Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Results: What Does Social Media Think After 100 Days In Office for Iraq Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Iraq takes more steps in the right direction

After less than three months and a lot of bad policies to undo the new Iraqi premier is already having some tangible successes in reaching out to the hitherto marginalized Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds of Iraq. These are all very promising steps in the right direction.

The very violent jolt Daesh gave an already divided and volatile Iraqi state is slowly serving to actually strengthen and bring it back together. Those fissures which long existed in the society were exacerbated by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regressive sectarian policies which benefited no one in Iraq (not even the community from which he came, the Shia Iraqis) and are now being redressed in light of the fundamental threat posed by Daesh to the Iraqi state and society. And we’re finally seeing some successes.

Granted these successes do come after a multitude of failures. But at the same time the central government has clearly recognized that there will be no Iraq unless it reforms substantially and reaches out to its minorities, primarily of course the Sunni Kurds and the Sunni Arabs. And it is doing that. Just over the last week we’ve been hearing some promising news.

First of all the rift which existed between Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomous authorities in Erbil over who has the right to export oil has essentially been resolved. That rift and those tensions existed well before Daesh marched into northern Iraq last June. Kirkuk was then home to some Iraqi Army units who were essentially there to keep the regional Kurdish government in check. As with the army forces around Mosul they immediately fled south since they had no coherent defense order nor strategy. The fighting was left to the Peshmerga who successfully secured the city of Kirkuk. A city which of course is immensely important to Kurdish nationalist and is also home to large amounts of Iraq’s oil resources. So much changed in such a short space of time.

Iraq and Kurdistan Flags

Iraq and Kurdistan Flags

The Iraqi Kurdish premier Massoud Barzani has even proposed that Iraqi Kurdistan have a referendum on Kurdish independence. Something which seems to have been put on hold since Maliki stepped down from power in September and was replaced by the present Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi who has sought to undo his predecessors divisive policies which left the state divided and helpless and almost to the mercy of a group who has none.

So Baghdad and Erbil are now working out their oil policies in a more respectful bilateral fashion. Something which will likely see to Kurdish nationalist aspirations at least postponed for now.

And speaking of divisive policies, who can forget the manner in which Mr. Maliki essentially snubbed the Sunni tribes, when it came to broad integration into the federal security forces, who formed the backbone of the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province during the surge period of the Iraq War?

Those Sunni tribes proved decisive when it came to taking the fight to the al-Qaeda in Iraq group from which Islamic State grew years later. They were left poorly equipped and poorly armed. And we’ve had to watch in recent months as they were left to the mercy of that group which has no mercy, Daesh who have slaughtered members of the Albu Nimr tribe.

Abadi has a lot to rectify. In Erbil his government is talking about everything from oil exports which are of importance to Iraq’s economy to arms shipments to the Kurds. In Anbar he has to reinvigorate faith in the Sunnis who we must remember were pushed aside and knifed in the back by Maliki after they done their part in quashing the al-Qaeda threat. Indeed the instability posed by Maliki’s sectarian and ill-governance generated genuine grievances which bred political instability which Daesh was able exploit to its advantage.

But even in Anbar there is a flicker of hope. Recently the Iraqi government and the United States in their attempts to reinvigorate the Awakening movements of the Iraq War years have trained about 2,000 Sunni fighters as part of the formation of what is being referred to as a “bridging entity”. In other words the extending of an arm to those betrayed tribes and reassurances that if they begin to rise up they won’t be mercilessly butchered by the Islamic State forces in their midst like their Albu Nimr kinsmen were.

An anonymous U.S. State Department official was recently quoted as saying that this is part of a policy initiated by Abadi who “is committed ultimately to bringing the Sunnis into the mainstream.”

So while one wouldn’t be overly optimistic about Iraq’s future for the meantime one cannot ignore the gradually shifting trend which has been demonstrated by these two stories. Daesh’s onslaught has inadvertently brought disparate sectors of Iraqi society together to the degree that they recognize the salient and fundamental importance of working together. In the post-June 2014 Iraq the hitherto lengthy Baghdad-Erbil dispute has been resolved and the Sunni Arabs are finding that the central government is setting about consigning into the past the regressive sectarian policies initiated by Mr. Maliki. All positive signs and signs which remind us that the defeat of the Daesh forces in Iraq has an important political dimension to it in addition to a military one.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

There Will Always Be An Iraq

Flower in the Desert - Iraq

Today as the Islamic State group rampages through Iraq’s north (the Nineveh Province where they control the entire metropolis of Mosul) and the west (the Anbar province, Iraq’s largest, of which at the time of writing they retain hold over 80%) it appears that through government ineptness and divisions throughout the country that this could be the end of Iraq. Indeed TIME Magazine ran a cover story essentially stating that this was what we were in fact witnessing. And given the dire circumstances it was hard for even the most optimistic and hopeful of people not to be cynical.

When country’s like Iraq become embroiled in such complex and complicated morasses of violence and disorder one finds oneself reading back over the country’s history and trying to understand how it go to this point and if Iraq as a political entity makes any sense. If anything given the disparate nature of Iraq’s various ethnicities and sects one finds oneself wondering how it lasted this long in the first place.

Today we’re seeking the Yazidi people were helpless as Iraqi minorities when Islamic State marched into their towns and villages and enslaved, raped and murdered them. Broken, destitute and terrified they have time and again expressed how completely letdown they were by their fellow “Iraqis”. Iraq’s Kurds were pushed around by the former government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and pressured over pursuing an energy policy independent of the central government’s oversight. Iraq’s Army was given billions in training and weapons, the Kurdish paramilitary Peshmerga were given less and when push came to shove with Islamic State last June the Iraqi Army fled. The Kurds were left to fend for themselves and defend their homeland. The Iraqi state badly let them down when they needed it most. It was therefore no surprise that Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government under Mr. Massoud Barzani revisited the idea of leaving Iraq altogether through a Kurdish referendum on independence.

Given the dire picture I painted of an Iraq which just doesn’t seem to work or have any confluence whatsoever one may feel that the following well known quote made by Iraqi’s first monarch Faisal seems so true, “There is still – and I say this with a heart full of sorrow – no Iraqi people, but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic idea, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever.”

