“They came to my village and destroyed it and killed all the people – men, women and children – for no reason but being Kurdish,” said an old man to me on a visit to Iraq last week. I was there with the House of Commons Defence Committee visiting troops and government in Kurdistan, Baghdad and then Jordan. It was odd to be there so close to Christmas – hearing all the old names and being so close to Christ’s birthplace. The wicked murders across the North of Iraq – in Mosul, Tikrit and in so many little towns and villages brought to mind Herod’s villainous massacre of the first-born in an attempt to pre-empt any possible new ‘King of the Jews.’ Politics in the Middle East has not changed much in 2000 years.
We were there to visit British troops on the ground – training the brave Peshmerga fighters; to speak to the Kurdish and Iraqi Governments about the war with ISIS, or Da’ish as they prefer to call them, which is a mild insult in Arabic; and then for various meetings in Damman, including with the impressive king, HM Abdullah II.
I came away with a few clear thoughts. There can be no doubt, first of all, about the evil which is the Da’ish. Their pretence at religion is a cover for some of the worst atrocities known to mankind. They are an abomination, and if they are not dealt with they will change the pattern of history for the next generation, most certainly in the Middle East, but also through terrorism, of the West as well. They are without doubt the greatest threat which any of us have faced at least since the Second World War, and we must be in no doubt about that in our determination to deal with them.
Second, however, they must be destroyed not by any kind of Western coalition, as we so foolishly tried in 2003 against Saddam. This must be a Muslim war - a war of Muslim good against extremist evil. Western troops in combat would allow it to become an Islam against the infidel war, which is exactly what Da’ish would like us to do.
But short of that we must be ready to do all we can to help the courageous Peshmerga, who have halted Da’ish in their tracks, using in many cases only ancient weapons and the most basic of equipment and tactics. They need supplies (we have given them 40 heavy machine guns so far, but they need so much else, including basics like helmets and body armour); and they need training. That is both in basic infantry skills, which I was glad to see being trained near Sulaymaniyah with the expertise of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment; but also in counter-roadside bomb skills which we have learned so well in Afghanistan. One tactic of the Da’ish is to take over villages and then apparently withdraw, allowing the population to return to what they discover are terribly booby-trapped homes.
And they also need help with the million refugees in Kurdistan, and similar numbers elsewhere. The weather will turn cold very soon, and we could be facing a humanitarian crisis of Biblical proportions.
We in the West simply cannot stand by and watch these terrible events unfold. As we think of Christmas and all it means, we owe the descendants of Christ’s friends and relations whatever help and relief we can provide them. That will be the true spirit of this Christmas time.