Poverty and Terrorism in AfricaOn March 22, the Trump administration repeated its assertion that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. For the past two decades, Americans have focused exclusively on the Middle East when it comes to strategic counter-terrorism efforts. Since September 11, the U.S. military has involved itself in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries in order to stamp out terrorism. However, poverty and terrorism in Africa are going unchecked.

These military campaigns and several other military operations took place during the contentious “War on Terror.” Now, nearly eighteen years after the attacks, the American public is ready to lessen its intervention in the Middle East. By announcing ISIS’ defeat and pulling the military out, the President is suggesting that the U.S.’s role in the Middle East is nearing its end.

Violent Extremists Organizations

Though leaders of terror groups, like Osama Bin Laden, can be stopped, ideologies on terrorism still hold critical importance. Professor Paul Holman of the University of Maine has been an expert and educator on terrorism and politics for nearly four decades. He did not agree that ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria. This comes down to the root of what terrorism actually is.

In correspondence with the Borgen Project, Professor Holman defines terrorism as “violence against innocent civilians for political reasons.” He notes that both governments and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), like ISIS, use terrorism to further their ideals. Though Syria is no longer under its control, ISIS is more than a national movement.

ISIS is not simply trying to seize and hold territory in Syria and Iraq. Instead, Holman notes, ISIS is a transnational movement based upon extreme religious views, which exist in many other countries. Now that the United States military has weakened many VEOs in the Middle East, where do these organizations go next? Poverty and terrorism in Africa reveal the influence of these VEOs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

In April, Congolese President Tshisekedi discussed the future of terrorist violence in Africa: “It is easy to see how the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate.” Beni and Butembo are northeastern cities in the DRC that have faced a substantial amount of violence.

No doubt, ISIS and other VEOs are capitalizing on the extreme poverty and the chaos of certain regions in Africa. In fact, on April 16, ISIS claimed its first attack on the DRC, killing eight soldiers. A statement made by Islamic State propagandists, to take responsibility for the attack, described Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate.” Though these attacks by extremist groups in Africa are not new, American’s realization of their strengths seems to be.

Extemists Groups Gaining Power

As poverty and instability lead to upticks in violence by VEOs, regions in Africa are becoming more susceptible to extremist attacks. For the past ten years, Islamist militant groups have been gaining ground in Africa. In 2015, in the poverty-stricken region of northern Nigeria (the largest nation within Africa), Boko Haram became “the world’s deadliest terror group” while at the same time pledging allegiance to ISIS. Though several African militaries, with aid from France and other Western countries, decimated the land control of Boko Haram, the group still maintains a strong influence within Northern Africa.

With African militaries and other nations are fighting against its influence, Boko Haram focused on the Lake Chad region that borders Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Lake Chad is not only one of the poorest regions in the world but a region that remained largely ungoverned. In 2016, Boko Haram split into two, the new group being the Islamic State of West Africa. The Islamic State of West Africa is offering protection to locals from Boko Haram in exchange for economic reimbursement.

Other extremist groups are adopting the strategy of exploiting extreme poverty as well as profiting off of regional and tribal conflicts while diseases spread. According to the Global Hunger Index, some of the hungriest places on Earth are in Africa as are also some of the least peaceful countries. Northern and Central Africa have similar scores in hunger and peace rankings to those of Syria and Iraq where extremist groups have thrived in the past.

VEOs in Nigeria and Sudan

Professor Holman identified a few African nations that are of higher risk of violent attacks by extremist groups, such as Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. “The country [Nigeria] is polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, suffering from endemic corruption as well as ethnic rivalries and religious differences.” Libya has been in a civil war since the Ghadaffi regime was overthrown. Sudan has had political turmoil both before and after Bashir’s regime was ousted, and Somalia has a weak government.

It is clear that these terrorist groups thrive in poverty-stricken countries fraught with political strife. Therefore, it is essential that poverty and terrorism in Africa be combatted. Governments and organizations must ensure that the innocent civilians have the education, food, water and financial stability needed to secure themselves from violent extremist groups that prey on the poor and the weak. Foreign aid along with maintaining diplomatic relationships with governments from African nations will be a huge part of that. This fosters strong governments that are able to coordinate a defense from extremist groups.

