The big news story this week has been the atrocities being committed in Iraq by ISIS, the Islamist terrorist army that’s now calling itself the Islamic State. This group already threatened to destroy the Free Syrian Army that’s fighting against dictator Bashar al Assad; now it seems determined to carry out a new Holocaust against everyone who doesn’t follow its narrow religious views. The territory they’ve gained has large populations of religious minorities, including thousands of Yazidis – members of a sect the Islamists believe are Satanists (they’re not). The latest news is that, in a scene straight out of the Middle Ages, the trapped Yazidis have been told to convert to “proper” Islam or die.
The way ISIS are treating the people who’ve fallen into the hands of their regime is an appalling humanitarian crisis and predictably enough it’s forced governments to be seen to “do something”. Drops of emergency supplies began last week and on Friday the US Air Force finally began bombing ISIS positions. Even Britain’s conservative-lite prime minister David Cameron is considering ordering his own strikes on the terrorists. But why has it taken this long, and why is the response so feeble?
ISIS has been around since 2006. It started off as a splinter group from the disintegrating al Qaida In Iraq that formed links with other Sunni extremists and quickly got involved in the sectarian murders that plague Iraq. It really started to gain strength when it got involved in the Syrian civil war in 2011, where it forms the most extreme wing of the anti-government forces. In fact ISIS spends at least as much time fighting the other rebel groups as it does attacking the Syrian government, and that’s never exactly been a secret.
The two big questions that need to be asked are, why are we only taking action against ISIS now and why has the US response been so feeble? It’s definitely justified to launch attacks to prevent the sort of genocide we’re seeing – ISIS are reported to be burying hundreds of people alive for religious “crimes” – but it would have been equally justified to bomb them just for attacking the Iraqi government. Thousands of members of the US military gave their lives to free Iraq from tyranny and establish democracy; even if it’s imperfect it’s still better than what ISIS offer. As soon as the Salafist mob swept into northern Iraq we should have had bombers above them, blasting them back into Syria.
If Iraqi democracy isn’t enough reason to deal with ISIS, our own national interests certainly are. By the time air strikes started the leading terrorist forces were only a half hour drive from Erbil, the center of Iraqi Kurdistan’s energy industry and home to many US oil workers. Does our government care more for Yazidis than for Americans? Aren’t both equally worthy of protection?
Lastly, we need to wonder why the strikes have been so restrained. Ten targets were hit on Friday, by a handful of aircraft and UAVs. There were four more attacks on Saturday, five on Sunday. This simply isn’t enough. The administration needs to get serious about dealing with ISIS. The current rate of attacks is ideal for public relations, and does seem to have helped the Kurds push ISIS back from Erbil, but to crush this terrorist threat is going to take hundreds of aircraft. So far we’re not seeing that kind of determination.