Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL) also known as ISIS is a threat. Thousands of Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syricas and other ethnic minorities have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been displaced and millions around the world have been threatened at the hands of ISIL.
Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs in every major city of the world coordinated grass root efforts of organizing, protesting and making visible the ethnic cleansing occurring in the Nineveh Plains (Northern Iraq). Chants of "Stop ISIL Now" and "Demand For Action" rung loud and clear for Assyrians, Yazidis and other minorities caught in the ISIL's crossfire. However, countless stories of beheadings, children starving to death, and people losing hope in humanity have continue to permeate from the Middle East. ISIL's threat is real. It has stretched beyond the Iraqi boarders and has even impacted the USA as we have witnessed the beheadings of multiple American journalists.
So the question has become, how can the USA protect itself and counter ISIL's foreign threats without putting its own boots on the ground?
The House recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act and it is now at the steps of the Senate. Section 1236 in the bill provides the terms of authority to provide assistance to counter ISIL. This section in the bill allows for the training and equipping of local forces committed to protecting highly vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere from the ISIL threat.
Steve Oshana, Executive Director at A Demand For Action states, "This is a marked shift in US foreign policy in Iraq and a positive one for our aspirations of safety and security."
So what exactly will this bill do?
The USA will fund up to $1.6b to support counter operations against ISIL. This means building, training and arming brigades to be able to protect themselves and their native homelands. With the misappropriation of funds that happened in Afghanistan, the US will have more scrutiny in how the funds will be disbursed. Local forces in the Nineveh Plains have already begun to mobilize. These ethnic minorities will protect themselves and need the arm power to do so. This bill will help them protect themselves, their native homelands and the interests of foreign powers such as the USA.
This is the most desperate and frustrating situation Assyrians and other ethnic and religious minorities have faced. During most iterations of persecution against Assyrians, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that the Iraqi military or the Kurdish Peshmerga would protect them. When all security abandoned the Nineveh Plains, that argument became much less compelling and the need for local security was underscored.
Perhaps most importantly, is simply a matter of asking. Assyrians, plainly, have never had this kind of organization before. Unity within the community in support of the policy allowed for a compelling argument to be included in the bill. Having a permanent government affairs bureau in Washington to lobby on behalf of this policy is an intelligent, consistent way of what really makes policy happen. Protests for help are important, and the follow up is the critical aspect.
Will the ethnic minorities be able to protect themselves even with the aid?
Assyrians and ethnic minorities need to show the US that they are capable of handling their own security. Steve Oshana states,
"That question will have to be answered by the ethnic minorities in Iraq who choose to fight for their ancestral homelands. If I had to guess by the thousand who have registered for the security units currently being formed, I would say, as I have said to the administration and Pentagon, that our people are ready to reclaim what is rightfully ours, never to relinquish it again."
This bill is, without question, the most significant legislative victory for Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs in the USA.
Steve Oshana, Nuri Kino, Wisam Naoum, Nathan Kalasho, Johnny Oram and countless others have lead the charge in these efforts.
Nuri Kino, ADFA Founder, mentions, "I want to say to our IDP's and militia people that they are our heroes and we will do our best to assist them from all over the world."
With the cold winter months looming overhead, the aid will be crucial for these forces to organize, train and defend.