Friday, May 22, 2015Friday, May 22, 2015

A new war in Iraq with whatstheirname

Published on Aug 11, 2014 11:57 AM
Displaced families from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence, walk on the outskirts of Sinjar, west of Mosul, August 5, 2014. Tens of thousands fled the weekend assault on Sinjar and are now surrounded, according to witnesses and the United Nations, after the Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces who had held towns in the area for years. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

It was exhilarating to drop a bunch of 200kg bombs on whatstheirname. Just when Americans thought they could stop trying to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites, we're in a new war in Iraq with some bad "folks", as the President might say, whose name we're still fuzzy on.

We never know what we're getting into over there, and this time we can't even agree what to call the enemy. All we know is that a barbaric force is pillaging so swiftly and brutally across the Middle East that it seems like some mutated virus from a sci-fi film.

Most news organisations call the sulphurous spawn of Al-Qaeda leading the rampage through Iraq "ISIS", short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham. Yet the White House, State Department and the United Nations refer to the group as "ISIL", short for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Al-Sham, the BBC noted, can be translated as the Levant, Greater Syria, Syria or Damascus. The BBC reported that some people have also started referring to the jihadists as "Da'ish" or "Daesh". Adding to the confusion, ISIS aka ISIL engaged in a slick rebranding in June, announcing that, in tribute to its ambition to establish a caliphate, it was renaming itself "the Islamic State".

It's a bit odd that the US administration is using "the Levant", given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances. Unless it's a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.

Enjoy 2 weeks of unlimited digital access to The Straits Times. Get your free access now!