Safe zone for ISIS genocide victims in Iraq can protect region from Iran

Safe zone for ISIS genocide victims in Iraq can protect region from Iran
© Getty

It is rare that a national security interest overlaps with a compelling humanitarian crisis. This convergence is precisely what has emerged with American national security and humanitarian interests in northern Iraq. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report Russia vetoes US-led effort to renew chemical weapons inquiry in Syria Pentagon official: US to cut contributions to UN peacekeeping missions MORE, should seize this moment and call upon the United Nations to establish a safe zone (or safe haven or protected zone) for the communities ravaged by ISIS in northern Iraq.  

Swift action is needed to save these communities. Such an endeavor would coincide with an urgent international security imperative: checking the expansion of Iran in the Middle East.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Christians, Yezidis, and others in Iraq have been devastated by war for a generation, which culminated in what Secretary Tillerson, his predecessor, and the U.S. Congress have designated “genocide.”  These communities, many of whom are loyal and natural allies of the United States, have escaped the scourge of ISIS only to fall into the shadow of Iran. These victims seek only to rebuild their lives, economies, and communities in peace.

There is work underway — in the Congress and elsewhere — to rebuild, revitalize, and secure these communities.  But it is not happening with sufficient haste — and may not happen at all without the moral leadership of America. 

The U.S. is in a unique position to lead the UN in the establishment of a safe zone and multilateral force  In the summer of 1995, the U.S. took on a leadership role to end the war in Bosnia. Two decades later, the peace there — however imperfect — still holds.  

There were then, as there would be now, a blend of UN and multinational coalition forces. This is also an opportunity to redirect the energies of the UN toward the ends for which it was created. An international safe zone will help Iraq peacefully shepherd northern Iraq through what is likely to be an unstable period. The UN and the coalition to defeat ISIS should fill the void left by ISIS to create a positive model for local self-government that may inform political transitions in other parts of Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East. 

Much blood — American and Iraqi, Christian and Muslim — has been shed for freedom in Iraq. Very few forces would be required on the ground, since the area has already been secured by U.S. forces and its allies in the Anti-ISIL coalition. 

What is required for administrative, juridical, and economic functions to take hold in these communities is to be liberated from the immediate threat—Iran. The presence of a multinational coalition force would likely be sufficient to deter Iranian aggression. The coalition could then set to work training local, indigenous security forces as non-military civilian partners from coalition nations provide the economic, governance, and other revitalization measures to stabilize and strengthen these communities. 

There are already U.S. and other coalition forces on the ground in northern Iraq. The force required to deter external aggression would be small. It is also worth noting that these communities in Northern Iraq were rarely covered in the news from 2003 until 2014, when ISIS conquered them.  This is because they were peaceful, productive, and proven allies of the United States. They have suffered much for that alliance. This is no time to abandon them to Iran.

The situation is made all the more urgent by the recent Kurdish vote for independence. Sectarian tensions are rising and the minority communities of Northern Iraq are likely to become vulnerable to the stronger powers that surround them.

For these reasons, Ambassador Haley should call upon the UN Secretary General to establish a safe zone, for a stated period, to foster economic revitalization, stable governance, and security. The UN has a duty to protect Northern Iraq's indigenous peoples. It can also promote stability and security in the Middle East by preventing Iranian expansion to the Mediterranean Sea. Such a zone would also be a bulwark against Iranian-backed militias in Northern Iraq.  

Andrew Doran is a senior advisor for In Defense of Christians. Robert Nicholson is the executive director of the Philos Project. Stephen Hollingshead is the managing director of IraqHaven.org. Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.