America’s Arab Refugees
Vulnerability and Health on the Margins
Marcia C. Inhorn


Introduction: When Arabs Fled

A Legacy of Conflict

The story of Fatima and Sadiq, intorduced in the Prologue, began back in 1991, when the United States invaded Iraq in the First Gulf War. In the quarter-century since then, the Middle East has seen unprecedented levels of violence, not only in Iraq but across the region as a whole. Of the fifty violent conflicts occurring around the world in the years 2014 and 2015, three of the most deadly—with annual casualties exceeding 10,000—were in the Middle Eastern countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.1 Saudi Arabia was also at war with Yemen. The Libyan civil war was destabilizing North Africa. More than sixty years of protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine had led in 2014 to a devastating summer war in Gaza. And, by that point, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Iraq and Syria was threatening the region—and the world—as a whole.

These incidents of political violence in the Middle East were varied and ghastly in their effects. On-the-ground combat and aerial bombing campaigns involved the use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs, cluster bombs, suicide bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and drone strikes.2 Millions of civilians were killed, injured, maimed, and displaced. Thousands of others were imprisoned, tortured, beheaded, raped, and sold as sex slaves. Middle Eastern civilians caught in war zones were facing food insecurity, particularly in Syria, where government-imposed food blockades were causing massive starvation in some villages. Those who were able to escape the region flocked to Europe, leading to the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent since World War II.3

This book traces these wars in the Middle East to the Arab refugee crisis in the West—a crisis that began well before the world took notice in 2015. Fatima and Sadiq were among the first wave of Arab refugees to leave the Middle East in the wake of the First Gulf War. The Second Gulf War—also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom—led to a second wave of Iraqis fleeing their country between 2003 and 2011. Since then, the chaos caused by ISIS, which formed in 2013 and which declared itself a “caliphate,” or “Islamic State” by June 2014, has fueled the flight of even more Arab refugees4—a flight that began in earnest in 2011 with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. By 2015, more than 4.8 million Syrians had fled their country, primarily to the neighboring Middle Eastern states of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. But not until the summer of 2015—when nightly newscasts began showing the faces of haggard and hapless Syrian refugees, flooding into Europe on foot or in overpacked rubber dinghies—did Western countries begin to respond. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on her fellow citizens and European allies to “welcome” hundreds of thousands of fleeing Syrian refugees.5 American President Barack Obama, too, promised to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States in fiscal year 2016.6

However, in the wake of these humanitarian pronouncements, ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks—in Paris, San Bernadino, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin, and many non-Western countries as well—prompted a new wave of Islamophobia. In his campaign for president, Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, even though no Muslim refugee had ever committed a terrorist attack on US soil.7 In the midst of growing anti-Muslim, anti-refugee public sentiment, more than thirty US governors took measures to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their home states. One of those was Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan—the state with the largest number of first- and second-generation Arab refugees, including Fatima, Sadiq, and their families.8

Given US responsibility for at least some of the violence that has unfolded in the Middle East at the turn of this century, a number of important questions need to be asked. First, does the United States have a moral obligation to offer asylum to fleeing Arab refugees? Second, what are the responsibilities of states such as Michigan to provide refugee resettlement services? Third, has the United States done a good job of resettling Arab refugees who have already arrived, providing them with adequate employment, education, housing, and access to safe and affordable health care?

These are the questions to be taken up in this book, a book that explores why Arabs have fled from war zones, where they have resettled in the United States, and how poverty and discrimination continue to affect their lives as naturalized, although marginalized, American citizens. The fate of Arab refugees in the United States has been Janus faced: on the one hand, most Arab refugees such as Fatima and Sadiq feel grateful to the United States for taking them in and allowing them to aspire for a better life in America, whereas on the other hand, many Arab refugees who began arriving in the United States after the First Gulf War still live lives of utter poverty and hardship. For example, Sadiq worked two jobs before being laid off from his employment in the Michigan auto industry. Fatima almost graduated from a local college before her tuition money ran out. Yet, together, Fatima and Sadiq accrued just enough money to marry, buy a small house, and undertake an expensive IVF cycle. Despite mounting debts and a medical emergency, Fatima and Sadiq achieved their American dream of conceiving a miracle baby together.

