Internationalists must sharpen their concern for the Iraqi people

There cannot be any half measures as to how we respond to this threat.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has created a flood of refugees as thousands of people from minority groups including members of the Christian, Shia, Sufi and Yezidi communities flee for their lives following advances by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (now renamed Islamic State) fighters.

The jihadist group has taken large swathes of the north of the country, including the city of Mosul. In the north west of Iraq, a humanitarian crisis has developed with many Yezidi Kurds still trapped on the Sinjar Mountains.

US planes have been dropping food and water supplies on Mount Sinjar for several nights to aid the humanitarian relief operation. The UN estimates that already 1.2 million Iraqis have been internally displaced as IS fighters make advances.

In the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, the battle-hardened Peshmerga fighters have struggled to defend themselves and hold back waves of IS fighters who are advancing rapidly across the plains towards them. Despite authorisation by President Obama for the use of US airstrikes in Iraq to disable the artillery that is shelling Kurdish forces, there has been a minimal impact on the overall military capability of the Islamic State.

In an interview, Sadi Ali Amr, a Peshmerga General made an appeal to the international community: “we can only hold out if we get what we need – machine guns, rockets, armoured personnel carriers, sniper rifles, mortars, anti-tank rockets, tanks, the weapons troops in other countries have.”

It is not difficult to see why the Kurds are fearful of their territory falling into IS hands. In the new caliphate, armed men (known as the hizbah) are patrolling cities enforcing their mandate, governing every aspect of daily life under their strict interpretation of Sharia law.

The situation on the ground has worsened to such an extent that there is little to be gained from finding a political settlement. To borrow a phrase from a former Indian Prime Minister – you can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. The longer IS fighters are allowed to operate unchallenged, the longer IS has to embed itself into the social fabric of the occupied territory. A quick and decisive blow to the IS military operation is needed.

It is apparent from the many videos released by IS fighters that minority communities, moderates and secularists are seen as legitimate targets for attack. In one video released on the internet, a Christian is displayed in a crowded marketplace after being crucified as punishment.

This brutal group continues to push individuals to conform to its political agenda by suppressing all moderate and secular voices. In view of this, urgent military action is required to avert a potential genocide.

It has also been reported that Yazidi women and girls abducted by IS fighters from the city of Sinjar are being sold and traded as sex slaves for as little as ten dollars. Fiyan Dakheel, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament substantiated this claim earlier this month saying: “our women are being used as concubines and sold in the markets”.

The IS regime is transparent with its actions. They believe it as their holy duty to be ‘fighting infidels and western vices’. There cannot be any half measures as to how we respond to this threat.

In another propaganda video, bulldozers are used to move land and physically erase the border between Iraq and Syria. With no Iraqi government forces patrolling or present at the border checkpoints, Islamic State fighters control the movement of vehicles between the two countries and transport looted military hardware supplied by the US to Iraqi government troops, who were overrun in the north and west of the country.

For any long-term solution, the response to IS by the international community cannot be solely for Iraq. Without a strategy to defeat IS in Syria, any tactics employed in Iraq will be short term only.

Islamic State is undermining progress in the region and is threatening the very existence of entire communities. As internationalists we need to sharpen our concern for the Iraqi people and especially the minority communities in this conflict.

Britain along with France and the Czech Republic should continue to pressure the UN Member States to arm the outgunned Kurds and assist them in repelling advances by IS fighters.

There will be a demonstration against ISIS tomorrow in Central London, organised by the Kurdish People’s Assembly.

Varinder Singh (@vazsingh) is a councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge and works for a Member of Parliament

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.