– Kurt Thiele
Photo: Flickr

St. Petersburg
On April 3, 2017, 14 people died and 64 were injured when an explosive device detonated in the St. Petersburg metro. The perpetrator, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who also died in the explosion, came to St. Petersburg in 2011 from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to work as a car mechanic. Upon reviewing Dzhalilov’s online record and talking with witnesses, Russia’s Federal Security Services found links to Islamist websites on his social media, as well as evidence that he had become withdrawn and quiet two months before his suicide bombing.

The St. Petersburg attack brought Russia’s approach to counter-extremism to the spotlight. More than 2,000 Russians have gone off to fight for ISIS, making Russia the largest contributor of ISIS fighters. While some of these fighters harbor resentments dating back to ethnic wars in the 1990s, others saw ISIS as an opportunity to escape from poor economic opportunities and blatant discrimination at home.

History of Chaos

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Chechnya, a majority Muslim, southern region of Russia, descended into chaos. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, pushed for a decentralization of government but would not go as far as to legitimize Chechen separatists’ independence movement. Interethnic conflict engulfed the Caucasus region, with hundreds of thousands of Ingush people and Chechens fleeing from the destruction of their communities. This legacy of insurgency and violence is one of the main causes of radicalization in Russia, especially in the Northern Caucasus, which remains Russia’s most radicalized region even today.

Radical Islamists tend to be concentrated in cities with high concentrations of migrant workers, particularly in the oil-producing cities of Tyumen and Khanty-Mansiysk. In fact, close to 200,000 Chechens, Ingush and Dagestanis live in West Siberia.

Disenfranchisement

Labor migrants from Central Asia face xenophobia after arriving in Russia. In August 2016, one poll administered by the Levada Center found that 52 percent of Russians believe in a “Russia for ethnic Russians.” The same poll found that 39 percent of Russians feel that immigrants destroy Russian culture. Feeling out-of-place as a minority, these migrants seek community and protection in local mosques, breeding grounds for recruitment into radical Islamic groups. In fact, mosques are the main sites of recruitment, according to the Search for Common Good Organization.

Law enforcement and security agencies alienate Muslims by promulgating propaganda that belittles their beliefs. A Wilson Center report details how law enforcement officials in Russia plant drugs while searching the homes of Muslims, only to arrest and jail them later. Intimidated by state pressure, these Muslims seek recluse in the ranks of ISIS.

Social Media

In order to target and entice potential recruits, terrorist groups use social media and online forums. VKontakte, a popular Russian social media site, was the go-to for ISIS supporters and recruiters until the company began shutting down content that promoted the terrorist group in September 2014. To work around these restrictions, ISIS now uses its own Furat Media to disseminate propaganda.

Russia has implemented stringent counter-extremism laws, to the point that some critics worry about an invasion of piracy. A 2014 Extremism Law gave authorities the power to ban websites and social media accounts without a court order. In the span of 11 months, between February and December 2015, Russia banned 512 websites. Moreover, the 2016 Yarovaya Law forces digital providers to store clients’ data for a minimum of six months and make these records available to the Federal Security Services.

Financial Woes

Extremist groups recruit financially vulnerable migrants with promises of stable jobs and a network of support. More than 28 percent of interviewees in a survey by the Search for Common Ground organization said that the prospect of stable jobs and salaries attracted them to ISIS recruiters. This issue is compounded for undocumented migrants in Russia, who are much more vulnerable financially.

While the Russian government’s counter-extremism laws are harsh, its official rhetoric against its Muslim population, 11.7 percent according to the Pew Research Center, has the unintended consequence of promoting radicalization.

The time is now for Russia to consider more than just its censorship of extremist content. The country must, first and foremost, eradicate the root causes of radicalization, addressing state-sponsored discrimination, financial insecurity and minority rights.