That statement was made all the way back in 1933. Two years later something very notable happened around Sinjar. The Yazidi tribesmen took up arms. Not against an attacking Islamist force but against their own government. Sinjar was the scene of a massacre. Not like the one which transpired a few weeks ago. This one was at the hands of the Iraqi Army. They quashed by force, killing about 200 Yazidi’s in the process, a revolt on the part of the tribesmen who didn’t want to be conscripted into the kingdoms army. The same was the case with the Shia Arabs and Sunni Kurds who didn’t take kindly to the idea of having a centralized Sunni Arab Kingdom telling them what to do. So they fought it and hundreds were killed in the resulting crackdown.

One finds it very hard to write a general history of Iraq without writing about just how instrumental the army has always been when it comes to the power (or lack thereof) of whatever regime wielded the reigns of power which emanated from control of the central government. And speaking of the army and the central government, before the Kingdom of Iraq was dismantled in the bloody coup of 1958 it was allegedly said of one Nuri al-Said to one of the army coup plotters that, “if your plot ever succeeds, you and the other officers will be engaged in a struggle among yourselves which will not end until each of you hangs the other.”

Prophetic certainly. But historically we know after a series of sometimes violent tumults and struggles for the power, which inevitably came with controlling the centralized government, resulted in the rise of the brutal rule of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi military and centralized control of it was of fundamental importance when it came to securing his rule. The Baath had broader goals for the army than just central control of Iraq. While the Iraqi Army generally looked inward the Baath had ambitions to be a regional hegemonic power. Which is why they sent expeditionary forces in support of the Arabs against Israel and even partook in some of the fighting on the Syrian front in the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 (Iraqi state documents captured after the 2003 invasion reveal that Saddam saw the war with Iran as a pesky delay before his final confrontation with the Israelis over Jerusalem which he assumed would come sometime after that war). Indeed one of the reasons the last Shah of Iran supported the Iraqi Kurds in their revolt against the Baath in the mid-1970’s was so that Baghdad would remain looking inward instead of earnestly seeking to militarily confront Iran over the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway.

So throughout Iraqi history we see the repetitive tendency of that theme. We saw it with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A man who emanated from a long trod-upon sect who believed it was in his and his sects interest to use state power to dictate to the others how things should be. That has backfired and it is clear that most Shiites don’t have such a black-and-white approach. Which means for now that the idea of whipping the population into submission using the power of state coercion is bankrupt at its core. That is actually a promising sign in a lot of respects. Now if Iraq can pull together with greater autonomy given to minorities, such as the Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds, whereby issues like security amongst minority sects are given a structural framework so we never again have an instance of a tribe, such as the Albu Nimr, who are opposed to, and have actively fought against the likes of al-Qaeda and Islamic State are not denied, as those tribesmen scandalously were, admission into the broader security apparatus. Also such tribes who were never affiliated with any terrorist group should also have greater freedom when it comes to forming provincial security forces and police organizations. A loosely federated state body whereby people from different sects, beliefs and communities can for the most part stick to themselves their lives and their business but at the same time remain within the confines of the federal polity then we may have an Iraq that is worth fighting for and that will realize its long lost potential.

Iraq has always been a disparate state. But it has lasted through wars and violence worse than ones which have ripped apart and destroyed similar states with varied ethnicities and religions. Yugoslavia strikes me as the most salient example. Furthermore a successful federal secular Iraq would be a victory for secularism and concordance over fundamentalism and division. And that is certainly a victory worth an earnest fight for.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An inadvertent slander of Iraq’s Sunnis

After the gunfire stopped 34 were dead. The massacre had taken place at the mosque during noon prayers. Those who carried out the massacre did so with automatic AK-47 assault rifles. Given the nature of its execution it could indeed have been any sectarian massacre in Iraq.

This one happened to take place in Musab bin Omar Mosque which is in a village just under fifty-miles from Baquba on August 22 of this year. What makes this particular incident notable was its executioners. The Human Rights Watch group have compiled testimonies of survivors which points a clear finger at the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) working in cahoots with Shia militants. A damning and disturbing situation.

The town of Baqubah located less than 50 miles from Baghdad, Iraq

Human Rights Watch (HRW) goes on to point out that the nature of that horrible mass-murder is not unlike other instances it has become aware of at the hands of Iraq’s Shia militias. Groups like the Badr Brigades. It is of course no secret that such militias have sympathizers within the ranks of the army, government and security forces. But the nature of that chilling incident at Musab bin Omar Mosque cannot be ignored. And one is glad that HRW is investigating it and finding out just who is responsible and how high-up this grizzly affair goes.

The situation in Iraq is indeed highly unstable and one is disheartened to see that in the middle of establishing a new government, in the wake of the pure ineptitude of the Iraqi state which was a direct result of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki divisive governance, Sunni lawmakers are withdrawing support and demanding those responsible for that mass-murder be arrested. One of course agrees wholeheartedly that the perpetrators should be arrested. But one also recognizes that a thorough investigation needs to be undergone first. And one thinks those Sunni lawmakers should not withdraw from those important negotiations (it is not by far an exaggeration to say these negotiations are of vital importance to the Iraqi states’ future) but instead demand that the first order of the day of the new government is a thorough investigation of that massacre and the bringing to justice of its persecutors.

Iraq Divided into three states

Iraq cannot be divided any more, especially in the wake of the threat it faces. The more divided it is the easier it will be for Daesh to rule (in other words the Iraqis will end up doing the “divide” part of Daesh’s “divide and rule” strategy themselves). That is in no ones interests.

Enter Joe Stork. He is the deputy Middle East director at HRW. Recently he rightfully points out that, “Pro-government militias are becoming emboldened and their crimes more shocking,” in light of the threat posed by Daesh. I concur and would add that in such times its more important than ever not to downplay, ignore or trivialize certain actions carried out by the side in a war you are supporting.

