TIME Viewpoint

China’s Silent War on Terror

Chinese soldiers patrolling in old Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, July 30, 2014.
Chinese soldiers patrol in Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on July 30, 2014 Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

A virtual media blackout makes it hard to know what's happening as China tackles unrest among its Uighur Muslim minorities

On a clear, sunny morning last October, an SUV carrying three people turned right on to Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue, plowed through crowds gathered near the entrance to the Forbidden City and burst into flames at the northern edge of Tiananmen Square. The wreck killed five people, including three in the vehicle and two bystanders. Dozens more were injured.

Almost immediately, eyewitnesses started posting pictures. The photographs showed scenes of chaos in the heart of China’s capital: a plume of smoke rising in front of a portrait of Chairman Mao; the charred carapace of the vehicle resting at the foot of the ancient Gate of Heavenly Peace. Almost as quickly as the images were posted, however, they started to disappear. It became clear that the Chinese government, and the government alone, would tell this story.

Nearly a year later, they are still pulling the strings. On Aug. 24, state-backed media announced that three masterminds behind the incident were executed, alongside five other convicted terrorists. The report listed their names and charges, but did not mention when or how they were put to death, where they were held, in what conditions, or whether they were offered legal counsel. (State broadcaster CCTV did note, however, that Usmen Hasan, the driver of the SUV, once beat a middle-school teacher and was “feared” by his wife.)

Though some elements of the official account may well be true, the reporting is clearly selective — and impossible to confirm. Hasan, his wife and his mother were killed in the crash, and the others were held out of public view. Maya Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, says rights groups and foreign journalists have effectively been blocked from looking into the matter. “We are just as much in the dark about these individuals,” she says. “We have almost no independent information, except what the state press has released.”

The handling of the case is part of an effort to manage when, and how, China talks about terrorism. This past year has seen a wave of attacks, starting with the Tiananmen crash and moving, in bloody succession, to ambushes at train stations in Kunming and Urumqi in March and April, respectively. In late May, Urumqi was hit again, when attackers targeted a morning market, leaving dozens dead. Each was pinned, directly or indirectly, on “separatists” or “extremists” from Xinjiang. If and when details are released by state media, they tend to point toward a straightforward story of radicalization at the hands of overseas Islamic terrorist groups. And those reports are always followed by news of the government’s swift and effective response.

The reality is more complex. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which borders Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian nations, is claimed as the traditional homeland of the Turkic Uighur people — and as part of China. Since coming to power in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has sent waves of military personnel and migrants west to settle the area they call New Frontier. Many Uighurs resent the influx of ethnic Han Chinese and worry they are getting cut out of the region’s resource-driven economic boom.

A small minority of the Uighur population, meanwhile, has waged a decades-long fight against the central government, often targeting symbols of state power including police stations and government buildings. There have also been direct attacks on civilians. The ruling party has responded by beefing up security and trying to forcibly integrate the mostly Muslim Uighur population. In recent months, entire cities have been sealed off by police checkpoints. Some areas are trying to discourage, or outright ban, certain types of beards and veils.

This has not stopped the bloodshed. In July, violence broke out in Xinjiang’s Shache county (called Yarkand in the Uighur language). State media waited more than 24 hours before announcing the unrest. As soon as they did, conflicting accounts emerged, with the government saying the violence broke out after police foiled a terrorist plot, and exile Uighur groups saying police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against restrictions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a Uighur family. The state says 96 people were killed; Uighur groups claim the figure is much higher.

We might never know what happened there. The authorities moved quickly to restrict access to the area and pulled comments from the almost-always-out-of-service web. (In times of unrest, authorities slow, or stop, Internet traffic in Xinjiang; after the 2009 riots the entire region was without Internet for nine months.) Given China’s weak record on the rule of law — and the sensitivity of the case — it’s highly unlikely that there will be an impartial investigation, let alone a fair trial. People on the ground in Xinjiang are rightly frightened that they will be punished if they comment. According to Radio Free Asia, a nonprofit media group, one blogger was already arrested for “spreading rumors” about the number of deaths.

Perhaps in 10 months we will finally hear more about the people involved in the incident. Like those killed in Beijing, Kunming, and Urumqi, the people who died in Yarkand deserve justice. The question is, what kind of justice will it be?

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Syria

Dempsey: We Will Act If Islamic Group Threatens U.S.

(ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT) — Gen. Martin Dempsey said Sunday that once he determines the Islamic State militants in Iraq have become a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, he will recommend the U.S. military move directly against the group in Syria.

But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that right now, he still believes the insurgent group is still more a regional threat and is not plotting or planning attacks against either the U.S. or Europe.

Speaking on a military plane en route to Afghanistan, Dempsey provided more detail into his thinking about the Islamic militants who have stormed across Iraq, operating out of safe havens in Syria.

Dempsey did not rule out strikes for any other critical reasons, but listed a homeland threat as one of the key triggers for any military action in Syria.

So far, the Obama administration has restricted its military action against the militants to specific operations within Iraq, but concerns have increased as the Islamic State group extended its reach, taking control of a swath of land stretching from Syria across the border and deep into western and northern Iraq.

The group took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June, and has since declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, in territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.

Dempsey also told reporters traveling with him that he believes that key allies in the region — including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia — will join the U.S. in quashing the Islamic State group.

“I think ISIS has been so brutal, and has wrapped itself in a radical religious legitimacy that clearly threatens everybody I just mentioned, that I think they will be willing partners,” said Dempsey, expressing optimism for the first time that the Arab nations would join in the conflict. ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State group.

He contrasted the Islamic State group to the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted and attempted attacks against the U.S. and Europe. As a result, the U.S. has conducted counterterrorism strikes against the group within Yemen.

Dempsey said that so far, there is no sign that the Islamic State militants are engaged in “active plotting against the homeland, so it’s different than that which we see in Yemen.”

“I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it,” said Dempsey. “I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it.”

He added that those regional partners could come together and squeeze the Islamic State group “from multiple directions in order to initially disrupt and eventually defeat them. It has to happen with them, much less with us.”

Up to now, when asked about airstrikes inside Syria, Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have said all options remain on the table. But so far there has been no broader authorization for such operations.

The Obama administration has authorized airstrikes within Iraq to protect U.S. personnel and facilities and to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces assist refugees driven from their homes by the Islamic State. Most of the recent strikes have been around the Mosul Dam, which Islamic militants had taken, but it is now back in the hands of the Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

Senior U.S. leaders, from the White House to the Pentagon, have said the key to success in Iraq is the formation of an inclusive government that will include disenfranchised Sunnis.

As the Islamic State militants moved across Iraq, some Sunnis — including some members of the Iraqi security forces — either threw down their weapons or joined the group.

The U.S. has been encouraged as new Iraqi leaders, including Shiite prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, begin to take steps to form a new government and reach out to Sunnis.

Officials have suggested that any additional military assistance from the U.S. to Iraq is contingent on those political and diplomatic steps by the government.

One possibility, said Dempsey, would be to have U.S. forces provide more expanded advice and assistance to the Iraqi force.

He said military assessment teams looked at about 50 Iraqi brigades and a number of the Kurdish units and have a good idea which ones have appropriate training and equipment and have not been infiltrated by militia.

So far, Dempsey said the U.S. has not sought or received permission to put advisers into Iraqi brigades or headquarters units and accompany them into combat.

To date, U.S. forces have conducted a total of 96 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those, 62 have been around the Mosul Dam.

The strikes have helps to break the insurgents’ momentum, said Dempsey, and strip away some of the mythology that the Islamic State is impregnable or overwhelming.

Dempsey is on his way to Afghanistan to attend a change of command ceremony Tuesday. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford is stepping down as the top commander there; Army Gen. John Campbell will take over.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine: Russian Tank Column Enters Southeast

(KIEV, Ukraine) — A column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has crossed into southeastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place, a top Ukrainian official said Monday.

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters that the column of 10 tanks, two armored vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk was shelled during the night from Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday he had no information about the column.

The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Although Mariupol is in Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region, most of the fighting between separatist rebels and Ukrainian troops has been well to the north, including around the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ largest stronghold. A full offensive in the south could draw Ukrainian forces away from the fight for Donetsk.

Lysenko said Mariupol has enough defenders “to repel any attack of uninvited guests.”

Ukraine has always said Russia is funding the rebels, a statement Russia has denied repeatedly.

Russia announced plans, meanwhile, to send a second aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting have left many residential buildings in ruins.

Russia’s unilateral dispatch of over 200 trucks into Ukraine on Friday was denounced by the Ukrainian government as an invasion and condemned by the United States, the European Union and NATO. Even though the white-tarpaulined tractor-trailers returned to Russia without incident on Saturday, the announcement of another convoy was likely to raise new suspicions that Russia is supplying the rebels.

Lavrov said Monday that Russia had notified the Ukrainian government it was preparing to send a second convoy along the same route in the coming days, but Lysenko said he had no information on that plan.

Lavrov also said the food, water and other goods delivered to the hard-hit rebel city of Luhansk was being distributed Monday and that Red Cross workers were assisting with talks on how best to distribute it. There was no immediate confirmation on that from the Red Cross.

In sending in the first convoy, Russia said it had lost patience with what it called Ukraine’s stalling tactics. It claimed that soon “there will no longer be anyone left to help” in Luhansk, where weeks of heavy shelling have cut off power, water and phone service and made food scarce.

The Ukrainian government in the past few weeks has been making strong gains, taking back territory from the rebels. It believed the aid convoy was a ploy by Russia to get supplies to the rebels and slow down the government advances.

On Sunday, as Ukraine celebrated the anniversary of its 1991 independence from Moscow, President Peter Poroshenko announced the government would be increasing its military spending in a bid to defeat the rebels.

In rebel-held Donetsk, captured Ukrainian soldiers were paraded Sunday through the streets, jeered by the crowd and pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

___

Peter Leonard in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report

TIME

Syrian F.M. Warns U.S. Against Airstrikes on Militants

(BEIRUT) — Syria’s foreign minister has warned the U.S. not to conduct airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State group without Damascus’ consent.

Walid al-Moallem says such an act “by anyone,” without the approval from President Bashar Assad’s government, would be a violation of Syrian sovereignty and would be considered an aggression.

But the top Syrian diplomat also said on Monday that Syria is ready to work with regional states and the international community in the war on terror amid the onslaught of Islamic militants.

Al-Moallem’s remarks at a press conference in Damascus marked the first public comments by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State, which has captured large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

Al-Moallem denounced the Islamic State’s killing of U.S. journalist James Foley.

TIME India

India’s ‘Untouchables’ Are Still Being Forced to Collect Human Waste by Hand

World's Dirtiest Job
Devi Lal, a 43-year-old manual scavenger, cleans drains in New Delhi on July 13, 2012 Sagar Kaul—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

They face violence, eviction and withheld wages if they do not take on the hazardous job of emptying private and public latrines

The practice of forcing low-caste people in Indian communities to remove accumulated human waste from latrines is continuing despite legal prohibitions and must be stopped, says a leading advocacy group.

In a report released Monday, the New York City–based Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed the practice of “manual scavenging” — the collecting of excrement from latrines by hand. The job is done by those considered to be of the lowest birth. These Dalits, or untouchables, often face threats of violence, eviction and withheld wages if they attempt to leave the trade.

“The first day when I was cleaning the latrines and the drain, my foot slipped and my leg sank in the excrement up to my calf,” Sona, a manual scavenger in Bharatpur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, told HRW. “I screamed and ran away. Then I came home and cried and cried. I knew there was only this work for me.”

Laws exist to curb this form of subjugation, yet it remains widespread across India. Dalit women typically collect waste from private homes, while the men do the more physically demanding, and hazardous, maintenance of septic tanks and public sewers. Many suffer injuries and serious health problems.

“The manual carrying of human feces is not a form of employment, but an injustice akin to slavery,” says Ashif Shaikh, founder of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a grassroots campaign to end manual scavenging. “It is one of the most prominent forms of discrimination against Dalits, and it is central to the violation of their human rights.”

HRW’s 96-page report, Cleaning Human Waste: ‘Manual Scavenging,’ Caste, and Discrimination in India, is based on more than 100 interviews with manual scavengers, and documents how these wretched people are coerced to collect human excrement on a daily basis, carrying it away in nothing more protective than a cane basket.

“People work as manual scavengers because their caste is expected to fulfill this role, and are typically unable to get any other work,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW. “This practice is considered one of the worst surviving symbols of untouchability because it reinforces the social stigma that these castes are untouchable and perpetuates discrimination and social exclusion.”

HRW called on the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enforce existing legislation aimed at assisting manual scavengers to find alternative, sustainable livelihoods.

“Successive Indian government attempts to end caste-based cleaning of excrement have been derailed by discrimination and local complicity,” adds Ganguly. “The government needs to get serious about putting laws banning manual scavenging into practice and assisting the affected caste communities.”

TIME Ukraine

Civil War Hangs Heavy Over Ukraine During Its Independence Day Celebrations

Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014.
Ukrainian forces parade during a military ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine's independence in Kiev on Aug. 24, 2014. Sergei Supinsky—AFP/Getty Images

Marches in Kiev take place amid new reports of Russian hardware finding its way into rebel hands

The increasingly bloody war carving up Ukraine was in the thoughts of many Sunday as the embattled nation observed a somber Independence Day.

In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave an impassioned address, praising the “warriors” fighting against foreign aggression.

“Never in 23 years has this day been so majestic as today. People have never celebrated it as sincerely as today,” said Poroshenko, as honor guards and battle-primed infantry, preparing to deploy to the front, stood ramrod straight.

“Ukraine will never again celebrate this holiday under [the] military-historical calendar of the neighboring country. We will honor defenders of our motherland, not someone else’s!” roared Poroshenko.

Following the speech, a military band led a column of troops, missile launchers and armor through Kiev’s Maidan Square in a pointed message to Moscow, days ahead of a meeting between Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Further east, in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, an entirely different scene played out, as pro-Russian separatists marched captured Ukrainian soldiers at gunpoint through the streets of Donetsk city.

Pedestrians responded to sight of the haggard prisoners of war with cries of “fascists” and some threw bottles at the POWs, according to Reuters.

“This is no independence day. This is a plague on our land, the fascists who have taken control of Kiev who are now shooting at hospitals and morgues,” one Donestk resident told the news agency.

Ukraine has been locked in bitter civil war for months in the wake of a pro-Moscow uprising in the country’s far east, following the Russian military’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March.

Kiev and Washington have accused the Putin Administration of providing arms and supplies to the separatists, including a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system that could have downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 in July with the loss of 298 lives.

On Friday, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes confirmed to reporters that forces within Russia were firing artillery into Ukraine and moving heavy weaponry across the border into rebel hands.

TIME France

French President Dissolves Government

France New Government
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, right, and Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg visit French defense and electronic company Thales in Gennevilliers, outside Paris, on April 10 Christophe Ena—AP

Hollande's approval ratings are in the teens

(PARIS) — French President François Hollande dissolved the government on Monday after an open feud in his Cabinet over the country’s stagnant economy.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls offered up his Socialist government’s resignation after accusing the economy minister of crossing a line with his blunt criticism of the government’s policies. Hollande accepted the resignation and ordered Valls to form a new government by Tuesday.

France has had effectively no economic growth this year and Hollande’s approval ratings are in the teens. The country is under pressure from the European Union to get its finances in order, but Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has questioned whether the austerity pressed by the EU will kick start French growth.

“A major change in our economy policy,” was what Montebourg had said was needed from the president and prime minister.

With those words, Montebourg drew the anger of the Socialist leadership, which said Montebourg’s job was to support the government, not criticize it from within.

“He’s not there to start a debate but to put France back on the path of growth,” Carlos Da Silva, the Socialist Party spokesman, told Le Figaro newspaper.

TIME Thailand

Thai Junta Leader Assumes Prime Minister Post

Prayuth Chan-ocha
General Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks after he accepted a written royal command issued by King Bhumibol Adulyadej certifying his appointment as the country's 29th Premier in Bangkok on Aug. 25, 2014 Thai Spokesman Office—AP

Prayuth, who is expected to name his Cabinet next month, has said elections could be held in 2015

(BANGKOK) — Thailand’s junta leader, who seized power in a military coup three months ago, officially assumed his new post as prime minister on Monday following an endorsement from the country’s monarch.

During a ceremony in Bangkok, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha accepted a written royal command issued by King Bhumibol Adulyadej certifying his appointment as the country’s 29th premier. Bhumibol, who is 86 and in poor health, was not present at the ceremony.

Thailand’s junta-appointed legislature voted overwhelmingly last week to name the 60-year-old army chief to the new post. He was the only candidate.

Prayuth is due to retire from the military next month and will hold both jobs until he does so.

On May 22, Prayuth oversaw a coup in which the military toppled Thailand’s elected civilian government. Analysts say his new post cements the military’s control of government.

The move was the latest in a series of moves by the junta to consolidate power on its own terms. In July, the military adopted a temporary 48-article constitution and appointed the legislature.

Prayuth, who is expected to name his Cabinet next month, has said elections could be held in 2015.

Prayuth has said the army had to stage the coup to end half a year of political deadlock between protesters and the government, and to stop sporadic protest-related violence that had killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds more. While stability has been restored, it has come at a steep price: Thailand’s democratic institutions have been entirely dismantled, and the country’s authoritarian rulers have crushed all dissent.

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a statement criticizing the deterioration of human rights in the country.

“Since the May coup, the generals have tightened rather than relaxed their grip on power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of the promised path back to democracy through free and fair elections, Thailand’s military seems to be opting for a road to dictatorship.”

“As both prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayuth can wield broad power without accountability,” Adams said. “This marks a dark day for human rights and the future of democracy in Thailand.”

Associated Press writer Todd Pitman contributed to this report

TIME infectious diseases

2 People Die of Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo

But the deaths are not related to the current outbreak in West Africa, health officials in Congo say

Two people have died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, though the cases may be unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 1,400 people.

Of eight samples taken in the Boende region of Congo’s northwest Equateur province, two came back positive, Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said Sunday, the Associated Press reports. Eleven people are sick and in isolation, and 80 contacts are being traced.

“This epidemic has nothing to do with the one in West Africa,” Kabange said.

Ebola has killed 13 people in the region, including five health workers. The current cases are part of the seventh outbreak of Ebola in Congo, where the disease was first discovered in 1976.

[AP]

TIME Iraq

ISIS Lays Siege to Iraqi Turkmen Village

IRAQ-UNREST-AMERLI
An Iraqi Turkmen Shi‘ite fighter holds a position on Aug. 4, 2014 in Amirli, Iraq Ali Al-Bayati—AFP/Getty Images

The Turkmen of Amirli, Iraq, have been fending off Islamist fighters for months

In June, when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) attacked the Iraqi village of Amirli, 45-year-old teacher Qasim Jawad Hussein was one of hundreds of villagers who rushed to pick up their weapons to fight alongside police and other Shi’ite Turkmen villagers as they clashed with the Sunni extremists.

“We tried to leave the village and we saw [ISIS'] Hummers and their black flags. We were taken by surprise,” said Hussein on a crackly cell phone from Amirli, which remains under siege. “Then I heard fire from the next village over. They were fighting with ISIS. So we went back to get our guns.”

But their collection of aging Soviet rifles has been no match for ISIS’ looted arsenal of American weapons and armored vehicles. Amirli has been under siege for more than two months, and supplies are dwindling.

“We are asking Muslims, Christians, anyone — what we really need is milk for the children,” said Hussein.

Hussein said the militants are just few kilometers from the village, and the residents have organized watches of 200 men each working in shifts, fearing that the militants will storm Amirli.

“The situation of the people in Amirli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement Saturday.

The Turkmen, who have linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey, have lived in northern Iraq for centuries and are both Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims. They stake claim to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and populate villages throughout the Kirkuk governorate and further south. In June, many of those villages came under attack by ISIS. Residents told troubling stories of their own Arab neighbors turning on them.

“For two months, ISIS has targeted the Turkmen areas, starting with Tal Afar, Mosul, Tuz Khormato and now Amirli. So I’m worried for the future of the Turkmen people,” said Ali Mehdi, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, a political organization that seeks to represent the interests of the Turkmen minority in Iraq.

The fear now is that Turkmen residents of Amirli will suffer the same fate as the Yezidis of Sinjar, a minority religious group in Iraq who recently fled to a mountaintop in fear of ISIS fighters, creating a potential humanitarian catastrophe before international efforts were launched to come to their aid. As Shi‘ite Muslims, Amirli’s Turkmen are seen as apostates by ISIS militants, who practice a strict — some say distorted — version of Sunni Islam. Like all those who don’t practice ISIS’ version of the faith, the Shi‘ite Turkmen are a target, and as a small and unique minority, they are particularly vulnerable. Some Iraqi Shi‘ite militias have said they will mobilize to help Amirli, but if the militias do try to rescue the residents of Amirli, they will likely be no match for ISIS. On top of that, most of the Shi‘ite militias are Arab, not Turkmen, and are organized to protect their own neighborhoods, leaving the Turkmen largely on their own.

“Shi‘ite militias are organized as local defense forces. Not like ISIS, which is one coherent military organization. There’s one guy at the top” of ISIS, says Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for the Study of War, who served several tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

“Is it possible that the Shi’ite militia could go up there and try a rescue operation, yeah, sure, but the fact is that if the Shi‘ite militia went head-to-head with ISIS, they would get crushed. And I think they know that,” said Harmer.

Both Mehdi and Hussein are calling on the U.S. to intervene. However, as of yet, there have been no air strikes like those carried out by American warplanes in Sinjar. Those strikes allowed local Kurdish forces to open a corridor, allowing many Yezidis to escape.

“Why didn’t the U.S. do anything for this village? Why does the U.S. Air Force go to [the] Mosul Dam, Erbil, but they don’t come here?,” asked Mehdi. “That makes us think the U.S. doesn’t care about the Turkmen.”

But the Americans also have a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish forces, which operated around Sinjar, and it would be difficult for U.S. Special Forces to coordinate with Shi‘ite militias, some of which were sometimes lined up against American forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On top of that, the plight of the Shi‘ite Turkmen may simply not have the appeal of the Yezidis, whose little-known faith and desperate isolation on a besieged mountaintop sparked broad sympathy and interest. Harmer says that could change with the U.N.’s recent statements, but it would be a tough decision for Washington to make.

“America took quite a while to decide to intervene [with ISIS]. And once we decided to intervene, we decided to intervene in Sinjar. I think there was sort of this feeling that these are such a unique religious minority,” said Harmer. The U.S. has now hit ISIS across northern Iraq, focusing on the area around the Mosul Dam. “With the Shi‘ites, it just gets lost in the Sunni-Shi‘ite conflict. There’s nothing unique about ISIS targeting a Shi‘ite village.”

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