By CNN's Annesha Bhattacharya
40 miles west of Baghdad, on the banks of the Euphrates River, lies the desert city of Falluja. It was once known as the “City of Mosques” – a hub of trade, culture, and prosperity. Today Falluja is overshadowed by the ISIS – an extremist group that has poured into Iraq. Over the course of this week, several prominent Iraqi cities have been overrun by ISIS forces. They have vowed to continue on to Baghdad. In its wake, ISIS has left death, destruction, and thousands of displaced Iraqis.
The contentious history of the city dates back centuries, including horrific civilian casualties during the Gulf War, as well as two of the bloodiest battles in the last Iraqi War. All this violence has left residents wondering when will it end.
“It’s in our nature, Iraqis, to be hopeful,” Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily tells CNN, adding that the Iraqi people are looking for many things – not the least of which is closure from the years of violence.
Ambassador Faily has a unique perspective. Born and raised in Iraq, educated in the United Kingdom and eventually employed in the United States. Initially forced to flee Iraq in the 1980’s because of ethnic cleansing, Faily returned to his homeland after the American invasion in 2003. Since 2013, he has served as the Iraqi ambassador in Washington, D.C.
Once enthusiastically celebrating the end of U.S. intervention in the region, the Iraqi government has recently called on President Obama to lend a hand. Sectarian violence has grown, pitting Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds against each other.
“We have chosen the United States as our strategic partner,” says Faily, “We don’t want others to come have the fight for us. We need the help of others to provide us with the capability for us to have that fight.”
To those worried that U.S. intervention may aggravate the problem and prompt an even more extreme response from ISIS, Faily has a response, “ISIL doesn’t need to be incentivized to be aggressive.” In Faily’s view, handling ISIS, which he refers to as ISIL, requires a degree of urgency that the international community has not yet grasped. “Stability and unification of Iraq is a main factor for stability in the region. Nobody will benefit from Iraq becoming out of control,” Faily says, “we need to provide more urgency to the situation.”
Even with the ongoing violence, Faily has fond memories of his childhood home. “My country is a diverse country,” he says, “It is extremely rich in culture – its diversity is what we want to cherish. Our neighborhood was full of other people, whether it was Sunni, Shia, that was not a question. We need to preserve the old, rich, Iraq. Al-Qaeda and ISIL will not.”
(The ambassador calls the militant group ISIL – for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)