By Peggy Faw Gish, 12 August 2014
The cry for help from minority ethnic groups in northern Iraq, threatened by the militant forces calling themselves the “Islamic State” (IS), is being heard by people and governments around the world. Yazidis, Turkmen, Christians, and other minority ethnic groups in Iraq have been fleeing their homes and pouring into the safer areas of the Kurdish region.
Iraqi, U.S.,French, and British forces have dropped food and water on Sinjar (Shingar) Mountain. Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the YPG Syrian Kurdish forces have helped 30,000 Yazidis, who had been stranded on Sinjar Mountain, cross into Syria and then back into the Kurdish region of Iraq. Peshmerga forces are said to be now on the mountain, helping the remaining civilians come down to vehicles provided for them,” In other parts of the region, local people and agencies are collecting food, water, and supplies for those who have survived the violence. Christians from towns taken over by IS are being settled around the Kurdish region by churches and other Christian families. It does not erase the trauma, fear, and pain they carry, but it gives a safe refuge until they can find more stable situations.
This has all happened in conjunction with U.S. air strikes on IS fighters in the Sinjar area on Saturday and since then in areas near the city of Erbil. People here tell us they are glad that the U.S. has intervened.
So, has the U.S. saved the day here? Am I glad for the military intervention?
I certainly don’t want people here to suffer any more, to be brutalized and forced from their homes. I feel with the people who have suffered so much. I wish we had tens of thousands of people trained in nonviolence who could go in and intervene as Gandhi might have. Our small peace team would like this kind of movement grow into something more powerful that could make more of a difference in situations like, but we don’t have that, we try to use the tools we have—of truth-telling and walking alongside local people as they work nonviolently to confront and change conditions of injustice and violence. These strong and creative people here and throughout the world can’t immediately change such horrific violence, but are seeds of movements that can build on a grassroots level (something like what Jesus said about sowing seeds of a whole new realm based on justice and love, but is something for all people).
It is hard for me to applaud the U.S.’s actions when I look at the situation from a broader historic perspective. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, followed by its occupation, broke apart a whole society and set off the chaotic situation in which the “Islamic State” was able to come in and promise an alternative to people oppressed and marginalized by the Nouri al-Malaki led government. Over the years, it caused over one million Iraqis to flee the country and over four million to be displaced internally. It precipitated a civil war and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad and other cities of Iraq.
From my experience living and working in Baghdad before, during, and the years since the 2003 U.S. invasion, witnessing what war meant for Iraq as a country and for the continued chaos and violence on the ground, I see that that military intervention actually leaves bad situations worse. In Iraq and other conflict situations, violent intervention seems to be successful in the short run, but has long-term destructive results. It spawns cycles of violence and revenge and people feeling the need to mop up militarily the consequences of the previous military actions.
What is happening here in Iraqi Kurdistan raises for me other concerns and questions. President Obama spoke of acting to prevent the genocide against the Yazidis as a reason for U.S. Military strikes, but also stressed the need to protect U.S. personnel and interests.
I remember that during the years of U.S. occupation, the presence and actions of American forces were primarily for protecting U.S. interests as well as well as protecting U.S. personnel and control over the country, rather than providing safety for Iraqis.
In President Obama’s announcement a few days ago, he didn’t mention the oil reserves in the Kurdish region, which amount to about a quarter of Iraq’s total reserves. He didn’t mention that ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the oil companies now operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, but I can’t help thinking that these “interests” may play a role.
Protecting American’s interests has also been a factor in the recent bombing and devastation of Gaza, where the U.S.’s interests are tied up with supporting Israel, not insuring justice for the Palestinians. Preventing genocide against the people of Gaza, did not seem to be a concern of the U.S. government as was genocide of the Yazidis and Christians here.
I certainly do not want the IS to gain control over this region of the world. I certainly do not want more people brutalized and displaced, but I also do not put my trust in the U.S. Military or military intervention to solve the world’s long-range problems. I want the world community to work together to find real solutions to the social and economic problems In Iraq and other countries mired in lethal conflict stemming from local and global injustice, of which the U.S. is a major player and receives the most gains.