The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Syria, as well as to the people who live in the territory where it currently rules.
It openly declares itself a “caliphate”, hostile to democracy as a “western” idea. It represses and persecutes religious minorities — Christians, Yazidis, others — and Sunni Muslim Arabs who dissent.
Summary killing of people who refuse to pledge allegiance to ISIS has been common across Iraq and Syria. So have been persecution of non-Sunni religious groups and a special tax on Christians
The coalition of states assembled by the US at a conference in Paris on 15 September will not efficiently stop ISIS.
In Afghanistan the US has been bombing the Taliban for 13 years, and providing US aid to prop up a US-friendly Afghan government.
The result of those 13 years has been to rebuild a political base for the Taliban, which back in 2001-2 was shattered and discredited, with people cheering as it fled Kabul.
People have been driven into the arms of the Taliban by resentment against the US bombing and disgust with the corrupt US-sponsored Afghan government.
Cities crammed with refugees
Dashty Jamal, a member of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, visited in mid-August. He told Solidarity what he saw in Sulaimaniya, in the east of Iraqi Kurdistan, and in Kirkuk, an oil city long disputed between Baghdad and the Kurdish region but now under Kurdish control.
In Kirkuk people are stressed because of war, insecurity, and their fear of ISIS. ISIS control areas only 20 minutes away. Many people fear that ISIS will be in Kirkuk today or tomorrow, and don’t trust the Kurdish parties to defend them.
ISIS has become a major threat to the lives of all Kurdish and Iraqi citizens. This terrorist organisation has captured and killed many prisoners of war and has killed thousands of Christian and Yezidi civilians. After these brutal killings, ISIS portrays the images of the dead to the general public via different media outlets.
ISIS has also raped hundreds of women, particularly Christian and Yezidi women. The group has as much financial and military power as a state has, which gives them the power to create such havoc and disaster.
Some are preparing to flee to Sulaimaniya, but the idea of the people defending themselves is giving some hope. People believe strongly that threat of ISIS must be banished.
Sulaimaniya has a population of just over 1,600,000. There are around 1.4 million refugees that are in the whole Kurdistan region, people who have come to Kurdistan from Iraq and Syria because of the war ISIS has started.
Kirkuk had a PUK member as mayor even before 12 June, when Kurdish forces took the city, soon after ISIS took Mosul. Now the city is under joint KDP-PUK control. The PUK has more strength.
[KDP and PUK are the two big Kurdish nationalist parties, which run Iraqi Kurdistan in a coalition. The KDP is stronger in the west, including in the regional capital, Erbil; the PUK is stronger in the east.]
The city administration is functioning, but there is no security. There are huge queues of cars waiting for fuel. Public sector workers — teachers, hospital workers — often don’t get their wages. When I was there, even the peshmerga [Kurdish armed forces] were not getting wages, though they are now.
People do second and third jobs to survive. This is partly due to the fact that the Iraqi Government in Baghdad has not been sending the region the revenues due to it. Also prices are very high due to the continuing war. This makes life very difficult for working people.
In Kirkuk refugees from ISIS are living in schools and in parks. A few of them who have money are renting places.
There are even more refugees in Sulaimaniya, maybe 140,000. They come from many areas of Iraq and from Syria. There are some refugee camps, and many people living in unfinished houses.
I didn’t see Arab-Kurdish conflict in Kirkuk. In Sulaimaniya, there has been an anti-Arab demonstration by a group of young people. The demonstration was small, maybe 100. Many people spoke out against it. But some KDP media have carried anti-Arab coverage.
I heard a nurse in a hospital saying, “all these Arabs, they’re destroying our society”. But in Sulaimaniya there are many educated people, and they resist those attitudes.
Sulaimaniya is not militarised like a city under siege, and travel between Sulaimaniya, Erbil, and Kirkuk is normal. But Sulaimaniya feels like a city in wartime. People don’t feel secure. The ISIS threat has given the administration an extra excuse for unpaid wages.
The displaced people I spoke with want an end to the ISIS nightmare. But they do not trust the nationalist parties to defend them. And many see what’s happening now as an outcome of American policy in Iraq. People are not silent.
There have been demonstrations in many cities and towns. Taxi drivers closed the roads because of the increase in the price of patrol. I organised two public meetings in a cultural coffee house in Sulaimaniya.
The meeting was attended by journalists, trade union women rights activists. At the meetings we discussed how people organize them self against ISIS, racism and also the KRG. The KRG must not use the excuse of war for not answering the demands of the people. The meeting also organised a network of people to support the displaced people.
Generally people are better off in Sulaimaniya than in Kirkuk. Kirkuk is a long-neglected area, and Sulaimaniya is a bit safer.
But water and electricity supplies are worse in Sulaimaniya than in Kirkuk. In Sulaimaniya, sometimes there is running water only water for two hours then no water for two whole days.
The displaced people have to buy water in bottles, though temperatures are still up to 40 Celsius. In January and February it will get much colder, with snow.
In Iraq and Syria, the prospects are worse. Even US strategists recognise that, stressing that the bombing is to back up forces on the ground and that they plan no US ground troops.
The US’s strategy hinges on alliance with established powers in the region. Alliance with the Shia-sectarian Iraqi government in Baghdad, whose main military force since the Iraqi army disintegrated in June is Shia-sectarian militias.
Alliance with the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is less sectarian but seen by many Arabs in the areas where ISIS rules as a threat. The Kurdish regional government’s first response to the ISIS surge in June was to seize Kirkuk, long a disputed area between Kurds and Arabs.
Alliance with all the conservative and repressive governments in the region, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the rest.
Both the US and Iran officially forswear alliance with each other against ISIS, but in fact they are allied. The record in Syria makes it impossible for the US to ally with the Syrian dictatorship. That also limits what the US will do against ISIS in Syria.
ISIS made its surge in June only because it was able to win support or compliance among the population. It has grown into a formidable fighting force, but militarily and economically it is still tiny compared to established states in the area.
Sunni Arabs have faced many years of Shia-sectarian rule from Baghdad (despite the presence in every government of token Sunni ministers), repression by Baghdad of moderate and peaceful Sunni protest, and vastly corrupt administration siphoning off Iraq’s oil revenues.
According to Iraq Oil Report (16 September), Sunni tribal forces in northern Iraq are now turning against ISIS. But they have also turned against the Kurdish peshmerga forces. They also see those as a threat.
Democratic and socialist politics can mobilise the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, of central and southern Iraq, and of areas of Syria, and enable them to organise so that it is impossible for ISIS to spread its rule into that territory.
Over time, also, it can enable discontent with ISIS rule to grow and cohere in the ISIS territory, free from the powerful inhibition that opposition to ISIS opens the way to Shia-sectarian militias or Kurdish nationalist forces who will be as repressive in a different way.
Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty are working with the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan and others to support the development of that democratic and socialist politics.
For secular democracy!
For self-determination for the Kurdish people!
For workers’ unity to win social control of the oil riches of the region!