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Forget 2003 - The Iraqi People Need Our Help Now

08/08/2014 10:01 BST | Updated 07/10/2014 10:59 BST

In Iraq, right now, an ancient culture is being exterminated, wiped from the face of human history. The Yazidi minority had, until recently, found relative safe haven in Kurdish-controlled areas, protected by its armed forces: the peshmerga. However, recent reversals have forced both the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to withdraw their forces from the region, as Isis continued its murderous advance across the north and west of the country.

Many Yazidi are currently perched on the Sinjar mountain range in north-western Iraq. Isolated and unprotected, their provisions are running low, and without food, water and other supplies, as reported by the Washington Post, some of them are already dead. Many more are dying. If they do not fall victim to starvation and thirst and illness, they will in all likelihood meet their ends at the hands of Isis: an utterly brutal organisation which showcases its crimes in the most cinematic and cynical of ways.

In Iraq, despite the atrocities committed by Isis, intervention of any kind has remained firmly off the table. The old arguments of more than a decade ago have been gleefully dusted off by critics of that war, and now stand in opposition to vital humanitarian and military work. Because Bush and Blair and Cheney are as unpopular as ever, it seems, doctrinal isolationists and anti-war types are more than happy for Iraqis to face Isis alone. Maybe this horrific happening will change things. Ultimately, who would want to position themselves in favour of allowing a persecuted minority to starve to death?

But let me be clear: It does not matter, now, what you imagine to be the proximate cause of Isis and the terror it brings. It does not matter whether you supported the war to remove Saddam in 2003. To an extent, although these are related phenomena, it does not matter what you had to say when the citizens of Syria faced barbarism from fascists and a growing Isis-driven Islamist menace concurrently. Your interpretation of events in Israel and Gaza could not be less relevant.

But here are some pieces of information that are relevant. The Kurds are a staunch ally of the West, and have governed their own autonomous region since the end of the Gulf War. They suffered horribly at the hands of Saddam and were the victims of his genocidal outrages before then. The Kurds constitute the largest stateless minority in the Middle East, and have met with persecution - particularly in Turkey. Abandoning them now, and therefore leaving the groups which are part of their society and under their protection to die, would be a gross betrayal of both a friendly people and our own recent history.

For their part, the Yazidi practise an ancient religion which predates both Christianity and Islam. It is thought that their cultural traditions may extend back as far as 6000 years ago. Because of their idiosyncratic religious traditions - they revere Melek Taus, a peacock angel of sorts - they have been ostracised by extremists of other, larger religious groups. Isis calls them 'devil worshippers', but that designation is not new. As far back as 2007, religiously motivated acts of terror were being perpetrated against them. A wellspring of hatred against the Yazidi has seemingly existed for very a long time, and Isis is all too happy to make use of that animosity in its own atrocities.

The sectarian nature of Isis' modus operandi has never been a mystery to observers - after all, it is one of the key features of its propaganda, which serves a sinister dual purpose. To Sunnis of a similar ideological bent, the remarkably high-quality footage of torture and mass murder that Isis produces is intended to serve as a rallying cry. To opponents - of any political, religious or ethnic stripe - it acts as a warning. 'Join us', it says, 'or stay away'. As I have written in the past, Isis has been formally denounced by the terrorists and fanatics of Al-Qaeda for being 'too extreme'. It is beyond irresponsible, beyond callous, to leave a group which has acquired that sort of a reputation unopposed - and in the position to massacre thousands.

The tragedy that is on the very near horizon is of almost unimaginable proportions. It has been compared, emotively but also correctly, to the appalling genocide of Rwanda by Dan Hodges of the Daily Telegraph. Rwanda occupies the particular place in our global memory that it does for reasons that are greater than the sum of horror inflicted on the innocent. More than that - the memory of that mass murder is even more heart-rending when one thinks that it could have been stopped.

And, as Tom Rogan writes in TheNational Review, this slaughter in the making could be stopped. 'With the U.S. Air Force's 728th Air Mobility Squadron at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey,' he writes, '(a few hundred miles from Sinjar), America has a preexisting infrastructure to support airdrop missions into northern Iraq.' Moreover, the United States Navy currently operates a carrier group in the region, based around the USS George H. W. Bush. Collectively, this military muscle is enough to at least begin humanitarian operations such as supply airdrops, and, if desired, to attack Isis forces as well.

Doing something about this crisis is possible. All that remains in the way of action is political will. Governments are not likely to relish the possibility of another involvement in Iraq; it has proven to be the graveyard of popularity for more than a few. But that does not mean that this cause is any less just, or that this proposed action is any less necessary.

Assigning blame or attempting to manufacture political victories out of this terrible event is both counterproductive and utterly immoral. What the world needs now is for its leaders and opinion-formers to put aside a history of political division over foreign policy, and to enact a policy which is both utterly necessary and morally imperative. Only then will Isis be fought, and only then will the Yazidi be saved.

James Snell is a contributing editor at The Libertarian