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WMU Student Worries as Fighting Rages in Kurdistan

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The “Islamic State” crisis in the Middle East may seem a distant concern to many people in this country. But for at least one student at Western Michigan University, it literally hits home. Dlawar Mohammad Abdulraham lives in safety here in U.S. But he knows that his family back home in Iraqi Kurdistan lives a completely different life – one full of terror, worry, and the fight to stay alive.

“My family is in Erbil. Two weeks ago ISIL was very close to Erbil and last night I hear the news that ISIL wanted to attack the airport that’s in our city and people, when they saw videos about ISIL beheading people, they were scared.”

ISIL (the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant") has already beheaded two American journalists and an aid worker from Britain and threatens to kill more hostages. Islamic State forces are also accused of persecuting and killing Shiite Muslims as well as Christians and members of other religious minorities. Abdulraham says he knows why ISIL invaded Kurdistan:  "Terrorist want to attack the Kurdistan region because the Kurdistan region, since 2003, is the safest place in Iraq.”

But the safest place in Iraq is now run by one of the world’s most dangerous organizations. Abdulraham says it’s an organization that doesn’t spare lives and destroys anything standing in its way. “The ISIL organization is very dangerous; they are coming and attacking people, especially the civil people. They are slaving, they are looting many places, and unfortunately when they go to anyplace they damage the places.”

That sounds a lot like Al-Qaeda ten years ago. Some American officials say ISIL poses little direct threat to the U.S., unlike Al Qaeda before 9/11. But that doesn’t reassure Abdulraham.  “ISIL was a part of Al Qaeda but after some events that happened between ISIL and Al Qaeda, they separate. Now they want to build a country and they are unfortunately now more dangerous than Al Qaeda...we see they are beheading people. ISIL is much more dangerous than Al Qaeda (was) in (those) days.”

Many of ISIL’s leaders served in Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army before the second Gulf War, or were officials in his ruling party. They include ISIL’s top commander Abu Bakr. Abdulraham says the conflict now raging in Iraq and northern Syria might never have started if Abu Bakr had not been released from U.S. custody in 2009. “After freedom he did much worse and very bad than before. And we see now in days his fighters do very badly, (more than they did) in the past.”

Abdulraham says the Kurdish Peshmerga troops don’t have the weapons needed to regain full control of their region. Abdulraham says all he can do is hope other countries provide those weapons so the Peshmerga can fight back. “We hope countries support Peshmerga and give them the weapons to solve the problems happening now.”

The U.S. and France have launched air strikes in support of Kurdish and Iraqi government forces. And other countries have promised other kinds of military aid. But President Obama says the U.S. won’t put “boots on the ground” by sending American troops to fight the Islamic State directly.

Abdulraham says knowing what his family and hometown are going through daily makes him sad because he knows there’s nothing he can do about it. With each phone call he receives from his family comes worry - worry that he hopes will soon fades away and that Kurdistan will again become “the safest place in Iraq.”

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