How to stop the ISIS genocide campaign

  • Written by:

Photo: Reuters
By Frank R. Wolf Modal Trigger
How to stop the ISIS genocide campaign
Displaced Yazidis cross the Iraqi-Syrian border in August after fleeing their town of Sinjar.
As the world marked last month’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, I was in northern Iraq viewing the threat to that nation’s imperiled religious and ethnic minorities — especially the Christians and Yezidis. The parallels are sobering — for genocide looms for these vulnerable communities.
Happily, there’s an obvious way America can see to their protection.
At the Auschwitz ceremonies, Holocaust survivor Halina Birenbaum recalled the hatred that animated the anti-Semitism of that era and warned of an evil that “lingers” still, indeed is “reborn” in the form of “people being decapitated with the whole world watching.”
She was, of course, describing the Islamic State, a k a ISIS, which takes pains to globally broadcast its wanton acts of evil, as with its depraved beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians.
Further from the media glare are the horrors inflicted daily on the ancient faith communities of Iraq. Last summer, ISIS drove thousands of Christians from the lands they’ve inhabited for centuries.
Largely professional men and women with cars, homes and bank accounts, they often fled with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
ISIS then declared a caliphate in the cradle of Christianity. The remaining Christians were told to leave; if they stayed, to convert, pay or die. Yezidi men were killed; Yezidi women and children were bought, sold, raped and tortured.
A flurry of news coverage told of the men, women and children whose lives were upended, homes confiscated and dignity assaulted. Now the reporting has virtually stopped, but their misery continues.
Some Yezidis continue to bravely battle ISIS from Mount Sinjar; they’re reportedly finding mass graves on the mountain.
Many in the Christian community have become nomads in their own land — living in containers, abandoned shopping malls and unfinished sports clubs in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Their desperation is palpable, as is their yearning to return, protected, to their homes and churches in the Nineveh Plains.
They’re what remains of a once-vibrant Iraqi Christian community that dates back to the apostle Thomas.
In the short term, the displaced need help: temporary schools, basic medicine; counseling to address their recent trauma.
But these are Band-Aids. To sustain these faith communities in their ancient homelands, the Islamic State must be destroyed.
President Obama’s request for congressional authorization to use force against the Islamic State launched a necessary and overdue national discussion. The stakes couldn’t be higher in the region and beyond — The Pentagon just confirmed that IS has spread into Afghanistan, while multiple sources in Iraq caution that its next target was Jordan.
We haven’t even contained ISIS, let alone defeated it.
There is already consensus in Congress for supporting local forces committed to protecting vulnerable minorities in the Nineveh Plains and elsewhere. The notion is stated in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 — now law.
And Iraqi Christians have begun training new recruits for the Nineveh Protection Unit, a national guard capable of defending a future Nineveh Plains province once these lands are liberated. I visited the NPUs: The men are eager to defend their families and their homeland.
But no one is under the illusion that they alone can take on ISIS, whose numbers grow daily, buoyed by an influx of global jihadists.
Enter the Kurds and their fighting force, the peshmerga. They’re not boy scouts: I heard troubling reports in Iraq that, as ISIS advanced, they abandoned Christian and Yezidi villages they’d pledged to protect.
But the Kurds are unique in their pro-American sentiments and they’re prepared to battle the Islamic State, at least in historically Kurdish areas. Roughly 1,000 peshmerga have already given their lives in that fight.
In meeting after meeting, leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government lamented to me the lack of direct support from Washington.
Touring a peshmerga outpost 1.5 miles from the front, we heard that they are desperate for modern weapons and training to adequately confront ISIS (which is equipped to the hilt with state-of-the-art US weaponry captured in the Iraqi Army’s retreat).
If such weapons came with conditions — including Kurdish support for a Nineveh province for Iraq’s religious minorities — it could advance both US national-security imperatives and our values.
With the specter of genocide looming and the Islamic State on the march, we must do more than say, “Never again.”
Frank R. Wolf, a former member of Congress from Virginia, serves as senior distinguished fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.