Exclusive – Vicar of Baghdad: ISIS Cells Already in Baghdad
Mon, October 6, 2014
Islamic State militants
The Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, has fled Iraq on the orders of his superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who felt it was too dangerous to stay in the city with the Islamic State (ISIS) closing in.
“ISIS has plants in Baghdad. That's why the archbishop wanted us gone. The other day, they discovered 150 bodies of people who had been shot. Nobody knows who did it, but we know that ISIS is already operating in Baghdad,” said White in an exclusive interview with the Clarion Project.
White spoke to Clarion about the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, the fate of the kidnapped Christian and Yazidi women and children, and the prospects for the future.
He related how, just recently, the Islamic State burst into the house of one of “his families" and offered the parents a choice: “Convert right now or we will kill your children in front of you.” They came to White heartbroken that they had uttered the required words to save their children.
Another day, they went to a different family. White remembers, “The kids were told to convert or be killed. They refused. There were four of them from 15-years old and younger. They beheaded all of them,” he related crying. “They were all our children. That is how evil these people are. So evil. They have no respect for anyone. The other day, they chopped a four-year old boy in half. He didn't do anything. What can a four-year old boy do? He was just a boy …"
White, 50, is an Anglican vicar from London and president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, an aid and advocacy group that works for peace between different religious groups in the Middle East. The foundation, which has 260 centers around the world, has worked with Nigerian Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians and different groups in Germany.
White arrived in Baghdad in 1998. That same year, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) but stayed nonetheless. Saddam Hussein was still in power and the international sanctions had created crushing poverty in the country. Even though gas was one cent a liter (less than four cents per gallon), the normal monthly salary was $2.
White described life under Saddam as one of constant fear. “Everyone was in fear of everyone else. But you could walk around, live your life normally,” he remembers. “It was just like life behind the Iron Curtain, nobody knew who they could trust. Secret police were everywhere.”
Yet, he says, Saddam was very good to the Christians, and there was very little persecution of Christians or other minorities during his reign. Saddam was a Sunni, a minority in Iraq, so he needed the other minorities to help him maintain power.
Immediately after the Second Gulf War and the deposing of Saddam, “There was jubilation,” White remembers. “Everybody was happy. They were free at last. When the statue [of Saddam] was brought down, everybody thought there was hope for their future.”
Yet the jubilation lasted only about six months. As the Sunni and Shiites began vying for power, corruption became rampant. The Americans had set up the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) to rule the country with representation from Sunnis, Shiites and minorities.
“After a year and a half, the CPA left Iraq and handed over the Iraqi government [to the Iraqis]. Shiites, for the first time ever, became the controlling force,” White relates. “There was never was any real tension beforehand, but as things developed, the tensions got greater and greater. We also saw corruption from those taking power. The Shiites came to power through the Dawa party. That started the tension with the Sunnis.”
One of White’s firm beliefs is that “terrorism is always started when somebody loses power.”
White says that the Sunnis felt marginalized by the Shiites, creating an open door for Al Qaeda, which quickly moved into Iraq. “The Americans controlled the checkpoints, and they let them in out of naivety -- really naïve,” recalled White.
Terrorism increased. But while the Americans were there, White said, there was still some degree of order. Once the Americans pulled out, “Everything went wrong. I said to my team, look, within three years, we will have massive terrorism.”
White says that the Islamic State developed because former Iraqi President al-Maliki did not give the Sunnis a serious role in the government. “The Sunnis felt really marginalized and, in the end, they created Sunni opposition movements -- first with Al Qaeda, and then they developed their own group, ISIS.”
Even the Kurds helped the Islamic State originally, White explained. “This had to do with the separation of Kurdistan from Iraq. The Kurds are Sunnis. Nobody knew how evil ISIS would be, nobody knew how terrible they would actually be.”
When asked why the Iraqi army has been so ineffectual in fighting the Islamic State, White said, “The Iraqi army is not very competent. The Americans spent years training them, but they didn't really take anything on board.”
The future, he says, is “very, very bleak.” The Iraqis from Baghdad who had the funds have left the country. Another 250,000 Christians in Mosul and Ninevah have been ousted from their homes, most likely never to return.
“Basically, apart from the south, ISIS controls Iraq until you get to Kurdistan. They are the richest terror group in the world. They have taken huge amounts of money from the banks and are making huge amounts of money selling oil. What is so awful is they have taken huge amounts of our girls, and they have sold them,” he said. “The other day, we spent the day figuring out how much money we needed to buy the girls back. Basically you are looking at $5,000 per girl.”
Unlike the impression one gets in the media, White says, the Islamic State is not selling the Christian and Yazidi women to make money. For the jihadi fighters, their price is next to nothing. But to buy them back, they want a lot of money.
“The problem,” says White, “is that there is no way that we, as Westerners, can do anything. We have to do it all through Arab men.”
He confirmed all the reports about the horrific treatment of the girls. “It’s all true. It's terrible. They are basically making them into slaves. Sex slaves and working slaves, and it's not just adults either. It's also children.”
White spoke about the “extreme evil’ of the Islamic State, what gives rise to such evil and what attracts people to such evil. “The nearest thing to this is like what happened in the Holocaust. It's not as bad as that, even though it's terrible. Nothing was as bad as that. But just as we saw pure evil with the Nazis, with these people we see pure evil. When people feel they have lost everything, they will turn to terrorism to try to show their power. How do they show their power? By showing evil.”
White says that the young Europeans who have joined the group are filling a vacuum created by a lack of religion. “You can't do away with religion,” he says. When that happens, even Muslims who are not extremists can become extremists, he contends. “Their faith is so important to them, and they believe that the Western world is against them, that they don't want them, and so they become more extreme.”
White plans to return to Iraq as soon as possible. “But for the time being, I will have to go back to Irbil (in Iraqi Kurdistan). Irbil is very safe, compared to everywhere else.”
Yet, he acknowledges, “Nowhere is very safe over there.”