Sinjar, a Kurdish area of Iraq near the border with Syria that has seen more prosperous times as a trading and farming hub famed for its figs, olives and Syrian-influenced cuisine, is suddenly on the world map as a genocide unfolds before our eyes.
As a Kurd whose family comes from Sinjar, I find it wrenching to see the suffering of our people as yet another genocide is committed against us. We had thought the dark days were behind us as we rebuilt the 4,000 villages, and the physical and social infrastructure, that were destroyed by Saddam Hussein.
Kurdistan has a tradition of peaceful coexistence, with Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs all living side by side. The first school my Muslim mother attended in Sinjar was run by Christian nuns. Religious festivals, she told me, were always celebrated by neighbours of different faiths, too.
This is still the norm in Kurdistan, and that is what the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) want to destroy. Their ideology is not Islamic; it is simply an ideology of violence, hatred and conquest. Their reputation for murder, crucifixion, rape and slaughter of children goes before them. No wonder the Yazidis and Christians fled en masse, most of them into the Kurdistan region.
Who is not moved by the plight of the tens of thousands of people stranded on Mount Sinjar without food or water in the oppressive August heat? Who is not horrified by the stories of barbarism the Kurdish Yazidis have recounted after making their escape? But being moved and horrified is not enough. The world, particularly the US, Britain and France, must intervene with force and speed. This is a matter of preventing a brutal and murderous organisation from killing civilians, and solidifying a state from which to terrorise the region – and, without a shadow of a doubt, the west as well. All Isis assets and positions should be considered legitimate targets.
The American and British air drops are vital. But Britain, along with other allies, also needs to make good its promise to rescue the refugees from the terrorists’ clutches before any more die of starvation, dehydration and heat. The international community must help the Kurdistan government with the flood of refugees, now numbering almost 2m. In some areas, refugees outnumber locals. They have no shelter, and many sleep in half-completed construction sites, on pavements and in parks.
The US and France are supplying arms to Kurds; Britain and other countries should do the same. Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting terrorists armed with heavy US weaponry captured when they seized Mosul. The peshmerga are fighting on behalf of the entire world, and they need modern weapons, air support, intelligence and logistical help right away. As Winston Churchill said, give us the tools and we will finish the job.
Some have expressed concern about mission creep. Others say this is not our problem, just another Middle East war. They are wrong. Residents of London, New York or Madrid may think they are not at war with these terrorists, but the terrorists are certainly at war with you. The conflict in Syria illustrates the price of non-intervention. We in Kurdistan and Iraq are paying that price today; and, if it is not stopped, the carnage will spread.
The US must be fairer in its diplomacy regarding Kurdish oil sales. Washington had clung to the idea that supporting Nouri al-Maliki during his disastrous two terms as prime minister of Iraq would keep the country together. But the Baghdad government has withheld Kurdistan’s budget for eight months this year. At the same time, the US worked to prevent the sale of Kurdish oil on the international market, leaving our government dependent on foreign loans.
The peshmerga have protected oil installations, and production and exports have been uninterrupted, with order books looking healthy. Yet, without an end to the economic blockade, how can we cope with the humanitarian crisis and an all-out war?
Our enemies are the world’s richest and most heavily armed terrorists. Kurdistan needs a holistic response from the west that includes immediate humanitarian and military aid, and the removal of obstacles to our economy. If we are to prevail against the barbarism of the terrorists, we need support.
The writer is the Kurdistan regional government’s high representative to the UK
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