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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.