Minn. Kurdish American fears for family in Iraq
By BILL SALISBURY | The (St. Paul, Minn.) Pioneer Press | Published: August 30, 2014
ST. PAUL, Minn. (MCT) — A Kurdish American businessman from St. Paul is sleeping a little better this week knowing that U.S. military air strikes are helping to protect members of his family in Iraq.
Last month, his 86-year-old mother and two brothers were forced to flee their home in Mosul, Iraq, his hometown, when it was overrun by Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"They left with only the clothes on their backs," the man called "Ranger" said of his family. He asked not to be named because he fears his relatives would be punished in retribution.
"They had to leave or they would have been killed," he said. "They left everything behind. They didn't bother to lock the doors. ISIS blows up the houses of Kurds."
Ranger's family fled north for two days before finding refuge in Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq. "They're OK, but they're so frightened because of ISIS," he said in an interview last week.
"I have lived here for 22 years, but I still get panic attacks when the phone rings. I wonder what has happened to my family.
"I'm worried about everyone in Kurdistan."
After U.S. air strikes halted the ISIS advances last week and President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a coalition of allies is broadening military action in northern Iraq, Ranger said his fears for his family's safety are subsiding. "My mother is tired, but she's better now," he said.
Obama has vowed to fight the growing threat of ISIS terrorists. But why should Americans be concerned about Kurds in Iraq?
"The Kurds are our friends in a region where we have few," Philip Seib, a professor of journalism, public diplomacy and international relations at the University of Southern California, wrote in the Dallas Morning News earlier this month.
In an email to the Pioneer Press this week, Seib said, "The Kurds are pro-American and are standing up to (ISIS) forces that in the long run could prove to be an existential threat to the United States."
The author of several books on the Middle East, he visited Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this summer and found that peshmerga troops, as Kurdish fighters are known, could defend the region. But since then, he said, ISIS forces -- armed with American weapons captured from regular Iraqi troops -- seriously threatened the region. Now, he believes the Kurds need and deserve U.S. help.
This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Kurdish forces would get weapons and ammunition from this country and other Western nations. He didn't say what kinds of weaponry they'd provide.
Ranger, a former Iraqi soldier, said Kurdish forces need attack helicopters and artillery to match the heavy weapons that the ISIS troops seized.
While peshmerga forces have recaptured parts of the region, it is still threatened. "In Iraq these days, being 'secure' is truly relative," Seib wrote.
He said American interests would be best served by an independent Kurdistan.
Ranger agreed. "There will be a Kurdish state," he predicted.
As for his mother and brothers returning to Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, he said, "It's not going to happen anytime soon."
ISIS terrorists and their allies are still killing people they consider "infidels" in an "ethnic cleansing" campaign, he said. That won't end until Iraq's new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, rebuilds the country's army and reclaims the city.
While Ranger is grateful to Obama for vowing to take military action against ISIS, he said the president is partly responsible for the crisis because he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq too abruptly. If Obama had left a stabilizing U.S. force behind, he said, "Iraqis wouldn't have dropped their weapons" when ISIS attacked.
He also criticized the previous Iraqi leader, Nouri al-Maliki, for barring Kurdish leaders from purchasing the heavy weapons they needed to defend themselves.
But the underlying cause of the crisis, he continued, is radical Islamists.
"They are so vicious and ferocious, they kill with no mercy," he said. "Their mosques promote hatred and beheading of infidels. They brainwash children to grow up to be terrorists.
"The solution," he said, "is to separate religion from politics, that and education."
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