SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Assyrian American Association of the Bay Area was staging a rally Friday morning at the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco to call for urgent humanitarian aide and international military support in Iraq against ISIS militants.
The protest was scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. with an observance of the 99-year anniversary of the Assyrian Martyr’s Day to memorialize the fallen Assyrians in Iraq and Syria. The group will then march to San Francisco Federal Building to voice desires for a larger international effort.
This comes after U.S. fighters dropped bombs on Islamic militants in Iraq Friday, redeeming President Barack Obama’s promise of military force to counter the advancing militants and confront the threat they pose to Iraqi civilians and Americans. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that two F/A-18 jets dropped 500-pound bombs on a piece of artillery and the truck towing it.
Firas Jatour, a volunteer for Assyrian American Association of San Jose and an engineer at a Silicon Valley tech company, said the Assyrian overwhelmingly community supports Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes, but more needs to be done.
“These people could be eliminated from their ancestral homeland,” Jatour said.
He heard Obama’s televised speech Thursday night threatening to renew U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s long sectarian war. Obama said that American military planes already had carried out airdrops of food and water, at the request of the Iraqi government, to tens of thousands of Iraqi religious minorities atop a mountain surrounded by militants and desperately in need of supplies.
Regardless, “we feel the current international action is not proportional,” Jatour said, who is calling on UN forces to go in to keep peace and create a safe haven for refugees adding that “500,000 people have moved out of their home and are living in limbo.”
There’s anywhere from 5-10,000 Assyrians living in the Bay Area, predominately in San Jose with an older community in San Francisco from the early 1900s.
Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, who represents California 18th District in Silicon Valley, is one of two Assyrian members of Congress. The Democrat has a history of protecting Assyrian Christians in Iraq from religious and political persecution.
On July 25, she penned a letter to Narsai David, President of the Assyrian Aid Society and a KCBS food critic, detailing her recent efforts for Christians in Iraq. She’s introduced a resolution “calling for urgent international intervention on behalf of Iraqi civilians facing a dire humanitarian crisis and severe persecution in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq.”
The situation has become so severe that the Kurdish regional group is now considering leaving the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Jatour said his family and friends are lining up at the city’s airport to try to get tickets out.
In Thursday’s somber speech from the White House, Obama outlined a rationale for airstrikes if the Islamic State militants advance on American troops in Irbil and the U.S. consulate there in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The troops were sent to Iraq earlier this year as part of the White House response to the extremist group’s swift movement across the border with Syria and into Iraq.
The president has faced persistent calls to take military action in Syria on humanitarian grounds, given that more than 170,000 people have been killed there.
Critics, including some Republicans in Congress, have argued that Obama’s cautious approach to Syria has allowed the Islamic State group to flourish there, growing strong enough to move across the border with Iraq and make swift gains.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she supported the president’s immediate actions in Iraq but added that she was pleased “by the president’s continued assurances that he will not send U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.”
There’s no American military solution in Iraq, Pelosi said, and Iraq’s leaders need to “see beyond their divisions and come together to fight this common threat.”
In light of the militants’ advances, Obama dispatched about 800 U.S. forces to Iraq earlier this year, with those troops largely split between joint operation centers in Baghdad and Irbil.
More than half are providing security for the embassy and U.S. personnel. American service members also are involved in improving U.S. intelligence, providing security cooperation and conducting assessments of Iraqi capabilities.
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