The speech struck me as fanciful for a variety of reasons. For one thing, Obama described an Iraq that doesn’t exist. He mentioned the formation of an inclusive government. It isn’t inclusive. He mentioned the need to strengthen Iraq’s security forces. They don’t have an army, just a bunch of guys collecting paychecks. He talked about Iraqi Sunni Muslim National Guard Forces that need to be trained. I don’t know what he was talking about. What National guard Forces?
Because I was here in Erbil among Christian refugees who had fled Mosul and surrounding Christian towns as ISIS invaded and ordered them to convert, pay a poll tax or die, I also took issue with his statement that these people, as well as other minorities driven from the area into Kurdistan must be permitted to go home.
In the part of his Sept. 10 speech on confronting the Islamic State that probably drew the least attention, President Obama mentioned the need to help Christians and other minorities, expelled from cities and villages in northern Iraq, return from where they came. “We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homeland,” he said.
Obama got that wrong. Christians, of whom around 120,000 have taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, will not be going home even if their tormentors suddenly disappear.
I spent 10 days talking with Christian refugees in Irbil, the capital of the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, this month, and they are adamant they will not be returning to Mosul and nearby towns on what is known as the Nineveh Plain.
It is not simply that these Christians have gone through tremendous trauma. It is not only because they lost everything, including their homes and businesses, and in some cases spent days and even weeks in detention while being badgered to convert to Islam, where they saw babies taken from mothers’ arms to be held for ransom and busloads of young people ferried off into the unknown.
Nor is it because their neighbors, in Mosul but especially in the countryside, welcomed and even joined fighters from the Islamic State, pointed out the homes of minorities and let them know which ones were wealthy.
No, it is because, for Christians in Iraq, the past three months have been the climax of 11 years of hell. We Americans have short memories (that goes for you, too, in the “Bush Was Right” crowd), but it’s worth noting that Christians began having serious problems within a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
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It would be good if American presidents would stop inventing an Iraq that doesn’t exist. Bush did it with his weapons of mass destruction, his notion we’d be welcome in Iraq and that once we turned over the country to the new Iraqi government, everything would be swell. Now Obama’s doing it with the counter-attack on ISIS. In any event, don’t try to buffalo the Christian refugees. They know they’re not going back.