To write a book about refugees like Fatima and Sadiq, it is important to begin back in their home countries. Most of the people whose stories are traced in this book fled to Michigan from two Middle Eastern war zones, primarily in Iraq and Lebanon but also from Palestine. Many of the Yemenis in this book, who came to Michigan as poor economic migrants, are no longer able to return home because of a devastating war unleashed in their country by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies. In this book, then, we will see how war in the Middle East has destroyed lives, damaged infrastructures, inflamed sectarian tensions, and engendered heinous acts of brutality. War in the Middle East is a tragedy in two parts, with 2011 serving as a critical dividing line. Before 2011, fifteen of the twenty-two nations of the Middle East and North Africa—encompassing 85 percent of the region’s total population—had already suffered from protracted conflicts.9 Then, in 2011, the so-called Arab Spring happened, bringing with it high hopes for democratic transition, peace, and prosperity in the region. Soon, however, those hopes turned into nightmares in several Middle Eastern countries. Three bloody wars emerged in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The birth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria wreaked havoc on the region as a whole. The US war in Iraq officially ended in 2011, but the violence did not, leading to an ongoing Iraqi refugee crisis. And in Syria, the worst refugee crisis in a single generation transpired in the midst of a brutal civil war, which turned into a regional cataclysm and international humanitarian crisis.

In the next section, I provide a brief history of these pre- and post-2011 Middle Eastern wars. Such a recounting casts a grim light on the causes and consequences of political violence in the Middle East. Unfortunately, in the pre-2011 period, the United States bears considerable responsibility for both war and displacement. This is especially true of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which set in motion much of the violence that has followed.

Middle East Wars: A Tragedy in Two Acts

Tragedy Act One: From World War II to War in Iraq

The modern history of war in the Middle East dates back to the end of World War II and can be traced to five critical forces.10 First was the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, which resulted in a protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as a series of wars between Israel and neighboring Arab nations. Second were colonial independence movements, especially against the French in North Africa, which led to wars of independence, most notably in Algeria (1954–1962). Third were internecine, sectarian-inflected conflicts, such as the fifteen-year civil war in Lebanon (1975–1990) and the eight-year Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), launched by Saddam Hussein and his secular Baath regime against the Shia theocracy that came to power in Iran in 1979. A fourth factor was the rise of Islamist movements in the region, leading to wars between more secular and Islamist forces, in countries ranging from Algeria (1991–2002) to Sudan (1983–2005). Finally, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union played out in the Middle East in ways that continue to haunt the region today. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1978, the United States retaliated by supporting the mujahideen, a radical Sunni Islamist fighting force with roots in Saudi Arabia.

In retrospect, US support of the mujahideen against Russia during the Cold War period was a fatal US foreign policy error. As shown in Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Steve Coll’s book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, the CIA secretly sent billions of dollars of military aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan in a US-supported jihad against the Soviet Union during the eight years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.11 The mujahideen fighters were the precursors to the Taliban, the group against which the United States would eventually go to war in October 2001. Furthermore, US military support of the mujahideen nurtured the rise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, which received substantial training and support from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thus, when al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan a month later.

Whereas the US-led war in Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), might have been justified within the overarching “War on Terror,” President Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power by declaring war in Iraq less than two years later was a military and foreign policy error of disastrous proportions12—of a magnitude perhaps even greater than Reagan’s support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Without a doubt, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator of his own people and a warmonger with neighboring countries. Saddam came to power in 1979, the same year as the Iranian revolution. Within his first year in office, Saddam plunged his country into a crippling eight-year war with neighboring Iran (1980–1988), which led to the death of more than a million people. Two years later, Saddam attacked another neighboring country, Kuwait, the small petro-rich nation wedged between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This marked the beginning of the First Gulf War, as well as thirteen years of UN-imposed sanctions on Iraq. An oil-for-food program was put in place by the United Nations in 1996 to prevent massive starvation in the country. But the sanctions continued to cripple the Iraqi economy until they were removed at the start of the Second Gulf War.

The Second Gulf War—also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or simply the Iraq War—was declared by President George W. Bush on March 19, 2003, in the aftermath of September 11. As would soon be discovered, the Iraq War was based on erroneous intelligence information, which claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), thus posing a threat to US national security. The Bush administration also argued that deposing Saddam would lead to necessary regime change in Iraq, creating a democratic Iraqi government, friendly to US interests.13 Moreover, neoconservatives in the Bush administration claimed that defeating Saddam Hussein would lead to increased security for Israel and would allow the United States to gain control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving the United States an economic upper hand in the petro-rich Gulf region.

