ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Youssef Boudlal
Photographer Youssef Boudlal
A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, on Aug. 13, 2014.
Photographer Youssef Boudlal
A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, on Aug. 13, 2014.
Eighty-six-year-old Joseph Samuels fled his native Iraq in 1948 and has called Santa Monica home for over 30 years. When a traveling exhibition featuring pieces from the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA) — a collection of more than 2,700 Iraqi-Jewish artifacts — had a six-week stay at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda two years ago, he knew he had to go.
“I had tears in my eyes,” said Samuels, who lived through violent pogroms in Iraq. “Seeing the artifacts brought back memories of my life in Baghdad, like how we celebrated the Jewish festivals and going to synagogue with my father. It made the history come to life.”
Samuels hopes future generations of Mizrahi Jews get a glimpse into that forgotten history — rediscovered by U.S. forces during the invasion of Iraq 2003 — by seeing the artifacts, some of which date as far back as the 16th century, including Torah scrolls, prayer books and community records.
But that dream could be in danger.
After several extensions on a return date, the U.S. State Department is scheduled to return the IJA to the Iraqi government in September 2018.
Samuels, along with other Mizrahi Jews, Jewish organizations and politicians, vehemently opposes returning the artifacts to Iraq, whose Jewish community today is practically nonexistent.
“This is the property of the Jews of Iraq,” Samuels said. “If it goes back to Iraq, no Jews will be able to go there to visit their history. I feel very strongly about it. It will sadden me a lot if the archive is returned.”
More than 850,000 Jews were displaced from Arab countries and Iran during the 20th century, transforming thriving communities into hordes of refugees. Much of the refugee crisis was generated by pogroms in the Middle East and North Africa after Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence against Arab armies. Today, there are fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Arab countries. Most Mizrahi Jews, those who descend from the Middle East and North Africa, are dispersed across Israel, Europe and North America, with a sizable population in Los Angeles.
The IJA artifacts either were left behind by exiled Iraqi Jews who had flourished there for more than 2,000 years or were confiscated when Jews were forced to flee and were stripped of assets and citizenship.
According to Samuels, a member of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic Temple in Westwood, Los Angeles’ sizable Mizrahi community overwhelmingly opposes returning any artifacts to Iraq. Nationally, Jewish Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October asking him to work with Jewish groups to find a suitable home for the IJA.
Gina Waldman, co-founder of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Mizrahi culture and history, is a Libyan-born Jew who fled her birthplace of Tripoli in 1967. She likened the IJA situation to giving Jewish-owned artwork confiscated by Nazis during the Holocaust back to Germany.
“The Iraqi government claims these artifacts represent Iraqi national heritage. No, it’s Jewish heritage.” — Gina Waldman
“When the art was stolen from Jewish gallery owners or private Jewish owners by the Nazis, we tried to get it back,” she said. “If it showed up in the United States, we wouldn’t return it back to Germany, so why would this be so different? The Iraqi government claims these artifacts represent Iraqi national heritage. No, it’s Jewish heritage.”
David Myers, president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York and UCLA’s Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History, also expressed concern about the IJA’s potential return to Iraq but declined to wade too deep into what he called a “sensitive diplomatic issue.”
The treasure trove of Iraqi-Jewish artifacts was unearthed in May 2003 during the Iraq War when a U.S. Army unit stormed the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services. The unit didn’t find the weapons of mass destruction it was looking for, but it did find waterlogged and moldy Iraqi-Jewish artifacts in a basement damaged by flooding after a bombing campaign.
The U.S. government reached an agreement with a provisional Iraqi government to refurbish the collection under the auspices of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. More than $3 million was spent on preserving, cataloging, digitizing and ultimately creating an exhibition. Part of the deal included an eventual return of the archives to Iraq.
However, recent comments made by the U.S. State Department appear to be leaving the door open to revisit the IJA situation with the Iraqis.
“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible but would require a new agreement between the government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government,” State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in October.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Elan Carr, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area, was born to an Iraqi-Jewish family that escaped to the United States during the pre-Saddam era. He told the Journal he’d like to see an appointed American negotiator work closely with the Iraqis.
“There’s no shortage of names,” he said. “We have all kinds of ambassadors on issues involving world Jewry, anti-Semitism and many world Jewish issues who are familiar with this.”
Few are as familiar as Carr, who was in Iraq as an Army reservist when the IJA artifacts were discovered in 2003. During his time there, Carr and state department officials were shown storage rooms in Baghdad museums by curators where thousands of additional Iraqi-Jewish artifacts, including more than 400 Torah scrolls stripped of gem-adorned coverings and precious metals, still remain.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Carr said.
If you ask Carr, the IJA should be the tip of the iceberg in any negotiations with the Iraqis concerning Jewish artifacts.
“I think the negotiations shouldn’t be just about this particular trove, as important as it is,” he said. “Even if we were successful with keeping the archives here, that comes at what cost? This is one of many troves. There has to be in, my view, a comprehensive global negotiation about what to do with Jewish artifacts in Iraq, and Jewish places there, too, like shrines, sites and cemeteries.”
When asked if he can imagine the Iraqi government preserving the IJA and other artifacts and remnants of Iraqi Jewry, Carr expressed shades of optimism.
“Yes, I can imagine it. I don’t think it would be easy and I don’t they’d do it enthusiastically, but it depends on the negotiation and how badly they’d like to please the United States and how important the issue becomes to the United States,” he said. “I’ll tell you this: They haven’t destroyed them yet. They could’ve but they haven’t.”
The IJA currently is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore, where it is scheduled to remain through Jan. 15.
Everyone loves a good adventure. Whether you’re into climbing the highest mountains, bungee jumping from the highest bridges, or in my case – going to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Delaware – a little bit of a risk can bring on a rush of adrenaline that adds that excitement we all live for.
But some people take adventure to the next level. With us today is Tamara Baraaz who happens to be that kind of person.
Tamara is a journalist who travels to the most dangerous countries in the world to tell the stories of the people who live there. Her journeys led her to east Ukraine, Chad, Central Africa, Somalia, and even Afghanistan, where she couch surfed, and Iraq, where she ended up in a prison.
Tamara joins 2NJB to tell us about the extraordinary people that she met and the places she’s seen.
Israel offered to provide aid to the victims of Sunday’s earthquake at the Iran-Iraq border, but Iran rejected Israel’s offer for help.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video on Wednesday explaining that “as a father, as an Israeli, as a Jew, I wanted to help.”
“Israel has no quarrel with the people of Iran,” said Netanyahu. “We never have. Our only quarrel is with the cruel Iranian regime, a regime that holds its people hostage, a regime that threatens our people with annihilation.”
Netanyahu added that Israel has a history of providing humanitarian aid worldwide, including “Haiti, Phillippines, Mexico” and those who have been afflicted by the Syrian civil war.
“We do all this for one reason: we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” said Netanyahu. “Too many times in my people’s history, the world failed to act when it could, the world failed to do the right thing. So we have a special sensitivity to help those in need.”
Netanyahu concluded the video by noting that Israel’s constant humanitarian aid shows the true nature of Israel.
“This is Israel,” said Netanyahu. “Compassionate. Caring. Kind.”
Why did Israel offer medical aid to victims of the earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border? For one reason… pic.twitter.com/f12LGJfeMR
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) November 15, 2017
An anonymous official from Netanyahu’s office told the Times of Israel that Iran shot down Israel’s offer for aid.
“This shows the true face of the Iranian regime,” said the official.
Iran also rejected Israel’s offer for aid in 2003 after an earthquake killed over 26,000 people.
Sunday’s earthquake registered at a 7.3 magnitude, killing 500 people and wounding almost 8,000.
On Oct. 16, Iraqi armed forces and Iran-supported Shia militias moved into the disputed town of Kirkuk, bringing the country close to civil war.
The move was Baghdad’s decisive response to the referendum on independence that the Kurds of Iraq held on Sept. 25. The referendum produced a resounding majority for independence and a high turnout — more than 92 percent voted in favor of independence, with a 72.6 percent turnout, reflecting the stubborn determination of the Kurds to maintain and build a sovereign state.
The lines now are clearly drawn, as are the rights and wrongs of the case.
The Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq is the most peaceful and well-ordered section of that blighted country. The Kurds have given refuge to nearly 2 million of their fellow Iraqi citizens who were fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. In turn, the armed forces of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the Peshmerga, played the crucial role in stemming the advance of that murderous project and then turning it back, in close cooperation with U.S. air power. Many Kurdish fighters died in achieving this.
For Americans and other Westerners, the KRG has long constituted a unique space. Outside of Israel, it is the only part of the Middle East where public sentiment is solidly and, indeed, passionately pro-American and pro-Western. It also is safe. In Baghdad, Westerners cannot walk the streets in safety. The Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil is as safe as any Western city, and safer than many.
Over the past 25 years, the Kurds have built the KRG into a pro-Western de facto sovereign space, complete with its own armed forces, visa system, economy and parliament. Their ambitions do not end with autonomy, however. Language, outlook and history set them apart from the warring Shia and Sunni Arabs further south.
So the Kurds want independence. They want out of Iraq. The Sept. 25 vote was about kick-starting this process. The success of the referendum led to hopes for a swift negotiating process with Baghdad.
Instead, the countries surrounding the KRG have united in a vow to prevent Kurdish sovereignty by all available means.
How did we get here?
Iraq is not a historic entity. It was carved by the British out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire in the post-World War I period, when London and Paris were divvying up the former Ottoman territories of the Middle East. At that time, the Kurdish population lacked an organized national movement, and the Kurdish-majority territories were distributed among the new states of Iraq, Turkey and Syria (with an additional Kurdish population in Iran, outside of the former Ottoman territories).
This decision has led to much suffering. From the 1950s on, Iraq was governed by a virulent form of Arab nationalism. The rise of the brutal Baath Party in 1963, and then the ascendancy, from within the ranks of the party, of the executioner Saddam Hussein to Iraq’s helm, meant disaster for Iraq’s Kurds. They were deprived of the right to use their language and subjected to arbitrary expulsion from their homes as Hussein and the Baathists sought to leaven the Kurdish areas with Arab newcomers to end any hope of Kurdish sovereignty.
The West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations.
The apogee came in 1988 when, in an effort to end Kurdish resistance once and for all, the Iraqi dictator lunched a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and slaughter led by his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, henceforth to be known as “Chemical Ali.” In this campaign, between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds died. The accurate number probably will never be known. What is known for certain is that in the town of Halabja, on March 16, 1988, 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in a poison gas attack. Acording to a report by Human Rights Watch, “It is apparent that a principal purpose of [the attack] was to exterminate all adult males of military service age captured in rural Iraqi Kurdistan.”
This is the bitter legacy that the Iraqi Kurds carry.
If international affairs were dictated by moral decency, the case for Kurdish statehood would be open and shut. A people who were never consulted as to whether they wished to be joined to the Iraqi state, and who were treated with the most appalling brutality and cruelty by the regimes of that state to which they never wanted to join, and who have proven themselves the most democratic and civic-minded element of the population of that state, now wish to be afforded the liberty to create, finally, their own secure and sovereign country.
Yet despite the clear facts of the case, the West has chosen to back the Islamist administrations in Tehran, Baghdad and Ankara in their determination to oppose the emergence of Kurdish sovereignty. After the referendum, the government in Baghdad demanded that the Kurds hand over control of all oil revenue and border crossings, as well as control of the international airport at Erbil. Baghdad took unilateral control of Kurdish airspace. (I left Kurdistan on one of the last scheduled flights out of Erbil airport that Baghdad permitted to fly).
With the assault on Kirkuk, the Iraqis have demonstrated their willingness to back up their words with iron and steel.
Why is the West acquiescing to this?
Ostensibly, the reason has to do with the urgency to complete the war against ISIS. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk said the Kurdish referendum was “ill-timed and ill-advised.” This, he added, was the position of the “entire international coalition.”
But the notion that the referendum damages the war against ISIS by diverting attention from it is unsustainable. The war against ISIS in Iraq is largely won, with the final battle to drive them from their last urban holdings being waged right now. Kurdish independence will not get in the way.
So, what is the real reason for Western opposition?
First, the U.S. and its allies spent a great deal of blood and treasure in destroying the Saddam Hussein regime and installing a system of elections and formal democracy in Iraq. They are loath to see this project fail. At the moment, Iran-supported forces are in the ascendant in Iraq. The West hopes to assist those forces opposed to the Iranians in Iraqi politics. The Kurds need to remain part of Iraq, it is believed, to act as a counterweight to Iranian influence.
But Iranian domination of Iraq is quite complete with or without the Kurds. More important than Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the political structures in Baghdad are the Shia militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units — 100,000 to 120,000 strong — raised when ISIS was heading for Baghdad but with no intention of disbanding, and controlled by pro-Iranian elements. This independent armed force, combined with other pro-Iranian social and political forces, will remain the principal instruments of Iranian influence in Iraq.
There’s a deeper cause for the resistance, however: an Arab-centric view of the Middle East that dominates Western universities and the scholars and policy advisers who emerge from them, resulting in a certain lack of interest, even a condescending indifference, to the Kurds, their aspirations and their memories.
If allowed to triumph, this view will combine failure with disgrace. Failure because Iraq is already dominated by Iran. Disgrace because the justice of the Kurdish case is self-evident.
Instead of denying the Kurds their due, the West should recognize its failure in Iraq and embrace Kurdish aspirations, and then make a strong friend and ally of the new Kurdish state. Instead of acquiescing to Iranian gains in the region, we should be enlisting the Kurds in the effort to roll them back.
But for that to happen, their legitimate demands for self-determination need to be acknowledged and supported.
The hour is late, as the gobbling up of Kirkuk by the militias and the army shows. But it’s not yet too late. The time to support Kurdish statehood has arrived.
Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at IDC Herzliya.
Sermons infused with anti-Semitic language delivered by imams in two California mosques on the same day have reignited tensions in Jewish-Muslim relations after leaders of the two religious groups around the state have worked aggressively to ease lingering conflicts.
The July 21 remarks by Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside and Imam Ammar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Davis drew strong condemnation from Muslim and Jewish leaders, fearful that such incendiary language could erode relations.
The effect was like picking at a scab on a slow-healing wound. Since the terror attacks of 9/11, American Jewish and Muslim groups have made a concerted effort to forge bonds of understanding and cooperation. Those have been nursed along despite the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, not to mention the enduring friction between Israelis and Palestinians. More recently, efforts to stigmatize Muslims generally have encouraged Jews and Muslims to push for closer relations.
