‘The Circle of Hell’

ISIS horror defies description. But IS barbarians are not the only actors who have created a circle of hell in Iraq and Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra, operating in Syria reportedly abducted nearly 1000 individuals, 142 of them children, who were sometimes tortured and forced to pay ‘fines’ in order to secure their release. Government forces are now conducting bombardment campaigns. They use barrel bombs made from oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders filled with explosives and metal fragments. Barrel Bomb attack means children without heads, body parts everywhere. This is how one can imagine hell to be in the Middle East.

Since its brutal conquest in summer of 2014 of Swathes of Syria and northern Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced several months ago that it was setting up ‘‘provinces’’ in Algeria, Libya, Sinai, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The ISIS is in the throes of global expansion. ISIS calls Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘‘Khorasan’’ province, which are in its sights. And in a sense India now shares borders with the ISIS caliphate! In Nigeria, ISIS has allowed Boko Haram to operate under its name, the terror world’s equivalent of granting a ‘franchise’. ISIS gunmen in military uniforms killed at least 20 western tourists and a Tunisian at Tunisia’s National Bardo Museum in Tunis on 18 March 2015, after rounding up hostages, and holding them for two hours. Security forces stormed the building, and killed two gunmen, believed to be Tunisians and sympathisers of Islamic State. The attack has been a new blow to the tourist industry that is vital to Tunisia, as it struggles to consolidate the only transition to democracy after the Arab Spring Revolt. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for simultaneous suicide attacks on two Shia mosques [on 20 March 2015] in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, killing 142 people, as they attended noon prayers, on the eve of the Persian New Year. At least four suicide bombers attacked the two mosques, frequented by supporters of the Houthis, the Iranian backed Shia rebel movement that overan the capital in January 2015, ousting the western backed government. Also in February 2015, ISIS brutally beheaded 21 Christian Egyptians on a beach in Libya.

And now Right-wing Christians are coming to Iraq and Syria with an avowed objective of propagating ‘crusade’ against ‘jihad’. In other words in their holy war of defence more bloodshed is very much in the offing. People in the Middle East have no chance to live in peace. It is quite likely that western powers would back Christian militants. In the continuing cycle of violence the people who are being killed are not the people who are fighting. Ordinary civilians are dying. This way or that they cannot escape this living hell.

In the front line in Northern Iraq between Kurdish Security Forces and fighters from the Islamic State is the Assyrian Christian militia fighting alongside the Kurdish peshmerga forces. A growing band of men and women from countries such as Britain and USA have already joined Christian militias in northern Iraq. The bizarre array of former soldiers, surfers, biker gangs, adventure-seekers, arms dealers and handful of evangelical Christians believe they are waging a Crusade. Their motives extend from revulsion at ISIS’s beheading of hostages, the collapse of the Iraqi army, boredom, or the chance of combat after years in the army. Many compare their struggle to that of the British and American volunteers, who fought fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Kurdish forces in Iraq appear reluctant to allow foreigners to fight on the front line. US Special Forces have removed some from the battle field. Christian militias believe that anti-tank missiles, general purpose machine guns and sniper rifles could counter the heavily armoured American military vehicles, that ISIS captured from the Iraqi army. A complex pattern of political configuration is unfloding in the region.

Vol. 47, No. 45, May 17 - 23, 2015