In retrospect, the US war in Iraq is widely condemned as a US military and foreign policy failure—perhaps the worst in modern US and Middle Eastern history.14 Based on false intelligence—namely, that Saddam possessed WMDs and was linked to September 11—the US military intervention in Iraq increased political instability in the country, leading to a power vacuum that was filled in part by Islamic terrorist organizations.15 Whereas Reagan’s Cold War policy against the Russians led to the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Bush’s Iraq War created favorable conditions for the growth of ISIS, the radical Sunni Muslim organization that now threatens the world through global terrorism.

How did Bush’s Iraq War create the conditions for ISIS? First, the war in Iraq unleashed deep-seated sectarian tensions in a country where Sunni Muslims (about one-third of the overall population) had long held political sway over the Shia Muslim majority.16 US-enforced regime change put two successive Shia-led governments in charge, first under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, then under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Al-Maliki’s government in particular alienated Iraq’s Sunni population, including many of Saddam’s former military commanders, as well as major Sunni tribal factions in the country. Kurds, a non-Arab ethnic group comprising about 20 percent of Iraq’s population, also gained a new foothold in terms of power and quasi-independence in the northern regions of Iraq.17 In other words, the United States threw its political weight behind the Shia and Kurdish factions at the expense of Sunni Arab tribal leaders and members of Saddam’s Baath party. In doing so, the United States effectively “blew the lid off” ethnosectarian tensions and rivalries in Iraq—with consequences that have been truly profound not only for Iraq but for the sectarian divisions that have emerged in the region as a whole.

Despite the Bush administration’s rhetoric of democratization, the US-led war in Iraq failed to install a strong, stable democracy in the country. In fact, democratization was never a prime motive for the war in Iraq. From the very outset, experts warned that Iraq had no history of democratic traditions or institutions.18 When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Iraq’s preexisting political and social conditions made it unlikely that the country would democratize naturally after the US invasion. The United States was also more committed to regime change than to democratization and nation building per se. Self-interest more than altruism guided the US intervention. And so, the US intervention in Iraq resulted in only an incomplete and unstable democracy, unable to counter the political instability in its midst.19

This political instability created the conditions for the growth of Islamist groups, most notably ISIS, but also the al-Qaeda faction known as al Nusra Front.20 The Shia-led governments backed by the United States in Iraq lacked the ability or authority to control these Sunni jihadist groups from forming in the country. These institutional weaknesses in the midst of a highly volatile and unstable political environment were exploited by jihadists. Despite nearly a decade of US military presence in Iraq, Islamist groups were able to thrive on Iraqi soil. By May 9, 2013, they had claimed part of Iraq as a so-called Islamic State.

In his brief but compelling essay, “Terror’s Lineage,” Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud calls ISIS the “monster,” birthed in Iraq by foreign parents.21 In Daoud’s analysis, the “father” of ISIS is George W. Bush’s America, especially the disastrous invasion of Iraq. According to Daoud, the US-led war in Iraq was seen as the “rape” of the Arab world. And, because the invasion was based on a lie—namely, the false link between September 11 and Saddam Hussein—it destroyed America’s moral superiority and credibility on the Arab street. As for the “mother” of ISIS, Daoud points to Saudi Arabia, a purported US ally. As Daoud argues, Saudi Arabia is a “strange theocracy [that] is simultaneously allied with the West through the Saudi royal family and opposed to the West by an ideology that is the product of a vicious clergy.”

The ideology to which Daoud refers is Wahhabism, a particular brand of puritanical, scripturally oriented, fundamentalist Sunni Islam, which is preached and practiced in Saudi Arabia.22 Wahhabism is conservative and orthodox. It takes a dim view of Shi’ism, the other major branch of Islam, which it considers unorthodox and heretical. In Daoud’s analysis, Saudi Arabia is an “ideological factory” for Wahhabism, which is supported by the Saudi state.23 Saudi clerics are allowed to propagate their vision of the world through books, television channels, and increasingly through social media. The Saudi government spends billions of dollars building foreign mosques and exporting Wahhabi clerics throughout the Muslim world.24 Saudi Arabia has been the major supporter of Sunni fundamentalist around the world, including the most radical jihadist strains. For example, fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers were Saudis. Today, the largest proportion of ISIS Twitter users, about 25 percent, come from Saudi Arabia.25 Although the country hosts the most holy sites of Islam for both Sunni and Shia Muslims, Saudi Arabia is also the heartland of a severe and intolerant form of Sunni Islam, which is both jihadist in orientation and virulently anti-Shia.