– Mark Blekherman
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in IraqWith the war against ISIS in Iraq officially declared over by the Iraqi government in December, efforts on the ground have now begun to focus on rebuilding the lives of the Iraqi people. Of particular concern is the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in Iraq, the young “cubs of the caliphate” trained by ISIS and indoctrinated with its ultraviolent ideology.

What Has Happened to Child Soldiers in Iraq?

It is estimated that over the past four years, at least 2,000 minors underwent military training in ISIS camps, learning to use light and medium weaponry and function as effective cogs in the ISIS machine. Yet what may be most distressing is not the technical training these children received, but rather the ideological indoctrination.

The indoctrination that took place in ISIS sponsored schools and training camps instilled these children with extremist beliefs and sought to normalize acts of violence and killing. The result, ISIS hoped, would be the creation of the jihadists of the future, a group of fighters steeped in the ultraviolent ideology of ISIS and capable of waging a holy war for generations.

It is this deeply seated indoctrination into extremism, experts fear, that may pose a grave threat to the future stability of Iraq. With the end of the war and a return to normal life, many foresee the violent indoctrination of ISIS preventing these children from reintegrating into society and leading normal lives. With an intentionally violent and radical worldview, it is possible that many child soldiers will return to their towns highly radicalized, facing the discomfort of a worldview which does not match reality.

Besides being radicalized, many of these former child soldiers in Iraq also suffer from psychological trauma derived from a childhood of violence and warfare. For many, it is all they know and it is this mindset geared toward violence that has no place in normal life that could isolate them from their friends, families and peers. The resulting isolation caused by their inability to properly reintegrate may then make them more vulnerable to crime or further acts of extremism.

Why is Reintegration So Difficult?

Now that the process toward normalization has begun for many Iraqis, the question facing towns, families and NGOs is how to welcome back the former child soldiers in Iraq. There is no doubt that the task is monumental, as in many places there are no jobs available and professionals needed for psychological rehabilitation remain few and far between.

The complexity of the situation in Iraq remains a hazard to successful reintegration as well. In some territories which were held previously by ISIS, families who were sympathetic to the Caliphate gave their children up willingly and the child may continue to be indoctrinated when he or she returns home. It is also no secret that many Iraqis hold a grudge against former ISIS members and would deny them treatment and reconciliation.

What is Being Done?

Yet with peace becoming a reality, there is real promise for a brighter future for these former child soldiers in Iraq. Programs demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers have been successful in countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Such programs began by clearing the environment of weapons, then identifying former child soldiers who needed special care. Next, focus was placed on empowering these children with a feeling of belonging and re-establishing societal and familial links to reintegrate them.

Local citizens are also taking matters into their own hands to re-educate former child soldiers in Iraq. In Mosul, for instance, a group of Muslim law sages has begun preaching a moderate brand of Islam with the intent to promote peace and reconciliation.

What remains clear is that reintegrating child soldiers in formerly held ISIS territory will be a difficult, long term process, one which needs attention from the highest authorities inside and outside Iraq. If Iraq is ever to be war free and at peace, this challenge must be addressed and reconciliation and reintegration of child soldiers must be made a priority to end the cycle of violence.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr

Child soldiers in AfghanistanUnder the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Social InclusionNearly 15,000 foreign jihadists have moved to join the IS effort, according to a recent United Nations estimate. The actions taken by extremist groups have had devastating effects all over the world. Initiatives, global collaborative efforts and legislative conquests have been directed at minimizing tragedies by stopping them at their source. Experts argue that social inclusion can help thwart violent extremism.

The World Leadership Alliance Club de Madrid, in partnership with several democratic institutions, including the U.S Department of State, meets regularly to discuss global issues and methods of conciliation.

In October 2015, the Madrid Agenda arose from the conversations. The document describes how basal involvement in combination with an engaged society, including local religious and community leaders, youths, families and women is one of the best ways to prevent extremism. The agenda created a 10-point framework based on hundreds of voices that spoke out against recurring themes that give rise to violent extremism in various countries.

The framework focuses heavily on social inclusion. Despite direct causal links between poverty and extremism, combating economic hardship is a moral imperative: “Where systematic exclusion creates injustice, humiliation and unfair treatment, it can produce a toxic mix that allows violent extremism to flourish,” the address explains.

