What’s Really Happening in Iraq—Our Take

Street sign for Mosul, Iraq.

The truth is, nobody perfectly understands what’s really happening.

We’ve watched along with the rest of the world as shocking events unfolded in Iraq this past week. We’ve been slow to respond publicly for multiple reasons, including a calculated decision to allow the fog to clear and facts to emerge so our response will, at least, do no harm.

Furthermore, some of our dearest friends and Iraqi colleagues whom we’ve been training are on the front lines of this week’s developments, and we chose to prioritize our current work and relationships.

Meanwhile, everyone is making pronouncements and predictions. ISIS spokesmen say they will march to Karbala and overtake Baghdad. The Iraqi government claims to have retaken (at least parts) of Tikrit, Mosul, and smaller towns largely unmentioned in most Western media. But evidence to confirm these claims has been (at the time of this writing) shaky at best. Suggestive headlines about the “end of Iraq” get more clicks than their more nuanced, long-winded counterparts, but again—nobody knows.

Here are a few things we’d like you to consider:

1. We condemn radical ideologies and sectarian subjugation

This requires a much longer conversation, but suffice it to say that the “ISIS Crisis” is actually a mishmash of (at least) tribal elements, Islamic extremists, recently released criminals, and secular, exiled Ba’athists ranging from war criminals to mere party members who were branded by the de-Ba’athification policy after the fall of Saddam. They have temporarily found a common cause in the destabilization of Iraq and the desire to overthrow the current Shia-led government for policies that many Sunnis, ranging from secular liberal to religious conservatives, believe to be purposefully sectarian.

Too many pundits this week have tried to force us to take sides in the blame game. For many, this must be (1) all President Obama’s fault; (2) all President Bush’s fault; (3) all [radical] Islam’s fault; or (4) all Maliki’s fault.

We have many friends across Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, and Christian communities in Iraq nationwide. And just as there were systemic realities in place under Saddam Hussein to suppress Kurds and Shia Arabs, there are systemic realities—created and maintained by Western, Iranian, and domestic Iraqi forces—that have contributed to the plight of Sunnis for years.

Believing they were out of options for peaceful protest, too many Sunnis have thrown caution to the wind and allied themselves with ideologically driven, radical militants who say they will stop at nothing until they achieve their campaign of religious cleansing.

We condemn the radical ideologies that have contributed to decades of conflict in and around Iraq. We condemn the sectarian subjugation of the Shia, Kurdish, and Christian peoples under Saddam Hussein that sowed the seeds of conflict decades ago. We condemn the extreme application of de-Ba’athification and anti-terror policies that implicated so many innocent Sunni men, women, and children since 2003. And we condemn the morally depraved radical Islamists who take the name of GOD in vain and smear the reputation of 1.5 billion peaceful Muslims around the world in their pursuit of power and control.

2. Our Iraqi partners and the children we serve are at risk

We have had the great joy and privilege of working in some of the cities and hospitals that have been most affected by the recent violence. You have helped us save the lives of Christian and Muslim; Kurdish, Arab, Yazidi, Chaldean, and Assyrian children from Tal Affar, Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Samarra, Fallujah, and beyond.

plc gift card

All of the doctors and nurses with whom we work are safe to the best of our knowledge, as many of them fled to nearby towns or large cities. Some report staying in schools, living for weeks at a time in hotels, or living in tiny apartments with multiple families.

Even so, many are still caught in no-man’s-land between the advancing militants and the Iraqi Security Forces.

3. PLC staff, volunteers, & interns are safe

Thank you for your concern, your prayers, your encouragement, calls, and messages. We are glad that you are worked up and concerned. Please take your concern and outrage and use it on behalf of our friends here who have fewer resources and fewer options for retreat than we have.

If you can pray, pray. Pray for wisdom and renewed imagination for world leaders, and for people just like you who are fleeing their homes toward so much uncertainty. If you can give, give. We’ll keep using your generosity to provide lifesaving heart surgery—and to create space for people from these disparate groups to come together in the process. And if you can learn more about these places and events, we ask you to read diversely to better understand the many voices in this story.

4. Our work is carrying on

The headlines make it hard to see how this is possible, but Iraq is a large, diverse country. This conflict does not define everything that is going on everywhere.

Dr. Novick from the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) is back on the ground in Nasiriyah deep into year two of year-round training. Dr. Novick and his team have been tireless and courageous in their passion to see all Iraqi children have access to the lifesaving heart surgeries they need.

With your help, ICHF and PLC hope to safely provide 300+ heart surgeries for children this year while graduating the Iraqi team in Nasiriyah closer to complete surgical independence.

Click here to help send a child to her lifesaving heart surgery.

5. We still believe in preemptive love

You’ve heard the news: 30,000 Iraqi troops allegedly fled Mosul in the face of a mere 800 militants, shedding their uniforms in a forced renunciation of the Iraqi government, hiding their identity and relinquishing weapons to the enemy. And so the militant attacks advanced, largely unchecked, through Kirkuk, Tikrit, Baiji, Diyala, and so forth.

When we started Preemptive Love Coalition, it was about being a certain kind of people; about unmaking violence and remaking the world around us; about planning for peace while so many prepared for perpetual war.

For seven years we have stood our posts and given ourselves away—Christians and Muslims—to love our neighbors and enemies alike. We have seen the ground in front of us quake like this before. We have contemplated taking off our uniforms, denying our allegiance, and running away.

But as followers of Jesus, there is no denying that love is our job. And love is our joy.

Like the Iraqi military, we have been trained by some of the best on earth. But unlike the all-too-sectarian military, we have a vision, a dream, a set of convictions that unite and fuel us. That is to say, we’ve got our uniforms on and we are not leaving.

We have the “weapons” to unmake violence—we call it preemptive love. It is, at times, risky. And it doesn’t seem to work 100% of the time. But it is as powerful as anything else out there, and we will not relinquish it and run away (not yet at least).

The 2,100+ families here who have had their children seen—or even saved—by our partner doctors and nurses have seen the light drive the dark away before. And it is still happening all around Iraq today.

Don’t give up on Iraq. Don’t give up on preemptive love. There is still only one love big enough to change a nation—a love that strikes first.

With you,
Jeremy Courtney
Co-Founder, Executive Director