The angry sermons from the pulpits in Davis and Riverside tested the strength of those developing bonds.
“It is critical to understand the mosque, a sanctuary for worship and spiritual growth, has no place for divisiveness or hate. Paranoia as a result of political unrest does not justify making these allegations against an entire religious group,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing understanding of Muslims, said in condemning the two sermons.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and the American Jewish Committee, among others, expressed outrage over the sermons, with the ADL calling them “anti-Semitic and dangerous.” The Zionist Organization of America called for Shahin’s firing, and the Wiesenthal Center has urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the Davis Muslim leader.
In an Aug. 1 statement, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) said Harmoush’s sermon was “dangerous, offensive, and entirely inconsistent with the tolerant and respectful views routinely expressed by local Muslim leaders.” That same day, Rep. Brad Sherman, a Jewish Democrat who serves the San Fernando Valley, said Harmoush’s words were “nothing short of hate speech.”
Both sermons referred to last month’s conflict at the Temple Mount, where a shooting of two Druze Israeli police officers led the Israeli government to install metal detectors for entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is part of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. After two weeks of internal and international outrage from Muslims, the metal detectors were removed.
In his sermon, Shahin said, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews.”
Quoting a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that is distinct from the text of the Quran, he said, “Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last.”
Harmoush used similar language when he said in his sermon, “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and occupiers. Oh Allah, destroy them, they are no match for you.”
Further, he condemned “the occupying forces of the Israeli army [that] have intervened and indeed took over the holy place and shut it down.”
“These statements are anti-Semitic and dangerous,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said referring to the two sermons. “We reject attempts to cast the conflict in Jerusalem as a religious war between Jews and Muslims. At this time of heightened tension, it is more important than ever for the Jewish and Muslim communities to come together to condemn the use of stereotypes and conspiracy theories, and to rebuild trust so that people of all faiths can coexist with mutual respect in the Holy Land and around the world.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the SWC, called on Muslim leaders to denounce the two sermons as a more effective way to blunt anti-Semitic speech than criticism from the outside.
“Whatever changes need to take place, they cannot be forced from Christian leaders or Jewish leaders,” he said. “That change has to come from within and it has to be brought about by leaders within the Muslim community.”
If the language of the Riverside and Davis imams stood out as particularly inflammatory, the sentiments were not unique.
While his July 28 sermon at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City in English and Arabic did not explicitly promote violence, Sheikh Ahson Syed retained a distinct negative bias toward non-Muslims and repeatedly referred to Israeli soldiers, in English, as “Zionist terrorist soldiers.”
The sermon was recorded and posted to YouTube by the mosque, and the Journal commissioned a translation of the Arabic portion.
In Arabic, he said, “O God help our brothers in Palestine to get victory and get rid of the enemies who occupy their land. O God reinforce Islam and the Muslims, take down the shirk and the mushriks and kill enemies; enemies of Islam.”
In Islamic religious thought, a shirk is an idolator and mushrik refers to Christians and Jews, those who worship someone other than Allah.
Unlike leaders of some other religions, imams are appointed to lead prayers and are not required to have had formal seminary or theological training. Nor does Islam have any central authority that specifies what imams can say or not say in their sermons.
As a consequence, it is difficult to quantify how often fiery rhetoric is part of sermons delivered in mosques in California or elsewhere. Mahomed Akbar Khan, director of interfaith and outreach for King Fahad Mosque, said mosques entrust their imams and speakers to deliver sermons however they want.
“It’s generally free rein,” he said. “The questions we ask [when choosing speakers] is, ‘Is this person qualified and is this person respected in the community?’ If there are any inappropriate comments, we make it clear that it is not the stance of the mosque. But every mosque is different.”
Despite the language of the Riverside and Davis sermons and in mosques elsewhere, hate speeches in American mosques are “few and far between” and for the most part, haven’t been proven to lead to violence, said Kenneth Lasson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, who wrote a 2005 paper on hate speech and incitements in mosques.
“It’s rare a congregation would go out to commit violence after hearing a sermon,” he said, adding that while he would prefer civility in places of worship, hate speech is protected as free speech if no violence happens as a result of it.
“That connection must be proven,” Lasson said. “In the cases in California, there appears that there have been no consequences other than hard feelings.”
Nonetheless, Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround, an organization that works to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, said the sermons reveal deep-seated differences between the communities.
“I think it blows the lid off that this is real,” Hasan told the Journal. “There are feelings between these two communities and this is how it has manifested.”
One member of NewGround, Jewish activist Tuli Skaist, reached out to Shahin to challenge his use of “such hateful rhetoric,” as he said in an op-ed posted at jewishjournal.com.
“In these turbulent times, with so much hate in the world, it seems to me that faith leaders ought to be in the firefighting business,” Skaist wrote. “We must fight the inflammatory flames of hate with the sweet waters of love. We must fight intolerance in the world by urging our people to be more kind and more tolerant.”
In his response to Skaist, Shahin accused the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organization that translates speeches in Arabic into English, bringing them to a wider audience, of taking his remarks out of context.
But he apologized for his sermon, writing, “Thank you for your comments and concerns, I will keep them in mind. As you know, when we speak with emotion, words might not be put in the right places or understood correctly.
“My apology to all your community for any harm that my misinterpreted words might have caused.”
In a subsequent press conference, Shahin appeared with Davis Mayor Robb Davis and Rabbi Seth Castleman, chairman of the Sacramento Area Council of Rabbis, and apologized, acknowledging that he allowed his emotions to get the better of him.
“I understand that speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts, for this I truly apologize,” Shahin said. “Words matter and have consequences.”
In his online op-ed for the Journal, Skaist wrote, “Let me be clear: The imam was wrong; his words were dangerous and inexcusable. Such words should not be tolerated by his community or any other. At the same time, here is a man that is not full of hate, but who simply got carried away with passion, used words that he shouldn’t have, and had them distributed to the world in a two-minute ‘got you’ sound bite.”
MEMRI denied that Shahin’s remarks were edited or mistranslated and called him “one of a group of extremist preachers who have been exposed by MEMRI to be delivering incitement to hatred and violence.” The organization said accusations of misrepresenting Shahin reflects an effort by the Islamic Center of Davis “to deflect responsibility from themselves by issuing all kinds of mendacious and libelous statements against the entity that exposed them.”
In addition to his position at the Davis mosque, Shahin is an instructor at the Zidni Islamic Institute in Brentwood. Egyptian-born, he graduated from the Institute for Preparation of Preachers with a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies and earned an associate degree from Al-Forqan Institute, according to the Zidni Institute.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Center of Riverside (ICR) said it conducted an internal inquiry, reviewing Harmoush’s remarks and finding that his critics had misinterpreted his words.
“Imam Harmoush was careful to focus his remarks on the actions of the Israeli government in and around Jerusalem,” the center said in a statement. “In fact, those parts of the sermon which have been cited as objectionable were routinely mistranslated and/or taken out of context. Nonetheless, Imam Harmoush unequivocally stated in the sermon that Islam does not call for aggression against any peaceful people.
“ICR believes that the Imam’s remarks were neither anti-Semitic nor discriminatory, but rather intended to address the unfortunate closure of the Mosque in Jerusalem to Muslim worshippers,” the statement said.
In a brief interview with the Journal, Harmoush did not disavow any part of his sermon but conceded that his words might have an unsettling effect on others.
“Oh, I learned that sometimes you have to not only have a sixth sense, but maybe a seventh sense,” he said. “Some people are very sensitive but maybe they cannot handle the truth or information, and unfortunately, we are living in a very sensitive society. Sensitive in a way we have to be careful, so we don’t need to hurt anybody’s feelings. Sometimes I talk to adults, children, male or female, and we have to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
According to MEMRI, Harmoush was born in Syria and has been living in the United States since the 1980s.
According to the ICR statement, Harmoush regards himself as an interfaith leader, and on July 31, 10 days after delivering his sermon, he met with Rabbi Suzanne Singer of the Riverside congregation Temple Beth El to discuss the controversy over his sermon.
Having organized an interfaith event at her synagogue this spring in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States, Singer said she was eager to talk to Harmoush, despite her discomfort over his sermon. Ibrahim Massoud, chairman of the mosque, also participated in the meeting.
In an interview, Singer said the meeting confirmed what she had suspected after watching Harmoush’s sermon online, that she and Harmoush have strongly different ideas about the founding of the State of Israel and Jewish intentions in the Middle East. Although they did not agree on many things, she said, they agreed to meet again to try to bridge this divide.
“I said it may be a good idea for us to talk about our different narratives around Israel,” Singer said.
As to what the future holds, Singer said she would not allow the two sermons to stop her from building interfaith relationships with willing Muslim partners.
“Obviously, I’m quite distressed about this,” Singer said. “I don’t think it represents the Muslim community [in Riverside].”
Reuven Firestone, a professor of medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said the views expressed by Harmoush, Shahin and others are popular in the Muslim world, no matter how they are interpreted by others.
“These kinds of views have been encouraged by governments for decades in attempts to deflect criticism away from them,” Firestone said. “And there are plenty of harsh statements about Jews in Muslim religious sources that can be harvested when there is an interest in finding scapegoats.”
The challenge now for those who have worked hard to repair and improve relationships, said NewGround’s Hasan, is for religious leaders to hold one another accountable for hateful comments made by their communities but not to let them derail interfaith work.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to have those hard conversations and not sweep things under the rug,” she said.
Just over 2600 years ago, Babylonian armies destroyed the holy temple in Jerusalem, ransacked the ancient Kingdom of Judah, murdered scores of people throughout the kingdom (known as “Jews” – ie, the people of Judah), and hauled off scores more as captives, to the land of Babylon.
Fifteen years ago, around this very day, I stood on the edge of the land that once was a small city in that ancient Kingdom of Judah – on the exact spot where the city guard looked from his tower into the distance and saw flames of light extinguishing in surrounding towns. The ensuing darkness signaled that the Babylonians were approaching and the end was near.
A chill went through my spine.
While the rest of the people on the tour continued walking around the ancient city ruins, I stayed glued to that spot, feeling the warm breeze on my face, looking out into the expansive distance, imagining the terror that must have shot through the city people as they awaited their fates.
Their end was my beginning: the beginning of an exiled people in Babylon, who over the millennia transformed into a thriving, vibrant community — writing the authoritative Babylonian Talmud, launching the first ever Jewish learning institutions (yeshiboth, commonly known as yeshivas), and otherwise developing a rich and unique culture full of stories, music, language, spiritual teachings, architecture, prayers, dance, scholarly works, art, and religious rituals.
After nearly three millennia, my ancestors were sent packing once again: In 1950, my family was among the 100,000 Jewish refugees from Baghdad alone – forced to flee after a surge of anti-Jewish violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these refugees, including my family, were absorbed by the modern state of Israel. As in hokey-pokey style: One foot in, one foot out.
While my grandparents, six aunts and one surviving uncle remained in Israel, my father continued his migration to Massachusetts, where he chose to go to graduate school. There he met my mother, who had been on her way to New York from Colorado. When she’d gotten to the Massachusetts/New York fork in the interstate, however, she spontaneously decided to go north instead.
Together, they raised my sister and me as headstrong Iraqi Jews in Canada and California — teaching us the songs, prayers, religious rituals, food, personal and communal stories, Hebrew pronunciation, and a little of the language of Iraqi Jews. (I can say the most important things in Judeo- Arabic: “watermelon,” “barefoot,” “hammer,” and “my stomach hurts.”)
I went on to disseminate this knowledge across the world, over the course of two decades, as part of my ground-breaking Jewish multicultural work. Still, as tirelessly as I worked, I could not re-create Jewish life in Baghdad. I was unable to undo the violence and destruction that Iraqi Jews had faced. I was unable to bring back everything that was lost in the upheaval and uprooting. I was unable, in short, to resurrect the Iraqi Jewish community — to bring it back to life as it once was, in bold Technicolor.
What’s worse, over the past few decades, those who grew up in Iraq have been growing old and dying. Meanwhile I have been isolated from so many of these people, for a number of complex reasons. I am an exile within a family and community of exiles. So where does that leave me? Who am I? And who will I be when the older generation passes?
Throughout the Jewish community around the world, thsa b’ab is a memorial day — a day of fasting, prayer, and commemoration. It is a dark day, when people read paradoxically depressing yet triumphant stories about Jews who chose death over forced conversion, even when they had to watch their own children be killed before them. Today is also considered a day of terrible luck, replete with trembling fear, because the temple was destroyed not once, but twice on this day (the second time by the Romans, 656 years later).
I always have struggled with what exactly to do on this day. We are guided to actively induce a sense of grief and despair, so as to honor those before us and to remember being cast from freedom in our own land to captivity in someone else’s. But how, I wondered as a 14 year old in San Francisco, was I to do that, and what use was it anyhow? Actively feeling miserable and scared of moving all day long, because lordy knows what might go wrong next?
About a decade ago, I read an article by someone who suggested that this day actually should be one of celebration and honor: Yes, the temple was destroyed. Yes the kingdom was ransacked. Yes the people were hauled off as exiles. But look what’s come of it: vibrant Jewish life around the world, with the Babylonian exile reaching the far corners of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central, East, and South Asia, and the Roman exile stretching across all of Europe and the Americas.
As a Jewish multicultural educator, that spin resonated with me. Plus it was just so positive, so full of life and the pulsing rhythm of eternal change and transformation. It celebrated Jewish resilience and creativity and adaptation as a people, always surviving, always thriving, always pushing forward into new horizons.
And so, I realized, it is with me personally: Iraqi Jewish life is now gone, as Judean Jewish life once was gone as well. What stands in its place, in my shoes, is a vibrant, creative, pulsating mix of East and West, old school and cutting-edge, religious and secular, traditional and feminist. I express this mashup of perspectives by writing original songs for my band, Iraqis in Pajamas, which fuses punk rock with Iraqi Jewish prayers – making me a living, breathing, invigorating 21st century incarnation of all who came before me. Just like my Jewish ancestors on the rivers of Babylon, I am the beginning of something new.
And that is cause for celebration.
For two decades, Loolwa Khazzoom served as a pioneering Jewish multicultural educator, offering programs worldwide and publishing books and articles teaching about global Jewish heritage. She now channels her Jewish multicultural passion into her all-originals band, Iraqis in Pajamas, for which she is the singer, songwriter, and bass player.