But Stork takes this into territory I quite frankly find a little bit disturbing. He says that, “Iraqi authorities and Iraq’s allies alike have ignored this horrific attack and then they wonder why the militant group Islamic State has had such appeal among Sunni communities.”

I have addressed the plight of Iraq’s Sunnis and think it’s a very real and very important issue. Their grievances against the former Maliki government were genuine and one does sympathize wholeheartedly with them. And one has also contended many times that Maliki’s divisive government was bad for Iraq and thankfully not necessarily supported by the Iraqi Shia community. Far from it in fact.

Furthermore analysts and observers shouldn’t fall into the trap of conflating the Iraqi government of the day with Shia militias as a whole. Even the leader of the Sadrist movement has expressed sympathy with those mass Iraqi Sunni protests which began in late 2012 as a result of the popular feeling of discontent with Maliki’s quasi-sectarian governance.

Stork’s comment simply will not do. It is an insult to most Iraqi Sunnis to conflate their discontentment with top-down political marginalization in a multi-denominational state to sympathy with a brutal and violent mass-murdering terrorist group like Daesh. It is also very irresponsible for HRW to call on the United States and other countries to stop giving Iraq “military support and assistance until the government ensures that such widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity have ended.”

Ceasing support in the wake of Daesh’s continued onslaughts and atrocities in Anbar is unrealistic. Once again HRW should be commended for its important research, but these suggestions (and that suggestive comment made by Stork) are quite ridiculous given the circumstances. At least 200 members of the Albu Nimr tribe were executed just days ago in Anbar. Those same brave Sunni tribesmen repudiated Al-Qaeda in Iraq and helped in the fight against it – those very same Anbar-based tribes were later disgracefully discriminated by Prime Minister Maliki who refused to incorporate them into the security services, another reason the Sunni Awakening needs serious re-invigoration as part of the broader political situation to this crisis. They are among the bravest and best of Iraq’s Sunnis. The ones who when reinvigorated and empowered will dispense themselves and their society of a barbaric force of reaction like Daesh. A process that will indeed require a more inclusive government in Baghdad, a government whose first steps will indeed see to it that the perpetrators of that disgusting massacre at Musab bin Omar Mosque are jailed.

Iraq Magnifying Glass - Baghdad

But for the meantime to imply that Iraq’s Sunnis would naturally find a group which kills Iraqi minorities, enslaves and murders women and children and executes en masse fellow Sunnis in an intentionally barbaric fashion “appealing” is frankly insulting. A man of Mr. Stork’s professionalism and humanity should know – and I really hope he does and this was mere hyperbolic – so much better.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Barbarians at the Gates of the Cradle of Civilization

Momentous buildings, monuments and ruins which still stand testament to Iraq’s rich and ancient heritage should be protected at all costs against the rampaging Islamic State (Daesh) group.

Destruction of Assyrian artifacts by IS militants.

Destruction of Assyrian artifacts by IS militants.

As grandiose a term it is for itself the land which conforms to the present day polity of Iraq really does deserve the title the ‘Cradle of Civilizations’.

Unfortunately at present that country is once again being attacked by the dark and barbaric forces of reaction. The modern-day Mongol-like Daesh. The group which shows it has no compunction whatsoever when it comes to murdering and enslaving civilians of communities and sects it finds distasteful, and of reducing to rubble rich and ancient buildings and monuments which have stood for centuries, as well as withstood that tough test which time gives. Iraq is dotted with such sites which could potentially fall victim to that group and consequently be lost forever.

UNESCO presently lists only four world heritage sites in Iraq deemed to be of notable cultural and historic significance. However eleven more sites in Iraq are on a list to be evaluated and considered. One suspects that at least some of them are worthy of the stature expected of a site to be considered worthy of inclusion on that renowned list of sites possessing “outstanding universal value.” And with that inclusion also afforded protection by the international community wherever possible. One hopes more Iraqi sites will be added to that list in the near future, sites such as ‘The Sacred Complex of Babylon’ near Baghdad (the capital of the Old Kingdom of Babylonia), the Mesopotamia Marshlands and the Ancient City of Nineveh which is home to many artefacts which extend back to the early origins of human civilization. Sadly that last site may not make the list since it is in this area where the reputed site of the Tomb of Jonah is, which Daesh overran and blew-up last July.

Limiting ourselves to the four listed sites for now one cannot but fear for their structural integrity when one sees how closely to the north and west of the country they are situated. In other words how close they are to Daesh forces in Iraq, a group that has, as you know, made highly substantive and worrying gains in recent months in light of the weak governance of Baghdad and the embarrassing inefficiency of Iraq’s Army.

Hatra ruins.

Hatra ruins.

Today it is possible, and I hope will be for many many years to come, to see the remnants of the capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra. This ancient thick-walled structure was attacked by the Romans who were repelled in two periods at both ends of the first century (the years 116 and 198CE). It is a rich architectural combination of Hellenistic, eastern and Ancient Roman architecture. Truly one, amongst many, highly notable structures still preserved from ancient times.

In Samarra we have the archaeological city which still stands as a preserved example of an Islamic capital city of an empire which stretched as far west as Tunisia and east to Central Asia. Again according to UNESCO some 80% of this site has yet to be excavated. In other words, this site still has so much to teach us about the Abbasid Empire, its culture, how it functioned among other things. It along with the ancient ruins of Ashur (the first capital of the Assyrian empire) are two sites in Iraq that UNESCO proclaim to necessitate safeguarding from attack given their proximity to Daesh’s savage rampage across Iraq.

We have witnessed the kind of nasty deeds such fanatics can do to sites of cultural importance they find distasteful. Al-Qaeda in Iraq after all successfully managed to bomb the Al-Askari Shrine, a site of immense importance to Shia, as well as many Sunni, Muslims (“I swear by the shrine” is a common phrase used by Muslims which itself signifies the importance and value of the shrine to them) and destroy its beautiful golden dome. A blatant act of sectarian-motivated destruction.

Al-Askari mosque in Samarra Iraq undergoing repairs.

Al-Askari mosque in Samarra Iraq undergoing repairs.

