A new war in Iraq with whatstheirname

TARGETED BY JIHADISTS: Displaced Yazidis taking refuge in Iraq's Dohuk province. Mr Obama ordered US Navy planes to drop food and water for the Yazidis after 50,000 of them were forced to flee their homes. PHOTO: REUTERS


    Aug 12, 2014

    A new war in Iraq with whatstheirname

    IT WAS exhilarating to drop a bunch of 200kg bombs on whatstheirname.

    Just when Americans thought they could stop trying to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites, we're in a new war in Iraq with some bad "folks", as the President might say, whose name we're still fuzzy on.

    We never know what we are getting into over there, and this time we cannot even agree what to call the enemy.

    All we know is that a barbaric force is pillaging so swiftly and brutally across the Middle East that it seems like some mutated virus from a sci-fi film.

    Most news organisations call the sulphurous spawn of Al-Qaeda leading the rampage through Iraq "ISIS", short for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham. (Isis is also the name of an Egyptian goddess and the Earl of Grantham's yellow labrador retriever in British TV series Downton Abbey.)

    Yet the White House, State Department and United Nations refer to the group as "ISIL", short for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

    The BBC reported that some people had started referring to the jihadists as "Da'ish" or "Daesh".

    Adding to the confusion, ISIS also known as ISIL, engaged in a slick rebranding in June, announcing that, in tribute to its ambition to establish a caliphate, it was renaming itself the "Islamic State".

    So Agence France-Presse then began referring to the militants as "IS" or "the group formerly known as ISIS", and The Wall Street Journal switched to "IS".

    The New York Times, however, still calls our murderous new enemy "ISIS", while quoting administration officials and military officers using the acronym "ISIL".

    It is a bit odd that the United States administration is using "the Levant", given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances.

    Unless it is a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.

    If all this is not confusing enough, we also have to fathom a new entry in the vicious religious wars in Iraq: the Yazidis, a small and secretive sect belonging to one of the oldest surviving religions in the world.

    Their faith has origins in Islam and Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the Iranian prophet Zoroaster in the 6th century BC.

    As Time magazine pointed out, though the name "Izidis" translates to "worshippers of God", ISIS considers them "devil-worshipers" who must convert to Islam or be killed.

    ISIS mistakenly torments the sect that has survived 72 genocides, The Telegraph explained, because the Yazidis worship a fallen angel called the Malek Tawwus, or Peacock Angel. But unlike Lucifer, their angel sought forgiveness and went back to heaven.

    Fifty thousand Yazidis were forced by the jihadists to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in Kurdish-controlled Irbil, where they were trapped and dying of dehydration and exposure. This spurred US President Barack Obama to order US Navy planes to drop food and water for them.

    Although it felt momentarily bracing to see American pilots trying to save innocents in a country we messed up so badly that it is not even a country any more, some critics warned that the pinprick bombings were a political gesture, not a military strategy, and "almost worse than nothing", as Republican Senator John McCain put it.

    The latest turn of the screw in Iraq also underscored how we keep getting pulled back, Godfather-style, without ever understanding the culture.

    Our boneheaded meddling just creates ever-more-virulent monsters. The US has taken military action in Iraq during at least 17 of the last 24 years, the ultimate mission creep in a country smaller than Texas on the other side of the world.

    What better symbol of the Middle East quicksand than the fact that US Navy planes took off for their rescue mission - two years after Mr Obama declared the war in Iraq over - from the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea?

    Former US president George Bush Sr's war to expel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait - a gas station of a country chockablock with spoiled rich Arabs - would not have been necessary if Saddam, a tyrant first enabled by former US president John F. Kennedy's Central Intelligence Agency, had not been given the wrong signals by our side.

    Former US president George W. Bush's war with the Iraqi dictator - the prodigal son's effort at outdoing his father - ended up undoing Iraq and the neglected Afghanistan.

    Caught in the Sunni backlash and the back draft of his predecessor's misguided attempt to impose democracy, Mr Obama is leery and proceeding cautiously.

    But what can he do? He has dispatched a few hundred advisers to Iraq to fix something that could not be fixed with the hundreds of thousands of troops over a decade.

    Some fellow Democrats are fretting that the pull of Iraq will be too strong, after Mr Obama's spokesman, Josh Earnest, said, "The President has not laid out a specific end date."

    Iraq, after all, is a country that seems to have a malignant magnetism for our leaders.