Time running out for Christians in Iraq

In fact, it might already have run out. The Christians in Mosul have already fled, and those remaining in Nineveh and other areas of Iraq have until Saturday to make their choice to pay jizya, convert, or be put to death. While ISIS conducts an ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq, the ancient Christian communities there wonder when the West will at least speak out:

He and the rest of northern Iraq’s multitude of Christian sects have plenty of reason to worry about the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that’s taken hold in much of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria since Mosul fell to the Islamic State on June 9. The men who lead the caliphate adhere to the most austere and literal interpretation of Islam, one that subscribes to the notion that improperly pious Muslims can be killed and that Christians, Jews and other monotheistic minorities must pay a protection tax or face a similar fate.

“It’s a financial punishment for refusing to become Muslim,” said the rector of St. Georges, Father Ammar, explaining “jizya,” a tax the ancient caliphates levied on non-Muslims. Father Ammar, following local custom, gave only his first name. …

Bitterness abounds. In Qarakosh, where fighters from the Kurdish peshmerga militia maintain a front line just a mile or so from Islamic State positions and regularly come under sniper and mortar fire, one refugee from Mosul said he knew exactly whom to blame for the situation.

“Goddamn George Bush,” Abu Fadi spat out in English as he stood in line in the 100-degree heat to register for aid. “He removed Saddam, and this is all his fault.”

Then, in Arabic, he turned his anger on the current U.S. administration, which is still formulating what, if anything, it will do in response to the rapid advance of the Islamic State.

“Tell Obama I lost my house because of America, and now he’s a coward and won’t come save us from these animals,” he said.

McClatchy reports today that the earlier reports that the US had been taken by surprise by the ISIS sweep through Nineveh was no surprise at all. The Obama administration knew that ISIS had planned its invasion and seizure of western Iraq, but didn’t take any action to prevent it despite the obvious consequences:

In congressional testimony as far back as November, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials made clear that the United States had been closely tracking the al Qaida spinoff since 2012, when it enlarged its operations from Iraq to civil war-torn Syria, seized an oil-rich province there and signed up thousands of foreign fighters who’d infiltrated Syria through NATO ally Turkey.

The testimony, which received little news media attention at the time, also showed that Obama administration officials were well aware of the group’s declared intention to turn its Syrian sanctuary into a springboard from which it would send men and materiel back into Iraq and unleash waves of suicide bombings there. And they knew that the Iraqi security forces couldn’t handle it.

The group’s operations “are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al Baghadi,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk told a House committee on Feb. 5, four months before fighting broke out in Mosul. “The campaign has a stated objective to cause the collapse of the Iraqi state and carve out a zone of governing control in western regions of Iraq and Syria.”

The testimony raises an obvious question: If the Obama administration had such early warning of the Islamic State’s ambitions, why, nearly two months after the fall of Mosul, is it still assessing what steps, if any, to take to halt the advance of Islamist extremists who threaten U.S. allies in the region and have vowed to attack Americans?

That’s one question, but the answers that McClatchy provides shows that it wasn’t just a case of missing a single opportunity. The failure stemmed from a series of decisions in Obama’s foreign policy, including the dismissal of aid to the Maliki government while it tacitly supported Bashar al-Assad in Syria, despite months of requests from Maliki for assistance. Instead of engaging while ISIS could still have been stopped in March 2013, the Obama administration used the danger as a pressure point to force Maliki into political reforms — a genuinely good end, but short-sighted in regard to the danger involved and potential consequences for failure, which have become all too apparent now.

“We made it clear to Maliki and other Iraqi leaders that the fight against terrorists and militias will require a holistic _ security, political, economic _ approach,” McGurk told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Nov. 13 in describing talks held with the Iraqi leader during a visit he’d made to Washington a week earlier.

What’s the “holistic” status of Iraq now? The Kurds will likely spin off their own state, while the rump Iraqi state will become a Shi’ite satellite of Iran for its own survival, leaving western Iraq to become the new caliphate, at least until the rest of the region tires of ISIS’ antics. Even then, the other nations in the region seem either uninterested or incapable of besting Baghdadi, which will make Iran bolder when it comes to imposing their hegemony in the Middle East.

All of this is fascinating for historians and Western observers, but for the Christians in the region — spiritual and cultural descendants of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world — it’s a matter of life or death. Sean Hannity interviewed one man who faced that choice and fled to Irbil, and who still holds out hope that the West will intervene in some way to save its own cultural heritage (via Katie Pavlich):

Last night Fox News’ Sean Hannity interviewed Christian Kaldo Oganna, who is living in Iraq.

“Our people are under the threat of killing, ethnic cleansing,” he said. “We are all in fear. The Jihadis are going to attack.”

Oganna begged for condemnation of the violence and begged the United States to stop ISIS before things get worse.

The US has been much more focused on trying to stop Israel from crippling Hamas, for some reason. Maybe they’d prefer that people don’t ask too many questions about how Iraq went from an Obama administration success story in 2011 to a genocidal charnel just three years later.