“The world hasn’t seen an evil like this for a generation.” This is how the national spokesman for Iraqi Christians in the United States described atrocities by Isis terrorists in northern Iraq, which include beheading of children and their mothers and fathers, and forcing almost all Christians in the region to flee. While the United States has resumed military action to deal with the crisis in Iraq, its commitment reflects half-heartedness and fails to match the enormity of suffering and potential threats.
“They are systematically beheading children, and mothers and fathers … There’s actually a park in Mosul that they’ve actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick,” Mark Arabo, the spokesman for Iraqi Christians, told CNN. “This is crimes against humanity. The whole world should come together. This is much broader than a community or faith … They are doing the most horrendous, the most heart-breaking things you can think of.”
The Episcopal Vicar of Iraq, Canon Andrew White, recently visited the town of Qaraqosh, which like many other towns and cities has been captured by the Isis, to assess the situation. “The majority of the town’s 50,000 people have fled, fearing that, like other Christians in this region, they will be massacred. The militants, in a further act of sacrilege, have established their administrative posts in the abandoned churches,” he said, according to Catholic Online.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad has called for “international support and a professional, well-equipped army,” saying the situation is “going from bad to worse.”
U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement last week about the American military involvement in Iraq acknowledged the suffering of minorities. “These terrorists have been especially barbaric toward religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis,” Obama said, but while carefully underlining the humanitarian nature of the intervention. He said it was meant only to prevent the likely advancement of Isis terrorists toward the U.S. embassy in Baghdad or the U.S. consulate in Arbil, and to help save Iraqi civilians stranded in the Mount Sinjar region.
Obama referred to the more than 50,000 people from the Yazidi ethnic minority, who like Christians were forced to flee their villages and are now trapped on the Sinjar mountains with Isis men surrounding them. The subtext of his statement was a promise only of a short-term, limited involvement.
It is, of course, a moral obligation of Washington not to leave Iraq in the lurch after its 2003 invasion and subsequent pull-out of its forces. But in fulfilment of this moral obligation also lie America’s interests.
The U.S. took on al-Qaeda and its former leader Osama bin Laden, but now its offshoot, the Isis, which is also known as the Islamic State, has emerged as far more brutal and powerful – and therefore a likely threat to America in the days to come.
“This is a strategic development, not a tactical development, because this is a group that has lots of money and lots of arms and an image of success they are trading on right now,” former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross recently told Defense One. “Ultimately what they want to do is show how they are able to take us on. And so we will be drawn into this more and more inevitably because we will have to interrupt their ability to plan and operate lest they become a threat to us.”
The agenda of Isis is to create a caliphate in the Middle East and beyond. The group has already established control of an adjoining territory comprising much of north-western Iraq and eastern Syria, declaring it a caliphate. Jordan, Lebanon and other nations might be its targets in the near future, causing a strategic havoc for the United States.
Isis, a Sunni group that was earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has recruited thousands of fighters having European and U.S. passports, as well as people from the Arab world and the Caucasus. And it initially raised money through rich people in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are all U.S. allies, as Daily Beast journalist Josh Rogin recently wrote.
“Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it’s coming from the Arab Gulf,” Rogin quoted Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, as saying. “Kuwait’s banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq.”
It’s not difficult to foresee foreign Isis fighters returning “home” and threatening the security of some Western nations, including the U.S., from within.
Moreover, Isis is eyeing a region that is vital to global energy resources.
More than any other foreign power, the United States knows that the Iraqi government and its military do not have the capability to defeat Isis. Iraq is afflicted with political divisions and crisis along with social divisions along religious and ethnic lines.
When Isis first captured the city of Fallujah in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, earlier this year, Washington chose to ignore the threat or was oblivious.
“We had a real opportunity when Fallujah fell,” former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey recently said. “We didn’t know how bad the Iraqi army really was, but we knew they weren’t very good. The administration had the warning and it didn’t act and that is really a tragedy.”
President Obama perhaps has two worries about another long-term involvement in Iraq. One, the possibility of the United States weakening the integrity of Iraq by giving weapons to the Kurdish army, which is seeking independence from Iraq. This is especially a concern because the break-up of the Shia-majority nation can be an advantage to Iran, one of the major enemies of America. Two, a weakened Isis could mean strengthening of the regime of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad, who is also from a Shiite sect.
However, Kurdish independence is fast gaining acceptance internationally. Besides, strengthening of the Syrian regime is unarguably a lesser evil than the strengthening of Isis in Syria.
Obama’s insistence on no American boots on the ground in Iraq is understandable. But widening the scope of the U.S. intervention without American troops on the ground could be an option. In other words, the United States must do whatever it takes – within the consensus of the international community – to deal with the growing threat of Isis. At stake are international security and the human cost of Isis terrorism, global energy needs and the lives of hundreds of thousands of members of religious minorities, including Christians.
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) sponsors this WEA-RLC Research & Analysis Report to help individuals and groups pray for and act on religious liberty issues around the world. WEA has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
This report was researched and written by Fernando Perez, and moderated by the WEA-RLC Executive Director, Godfrey Yogarajah. It can be used for distribution or publication with attribution to WEA-RLC.