Iraq: The Disaster Waiting to Happen

Congress should say no to Obama’s proposal to spend $500 million to train and equip yet another Islamist rebel group.

Hillary Clinton tells us she never could have foreseen what is currently taking place in Iraq.

Her years as Secretary of State, her access to classified intelligence information, her travels and contacts, gave her no clue that a radical jihadi group would seek to exploit the power vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. None whatsoever.

I suppose there are people in this country who might believe that; perhaps those who believe the Koch Brothers have “bought” the U.S. elections for the past decade.

I have traveled to northern Iraq many times in recent years to bear witness to the persecution of Iraqi Christians at the hands of the same jihadi groups who now have declared that they have re-established the Islamic Caliphate, a declaration that should send shivers down the spine of every civilized person who understands history.

Every time I have been on the ground in Mosul and in surrounding towns in the Nineveh plain, I have interviewed families whose loved ones had been murdered by Sunni Muslim jihadi groups.

Often, they were warned ahead of time when the jihadis took over a Christian neighborhood of the fate that awaited them.

In accordance with Koranic traditions, they were given the choice of paying the “jizya” (protection tax) and becoming second class citizens (dhimmis) of the Muslim state, or death. Or of course, they could flee.

That is the doctrine and practice of al Qaeda and of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), which now has shortened its name to the “Islamic State.” In Syria, they also have slaughtered Christians and burned churches, in the belief that Christians can only be tolerated as dhimmis in a so-called Muslim land.

Some local Christian leaders in northern Iraq believed the jihadi groups have operated in cahoots with the Kurds – something the Kurdish government in Erbil vehemently denied when I pressed them with these allegations.  

Over the past week, jihadi fighters of the “Islamic State” have traded artillery fire with Kurdish peshmerga fighters – over the heads of Christian villagers caught in between.

Mayor Bassim Bello of Tel Keif, a prominent Christian suburb of Mosul, liked to tell me: “The Christians are the meat in the sandwich between the Kurds and the Arabs.”

He first said that to me years before the current fighting.

So this was not foreseeable? Really? The jihadis have been gathering in Mosul for nearly a decade. And we did nothing to rout them out when we had the forces in place to be effective.

My good friend Dr. John Eiber, of Christian Solidarity International, was in the Nineveh Plain over the past week during the worst of the fighting.

He said the shelling by ISIS and the Kurds caused some 50,000 residents mostly Christians, to flee from major towns on the outskirts of Mosul, creating yet another refugee population.

“Hamdaniya is a ghost town,” he told me last week, referring the largest Christian area.

Congress has a bad habit of throwing money at crises it can’t otherwise control. The worst thing the United States could do today would be to give in to that instinct and agree with President Obama’s proposal to train and equip yet another Muslim supremacist army to fight Bashar al-Assad, on the grounds that they will also oppose ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

He wants to spend $500 million training anti-Assad Islamist forces, even though weapons previously supplied to anti-Assad forces by the United States have wound up in the hands of jihadi groups.

If we learned anything from Benghazi, it ought to be that a policy that includes covert arms deliveries to Islamist “rebels” is fraught with dangers.

What are our interests?

If Assad stays, and continues to be an Iranian surrogate, we lose. If Assad goes, and is replaced by an “Islamic State” that spills over into Iraq, we lose. If Assad is replaced by a “moderate” Muslim coalition that quickly gets overrun by ISIS, as inevitably will happen, we also lose.

All of those alternatives are predictable, just as the one we currently face in Iraq.

We do have better options, however.

First, we should reaffirm our support for the Kurdistan Regional Government and allow them to consolidate control over Kirkuk, which was predominantly Kurdish and Christian before Saddam Hussein expelled the inhabitants in the 1980s.

The Kurds have a strong tradition as friends and allies of the United States. Our policy should reward our friends and punish our enemies, rather than the other way round.

Second, we should support the aspirations of the 16 Christian political parties in northern Iraq to create a separate province or region in the Nineveh plain, the historic homeland of the Assyrian Christian population. The Nineveh plain province proposal has been accepted by most Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister al Maliki and President Jalal Talebani, but never garnered U.S. support.

Third, we need to face facts on the ground. Can the United States military carry out air strikes against the Islamic State to weaken its grip on territory, without sucking us into a larger conflict? If so, this is something we should consider – fast.

If the risk of escalation is too great, can we provide assistance to the Iraqi government, or what passes as the government in Baghdad, to carry out those strikes on its own?

A confederated Iraq compromised of Sunni and Shiite Arab regions, a Kurdish region, and the Nineveh Plain, would be the best possible outcome for Iraq. But that would require leadership, both in Baghdad and in Washington.

Lacking that, we will become spectators to the disintegration of Iraq into smaller ethnic and religious entities, all the while President Obama tries to draw us into a greater Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia.

We tried it in Benghazi, and in Libya more generally, with disastrous results. We should not go down this road again.

Timmerman is a New York Times best-selling author who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. His latest book is Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi, published in June by Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.


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