The videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have heightened global concern about the militant group Islamic State and fueled talks of an international response to their advances in Syria and Iraq. We discuss ISIS with Mohammed al Dulaimy, an Iraqi journalist with McClatchy Newspapers. Dulaimy reported from Iraq for years and is now seeking asylum in the United States out of fear for his safety if he were to return.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed al Dulaimy, you are a journalist, as well, an Iraqi journalist. You’ve come here seeking political asylum. Your response to the beheading of Steven Sotloff and, before that, to James Foley?
MOHAMMED AL DULAIMY: First of all, I would like to pass my condolences to their families. It’s really an act of barbarism, as President Obama described it. And it’s clearly an indication that ISIS has felt the pain of the U.S. air raids that targeted them and made them taste the first defeat after all the, say, victories that they have achieved during the past two months.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the effect of the Islamic State on your country, on Iraq, right now? Who is supporting it? Who isn’t?
MOHAMMED AL DULAIMY: The Islamic State is something that not only Iraq, but the religion of Islam itself didn’t witness something like that, like this, in 1,400 years. And I would dare to say they have their own differences with many other radical movements that the region have witnessed. They are a very different group than anything else that we see, we saw or we read about in the history. The abnormal situation in the region and the sectarian tensions add to it, that the globalization add to it. The Internet, social media, the capability to reach people—all of that gave them a way to communicate and spread their radical thoughts. What’s it doing to my country? It’s killing my country. And for Islam, it’s also giving an image of Islam that cannot be accepted by any Muslim. Just a few days ago in Saudi Arabia and other countries, Sunni imams and muftis gave fatwas saying that the Islamic State is the enemy number one of Islam itself, and fighting it is a duty upon all Muslims. This is just to tell you how the majority of people are repelled by their actions.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking at the White House last Thursday, President Obama said he’s asked the Pentagon to draw up a range of military options to build a regional coalition against the Islamic State.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat. As I’ve said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can and we will, working closely with our allies and our partners. For our part, I’ve directed Secretary Hagel and our Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options. I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed al Dulaimy, I’d like to ask your response to what President Obama says and what you think the United States should be doing? Should it be in Iraq right now?
MOHAMMED AL DULAIMY: I will tell you what I know as a fact. I know as a fact that IS can be defeated. I know as a fact, from all our sources on the ground, from all these long years of reporting and knowing the area very well, that their numbers are not that much. They were building on anger against the government, a government that is a proxy government working for Iran. And it started recruiting for civilians, and that complicated situation in Iraq gave a window for ISIS, now Islamic State, to seize on that.
Building a coalition could be done, and I think the United States could build it. But the problem that the U.S. faces now, and I think the policymakers in Washington are facing, is if they supported the Iranian-trained militias in defeating Islamic State, wouldn’t that be handing Iraq and Syria over to Iran? They don’t have a substitute to that. There is—Iraq has disintegrated. The military itself, that the U.S. have helped building, has collapsed. So I think it’s a policy dilemma.
What is going to happen in the country after the Islamic State defeat? And I will tell you an example that might simplify that. Ten days ago, in a town northern of Fallujah, the Islamic State members asked tribal fighters to pay allegiance for their self-proclaimed caliph. And when these fighters refused, they were threatened to be killed all. They were outnumbering IS, and the best estimate that they could have taken IS on, probably within a few days. But the fight wasn’t started, in fear that the surrounding Iraqi army, supported by the militias, will seize their chance and control the town, and probably a massacre will be committed against the town. That is in their estimate. And what they did, they chose to give their arms to Islamic State.
So all I’m saying is, the coalition could be built, but the society itself might not support any action on the ground, in fear of revenge by the pro-government forces. And the Islamic State response yesterday and today, they described it as a crusade against the Islamic State. They are trying to group around them other jihadi groups to pay them allegiance to face this coalition, so they are taking measures, and they are looking like afraid, and they’re trying to bring support by describing it as a crusade.
AMY GOODMAN: How significant is what has happened in Gaza to recruitment for Islamic State? Is that at all a role? Or, of course, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, does that play a role here?
MOHAMMED AL DULAIMY: I don’t see indications of Gaza role, especially in Iraq. But I would say complicated problems would—like, it has also a long list of solutions. And the recruitment with ISIS is a long list of reasons and a buildup of years, of more than a decade, of more than a decade. But I can tell you one thing that I know for sure, that the indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians by the Iraqi government is the number one. And we’ve talked to dozens of people who were so happy that the U.S. is involving, so at least a minimum casualties will happen among civilians, and especially among Sunnis. And that is what ISIS is afraid, that the people now look to the U.S. as a force that will try to bring minimal casualties to civilians. But I can’t see Gaza. I can see the U.S.-led invasion and the series of events that took place afterward. I can see the Iranian intervention—and I’m talking about Sunnis. And the whole regional situation is so complicated, and it all plays a role in this.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed, I wanted to end back with Robert Mahoney on the issue of journalists who cover this, to bring the faces, the names of the suffering on the ground to people all over the world. Are freelance journalists more in danger than anyone else? Certainly, Foley and Sotloff were freelancers.
ROBERT MAHONEY: Absolutely. And the majority of the journalists that have been going over into Syria and northern Iraq are freelancers. They don’t have the same deep institutional backing of a large multinational news organization or a big newspaper. What is happening is that they band together, they share information. Organizations like mine provide some basic security tips for them, but they really are on their own. And they are the ones that are the most vulnerable.
AMY GOODMAN: Are people reaching out to the Committee to Protect Journalists to get out of the area now?
ROBERT MAHONEY: We help Syrian journalists who have fled. A lot of them have fled to Turkey. There are very few openly practicing journalism, obviously, in Syria. And we’ve helped bring Syrian journalists to safety from Turkey. But unfortunately, a lot of them have been killed in Syria. And those that are getting out the few images and the few stories that we see from Syria are practicing almost clandestinely, particularly in the Islamic State areas.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Mahoney, I want to thank you for being with us, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. And thank you to Mohammed al Dulaimy, an Iraqi journalist who reports for McClatchy Newpapers for years, now seeking asylum in the United States, speaking to us from South Carolina.