Of all the dangerous situations a single woman of marriageable age could enter into, interviewing Islamist extremists could easily top the list.
But for reasons even she cannot explain, journalist Souad Mekhennet has been spared the grim fate of so many others, including many women and journalists who have not survived their encounters with Islamic jihad.
In the early pages of her best-selling memoir, “I Was Told to Come Alone,” Mekhennet admits that her background makes her an “outlier” among those covering global jihad and claims it has given her “unique access to underground militant leaders.”
Though she was born and raised in Germany, she is a Muslim of Turkish-Moroccan descent who is well versed in the principles of Islam and speaks both Middle Eastern and North African Arabic. She also considers herself Western, liberal and feminist. As a child, she dreamed of becoming an actress.
It was the film “All the President’s Men” that led her to a career in journalism. Today, as national security correspondent for The Washington Post, Mekhennet’s manifold identity has played a role not only in her entrée to the dangerous, unpredictable and clandestine world of jihad but in her motivations for covering it.
“Sometimes it’s really tiring,” she said when I met her during a recent book tour to Los Angeles. “Sometimes it hurts. Because I try to challenge; I try to somehow build bridges.”
Her work is reportage, but it’s also personal. Mekhennet tries to explain jihad to the West and the West to jihadists, often finding herself in the peculiar position of mediator. Not everyone wants to hear what she has to say: that violent extremists are people too; that they have stories to tell, beliefs that can and should be interrogated but which can be accessed only if we, Westerners, would listen.
For almost two decades, Mekhennet has searched for the answers to why and how individuals become radicalized. She began her work just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the widow of a 9/11 firefighter told a group of journalists she blamed them, in part, for why her husband was killed.
“She said, ‘Nobody told us there are people out there who are hating us so much,’” Mekhennet recalled. “And she looked at me, because I was the only person of Arab-Muslim descent there. And she was waiting for an answer, and I couldn’t give her one.”
Mekhennet’s investigation has taken her all over the world, from the insular terrorist cells of Europe to the front lines of wars in Iraq and Syria. Along the way, she has struggled to understand those who use Islam to justify violence and to explain their motivations to a stupefied West. She tries to reconcile a perversion of Islam with the one she inhabits, claiming religion doesn’t radicalize people, people radicalize religion.
Throughout her encounters, Mekhennet finds herself in talmudic-like disputes with extremists, challenging them over their interpretation of the Quran. She told one ISIS commander, “This is not the jihad, what you’re fighting. Jihad would have been if you’d stayed in Europe and made your career. It would have been a lot harder. You have taken the easy way out.”
Her methods may seem audacious, even dangerous for someone who often finds herself in isolated areas beyond the rule of law of any government. And how many Western journalists could argue like that with a terrorist and live to tell the tale? Only someone educated in Islamic teaching could even mount such an argument, and one of the lessons of Mekhennet’s book is that knowledge of one’s subject is essential to ferreting out truth.
The question is: To what end?
No explanation can justify brutality. Plenty of people have suffered injustice and not taken up weapons and killed innocents. If Mekhennet’s version of Islam is compatible with modernity, then why is it also compatible with a murderous caliphate?
“When it comes to violent acts or terrorism, it is unfortunately the reality that [some] people are using Islam or call themselves Muslims and commit acts of violence,” she said. “There is a problem that we have within our Muslim communities where we need to have an honest conversation about who is speaking on behalf of Islam, and what kinds of interpretations and ideologies are out there, and how can we deal with that [as a community]?”
Mekhennet’s book is a cri de cœur to the West to try to understand “the hearts and minds” of extremists to better defeat them. She believes current policies are misguided, and that simplistic generalizations portraying a clash of civilizations are playing into the hands of recruiters who exploit Western antipathy to Islam to indoctrinate young jihadists.
For many radicals, she says, “it’s too late; there is a point of no return.” But others, she believes, can be saved.
“This is not a clash of civilizations or religions,” she said. “This is a clash between people who want to build bridges and look at what we have in common and those who want to preach divides.”
She recounted the time she went to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage. Next to the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, is another place of honor where it is believed Abraham set foot. Having spent years studying religious divides, “this was a moment, where I said to myself, ‘Why are people not getting it? We’re connected.’”
I am a forgotten Jew.
My roots are nearly 2,600 years old, my ancestors made landmark contributions to world civilization, and my presence was felt from North Africa to the Fertile Crescent — but I barely exist today. You see, I am a Jew from the Arab world. No, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve fallen into a semantic trap. I predated the Arab conquest in just about every country in which I lived. When Arab invaders conquered North Africa, for example, I had already been present there for more than six centuries.
Today, you cannot find a trace of me in most of this vast region.
Try seeking me out in Iraq.
Remember the Babylonian exile from ancient Judea, after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E.? Remember the vibrant Jewish community that emerged there and produced the Babylonian Talmud?
Do you know that in the ninth century, under Muslim rule, we Jews in Iraq were forced to wear a distinctive yellow patch on our clothing — a precursor of the infamous Nazi yellow badge — and faced other discriminatory measures? Or that in the 11th and 14th centuries, we faced onerous taxes, the destruction of several synagogues, and severe repression?
And I wonder if you have ever heard of the Farhud, the breakdown of law and order, in Baghdad in June 1941. As an American Jewish Committee specialist, George Gruen, reported:
“In a spasm of uncontrolled violence, between 170 and 180 Jews were killed, more than 900 were wounded, and 14,500 Jews sustained material losses through the looting or destruction of their stores and homes. Although the government eventually restored order … Jews were squeezed out of government employment, limited in schools, and subjected to imprisonment, heavy fines, or sequestration of their property on the flimsiest of charges of being connected to either or both of the two banned movements. Indeed, Communism and Zionism were frequently equated in the statutes. In Iraq the mere receipt of a letter from a Jew in Palestine [pre-1948] was sufficient to bring about arrest and loss of property.”
At our peak, we were 135,000 Jews in 1948, and we were a vitally important factor in virtually every aspect of Iraqi society. To illustrate our role, here is what the Encyclopedia Judaica wrote about Iraqi Jewry: “During the 20th century, Jewish intellectuals, authors, and poets made an important contribution to the Arabic language and literature by writing books and numerous essays.”
By 1950, other Iraqi Jews and I were faced with the revocation of citizenship, seizure of assets and, most ominously, public hangings. A year earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa’id had told the British ambassador in Amman, Jordan, of a plan to expel the entire Jewish community and place us at Jordan’s doorstep. The ambassador later recounted the episode in a memoir titled “From the Wings: Amman Memoirs, 1947-1951” by Alec Kirkbride.
Miraculously, in 1951, about 100,000 of us got out, thanks to the extraordinary help of Israel, but with little more than the clothes on our backs. The Israelis dubbed the rescue Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.
Those of us who stayed lived in perpetual fear — fear of violence and more public hangings, as occurred on Jan. 27, 1969, when nine Jews were hanged in the center of Baghdad on trumped-up charges, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis wildly cheered the executions. The rest of us got out one way or another, including friends of mine who found safety in Iran when it was ruled by the shah.
Now there are no Jews left to speak of, nor are there monuments, museums or other reminders of our presence on Iraqi soil for 26 centuries.
Do the textbooks used in Iraqi schools today refer to our one-time presence, to our positive contribution to the evolution of Iraqi society and culture? Not a chance: 2,600 years are erased, wiped out, as if they never happened. Can you put yourself in my shoes and feel the excruciating pain of loss and invisibility?
I am a forgotten Jew.
I was first settled in what is present-day Libya by the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy Lagos (323-282 B.C.E.), according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. My forefathers and foremothers lived continuously on this soil for more than two millennia, our numbers bolstered by Berbers who converted to Judaism, Spanish and Portuguese Jews fleeing the Inquisition, and Italian Jews crossing the Mediterranean.
Can you put yourself in my shoes and feel the excruciating pain of loss and invisibility?
I was confronted with the anti-Jewish legislation of the occupying Italian fascists. I endured the incarceration of 2,600 fellow Jews in an Axis-run camp in 1942. I survived the deportation of 200 fellow Jews to Italy the same year. I coped with forced labor in Libya during the war. I witnessed Muslim rioting in 1945 and 1948 that left nearly 150 Libyan Jews dead, hundreds injured and thousands homeless.
I watched with uncertainty as Libya became an independent country in 1951. I wondered what would happen to those 6,000 of us still there, the remnant of the 39,000 Jews who had formed this once-proud community — that is, until the rioting sent people packing, many headed for the newly established State of Israel.
The good news was that there were constitutional protections for minority groups in the newly established Libyan nation. The bad news was that they were completely ignored.
Within 10 years of my native country’s independence, I could not vote, hold public office, serve in the military, obtain a passport, purchase new property, acquire majority ownership in any new business or participate in the supervision of our community’s affairs.
By June 1967, the die was cast. Those of us who had remained, hoping against hope that things would improve in a land to which we were deeply attached and which, at times, had been good to us, had no choice but to flee. The Six-Day War created an explosive atmosphere in the streets. Eighteen Jews were killed, and Jewish-owned homes and shops were burned to the ground.
I and 4,000 other Jews left however we could, most of us with no more than a suitcase and the equivalent of a few dollars.
I was never allowed to return. I never recovered the assets I had left behind in Libya, despite promises by the government. In effect, it was all stolen — the homes, furniture, shops, communal institutions, you name it. Still worse, I was never able to visit the grave sites of my relatives. That hurt especially deeply. In fact, I was told that, under Col. Muammar Gadhafi, who seized power in 1969, the Jewish cemeteries were bulldozed and the headstones used for road building.
I am a forgotten Jew.
My experience — the good and the bad — lives on in my memory, and I’ll do my best to transmit it to my children and grandchildren, but how much can they absorb? How much can they identify with a culture that seems like a relic of a distant past that appears increasingly remote and intangible? True, a few books and articles on my history have been written, but — and here I’m being generous — they are far from best-sellers.
In any case, can these books compete with the systematic attempt by Libyan leaders to expunge any trace of my presence over two millennia? Can these books compete with a world that paid virtually no attention to the end of my existence?
Take a look at The New York Times index for 1967, and you’ll see for yourself how the newspaper of record covered the tragic demise of an ancient community. I can save you the trouble of looking — just a few paltry lines were all the story got.
I am a forgotten Jew.
I am one of hundreds of thousands of Jews who once lived in countries like Iraq and Libya. All told, we numbered close to 900,000 in 1948. Today we are fewer than 5,000, mostly concentrated in two moderate countries—Morocco and Tunisia.
We were once vibrant communities in Aden, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and other nations, with roots dating back 2,000 years and more. Now we are next to none.
Why does no one speak of us and our story? Why does the world relentlessly, obsessively speak of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars in the Middle East — who, not unimportantly, were displaced by wars launched by their own Arab brethren — but totally ignore the Jewish refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars?
Why is the world left with the impression that there’s only one refugee population from the Arab-Israeli conflict or, more precisely, the Arab conflict with Israel, when, in fact, there are two refugee populations, and our numbers were somewhat larger than the Palestinians?
I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to understand this injustice.
Should I blame myself?
Perhaps we Jews from Arab countries accepted our fate too passively. Perhaps we failed to seize the opportunity to tell our story. Look at the Jews of Europe. They turned to articles, books, poems, plays, paintings and film to recount their story. They depicted the periods of joy and the periods of tragedy, and they did it in a way that captured the imagination of many non-Jews. Perhaps I was too fatalistic, too shell-shocked, too uncertain of my artistic or literary talents.
But that can’t be the only reason for my unsought status as a forgotten Jew. It’s not that I haven’t tried to make at least some noise; I have. I’ve organized gatherings and petitions, arranged exhibitions, appealed to the United Nations, and met with officials from just about every Western government. But somehow it all seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. No, that’s still being too kind. The truth is, it has pretty much fallen on deaf ears.
You know that acronym “MEGO”? It means “My eyes glazed over.” That’s the impression I often have when I’ve tried raising the subject of the Jews from Arab lands with diplomats, elected officials and journalists — their eyes glaze over (TEGO).
No, I shouldn’t be blaming myself, though I could always be doing more for the sake of history and justice.
There’s actually a far more important explanatory factor.
We Jews from the Arab world picked up the pieces of our shattered lives after our hurried departures — in the wake of intimidation, violence and discrimination — and moved on.
Most of us went to Israel, where we were welcomed. The years after our arrival weren’t always easy — we started at the bottom and had to work our way up. We came with varying levels of education and little in the way of tangible assets. But we had something more to sustain us through the difficult process of adjustment and acculturation: our immeasurable pride as Jews, our deeply rooted faith, our cherished rabbis and customs and our commitment to Israel’s survival and well-being.
Some of us — somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the total — chose to go elsewhere.
Jews from the French-speaking Arab countries gravitated toward France and Quebec. Jews from Libya created communities in Rome and Milan. Egyptian and Lebanese Jews were sprinkled throughout Europe and North America, and a few resettled in Brazil. Syrian Jews immigrated to the United States, especially New York, as well as to Mexico City and Panama City. And on it went.
Wherever we settled, we put our shoulder to the wheel and created new lives. We learned the local language if we didn’t already know it, found jobs, sent our children to school, and, as soon as we could, built our own congregations to preserve the rites and rituals that were distinctive to our tradition.
I would never underestimate the difficulties or overlook those who, for reasons of age or ill health or poverty, couldn’t make it, but, by and large, in a short time we have taken giant steps, whether in Israel or elsewhere.
I may be a forgotten Jew, but my voice will not remain silent. It cannot, for if it does, it becomes an accomplice to historical denial and revisionism.
I will speak out because I will not allow the Arab conflict with Israel to be defined unfairly through the prism of one refugee population only: the Palestinian.
I will speak out because what happened to me is now being done, with eerie familiarity, to other minority groups in the region, the Christians and Yazidis, and once again I see the world averting its eyes, as if denial ever solved anything.
I will speak out because I refuse to be a forgotten Jew.
David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and The Times of Israel.
Jared Kushner, the Jewish son-in-law of President Donald Trump and a senior adviser, is in Iraq to receive an update on the campaign against the Islamic State.
Kushner arrived Monday in the Middle Eastern country with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, according to the Department of Defense.
National Public Radio reported that White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed to its reporter early Monday morning that they had arrived.
Dunford invited Kushner and Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert to receive an update on the campaign against the Islamic State, or ISIS, a spokesman for Dunford told reporters. They will be meeting with Iraqi, American and coalition officials.
