting for everyone.”
It doesn’t matter “if they are Christian or Yizidi or Kurdish or Shabaks . . . everyone from Mosul is my family and we are all one.”
Then a masked, baby-voiced soldier, AK in hand, sends a message directly to ISIS.
“We are ready to die,” he says. “We are coming to Mosul to step on you, and to crush you with our shoes.”