These Sunni–Shia tensions are currently roiling the Middle East. Although the Sunni–Shia divide is based on theological differences that date back 1,400 years, sectarianism today is more political and demographic than religious in nature.26 Overall, Sunni Muslim populations are the demographic majority, comprising 85 to 90 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and at least two-thirds of the Middle Eastern population as a whole. Of the twenty-two nations of the Middle East and North Africa, eighteen are predominantly Sunni, with the countries of North Africa having no indigenous Shia populations at all. Thus, Shia Muslims are the marginalized minority, constituting only about 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population.27 However, Shia are the majority population in two of the Middle East’s largest countries, Iran (more than 90 percent Shia) and Iraq (between 60 and 65 percent Shia). Shias are also the majority sect in the two small Middle Eastern nations of Bahrain and Lebanon. Significant Shia populations also live in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, and Yemen, as well as along the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, a region rich in oilfields. In other words, in spatial terms, a significant “Shia crescent” extends across the heart of the Middle East, constituting about one-third of the region’s total population. However, with the exception of Iran, which is ethnically Persian and Farsi speaking, Shia populations have never ruled, even in those Arab countries with Shia-majority populations.

The US invasion of Iraq changed all this, serving as a crucial “tipping point” in an unstable sectarian balance of power.28 To wit, the US invasion of Iraq stripped the Sunni-led Baath government of Saddam Hussein of its power and authority, tipping the sectarian scales in favor of the Shia bloc for the first time in Arab history. Putting its political and military weight behind the previously disenfranchised Iraqi Shia population, the US government unwittingly emboldened the region’s Shia Muslims to take advantage of this unprecedented historical moment. As explained by political scientist Vali Nasr in his 2006 book, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future:29

When American leaders spoke of changing the region’s politics for the better after the Iraq war, they were in effect talking about democratizing the old Sunni-dominated Middle East. They gave little thought to the new Middle East that is emerging, and have yet to grasp its potential. This Middle East will not be defined by the Arab identity or by any particular form of national government. Ultimately, the character of the region will be decided in the crucible of Shia revival and the Sunni response to it . . . The overall Sunni–Shia conflict will play a large role in defining the Middle East as a whole and shaping its relations with the outside world. Sectarian conflict will make Sunni extremists more extreme and will likely rekindle revolutionary zeal among the Shia. At times the conflict will be bloody, as it strengthens the extremists, swelling their ranks, popularizing their causes, and amplifying their voices in politics, thus complicating the broader effort to contain Islamic radicalism.

A decade on, it seems that Nasr’s political predictions could not have been more prescient. Sectarianism underlies the bitter power struggle between Saudi Arabia (a Sunni monarchy) and Iran (a Shia theocracy).30 It is at the crux of the Syrian civil war, in which Bashar al-Assad’s government (led by a Shia minority sect, the Alawis) is being propped up both by Iran (a Shia theocracy) and Hezbollah (Lebanon’s Shia militia), in a battle against Syrian opposition forces (Sunni) and ISIS (ardently Sunni).31 Sectarian hatred is also behind the war that Saudi Arabia (Sunni) has launched, with Gulf Cooperation Council support (Sunni), against the Houthi rebels (Shia) in Yemen.32 When the Saudi monarchy (Sunni) executed the Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr (Shia), Iranians (Shia) retaliated by sacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.33 In short, many of the region’s current battles involve unfortunate sectarian enmities—more politically driven than theological in nature—in which the dominant Sunni bloc (with Saudi Arabia being the Middle East’s status quo Sunni power) is pitted against the minority Shia bloc (with Iran at the center of this regional rivalry). However, as predicted by Vali Nasr, the Shia have risen up to support each other in a coalition that now includes the governments of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as well as Lebanon’s Shia party, Hezbollah.

In a January 2016 Washington Post column entitled “America Can’t Stop the Sectarian Tidal Wave,” political analyst Fareed Zakaria argued that “sectarian struggle now infects almost every aspect of the region’s politics. It has confounded US foreign policy and will continue to limit the ability of the United States, or any outside power, to stabilize the region.”34 According to Zakaria, the US war in Iraq was largely responsible for this “sectarian tidal wave.” Yet, he urged the United States to stay out of this sectarian battle from this point on, calling it “someone else’s civil war.”

Tragedy Act Two: From the Arab Spring to Arab Refugees

Sectarianism—and the death, destruction, and displacement it has spawned—is an unfortunate reality in the post-2011 period. This new period of sectarian violence is all the more tragic, because 2011 was a year of great hope for the Middle Eastern region as a whole. On January 14, 2011, Tunisians ousted their corrupt leader, President Ben Ali. On January 25, 2011, Egyptians followed suit, ending the nearly forty-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak within only three weeks’ time. By March 2011, peaceful protest movements were in full bloom across sixteen Arab nations, erupting into a hoped-for “Arab Spring.”35

However, the Arab Spring was short lived, replaced by violence and bloodshed. In Egypt, nearly 900 people were killed in the protests that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. In Bahrain, Valentine’s Day protests in the “Pearl Roundabout”—equivalent to Egypt’s Tahrir Square—were brutally suppressed by the Bahraini government with the help of Saudi forces. In Syria, peaceful protests in Deraa, one of Syria’s many Sunni-dominant cities, were crushed by President Bashar al-Assad’s government troops. Soon, the bloodshed in Deraa would devolve into a full-scale, sectarian-inflected, externally fueled civil war. In Yemen, protests turned violent by early summer, with a bomb attack on the palace of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was severely burned and forced to flee the country. Meanwhile, in Libya, rebel forces overtook the capital of Tripoli by August 2011 with the backing of NATO and US airstrikes. In October, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was killed in his tribal stronghold of Sirte.36

By the end of 2011, then, dictators had been deposed in four of the main Arab Spring countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya). But wars had been sparked in three (Syria, Libya, and Yemen). Sadly, five years on, all three of these wars were still raging. At the top of Foreign Policy’s top-ten list of “wars to watch” in both 2015 and 2016 was the civil war in Syria, which was connected to the ongoing war in neighboring Iraq via ISIS.37 This conflated crisis involving Syria, Iraq, and ISIS was a “Tier I” priority, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).38 Focusing especially on Iraq, CFR noted that “intensification of the conflict in Iraq [is] due to territorial gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and operations by Iraqi security forces, as well as ongoing Sunni-Shia sectarian violence.”39 According to CFR, this situation “directly threatens the U.S. homeland, is likely to trigger U.S. military involvement because of treaty commitments, [and] threatens the supply of critical U.S. strategic resources.”40

By the time CFR published its influential “Preventive Priorities” report at the end of 2015, ISIS had already threatened US homeland security by inspiring the deadly terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, which killed fourteen people. By the beginning of 2016, twenty nations around the world had succumbed to seventy terrorist attacks and more than 1,200 deaths linked to, or inspired by, ISIS.41 In Iraq and Syria, where ISIS was based, the group had perpetrated unspeakable acts of ethnic cleansing—not only against Shia Muslims but also against Christians, Kurds, and other ethnic minority populations, such as the Yazidis. Radically anti-Shia in its ideology, ISIS had fought pitched battles against the Shia-controlled government forces in both Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, government security forces, which were predominantly Shia, had attempted to fend off the spread of ISIS across large swaths of the country.42 In Syria, the Shia Alawi-led government of Bashar al-Assad was also fighting a pitched battle against ISIS, in part to protect both Shia and Christian minority communities in the country. By the beginning of 2016, it was estimated that Syria’s Shia Alawis, constituting roughly 12 percent of the Syrian population, had lost as many as one-third of all men of fighting age.43 Bashar al-Assad’s regime had turned for reinforcement to Shia fighting forces from Iran and Lebanon, as well as from Russia, Syria’s long-time ally.

In the midst of this devastating sectarian violence in both Iraq and Syria, thousands of innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, were being killed, including by both Russian and US airstrikes. Although estimates of casualties have been difficult to obtain, the United Nations, as well as various observer groups, estimate tens of thousands of deaths in both countries. A group called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which is based in Great Britain, has been documenting the casualties of the Syrian war ever since it began in March 2011. SOHR estimates that, in the year 2014 alone, more than 76,000 Syrians were killed, including more than 3,500 Syrian children.44 In August 2015, the United Nations issued a report, estimating total Syrian casualties to be around 250,000.45 But those numbers soon increased because of Russian airstrikes. Between September 2015 and January 2016, SOHR estimated 1,015 civilian casualties from Russian airstrikes, including the deaths of at least 200 Syrian children.46 By then, reports had also surfaced from the Syrian city of Madaya that many children were starving to death, due to a six-month Syrian government blockade of food and medicine. (Residents were said to be surviving by eating boiled leaves and animal feed.)

