FROM THE FIELD: This is an update from our friends with the Free Burma Rangers, a group of Christian aid workers who provide humanitarian assistance in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Here is what the director of the group, David Eubank, had to say after returning from a visit to Iraq just a few weeks ago. The situation for Christians and other citizens remains precarious, with many not wanting to return home without knowing who will be in charge of their provinces in the future, and what sorts of protections they can expect. Continue praying for all involved:
My family, team and I just concluded our most recent trip to visit old and new friends in the Iraqi government as well as Kurds, Christians and Yezidis. We reconnected with friends that we have worked with for years and noticed several trends.
The Middle East is in serious turmoil and needs our prayer and resources, now more than ever.
1. Keep praying for the people of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and for all people in Iraq.
2. The U.S., with Iraqi Government guidance, should try to work with the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These forces are under the Iraqi government and were formed to stop the onslaught of ISIS and liberate occupied Iraq. While they receive support from Iran, most PMU consider themselves independent from Iran and subordinate to the Iraqi government. The PMUs are one of the keys to the future of Iraq and most can be our friends. We worked closely with many of these PMUs in the battle against ISIS and feel that they exist to save Iraq and that they are motivated primarily by their faith and patriotism. While we have heard reports of atrocities, we never saw any with the different PMUs we worked with. It is true that Iran wants to expand its power in Iraq and the Middle East and gain a land bridge to the Mediterranean Sea. It is also true that they want to use the PMUs to further their objectives and they encourage an anti-American attitude. However the U.S. should not paint the PMUs with a broad brush but find those we can be friends with such the Badr organization, which is one of the largest. The leader of the Badr PMU, Hadi Al Amiri, whom we met in Baghdad, had this to say about Iran:
“We feel a spiritual connection with Iranian people since the Islamic revolution that removed the Shah. Also, Iran helped us when we were in great danger from ISIS. We do not push away people who have helped us. We share a 1,400 kilometer border with Iraq, what do you want us to do, move our country? Finally, we will not be dominated by Iran or the United States but we want to be friends with both.”
3. The U.S. should continue working alongside all in Iraq – the Iraqis, Kurds, Yezidi, Christians, Turkmen and other minorities to help rebuild Iraq.
The United States needs to clearly take BOTH sides in the conflict; not just siding with the Kurds or Iraqis. Saying “we are not taking sides” means that whoever is stronger will win and signals to others, such as Iran, that we really do not know what to do, nor will we always act with honor. Half commitment means we will have full trouble and no ability to resolve any conflicts. Full commitment means we will use all appropriate resources to help find solutions. Full commitment also means we want to be friends who love the Iraqis, Kurds and all in Iraq. We need to find ways to help find compromise and our role in this should be one of cooperation, not domination.
4. The Kurds have developed one of the most free societies in the Middle East, have been loyal friends (no American soldier was killed in Kurdistan prior to ISIS), have borne more than their share of the fight against ISIS for the world, and are the largest people group without a country in the world.
At the same time the Iraqis have been our friends and partners in the same fight against ISIS, we share a long history, and we need to support them – but without abandoning the Kurds. When we abandon people, it is not only dishonorable but others will come to fill the void. We heard from our Kurd friends many times on this trip:
“We should have never trusted the Americans, we should have been close to the Iranians and Russians instead.”
“We wanted to be close to America but you pushed us away and abandoned us. What can we do?”
During the campaign against ISIS, the Kurds liberated hundreds of kilometers of ground from ISIS and took numerous towns and cities – most importantly Kirkuk, a center of oil production for both Iraqis and Kurds. After ISIS was defeated, the Kurds overwhelmingly supported a referendum for independence from Iraq. The Iraqis were angered by this and what they felt was over-reach by the Kurds and forced the Kurds out of Kirkuk and other areas. They also shut down international flights to Kurdistan and began to press the Kurds to turn over their Syrian and Turkish border crossings.
We drove from Irbil to the new/old front line looking over Basheeqa and other towns that the Kurds had won in blood, then lost when the U.S. did not support their call for independence nor stop the Iraqi advance. On the Iraqi side it is felt that the Kurds asked for and took too much. On the Kurd side it is felt they were abandoned and lost what was rightfully theirs.
On the new front we met with Kurd Peshmerga soldiers with whom we had worked for three years; these were bitter, sad but sweet meetings. It was bitter for the Kurds who had just lost so much and sad for both of us because of our friends lost in battle. In the end it was sweet in that we were back together and our bonds of love had only grown deeper.
Up at the front positions we met with Kurd generals Alfandi, Nooradin, Mutaa and Bahram – all great leaders with whom we had worked and lived and served closely – and with whom we had lost mutual friends. They were all glad to see us but were disappointed at America’s inaction and unwillingness to help.
Everywhere we went along the front we heard:
“America betrayed us, you did treason to us, we used to be friends but no more.”
“Our friendship is broken forever, we cannot trust America.”
“I could not eat or sleep for a week after you betrayed us and did not help us in the face of the Iraqi attack.”
The U.S. should not trade a long-term relationship with the Kurds for a short-term relationship with the Iraqis. We need a long-term relationship with both, and this is only possible by honoring our promises, defending our friends, and putting ourselves not above but as equals in our relationship with all in Iraq. Our military has done a great job helping to defeat ISIS, and our diplomats in making friends. We need to deepen these friendships and this can only be done if we come together as equals to find a solution agreeable to all.
David Eubank, a former U.S. Army Special Forces and Ranger officer, is the founder and leader of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian service movement for oppressed ethnic minorities of all races and religions in the Burma, Kurdistan and Sudan war zones. Along with relief, his personal mission is to share the love of Jesus Christ and to help people be free from oppression. FBR teams are comprised of men and women of different ethnicities and faiths that are united for freedom by the bond of love and service. David, his wife Karen and their three children: Sahale, 15; Suzanne, 13; and Peter, 10; work alongside the 70 ethnic FBR relief teams in the conflict areas of Burma giving help, hope and love and recently began relief missions to help the Kurds under attack by ISIS in Iraq. FBR also conducts relief missions in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The Eubank family started the Global Day of Prayer for Burma and the Good Life Club family outreach program.