Iraq’s new inclusive cabinet spells hope

12 September 2014

REUTERS

Displaced:Iraqi Christians who fled Mosul pray at a school in Erbil acting as a refugee camp

Displaced:Iraqi Christians who fled Mosul pray at a school in Erbil acting as a refugee camp

THE approval by the parliament in Iraq, on Monday, of a new cabinet led by the Prime Minister, Haider Abadi, offers a thread of hope that the country can be held together in order to face the challenges imposed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

The latter has declared a caliphate in a large area of central and northern Iraq, spreading over the border into Syria. One of the challenges will be to provide long-term assistance to the many hundreds of thousands of people who have sought refuge in areas outside IS control.

The new Iraqi government is composed of Sunnis and Kurds, as well as the Shia majority. Sunnis, in particular, accused the previously Shia-dominated government of Nuri al-Maliki of sidelining and persecuting them - a key factor that allowed IS to win at least tacit support from the inhabitants of many Sunni towns.

In his speech to parliament on Monday, Mr Abadi promised to work for the inclusion of all communities in the governing process, and said that he would strive to resolve difficulties between Baghdad on the one side, and both Sunni and Kurdish communities on the other.

The new Iraqi premier also promised reforms of the military and security services. Mr Maliki had been accused by his critics of using both organisations as instruments to further his own and Shia interests, to the detriment of Sunnis and Kurds. The former Prime Minister never appointed ministers to hold the defence and interior posts, instead keeping both portfolios under his personal control. Mr Abadi, too, has yet to announce appointments to these two ministries. Only when these crucial positions have been filled to the satisfaction of all communities can the real work of rebuilding political consensus begin.

Top of the list of government priorities will be to co-operate with the United States and the international community as a whole in seeking to contain and then drive back IS forces from the major population centres that they occupy, such as Mosul. Hand in hand with that will be the task of coping with the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - many Christians and other minorities among them - who have taken flight in the face of the advancing IS forces.

In these efforts, the new Iraqi government will be working with international charities and aid organisations which are directing funds and materials towards the needy. For example, the Barnabas Fund says that it has been able to provide at least 30,000 Christians with food and basic living items, enabling them to survive their first months of displacement. Since June, the Fund has sent more than £246,000 in aid to its partners in Iraq (barnabasfund.org).

The international director of the Barnabas Fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, visited churches in Iraqi Kurdistan, and witnessed at first hand the difference that the organisation's emergency aid was making. He saw that, although traumatised, the Christians had "enough to eat, adequate water, and their medical needs were being taken care of".

Visiting eight centres where local churches were caring for Christians who had fled from their homes, he saw every available space packed with "hundreds upon hundreds of people", some living in tents in church compounds. There was little or no privacy, and, in the evenings, the Christians would spread out the bedding they had received, and lie down where they were to sleep.

Canon Andrew White, of St George's, Baghdad, has warned that caring for the displaced Christians could be a long-term undertaking. He said in a statement on Monday that the families, who had lost everything, "are convinced they will never return to their former homes in Nineveh and Mosul under any circumstances; so they are left as totally poverty-stricken refugees in their own land".

Canon White said that the next stage of the campaign to help them was going to be "far more complex, as we ascertain what is going to happen to the communities, long-term. . . We still need your help."

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On Wednesday, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, set out his strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the IS. This included a "systematic campaign of airstrikes", building on the 150 already conducted. The President vowed to "hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are." This could include extending the strikes to Syria, he warned.

On the eve of 9/11, he reassured the American public that he would not commit troops to the ground, but that forces would be sent to support and train Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and provide intelligence and equipment. The United States would continue to provide humanitarian assistance.  

 

The Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who referred to IS throughout the summit as the "so-called Islamic State", dampened expectations of NATO troops being deployed on the ground, writes Gavin Drake.

He said that a "two-track" approach was under way. One track is the actions of individual NATO members, such as the American air strikes and the British and American aid drops; the other is collective action by the NATO alliance.

"We have decided that if we receive a request from the Iraqi government, we are ready to consider a defence capacity building mission in Iraq. What that will be in concrete terms remains to be seen and it will very much depend upon the Iraqi request, if we receive it," Mr Rasmussen said at a press conference at the end of the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor Resort near Newport, South Wales.

He said that NATO had also agreed to play a co-ordinating part in the actions played by individual members, such as airlifts; and on improving the exchange of information about what he called "returning foreign fighters" - Western nationals who have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for the caliphate.

"There was unanimity, over the past two days, that ISIL poses a threat to NATO members," President Obama said. "There was a recognition that we have to take action."

On Monday, David Cameron took questions from MPs in the House of Commons about the NATO summit. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, urged a global response to IS that included religious leaders.

 


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