IRAQ: Here’s one way to look at the dramatic fall of Iraq: In March, British bank Standard Chartered opened its first branch in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, quickly followed by another. In April, it helped to host in Erbil the Iraq British Business Council, with a keynote address by Baroness Nicholson, UK trade envoy for Iraq. In June, Standard Chartered hosted in Seoul a session for South Korean investors looking to invest in Iraq. And last week the bank closed its branches in Erbil—moving its staff (including some Iraqis) to Dubai and London.
Baghdad is tense after the overnight selection of Haider al-Abadi to succeed Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister. The question today is whether Maliki, who has yet to relinquish power, will back the constitutional process or try to remain in office by force. ISIS, meanwhile, holds territory on the outskirts of Baghdad, and according to reports over the weekend from Iraqi Christians in Baghdad, there’s heightened fear of ISIS cells within the city ready to stage a Mosul-style takeover in the midst of the government crisis. ISIS also wants to penetrate Erbil, and over the weekend Kurdish forces discovered four houses stashed with weapons and reportedly arrested ISIS affiliates there.
Reports of unfolding genocide among Yazidis in Iraq continue, as well as atrocities and deprivation for Christians in the north. Initial reports of 500 men killed at Sinjar have risen to 1,500 and 2,600—with 500 women abducted.
Here is a report from one of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine in Iraq of last week’s exodus, on foot, as ISIS overtook the town of Qaraqosh:
“Our exodus started at11:30 pm, and before that we decided to pray and have the Holy Communion so that if the ISIS entered the house, it will not be defiled. …When we arrived to the [intersection for] Mosul-Erbil, we were shocked to see a huge mess of cars driving very chaotically to Erbil. The view was beyond describing, as words cannot fully capture it. Men, pregnant women, children, handicaps and elderly were moving toward Erbil. There were Christians, Muslims Shiites, Yezeds and Shabak; some people were on foot, some were riding trunks of pick-up, lorry trunks, and motorcycles.
There are three checkpoints to arrive in Erbil. It took us five hours, from mid-night to five o’clock, to pass the first one; we reached the second one at seven o’clock and the third one at eight thirty. We arrived [at] the convent at9:30exhausted emotionally, physically, and mentally. What we saw was unbearable; people were suffering for no reason but because of their sect, religion, and trace. We felt like we were in a nightmare wishing that someone would waken us up or that when the sun comes out it will be all over. But it was not the case, we were actually living a hard reality. It usually takes an hour and 15 minutes to drive from Qaraqosh to Erbil, but the day before yesterday, it took us 10 hours.”
Brandon Stanton, the photographer who in 2010 set out to create a photographic census that became Humans of New York, is in Iraqi Kurdistan. His gripping portraits of the displaced and downtrodden are worth chasing down on Instagram and here.
EBOLA: Don’t take your eyes off Ebola, a key aid worker in Africa warned me this weekend. The deadly virus is spreading in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. In U.S. House testimony last week, Samaritan’s Purse Vice President Ken Isaacs told lawmakers, “The disease is uncontained and out of control in West Africa.” Isaacs also criticized the response of international health officials who were warned by Samaritan’s Purse epidemiologists in April this would be a record-breaking outbreak. Spain has brought home a Catholic priest who has tested positive for Ebola in Liberia—the first patient to be treated in Europe. With 1,779 reported cases and 961 Ebola deaths, the World Health Organization today convenes a panel of medical ethics experts to discuss making experimental treatment available in Africa.
NIGERIA:Islamist militant group Boko Haram has taken over Gwoza, a major town in Borno state, and killed at least 100 in the mostly Christian town. Today Mark Lipdo of Stefanos Foundation reports that 10,000 have been displaced from Gwoza, and Boko Haram has sent threat letters to other towns and villages nearby: “The world’s reluctance in confronting ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq gave up minority ethnic and religious people to a monstrous holocaust,” Lipdo said.