Only joint effort will defeat Islamic State
I have devoted my life to fighting for peace and democracy in Iraq, first as a member of the Kurdish peshmerga struggling against Saddam Hussein’s regime, then as a diplomat seeking to restore Iraq as a peaceful partner in ensuring world stability.
But never have I seen such heart-wrenching suffering as I have recently witnessed in northern Iraq. Women and children fleeing across mountains for days without food or water. Parents having their children taken away, bound for death or enslavement. The rapes of wives and daughters. Mothers cutting their own arms so their children could drink their blood in a desperate bid to survive.
Such atrocities are occurring because of a group that calls itself the Islamic State and acts under a grotesque misinterpretation of Islam that seeks to justify genocide with an ultimatum of convert or die. The massacre of villagers, the abduction of hundreds of women and girls, crucifixions, beheadings, burying victims alive and other horrific acts have driven a torrent of Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and Turkomen, as well as Sunni and Shiite Arabs, from their homes. More than 1 million refugees are crowded into overburdened havens in the Kurdish region, my home.
The vast scale and unspeakable brutality of these crimes shock the world, including Iraqis who have already suffered under a long dictatorship and then the onslaught of al-Qaida in Iraq. And with the brutal beheading of the journalist James Foley — an act that recalls al-Qaida’s murder of the reporter Daniel Pearl — Americans have seen once again that they, too, are the targets of a brand of terrorism that knows neither moral restraints nor national boundaries.
With thousands of Islamic State recruits hailing from Western nations and holding passports from those lands, these violent extremists can return to their home countries without visas to commit similar atrocities. This is why it is so important for all Iraqis and Iraq’s neighbors and allies to respond rapidly and effectively to this threat.
The United States was the first nation to answer the challenge with humanitarian assistance and military action, earning Iraqis’ gratitude yet again. On behalf of all Iraqis, I thank the American people and administration for the blood and treasure that they have sacrificed for us since 2003. Unfortunately, more must still be done to meet this new danger.
Iraqis are not asking the United States to fight in our place. The peshmerga, working with the Iraqi security forces, advised by the U.S. military and supported by airstrikes, are already serving on the front lines to recapture territory and defeat the jihadists.
But Iraq is up against the richest and most sophisticated terrorist group — or “state,” as they describe themselves — in the world, and we need continued and increased support. We have already seen what can be achieved when we act in concert. The city of Makhmur and the strategically critical Mosul Dam have been retaken, the Kurdish capital of Irbil has been secured, and most of the Yazidis stranded in the Sinjar mountains have been rescued.
The case for further engagement in the Kurdish region is just and clear. After the safe haven was established by the United States and Britain in the 1990s, Kurds seized the opportunity to develop a secure, democratic, pluralistic and tolerant region that protects the rights of minorities. In 2003, Kurds fought alongside Americans to defeat Saddam, becoming a stable partner for the United States in a region where it has too few.
Now we are fighting on behalf of the entire world, for if we do not beat them in our homeland, you will have to battle them in yours.
Fortunately, there is new hope amid the horrors. As Iraq’s elected leaders form a new and more inclusive government, the Iraqi security forces and peshmerga are successfully fighting together to defend not only Iraq’s territorial integrity but its very survival. Support for both the national and regional security forces battling the threat of the Islamic State has never been more critical.
Just as Iraqis are standing together against terrorism, so must the world community. We are not asking only the United States for help. We are asking our neighbors, our European allies, the United Nations and the Arab and Islamic world to stand with us against a murderous force that threatens to plunge us all into darkness.
We face a common enemy. We must wage a common struggle. And we must win a common victory for the sake of people everywhere and generations yet unborn.
Hoshyar Zebari is foreign minister of Iraq. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.