THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
Three years since America withdrew from Iraq, they have returned. Don’t worry, they’re not getting themselves involved in another war; this time they’re doing some good. The US is dropping aid to thousands of Iraqis. This is because these civilians have been forced to the top of a mountain, having fled from their hometowns as the Islamic State barges through.
If this group sounds completely foreign to you, it’s my job to fill you in. The Islamic State is actually the group formerly known as ISIS (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria) who you’ve probably heard a lot about over the last few months. IS/ISIS are just what their name suggests – a group of Islamists who want to make an Islamic state with land from both Iraq and Syria.
IS are known for their violent tactics - including kidnappings, public stonings, lashings, beheadings, crucifixions and executions. The group is so bad that even Al Qaeda is scared of them. Over five and a half thousand people have been killed in Iraq between January and July of this year as a result of the IS offensive.
Over the past couple of months, IS have taken over vast amounts of land in Iraq and Syria, including Mosul, Iraq’s largest dam. This is a huge threat to Iraq as it now means that IS have control over the water and electricity supply to the northern part of the country. IS now control more land than the size of Britain. No one wants to get in their path – doing so could cost one their life – so when IS turns up the only option for civilians is to gather all that they can and run for the hills.
IS seized the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar last week where the majority of people are members of the Yazidi ethnoreligious community – seen by IS as worshippers of Satan. A religious minority, it is these types of groups that are in the most danger as IS targets those who they deem are ‘unbelievers’ of the Islamic faith. When IS made their way into Sinjar they offered civilians the choice of converting to Islam or face death. Many civilians were killed, some buried alive and some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves. Close to 150,000 civilians were forced to flee for the mountains.
It has now been over a week since these refugees arrived on the mountain and there are reports that approximately 30,000 people still trapped up there. The rest have either been evacuated by aid agencies, risked the journey back down the mountain, or died from the extreme heat combined with lack of food and water. Some even fled to neighboring Syria – another war-ravaged country, emphasizing the desperation felt by those fleeing. The UN has warned international bodies that the people left on the mountain need, “Life-saving assistance.” They face the decision of waiting it out on the blisteringly hot mountain, or facing the ruthless terrorists down below. The US, UK and France have been dropping aid packages, but it’s simply not enough to feed everyone.
Barack Obama is the fourth US president to be involved in bombings of Iraq. But Obama’s tactic is a bit different. While the US have carried out several bombings this month on IS strongholds, including the Mosul dam, Obama wants minimal military presence in Iraq so as to force political change in the country.
So let me explain why Obama wants political change… In Iraq there are two main denominations of Islam: Sunni and Shia. The majority of people in Iraq identify with Shia. Sadam Hussein was a Sunni. Even though a minority, the Sunni population felt a hell of a lot more included with Hussein in power. When Hussein was ousted, Iraq introduced a new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Here’s the twist: Maliki is a Shia. Since his time in power he has started to exclude Sunni more and more. Not only did he give Shia many of the government contracts that were originally given to Sunni, he also replaced many Sunni government officials with Shia, so as to guard himself against a coup. Tensions grew in the mid 2000’s as Sunnis felt more and more excluded. IS are an offshoot of Sunni and it was this exclusion that got them revved up.
Instead of facing the immediate problem that is the thousands of people stranded on a mountain, the Iraqi political cabinet is concerning themselves with switching a few seats around. The President of Iraq asked new guy Haider al-Abadi to form a new government, replacing Maliki. Abadi is a Shia too but international groups, including the US, trust Abadi will form a new and inclusive Iraq. If Abadi employs more Sunnis in senior positions this will reduce support towards extremist group, IS.
Obviously Maliki’s a bit pissed off about the new guy taking is place and is refusing to leave… This has led to pro-government supporters protesting on the streets of Baghdad to show their support for Maliki.
Hopefully this change in power will drive a swift and tactical strategy that will not only save the thousands still trapped in Northern Iraq, but will drive out Islamic State.