The 10 Madrid Goals Summarized
The Madrid Agenda counseled for accountable and transparent governments that advocate for the rights of all citizens. There is an emphasis on equal access to opportunity and meaningful employment for qualified citizens.

Local leaders are motivated to act as peaceful role models for the disenfranchised and be conduits of communication and adjudicators on a regional level.

The goals similarly promote peaceful and meaningful modes of free expression without repercussion, giving agency to silenced and oppressed voices.

Involving Social Media
Gilles de Kerchove has been the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator for the past 10 years. In a 2017 interview, the coordinator proposed an initiative that would block IS propaganda that aims to reach and recruit thousands of potential jihadists.

In the wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks, Kerchove mentioned issues of social discrimination and questioning identity. He admits that these injustices often lead to radicalization. Socially polarized individuals often seek out sympathetic companionship and a sense of belonging. What quicker way to find like-minded people than through the Internet?

Kerchove mentioned the collaborative efforts major social media companies have already taken to more efficiently remove and prevent the sharing of illegal content. They have also engaged social responsibility with the empowerment of moderate voices via the Civil Society Empowerment Program.

Digital evidence also plays a major role in securing convictions against extremist recruitment. With more compliance and support of social media apps and means, digital evidence will facilitate the incrimination of recruiters more effectively.

A Hopeful Future
A nation is much like the human body; they are both capable of great things. The body automatically fights pathogens, heals wounds and endures extreme pressures; a well-run nation can fight poverty, ameliorate social inclusion and endure tragedy.

When we get sick, we visit the doctor. We may be prescribed medication or a regimen designed to heal the body and eliminate the ailment. Our first question is not “what can we amputate or lobotomize?” Instead, we ask “where is it coming from, how can we fix it?” In a country, when a source of pain and illness is identified, the best way to fix the problem is by the same means. The strategies outlined by the aformentioned groups aim to do just that.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Turkey-ISIL ConflictSince Turkey declared war on the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) in 2014, the Middle Eastern country accomplished great strides in aiding the world’s poor, while struggling with both internal and external challenges. These 10 facts about the Turkey-ISIL conflict explore two sides of the same issue.

  1. Turkey’s economy struggled before the country declared war
    During the twenty-first century, Turkey utilized rapid urbanization and increasing trade to become an upper-middle-class country. As growth slowed in 2013, critics accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being soft on terrorism. Time Magazine suggests that Erdoğan declared war on ISIL to distract his populace and boost the economy.
  2. In recent years, Turkey has discovered economic success
    The World Bank reports that exports and growth in Turkey will strengthen overall in 2017. In the midst of a turbulent time, the country continues decreasing its poverty rate past 9.3 percent, compared to 27.3 percent in the 2000s.
  3. Turkey has also found new economic hardships
    In spite of Turkey’s accomplishments fighting poverty, unemployment reached 12.1 percent in November 2016, rising from 11.1 percent a year earlier. The employment rate is even worse among men and women aged 15-24.
  4. Turkey shows incredible generosity to immigrants
    In 2015, Turkey provided a place to live for two million Syrian refugees. That number has since increased to three million. The 2015 Turkish Development Assistance Report named Turkey the second-largest donor country in the world.
  5. Turkey’s generosity comes with costs
    The increase in transport and food expenses drove core inflation up to 10.2 percent in 2017. This is the first time in a decade for such numbers to reach double digits in Turkey. Combined with a poor harvest and increasing gas prices, it’s uncertain how long Turkey will allow its refugees to stay. No one can put a price on human life, but these 10 facts about the Turkey-ISIL conflict reveal that fighting global poverty is more than a moral issue.
  6. Syrian refugees are uncertain if they’ll ever return home
    Many Turkish neighborhoods packed with Syrians in the past three years. As Middle Eastern conflict continues, these un-integrated communities reveal that caring for migrants is more than a short-term solution.
  7. Refugees are gaining more access to social services
    When Syrian refugees first entered Turkey in 2011, the government gave migrants a special protection status in lieu of work permits. The country also granted their guests temporary accommodation centers and permission to enroll in universities without passports. Turkey has since rolled out work permits in response to complaints.
  8. Not all refugees can use services
    Due to the length and cost of providing work permits and social security for Syrian workers, most Turkish companies risk minor fines to hire illegal workers. Such practices do not comfort Turkish anxieties. Labor lawyer Mehmet Ata Sarikaripoglu notes “a public concern that Turkish people would be unemployed because of… Syrians… employed with lower fees.”
  9. ISIL terrorists are retreating
    As of Oct. 4, 2017, Iraqi forces have retaken Hawija, a major Islamic State stronghold. Though Iraq routinely declares victory before fighting has finished, this latest strike continues a trend that has greatly reduced ISIL territory.
  10. Turkey’s conflicts with Kurds continue
    Turkish forces bombed more Kurdish separatists than ISIL targets during the war. The arrests of Kurdistan Workers Party members outnumber the amount of detained ISIL fighters. The Kurdistan Regional Government claimed territory close to Hawija, signaling that conflict in the region will continue for the foreseeable future.