The spokesman, Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, also said that Kushner is “traveling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and U.S. personnel currently engaged in the campaign” against the Islamic State.
Trump has charged Kushner with making peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and has involved him in other foreign policy issues. Kushner also has been tapped to lead a new White House office that would streamline the government, using ideas borrowed from the business world.
It was well before dawn on Aug. 3, 2014, when fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) streamed out of the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, heading east. By daybreak, the Kurdish forces protecting the region’s civilian population had melted away. They fled with few warnings to the villagers, most of them Yazidis, members of an ancient and oft-persecuted religious minority.
The hundreds of settlements dotting the region, known together as Sinjar, are the locus of the global Yazidi population, which counts about 1 million souls worldwide. Across the arid expanse, the ISIS fighters who overran it seemed to follow the same script: Men and women were separated. Prepubescent boys were kidnapped for indoctrination as ISIS fighters. Women and their young children were sequestered into sexual slavery. And the men — those older than 12 — were forced to convert or else murdered, either shot in the head, sprayed from behind with bullets or beheaded as their families watched.
The picture painted in United Nations reports is dim. Within days, 5,000 were dead and about half a million displaced from their homes. One report, in June 2016, called the genocide “on-going,” estimating that 3,200 Yazidi women are still held as sex slaves by ISIS — bought, sold and raped by some of the same men who murdered their husbands and fathers. The bulk of Yazidis in Iraq who remain free stay in squalid refugee camps where basic needs are met barely or not all, while an untold number have embarked on the journey west, over perilous seas to the uncertain promise of refuge in Europe or the United States.
What’s worse is that the genocide of this tiny religious group didn’t take its victims by surprise. “We had a sense that it’s going to happen,” one Yazidi activist in Houston, Haider Elias, told the Journal.
In fact, ISIS has been remarkably forward about its genocidal intentions. “Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah [ransom] payment,” explained an article in Dabiq, a glossy ISIS propaganda magazine. “Their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqaha [Islamic jurists] say cannot be enslaved.”
A group of Islamic law students reviewed the Yazidi question, Dabiq reported, and ruled that unlike Jews and Christians, who are monotheists, Yazidis are pagans to be exterminated in preparation for Judgment Day. (In fact, Yazidis are monotheists whose Mesopotamian creed predates Islam by thousands of years.)
The Obama administration helped break a siege that stranded thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar shortly after the Aug. 3 massacres, but it was a brief show of American airpower. The United States has done little else to ameliorate the situation; the West can claim neither ignorance nor impotence.
A handful of Jewish organizations have raised the alarm, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and at least one, IsraAID, has even offered on-the-ground assistance (see sidebar). But with the global population of forcibly displaced people topping 65 million, most of civil society is tuned to the larger picture. A network of Yazidis in the U.S. seeks its aid and protection for their coreligionists, but their numbers are few.
Iraq is one of the seven countries whose citizens are banned from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, according to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order. The order makes an exemption for religious minorities, but at present, the procedures for exercising that exemption are unclear. At press time, the order had been blocked by the courts and was awaiting appeal, but the constitutionality of a religious exemption appeared murky in the first place. Meanwhile, the president has promised “safe zones” in Syria but the majority of Yazidis in the Middle East are in Iraq.
The persistence of genocide into the second decade of the 21st century makes a cruel joke of “never again,” just as Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia did in the second half of the 20th century. More than two years after the Yazidi genocide began, the question remains: Shouldn’t we do something about it?
Salem Daoud is Mir of the Yazidis in the United States, the community’s chief religious functionary, serving alongside a council of elders. He speaks a halting English that would be difficult to fully comprehend even if he weren’t describing some of the most trying days of his life. So his son, Seif, who goes by Sam in the U.S., and Rabbi Pamela Frydman, an activist in Los Angeles, joined him on a recent conference call from Glendale, Ariz., to make sure he was understood.
In such a tiny community, no family is unaffected by an event on the scale of the genocide. Salem’s sister and brother-in-law were kidnapped and then rescued six months later; they’ve never been quite the same since, Salem said. It’s hard to know what to ask a person who sat, more or less helplessly half a world away, while his relatives and countrymen were slaughtered and enslaved.
When Salem’s phone began to ring in early August 2014, there was little he could do to help the man on the other end, a local leader in Sinjar by the name of Ahmed Jaso.
“Till the last minute, till before they killed him, he was calling my dad, like, every, I would say, hour,” Sam said on the phone. “And he’s saying, ‘Do something for us, to save us from their hands.’ ”
Jaso was in a village called Kocho, where ISIS troops were lining up the villagers in groups of 60 or 100 and demanding payment to spare the locals’ lives. When the ransom was not forthcoming, they killed residents in a hail of gunfire, Jaso told Salem. Sam explained that his father has many contacts, people who might have been able to help, “whether here in the U.S., in Iraq, Russia, to people in Germany” — even people close to the White House. “Everybody put their hands on their eyes and their ears,” Sam said.
“[Jaso] would call, ‘[ISIS] said they just killed a hundred, so we need support to save the rest. … They killed another hundred, they need money.’ ” he said. “But nobody wanted to pay.”
“We give the information to a lot of people,” Salem added in his imperfect English. “Just nobody helped. No government, and nobody.”
The village of some 1,800 people was cleared out — the men slaughtered, the young boys kidnapped, the women enslaved.
“Very hard time, that was,” the Mir said. The last time he called Jaso back, the local leader was awaiting his turn at the death squad. “The last time, I hoped I’d be one of these people with them,” Salem said.
Frydman — known more commonly as Rabbi Pam — is a recent arrival to Los Angeles from Northern California, having moved here in May. There, she started the San Francisco congregation Or Shalom Jewish Community 25 years ago and spent a decade as a social justice activist and educator.
One January morning, Frydman sat down in front of her laptop at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. In front of her, a manila folder contained a manuscript of a book about the Holocaust she’s writing that she put on hold two years earlier, when she first learned about the genocide of Yazidis and Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. She finally was finding time to get back to work on the book. Asked to describe how she became active in the struggle for Yazidi survival, she scribbled an impromptu timeline on the back of the manila folder.
In November 2014, Frydman saw an email from the Board of Rabbis of Northern California about an event at a Jewish Community Center in the Bay Area. “It said, ‘Act before it’s too late,’ ” she recalled. At the gathering, she saw footage of Yazidis being marched up to the heights of Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped.
“We heard about children who were dehydrated because there just wasn’t enough water,” she said. She heard a story about a woman being driven up the mountain by ISIS forces and struggling to carry both of her children — one of many such stories to emerge from these forced marches. When this particular woman grew too exhausted to hold both children, she put one of them down.
“As soon as she put that child down, the child was slaughtered, was killed, and I said to myself, ‘This is a death march! This is what our people went through in the Holocaust!’ ” Frydman said, her voice wavering. “The fire was in my belly and my heart was shattered, and I felt that I had to do something. And I returned to my home and I started to contact Jewish and interfaith colleagues, and I said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ”
Soon, she organized a program called Save Us From Genocide, a consciousness-raising campaign for the plight of the Yazidis and Assyrians, hosted by four Bay Area interreligious councils in concert with the United Religions Initiative, a global interfaith network. A project of Save Us From Genocide administered by the Northern California Board of Rabbis, called Beyond Genocide, hopes to gain attention and relief specifically for atrocities perpetrated against Yazidis.
In addition to helping finance university scholarships for Yazidis studying outside Iraq, Beyond Genocide assists in Yazidi migration and resettlement. On that last score, Frydman could describe her efforts only in vague details, out of abundant caution against putting Yazidis in danger.
Asked how much Beyond Genocide had raised for resettlement, she responded, “A very small amount. But with this very small amount, we have performed miracles.”
Frydman’s resettlement and advocacy work runs primarily through tight-knit networks of American Yazidis such as the one operated by Saeed Hussein Bakr, whom she calls “my brother.” Bakr arrived in the U.S. about five years ago and found his way to Phoenix, where currently he works as a cook for a local Panda Express. As the disaster in Sinjar unfolded, groups quickly sprang up among American Yazidis to help those fleeing for their lives in the Middle East, managed by people like Bakr.
“Yazidis are not a big community,” he said. “So, almost, we all know each other.”
Headquartered in places such as Lincoln, Neb., the largest American Yazidi population center, these networks raise money when possible, though the community is in large part newly arrived and not a wealthy one. More often, they deploy contacts in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to help Yazidi migrants who find themselves in trouble.
Bakr’s group, Yazidi Rescue, will alert Coast Guard officials in Greece, for example, when a boatload of Yazidi refugees is abandoned or waterlogged in the Mediterranean or Aegean sea. In other cases, they’ll help Yazidi women escape from slavery or help refugees who are imprisoned abroad. There are no rules or standard operating procedures for this type of operation, only dire phone calls to anybody who might be able to do something, whether civilians or government officials.
“Some nights, I can say we help 1,000 people in one night,” Bakr said.
Bakr first became involved after one of his sons, Layth, on his way to the U.S., got on a boat headed to Greece from Turkey. His boat capsized, and some of the refugees on board with him drowned. “That’s why I work to help those people,” Bakr said.
Remarkably, though, his son’s near-death experience in the Aegean Sea was not the most harrowing episode for Bakr. That would be earlier, in August 2014, when Bakr’s son and other relatives were turned out of their homes and driven up Mount Sinjar.
“For seven days, they were in the mountains, no power, no communications. We don’t know at any time if ISIS, they captured them,” he said. “It was horrible days. Those seven days, they were the worst seven days in my life.”
The Yazidis are an ancient people, born in the cradle of civilization. Consecrated to one God, they survived through the ages. In each generation, the yoke of oppression found them, and they cried out for deliverance — except sometimes their savior was a long time in coming.
“In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us,” Jews recite each Passover. It would be equally true on the lips of a Yazidi.
The parallels between Jews and Yazidis become uncanny at a point. Both are ethnically distinct religions dating to the birth of monotheism. Both have been singled out by Muslim rulers for persecution based on their strange and foreign faith, slandered as perversions of Islam.
But somewhere along the ages, the historical arcs of the two people diverge. Whereas the history of Jewish genocide ends after the Holocaust, Yazidis have had no such luck.
Since the 15th century, Yazidis count 74 farmans against them — literally, decrees, calls by rulers for their destruction that inevitably result in mass slaughter. They’ve faced genocide at the hands of Kurds, Turks and Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslims backed by the Ottoman Empire. ISIS is only the most recent in a long line of persecutors.
Invariably, Yazidi customs and belief are offered as the reason for their oppression. The religion has no central texts that have survived the ages, but its folklore is vivid and distinct from any other faith. Adherents claim to descend not from Abraham but from Adam. Their legend has it that Adam and Eve, as a sort of competition, each placed their seed in a jar. When Eve’s jar was opened, it held an unpleasant stew of filth and insects. Adam’s contained a beautiful baby boy, ibn Jar, literally the son of Jar, who became the ancestor of the Yazidi people.
Ironically, it is their guardian angel that has earned them the fanatical ire of radical Islamists. Yazidis regard as sacred Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, a fallen angel who refused to bow to Adam when God requested he do so, and who consequently gained dominion over the fates and follies of man. This origin story bears a similarity with that of the Islamic legend of Iblis, the archdevil in Muslim theology. The resemblance between the tales has historically motivated the slander of Yazidis as devil worshippers, a kind of Middle Eastern blood libel that continues to claim the lives of its subjects.
“They have made Iblis — who is the biggest taghut [idolator] — the symbolic head of enlightenment and piety!” the article in the ISIS magazine Dabiq exclaims. “What arrogant kufr [infidels] can be greater than this?”
One irony to emerge from this account is that peacocks don’t exist in the region where Yazidi civilization arose. If the community of nations is not watchful, it’s not inconceivable to imagine a Middle East with no more Yazidis, either.
Google searches for “Yazidis” saw a massive spike in early August 2014 and then returned, but for a few small flutters, to a flatline. But things never went back to normal for Haider Elias, a Yazidi activist in Houston who is the president of Yazda, an advocacy, aid and relief organization.
That’s not the role he’d imagined for himself before ISIS began to wreak catastrophe. A former translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq who immigrated in 2010, Elias was raising three children and studying biology as an undergraduate in the hopes of attending medical school. When his brother was murdered in Iraq and the rest of his family displaced from their homes, he dropped his medical school dreams to dedicate himself to advocacy.
Elias and his peers at Yazda run a gamut of programs aimed at helping those displaced by the genocide. They’ve presented on the catastrophe in more than 10 states, including California, and in Europe. In Iraq, the group offers psychological and psychosocial therapy to help reintegrate women who have escaped or been rescued from ISIS. On top of all that, Yazda runs documentation projects to record video testimonies about the genocide and document mass graves.
Elias is still a full-time student at the University of Houston, though he’s switched majors to psychology at the recommendation of some American friends. A social science degree would better suit him for advocacy work, they told him. His days are long and busy, but he’s motivated by the knowledge that his people still face imminent danger.
“Many people want to come back [home] but they’re afraid that the security forces again are going to fail and run away, and this time it’s going to be more fatal, more catastrophic,” Elias said.
And so Yazda now is advocating for international protection for Yazidis, without which resettling Sinjar is unfeasible. “Without some form or guarantee of protection, this community is terrified,” he said.
Elias admits to still being angry. He’s angry with ISIS, naturally, and with the world for standing idly by; but more specifically, he’s angry with the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, for abandoning their posts before the Islamists’ murderous advance.
“It’s not a battle and they lost — they ran away,” he said. “They did not tell the population. When you lose many lives and you think you lost the battle, the first thing you do, you inform the population. The second thing, you run away.” To hear Elias and other Yazidis tell it, the Peshmerga didn’t quite bother with the first.
Though most Yazidis are behind Kurdish lines for the moment, their situation remains precarious and their advocates few. Elias made note of a chilling silence in Congress, broken only on occasion by legislators who represent Yazidi population centers, including two Republicans, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
“We need a campaign in 2017 to help the Yazidis, whether to advocate for international protection or accepting Yazidi refugees in the U.S. or sending more humanitarian aid to the areas,” Elias said.
Responding to the genocide, Yazda took up “never again” as a rallying cry. But Elias is not naïve about the prospects of his people.
“Never again requires a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of work,” he said.
The Yazidi call for aid is neither subtle nor nuanced. Even before the genocide, theirs was a struggle for existence. There is no conversion into the community, and a child with even one non-Yazidi parent is considered to be outside the faith. The massacres and enslavement of Yazidis compound an already dire population problem.
