Thursday, August 14, 2014


This week my oldest child and I were learning about the battle of Lakhish in around 700 BCE. The Assyrian forces of Sanheirib swept through the northern kingdom of Israel, moving on to the southern kingdom of Judah, laying siege to the heavily fortified town of Lakhish. Judean forces were defeated by the Assyrian army and Sanheirib was so taken by his victory that he decorated the walls of his palace in Ninveh with an ornate frieze telling the story of the battle in all its gory detail, including the impaling on stakes of the captured Judean commanding officers and the flaying alive of regional officials who dared rise up against Assyrian hegemony. 

In recent months Ninveh province has come under the rule of new tyrants, the so called "Islamic State" and its Jihadi fighters, with some reports from the region claiming ISIS has gone so far to destroy the ancient ruins at the site which predate Islam by centuries. How ironic that Sanheirib who laid waste to neighbouring kingdoms should himself find his great city destroyed by marauding invaders.

The view from Israel at the moment is certainly unsettling. Quite aside from our troubles with Hamas and Hamas' rockets and tunnels, it is horrifying watching the new Jihadis of ISIS sweep through Syria and Iraq, venture into Lebanon, reaching all the way to the Iraqi border with our neighbour Jordan. An already difficult neighbourhood seems to be getting more savage by the minute.

In all of the turmoil and terror that has swept the Middle East in recent years though there has been one beacon of hope - the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Alone among the various local groups they used US/UN intervention to create a stable, fair free, economically viable state in waiting. They too are mostly Sunni Muslims, just as the Jihadis purport to be. What a different vision for their homeland the Kurds have though. 

Watching the Peshmerga strive to defend their region from ISIS I am convinced more than ever that they should be rewarded for their responsible approach by receiving international support to help them resist the expansion of ISIS and to assist them in aiding refugees from the "Islamic State".

I should clarify that I am wary when it comes to Western involvement in the Middle East. I didn't think the US intervention in Iraq was a good idea in the first place, I thought the US leadership lacked (and still lack) a decent understanding of the complexities of the region and of how Western actions would be perceived. 

That said I had strong reservations about the arrangements for the US withdrawal and the ability of the new Iraq to achieve stable government. In a country so lacking in national cohesion and with a government setting itself up along sectarian lines it seemed highly likely that a withdrawal of the US and their allies would lead to a resumption or even escalation in the Sunni-Shia civil war, and quite likely also provide fertile ground for al-Qaeda like movements and militias, possibly even an Islamist takeover of the failing Iraqi state.

Sadly both concerns have been realised, further fuelled by the war in Syria. 

I can understand people in the West arguing that the US and allies gave Iraq their best shot, did what they could to free her people from a brutal dictator and now the rest is up to them, if they want to use that new freedom to ravage their own country, then so be it.

The thing is this is not simply a regional problem that the West, especially the US and its allies who went in to Iraq in the first place, can was their hands of and say it's all some regional conflict that doesn't concern them. The Western powers have been directly involved in creating 21st century Iraq from the time Saddam Hussein set this whole chain of events in motion with his invasion of Kuwait and the West stepped in to save the day.

The creation of the Kurdish autonomous region and no-fly zone have been a positive result of that intervention, creating an island of relative freedom and stability in northern Iraq.

The supplying of so much US weaponry and aid to the corrupt and sectarian government of a deeply divided Iraq, weaponry that has fallen into the hands of the butchers of ISIS, and thus threatens the pro-Western Kurds, that already makes it an issue the Western powers are in part responsible for. The potential global threat of ISIS makes fighting them a Western interest, but the West also has a moral obligation to help the Kurds who are now being attacked with those same weapons the US supplied to the floundering Iraqi military.

There are those in the West, quite possibly some in the Obama administration among them who believe that ISIS and its ilk are the shape of things to come in the Middle East, and therefore it is in their interest to stay "on the right side" of the nascent "Islamic State". My understanding of this latest and most brutal Jihadi movement is that there is no accommodation to be reached with them, their level of savagery is off the scale even by the standards of the blood-soaked Middle East. To use an old fashioned term, I believe that the unimaginable cruelty and the cult of death worshipped by the so called Jihadis of ISIS makes them evil, I can think of no other word for what they are perpetrating.

The West must find a way to support the Kurds, not just with words but with materials to both alleviate the suffering of the Yazaidi, Christian and other refugees and to help the Kurds defend themselves from the savagery of the "Islamic State".

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