Such deeds are certainly not below a group like Daesh. Their like-minded compatriots of the violent Islamist persuasion around the world have intentionally destroyed heritage sites around the world which they allege are anti-Islamic and should be destroyed. This has ranged from the defacing of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu to Buddha statues in Afghanistan. That is what has happened. In Iraq we shouldn’t run the risk of simply standing by in shock on the sidelines and watching it transpire yet again. Remember, the heritage is not just Iraq’s, but by extension, given its age, humanities as a whole.

Similar such sites testify to Iraq’s rich and diverse culture are of risk of wanton destruction. Not simply risk of being damaged or destroyed in the crossfire of fighting, as has happened so many wondrous sites in places like Aleppo in neighbouring Syria (one sad thing about those sites even before the war began there is how neglected they were by tourists and world travelers in relative comparison to such sites in other nearby countries). That’s bad enough in and of itself. But the threat posed by Daesh is of much more fundamental and pressing concern. These are very resolute and innovative fighters when it comes to carrying out deeds they deem commensurate with their obscurantist beliefs. This should not be allowed happen. We know where the sites are and cannot not know they have been identified as being in danger. Surely the least the world community can do is offer to assist the Iraqi authorities in upholding the protection and structural integrity of these sites by whatever means necessary.

One sincerely doubts Daesh will succeed in its efforts to establish a caliphate. But just because they will eventually, one hopes sooner rather than later, become history shouldn’t mean we should run the risk of letting them desecrate more of these sites unopposed. Sites which have stood the test of time and will hopefully stand for centuries to come as testament to Iraq’s long history.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Daesh may prove to have a unifying affect in Iraq

The barbaric fighters of the self-styled “Islamic State” (Daesh) are consciously and openly trying to destroy the Iraqi state. Their head-on attack on Iraq and its society however may prove to have a unifying affect on that state and society in the long run.

As I write these words what is being termed a new and more inclusive cabinet is being established in Baghdad. The government seems to recognize the fundamental faults which were inherent in former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governance, which the Sunni Arabs and Kurds of Iraq felt discriminated and marginalized by, and are consequently setting out to ensure the government is more inclusive and representative. Because what Iraq needs if it is going to pull itself out of another sectarian morass of violence and avoid fragmenting as a state altogether is inclusive governance and a society which feels at least broadly united.

It would be foolish to state from our present vantage point that we are witnessing a pivotal moment in Iraq’s modern history. Nevertheless we could soon very well see Daesh ending up being the unwitting catalyst that brings about a stronger and more unified Iraq. There are plenty of historical parallels to draw from in order to illustrate why this may prove to be so. Limiting ourselves to Iraq we just have to recall Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran and his campaign of genocide against the Kurds.

In the case of the former he invaded Iran at a time when the new government was in disarray and there was infighting amongst the many ideologues who had been loosely united primarily due to their mutual disgruntlement with the rule of the Shah (it is vital to remember that the Ayatollah Khomeini was seen amongst many secular Iranians as a figurehead, they supported him under the impression that he wouldn’t, as he continuously promised before his famous return, seek power but would support the establishment of a republic). After Saddam hit the Iranians hard in his September 1980 invasion they were forced to organize on their feet as it were and unite in order to repel the invading Iraqi force. In the midst of that war Khomeini and his inner clique seized absolute power and gradually oppressed and forced from the center of power their various opponents. In essence Saddam’s attack ultimately served to strengthen Khomeini and his clique and solidified his regimes power.

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In the case of the Kurds Saddam set out to completely subdue them and kill any who resisted his regimes rule. This saw to the instigation of the genocidal and infamous Al-Anfal campaign which saw extensive amounts of chemical weaponry used. At least 180,000 Kurds were killed and many ‘relocated’ from their villages into crowded internment camps. It seemed as if their spirit had been brutally broken. But what it ultimately saw to was the Kurds eventually (by mid-1991) garnering the sympathy of many nations and gradually building up the foundations of their own autonomous homeland. Today it is one of the wealthier and more stabler parts of Iraq and has its own regional government and security forces. It is far from perfect but at the same time far from the intended result of Saddam’s genocidal campaigns against them.

Today the idea that Daesh’s rapid gains in Northern Iraq will ultimately have a unifying affect on Iraq, in both the upper echelons of the government and amongst ordinary Iraqis of different ethnicities and denominations, is more likely an outcome than one might otherwise think. Such an unintended result of such an action on the part of Daesh certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented when one takes into account those two episodes I alluded to.

June 2014 was a very humiliating month for Iraq. We saw how the divisive governance of Maliki rendered the country completely inept in face of such a nasty adversary which humiliated the Iraqi Army and threatened to subject minorities to a campaign of genocide (seeing footage of thousands of civilians being once again hounded into desolate mountains in Northern Iraq in fear of being massacred was quite a horrible sight to behold). It forced all Iraqis to pull their socks up and reevaluate the way their country is being run. That reevaluation is starting to be shown in the political process as the society does its part of dispensing itself of this nasty foe. Daesh’s victory after all is Iraq’s defeat. And for Iraq to stave off such a defeat such inclusiveness is a fundamental necessity.

By hitting Iraq so hard and so quickly Daesh may have temporarily sent a very painful shockwave through the system and rendered it temporarily inert. But as it continues to try and blatantly exploit the fissures which exist in Iraqi society the society is recognizing that the only way it can pull itself out of the hellish sectarian morass of endless violence is through a broad form of inclusiveness which will in the long-run enable Iraq to overcome these sectarian rifts which are kept alive only by the most reactionary elements in the society, who are clearly very vocal minorities. That is being recognized and that recognition is finally being acted upon. The Kurds haven’t declared independence and broken away. Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric has called for concordance with his Sunni brethren and clearly shown he doesn’t endorse any sectarian, not to mention theocratic, form of governance by his Shia kinsmen, who are of course the majority sect in Iraq. All of these are positive signs.