“An entire religion is being exterminated from the face of the earth,” Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, told the legislature on Aug. 5, 2014, in a tearful plea that briefly went viral on the internet. “Brothers, I appeal to you in the name of humanity to save us!”
Before she could finish the next sentence, she collapsed, weeping.
The Yazidis interviewed for this story made clear they are open to any help they can get — military, political, financial and otherwise. Currently, Frydman and her colleagues are advocating for a real immigration pipeline to allow Yazidis to come to the U.S. notwithstanding the Trump administration’s refugee policy.
The Trump order, before a federal judge blocked the bulk of it on Feb. 3, in theory allowed Yazidi immigration to continue largely unimpeded. In practice, though, the International Organization for Migration, which coordinates refugee admission, has told Yazidi refugees their immigration has been canceled until further notice, Reuters reported. A faith-based exemption raises constitutional questions and its legality is a matter for the courts to decide.
But not all displaced Yazidis want to leave Iraq, anyway. Many simply want to resume their lives in the villages where they were born and escaped death, according to Salem Daoud, the Yazidi Mir. Much of that territory is still held by ISIS.
For now, the totality of a people’s homeland lives in limbo and its diaspora finds only limited means to help them. Often, prayer is the only recourse. Frydman recalled a joint prayer group near Phoenix with Yazidis, Jews and Universal Sufis. After the prayers were over, a Yazidi elder approached her and showed her a tiny book in a plastic pouch. Peering through her bifocals, she discovered it to be the Book of Psalms. A Jewish friend had given it to the elder, he told her, shortly before immigrating to Israel after the declaration of the Jewish state. “He said the prayers in this book will protect me,” the elder told Frydman.
The themes reflected in the Book of Psalms, as it happens, are more topical now for the Yazidi people than they ever have been in recent memory. As it says in Psalm 7:
O Lord, my God, in You I seek refuge; deliver me from all my pursuers and save me, lest, like a lion, they tear me apart, rending me in pieces, and no one to save me.
LEARN more about the plight of the Yazidis by reading reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International or other news articles.
CALL or write your elected representatives to request that they act on behalf of the Yazidis.
DONATE to organizations working to assist Yazidis through advocacy and direct aid, listed below:
The author of a work on the Nazi-era massacre in Baghdad believed to have precipitated the Jewish exodus from Iraq is commemorating its 75th anniversary with candle lightings in four cities.
Edwin Black, who in 2010 published “The Farhud,” about the June 1-2, 1941 massacre of at least 180 Jews in Baghdad, will convene candle lightings on Tuesday in the morning on Capitol Hill and in the afternoon at the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in New York.
On Thursday, there will be a candle lighting in London, which has a large Iraqi Jewish community, and then on June 6 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.
The pogrom, set off by the collapse of a popular pro-Nazi government in Baghdad, is seen as a turning point for Iraqi Jews. A series of subsequent decrees and attacks emptied the country of its ancient Jewish community by the early 1970s, with barely 100 Jews remaining.
In each city, 27 candles will be lit for the 27 centuries that Jewish life thrived in what is now Iraq.
Among the groups sponsoring the events are the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, StandWithUs and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.
A suicide attacker detonated an explosive belt in a park outside Baghdad on Friday, killing 26 people and wounding 71, said the security head in Babel province where the bomb – claimed by Islamic State – went off.
The blast in Iskandariya, a mixed Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim town 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital, happened around 7:15 p.m. (1615 GMT) at the end of an amateur soccer game, said Falah al-Khafaji.
Islamic State militants, who control swathes of territory in Iraq's north and west, were behind the attack, according to Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the group.
At least 60 people were killed earlier this month in an attack claimed by Islamic State 80 km further south, in Hilla, when an explosives-laden fuel tanker slammed into an Iraqi security checkpoint.
An apparent escalation of large bombings targeting areas outside Islamic State's primary control suggests that Iraqi government forces may be stretched thin after recent gains against the group in the western and northern provinces.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed a Syrian Kurdish militia fighter working with Kurdish militants inside Turkey for a suicide car bombing that killed 28 people in the capital Ankara, and he vowed retaliation in both Syria and Iraq.
A car laden with explosives detonated next to military buses as they waited at traffic lights near Turkey's armed forces' headquarters, parliament and government buildings in the administrative heart of Ankara late on Wednesday.
Davutoglu said the attack was clear evidence that the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia that has been supported by the United States in the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria, was a terrorist organization and that Turkey, a NATO member, expected cooperation from its allies in combating the group.
Within hours, Turkish warplanes bombed bases in northern Iraq of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and which Davutoglu accused of collaborating in the car bombing.
Turkey's armed forces also shelled YPG positions in northern Syria on Thursday, a security source said. Davutoglu said the artillery fire would continue and promised that those responsible for the Ankara attack would “pay the price”.
“Yesterday's attack was directly targeting Turkey and the perpetrator is the YPG and the divisive terrorist organization PKK. All necessary measures will be taken against them,” Davutoglu said in a televised speech.
President Tayyip Erdogan also said initial findings suggested the Syrian Kurdish militia and the PKK were behind the bombing and said that 14 people had been detained.
The political arm of the YPG, denied involvement in the bombing, while a senior member of the PKK said he did not know who was responsible.
The attack was the latest in a series of bombings in the past year mostly blamed on Islamic State militants.
Turkey is getting dragged ever deeper into the war in neighboring Syria and is trying to contain some of the fiercest violence in decades in its predominantly Kurdish southeast.
The YPG militia, regarded by Ankara as a hostile insurgent force deeply linked to the PKK, has taken advantage in recent weeks of a major Syrian army offensive around the northern city of Aleppo, backed by Russian air strikes, to seize ground from Syrian rebels near the Turkish border.
That has alarmed Turkey, which fears the advances will stoke Kurdish separatist ambitions at home. It has been bombarding YPG positions in an effort to stop them taking the town of Azaz, the last stronghold of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels north of Aleppo before the Turkish frontier.
Hundreds of Syrian rebels with weapons and vehicles have re-entered Syria from Turkey over the last week to reinforce insurgents fending off the Kurdish-led assault on Azaz, rebel sources said on Thursday.
TENSIONS WITH WASHINGTON
The co-leader of the YPG's political wing denied that the affiliated YPG perpetrated the Ankara bombing and said Turkey was using the attack to justify an escalation in fighting in northern Syria.
“We are completely refuting that. …Davutoglu is preparing for something else because they are shelling us as you know for the past week,” Saleh Muslim told Reuters by telephone.
Washington's support of the YPG – it views the group as a useful ally in the fight against Islamic State – has strained relations with Turkey. Both Erdogan and Davutoglu have called on the United States to cut ties with the insurgents.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington was not in a position to either confirm or deny Turkey's charge the YPG was behind the attack. He also called on Turkey to stop shelling the YPG.
Turkey has said its shelling of YPG positions is a response, within its rules of engagement, to hostile fire coming across the border into Turkey, something Saleh Muslim also denied.
“I can assure you not even one bullet is fired by the YPG into Turkey … They don't consider Turkey an enemy,” he said.
The co-leader of the PKK umbrella group, Cemil Bayik, was quoted by the Firat news agency as saying he did not know who was responsible for the Ankara bombing. But the attack, he said, could be an answer to “massacres in Kurdistan”, referring to the Kurdish region spanning parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Turkey has been battling PKK militants in its own southeast, where a 2-1/2 year ceasefire collapsed last July and pitched the region into its worst bloodshed since the 1990s. Six soldiers were killed and one wounded on Thursday when a remote-controlled handmade bomb hit their vehicle, the military said.
WARNING TO RUSSIA
Davutoglu named the suicide bomber as Salih Necar, born in 1992 and from the Hasakah region of northern Syria, and said he was a member of the YPG.
A senior security official said the alleged bomber had entered Turkey from Syria in July 2014, although he may have crossed the border illegally multiple times before that, and said he had had contact with the PKK and Syrian intelligence.
Davutoglu also accused the Syrian government of a hand in the Ankara bombing and warned Russia, whose air strikes in northern Syria have helped the YPG to advance, against using the Kurdish militant group against Turkey.
“I'd like to warn Russia, which is giving air support to the YPG in its advance on Azaz, not to use this terrorist group against the innocent people of Syria and Turkey,” he said.
“Russia condemned yesterday's attack, but it is not enough. All those who intend to use terrorist organizations as proxies should know that this game of terror will turn around like a boomerang and hit them first.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told a teleconference with reporters that the Kremlin condemned the bombing “in the strongest possible terms.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he believed Islamic State's military capabilities in Iraq and Syria would be seriously weakened by the end of 2016.
Asked at a media roundtable on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, whether this year would see the end of Islamic State, Kerry replied, referring to the militant group by an Arabic acronym:
“I think that by the end of 2016, our goal of very seriously denting Daesh …will be achieved. I think we are on track.”
Kerry said Islamic State has already lost 20-30 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria combined and about 40 percent in Iraq.
The jihadist group lost control of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, in a sorely needed victory for U.S.-backed Iraqi forces.
But critics, including some in the U.S. Congress, say the U.S. strategy is still far too weak and lacks sufficient military support from Sunni Arab allies, while Islamic State has also established a foothold in other countries in the region, notably Libya and Yemen.
Kerry said the coalition had upped its engagement significantly, noting that defense chiefs from the United States, France, Britain and four other countries had pledged to intensify the fight.
Kerry said he planned to meet on Feb. 2 with foreign ministers from 24 of the nations that were the most active in the anti-Islamic State coalition to get additional commitments.
Ayoob Kara, a deputy Israeli cabinet minister, used to double as an unofficial intermediary with the few of his fellow Arab citizens who have left to join Islamic State insurgents in Syria or Iraq.
Negotiating discreetly through relatives and go-betweens, he would offer them reduced jail terms if they returned to Israel, cooperated with security services and helped deter other would-be Islamic State recruits by publicly disavowing the group.
A half-dozen volunteers took the deal, Kara says.
But with the number of Islamic State sympathizers in Israel growing from its initial trickle, and some accused of trying to set up armed cells within the country's 18-percent Muslim minority, the deputy minister no longer sounds so accommodating.
“I used to work hard to dissuade people from joining ISIS, but now I say that there's no point,” he told Reuters in an interview, using an acronym for the insurgents.
“If, by this point, when the dangers are abundantly clear to everyone, they still want to go, then they are beyond saving and it's a one-way ticket for them. It's literally a dead end.”
Kara, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was expressing a hardening of government policy against Islamic State, which, though preoccupied with battling Syrian and Iraqi regime forces, has recently inveighed against Israel.
“Jews, soon you shall hear from us in Palestine, which will become your grave,” promised a Dec. 26 voice recording on social media attributed to Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In October, two video clips surfaced in which Islamic State gunmen threatened to strike Israel. They spoke in near-fluent, Arabic-accented Hebrew, suggesting they were among the several dozen Israeli Arabs who the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service estimates have joined the group abroad.
Israel sees a major cross-border attack on it by Islamic State as unlikely. But it is less sanguine about support for the group inside Israel, which is already beset by Palestinian street violence that has surged in the last three months, stoked in part by strife over a contested Jerusalem mosque complex.
“It (Islamic State influence) is beginning to spread here as well,” Intelligence Ministry director-general Ram Ben-Barak told Israel's Army Radio on Sunday. “The ISIS scenario we worry about is ISIS cells arising in Israel to carry out terrorist attacks.”
Among Israel's Muslim minority, pro-Palestinian sympathies are common but political violence rare.
PARAGLIDER, EX-ARMY DEFECTOR AMONG RECRUITS
Still, a series of spectacular incidents involving Israelis and Islamic State has unsettled the Shin Bet.
One Arab citizen who had volunteered to serve in Israel's army later defected to the insurgents' ranks in Syria, it emerged this month – a blow for a military that regards itself as a sectarian melting pot in the Jewish-majority country.
Separately, an Israeli Arab used a paraglider to fly into Syria in what the Shin Bet said was a bid to join Islamic State, and three others were arrested on suspicion of trying to set up an armed cell to carry out attacks in Israel on orders from two Israeli Arabs who are already with Islamic State in Iraq.
The paraglider incident prompted Netanyahu to order the revocation of Islamic State volunteers' Israeli citizenship. Such a move, if it passes higher court review, would effectively shut the door on their return, a step that also has been a controversial topic of debate in European nations whose citizens have been fighting for Islamic State.
It marks a policy shift for Israel, which last year repatriated Marhan Khaldi, an Arab citizen wounded while fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and who made his way back to Turkey, where Israeli diplomats replaced the passport he had discarded en route to the war zone.
Israel jailed Khaldi for 42 months, a sentence comparable to previous cases of citizens who joined Islamic State abroad.
Prosecutors had sought an 8- to 12-year prison term for Khaldi and appealed to the Supreme Court to harshen his punishment, saying in a statement that due the risk posed by Islamic State “the time is ripe to get tough on such offences”. The Supreme Court's ruling on the appeal could take months.
Khaldi's lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, said Israeli judges lacked court precedents on which to base sweeping new sentences due to the fact that the country outlawed Islamic State only in September 2014 – a delay he attributed to the Netanyahu government's reluctance to take sides in Syria's civil war.
Israeli legislation introduced in December 2014 that would raise the maximum jail sentence for joining foreign groups like Islamic State to five years is still under parliamentary review.
“It has taken time for the monstrousness of ISIS to dawn, so while Israel is seeking greater penalties for joining it, this had been taking time too,” said Abu Hussein, who also heads the Israeli Arab civil rights group Adalah.
Abu Hussein said the Shin Bet appeared to be refocusing its anti-Islamic State efforts on social media activity by Arab citizens that might flag up nascent sympathizers for arrest.
According to Kara, the value to Israeli intelligence of Arab citizens who came back from Islamic State's fiefdoms had waned – meaning any returnees had less to bargain with for clemency.
“There was a time when someone would come back and provide useful information on their camps and recruitment, et cetera,” Kara said. “But that's in the past now. The whole world is fighting Islamic State and everything is pretty much known.”
A triumphant Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared on Monday that the coming year will see his forces defeat Islamic State, after his military achieved its first major victory since collapsing in the face of the fighters 18 months ago.
Iraqi forces flew the national flag above the main government complex in Ramadi earlier in the day, declaring they had recaptured the city, a provincial capital west of Baghdad which fell to Islamic State fighters in May.
