Tag Archives: iraq

Geoffrey Wale: ISIS and child martyrs

There is a disturbing report in the news that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) kidnapped 145 Kurdish children on May 29 with the intention of grooming them to die as martyrs. In Islam, martyrdom refers to one who dies in Allah’s cause. However, one form of martyrdom in Islam, Istishhad, meaning heroic death, has come to be defined in the 20th and 21st centuries as dying in a suicide attack.

This modern martyrdom was formed  by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the Iranian revolution in 1979. Khomeini established the Basij, a paramilitary group intended to recruit men and women between the ages of 18 and 45. In practice, during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, children were employed in the Basij, used among other things to clear minefields by walking through them and detonating the mines, dying in the process. This was considered martyrdom by the mullahs who had recruited them.

The story of one of these child martyrs, Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh, is publicly commemorated in Iranian society and held as an inspiration to others to follow. He is said to have died in battle, having thrown himself under an Iraqi tank with a hand grenade, blowing himself up and disabling the tank in the process. There is every reason to suspect this is what ISIS intends for these kidnapped children.

From the perspective of Christian martyrdom, as I understand it, refers to one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death). A very lengthy list of children and adolescents beatified and venerated as saints and martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church includes the names of children who died along with their parents who maintained their Christian faith, knowing that they risked death in doing so.

As for the grooming of children for martyrdom by sending them on suicide missions, one has no qualms in condemning this outright. Children are dependent on their parents and mentors for their well-being, and while they may be caught up in events beyond their control, using children in warfare and justifying it with a twisted understanding ofs faith is universally wrong. I hope one day that those in the Iranian regime and ISIS responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice, and that the children who died in their futile cause will be afforded a fitting commemoration.

The Hustings


Henry Srebrnik: Can the Kurds create a state of their own?

Iraq is imploding, composed as it is of three mutually hostile groups: Arab Sunnis in the center, Arab Shiites in the south, and Kurds in the north.

With talk of partition, has the moment of historical opportunity finally arrived for the Kurds, the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of its own?

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States and Great Britain established a so‑called “no‑fly zone” above the 36th parallel in northern Iraq, allowing Kurds in that region to establish a de facto autonomous jurisdiction.

The defeat of Saddam Hussein by the United States in 2003 enabled the Kurds to strengthen their hold. Iraqi Kurdistan is now virtually independent, with its own flag, executive, legislature, and judiciary. Its capital is Erbil (sometimes spelled Arbil).

Taking advantage of the turmoil in Iraq, the Kurdish military, known as the Peshmerga, has now seized large tracts of Kurdish-populated territories that had remained disputed and outside its control, including Kirkuk, which the Kurds see as a future capital.

Will the Kurds be able to gain — and retain — cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul, surrounded by oil-rich areas that would enable a Kurdish state to become economically self-sufficient, indeed wealthy? In two decades of de facto autonomy in Iraq’s north, the Kurds have proved they can run a civil state.

The Kurds have also benefitted from improved relations with Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergogan, a religious Sunni, is no friend of the Shiite regime in Baghdad.

So Ankara and Erbil have built strong economic and diplomatic relations; they have signed a 50-year energy deal and Kurdish oil is being exported via a pipeline that connects the autonomous region to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. Turkey is now the KRG’s main business partner.

This is probably the best chance the Kurds have had in 80 years to form a sovereign state, at least for a part of their historic patrimony.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Obama’s clueless in Iraq, but who can blame him?

Chaos has broken out in Iraq again, and if there’s blame to go around, the President of the United States deserves a portion. His decision to evacuate Iraq of combat troops in 2011 has enabled a resurgence of brutal Sunni extremists, who now control most of the country’s northwest.

But while it’s true, as commentators have been shouting, that Obama’s foreign policy instincts are mediocre at best, he deserves the credit of noting that he is playing one of the trickiest geopolitical games in recent history—perhaps in the history of the United States.

Obama came into office while the American engagement in Iraq was still ongoing. The war was extraordinarily unpopular at home and abroad, and there was something to be said for bringing the troops home. On the other hand, the young Iraqi government was untested, and ran the risk of eventual collapse without American combat assistance. However, on yet another hand, the state was as stable as it had been since 2003, and was becoming stabler. American and Iraqi troops had routed the insurgents and killed their leadership. Answers were not clear in 2011, however it looks to us now.

Obama still faces an orgy of contradictions. American interests are certainly to maintain the integrity of the democratic Iraqi state it left behind. But to rout ISIS once more, the US would likely need to send in ground troops, which would make for political chaos back home. However, if the US doesn’t send in the army, it will appear to be relying on Iran to fight the Sunni rebels. An alliance with Iran, which sponsors Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and radical Shia groups across the Middle East, would be another nightmare for the US.