Daesh hit Iraq hard across the head, but it didn’t knock it out. It gave it a concussion. Now that the state is recovering from that concussion it is clearly being recognized that the society can only function properly and effectively through concordance. Which is why this band of a few thousand violent sectarian fanatics may very well prove to be the catalyst for a reinvigorated, stronger, more unified and overall better Iraq.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

What Daesh’s attempt to fly jets tells us about Baathist-Islamist collusion

The Islamic State (IS, referred to herein by the Arabic acronym ‘Daesh’) group is reportedly flying some antiquated Syrian Air Force MiG’s it has under its control. It’s said that it is doing so with help from former pilots of the Iraqi Air Force.

During the Iraq War many were somewhat reluctant about pointing out that there was a collusion between the remnants of the Iraqi Baath, who had of course been toppled, and al-Qaeda and other such Islamist groups. When the U.S./U.K. and Iraqi military’s were engaged in those vicious firefights in the city of Fallujah in 2004 they were engaged against both the al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia group and Iraqi Baathist forces. Collusion between the two always seemed to be dictated more by expedience than ideology. Although it mustn’t be forgotten that later on in his rule Saddam Hussein had injected a lot of Islamism and jihadi rhetoric and slogans into his propaganda. The idea of him having been a purely secular leader to the end is unfounded.

Casting aside ideological sympathies collusion between at least some remnants of the former regime and the Islamists made a lot sense. For one thing the Islamists were proving to be a formidable foe to the success of the new Iraq from which the Baath were being cast aside. They terrorized, and continue to terrorize, the society and did their utmost to ensure that a post-Saddam Iraq would be an abysmal failure. Something which the Baath also wanted.

And early on in the Iraq War years when the country was, for a few months, administrated by outsiders there were more than enough skilled military men who were essentially told they would be denied employment. This was due to the controversial legacy of Paul Bremer’s decision to completely disband the Iraqi military and start anew. As a result of this policy around 400,000 men were essentially told that given their former membership of the Baath Party (which hundreds-of-thousands of citizens were members given the fact that party membership was the only real way an Iraqi could forge a life for themselves in the days of Saddam’s rule) they would not be allowed seek employment relative to the skills and experience which they verifiable possessed. Now retrospectively seen as a colossal error this served to fuel a considerable amount of the post-2003 chaos which plagued Iraq. Young and armed military professionals often forged common cause with the Baath due to their hatred of the new authorities. Indeed many disenfranchised Sunnis who had at least some sympathy with the al-Qaeda rhetoric which proclaimed the post-2003 ascendance of the hitherto trod-upon Shia majority parliamentary government to be nothing more than an encroaching Persian Shia ‘Safavid’ power.

And of course these former military and security personnel were well-skilled, knew the right targets to hit which would effectively hurt the Iraqi economy and terrorize the populace. Which they did for years. Many outsiders airily dismissed this collusion as little more than a wishful conspiracy concocted by those who in the run up to the war did their utmost to try and establish some kind of a connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the terrorists of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless the collusion has existed and this recent story about former Iraqi Air Force personnel helping Daesh fighters fly some captured Syrian MiGs provides an apt opportunity to reevaluate it in light of Daesh and its many exploits continuing to make headlines.

The military value of these three or so MiG-21 and MiG-23 Soviet-era jets is more likely than not quite trifle. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are reduced to ash heaps by U.S.-led coalition jets shortly after I finish writing these lines. Nevertheless the broader picture this episode brings to light is anything but trifle in its significance. It is another indication that quite formidable, and dare I say sophisticated, elements of the ancien régime in Iraq are continuing to sow discord in the region. They are very skilled at exploiting popular discontent among the Sunni minority in Iraq, Saddam’s former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri for example is believed to have successfully stirred up many of the protests which have taken place in Iraq against the exclusionary governance of former Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki since at least 2012, and of carrying out asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare against their many enemies. Daesh have after all have been very effective when it comes to attacking targets of military importance and then immediately melting away. But it is also good at occupying territory and stifling any attempts amongst local populaces to resist. They have after all since June held onto Iraq’s second city. Not because they were welcome but simply because they managed to efficiently exploit the sectarian fissures which saw the Shia-majority Iraqi Army feel uncomfortable, exposed and, to a certain degree, unwelcome in that Sunni-majority city (as they are in many parts of Anbar where Daesh have also managed to exploit popular discontentment with the government in order to seize territory amidst the instability) in order to take control and retain hold over the city.

Doubtlessly Daesh are at least in part able to do such things through the Baathists collusion with them. Which has given Daesh a formidable edge which makes it an adversary one would be very foolish to underestimate.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Helping Iraq help itself: Some ideas to defeat Daesh

While the United States is committed to helping Iraq rid itself of Daesh it is up to Iraq first and foremost to deal with this threat to its survival.

That was essentially what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in recent comments concerning the crisis in Iraq and the threat posed by Daesh and its continued successes in Iraq’s western Anbar province. His comments and reassurances of continued U.S. support of Iraq in this fight were made days after U.S. Apache helicopter gunships targeted Daesh fighters just a few miles outside of Baghdad. He has stressed that the support does not in turn mean that the United States will be bearing the brunt of the fighting. It is of course the duty of Iraq first and foremost to pull itself out of this morass and overcome the severe threat to its territorial integrity and secular society this group poses.

Since its withdrawal from Iraq in the end of 2011 the U.S. didn’t even leave a residual force there. Decades after World War II it still has military bases and troops stationed in Germany and Japan but none in Iraq. This may of course change in the not so distant future. The United States and the Iraqi government retain a Strategic Framework Agreement which can permit U.S. forces to operate in Iraq on an ad-hoc basis with Iraqi approval if they deem it to be necessary. Given the Iraqi military’s poor performance over the summer, upon the onset of the present crisis, and its lack of sophisticated air power the U.S. finds itself once again deploying forces in Iraq to support the government.

The Iraqis have shown an interest in procuring drones from the U.S. for counter-terrorism operations in the Anbar province, where the government has been engaged militarily against Daesh and others who have capitalized on the deteriorating situation there, before the present crisis began last June. Also coordinating with the U.S. in counter-terrorist operations would see American technology and ability give the Iraqi military a tactical advantage when it comes to combating such resourceful and innovative irregular forces.