“2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh's presence in Iraq will be terminated,” Abadi said in a speech broadcast on state television, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State that the hardline group rejects.
“We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh,” he added. Mosul, northern Iraq's main city, is by far the largest population centre in the self-proclaimed caliphate Islamic State rules in Iraq and Syria.
The army's apparent capture of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in the Euphrates River valley west of Baghdad, marks a major milestone for U.S.-trained force that crumbled when Islamic State fighters charged into Iraq in June 2014. In previous battles since then, Iraq's armed forces operated mainly in a supporting role beside Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias.
Soldiers were shown on state television on Monday publicly slaughtering a sheep in an act of celebration.
Gunshots and an explosion could be heard as a state TV reporter interviewed other soldiers celebrating the victory with their automatic weapons held in the air. A separate plume of smoke could be seen nearby.
U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for a U.S.-led coalition backing Iraqi forces, said in a statement: “The clearance of the government centre is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work.”
He said the coalition had provided more than 630 airstrikes in the area over the past six months as well as training, advice and equipment to the army, counter-terrorism forces and police.
The U.S.-led coalition, which includes major European and Arab powers, has been waging an air campaign against Islamic State positions in both Iraq and Syria since a third of Iraqi territory fell to the fighters in mid-2014.
The Iraqi army was humiliated in that advance, abandoning city after city and leaving fleets of American armoured vehicles and other weapons in the militants' hands. One of the main challenges of the conflict since then has been rebuilding Iraq's army into a force capable of capturing and holding territory.
Baghdad has said for months that it would prove its forces' rebuilt capability by rolling back militant advances in Anbar, a mainly Sunni province encompassing the fertile Euphrates River valley from Baghdad's outskirts to the Syrian border.
After encircling the provincial capital for weeks, Iraqi forces launched an assault to retake it last week and made a final push to seize the central administration complex on Sunday. Their progress had been slowed by explosives planted in streets and booby-trapped buildings.
Security officials said the forces still need to clear some pockets of insurgents in the city and its outskirts.
Authorities gave no immediate death toll from the battle for the city. They have said most residents were evacuated before the assault.
Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters the capture of Ramadi was “a done deal” but said the government had to do more to rebuild the city and encourage displaced people to return.
“The most important thing is to secure it (Ramadi) because Daesh can bounce back,” he said in an interview in Baghdad.
Iraq's army took the lead in the battle for Ramadi, with the Shi'ite militias prominent in other campaigns held back from the battlefield to avoid antagonising the mainly Sunni population. Washington had also expressed reluctance about being seen as fighting alongside the Iranian-backed groups.
Abadi took office in September 2014 after the Islamic State advance, pledging to reconcile Iraq's warring sectarian communities. While he initially swung behind Shi'ite militias to help halt Islamic State's onslaught, he has since tried to implement reforms to reduce the power of sectarian parties, angering many political leaders.
Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, are ultra-hardline Sunnis who consider all Shi'ite Muslims to be apostates. They swept through northern and western Iraq in June 2014 and declared a “caliphate” to rule over all Muslims from territory in both Iraq and Syria, carrying out mass killings and imposing a draconian form of Sunni Islam.
Since then, the battle against the group in both Syria and Iraq has drawn in most global and regional powers, often with competing allies on the ground in complex multi-sided civil wars.
The Baghdad government says the next target after Ramadi is Mosul. Washington had hoped that a potentially decisive battle for that city would take place in 2015 but it was pushed back after the fighters seized Ramadi in May.
Abadi's government plans to hand over Ramadi to local police and a Sunni tribal force once it is secured, to encourage Sunnis to resist Islamic State.
Such a strategy would echo the U.S. military's “surge” campaign of 2006-2007, which relied on recruiting and arming Sunni tribal fighters against a precursor of Islamic State. Anbar, including Ramadi, was a major focus of that campaign at the height of the 2003-2011 U.S. war in Iraq.
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
Turkey’s recent deployment of troops and tanks into northern Iraq has caused a major diplomatic row between Ankara and Baghdad, but experts say Turkish forces are there to stay.
“Honestly speaking there is not much Baghdad can do,” Aydın Selcen, the former Turkish consul to Erbil [capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq] told The Media Line.
On December 4, Turkey sent at least 150 soldiers and 20 to 25 tanks to a military facility in the small Kurdish Iraqi town of Bashiqa, 19 miles north of Mosul, where it has been assisting in the training of Iraqi forces
The Islamic State (ISIS) captured the Sunni-majority city of Mosul (population about 1.5 million) in a shocking lightning offensive in June of last year. Plans to retake the city stalled, though Kurdish forces have made recent progress in cutting off its supply routes.
Hüseyin Bağcı, head of Middle Eastern Technical University’s international relations department, says the primary goal of Turkey’s armed forces in northern Iraq is still countering the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)
“Turkey’s main enemy is not ISIS, but the PKK,” Professor Bağcı told The Media Line.
Akın Ünver, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University, says Turkey’s deployment is also about regaining lost prestige. In June 2014, ISIS overran Turkey’s consulate in Mosul and took 49 Turkish citizens hostage, releasing them the following September.
“It was actually one of the biggest national security and intelligence failures,” Ünver tells The Media Line. “They want to rectify that mistake. There’s a prestige issue there.”
Baghdad says the Turkish troops don’t have permission to be there and must leave immediately, calling the situation a “crisis” and threatening to resort to the United Nations.
Powerful members of the Iraqi parliament have called for military strikes against the Turkish forces, though such a drastic measure is unlikely.
Ankara claims that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi himself invited the Turkish troops. It refuses to withdraw its deployment but has pledged to not send reinforcements.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the troops were needed to protect Turkey’s already present forces in Iraq from ISIS fighters, to train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS, and to maintain stability in the region.
Washington, which has been leading air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria for over a year says it doesn’t support any military deployments in Iraq without Baghdad’s consent. But Washington too is unlikely to antagonize Ankara.
Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous KRG that currently controls Bashiqa, welcomed the Turkish troops and said he signed the agreement for their deployment on November 2.
Selcen, Turkey’s former consul to Erbil, says that the deployment shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is, he says, merely a reinforcement of Turkish forces that have been in Iraq for decades.
Turkish military trainers have been working with Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen fighters in Bashiqa for about two years. To counter militants from the PKK, that Ankara considers its enemy, Turkey has also maintained military units, including heavy armor, throughout northern Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
Selcen says the latest reinforcements have transformed Bashiqa into a permanent forward operating base for Turkey, but added that its soldiers have no offensive purpose, even in an expected assault on Mosul. “That would be stretching reality a bit.”
“It’s a signal,” he said. “A political message to all parties interested. To Erbil, it means, ‘we are with you.’ To Baghdad, it means more or less ‘we don’t care much about what you say.’ To Tehran and Moscow it means in a now-unified war theatre in Syria and Iraq, ‘you are not on your own, we are here too.’ To Washington it says […] ‘we are allies with you in this but we are also able to move when need be according to our own national interests.’”
Soner Çağaptay, the director of the Washington Institute’s Turkish Program, says that Baghdad has only now decided to voice its concern at Turkey’s long-time presence in its northern territories because it is pressured by Russia and Iran, each vying for influence in the country.
“This is in my view a coordinated Iranian-Russian pushback,” he told The Media Line. “They have gone to the government in Baghdad and told them to stand up to the Turks.”
Russia is still furious about Turkey’s downing of an SU-24 jet on November 24, after the aircraft allegedly entered Turkish airspace.
However, Kirk Sowell, a political risk analyst and publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, says that Shia-dominated Baghdad views Turkey negatively regardless of Russian or Iranian influence.
“There is overwhelming, near-unanimous opposition [to Turkey] on the Shia street,” Sowell told the Media Line, speaking from Ottawa.
Sowell says there was never a formal agreement between Ankara and Baghdad allowing Turkish forces entry.
He believes the friction between the two countries is not only sectarian (Turkey is majority-Sunni and Iraq majority Shia) but also a consequence of Turkey’s support for the KRG and the widely-believed rumor that Ankara supports ISIS.
Much to Baghdad’s unhappiness, the KRG enjoys significant autonomy and openly hopes for independence from Iraq.
Turkey and the KRG have enjoyed very good relations at least since 2010, when Ankara established a consulate in Erbil.
“Erbil right now is essentially a colony of Turkey,” Sowell says. “The only reason it’s able to function at all is because the Turks keep loaning them money.” Erbil is also only able to export oil independently of Baghdad through Turkey.
Ankara is using its Bashiqa base to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces and support an anti-Baghdad Sunni Arab militia.
Sowell says the only force strong enough to retake Mosul are the Iraqi Armed Forces, possibly with the assistance of Shia militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
However, Baghdad’s army has proven itself unwilling to take casualties and is notoriously disorganized. Furthermore, it can only reach Mosul by crossing through territory held by the KRG—requiring the acquiescence of President Barzani.
Former consul Selcen disagrees.
“You cannot ‘liberate’ that kind of a [large Sunni] city with Shia forces or the so-called national Iraqi army. It’s up to the Mosul Arabs to get rid of ISIL there,” he says.
Ünver, the international relations professor at Kadir Has University, agrees that any kind of Shia force retaking Mosul could end in disaster.
“If a Shiite group comes in and acts like a bull in a china-shop and starts killing Sunni civilians, that’s going to create even more tensions, which feeds into the whole ISIS narrative of being the only ones who can defend Sunnis,” he says.
From Ünver’s point of view, the Peshmerga should be armed and take Mosul instead. He considers a recent vote in the US House Foreign Affairs Committee allowing Washington to directly arm the Peshmerga without going through Baghdad is a significant development.
According to Ünver, retaking Mosul is likely to be very difficult because of the large number of civilians in the city, who ISIS does not in general allow to flee. Airstrikes would therefore be impossible without significant civilian casualties.
“Basically, ISIS is forcing whoever is going to retake Mosul into a street-by-street, building-by-building Stalingrad type of war.”
On Thursday, Turkish National Intelligence Organization head Hakan Fidan and Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu traveled to Baghdad.
On the same day, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that between Turkey, the US, and KRG officials will meet on December 21.
Islamic State's official magazine carried a photo on Wednesday of a Schweppes drink it said was used to make an improvised bomb that brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last month, killing all 224 people on board.
The photo showed a can of Schweppes Gold soft drink and what appeared to be a detonator and switch on a blue background, three simple components that if genuine are likely to cause concern for airline safety officials worldwide.
“The divided Crusaders of the East and West thought themselves safe in their jets as they cowardly bombarded the Muslims of the Caliphate,” the English language Dabiq magazine said in reference to Russia and the West. “And so revenge was exacted upon those who felt safe in the cockpits.”
Western governments have said the plane was likely brought down by a bomb and Moscow confirmed on Tuesday it had reached the same conclusion, but the Egyptian government says it has still not found evidence of criminal action.
Islamic State also published a photo of what it said were passports belonging to dead Russians “obtained by the mujahideen”. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the published photos.
The group, which has seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq, said it had exploited a loophole at Sharm al-Sheikh airport, where the plane originated, in order to smuggle a bomb on board.
The airport is widely used by budget and charter airlines to fly tourists to the nearby resorts on the Sinai coast.
Islamic State said it had initially planned to bring down a plane belonging to a country participating in the U.S.-led coalition bombing it in Syria and Iraq, but it changed course after Moscow started its own air strikes campaign in Syria.
“A bomb was smuggled onto the airplane, leading to the deaths of 219 Russians and five other crusaders only a month after Russia’s thoughtless decision,” it said.
Egypt's interior minister told a news conference in Sharm al-Sheikh on Tuesday that there was “no information” about security lapses at the airport.
Islamic State's Egyptian branch, Sinai Province, claimed responsibility for the attack the day it happened but Egyptian officials were quick to dismiss talk of a bomb as premature.
NO SAFETY IN MUSLIM LANDS
Egypt is battling an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai, a strategic peninsula bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal. But Islamic State said the airline attack was primarily planned as a response to Russian and Western air strikes.
“This was to show the Russians and whoever allies with them that they will have no safety in the lands and airspace of the Muslims,” the group wrote. “That their daily killing of dozens in (Syria) through their air strikes will only bring them calamities.”
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air strikes against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State, on Sept. 30.
Since the attacks on Paris, both Russia and France have stepped up the tempo of air strikes.
The downed aircraft, an Airbus A321 operated by Metrojet, had been carrying Russian holidaymakers from the Egyptian resort to St Petersburg when it broke up over Sinai.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up the plane and offered a $50 million reward for information leading to those responsible.
“We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them,” Putin said of the plane bombers at a somber Kremlin meeting.
Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's FSB security service, said traces of foreign-made explosive had been found on fragments of the downed plane and on passengers' personal belongings. He said the bomb probably contained around 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of TNT.
Egypt has not officially given a reason as to why the plane was brought down, calling on all sides to await the official results of an investigation carried out by an Egyptian-led team.
The government said it would “take into consideration” Russia's findings but that it was yet to find any evidence of criminal action bringing down the plane.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for an increased American troop presence on the ground in Iraq to counter Islamic State militants following the Paris attacks, saying President Barack Obama's policy of air strikes is not enough.
“While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek,” Bush said in a speech at The Citadel, a military college. “The United States – in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners – will need to increase our presence on the ground.”
Bush used the speech to shift slightly his proposals on how to take on Islamic State militants after 129 people were killed in the Paris attacks last Friday.
“Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air -and on the ground,” he said.
The former Florida governor has been calling for more U.S. special operations forces to be embedded with Iraqi units to help identify enemy targets.
If elected in November 2016, Bush said he also would build an international coalition including regional countries to use “overwhelming force” to take out Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.
In his speech, he did not say how many more troops are needed, saying the scope of any increased U.S. presence on the ground should be in line with what U.S. military generals recommend.
“But the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with,” he said.
Bush, looking to show he is capable of being commander in chief in the face of multiple threats abroad, laid out a national security strategy in a speech that he retooled in order to take account of the Paris attacks.
Iraq is a sensitive subject for Bush, given the dismay some Americans feel over the rationale for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ordered by his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Bush's plan calls for maintaining the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, that his brother used to house terrorism suspects and which President Barack Obama is trying to close by the time he leaves office in January 2017. The prison currently has 107 inmates.