These 10 facts about the Turkey-ISIL conflict reveal the inseparable relationships between war, economy and global poverty.

Nick Edinger

Photo: Google

10 Facts About the Genocide of Yazidis by ISILIslamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State, is an insurgent group operating in Iraq and Syria. Its propaganda is centered around brutality towards its enemies and those who violate Islamic law. Here are 10 facts about the genocide of Yazidis by ISIL.

Top Yazidis Genocide Facts

  1. The Yazidis are a Kurdish religious minority who live in Iraq, Syria, the Caucasus region and some parts of Turkey and Iran. Their religion has elements of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. The Yazidis were subjected to genocide several times under the Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries for their beliefs. On August 3, 2014, ISIL attacked the Yazidi living in Sinjar (Iraq).
  2. The most important of the facts about the genocide of Yazidis by ISIL is the orchestrated attack that was a part of a wider offensive to take control of minorities and Christians, who were asked to convert to Islam or pay religious taxes to stay alive. However, the Yazidis were declared infidels and “devil-worshippers” who deserved to be exterminated from the face of the earth.
  3. Tens of thousands of Yazidis had to flee to Mount Sinjar. They remained trapped there for days and many died of hunger and dehydration, while hundreds were massacred by ISIL. On August 7, 2014, the U.S. announced military action to help the trapped Yazidis at the request of the Iraqi government.
  4. Around 10,000 Yazidis were either killed or captured in August 2014 alone, out of which 3,100 were murdered by gunshots, beheaded and burned alive.
  5. In addition to the killings, ISIL systematically separated the women to rape, sexually mutilate and sterilize while many children were sent to training camps.
  6. The sexual violence against Yazidi women captured by ISIL is the most talked about among the facts about the genocide of Yazidis by ISIL. Around 7,000 women were sold as sex slaves or handed to jihadists as concubines. Girls as young as nine were sold off to Islamic State fighters, routinely raped and punished with extreme violence when they tried to escape. Children were killed as a means to punish their mothers for resisting.
  7. Mass graves were found with bodies of older women who could not command a price in the sex market. These mothers and grandmothers were not considered young or beautiful enough to rape, so they were simply taken behind the technical institute to be shot down in Solagh, east of Sinjar.
  8. Videos were recorded of “converted” Yazidi men and boys urging their relatives to convert to Islam and were then shown in all the holding sites. Families that obeyed were reunited. However, ISIL determined in the spring of 2015 that all conversions by Yazidis were false and separated all the reunited families.
  9. The Yazidi shrines of Sheikh Mand, Sheikh Hassan, Malak Fakhraddin and Mahma Rasha were destroyed following the attack. Yazidi homes were marked with symbols to distinguish them from others so that they could be looted and destroyed.
  10. The United Nations has classified the attacks on Yazidis by ISIL as genocide in its report, stating “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community.”

– Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr

Top Developments in the lives of the Iraqi Kurds: Why it MattersThe fight against ISIS and the turbulence in the Middle East has adversely impacted Iraqi Kurds recently. The poverty rate in Iraqi Kurdistan has quadrupled to 15 percent, largely due to the fight against ISIS, civilian casualties, the influx of refugees and insuperable pressure on resources. One in 10 Iraqi Kurds live below the internationally recognized poverty line.

Since 2014, over a million refugees have arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2015, the World Bank estimated that the Kurdistan Region needs $1.4 billion in humanitarian response. The number of internally displaced persons to the region continues to increase.

The Kurds are an important ethnic group in the Middle East, often recognized for their efforts to achieve self-governance. Iraqi Kurdistan is a rather controversial oil-rich region, with especially large reserves in the province of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been the ruling body of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992. In 2005, the Iraqi Constitution officially recognized the autonomy of the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have played a pivotal role in the combat against ISIS. The Iraqi Kurdish forces are a vital part of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State. Despite accounting for close to 20 percent of the population in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have suffered a slew of human rights violations over the years and have been oppressed due to their “minority” status. In most recent years, these attacks can be traced back to the time of Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War.

Moreover, the KRG faces many obstacles in its path to win a pending referendum and mend the infrastructure and administration in the country. The economy, resources and commerce of the region is in a poor state. The government is facing problems in financing the incomes of the people in many conclaves, as individuals are only receiving about half of their monthly salaries. The KRG is also working on improving the transparency and accountability of state financial institutions and businesses in the region to regulate the channeling of public funds.

Even though unemployment has peaked at more than 13.5 percent due to labor immobility and the lack of labor market reforms, the World Bank is still spearheading reform plans for the future. The Iraqi Kurds face a rather uncertain future ahead of them, given the clamorous events of the past and present. Self- determination has been an unavailing right for many. In a landmark move, a referendum is being called for Kurdish independence from Iraq.

However, the referendum is being eyed with a great degree of skepticism from the U.N., Iran, Turkey, Iraq and the United States. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi is demanding a suspension to the referendum scheduled to be held on September 25, given the precarious position the region is currently in. Many are reminded of the Arab-Israeli conflicts that still impact many countries in the Middle East.

Many leaders have expressed that the referendum vote could potentially destabilize the region further, threaten Kurdish minorities and negatively affect the campaign against ISIS. Russia remains a strong ally of the Iraqi Kurds and is a major contributor to Kurdish oil and gas revenue. This will help bolster the region’s economic potential. Israel also remains another country pledging their support for the vote.

Furthermore, supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ right to establishing a sovereign state could also create safe zones and conclaves. This could effectually deal with the refugee crisis plaguing Iraq currently and help offer a more sustainable solution to the problem in the long run.

Contrary to what many entities believe, the vote could prove to be successful in ushering more progress and development, both socially and economically. It can also pave the way for improved relations in the region and put an end to the suppression of Kurds in many landlocked regions in the Middle East and finally liberate an important minority group.

-Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rates in IraqIn 2010 the poverty rate in Iraq was on the decline, showing a decrease from 23 percent to 19 percent in 2013, according to Iraq Ministry of Planning spokesperson Abdul Zahra al-Hindawi. However, the current war with the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has caused a significant number of people to flee from the northern and western parts of the country.

After the war in Iraq, the county was left decimated by poverty. Prior to the Iraq war the percentage of Iraqi people living in slums was approximately 20 percent. At the end of the Iraq war that percentage dramatically rose to 53 percent due to structural damage to many facilities and the mass displacement of civilians.

Following the crippling of its economy and infrastructure, Iraq worked to rebuild and to reduce its poverty rate, which was considered by most to be alarmingly high. However, entering the vacuum created by the withdrawal of U.S. troops emerged another enemy in the war on poverty, the Islamic State. In 2014, the poverty rate of the country resurged to 22.5 percent, almost eclipsing the progress that had previously been made.

After examining the poverty rates in Iraq, it becomes clear there are two main contributors to the rise of poverty in unison with the emergence of ISIS: the need to divert funding to fighting ISIS, an overarching lack of cashflow, and the high poverty rates within ISIS-controlled territory.

