Weekly Links

Happy Friday!

To promote peace and empower young people in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, EPIC believes the best practice in advocacy is informed discussion amongst the public. In pursuing a goal we will be launching a Weekly Links section in our blog.

The weekly blog post will highlight articles, Infographics, videos and more on Iraq!

Here are some of the links  we’ve enjoyed in the past several weeks:

ISW Event: ISIS vs. the Iraqi Security Forces

ISW's  ISIS vs. ISF  July 11 event now on YouTube. - mark@epic-usa.org - EPIC Mail (1)
Jessica Lewis presents on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s capabilities and grand strategy.

On Friday, July 11, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) held a discussion on security developments in Iraq. The presentation ISIS vs. the Iraqi Security Forces: Can the State of Iraq Survive?” focused on the capabilities and strategy of ISIS and the potential military actions of the United States and Iraqi state. With Ahmed Ali moderating, panelists Jessica Lewis and LTG James M. Dubik gave presentations before answering questions.

While footage of the event can be found online, we wanted to highlight a few points made during the presentation.

Jessica Lewis, a former intelligence officer in the U.S. army and current research director of ISW, noted that:

  • The success of ISIS in Mosul and the Nineveh province was not a flash, but part of a controlled campaign based on the group’s grand strategy.
  • The group is capable of combined arms and hybridized warfare. In the past two years the group has used terrorist, conventional, and unconventional tactics in pursuing its objectives.
  • ISIS is capable and likely to launch a planned assault on Baghdad before the end of Ramadan. Its current control of territory, past presence in places like Abu Ghraib and the existence of uncommitted forces point to the group’s potential to take such action.
  • In spite of the group’s capabilities, the United States can identify key vulnerabilities of the group, for example,  interior and exterior lines of communication, potential leadership cleavages, etc.
  • The ambition of ISIS is not locally bound and poses a threat across the region and the international community.

LTG James M. Dubik, offered his analysis of the Iraqi Security Forces and the potential US response to the crisis. The Lieutenant General noted that:

  • The United States has three interests in the current crisis; preventing ISIS from solidifying, preventing Iraq from becoming a client state of Iran and helping Iraq create a stable political arrangement.
  • The Iraqi military has been undermined in two ways. First, Maliki’s policies  eroded the chain of command, undermined ministerial development,  and established a system based on loyalty over proficiency.  Secondly, through bombings, assassinations and infiltration  ISIS has also played a role in undermining the military.
  • In addition to robust diplomatic action, the United States should provide  special operation forces, planning cells, intelligence assistance, a join marine-ground task force, support for unconventional warfare entities and a task force to expedite equipment delivery to the minister of defense and minister of the interior.
  • Recovery of the Iraqi military can only come with a sustained commitment and improved leadership.

The presentation concluded with a Q&A session, including a question from our own Erik Gustafson! Be sure to check out ISW’s video of the event and its blog covering Iraq security developments!

Al Nujayfi’s Message to Washington

Top Sunni Leader Talks about Recent Rise of Violence and Future Plans for the Government

Usama al Nujayfi, Speaker of Iraq’s Council of Representatives

On January 23, 2014, during a cold and frosty morning in Washington D.C., the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institute hosted an informational event to help the American public understand the current agonies of Iraq, with a focus on the Sunni community.

The Center hosted Usama al Nujayfi, Speaker of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, to give his regards on his provision about Iraq’s future. He also commented on the current crisis in Al Anbar governorate and the return of Al-Qaeda and spoke of how the United States can be an effective player in helping prevent a civil war, which has the potential to lead to a global crisis.

Just a little over two years after the US completely withdrew troops in 2011, Iraq is now facing a new level of violence comparable to the one the country faced back in 2005 and 2006. Over 8,800 Iraqis were killed in 2013, making it the deadliest year since 2008. In particular, Al Anbar governorate continues to face a vicious return of Al Qaeda forces. Al Fallujah and Al Ramadi, key Sunni towns, have already been taken over by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups.

In light of these developments, Iraq appears to be on the brink of a civil war, with the country becoming increasingly polarized. The Sunni community in Iraq is torn between the Shiite dominated central government in Baghdad and the new threatening rise of Al-Qaeda’s brutal activities. While the United States has encouraged restraint on both sides, providing arms support to the Shiite majority Iraqi government has angered many Sunnis, who see it as the US  backing the Shiite community.

Al Nujayfi suggested that Iraq “needs [to give] greater authorities to the Sunni provinces and make Sunni tribal fighters an integral part of Iraq’s military forces.” He emphasized that in order to achieve a peaceful Iraq, the Iraqi government must engage its people, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, in the policy making process.

“I believe that the reltion between the United States and Iraq is about a strategic contract. And, stability in Iraq is stability not only for the country and the interests of the United States, but for the whole world.” said al Nujayfi through an interpreter.