Bush is eager to make an impact on a Republican race that in some respects has been leaving him behind. He is in single digits in many polls of Republican voters, who so far have been more enthusiastic about non-politician candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Bush's belief is that voters eventually will come around to a serious, policy-minded candidate like him but with the Iowa caucuses to kick off the 2016 election season on Feb. 1, his plan has not helped him in polls.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll found on Tuesday that 33 percent of Republican voters felt Trump would be the strongest candidate to deal with terrorism, followed by Senator Marco Rubio at 17 percent. Carson and Bush were tied at about 9 percent.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush situated himself on national security and America’s role in the world right in the center – between the hawks, the isolationists and the inexperienced candidates in his party, in a speech he delivered at The Citadel military school in South Carolina on Thursday.
“As we gather today, in the aftermath of the bloodshed in Paris, let it be said that this generation knew the cost of war, but also knew the even greater cost of acquiescence to an enemy with which there is no co-existence,” Bush said. “Radical Islamic terrorists have declared war on the western world. Their aim is our total destruction. We can’t withdraw from this threat, nor negotiate with it.”
ISIS is a direct national security threat to the United States which requires using military action to defeat them, Bush said. “We have but one choice: to defeat it,” he said. “America has had enough of empty words, of declarations detached from reality of an administration with no strategy or no intention of victory. Here is the truth you will not hear from our president: We are at war with radical Islamic terrorism. It is the war of our time, and a struggle that will determine the fate of the free world.”
The military campaign, according to the Republican presidential hopeful, would include intensified airstrikes and “overwhelming force,” not necessarily involve substantial U.S. ground troops, rather increased presence in conjunction with NATO and Arab countries in the region.
In an interview previewing the speech on Bloomberg’s WADR program Tuesday, Bush said the U.S. should hit ISIS targets even at the risk of civilian casualties: “This is war. And we need to treat it as war. You don’t go out of your way to kill innocents. But I think this administration has not viewed it. They view it as a law enforcement exercise. They have lawyers on top of it. That’s not the attitude that you need to be successful.”
The former Florida Governor, in an attempt to restart his campaign in the crucial months leading to the early state primaries in February, argued that the attacks in Paris should serve as a siren against electing inexperienced candidates for the highest office. “This brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election. We are choosing the leader of the free world,” he stressed. “And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”
While acknowledging the need of spending cuts across the board, Bush called for increasing the size of the military and be prepared for the use of force. “I believe in the principle that the greater our superiority in military power, the less likely it is that we will have to assert that power, or be provoked into using it,” he asserted. “In my administration, security for the United States will mean gaining and keeping the edge in every category, old and new. Whether it’s our command of the seas, the land, or the air, of space or cyberspace, America’s goal should be technological superiority beyond question. My plan puts the warfighters first, to maintain a force without equal.”
Bush also addressed the Iran nuclear deal, highlighting the need to put forth a “comprehensive strategy” not just to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, “but also to confront Iranian aggression, terrorism, and malign activities that have stoked such sectarian violence and destabilized the region.”
“To accomplish this,” Bush’s plan states, “the U.S. will have to repair broken alliances and partnerships, above all with Israel.”
Changing course will also require leadership, Bush said. “But for the U.S., who’s going to defend our allies? But for the US, who will lead the effort to stop Iran’s bid for nuclear weapons? Who’ll be the dependable friend for Israel if not for the United State of America?” he asked rhetorically.
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
The impact of the Middle East’s ongoing woes on the region’s tourism businesses has been well documented. The industry’s standing has been tarnished not just by continuing conflicts, but also by repeated terrorist attacks against foreign tourists in a number of countries in the region. What has been less discussed is the downturn in the Middle East’s industry, business, and inter-regional commerce.
Syria, the focal point for much of the violence in the region, was described by the World Bank as a “lower middle income country,” with agriculture and petroleum exports making up the bulk of its trade in 2010. Five years later, its economy has been characterized as anywhere between collapsed and as a ‘war economy’. But the country is hardly the only state whose financial position is hugely affected by the sectarian conflict raging in, and across, its borders.
In a research paper for the World Bank published last year, Elena Ianchovichina and Maros Ivanic described how the impact of the war has been felt chiefly by Syria and by Iraq. With stretches of its western provinces captured by the Islamic State, including areas of oil production, it is hardly surprising that Iraq has suffered large scale economic regression. Ianchovichina and Ivanic also discussed a second tier of affected countries — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — neighboring Syria and Iraq, who have taken in the bulk of the war’s refugees.
Despite the scale and the length of the conflict the economic repercussions onto global markets have not been large, Jason Tuvey, a Middle East economist at Capital Economics Research Company, told The Media Line. Syria’s economic output was far more relevant to its direct neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, than to global markets, Tuvey said.
As well as a loss of trade both countries have borne the brunt of Syria’s refugee exodus. Lebanon has taken in so many Syrians that refugees are now 25% of the population and in Jordan the Zaatari refugee camp is so crowded as to constitute the country’s fourth largest city, the economist explained.
Turkey too has taken in large numbers of refugees but is more financially stable than the two smaller host nations.
Whether or not Syria’s reduction in trade has adversely affected the broader Middle East the war is still hampering the region’s economy due to the uncertainty it produces, Colin Foreman, news editor at MEED Middle East Business Intelligence, told The Media Line. Similar to the early years of the Arab Spring – the pro-democracy protests that took place throughout the Middle East in 2011 – the Syrian war creates uncertainty in Middle Eastern markets, Foreman said.
The difference is that in 2011 petroleum prices were stable, so uncertainty actually benefited exporting nations, whereas now the cost of a barrel of oil is low and so the market is more adversely affected, the editor explained.
Conflict in Syria is not the only cause of this situation as political turmoil in Egypt and war in Yemen also add to the uncertainty, Foreman said.
Escalating the uncertainty yet further is the Islamic State (ISIS). “The situation in Syria has deteriorated particularly since mid-2014 with ISIS taking a foothold,” Foreman argued. This has led to the refugee crisis and to a significant downturn in the value of the Iraqi oil industry, the editor suggested.
Tuvey was not as sure that the impact of the Islamic State was felt strongly on Iraqi oil exports. “In Iraq most of its oil fields are in the south away from ISIS – Iraq has actually been increasing its oil production over the last year or so,” he explained.
He went onto suggest the current price of petroleum may be limiting the damage ISIS can cause to global markets.
“It has not had an enormous impact because we’re now in an era when we have a huge glut of oil – ten years ago it might have been more concerning,” he said.
Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Germany fear that the attacks in Paris could further shift public opinion against the Berlin government's welcoming asylum policy.
About a dozen men, smoking heavily, discussed the deadliest attacks in Europe since 2004 outside Berlin's Tempelhof airport, an imposing structure built by Hitler to showcase Nazi power and now functioning as a shelter for asylum-seekers.
The backdrop to their conversation on Monday was a chorus of demands by right-wing European politicians to halt the flow of migrants into Europe, which some see as providing ideal cover for Islamic State to smuggle in militants — even if there is as yet no proof.
Nabil, 27, a Syrian from Islamic State's self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, finds it hard to believe a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris gunmen. He believes this was a conspiracy, a common thought in the Arab world.
“And France is known for having extremists. I worry about public opinion,” he added, tucking his hands into the pockets of his red jacket on a cold evening, as two children aged no more than six walked past in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Nizar Basal, a Syrian from a town near Hama, was surprisingly frank.
“There are of course ticking bombs coming in with the refugees,” said the 49-year-old, who worked as a private teacher of computer science in Abu Dhabi before coming to Germany last month.
“But the question is, what will happen to us? What will people think about us? They will think we are the enemy.”
The German government said after the attacks, in which at least 129 people were killed on Friday night, that its security agencies had intensified monitoring of radical right-wing activists, fearing a backlash against refugees.
German media also reported that the government wants to tighten security at refugee shelters. German police have detained an Algerian man at one shelter in connection with the Paris attacks, officials said on Monday.
There have been more than 690 arson and other attacks on refugee centres so far this year, as Germany expects up to one million asylum seekers. The influx has increased pressure on the government to reverse some of its welcoming policies and strained German Chancellor Angel Merkel's coalition.
Mohammad, 31, who worked in a sweet shop in Syria before the war there, fears a hardening of German public opinion.
“We fled death, we don't want anyone to die. This is a problem that will affect the refugees,” he said.
Falah, 48, who owned a watch shop in Baghdad before fleeing to Turkey, put things into perspective.
“There is a suicide bombing every 15 minutes in Iraq,” he said. He then pointed to a picture of Merkel on his mobile phone and said: “She is our hope.”
Basal, the teacher, said he would have attended a weekend vigil in Berlin for the Paris attack victims if he had heard about it in advance.
“We don't have much time to think about it. There are no showers here, we haven't had a shower for two weeks.”
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
Health officials in Iraq are working to contain an outbreak of cholera that could threaten millions of Shi’ite pilgrims due to visit holy sites in Iraq early next month. According to UNICEF, there have been over 2000 confirmed cases of the disease and two deaths reported in Iraq, as well as individual cases in Kuwait and Bahrain.
“The millions of pilgrims who come will be walking through areas that have cholera,” Jeffrey Bates, the Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Iraq told The Media Line. “If these people access contaminated water sources, they could get the disease. We are working with the government and religious sources to make the sure the water systems along the route are clean and that medical facilities along the way are equipped.”
The pilgrims are coming to the Muslim holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to mark the “arbaeen”, the end of 40 days of mourning for Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson and the founder of Shi’ite Islam.
Outbreaks of cholera in Iraq are frequent, and usually come in the fall and spring, Bates says. This year it is more challenging than the past because the Islamic State controls about a third of northern and Western Iraq. It has been difficult to assess the cholera situation there, and there are fears that the three million displaced people might have less access to clean water than in the past.
Bates says that the key to controlling the spread of cholera is early detection. There is an anti-cholera vaccine that is effective in 50- 60 percent of the cases if two doses are taken. Cholera can be treated with oral rehydration solution, and in severe cases, antibiotics. The disease is spread through contaminated water or food.
Bates says that UNICEF has partnered with the Iraqi government to handle the cholera outbreak.
“The government came on board quickly as soon as cholera was identified in September,” he said. “Because of the conflict going on (with Islamic State) we had to re-gear quite a bit, but the response was rapid. The government responded with a round of oral cholera vaccine aimed at the displaced people and refugees.”
He said the first round of the oral vaccine was completed last week, and the second round is scheduled for early next month. In any case, the cholera outbreak, which tends to be seasonal, is winding down.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it has launched a campaign to encourage families to purify water, prepare food carefully and to wash their hands. The organization said it has launched a campaign to use 510,000 doses from a global stockpile of one million of the anti-cholera vaccination and will use it to vaccinate 255,000 internally displaced people and refugees.
“Five countries – Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – have reported cholera cases. The cholera situation in Kuwait and Bahrain is under control, however we are concerned about the current cholera outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Iraq. If not properly contained, cases could spike and spread across borders,” warned Coordinator, WHO Control of Epidemic Diseases, William Augusto Perea Caro.
He said the WHO needs five million dollars to ramp up its response to the cholera outbreaks. They said the situation in Africa is even worse than the Middle East.
“The cholera situation in the African Region is especially worrisome. WHO is working closely with national authorities and partners to manage the cases and provide access to safe water, adequate sanitation and basic hygiene needs,” said Dr Ibrahima-Socé Fall, Director of the Health Security and Emergencies Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
In Tanzania, there have been almost 5000 cases of cholera and 74 deaths in the past few months.
Israel faces a wide variety of threats ranging from Islamic militants wielding missiles and rockets to nuclear attack, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday during a visit to the United States.
Yaalon was speaking with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the National Defense University in Washington. Carter emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Israeli security relationship and the United States' commitment to maintaining close ties.
Carter and Yaalon are due to visit the Naval Air Station in Maryland on Wednesday for a demonstration of the F-35 joint strike fighter. The United States has said it will deliver the F-35 to Israel next year, making it the only country in the Middle East to have the top-flight aircraft.
Yaalon ticked off a number of threats that he said Israel has faced, including from Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad's Syria, and Iran.
“The threat has been changed dramatically from conventional type warfare to what might be called super-conventional…weapons of mass destruction, or sub-conventional like terror, rockets, and missiles,” Yaalon said.
Close U.S.-Israeli ties have come under strain in recent months over a nuclear agreement negotiated between Iran and the United States and other world powers, which Israeli officials have denounced as empowering Iran and endangering Israel.
Yaalon said the deal, which was agreed in July and imposes curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for the removal of some economic sanctions, could delay an Iranian nuclear threat againstIsrael.
“Yes, for the time being, for about a decade or so, it (Iran's nuclear program) might be postponed as a threat against us,” Yaalon said, adding that the Iranian government had not given up its “vision of having a military nuclear capability.”
Iran denies ever pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and said that it wanted nuclear capability only for civilian purposes.
Yaalon also addressed ongoing strife between Israelis and Palestinians. Violence has flared in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, in part triggered by Palestinians' anger over what they see as Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Yaalon said claims that Israel had violated agreements related to the holy site were false.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced cautious hope that there may be a way to defuse the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, one of the world's most wanted men, is counting on veteran jihadis and former Iraqi army officers who form the core of the militant movement to take over if he is killed.
New questions arose over Islamic State's leadership structure and who might succeed Baghdadi after Iraq's military said on Sunday air strikes had hit a convoy carrying him, though Iraqi security officials later denied this.
Baghdadi, who rarely appears in public and delivers few audio speeches, makes the vast majority of decisions, including which of the group's enemies should be killed.
His approval is needed even for decisions taken by the five-member Shura Council, which runs Islamic State and will elect a new a new leader if Baghdadi is killed, and he rules over a decentralized network of emirs in the field who run the everyday activities of the caliphate he has declared.
Baghdadi does, however, lean on a small circle of senior Islamic State aides such as Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the group's official spokesman, as he pursues a mission which his fighters describe as “part of God's path to create a strong Islamic State that will rule the world.”
Born in 1977 in Idlib, Syria, Adnani has delivered Islamic State's main messages, including its declaration of a caliphate, which was distributed in five languages.
The most important operatives include Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, a former general and military intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein who can provide Islamic State fighters with training and direction.
Baghdadi is also said by followers to rely heavily on Abu Omar al-Shishani, a senior commander in Syria. Born in 1986 in Georgia, which was then still part of the Soviet Union, he has a reputation as a great military mind and has long been at Baghdadi's side.
RUTHLESS AND SECRETIVE
Sunday's air strike was at least the third attack on Baghdadi's entourage.
Despite his power – and a $10 million U.S. reward for information leading to his capture – little is known about a man who for his own survival has shunned the spotlight.
