Gordon Campbell on the US rescue mission in IraqAugust 11th, 2014
It isn’t often that unilateral US bombing raids within a foreign country can be supported, but the current US bombing campaign in northern Iraq is one such case. The fighters of the Islamic State (IS) appear to be intent on committing genocide against the Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Kurds and every other non-Sunni community in the region. Due in large part to their capture of US-originated weapons and Humvees, the IS forces currently enjoy military superiority over the Peshmerga fighters of Kurdistan. If the US air strikes can check the IS progress, and allow the exit of the hundreds of thousands of refugees (currently in peril of being massacred) to safer territory, then so be it. Amidst the bombs, the US has also been dropping thousands of ready-to-eat meals (MREs) and water supplies to the refugees cornered by the IS advance.
The plight of the Yezidi families trapped in the Sinjar mountains has been especially terrible. If they came off Mt Sinjar the Yezidis would be slaughtered as heretics – but if they stayed there, they would die of thirst, and many have done so. The situation in northern Iraq has been described firsthand by reporter Matthew Barber – seemingly, the only foreign reporter on the ground in some Yezidi areas – in despatches sent to Joshua Landis’ invaluable Syria Comment website here.
While providing welcome relief, the US air strikes can only be a temporary solution. The IS advance will need to be stopped on the ground as well, and there is no comparable force currently capable of doing so. Only a re-armed Peshmerga and – perhaps – the overt involvement of Iranian troops could tip the balance, and an incursion by Iran would have major regional repercussions. In the meantime, the IS forces are reportedly not only wiping out entire communities as heretics, but have been busily engaged in blowing up shrines and holy places. In some cases, IS fighters have obliterated major sites of worship (e.g. the shrine of the prophet Jonah revered by Shia and Christians alike) that date back to the 8th century.
The Yezidis, whose religious calendar dates back nearly 7,000 years and who practice what is arguably the oldest form of worship known to humanity, have been a particular target of the IS forces. Since some crackpot US fundamentalist preacher is bound to accuse Obama of defending Satan worshippers, it may be worth clearing up that accusation – especially since it has been used to justify pogroms against the Yezidis for centuries. The Yezidis’ website explains the basic history of the community and the tenets of their faith here.
Basically, the Yezidis are a direct link back to the ancient Zoroastrian religion, elements of which – e.g. the creation of the world in seven days, the role of Adam, the rainbow sign, the seven major archangels etc – later found their way into Christianity. The Yezidis believe in purification via constant rebirth, so they have no need for a concept such as Hell. The tangible form of their deity is the Peacock Angel (aka Tawsi Melek) whose role in the creation myth of the world and vital importance to the Yezidis is described here.
The Peacock Angel is an emanation from a passive deity and together with his six angelic brethren, he is visible in the colours of the rainbow. As an angel come to earth – fallen, but not damned – he is also an object of worship. The background to the accusation that the Peacock Angel is Satan has been described by the Yezidis here:
The Peacock Angel has been falsely accused of being Satan or the Devil for hundreds of years by censuring Moslems. But their distortion of his true nature was not made popular until the 18th century, so it appears that during earlier times Moslems may have had an entirely different view of the Peacock Angel. Unfortunately, Tawsi Melek is currently stuck in today’s world with the Devil banner.
It appears that the initial distortion regarding Tawsi Melek may have been generated by an Islamic defamation crusade against the Yezidis, initiated by the Moslem view that the Yezidis are not “People of the Book,” meaning that there is no revealed scripture at the center of their religion…
The Moslems’ slanderous misunderstanding of Tawsi Melek appears to have gained momentum when certain Moslem leaders took some small aspect or characteristic of the Peacock Angel and related it to their conception of Satan. For example, Tawsi Melek is recognized by the Yesidis to be king of the entire universe, including Earth, but over the centuries both Moslems and Christians have ascribed Luciferian connotations to the “King of the World.” Moreover, the Yezidis belief that Tawsi Melek was the co-creator of the universe with the Supreme God could have inspired a dualistic Islamic philosopher to misconstrue him as an eternally separate and opposite spirit from God. Since God is eternally good, according to Islamic philosophy, this would automatically make Tawsi Melek the Evil One.
Right now, the religious minorities in northern Iraq – and ultimately, the Kurds – appear to be in precisely the same situation as the Kurds found themselves, in the wake of the First Gulf War. Once the US-led forces had driven Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in that war, this defeat (understandably) encouraged the Shi’ite majority in Iraq to rise up in revolt. However, the West chose to abandon hundreds of thousands of Shia to be massacred by Saddam. Among those being pursued by Saddam’s vengeful forces in early 1991 were the Kurds, who fled into the mountains, just as the Yezidis have now done.
Instead of bombing Saddam, the US hurriedly instituted a “no fly zone’ to give the Kurdish refugees a chance to reach safety. There was even a global rock concert held on Mothers Day 1991 to publicise the plight of the Kurds, staged at simultaneous sites in London, Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Sydney. MC Hammer, Peter Gabriel, Sting and others raised $15 million to enable the Red Cross to help the Kurds. The lasting effect has been that the Kurds have come to occupy a special place in the West’s conscience. For President Barack Obama, it would have been politically – much less morally – unacceptable to sit by and allow the Kurds that had been protected by previous US administrations to be massacred by the IS fighters.
Historically though, it has been a daisy chain of consequences. The US is dropping bombs on IS fighters now wielding the US weapons sent to equip the forces the US was training to cope with the fallout from the US invasion of 2003 – which displaced the Sunni communities who now comprise the Islamic State fighters on which the US is currently dropping its bombs. And that’s not even counting the way that the IS forces are a Frankenstein initially bankrolled by the Saudis to topple Bashir Assad in Syria in order to isolate Iran, as part of the grand Saudi/US/Israeli plan for the region. Hasn’t that plan worked out well? Almost as well as Osama Bin Laden, who also seemed like a good idea at the time, when he was being aimed at the Russians in Afghanistan. These things do return to bite their masters.
In line with this morning’s theme of unintended bad consequences, here’s a version of “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” by the 1990s noise band Flipper.