Helping Iraq help itself

Helping Iraq help itself

But the problem Iraq presently faces and its main handicap isn’t one that is going to be solved by military means alone. Daesh we shouldn’t forget exploited fissures that were already severely straining Iraqi society and are now threatening to dismember it altogether. The solution needed to rectify this situation needs to be a political one in addition to being a military one.

Iraq after all has a military with very sophisticated weapons, not to mention a large number of armed men. But the minute it faced a threat it embarrassingly fled last June. This is partially due to the corruption in the government which is partially the legacy of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s policies. Yes he did come in back in 2006 during a very dark time in Iraq’s history. But Iraq hasn’t really gotten any better since that time. In essence Maliki merely established what amounted to little more than a pseudo-democratic government and brought about a semblance of stability through his million-man security forces. But no concrete steps towards reconciliation between Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities was reached. On the contrary heavy-handed policies were implemented by a man who comes from a sector of Iraq’s population who know very well what it is like to be sidelined, marginalized and dismissed by an unrepresentative central authority.

Which is why the stability Maliki brought post-2007 was in my opinion was not only short-lived but was indeed doomed from the start to be relatively short-lived. The instability which Anbar province for example is once again plagued with stems partially from the fomenting of violence by the likes of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and other former Baathists and Sunni Islamist fanatics who see the Shiites as little more than a Persian Safavid (their words not mine) encroachment upon their society who need to be destroyed. But that in and of itself wouldn’t be enough to make it so prevalent and so widespread. There seems to be a genuine feeling of disfranchisement in these areas which is why the protest movement that began in Fallujah in 2012 spread so quickly and why the Kurds, after seeing the state which was supposed to represent them instead sideline them and dictate to them how they should run their region, realized very quickly over the summer what they always knew deep down, that at the end of the day they could only really count on themselves and their own men under arms. This consequently saw them beginning to once again contemplate the idea of ending Iraq altogether by breaking away and declaring complete independence and separation in their autonomous northern region.

Daesh are taking over an Anbar already weakened by political violence brought about by discontentment and the divisions in Iraq exacerbated by this kind of divisive governance. That is why the country is paralyzed and unable to fight off the psychos which are taking this opportunity to try and transform Iraq into a Somalia-like state where well organized gangs of warlords like Daesh exploit and beggar the weakened populaces over which they rule.

What we’re ultimately witnessing is an Iraq struggling for its life. While the U.S. will devote substantial resources towards helping Iraq survive any military or terrorist threat through the use of force and other means the solution to this is political. Iraq is paralyzed as a state and a society due to the divisive governance of recent years. Steps are being taken to rectify the damage that has been done. But the fundamental crux of the situation is political as well as societal. The society is split and weakened and is consequently being exploited by the shark-like predators who having smelled blood are going in for what they anticipate to be a feeding frenzy. The solution to this certainly does have a large military component to it, but the only way Iraq can completely rid itself of the likes of Daesh and other such groups is through more inclusive and less centralized governance where a common sense of nationalism is felt regardless of a citizens sect or ethnicity.

Of course saying what is required is much easier than explaining how it can be attained. However on a more positive note what is interesting about Daesh’s assault on Iraq is that it is a fundamental assault on essentially all Iraqis regardless of whatever background from which they emanate. This may actually serve to, in the long-run, help the country to get together and face-down this head-on threat to its existence.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Baghdad Invest: On Saddam Hussein Nostalgia

Saddam Hussein Nostalgia

Saddam Hussein Nostalgia

In light of the trauma afflicted on nearly every facet of Iraqi society in wake of the wicked assault levelled against it by Islamic State terror group many Iraqis retrospectively view their lives during Saddam Hussein’s reign with a seemingly odd feeling of nostalgia.

To an outsider this may seem quite bizarre. Of course Iraq has been mired by chaos in the aftermath of the 2003 overthrow of Mr. Hussein has been mired with violence and civil strife. Furthermore corrupt governance didn’t go away with Saddam. Former Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki used state compulsion counter-productively in order to marginalize Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities in the political process. A move which saw the state convulsed by that divisive governance and therefore wholly inept when it came to defending the country against the initial Islamic State onslaught last June.

This doesn’t mean that the Saddam nostalgia sees Iraqis missing the days of the rule of the Mukhabarat terror and torture apparatus, the vicious and depleting war with Iran, the military engagements with America and its allies and the many years of economic sanctions. It is more so a mild nostalgia for a time when the country wasn’t fundamentally breaking up along ethnic and sectarian lines as it is today due in large part of Islamic States brutal attack on an Iraqi society already divided by weak divisive ill-representative central governance.

Interestingly the aforementioned sanction years essentially saw to it that the regime was able to cement its hold on power since the population could barely eek out a basic existence let alone fight the tyrannical system oppressing them. Furthermore the sanctions saw to it that it was the regime that supplied the basic food stuffs to the population and also gave it access to enough financial resources which allowed it to build new and extravagant palaces in each of Iraq’s provinces. The country, along with the majority of its population, was a largely beggared and devastated fiefdom in those years presided over by a brutal family regime.

But the instability was never as bad as it is today. And this is the point that needs to be remembered. As poor as Iraq was and as oppressed as the people were politically they were largely in the same boat to an extent. You didn’t for example have empowered Shia sectarians like Maliki for example using state power in order to sideline and tame the Sunni Kurds but instead you had them under the same collective whip. Today in part due to the legacy of the Iraq War the population is divided and the government and state as a whole extremely weak and ineffective. This weakness coupled with Islamic States ongoing tumultuous assault has crippled Iraq and unleashed more terrors on its people. Whole communities have been destroyed before our eyes and the very fundamental existence of the country has been directly threatened.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing that the Hussein clan was overthrown. When you remove or severely destabilize any brutal central authority in such a society these things tend to happen. When the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union invaded Iraq’s neighbour Iran in 1941 and dislodged the Iranian dictator Reza Shah Pahlavi for example they, whether they intended to or not, brought about severe instability and chaos which nearly saw to the country being ripped apart by the competing powers and driven into turmoil with tribal chieftains, communist revolutionaries and separatists alike vying for power and influence over that massive and diverse country in the vacuum brought about by the sudden removal of a powerful centralized autocracy.