But it is clear he will go to all lengths to achieve his goals, as evidenced in Islamic State videos depicting the violent deaths of those who stand in its way.
Opponents have been beheaded, shot dead, blown up with fuses attached to their necks and drowned in cages lowered into swimming pools, with underwater cameras capturing their agony.
According to the U.S. reward notice, which depicts a round-faced, brown-eyed man with closely cropped beard and short dark hair, Baghdadi was born in the Iraqi town of Samarra in 1971.
The United States, which is bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, first came across Baghdadi in Iraq in 2004 when it detained him at the Camp Bucca. He was later released.
A follower of al Qaeda during the early years of the U.S. occupation, he later branched out on his own, helping establish Islamic State.
When he seized tracts of Iraq and Syria and declared a so-called caliphate he hopes will span the Muslim world, he drew militants from around the globe to Islamic State, creating a diverse pool of fighters eager to rise up the jihadist ladder.
Baghdadi and his aides have thrown an already fractured Middle East deeper into turmoil and delivered a shock to global security on a scale not seen since the heyday of al Qaeda.
Baghdadi's followers' killings of Shi'ites on the Arabian Peninsula deepened divisions in the Muslim world and their brutality helped spur Russian military involvement in the region and worsen the most severe refugee crisis since World War Two.
Baghdadi has exploited conflict in Syria and Iraq to topple al Qaeda from its primacy in trans-national militancy, a huge loss of prestige for a group whose hijacked plane attacks killed nearly 3,000 people in New York's World Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The recruiting drum he beat was loud and clear: summoning followers to a pitiless jihad against Shi’ite heretics, Christian crusaders, Jewish infidels, and Kurdish atheists. He berated Arab despots for defiling the honor of Sunni Islam.
Islamic State became the first militant group to defeat an army when it swept through northern Iraq last year.
“Islam was never for a day the religion of peace; Islam is the religion of war,” he said in a speech released on May 14.
This year he set his sights on Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, and his group launched an online magazine for Turks, who volunteered for his jihad in hundreds if not thousands.
Unlike al Qaeda, which focuses on hit-and-run attacks and bombings, Islamic State is more concerned with seizing and holding on to territory for the caliphate, acquiring tanks and weapons left by fleeing Iraqi soldiers along the way.
Stolen oil sold on the black market provides revenues as Baghdadi seeks military self-sufficiency.
Baghdadi's ambitions stretch far beyond the Middle East, where his men control large swathes of Iraq and Syria and rule over perhaps 10 million people. He has established a presence in Libya, enjoys support from militants in Egypt's Sinai desert and his suicide bombers have attacked a variety of targets in war-
Baghdadi has opened the door to foreign fighters, mostly Europeans and Americans who have latched on to his call for holy war and are able to return home with their passports to stage attacks. He also accepted a pledge of allegiance from Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram.
Many young Islamists who were of school age at the time of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on the United States now look for inspiration not to al Qaeda, whose leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is in his mid-60s, but to Baghdadi, a generation younger.
All anyone attending the United Nations General Assembly opening seemed to want to talk about was the threat posed to the world by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
That was much to the consternation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who argued in his speech before that body on Thursday that Iran, beyond the benefits accrued to it because of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal, was benefiting from the intensified focus on ISIS.
“When your enemies fight each other, don’t strengthen either one, weaken both!” he said.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the week of speeches, Netanyahu charged the assembled world leaders with silence in the wake of Iranian provocations, including calls for Israel’s disappearance, before and after it reached the deal in July with six major powers.
He held up what he said was a 400-page tome by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which anticipated Israel’s demise.
“The response from this body, the response from every one of the governments represented here, has been absolute silence, utter silence, deafening silence,” the Israeli leader said.
Netanyahu then glared, silent, his eyes moving back and forth across the chamber, for 44 seconds.
He was not precisely correct in suggesting that no other leader had called out Iran. President Barack Obama, speaking Monday, focused on Iran’s perpetuation of mischief even in the wake of the deal.
Iran “continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests,” Obama said. “These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.”
Obama called on Iran to choose a “different path.”
“Chanting ‘Death to America’ does not create jobs or make Iran more secure,” he said. “If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people and good for the world.”
Still, Netanyahu had reason to be concerned that the Obama administration was preparing to pivot toward a gentler accommodation of Iranian ambitions in the region, precisely because of shared interests in confronting the Sunni extremist ISIS.
Prior to the formal opening of the General Assembly, Secretary of State John Kerry met in New York with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, for the first time since the July deal was announced – and made clear that the U.S. had more to discuss with Iran than just nuclear compliance.
“We have a lot of issues to talk about,” Kerry said on his way into the meeting. “I view this week as a major opportunity for any number of countries to play an important role in trying to resolve some of the very difficult issues of the Middle East. We need to achieve peace and a way forward in Syria, in Yemen, in the region itself.”
The success of ISIS, and the wave of Europe-bound refugees it has created, preoccupied many of the speakers, chief among them Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sparred over best practice: Targeting ISIS while seeking the ouster of the the Iran-backed Bashar Assad regime in Syria, as Obama counseled, or embracing Assad as a useful partner in defeating ISIS, as Putin advised.
“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict,” Obama said.
“But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo,” he said in his General Assembly address. “Let’s remember how this started: Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.”
Putin, speaking soon thereafter, likened Obama’s insistence on Assad’s ouster to his Soviet predecessors’ notorious interference in smaller states.
“We should all remember what our past has taught us,” Putin said. “’Social experiments’ for export, attempts to push for changes within other countries based on ideological preferences, often led to tragic consequences and to degradation rather than progress.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking Tuesday, also dedicated much of his speech to the threat that he said ISIS posed.
“The gravest and most important threat to the world today is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states, for the destiny of nations to be determined by arms and terror rather than the ballot box,” he said. “No country should be allowed to use terrorism for the purpose of intervention in the affairs of another country.”
As if anticipating Netanyahu’s direst warnings, Rouhani welcomed the nuclear deal as an entree into the international community while continuing Iran’s tradition of lobbing anti-Israel rhetorical bombs at the United Nations.
“The agreed-upon deal is not the final objective but a development which should be the basis of further agreements to come,” he said.
Rouhani warned the assembled leaders “not to allow the Zionist regime to remain the only impediment in the way of realizing this important precedent.”
Having failed to stop the nuclear deal, Netanyahu appeared to realize that his best bet is to encourage its close supervision. He made clear that keeping a close eye on Iran would be high on his agenda when he meets with Obama at the White House on Nov. 9.
“Israel deeply appreciates President Obama’s willingness to bolster our security, help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge and help Israel confront the enormous challenges we face,” he said. “Israel is grateful that this sentiment is widely shared by the American people and its representatives in Congress, by both those who supported the deal and by those who opposed it.”
On May 6, 2003, 16 American soldiers of a special unit searching for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction entered the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad.
While the soldiers found no nuclear or chemical arms, they did discover 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents pertaining to the lives and history of the Iraqi-Jewish community from 1524 to the 1970s.
The historical trove was slowly disintegrating under 4 feet of water, so U.S. authorities in Iraq sent an urgent request to Washington for top conservation experts.
One week later, Doris Hamburg, director of preservation programs at the National Archives, arrived in Baghdad and was taken to the flooded basement. “When we opened the trunks where the documents were stored, we were hit by an overpowering moldy smell,” she recalled in a phone interview.
On Sept. 4, an exhibition including 23 of the recovered items, along with videos of the painstaking restoration effort, will open at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda.
The 2,000-square-foot exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” will continue through Nov. 15 at the Orange County site.
Among the show’s highlights are a Hebrew Bible with commentaries published in 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, a hand-lettered and decorated haggadah, and a lunar calendar in Hebrew and Arabic.
One section of the exhibition shows how the moldy mass of material was saved by the National Archives experts. “Every page had to be vacuumed, freeze-dried, preserved and digitized,” Hamburg said. On the Sept. 4 opening day, Hamburg will give a free public lecture at 10 a.m. at the Nixon Library.
After restoration: Passover Haggadah from Vienna, 1930. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
The exhibition is of particular significance to the roughly 3,000 Jews of Iraqi descent in Los Angeles, who make up the largest concentration among the estimated 18,000 to 20,000 Iraqi Jews in the United States. Other sizable communities are in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Connecticut; Florida; and New Jersey.
The spiritual center of the Los Angeles community is Congregation Kahal Joseph, a Sephardic synagogue on the city’s Westside. It has a membership of some 400 families, about 90 percent of which are of Iraqi descent, with the remainder from Burma, Indonesia, India and Singapore.
After a number of years without a spiritual leader, Kahal Joseph welcomed Rabbi Raif Melhado to its pulpit last month.
The congregation’s former president and current chairman of the board is Joseph Dabby, who said he lobbied intensively to bring the exhibition to Los Angeles after it had been shown in New York;, Washington, D.C.; and Kansas City, Mo.
Asked why the exhibition venue would be located in Yorba Linda rather than at a central Jewish site in Los Angeles, Dabby said he had asked the Skirball Cultural Center and the Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to host the show but was turned down by both.
Skirball museum director Robert Kirschner explained, “Of the many exhibitions proposed to us, unfortunately we can present very few. The museum gave this exhibition serious consideration several years ago, and I subsequently went to see it in in New York City. While it is a worthy exhibition, our decision was that it did not resonate closely with the Skirball’s mission, which focuses on the American-Jewish experience.”
At the Museum of Tolerance, director Liebe Geft stated that no one at the museum had been contacted about the exhibition.
She added that potential exhibits are judged on whether the subject matter and content are consistent with the museum’s mission, as well as with the logistics and available space. Currently, she said, the new Anne Frank installation is occupying all available space.
Dabby’s greatest concern, however, is whether the thousands of books, documents and artifacts will remain in the United States or be returned to the government in Baghdad, as was stipulated in the initial agreement allowing the transfers to the U.S. National Archives.
Given the unsettled conditions in Iraq and the presence of the Islamic State, with its penchant for destroying ancient monuments and historical religious artifacts, Dabby asked how anyone could guarantee the survival of the Iraqi-Jewish collection. His question was echoed by Maurice Shohet, the Washington-based president of the World Organization of Jews From Iraq.
“All the books and documents were taken forcibly from the Jewish community by Saddam Hussein’s regime, and they still belong to us,” Shohet said. “I don’t know what the State Department plans to do, but at this time, it seems to be postponing any decision.”
The Journal asked the State Department for its view, and the same day received a lengthy response from spokesman Michael Lavallee, who made the following points:
As agreed to by the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA) is in the temporary custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for conservation, preservation, digitization and exhibition in the United States.
In May 2014, the Iraqi government extended IJA’s stay in the United States to allow its exhibition in more cities. After its Nixon Library display, the exhibit is due at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach in December.
There are no definite plans for subsequent exhibits, but the United States “remains committed to the return of the IJA to Iraq, as per prior agreement,” Lavallee stated.
To the Journal’s question regarding the security of the IJA material should it be returned to Iraq, Lavallee responded diplomatically: “We will continue to partner with the Government of Iraq in countering the threat that [Islamic State] poses to the Iraqi people and heritage. Iraqi forces continue to make progress against [Islamic State] and it is impossible to speculate what the security situation would be at the point in the future when the collection would return to Iraq.”
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
One month after the Iraqi government announced a new initiative to take back Anbar province in western Iraq, analysts and diplomats say the campaign is beginning to take root and Iraqi troops have regained control of some important areas.
“There is a shift in momentum towards unifying Iraqis and trying to win back the trust of the Sunni fighters in Anbar province who are on the front lines,” Renad Mansour, an expert on Iraq at the Carnegie Middle East Center told The Media Line. “Ramadi hasn’t been won back yet, but some territory has been going back and forth.”
The Iraqi army said it had 10,000 troops ready to participate in the fight, along with members of the Popular Forces, a predominately Shi’ite militia, who has successfully battled Islamic State, which practices an extreme form of Sunni Islam. Currently, Islamic State still controls large parts of Anbar province, the largest in Iraq, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting.
Iraqi analysts say that the popular tide has turned against Islamic State, after brutal killings, arrests and torture of thousands in Ramadi.
“All of the citizens of Iraq, even the Sunnis, are waiting for the end of the nightmare of Daesh,” Methaq al-Fayydh, an Iraqi journalist told The Media Line, using the Arabic name of Islamic State. “What happened in Mosul (the first city taken over by Islamic State) – the killings and displacement of Christians and Muslims (Shi’ites and Sunnis) and Yazidis alike, make people want to get rid of Daesh.”
The Iraqi government has been trying to rebuild its army which was decimated when Islamic State swept through Iraq and neighboring Syria. Tens of thousands of soldiers fled, and a small number even joined Islamic State.
Along with the military efforts, President Heidar Abadi is working to streamline government and cut back on corruption, to help in the fight against Islamic State.
“Both sides are connected,” Mansour said. “People need to see the government fighting corruption and that will strengthen it as well.”
There have been some successes already. Military officials said that the army has recaptured the desert area west of Samarra and is preparing to move down into Anbar province. At the same time, suicide bombers recently killed two Iraqi generals last month as they led forces against Islamic State.
The media arm of Islamic State also released a video showing four Shi’ite fighters, suspended by their hands and feet, being burned alive. “Now retribution has come, for today, we will attack them as they attacked us and punish them as they punished us,” a masked Islamic State member said in the video.
The international community has been hesitant to get too involved in the fighting in Iraq, after the US withdrew from Iraq in 2011, eight years after tens of thousands of US troops entered the country to overthrow long-time Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Almost 4500 US soldiers were killed during that time in Iraq, along with at least 150,000 Iraqis.
But many in Iraq called for more US involvement.
“The US must provide Iraqi forces with modern weapons,” al-Fayyadh said. “We also want them to increase air strikes targeting Islamic State.”
Israel has purchased $1 billion worth of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan in recent months, the Financial Times reported.
The import of some 19 million barrels of oil took place over the last three months, the Financial Times report said, citing shipping data, trading sources and satellite tanker tracking. The amount represents about one-third of northern Iraqi exports and meets about 77 percent of Israeli oil needs, according to the report, which speculated that some of the oil was resold by Israel.
Kurdish oil is exported through the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.
The Kurdish government has denied selling oil to Israel. But a senior Kurdish government adviser in Erbil told the Financial Times, “We do not care where the oil goes once we have delivered it to the traders.”
The report speculated that the Israeli purchases are a way to support the Kurds’ fight against the Islamic State jihadist group.