The situation in Iraq and Syria right now is sobering. Due to the poverty of the region, many common Iraqis and Syrians have given in to the rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), seeing no other options. The organization has taken over Mosul, including the Bank of Mosul (along with $400 million of the bank’s assets), Tal Afar, Tikrit, Baiji, and Baghdad in Iraq along with Allepo in Syria. They’ve also claimed land in Syria as far as Damascus. The “absolute monarch” of ISIS, Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a Sunni who was Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq from 2010-2013 and is now Emir of both Iraq and Syria. He claimed a merger with a branch of Al-Queda called the Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra who were fighting in Syria. Al-Baghdadi then took the branch over, and Al-Queda subsequently cut their ties with him. On July 2nd, he announced that ISIS would invade Rome and establish an Islamic State across Europe. His ultimate aim is to spread into Africa as well. Religious minorities in the region like Christians and Shias have been leaving Mosul and other conquered cities in Iraq in the wake of ISIS’s rise to power. The Islamic state also issued a decree this month ordering Christians to leave Mosul, convert, pay a Christian tax, or face execution.
Many military posts have been abandoned in Iraq and a great deal of equipment has been seized by ISIS. The organization appeals to the religiosity of the region, but its brutal execution of Sharia law has killed and harmed an at least thousands of innocent Iraqis. ISIS has been said by many mainstream news reporters to be “worse” than the Taliban. Reactionary hawks are calling for airstrikes. But the US air force bombed in 2003 and trained locals for the military, and the reactionary elements grew out of the destruction. It is clear the Iraqi military was never committed or prepared to deal with real threats like ISIS. It’s certainly possible the military put in charge had no intention of protecting anyone, and if anything this should indicate that bombs don’t aid the democratic process. More of the same destruction will be like treating fire with fire. The governing council put in power in 2003 by the US Coalition Provisional Authority replaced Iraq’s secular family code with Sharia law family code, and this increased religious extremism and suffering from it.
The Iraqi people need better education, healthcare, food, and clean water. If they were provided these resources, then common Iraqis would not give in to ISIS or to other extremist elements out of desperation. When people are so desperate that they would rather receive a helping hand (or give in out of fear) from a local terrorist organization than by foreign actors, we have to vastly rethink our foreign policy and the way we deal with these people.
US military strikes have created bitter sectarianism among many Islamic people because often one sect is more supported and other sect feels betrayed. This is where the fuel for the hatred lies. It is not in fundamental differences between Sunni and Shias (or Shiites) because they really are not that different. If the US leadership doesn’t want an even bigger human rights disaster on their hands, they would work collaboratively with other countries to establish a peacekeeping force in Iraq that could arrest Ibrahim and his network, as well as create further agencies that could provide education, healthcare and other aid. ISIS must lower their guns, and give in to a greater cause. No one is incapable of compassion and changing their minds.