In Syria another Baathist dictator is fighting an uprising and insurgency against his regime. While he wasn’t overthrown by external powers we see that the breakdown in society brought about by that uprising and the brutal attempt by the regime to crush it has seen to the society being divided and the fissures between different religious sects and ethnicities being brought to the fore and even exploited by many sides in this fight – such as Assad’s stoking of sectarian fires in order to get more reluctant Christians and Alawites behind him for their protection. Again not unlike what happened to Iraq when a hitherto brutal centralized force was suddenly unhinged very dramatically.

A feeling of quasi-nostalgia amongst Iraqis for that period should not necessarily be viewed as an endorsement of the past order nor an expression of affinity with the ancient régime. Instead it should be understood as a lamentation of sorts over the fact that since the demise of that brutal regime Iraq has not been fully stable and has to date been unable to erect a system that will allow the country and its varied and various inhabitants to reach and realize their potential. Which is certainly something to despair and lament about.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Islamic State Terror in Australia

Australia Islamic State Terror threat

As Australians woke up to the news of abductions and beheadings, Australian Assyrians feel that they are now facing the terror on two fronts; on our shores and in our homelands. A Demand For Action applauds the AFP and ASIO, as well as NSW police for detecting such terror plots and putting an end to it. We are sleeping with the enemy, because the same people who have beheaded, raped and killed the innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria, are now calling themselves proud Australian citizens, sneaking and plotting under our very own eyes. These may be ‘plots’ in Australia, but they are a reality in Iraq and Syria. For this reason and for months now, the Australian branch of A Demand For Action has been rallying in both Sydney and Melbourne, with joint rallies held on 2 August 2014. Federal and State MP’s from both sides of the spectrum were present, and gave powerful and moving speeches. However, we are all enraged that all over the world, these atrocious crimes by the Islamic State have not been widely reported and discussed in greater length on mainstream media. There is genocide in progress and it is being ignored.

However, seeing this break-out in Australia is not surprising to us. We need recognize that this has become a magnet for disaffected, alienated & angry extremists everywhere, and the more successful they are in the Middle East, the more we can expect events like this. A man named Abu-Adil, a Syrian IS solider, warned us. He warned Nuri Kino, (the founder of A Demand For Action) that the Islamic State would not stop until they have infiltrated the west. Now is the time for the Australian parties, to put aside political agendas and act united to defeat the national security threat of the Islamic State. We are the first country to begin raids and make arrests, while this is great news for us, the rest must follow suit. Let Australia lead by example and stand fiercely in the face of evil. For a decade now, brutal atrocities like these have taken place against minorities. On many occasions, our founder Nuri Kino has documented, reported, testified, and most of all warned of further violence, and as the United Nations has stipulated, of crimes against humanity.

We are Assyrians, a heritage that also includes Chaldeans and Syriacs. We are the descendants of the ancient peoples who gave the world civilization and a culture over 7000 years old. Our people have retained the language of our ancestors, a fusion of Akkadian and Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus Christ. Civilization today, however, has failed to protect us. Civilization today, has failed to preserve us. Our people are at risk of extinction. More of us now live in Diaspora than we do in our ancestral lands. Our entire existence rests in your hands.

A Demand For Action Assyrian Iraqis

It only took a couple of days for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city to be emptied of all non-Sunni Muslims. And in weeks 400 000 people were displaced from the Nineveh Plains. A Demand For Action has followed every step of this tragedy. Can you imagine the full effects if a city like Melbourne was to be caught in the middle of such tragedy? The week after the invasion of Mosul, that is when “A Demand For Action” was founded. A grassroots movement that now operates in over 4 continents and 19 countries. Our branches have echoed our demands in rallies, TV debates, radio interviews and social media efforts. Every day, politicians and journalists have received information about the genocide in Iraq and Syria, with the same grotesque atrocities occurring in all pockets under the control of Islamic Fundamentalists. Our demands are simple; we want a safe haven established, we want military resources to be given to minorities, and we want non-stop humanitarian aid. Whilst we have a capable ASIO and federal police system detecting terror plots, the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs and other minorities in Iraq don’t have anything of this nature.

We are now at the point where the Islamic State has been formed and Caliphate built; a threat to the whole world. We have been trying to make our Australian government understand this plague and this threat. The Islamic State is here, in Australia, waving its dark and evil flag in front of Churches and ready to attack. The world cannot silently look on as more sons and fathers are decapitated in front of cameras and publicized in social media outlets. These devastating and brutal acts have no place in modern times.

Diana Yaqco
A Demand For Action – Australia

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

We condemn the Brutal Murder of David Haines by ISIS

David Haines Iraq

David Haines Iraq

Unfortunately it is with sad news the thug group we call the Islamic State otherwise known as ISIS have decided to unjustly murder their latest victim, British Aid worker David Haines.

It comes a few days after David’s family had pleaded with ISIS to get in touch with the family and not carry out their threats.

Sadly, ISIS have done what they have already done to thousands of others.

It is a terrible situation and those captured by ISIS face a sickening fate. We at Baghdad Invest condemn such actions as seriously Un-Islamic and way out of line of what is normality. For now, the family of David Haines will be suffering tremendous angst at news of their loved one’s passing.

David will be in a better place now, hopefully his God will be taking good care of him.

As we go on, we can say Iraq is very much turning the tide on ISIS in the fight to take back land and push ISIS out of Iraq. The murder of David Haines is an indication of the levels of desperation in which ISIS are feeling.

David Cawthorne Haines

Born in East Yorkshire but raised Perthshire, 44-year-old Mr Haines was in Syria as an aid worker just before his capture in March 2013. David has been to multiple middle east countries in a similar capacity working to bring aid to those who need it.

David’s case really came to light after he appeared at the end of the video of which ISIS had beheaded American journalist Steven Sotloff.

