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Pope Francis Supports Intervention in Iraq

Irak – mères – en

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Irak - mères

John Burger - published on 08/18/14

Says he is willing to visit nation where Christians are under seige.

Pope Francis supports international intervention in Iraq and is willing to go to there personally if it will help end the violence against Christians and other religious minorities, Catholic News Agency reports.

“In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Pope Francis told reporters on his flight back from South Korea. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or ‘make war,’ (but) ‘stop it,’” the Pope said.

The Pope noted the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Iraq, especially against religious minorities. He said that a papal visit to the country was “one of the possibilities.”

“And in this moment, I am ready,” he added, “and right now it isn’t the most, the best thing to do but I am disposed to this.”

Military victories by the Islamic State, which is also  known as ISIL or ISIS, have resulted in persecution and murder of Iraqi Christians and other minorities. According to the United Nations, there are now about a million internally displaced persons in Iraq. The Christians who have taken shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan are in a no-man’s land, wondering what to do and where to go next.

“All the schools are crowded by IDPs, and school will restart in mid-September, so people have to get out of the schools soon,” said Oliver Hochedetz, emergency relief coordinator in Irbil for Malteser International, the humanitarian relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta. “They are traumatized as well , and from a psychological point of view it’s very difficult for them because they…have lost their hope of going back home. So many people are going to embassies, trying to get visas for various countries. It’s quite desperate for them.”

Pope Francis has met with the governor of Iraqi Kurdistan and has named Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his personal envoy to Iraq. Cardinal Filoni arrived in Iraq last week. He and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, the apostolic nuncio, and local bishops visited the Christian and Yazidi refugees in Duhok and Erbil and “heard about and saw for themselves the tragedy and suffering of so many families that have left their villages, their homes and property, above all in Mosul, on the plain of Nineveh, and in Sinjar,” said a report from Fides Agency.

They also met with the political authorities of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan and on Saturday issued a statement asking the international community to not only bring humanitarian assistance to the refugees but to make it possible for them to return to their homes.

The statement urged the international community to “liberate the villages and other places that have been occupied as soon as possible and with a permanent result,” and to “assure that there is international protection for these villages and so to encourage these families to go back to their homes and to continue to live a normal life in security and peace.”

Their words, though carefully formulated, seem to be yet another imprimatur for some kind of military response to the crisis. Earlier this month, the Vatican’s representative at UN headquarters in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, told Vatican Radio, “We hope the voice that is surging from different Christian and religious communities, from moderate Muslims, from people of good will around the world, may find the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection.”

Church voices raised in favor of some kind of intervention, albeit cautiously, are in stark contrast to the recent Vatican history of opposition to any use of US military force in the Middle East. But can ISIL be driven out of the towns where Christians have lived since the early days of the Church, and can Christians return with the assurance that they will be able to live there in peace?

“It is feasible. The issue is whether the international community has the will to do what needs to get done,” said Richard Brennan, senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation, in an interview today.

Brennan, a former Army officer who spent six years in positions related to national security and defense policy, said that the “moral suasion” of religious leaders like Pope Francis “helps push the international community to make the types of right choices that are necessary to be made at this time.”

There is a “recognition on the part of religious leaders that we are looking at an organization that is capable of the type of genocide on a wide-scale basis that we probably haven’t seen since the Nazi regime.” The Islamic State, he said, is willing to target all religions—not just Yazidis and Christians, but Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well: “anyone who disagrees with them, they’re willing to use whatever force is necessary to kill if you don’t abide by what they believe is the proper conduct of Islam.”

Brennan said it is possible for Kurdish forces, with support from the US and some assist from western allies, to liberate the villages in northern Iraq. “But it’s also going to take an involvement in Syria to push these people back.” ISIL gained momentum during the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The extremist group has shot and beheaded hundreds of tribesmen from eastern Syria over the past two weeks, shortly after crushing an uprising they led against the jihadi fighters, activists said Monday. The Islamic State has declared a self-styled caliphate and is imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law in the territory it controls, which straddles the Iraq-Syria border. They now are closing in on the Tabqa air base, the last position held by Syrian government troops in Raqqa province.

But in Iraq, “if we can get the Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces back on their feet with the type of training, advice, and assistance they need, to include a continuation of airstrikes and other types of limited support that will fill in the capability gaps that they have in the military, these forces can probably protect these towns and villages by themselves,” Brennan said. 

While the Obama Administration has sent military advisers to Iraq in response to the advance of ISIL, it has been insisting that there is “no US military solution” to the crisis. When it became clear that Yazidis were being ruthlessly pursued by Islamic State forces, the president ordered airdrops of humanitarian aid to Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidis were under siege, as well as airstrikes to protect the refugees.

Brennan said that when the Obama Administration ended the Advise and Assist Mission in 2011, it “pulled out the glue that was holding Iraqi forces together and left them with severe capability gaps in logistics, maintenance, ammunitions resupply, planning and control, intelligence and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to use air power to support ground forces. Those are the types of things the United States is going to have to do in the short term, and I think it’s going to have to be on a more expanded basis than it is now.”

He said the US is “slowly increasing our operations, and I know the Pentagon has provided more robust options, which the president so far has turned down.”

But it would be in America’s interest to step up opposition to the group, he said. “ISIL poses a threat not only to Iraq and Syria but also to Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and to a larger extent the international community as a whole. It’s a much more dangerous threat than al Qaida ever was. If we don’t take steps to address this cancer it will metastasize and grow into a threat that will be much more serious in the years to come.”

He pointed out that ISIL has a “state-of-the-art propaganda” effort to recruit foreigners to “both come to Iraq and Syria, as well as to work at their behest in other countries. Estimates of ISIS membership range from 7,000 to 15,000, “with as many as 1,000 people who have come from the US, Australia, Canada, and western European countries with western passports, who can use the skills they are learning on the battlefield, fighting with ISIL , to do damage to the homelands of countries around the world,” Brennan said.

A poll commissioned by the International Information News Agency Rossiya Segodnya revealed that 15 percent of French voters, 7 percent of British voters and 2 percent of Germans have a positive perception of the Islamic State. “Experts believe that such numbers correlate with the number of immigrants from Arab countries and the Middle East in these countries,” said an article in RIA Novosti. According to the Daily Mail, ISIL supporters have been handing out leaflets to Oxford Street shoppers encouraging them to leave Britain for its new Islamic state.

In the US, Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned of the risk that ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.

“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing the military action authorized by Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.” Feinstein called for a broader military campaign, not just the targeted missions authorized by the president, according to Roll Call.

At least one of the refugees in Irbil is warning the West that ISIL is a threat beyond Iraq and Syria.

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future,” said Archbishop Amel Nona, Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, who is taking refuge in Erbil. “I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims,” the archbishop continued, in an interview with Corriere della Sera. “You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”

John Burger
is news editor of Aleteia’s English edition.

Christians in the Middle EastIraqIslamist MilitantsPoliticsPope Francis
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