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Airdrops Bring Hope to Religious Minorities in Iraq

UNHCR/N. Colt

Members of an ethnic Yezidi family sleep in the shade in Shekhadi village, Iraq, after fleeing Sinjar.

John Burger - published on 08/08/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina praised Obama’s proposed actions Thursday night but said much more will be necessary.

"This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian partners" who are fighting the militants, airstrikes against the militants’ leaders and forces and support for Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist the extremists," they said in a statement.

"The first thing would be to help these minority groups defend themselves against ISIS," said Acton’s Jayabalan, who previously served at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as an analyst for environmental and disarmament issues. "But it is baffling to me that the Christians seem to be without any militias, which of course makes it harder for them to defend themselves.  If they don’t have the will or the means to stay and fight, there’s not much that can be done for them in the long term, unfortunately. As Obama mentioned, we can provide military and humanitarian assistance, though I’m not sure how much the latter will do to solve the problem of violent persecution."

Jayabalan added that offering asylum to those who want to leave "seems to be a decent thing to do. It would be a terrible injustice if our overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent pullout of Iraq emboldened the Islamists and we then do nothing to help those who are left behind."

In light of the militants’ advances, Obama dispatched about 800 U.S. forces to Iraq earlier this year, with those troops largely split between joint operation centers in Baghdad and Irbil. More than half are providing security for the embassy and U.S. personnel. American service members also are involved in improving U.S. intelligence, providing security cooperation and conducting assessments of Iraqi capabilities.

In the end, perhaps, America needs to do a better job embracing the long view. "Radical groups like ISIS need to be nipped in the bud before they become bigger problems," Jayabalan said, "but that requires sustained strategic attention to faraway places, something that neither the Obama administration nor the American people seem to have much of a stomach for these days."

Frank Wolf, in his statement today, pointed to another long-term concern. "We must also be mindful of the threat to our national security by the thousand or more foreign fighters—including more than a hundred Americans—who have linked up with ISIS, and can travel back and forth to their home countries with ease," he said. "The administration must do everything possible to protect the American people from these threats, including seeking any legislative changes to prevent radicalized westerners from threatening the homeland. We have already seen one example of a radicalized American suicide bomber who was able to travel from the region to Florida and back with ease, before completing his suicide attack that killed civilians in Syria."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastFranceIraqIslamist MilitantsPolitics
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