By Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird
As the fight against ISIS continues, and the US prepares to send more ground troops, a key problem remains: what are US objectives compared to those of the Baghdad government?
Lt. General (Retired) Deptula in a recent Washington Post op ed put the problem squarely:
We must not, however, confuse Iraq’s objectives with critical U.S. national security interests. While the two may overlap, they are not the same.
Each demands its own strategic, military and policy approach.
From the U.S. perspective, the most important goal is not the maintenance of the Iraqi government but the destruction of the Islamic State.
In addition to that military-political objective, a clear political one is how to define who the US will support in Iraq and with what purpose?
We have argued earlier that one clear stakeholder deserves our support, namely, Kurdistan and its willingness to protect minorities.
This remains crucial, but the situation is getting more difficult.
There is another development in play as well which opens up an opportunity, namely the recent electoral defeat of the Islamist president of Turkey.
According to an article by David Graham in The Atlantic, the parliamentary elections on June 7, 2015 were very important.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffered a painful triple defeat in elections on Sunday.
While Erdogan himself was not on the ballot, his Justice and Development Party (or AKP) lost its hold on parliament.
The AKP was still clearly the leading party, garnering around 41 percent of the vote in preliminary returns, but it failed to win an outright majority.
A second defeat was that one reason for the AKP’s struggles was a surge by the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP.
For the first time, the party—a liberal group whose traditional base is Turkey’s Kurdish minority—crossed the magical 10 percent threshold required to actually earn seats in parliament. It did that in part by campaigning against the president.
Earlier we had talked with Joseph Kassab about the situation in Iraq for the Christian minorities.
Earlier this month, we continued our conversation with Kassab to get an update on the situation.
We have included a biography of Mr. Kassab at the end of this article, but his ties in the country provide him with a regular flow of updated information and it is about that situation which we discussed with him.
Question: How would you characterize the current situation for the Christians in Iraq?
Kassab: Their future is bleak.
It is very difficult and deteriorating. The Kurds are doing the best to protect themselves and minorities but it is difficulty.
They have formed a task force to fight back against ISIL of about 4 to five thousand people, and they are being aided as well by some former US Marines and Army soldiers as well in their private capacity.
But we are afraid that they might become very easy prey for ISIS.
This thing happened in Syria where we have also a group of people from the Christian community who armed themselves, and again, it was not a very uniform army.
And they fought back, and they got trapped, and ISIS killed many of them.
I get calls from Iraq, an average of 10 to 15 calls a day from the leaders or from the people themselves, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to handle things, they don’t know if they should stay or if they should not stay.
They just do not know what the future is holding for them.
Question: There is a central issue here of whether or not the Administration is simply backing the Baghdad government, rather than defeating ISIS or supporting an alternative to the Baghdad government and its dominance.
What needs to be done here?
Kassab: I agree.
The corruption among the Iraqi officials is very, very, very high.
And money given the Iraq government does not get through to the Kurds and others in Iraq fighting ISIS.
They are a barrier more than an honest broker.
Question: What is your assessment of the situation with regard to Kurdistan?
Kassab: The Kurds are reaching a tipping point.
The government has already seen about two million refugees come into their region from Iraq and Syria.
It’s becoming a catastrophe issue, it’s kind of shaking the government of Kurdistan, and they’re saying that they are kind of crying and saying well, if you want us to take so many refugees, we will do that, but we need help.
We need the international community to really help.
Question: Is a lot of the money sticking in Bagdad because of the corruption at this point?
Kassab: There’s a lot of money sitting with the Government of Iraq, although they don’t need it, as you know.
They get a lot of money from the oil revenue.
But they are not releasing it.
And the reason they’re not releasing it is because they are not on good terms with the KRG.
KRG is the Kurdish Regional Government.
And for almost a year, they did not give them their share of the 17 percent share that they deserved based on the constitution of Iraq.
Question: What is the impact of Turkey on this?
Kassab: Turkey has the ability to hold the second hand and play a major role in the in Iraq.
They are not yet playing a decisively positive role, to say the least.
Question: What about Iranian influence?
Kassab: The Iranian influence and involvement is growing and on the Iranian issue, the Christians fear them since the days of Iraq-Iran war as they formed the may Iranian backed Shia loose and uncontrolled armed militia(s).
They were the ones whom they forced our people out from their neighborhood homes in Baghdad, killed and kidnapped and/or asked for ransoms from Christians in Baghdad soon after 2003 war.
Question: If we set as one of our American objectives to work with the Kurds and to protect those minorities such as the Christians from ISIS extermination, how should we proceed?
Kassab: We clearly need to empower the Kurds, I myself and others have been relentlessly asking the Obama Administration for this since the start of ISIS brutal invasion of Mosul and Nineveh Plain which is the heartland of Christianity in Iraq.
We need to also let the Kurds know that if we empower them, and we give them the sovereignty they’re looking for, and since there are Christians at this time living in their ancestral land, which is also in Kurdistan area, they should be given their rights in the constitution of Kurdistan.
There is a growing threat within Kurdistan itself of fundamentalist Islam as well. Therefore we need to help the Kurdish government on many grounds..
Biography of Joseph Kassab
He was born in Telkaif- Nineveh, Northern Iraq in 1952 to a Chaldean Catholic family. In 1975 earned his undergraduate degree with excellence from College of Science-University of Baghdad.
This qualified him for graduate studies program at College of Medicine-University of Baghdad to again become the first on his class and earn in 1979 Master of Science degree in Medical Microbiology and Immunology under the auspices of the Royal College of Medicine-UK .
He was then hired as assistant professor at the same college, but the regime in Iraq demanded that he joins the ruling party, when he refused he was threatened and his position was downgraded. When the threats continued and the intimidations intensified he decided to flee Iraq and join in Rome, Italy his two brothers, a pharmacist and an engineer who earlier faced similar challenges to seek asylum. Later on in 1980 they were resettled in the U.S as refugees.
In the U.S, Joseph continued his education by acquiring Graduate Certificate (GC) in Community Education Leadership from Wayne State University, under the auspices of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in Washington D.C
He also pursued an intensive curriculum in political science at Wayne State University.
While doing all of this he worked for 25 years as Bio-medical researcher and instructor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine.
He is currently the Chief Science Officer of Nano-Engineering and Consulting Co.
From 2005-2012, he served as the Executive Director of the Chaldean Federation of America (CFA) (www.chaldeanfederation.org) where he has dealt with a number of issues affecting Iraqi Christians in Iraq. He started his advocacy, consultancy, and humanitarian work on the plight of the Christians of Iraq and the Middle East since his arrival in the United States in 1980.