Peace on the Hill – Turning a blind eye in Iraq

RLSBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

Just about the only news these days from Iraq is about the offensive to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Nearly unmentioned in most U.S. media are the bombings that have hit Baghdad, killing dozens. Last summer a horrific attack on a busy shopping area killed 250 people. Many of the attacks have been claimed by ISIS and may be an attempt to divert attention from military efforts elsewhere in the country.

If these attacks had happened in a European capital, they would be big news. But in Baghdad, still struggling to recover from the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent civil war, they seem barely newsworthy.

Troubling actions by the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government also get little attention. Both the Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad are considered U.S. allies and receive significant amounts of U.S. assistance. In December Congress continued funding the Iraq “train and equip” program for police and military forces at $920 million.

But there are significant concerns about how these forces are operating. In the fight to retake Mosul, and military actions elsewhere throughout the country, the Iraqi army has been accused of committing human rights abuses.

The Iraqi army also partners with militia groups who are also accused of human rights violations. At the same time, the Kurdish government is expanding its control in disputed areas by forcibly displacing Arab families and destroying their homes and villages.

The willingness to overlook these abuses stands in stark contrast to the steady media coverage and constant U.S. critique of the Syrian government’s actions to retake Aleppo.

In Iraq, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) supports the work of local civil society organizations. These organizations courageously work for peace in their communities and provide much-needed assistance to people who have been displaced from their homes. This includes food assistance, distributing MCC comforters, relief kits, and hygiene kits, support for livelihoods projects, and access to water in conflict-affected areas.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

As one U.S. administration ends and another begins, we must call on our government to promote justice, transparency and respect for the rights of all, including when U.S. allies are the ones perpetrating the injustices.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

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