Rest in Peace – David Haines.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Another ‘pivotal moment’ in Iraq’s history?

As the United States calls for a global response to the Islamic State (IS) threat plaguing parts of Iraq and Syria one finds oneself pondering if we’re witnessing another pivotal moment in Iraq’s history and what will ultimately come of it.

Main staircase of the Ziggurat

Main staircase of the Ziggurat

Of course it is unwise to try and define and sum-up the moment in time one is living in historically. Many commentators and journalists made this mistake back in 2011 throughout the course of the Arab Spring when they expressed quite a lot of optimism about the future of Middle Eastern nations undergoing revolutionary tumults. Similarly it would be unwise to try and characterize and define the present crisis Iraq is facing historically until we can retrospectively evaluate its long term affects on Iraq and the wider region.

Nevertheless by evaluating the history of past hinge moments and years in Iraqi history it is reasonable to speculate where the present IS threat will ultimately take Iraq. Whether or not it will serve to cripple already quite tenuous cross-denominational ties, result in a partition brought about by a Kurdish declaration of independence or see to the society as a whole pull together and act upon the recognition that noninclusive and heavy-handed governance are at least a small part of the reason IS have made the gains they have had through their exploitation of discontentment and, as was the case in Anbar, disgruntled and unstable Sunni communities.

When evaluating Iraq’s modern post-Second World War history I would contend that the important ‘pivotal’ moments would be the following,

King Faisel II of Iraq

King Faisel II of Iraq

The 1956 coup which brought to an end the monarchy and with it the Kingdom of Iraq.

The 1968 Baathist coup which resulted from the political instability and upheaval in Arab countries which followed Egypt and Syria’s June 1967 defeat by the Israelis. Furthermore this coincided with the decline of the pan-Arabism promulgated by Egypt’s Nasser and with it a vacuum of sorts politically in the region. The Iraqi Baath vied earnestly to fill that vacuum.

The 1979 purge of the Baath leadership by Saddam Hussein who of course saw himself as the “new Nasser” of the region. That purge along with his attack on Iran in September 1980 which initiated the Iran-Iraq War which didn’t end until 1988 with at least a million left dead in its wake. That shortly thereafter of course led onto Saddam deciding to seize Kuwait and fight against an enormous American-led military coalition assembled to confront him. The aftermath of that campaign saw Iraq placed under United Nations sanctions until the 2003 intervention which eventually saw to his overthrow.

And obviously of course the 2003 overthrow of Saddam which saw the end of the Baath’s hold on power in Iraq.

Events beginning in June 2014 will quite likely be seen as an important hinge moment in Iraqi history also. It is after all the beginning of a very important and ongoing test. The one that sees if the new Iraq with all of its flaws is able to nevertheless utilize its democratic and secular societal republican rudiments and beat back the vicious sea of reaction which threatens to swallow it and go on to prosper as a successful multi-ethnic and multi-denominational state.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

In Iraq the fight is for the country’s civil society

As various Kurdish and Iraqi forces continue to fight the Islamic State (IS) forces in northern Iraq there is one fundamental thing which need not be forgotten about this conflict and this fight. On every level it is one for the preservation of Iraq’s secular society. Imperfect as it is in many regards.

While many outlets and pundits are providing us with important and up-to-date information on the minutia of the military fight against IS it is important to remember what this group is out to achieve. What it detests and what it is seeking to dismantle. That is clearly Iraq’s society given its relatively secular nature and make-up.

Iraq Civil Society Test

Appreciation shown for Iraq: by Nur Al-Ebeid @NurAlebeid

In fact the new human rights chief of the United Nations, the Jordanian royal family’s Prince Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, recently summed up very aptly the secular nature of the territory which conforms to modern day Iraq when she lamented the assault on Christian, Turkoman’s and Yazidi communities amongst others when she reminded us that, “These communities have lived side by side, on the same soil, for centuries and in some cases for millennia.”

The great test that is time demonstrates conclusively that Islamic States’ assault on Iraq is in order to dismantle and eradicate that secular society. The very existence of which, not just the state but the very multi-ethnic, multi-denominational nature of the society, to them constitutes an extremely irritating thorn in the very heart of the territory which they envisage as being part of a future sectarian and theocratic caliphate.

The territory on which sits the modern polity of Iraq was of course historically known as the Cradle of Civilization. And the bedrock of civilization is a democratic and secular society. Iraq’s isn’t perfect but it certainly is worth defending and fighting for. The international community has everything to win in defending the fundamental rudiments of such a society and everything to lose by sitting on the sidelines while it struggles for its life.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A look at ISIS Beyond The Borders of Iraq and Syria

Iraqi’s who flee the post-war events after 2003, were expecting to stay at distance from the problems and brutality happening to Iraq but strangely that never happened.

Iraqi’s as long as holding an Iraqi passport stayed connected to Iraq in various ways, two of them included the financial dependence on the some-how stable life in Iraq and the stress of worry about the family and loved ones who are still trapped in Iraq and forced to experience the post-war events and the now situation of ISIS.

When ISIS first emerged in Iraq, it was an unknown force without a name, it consisted of unknown nationalities along with Iraqi members. That force brought some strange sense of peace in Mosul, where they were mostly engaged in civilians’ lives, but that peace was disturbed by fear of the unknown. Later that unknown became known as the true brutality and identity of ISIS were revealed to Mosul, Iraq and the rest of the world.

ISIS beyond the borders Iraq

ISIS did not only interfere in the lives of Iraqis inside Iraq but it also had an effect to those who lives beyond, the continues flow of news about the strange and yet expected change of rules and culture gave us all a wakeup call on how our past in Iraq is going to be a myth because of the destruction happening to the monuments and the very meaning of “Life” in Iraq.

Considering most of the Iraqi’s living outside Iraq, have established careers that are located theoretically outside but practically taking place in Iraq, were therefore also included in the financial effects of ISIS.

Every day, we hear of a family who left Iraq, leaving homes and careers behind, headed to the visa-required countries and on-the-borders temporary camps, and with all that, the effects of ISIS continues to pass upon us all.

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