Some Background Information to the present crisis in Iraq:
“The prime minister (of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki- insert mine) and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus (U.S. Army General David Petraeus led the American military ‘surge’ in Iraq before becoming director of the CIA- italics mine), who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government.
A senior official closely involved with Iraq in the Bush administration told me, “Not only did Maliki not try to do broad power-sharing, he reneged on all the deals that had been made, stopped paying the Sunni tribes and militias, and started persecuting key Sunni officials.” Among those targeted were the vice president of Iraq and its finance minister.”
Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post, (editor at large of Time magazine), June 12, 2014.
“An al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq announced that it had merged with the Syrian opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra to form the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (now also known as ISIS – parenthesis mine). According to Leila Hilal, a Syrian-American who meets regularly with the Syrian opposition and is the head of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, “al-Nusra (ISIS) is not fighting for a free Syria, but for the establishment of an ultra-fundamentalist state.” (This intention most likely would also apply to its present fight in Iraq – parenthesis mine.)
Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, and Jennifer Rowland, 10 April 2013.
“Political leaders on both sides…(Iran and the U.S. – insert mine) see ISIS as a growing threat and speculation is rampant they may work alongside each other to quell it. “We will fight against terrorism, factionalism and violence,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on June 12. Days after, a report emerged that units of Iran’s elite Quds Force were dispatched to protect allies in Baghdad and the sacred Shi’ite sites of Najaf and Karbala, Rouhani clarified that Iran is ready to help Iraq—if asked—and would consider “cooperation” with any American efforts. (Military decisions rest with its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.)…The U.S. is likely to tread softly. The White House has so far resisted committing serious aid to helping Iraq fight the insurgents.
“Iraq’s Kurdish minority enjoys a semi-autonomous enclave in the northeast that has largely been spared the attacks that plague Iraq. But the new strife could heighten friction between the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites since the Peshmerga—the Kurdish security forces—filled the power void in Kirkuk after Iraqi soldiers retreated. The Kurds have long sought control of the oil city, which they call its historical capital. That development could contribute to Iraq splitting along sectarian lines. “This would be a further prelude for the division of Iraq,” Brig. Halgord Hikmat, spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga Ministry, told the Wall Street Journal. “A united Iraq is not the solution at this moment.” Partition would breed a host of other issues, but with Shi’ite clerics encouraging thousands of followers to pick up arms and counter the Sunni insurgents, the Kurds—left off the map after World War I and seeking their own state—could win out”.
Andrew Katz, Time Magazine, 15 June 2014
The resultant refugee situation:
Thousands of Iraqis flee Mosul after ISIS takeover.
Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq’s second-largest city as an Islamist terror group solidifies its control over Christianity’s main remaining stronghold in the struggling nation.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Iraq and Syria-based Sunni offshoot of al-Qaeda, took over Mosul (pop. 1.8 million) earlier this month, the BBC reports. Most of Mosul’s remaining Christian population of 3,000 fled for safer areas, according to World Watch Monitor.
All of Iraq is under a state of alert, according to the Iraqi government. Mosul itself is in a state of “anarchy,” with armed patrols on the streets and families holed up in homes. During the takeover, everything collapsed suddenly and “people entered without any problems or opposition,” Msgr. Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, told AsiaNews. “Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been,” writes Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. “The Islamic terrorists have taken control of the whole of Mosul which is Nineveh the main Christian stronghold. The army [has] even fled. We urgently need help and support. … We are in a desperate crisis.”
ISIS, which wants to overthrow the Iraqi and Syrian Governments and establish a Sunni caliphate in the Middle East, took military advantage of a political power vacuum as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki struggles to form a government after recent elections.
The region ISIS invaded has been a stronghold for Iraqi Christians, Middle East Concern reports:
Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh plain is the traditional heartland of Iraq’s Christian communities. Many Christians fled to this region when forced to leave Baghdad and other areas in recent years. Christians are alarmed at the ISIS take-over of Mosul, fearful that this will further accelerate the decline of the Christian presence in Iraq.
Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk in recent years from 1.2 million in the early 1990s to an estimated 300,000 before the most recent attacks. Christian refugees are fleeing to surrounding areas and as far away as Europe, where CT previously reported on resettlement efforts. Displaced Christians within Iraq face high unemployment, poor housing, and difficulty finding education and medical care, according to Open Doors International’s 2014 World Watch List.
Christians are fleeing severe violence targeting them, including church attacks, killings, robberies, and rapes, and the Christian population in Mosul shrunk from 35,000 to 3,000 in the past decade. In the last week, the remaining Christians fled, according to World Watch Monitor, which analyzes the reasons behind the exodus.
In late February, ISIS invaded Raqqa in northern Syria and demanded that Christians pay a “jizya” tax and accept a list of regulations, including not ringing church bells or praying in public in exchange for “protection,” the BBC reported. That memory makes Christians even more wary now,
Middle East Concern reports: Christians feel particularly vulnerable, especially in light of the treatment of Christians in the Raqqah province of northern Syria where ISIS has also established its authority. Recall that, in February 2014, ISIS commanders in Raqqah forced Christian community leaders to sign a contract agreeing to a set of stringent conditions. These included the payment of a special tax (known as jizya), conduct of Christian rites only behind closed doors so as to be neither visible nor audible to Muslims, and adherence to Islamic commercial, dress code and dietary regulations.”
By Ruth Moon, Posted 16/6/2014 in Christianity Today (CT)
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are now around 300,000 Iraqis taking refuge in Kurdish territory. Catherine Robinson, a UNHCR spokesperson says Kurdish residents have welcomed the refugees with blankets, groceries and even hot meals.
However, there are decades of tensions between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds. In their semi-autonomous region, Iraqi Kurds have achieved relative prosperity and security. It’s unclear how far the Kurdish welcome will stretch if Arab refugees continue to pour into their territory.”
Rebecca Collard, Time Magazine, June 13, 2014
“So frenzied was Hyam Hussnie’s late night escape on a desert highway that she could not believe that when she arrived in Jordan “my children were still alive and with me.” She fled the Iraqi capital Baghdad with her husband and children six months ago with only their ID cards. “Our daily lives [had] turned into a horror film: rape, murder, kidnap, suicide attacks,” her husband Alaa Zaidaan told IRIN* from the Jordanian capital, Amman, where the family now lives.
As of 15 May, 3,100 Iraqis had sought asylum with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan since the beginning of the year – or around 170 new Iraqi refugees every week. Including a backlog of cases from 2013, UNHCR registered 5,097 Iraqis over the same period. This represents a significant increase compared to recent years: UNHCR registered 4,060 new Iraqi arrivals during the entire year of 2012, and 5,110 in 2013. And unlike some of their predecessors, the new wave of arrivals is coming with less hope of returning home.”
IRIN (an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored, a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 19 May 2014
“Middle class Iraqis have preferred to flee to Jordan but the latter have started to restrict their quota of refugee intake. Many Iraqis, due to severe work restrictions are finding they are running out of money and having to live with the bare minimum in order to continue to provide education for their children.
Iraqis fleeing to neighbouring Syria are considerably worse off, as poverty there is very severe and the political situation in a dire state. Some manage to flee to Europe, where Sweden has accepted the largest quota of Iraqi refugees of all European states so far. Others attempt to flee to Turkey and Egypt.”
(My own summary of findings)