However, he made it clear that the world must not intervene in Iraq’s policy making and must respect its integrity, culture, and history. He acknowledged the need for strong ties between Iraq the United States, saying:

“We need weapons, we need a political stand, we need an economic support. And the United Sates needs Iraq to be a stable country, to be secure, to be able to produce energy, to be democratic. All these are American and Iraqi interests alike.”

To watch the full video, click here.

For more details about this event, please click here

“In Their Shoes”: Running for Iraqi Orphans

On May 4th, EPIC’s partner organization, the Sponsor Iraqi Children Foundation, held its very first 5-kilometer run, in Fairfax, Virginia, entitled “In Their Shoes.” The run raised an incredible amount of money – over $30,000 – for orphans and street kids in Iraq. The 160+ participants included Iraqi-Americans, the former Iraq ambassador to the US, a high school track team, gold star mothers, and EPIC’s very own Executive Director, Erik Gustafson, as well as members of the community who simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of children halfway around the world.

To bring such an eclectic group of people together for an important cause is truly awe-inspiring, especially considering the organization’s modest size. The group’s Executive Director, Cindy Fogleman, spoke with EPIC last week, telling us that they were able to accomplish this in only three months of planning. But why did they decide to initiate a 5k run in the first place?

Gold Star Mother Janice Chance embraces Katrina Schwien after the race
Gold Star Mother Janice Chance embraces Katrina Schwien after the race

Sue Schwien, formerly a member of the Board for SICF, helped Cindy organize the event alongside her daughter Katrina. “We have found that it is very difficult to raise money for Iraq. People’s pockets are not open,” she told EPIC. Knowing that they had to get a little creative in regards to raising funds for Iraqi children, Cindy approached the Schwiens for assistance. Katrina, a senior in high school, is a member of both the track team and a service club. It was her idea to create a 5k run, which her service club took up as a project. They were able to get students and staff excited about the run and Katrina’s track coach even ended up winning the race!

The event generated so much excitement that Cindy is already considering organizing another run for next spring but this time with an entire year to plan. “If we raised $30,000 in three months, imagine what might happen in a year,” she said excitedly. The Iraqi Press covered the run and hopefully next year, if the event becomes an annual affair, the American press will follow suit. Until then, we here at EPIC are proud to partner with SCIF as they continue to do amazing work to help the youth of Iraq!

Happy Earth Day: Celebrating Iraq’s Natural Wonders

One of the main reasons I decided to intern at EPIC was the emphasis the organization puts on environmental education in Iraq. “What is there to learn about preserving the desert?” I casually thought, curious to learn more. It turns out that there is a lot more than desert in Iraq, from the mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, where EPIC held the Iraqi Youth Hike, to the Mesopotamian marshes of southern Iraq. In fact, many biblical scholars believe that the famously lush Garden of Eden is one in the same as these marshes.

The waters of the famed Tigris and Euphrates rivers feed the marshes, where the Ma’dan people have lived for thousands of years. However, since the 1980s there has been a considerable threat to these marshes. Saddam Hussein, for political motives, drained much of the water from the Mesopotamian marshes, as well as diverted the rivers to other areas for “agricultural” purposes. This process of forced desertification brought the marshes to only 10% of what they used to be, making it so neither the human nor animal inhabitants could survive.

In recent years an effort has been made to restore the marshes to their former glory. Dr. Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi who fled the country in the late 1970s and returned to restore his homeland, has led the way. His project uses “flow regulators to mechanically re-flood the marshes each year.” This has been so successful that the marshes are now back to 50% of their former selves. While the marshes can never be fully restored due to the vast damages Hussein wreaked upon them, through the help of Azzam and others the Ma’dan people are slowly able to return home, as well as many of the animal species that had been forced to flee.

Azzam’s ability “to bring environmental protection to the forefront in war-torn Iraq, where people are focused on restoring peace and staying alive,” recently won him the Goldman Environmental Prize, an award of $150,000, for his efforts with the Mesopotamian marshes.

Iraqi Youth Hike participants discovering nature
Iraqi Youth Hike participants discovering nature

Azzam has taken his interest in the environment to a higher level by creating Nature Iraq, an organization that EPIC proudly worked with during the Iraqi Youth Hike . It was this project that got me, somebody without a background in Iraq, excited enough to apply for an internship with EPIC. Taking young people from a war torn city such as Kirkuk and bringing them to the beautiful mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan brought such an incredible learning opportunity to their fingertips, and is truly an inspirational project.

The youth hikers all came away from their educational adventure with a great sense of awareness, with comments like, “now that I know, I can never leave trash in water [rivers or lakes] anymore,” and, “our country is wonderful, let us preserve it.” On this Earth Day, let us remember the marshes, mountains, rivers, and yes, the deserts, of Iraq. I hope you join all of us at EPIC at thanking, and congratulating, Dr. Alwash for the hard work he has put into ensuring that Iraq remains beautiful for today and tomorrow.