BASHIQA, Iraqi Kurdistan – Gone are the days of isolated war. Since the turn of the twentieth century, the world has been soaked in the blood of conflicts started by someone else, somewhere else.
The Great War wrestled Europe into a dogfight and wouldn’t end without involving transatlantic participation. The Second World War spread with the fire of kamikaze crashes and Nazi zeal, under skies blackened by the ashes billowing from chimneys attempting to hide the sin of extermination facilities.
Ideologically questionable conquests in the decades since have left us battle-weary and war-fatigued. No one wants another Vietnam or a second Iraq. I wonder if this has impaired our capacities to respond to this “greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation,” as the U.N. has termed the ongoing Syrian conflict. Even President Barack Obama recently stated no one wanted to intervene in “someone else’s civil war.”
Yet Assad’s barrel bombs bled his country into other continents, and international coalition forces are presently recapturing ISIS’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. An American service member was killed in the line of duty last Thursday during this ongoing operation, alongside dozens of Iraqi Kurds who have sacrificed their lives to drive terrorists from their fledgling nation.
These men are my neighbors. Their wives and daughters live on my street and try to pass the days while their husbands, fathers and brothers load in dilapidated buses to head to the front line and contain this dastardly attempt at a Caliphate.
When my Frontier Alliance International colleagues and I moved to Iraqi Kurdistan in Spring 2016 to partner with the existing work of World Orphans, we were burdened by the plight of the Kurds who have preserved a proverb for generations: “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.”
We grieved for Syrians running out of places to hide. We ached for Yazidis who managed to survive Shingal. We remembered the international response to the MS St. Louis as Hitler’s blades began to carve up the European continent, and we wondered if we could do better. Perhaps we could be better friends than mountains.
This historic campaign to retake Mosul earned mention in last week’s final presidential debate, wherein neither candidate offered more than a cursory glance at their positions and potential strategies—though we did manage something better than “What is Aleppo?” (though only just).
Any result of our upcoming election will have far-reaching and irreparable consequences on, of course, our own nation—and everything beyond it as well. This world at large is knit by more than viral hashtags and Netflix indulgences. Foreign policy cannot be overlooked or overstated.
Mosul’s liberation is the tree. What follows is the forest. If the last five years of the Syrian Civil War have produced the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the Shoah, we must brace ourselves for another wave of unprecedented human suffering as up to one million more refugees are expected to flee Mosul over the course of the offensive.
In the midst of our relief work in Iraqi Kurdistan, my colleagues shot a documentary film over the course of a few months entitled Better Friends than Mountains—referencing that ancient Kurdish proverb as a challenge, particularly for evangelical Christians to answer the cries of those who feel forgotten.
The liberation of Mosul, expected to last months, will be neither a neat nor tidy exchange of power and resource. The world will be forced to grapple with Aleppo’s deterioration and Mosul’s simultaneous destruction. We will no doubt be surprised to find how far the consequences reach.