Maureen Dowd: US doesn’t know what to call enemy in Iraq

We’re in a new war in Iraq with some bad ‘folks’, as the president might say, whose name we’re still fuzzy on

Pallets of bottled water aboard a US Air Force aircraft in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq. Photograph:  US Air Force, Staff Sgt Vernon Young jnr/AP

Pallets of bottled water aboard a US Air Force aircraft in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq. Photograph: US Air Force, Staff Sgt Vernon Young jnr/AP

Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 01:00

It was exhilarating to drop a bunch of 500-lb bombs on whatstheirname.

Just when Americans thought they could stop trying to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shias, 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 “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” or “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.” (Isis is also the name of an Egyptian goddess and the Earl of Grantham’s yellow labrador on Downton Abbey.) Yet the White House, state department and United Nations refer to the group as “Isil,” short for “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”.

The BBC reported that some people have started referring to the jihadis as “Da’ish” or “Daesh”, a designation that the extremists object to because it is “a seemingly pejorative term that is based on an acronym formed from the letters of the name in Arabic, “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham”. Al-Sham, the BBC noted, can be translated as “the Levant”, “Greater Syria”, “Syria” or “Damascus”.

 

Confusion

Adding to the confusion, Isis aka Isil engaged in a slick

Mad Men rebranding in June, announcing that, in tribute to its ambition to establish a caliphate, it was renaming itself “the Islamic State”. So then Agence France-Presse began referring to the militants as “IS” or “the group formerly known as Isis”, and the Wall Street Journal switched to “IS”. The Times, however, still calls our murderous new enemy Isis while quoting administration officials and military officers using the acronym Isil.

It’s a bit odd that the 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.

If all that is not confusing enough, we also have to fathom a new entry in the vicious religious wars in Iraq: the Yazidis, a small and secretive sect belonging to one of the oldest surviving religions in the world. Their faith has origins in Islam and Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the Iranian prophet Zoroaster in the 6th century BC. As Time pointed out, though the name “Izidis” translates to “worshipers of God”, Isis considers them “devil-worshipers” who must convert to Islam or be killed.

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