What’s more is that Obama is dealing with a marvellously incompetent leader in Nouri Al-Maliki. Any aid to his government in supplies or weapons will likely come to nothing while he is Prime Minister. But an attempt to force him out of office would be difficult and harmful to the United States’ reputation, and would mean American culpability for whatever chaos a new Iraqi leader would inevitably bring about.

None of this is to mention the powderkegs nearby: an unstable Afghanistan, an emboldened Hamas in the West Bank and Syria, with its ongoing civil war.

Yes, Obama has been shown unequal to the task of navigating the Middle East. But who on earth is equal to it?

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Iraq and Syria were destined for failure

War appears to have broken out afresh in Iraq as armed rebels make their way toward the capital. Regional and international observers are caught off guard, but a conflict of this kind is predictable, almost inevitable, when viewed through the lens of religion.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, has made a name for itself with its quick conquest of western Iraq. Following the fall of Mosul and Tikrit this week, 500,000 Iraqis, many of them Shia Muslims, have fled the region west of the Tigris River. Now ISIS, whose aims are the indiscriminate destruction of Shiites and the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic state, threatens to win the second successful capture of the city of Baghdad in just over a decade.

The word for ISIS rebels, before their unexpected coalescence and territorial aggrandizement, was “insurgents”. By 2011, the United States had nearly eradicated the insurgents, then known as ISI, after killing their leaders and shoring up the Iraqi defense. But after the American departure, and in the midst of the horrifying Syrian civil war, the movement was resurrected. Now it numbers 10,000 and controls a region the size of Jordan.

“Security concerns” don’t begin to capture the regional mood. Bumbling Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been caught flat-footed by the stunning geopolitical upheaval. The US-trained troops in the military are deserting their posts after brutal threats from ISIS conquerors. The United States thus far has committed nothing tangible to a defense of the Maliki regime. In the most peculiar turn of events yet, Iran is bidding for Baghdad’s rescue with an offer of 10,000 troops.

Commentators are asking: How do a few thousand rebels undo, in a matter of weeks, the effect of a decade’s worth of American blood and treasure? Why is Iran coming to the aid of the country against which it waged a bitter war from 1980 to 1988? And what force is animating these brutal Islamist rebels?

By taking a step back from the immediate conflict to view the centuries-long scene we have the answer, which is obvious to anyone who has ever felt the soul-transforming power of religion for good or evil. Sunni and Shia Islam are irreconcilable in the hearts of their adherents. Political attempts to unite them, whether they are named Iraq or Syria, and whether they are enforced by superpowers or not, are ultimately doomed.


Jackson Doughart: Lament for Iraq

All of the partisan and ideological debate that’s gone on in the Western world over the Iraq War has no doubt coarsened the public to the news of even further unrest in the country. As Tom discussed here yesterday, the presumptively-named Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken the cities of Mosul (Iraq’s second-largest city) and Tikrit (hometown of Saddam Hussein). It previously retook the city of Fallujah, and may well succeed in its goal of taking Baghdad. But one should remember that Iraq is, among other things, one of the longest-inhabited places in human history and was once the prime centre of Islamic thought and culture.

I know a couple of Iraqis, one a young man of my age who grew up during the 1990s, a terrible period involving the cripple of Western sanctions and the height of Saddamist terror. The other, a expat doctor here in Canada, remembers how Iraq was—contrary to the Orientalist assumptions of the West—a modern state with a developed civil society and educated population, which included many so-called “mixed families”, i.e. ones transgressing the sectarian lines of Sunnite Arab, Shiite Arab, and Sunni Kurdish. For the country now to be reduced to a Hobbesian nightmare of perpetual fear, with the elected political authorities clearly losing a battle to determined and well-armed Islamist insurgents, is a deep shame.

Though Mosul is a majority-Arab city, it is worth noting that Islamist victories in Iraq’s north will doubtless portend ominously for the security of the de facto republic of Iraqi Kurdistan, which despite bitter infighting among the Kurds in the 1990s, has made extraordinary progress in developing an advanced, peaceful, and democratic civil society since the era of its protection from Saddam by the Americans following the Gulf War.

The success of these projects seems to be nearly impossible at present, with Arab societies going the way of either military dictatorship, sharia-ist theocracy, or anarchy. Perhaps for good reason, the United States has responded with utter hesitation to requests for help from the Iraqi government, in whose country the Americans spent nearly a decade and where they are unlikely to return. But they should at least acknowledge that this will aid the turning over of Iraq’s major cities to the Islamists, who are grabbing their new territory with the most brutal of force.

The Hustings