Opinion

Why Iraq wasn’t what I thought

hat do the displaced really want
What most of the displaced want is to go back home. But with the situation showing precious little improvement, many have become fed up, and are thinking of going abroad. While hopes of returning might have been higher after the initial displacement in 2014, they have significantly diminished now that the situation has drug on for some 20 months. The people are conflicted and have steadily become more and more impatient. The future is no clearer than it was two years ago – if anything, it’s foggier, especially for Christians.
“If we were not believers, half of us would be suicidal.”
This is what Ibrahim Shaba Lalo, the director of Ain Qawa’s Aishty 2 camp told me when asked about the mental state of the people living in the camps and how they are handling the situation. For many, hope is small and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, he said, explaining that many are thinking about leaving, fueling growing concerns that within a few years, Iraq will be empty of Christians if their land is not liberated.
However, despite the growing sense of desperation among the people, I also found a surprising resilience and determination on the part of many to stay; to return to their land and their homes. But the solution to getting these people home isn’t an easy one, especially since liberating the cities taken by ISIS has proved to be a much longer task than anyone initially thought. Most thought they would be home in a few days, or a week at most. Instead, the days became weeks, weeks became months and the months have now become years.
For many, one question hangs densely in the air: now what?
A parish priest in Alqosh, the only remaining Christian village on the Plain of Nineveh not captured by ISIS, told me as he sipped from a typical Iraqi glass teacup that in the time that’s passed, “we have understood now that ISIS is a game.”
“It is the world’s game” in which it has become clear that certain nations “want ISIS to stay” either for the economic benefit of selling them weapons, or to keep the war out of their own territory. Even if entire nations are crumbling in the process, it’s not a concern for those whose pockets are being lined, he said.
The majority of locals I spoke with share the same anger and frustration, and pin the majority of the fault for funding ISIS on neighboring Middle Eastern nations such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Despite their open sense of welcome and generosity toward me, most Iraqis do blame the United States for the rise of the Islamic State and for the chaos that has ensued since the end of the war in 2003. Yet, in my time there I also discovered that they believe the U.S. is one of the only nations that has enough influence in the international community to do something about it. The religious leaders in the area practically begged Cardinal Dolan to advocate to the U.S. government on their behalf once he returned to New York.
Many of the displaced hold out hope that a current offensive to retake the city of Mosul will be successful, and that Qaraqosh will be liberated soon after. There is hopeful buzz in the community that within a year both cities will be taken back and made livable soon after, yet a skeptical shadow of doubt still shrouds the hopes of many, who are frustrated that more action has not been taken at this point.
Ecclesiastic leaders such as Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, praised the recent decision of the U.S. government to declare ISIS persecution of Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims genocide, saying it “does justice to the victims.” On April 20 the UK parliament became the most recent nation to follow suit.
But while these decisions are a step in the right direction, for many of the displaced, these declarations on the part of governments are too little, too late. They are thankful the world has finally decided to call a spade a spade, yet for many, one question hangs densely in the air: now what?

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