IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: The new military intervention in Iraq—on not repeating what has not worked

24 September 2014
IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: The new military intervention in Iraq—on not repeating what has not worked

by Peggy Faw Gish

[Note: Peggy Gish is currently working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraqi Kurdistan. The following piece was adapted for CPTnet.  The original is available on her blog.]

 Yazidi refugees driven from their homes by ISIS

For many Americans, President Obama, with his latest plan to expand U.S. military intervention in Iraq, is finally “doing something.”  And people here in Iraqi Kurdistan are generally hopeful that this will stop the militant fighters calling themselves “the Islamic State,” or for the purposes of this article, ISIS.  I keenly feel the pain of the people here and do not want any more persons brutalized, yet I believe Obama’s plan will not diminish global terrorism; it will only expand and strengthen it.

It is helpful to remember that ISIS’s ability to capture areas of Iraq was possible because of the U.S. had destroyed its society and supported the Shia government that excluded Sunni populations, subjecting them to widespread loss of jobs, attacks, mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings.

While our team lived and worked in Baghdad, the U.S. and Iraqi forces bombed and destroyed whole neighborhoods and cities in the name of anti-terrorism, generating more anger toward America.  The U.S. failed to support the progressive, mostly nonviolent, uprisings, around the country, against government abuse and corruption.  Throughout the years of occupation, it was clear to us that U.S. military actions in Iraq were not really directed at protecting the Iraqi people, but for protecting American personnel and U.S. economic and military interests in Iraq and the Middle East.  Then, in early August of this year, U.S. military strikes were, once again, less for protecting religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq than protecting U.S. diplomats and the large oil companies developing oil fields in the Kurdish region.

Obama used Somalia and Yemen as examples of successful collaboration against terrorism, but in reality, they point to the failure of our counter-terrorism strategy.  Bombing, drone strikes, and covert actions by Special Forces in Somalia have not diminished al Shabaab, or al-Qaeda in Yemen, but helped their recruitment.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, after thirteen years of the “Global War on Terror,” the Taliban remains strong and violence against civilians, high.

Much of the power of ISIS is in its ability to generate horrific fear.  The beheadings seem to be staged to provoke the U.S. and its allies to a military response, and to behave as jihadist groups have made out the West to be—monsters bent on global domination, exploiting and oppressing Muslims. Perpetuating this image maintains the jihadist group’s support among the local populations and brings in new recruits. 

Each time the U.S. puts forth an alarmist scenario, and tells us there is no other way but military action to stop an evil force, intelligent people—who know that our wars have been robbing our society of money for human needs and giving it to corporations—are once again seduced by fear.  They are not provided with a fair debate on the political and social alternatives to a constant war for maintaining military and economic dominance around the world.

So, what are some strong non-military measures the U.S can take to weaken ISIS in Iraq and Syria and start reversing the spread of the global terrorist movement? 

  • Stop the airstrikes, since they serve to strengthen the extremist movements.
  • Deal with the underlying problems that fuel extremism and global terrorism.  Support governments in providing its people with better living conditions and fair distribution of their resources.  Support local nonviolent movements for change. 
  • Develop political solutions to the crises.  In Iraq, put pressure on the Iraqi government to reverse years of anti-Sunni sectarianism.  For Syria, push the UN to restart real negotiations to end the civil war, bringing everyone involved to the table—nonviolent activists, women, refugees, armed rebels, and regional and global players. 
  • Develop a coalition of countries working on political and diplomatic, non-military actions to weaken ISIS.  Use financial pressures and stop the flow of money and weapons into the region.  Broaden the talks with Iran to develop a new partnership on these issues. 
  • Collaborate with Kurdish rebel groups already protecting minority groups from ISIS in northern Iraq—the YPG (Peoples’ protection Unit) and the PKK, (Kurdish workers party).  Take them off the terrorist list.  Work to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. 
  • Reverse decades-long policies and actions of the U.S. government around the world for domination and exploitation.  Recreate world monetary systems such as the World Bank and IMF to be non-exploitive.  Allow the UN to be really representative of the global community and to address injustice.  Change US policies with Israel. 
  • Address the enormous humanitarian crisis the US helped create.  Give non-military aid. 

There are no simple, quick fix solutions, but we will not reduce the suffering from war and build peaceful and stable societies if we keep repeating the strategies that have only fueled strife.  For the U.S. and other countries, this means finding the will to make a major change in how it relates globally—laying down the old polities of seeking dominance for one’s own gain.  I don’t know a better time to start than now.