Too little too late for Iraq’s Yazidi minority?

The U.S. has been observing from afar the growth of ISIS, so why is it acting now?

Abdullah Hamidaddin
Abdullah Hamidaddin
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This is not the first time militants have attacked the Yazidi community. In 2007, more than 400 were killed in suicide bomb attacks. The al-Qaeda operative who masterminded the killing was later killed by the United States. However, it seems that this is the first time the community faces the threat of genocide.

Many in the region welcomed the American intervention against ISIS for a couple of reasons. However, it does not seem that saving the Yazidis was the main one. The main one is obvious: ISIS has been expanding at the expense of every power in Iraq, and there seems to be a widespread belief that it is only with U.S. intervention that they will be defeated, or their expansion thwarted. Some are hoping that the limited American intervention could pave the way to a broader intervention against ISIS. Saving the Yazidis is but one minor cause of satisfaction. As far as Iraqis are concerned, everyone is facing the threat of a violent death. The carnage that the Iraqi people have experienced, the massacre after massacre, may have left most with little regard to the concept of “ethnic cleansing.” Someone who cannot be sure that tomorrow will exist cannot fathom why saving the life of a minority is different that saving the life of anyone else.

There were of course many voices that are not happy with the U.S. bombing ISIS. Many of them are silent supporters of ISIS. As far as they are concerned, ISIS holds the promise of the return of Islamic rule in the Arab and Muslim world. Its violence is justified as a necessary evil to enable the group to survive and thrive amongst formidable foes. They justify the gruesome killings as tactical measures. Many of them say that there is not a real difference between what the U.S. did in Iraq or what ISIS is doing; they claim the difference is in the theatrics of killings not in the killing itself. This is, of course, a scary thought. It gets even scarier when we realize that such sentiments towards ISIS are not limited to the very religious or the radical. The sense of despair in the region is pushing the moderate towards accepting radical and violent alternatives. Many of those who justify ISIS do not agree with its ideology, nor would they want it to be active in their own countries – at least not yet – but nevertheless they see it as part of the solution for a region which has lost hope in peaceful means.

People are asking why was there no intervention when other groups were being slaughtered by various factions – ISIS merely being the last of many

Abdullah Hamidaddin

But the real question being asked here is why now? People are asking why was there no intervention when other groups were being slaughtered by various factions – ISIS merely being the last of many. Why was there no intervention when the Christians were being murdered and their homes being taken as booty and they were forced to flee for their lives?

The U.S. has been observing from afar the growth of ISIS; but it decided early on that this is a matter which the Iraqis have to solve by working together. The U.S. was content by the fact that ISIS is still a contained threat; that there were no spillover effects serious enough to warrant its intervention. At the same time, the U.S. thought that the threat of ISIS would bring the Iraqis together, with other players in the region, to work out a political deal which allows for the creation of a legitimate government able to secure Iraq and its borders. But that did not happen. Instead, the threat of ISIS has reached a point where the U.S. is now convinced that without it doing something, ISIS would stay much longer and its influence may reach beyond Syria and Iraq. But the U.S. needed a reason to intervene. It missed the window of the plight of the Christians, but it was not going to miss this new window. The suffering of the Yazidis and the fear of genocide gave the U.S. the excuse to send a message to ISIS and to the Iraqi government. To ISIS, that its expansion will not continue unchecked. To the Iraqi government, that they need to get their act together. Time will tell if either will understand the message or act upon it.


Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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