” After fighting with rebels in Libya and Syria, Matthew VanDyke has rolled up in northern Iraq, but the celebrity American revolutionary-cum-filmmaker has traded his fatigues for a three-piece suit.
VanDyke, who rose to fame as a foreign fighter backing Libyan rebels against Moamer Kadhafi, has just finished leading his new military contracting firm through its first assignment — training Christian volunteers to take on jihadists.
Funded by Christian groups from abroad, mainly from the United States, the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU) aims to bring a local Christian militia to bear against the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.
VanDyke is one of the best-known — and least camera-shy — figures in an expanding and complex constellation of foreign fighters, organisations and donors getting involved in a private war against the jihadists.
” This is an extension of my work as a revolutionary,” he says as he takes a sip from his cappuccino in a cafe in the Kurdish capital of Arbil. “What gives somebody else the right to sit home and do nothing?”
The 35-year-old came to prominence in 2011 when he joined Libyan rebels in the fight to overthrow Kadhafi. He was held by regime forces in solitary confinement for more than five months.
The film “Point and Shoot” directed by Marshall Curry, which won the best documentary award at the Tribeca Festival last year, recounts the 35,000-mile motorcycle odyssey that led VanDyke to Libya and which he describes as “a crash course in manhood”.
Not one to shy away from self-aggrandizement, VanDyke’s official website claims that his own documentary on the Syrian conflict, in which he volunteered in 2012, won no fewer than 82 prizes.
A few months ago, VanDyke changed tack and decided to form his military contracting firm, the Sons of Liberty International (SOLI), with the training of a few hundred NPU volunteers as a first assignment.
The Nineveh in the NPU’s name refers to a northern region which Iraq’s Assyrian Christians and other religious minorities consider their ancestral home.
IS last year declared a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria it had seized, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, including many Iraqi Christians.
The mostly Sunni Arab group has been accused of persecuting other communities and this week was reported to have taken several hundred Assyrian Christians hostage in northeastern Syria.
A US-led international coalition launched an air war on the jihadists in August and dispatched forces to train Kurdish and Iraqi federal troops who hope to eventually retake lost ground.
In the meantime other — less official — parties have been drawn into the conflict from abroad.
The NPU, for example, is being funded by the American Mesopotamian Organization (AMO), a California-based group founded by Assyrian-Americans.”