In the midst of so much Syrian suffering, Iraq, too, was being shaken by heart-wrenching violence. In January 2016, the United Nations released a sobering report that described the civilian death toll in Iraq as “staggering.”47 Between January 2014 and October 2015, nearly 19,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed; more than 36,000 Iraqis were wounded, and 3.2 million Iraqis were internally displaced, including in the vicinity of Baghdad, where ISIS-inspired violence was spinning out of control. According to the UN report, ISIS “continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”48

According to victim and witness testimonies compiled by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ISIS’s tactics in Iraq were both brutal and lethal.49 ISIS had killed and abducted scores of civilians, often in a targeted manner. Many of those abducted were subjected to adjudication by self-proclaimed ISIS “courts,” with punishments ranging from stoning to amputation to execution. In its many public executions, ISIS was said to favor gruesome spectacles, including death by shooting, beheading, bulldozing, burning alive, and throwing people off the tops of buildings. Moreover, hundreds of children had been abducted by ISIS for religious “education” and military training. Those child soldiers who fled from the frontlines during fighting were often murdered. Women and children who were captured by ISIS were subjected to sexual violence, sometimes becoming sex slaves for ISIS fighters.

Given these horrors, it is not surprising that thousands of Iraqi civilians had fled their homes in an attempt to evade ISIS. By the end of 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that more than 3 million “people of concern” in Iraq were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.50 This included more than 1.5 million internally displaced Iraqis, as well as 400,000 Syrian refugees, and 12,400 Palestinians living in long-term, UN-supported refugee camps in the country. According to UNHCR, many Iraqis, Syrians, and Palestinians living in camps were dying from lack of basic food, water, and medical supplies. Reports of human rights violations were also mounting. In many cases, civilians attempting to flee to safety were being arbitrarily arrested or forcibly expelled by Iraqi (mostly Shia) security forces, especially if they were coming from Sunni-dominant tribal areas. By June 2016, an estimated 68,000 Sunni Muslim refugees, mostly women and children, were forced to flee their homes in Fallujah as Iraqi security forces and Shia militias attempted to take back control of the city from ISIS.


p>1. Project for the Study of the 21st Century 2015 and Uppsala Universitet Department of Peace and Conflict Research 2017.

2. Barnard 2014 and Heisler, Baker, and McKay 2015.

3. “Exodus,” 2015.

4. Cockburn 2016.

5. “An Ill Wind,” 2016.

6. Griswold 2016 and Newland 2015.

7. Newland 2015.

8. Friess and Morello 2015.

9. Mowafi 2011.

10. Gelvin 2015.

11. Coll 2004.

12. Hanson 2013 and Katz 2010.

13. Byman 2003.

14. Katz 2010.

15. Li 2005.

16. Byman 2003.

17. Dirik 2014.

18. Basham 2004.

19. Mansfield and Snyder 1995.

20. Li 2005.

21. Daoud 2015.

22. Abukhalil 2004 and al-Rasheed 2007.

23. Daoud 2015.

24. Dorsey 2016a, b.

25. “The Propaganda War,” 2015.

26. Fisher 2016.

27. “Sunnis and Shia,” 2016.

28. Zakaria 2016.

29. Nasr 2006, pp. 22, 24. Nasr argues that the US invasion of Iraq and American support of an Iraqi Shia-led government allowed Iraq’s Shia population to rise up against Sunni political hegemony. As a public intellectual, Nasr has been very influential. He is now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

30. Keynoush 2016; Poole 2016; and Ulrichsen 2016.

31. Caro 2015.

32. Bremmer 2015 and Fisk 2016.

33. “Saudi Arabia’s Allies Bahrain, Sudan and UAE Act Against Iran,” 2016.

34. Zakaria 2016, p. 1.

35. Cockburn 2016 and Gelvin 2012.

36. Cockburn 2016.

37. Guehenno 2015, 2016.

38. Stares 2015.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. “ISIS Goes Global,” 2016.

42. Arango 2015.

43. Sherlock 2015.

44. Gladstone and Ghannam 2015.

45. United Nations 2015.

46. “Russian Airstrikes in Syria ‘Have Killed More Than 1,000 Civilians,’” 2016.

47. United Nations 2016.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2015a.