Another ethnic minority is on the verge of being slaughtered by forces of Islamic State. And the UN is asking the international community for help.
The town of Amerli has been besieged for 70 days by IS forces. The 20,000 residents are of the Shiite Turkmen minority and are without power, food, or medicine. The UN’s Special Representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, is asking the international community to intervene, “to prevent a human rights tragedy.”
BBC reports the victims are part of the Turkmen ethnic group, who comprise roughly 4 percent of Iraq’s population. But as Shia, they are considered apostates by the jihadist group.
“After the attack of Mosul, all the Shia Turkmen villages around Amerli were captured by Islamic State,” resident Ali Albayati said. “They killed the people and displayed their bodies outside the village.”
Albayati said the town has been trying to fend off the militants for 70 days and are now left without electricity and drinking water. And unlike recent U.S. intervention to save members of the Yazidi religious trapped who were trapped on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, there are currently no plans for a rescue operation.
“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.
“I urge the Iraqi government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner,” he said.
Most of the town’s residents work as farmers, but male workers have been neglecting crops to fight the militants, BBC reports. As a result, the only food supplies arriving in town come via Iraqi Army helicopters.
“It is a humanitarian disaster,” Albayati said. “Twenty-thousand people in Amerli are fighting off death. There are children who are only eating once every three days. I can’t describe the situation. I just don’t know what to say.”
Prime minister designate Haidar al-Abadi promised aid for the town on Saturday, calling for provision of “all times of military and logistical support for Amerli,” AFP reported.
Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, also called for efforts to free the village and “save its people from the dangers of terrorists.”
There are no Americans to protect in Amerli, so if the president decides to intervene there, he will have expanded the parameters of our involvement once again. Talk about mission creep — that would be it.
It’s clear that the Iraqi government cannot protect its own people from the bloodlust of IS. And when the UN rep calls on the “international community” to intervene, he’s not talking about France, or Russia. He’s talking about America.
So, do we accept the challenge and expand the war in order to protect Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities? Or do we decline to intervene and watch as thousands are massacred or starve to death in Amerli?
There is something to the argument that we can’t protect everyone — that limiting the mission as the president has done is the smart move. In Iraq on Friday, gunmen burst into a mosque and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing 70 Sunnis. Are we expected to prevent those kinds of massacres as well?
Iraq is de-evolving. It’s the right move not to get trapped by its death throes. But confronting Islamic State and destroying them is a separate issue from saving Iraqi civilians because their own government can’t act. Somebody, somewhere is going to have to put boots on the ground and do the dirty work of grinding IS forces to dust, and destroying the administrative infrastructure they’ve already set up. Killing an entire nation state is going to take time, and will be an extremely bloody affair.
The alternative is to “contain” IS — a dangerous and completely unsatisfactory course of action. But given the reluctance of leaders in both American political parties to intervene by using ground troops, and the even greater reluctance of Europe to offer more than token assistance in any effort to destroy IS, it may be the only course open to us.