Iraq, A "Holy Alliance" To Defeat The Jihadists

The ISIS assault in Iraq is spectacular proof that the U.S. has failed in the Middle East. It's time for a return to power politics and a bloc of former enemies to take on the extremists.

Bush, Maliki, Obama, Rouhani ... All eyes on Iraq.
Bush, Maliki, Obama, Rouhani ... All eyes on Iraq.
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS — Who lost Iraq? There are only three possible answers to that question: George W. Bush, Nouri al-Maliki, Barack Obama. The former American president sinned with pride, the Iraqi Prime Minister with sectarianism and the current U.S. president with indecision.

Democracy in Baghdad will bring peace that stretches to Jerusalem — so predicted the “Democracy Bolsheviks” who had a decisive influence on the choices of the Bush administration. The war in Iraq is the direct product of the wishful thinking that mistook the 2003 Middle East for 1944 Europe.

The fall of Mosul last week, which happened with virtually no resistance, is the most spectacular proof of the patent failure of the Bush administration's ideological approach of the Middle East. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime did not result in the victory of democracy, but in the implosion of a country, and the challenging of the longstanding borders of an entire region.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) jihadists have deliberately erased the — largely artificial — borders set by the 1916 Sykes–Picot Agreement, which separated Syria from Iraq to form a sort of “Sunnistan.” They now control an area that goes from the Syrian city of Aleppo to northern Iraq’s Mosul. A refuge for terrorists has been formed in the heart of the Middle East, while the U.S. is about to withdraw from Afghanistan, as it already has from Iraq.

Are the reasons to intervene today not more real than those from yesterday? The jihadists are a reality, unlike the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have. It is not about protecting a people from its dictator anymore, but an entire region from the destabilizing control of a radical ideology. But yesterday’s failures weigh heavily on today’s decisions.

After winning the war, George W. Bush’s America was only bound to lose the peace. Overly ambitious goals, a poorly thought military strategy, allocated means that were too limited: One could be tempted to say that the U.S. and, behind it, its allies with Tony Blair’s Britain at the forefront, "had it all wrong."

By sending home all the civilian and military Sunni executives of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Washington doomed itself to unavoidable failure. It is interesting to note that Maliki’s regime merely followed the American model, when it too excluded all Sunnis from running the country.

The U.S. did not manage to rebuild a credible army despite the amount of money wasted on it. It was a disastrous choice for the U.S. military to count on essentially quantitative, rather than qualitative, standards to rebuild the Iraqi army. The American soldiers were too few to compensate for the inexperience and the unwillingness of the Iraqi soldiers.

First things first

The corruption of the regime started with the corruption of the security services. The army was not the expression of the nation; it did not feel responsible for the security of a country and its inhabitants. Before anything else, it intended to protect its own interests. Hence its rapid collapse against an enemy far smaller in number but infinitely more motivated.

From the failed state that Iraq has become in the hands of a sectarian, corrupt and ineffective leadership — and with a sort of ripple effect — we are witnessing a shifting of alliances that, in reality, aims to fill in the void left by the U.S. By alternating, in such a short period of time, between excessive historical will under Bush and Obama's overly cautious resignation in the face of a rapid disintergration on the ground, the U.S. has left the region without any basic semblance of order or guarantees for the future.

By overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq yesterday, the U.S. had provided an easy victory to its Shia rivals behind Iran, thus weakening its traditional allies, the Sunni Gulf monarchies. Since then, the U.S. has first abandoned Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, and after hesitating on Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, backed Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rise to power.

In the same way, the U.S. seems to be giving in to Israel pursuing its settlements in the West Bank and a de facto acceptance that any kind of peace process in the region is destined to die.

Finally and most importantly, the U.S. has decisively brought its credibility into question by resigning to allow Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stay in place in Syria, even though it used chemical weapons, in large quantities, against its people.

But nature loathes emptiness, and people are scared of wrecked situations. The victory of the jihadists in Iraq was too fast and too complete not to trigger chain reactions. Can the collapse of Mosul lead to the acceleration of an already ongoing rapprochement between Tehran and Washington? Against the threat of Sunni fundamentalism, can Iran and Saudi Arabia rediscover common interests despite “existential” differences?

One thing is sure: In the space of a few months, from the Middle East to Ukraine and the East China Sea, the priorities of the world have shifted. It is no longer about improving global governance, but about confronting the outbursts of religious or nationalist ideologies — and ultimately, the return of power politics. To face the Islamist radicals threatening Baghdad, a “Holy Alliance” of the least radical, most moderate, forces needs to be established. And it must start with the use of U.S. air strikes against the jihadists.

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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