ISIS: Arab states must work together to accommodate all minority groups in the region

The Islamic State (ISIS) army was created by jihadist Sunni Muslims in Syria in the spring of 2013, partly in response to systemic discrimination and government violence directed at the mostly moderate Sunnis within Syria and Iraq.

Local Shiites became the first targets of atrocities. ISIS insurgents – today numbering about 15,000, including foreign volunteers then stormed across northern Syria into Iraq in June, where government soldiers abandoned their equipment and fled. The ISIS goal was to transform the land it seized in both countries today an area about the size of Jordan into a caliphate with religious authority over Muslims worldwide.

According to a just-released United Nations report on ISIS war crimes,

Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheadings or shootings … Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes … serving a warning to local residents.

ISIS fighters committed so many atrocities against civilians, including the courageous American journalist James Foley, that the Obama administration was in effect shamed into intervening quickly. About 400 U.S. advisors present in Iraq and at least 60 American air raids have since helped Iraqi and Kurd soldiers to drive ISIS away from Iraq’s largest dam. Iraq’s second city, Mosul, seems secure for the time being; so does the Iraqi Kurd capital of Erbil.

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Much more assistance is needed immediately. For example, 12,000 Shiite Turkmen residents of Amerli in northern Iraq, under siege by ISIS for more than two months, could become another Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Bosnians were massacred in the summer of 1995 partly because the UN and others mandated to protect them knew too little about the thinking of regional combatants.

Tens of thousands of Yasidis a spiritual community predating both Christianity and Islam attacked by ISIS this month on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq are now safe. One of them, Aissan Haig, an 84-year-old grandmother, was among her family members captured by ISIS. The others were taken away in trucks, but ISIS later returned, telling her they would kill her if she did not convert to Islam the following day. That night, because of severe arthritis, she crawled from her home toward Mount Sinjar, reaching it after two long days. Kurdish soldiers there reunited her with a grandson.

Iyad Madani, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, representing about 1.4 billion Muslims in 57 nations, denounced the ISIS forced deportation under the threat of execution of Christians, terming it a “crime that cannot be tolerated.” Madani added, “(ISIS) ha(s) nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, kindness, fairness, freedom of faith and coexistence.” Virtually all of the world’s Muslims appear to reject ISIS’s claim to speak for them.

The grand mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, one of the most senior Muslim authorities, wants everyone to refer to ISIS as “al-Qaida Separatists in Iraq and Syria.” In Britain, Muslim leaders expressed “grave concern” at continued violence in their faith’s name.

There must be recognition that the Kurds and other minorities would need clear benefits and respect for their own cultural identities and customs in a new Iraq.

In a recent article, The Master Plan: How to Stop ISIS, Ross Harrison and Michael Ryan suggest that any viable solution will first require a leadership in Iraq that not only seeks to reintegrate Sunnis into the ruling structures of the country, but also has the capacity to rebuild the nation under a common, shared vision. Doing this will require that Prime Minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, not just acknowledge the differences between Sunni and Shia, but also appeal to what they have in common in terms of shared Arab and Iraqi identity.

There must also be recognition that the Kurds and other minorities would need clear benefits and respect for their own cultural identities and customs in a new Iraq.

The leadership of the more stable Arab countries would also have to be supportive of these efforts. Possible candidates would be Egypt’s new President al-Sisi and the Saudis, who are already bankrolling Egypt’s efforts and have a major interest in weakening ISIS.

Egypt, therefore, would provide the political heft and the Saudis the financial means. They could be inclined to work with Sunni and Shia leaders, who are willing to challenge ISIS, in an effort to keep part or all of Iraq and Syria intact by creating a positive foundation for political, community and economic growth.

All of us must urge that this be achieved. Readers might wish to let their elected representatives know their thinking.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.