Think ISIS is gone, Mr. Trump? Think again

Mr. Trump should be careful with his words. The assumption that the Islamic State has vanished from the region is a dangerous one to make.

July 31, 2019 22:42
3 minute read.
Think ISIS is gone, Mr. Trump? Think again

U.S. President Donald Trump . (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

‘But ISIS is gone” was the response of US President Donald Trump to Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nadia Murad, following her pleas to help her community following nearly half a decade of genocide.

Look at the travel advice from many states and, unsurprisingly, Iraq is listed as a no-go area. Sinjar, especially, is subject to violence as territory disputed by the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, as well as Iranian-backed militias, as highlighted by Nadia Murad in the Oval Office last week. As she said passionately to Trump, “This is not about ISIS.” It is a much larger problem preventing survivors, and everyone in the area, from living in safety.

However, Mr. Trump should be careful with his words. The assumption that the Islamic State has vanished from the region is a dangerous one to make. On July 24, clashes erupted between Sinjar and Tel Afar, a Tukrmen-majority village to which many captive Yazidis were bused before being held in Mosul and Syria. In a search for three missing Yazidis near the Sinjar cement factory, locals stumbled upon an ISIS base in an abandoned house, according to local sources. The security forces arriving at the scene soon came under fire from nearby militants.

Sinjar, the home of the Yazidis, lies in ruins, but this does not mean the international community should remain complacent about the presence of ISIS in the area. One of the most significant barriers to return of the Yazidis is safety, as noted by Pari Ibrahim, leader of the Free Yazidi Foundation, who told Kurdistan 24: “People don’t feel safe because there are still Daesh [ISIS] supporters around.” In June, ISIS fighters detonated a car bomb near Sinjar Mountain before praising the destruction of Yazidi lands in a series of devastating fires that killed civilians. This has been exacerbated by the return of Arab residents to the villages surrounding Sinjar, many of whom were said to have taken part in the genocide, only creating further insecurity and fear for those brave enough to return home.

For someone who is supposedly committed to the eradication of the Islamic State, the US president is worryingly unaware of the reality on the ground. ISIS may no longer have its flag hoisted over Mosul, but it certainly remains present in the region and is proving a force to be reckoned with, according to Kurdish officials.

The disputed city of Kirkuk has seen a spate of ISIS activity in recent months, following twin blasts in June and the burning of crops following residents’ refusal to pay taxes to Islamic State fighters. Following the attacks, a Peshmerga commander worryingly stated that ISIS “has regrouped and is stronger than ever before.”

What’s more, the ideology of the Islamic State remains ever-present beyond the land it over which it used to reign. Many who fought for the caliphate have disappeared into Kurdish region, shaving off their beards and fleeing across the border to remain under the radar. Yazidi refugees have reported threats and violence from ISIS sympathizers in Greek refugee camps, some of whom have had their tents set on fire, or were proudly told of relatives holding Yazidi slaves. A black flag was hoisted last month over al-Hol refugee camp in Syria – housing many families of ISIS fighters – to chants of Baqiya, or “Remain,” according to The Independent.

What exactly, then, does Trump know about the Islamic State? Clearly, his knowledge on the current reality facing the areas it previously ravaged is not comprehensive. His supposed commitment to helping religious minorities cannot be taken seriously when those very groups are still being targeted, with no US program to grant them refuge.

If Trump “knew the area well,” as he asserted to Ms. Murad last week, he would know that ISIS has far from disappeared. Without action, it is only a matter of time before history repeats itself, and more are killed.

The author is a Scottish writer and advocate of Yazidi rights.

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