With the continued presence and aggression seen from ISIS, the Iraqi government has been forced to divert a significant portion of its funds to anti-ISIS military measures. This has hurt the Iraqi people by diverting funds that could otherwise be invested into state-run aid programs meant to further the fight against poverty.

In a uniquely contrasting situation, 99 percent of government revenue in Iraq is produced by the country’s oil sector. The oil sector only employs around 1 percent of the country’s population, however, leaving the remainder of the Iraqi economy to struggle to fill the remaining gap. Due to the sharp decline in the price of a barrel of oil, the country revenues have sharply declined, most noticeably felt by the construction industry.

The head of services and construction provincial committee Ghalib al-Zamili explained that the “fiscal deficit has led to the freezing of most of [the] infrastructure projects” in Baghdad. In total, this adds to “more than 750 infrastructure projects that have been halted.”

Territory occupied by ISIS also faces heightened levels of poverty in comparison to the rest of the country, significantly anchoring the poverty rates in Iraq. Poverty rates in regions controlled by ISIS are reported to be 41 percent in comparison to the already-high 22.5 percent seen in the rest of the country.

Numerous issues that have caused the poverty rates in Iraq to significantly increase. While some of the issues present require prolonged military action to resolve, such as the presence of the Islamic State, others can be and should be a focal point of U.S. foreign aid spending.

Garrett Keyes

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights In YemenYemen is a nation located in Western Asia at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is also the second-largest country in the region and has a population of around 25.5 million people. Due to the unstable nature of the nation’s government coupled with the influence of insurgent groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, human rights in Yemen is a topic that needs to be discussed for it to move from a developing nation to a developed one.

Human Rights In Yemen

Due to the influence of extremist Islamic groups in this region of the world, Yemen struggles to ensure the rights of its women. As a result, human rights in Yemen are not yet where they need to be.

Even though the Yemeni Constitution of 1994 states that women have equal rights as men, the country still struggles to provide this for all women. Yemen’s Personal Status law gives women fewer rights than men and excludes women from decision making and deprives them access and control over their resources and assets.

On top of this, women in Yemen do not have the right to initiate divorce in the same way a man can. Women must first go to court and justify to the public why divorce is imperative to their safety. Yemen has a horrible record of child marriage. According to a UNICEF study in 2005, 48.4 percent of women in Yemen were married before the age of 18. Worse yet, it was only in 2010 that a new law stated the minimum age for marriage in the country was 17.

Freedom Of The Press

Yemen ranks at 136 out of 167 nations in regards to its press freedom. The government has total control over all television and can ban anything that they deem to be releasing “incorrect” information. To further explain the severity of this situation, a journalist in the newspaper Al-Shura criticized Abdul Majeed al-Zindani in a 2001 newspaper. As a result of this action, this journalist was sentenced to 80 lashes.

Freedom of the press is a luxury that many individuals in the West take for granted. If human rights in Yemen are to improve, the ability to publish information without the threat of violence must first be allowed.

Freedom Of Religion

Due to the immense influence of insurgent groups in the region, freedom of religion is hard to attain. The constitution of the country declares Islam as the state religion and uses Sharia law as the source of all governmental legislation. Although Yemen does allow people to practice any religion, a citizen of Yemen is not authorized to convert to another religion if they are currently Muslim.

Different religious groups in the region often get into conflicts and attacks on Jews in Yemen are commonplace. Since the start of the Shia insurgency in the Middle East, many Zaidi Muslims were accused of supporting them. This accusation led to these groups being arrested, beaten, and at times murdered under false accusations. For human rights in Yemen to improve, and to allow people to have the freedom of religion that the Constitution dictates, significant change must occur in the region.

Progress Is Being Made

Although human rights in Yemen are not ideal at this point in time, the government of Yemen is doing much work to fix this issue. Recently, Yemen has been involved in numerous treaties to repair the state of human rights in the country.

Continued political support of these treaties is one way human rights in Yemen can continue to improve. On top of this, attention from the media in countries with freedom of the press will continue to pressure the government of Yemen to improve these conditions.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr