When I was serving as a USAF pilot, I always remember flying over "Batman," Turkey. For Westerners it is a memorable name due to the fictional crime fighting hero of the same name. Rather than referring to the "Caped Crusader," it is probably just a diminution of "Bati Raman," a mountain near the small town that took its name. It also became a unit of measure in Turkey that is equal to 7.7 kg or about 16.96 pounds--wherever that is from!
On the ground I've traveled through the area on the way from Diyarbakir to Silopi and Zakho (right above the Q in Iraq on the map) and into Kurdistan. Even back then, some years ago, the border at Zakho was not really a border. There were lots of guys with guns who wanted to look at passports, but none of them were part of the Iraqi government. They were Kurds who were overseeing the area by force. There were plenty of citizen soldiers called peshmerga, and they all had AK-47 assault rifles or Rocket Propelled Grenades and plenty of ammo. Tons of ammo. Ammo like it was going out of style.
The area from Duhok to Mosul has pretty good roads, but it is dominated by vast areas of prairie. The environs were too unstable from fighting to support much agriculture. In fact, the only jobs that were available were as taxi drivers or armed guards. There were lots of guards and lots of guns. Even back then the environment was pretty wild. A great source of entertainment was to go to the dammed up lakes and fire tracer rounds across the reservoirs (Mosul and Dokan). Tracer rounds are bullets that have phosphorous on the tip so they trace an arc on the path of the bullet. Bullets from an AK-47 leave the barrel of the gun at more than 2,300 feet per second. That is almost a half mile a second. Watching the arc of the bullet traveling at this speed is intimidating indeed. Amazingly, lots of people had AK-47's and plenty of ammunition. So many in fact, one seems somewhat underdressed to appear without heavy armament.
The point of that is not to endorse the presence of so many guns, but it is to illustrate how utterly ubiquitous machine guns are in the area. It is not a walk in the park for ISIS to engage the Kurds. They are fierce and know how to fight, though it is a rag-tag kind of "fiercedom," it is imposing all the same. The Kurds, however, cannot stand for long without re-supply.
Over the last few days, the highly trained and well-armed Islamic State fighters have continued to move across Iraq, supplied by vast resources from Syria. Along the way they have captured high-tech US weaponry and vehicles. They have also raided banks along the way and gathered up hundreds of millions of dollars of cash to finance further engagements. They did so in sufficient numbers that they were able to declare the border between Syria and Iraq to be dissolved, fitting with their plan to establish a state-less Caliphate under which hard-core Sharia Law would reign, Muslim law that is just as brutal today as it was in the 8th century. They took, then lost the Mosul Dam when US led airstrikes came against them. But they are not in retreat. They believe they are on a mission.
Recently, I was reading an article by an Islamic scholar who was saying that any references to violence were only referring to self-defense. He cited this verse:
And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
The scholar used this verse as an example of Muslims defending themselves when under assault by Christians. (In this verse, polytheists refers to Christians because of the belief in the Trinity.) While it may well be true that there are some Muslims who view such verses as describing self-defense, the Islamic State terror-troops do not see it that way. They view the Qur'an verses such as this one (and MANY others) as the mandate to press into Iraq and seek to establish the Caliphate by force.
The areas where Christians, Jews, and moderate Muslims are being slaughtered are filled with quiet towns and gracious people who have lived together for two thousand years or more. They need our prayers and support. Yesterday, Pope Francis spoke about the need for force against the atrocities of ISIS. He described the use of military force as Just War. That is an indication of just how desperately evil this advance is. In addition to air-strikes and aid airdrops, we need to marshal our resources to pray against this advance with all the utter earnestness that we can muster. Those who think this is something happening only in far off lands need to wake up. It could happen elsewhere very easily. Though there are more troops in Iraq now from ISIS, the first gains were done by only 3500 troops who advanced with speed, precision, and breathtaking violence against unarmed people. It is a spiritual war. Against it, we must employ spiritual warfare. We must fast and pray and listen to the voice of the Lord for how to engage, but engage we must or we will eventually be engaged even if we seek to avoid conflict.
Bishop Bill Atwood is Bishop of the Anglican Church in North America's International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributor.