Initially, we had talked with Joseph Kassab in July 2014 about the situation in Iraq for the Christian minorities. We followed that up with a follow-on interview on the evolving Iraq situation in early June 2015. Then at the end of August 2015, we continued the conversation about the fluid and difficult situation in Iraq, notably for the minorities.
Since we last talked, two notable events are unfolding. The agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons has been announced and the migratory wave from the Middle East and the Mediterranean into Europe is part of the deepening crisis within Europe itself.
We have included a biography of Mr. Kassab at the end of this article, but his ties in the country provide him with a regular flow of updated information and it is about that situation which we discussed with him.
We started by getting an update on the situation for the Iraq Christians. Kassab made it clear that the crisis was deep and profound, and was resulting in the majority of Iraqi Christians fleeing the country.
“Before the war, there were 1.4 million Christians in the country; now there are less than 200,000. Isis has attacked the heartland of Christianity in Iraq which is the Nineveh Plain.”
This has led to a significant humanitarian crisis, and Kassab and other Iraqi expatriates are working hard with private organizations, including Jewish ones in the United States, as well as governments in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the United States to provide ways to help Iraqi Christians emigrate. The least enthusiastic has been the Administration and the US government.
When we spoke earlier, it was clear that a policy which failed to recognize the central role of the Kurds and of their military force, the Peshmerga, in fighting ISIS and protecting minorities would not defeat ISIS. The Peshmerga are short of money, and of arms, both because arms and money are still flowing to the Iraqi government as well as oil revenue. And the Iraqi government due to long standing corruption and strategic policy to isolate Kurdistan is doing little to help.
The problem for the US and its allies is simply that the Peshmerga know how to fight; the Iraqi government does not.
Now the US is using Turkish bases to prosecute the fight, but Turkey is at best an ambiguous player in this fight, and certainly is no friend of the Kurds. Kassab added that the President of Kurdistan has offered a former Iraqi air base to the US and its allies from which to fight ISIS, a move which would not only reinforce the relationship with Kurdistan but be recognized instantly by ISIS as a significant threat to their activity in Iraq.
“We really do prefer that we use it for the Kurdistan itself rather than coming from Turkey because this will give a lot more strength to the Kurds.”
The humanitarian crisis is in some ways similar to what faced the Vietnamese in the 1970s but unlike in the 1970s, the Administration is not going out of its way to help the Iraqi minorities, notably the Christians.
The Christians are doing what they can to defend themselves, and former US Marines have come to their aid to come in country to train and support the effort to fight ISIS. But the groups are small but dedicated. These units are called Nineah Plain Protection Units.
There are Congressman and Senators in the U.S. seeking to provide funding for these units and for the Peshmerga. The efforts of Congressman Fortenberry and Senators McCain and Ernst were particularly highlighted by Kassab.
ISIS is using its brutality – notably burning people alive – to spread fear and to enhance its ability to make inroads in the country.
Unfortunately, from Kassab’s point of view, an agreement with Iran on nuclear issues has been forged in the midst of the Iraq crisis. Iranian influence is significant in Iraq and growing. And with the agreement’s intended release of billions of dollars to the Iranian government, this money can be spent on the fight in Iraq and in the region.
“The Iranians are good people; their leaders are not and it is the leaders who will receive the money released under the agreement who will undoubtedly use part of this money to fight what they consider their enemies, other Muslims, Christians, the Israelis and the West.”
And the air war is really not a serious one to defeat Isis.
“When the attack was on Saddam Hussein, we were looking at 1000 to 2500 sortie a day. Now we are looking at 100 to 150 per day or even less. And this is without boots on the ground as well, which does not send a serious message to ISIS or Iran.”
And the Saudis are very worried about what they see as well, and believe that Iran is engaged in a flanking action in Iraq, which can allow them to enhance their pressure on the Saudis as well as Iranian influence in the region.
Biography of Joseph Kassab
He was born in Telkaif- Nineveh, Northern Iraq in 1952 to a Chaldean Catholic family. In 1975 earned his undergraduate degree with excellence from College of Science-University of Baghdad.
This qualified him for graduate studies program at College of Medicine-University of Baghdad to again become the first on his class and earn in 1979 Master of Science degree in Medical Microbiology and Immunology under the auspices of the Royal College of Medicine-UK .
He was then hired as assistant professor at the same college, but the regime in Iraq demanded that he joins the ruling party, when he refused he was threatened and his position was downgraded.
When the threats continued and the intimidations intensified he decided to flee Iraq and join in Rome, Italy his two brothers, a pharmacist and an engineer who earlier faced similar challenges to seek asylum. Later on in 1980 they were resettled in the U.S as refugees.
In the U.S, Joseph continued his education by acquiring Graduate Certificate (GC) in Community Education Leadership from Wayne State University, under the auspices of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in Washington D.C.
He also pursued an intensive curriculum in political science at Wayne State University.
While doing all of this he worked for 25 years as Bio-medical researcher and instructor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine.
He is currently the Chief Science Officer of Nano-Engineering and Consulting Co.
From 2005-2012, he served as the Executive Director of the Chaldean Federation of America (CFA) where he has dealt with a number of issues affecting Iraqi Christians in Iraq. He started his advocacy, consultancy, and humanitarian work on the plight of the Christians of Iraq and the Middle East since his arrival in the United States in 1980.
For earlier articles of interest, please see the following: