Friday, August 26, 2016
Those Who Prefer ISIS
Tales of jubilant “ordinary” people, men cheering and women tearing off their hajibs and celebrating their release from their ISIS captivity as Iraqi forces retake towns like Fallujah and soon, Mosul, have made the Western press. Sunnis escaping the brutal fundamentalist boot of Sunni-extreme ISIS. After all, this is the American vision of how we must defeat ISIS… we will supply arms, money, airpower but rely heavily on local “boots on the ground” to crush this ISIS malevolence. Kurds are a welcomed sight to those finding that the ISIS reign is over. Iraqi forces are not.
Outside of the smaller Kurdish forces (who have fought on “our side”), the majority of the balance liberators comes almost exclusively from Iraqi (plus the Iranians really calling the shots) Shiite forces. And to say that these most-prevalent boots on the ground, Iraqi Shiite regulars and Shiite militia, are hardly welcome is an understatement. If the horrors of ISIS genocide and brutality make us all ashamed, the reality remains that if American plans continue to rely heavily on Iraqi military ground resources, virtually entirely Shiites, we are facing another shameful disaster. Hope for Turkish help (a mainly Sunni state) is a mixed and rather unreliable “blessing.” While we have seen some recent post-coup assaults against ISIS from Turkish forces, those efforts are really as much against their own Kurdish “rebels” as they are against ISIS.
The animosity between Shiites and Sunnis, escalated to new horrific levels by the 2003 American capture of Iraq (forcing people to choose sides), dismantling of the Sunni bureaucracy and transfer of power to a Shiite majority government, seems to tell us that our strategy of relying on Iraqi forces to terminate the ISIS threat is sorely misplaced. If ISIS brutality is horrible, it is mirrored by the brutality inflicted by Iraq’s Shiite forces, not just in the horrific persecution of Sunnis that followed when the U.S. purged Sunnis and handed power to Shiites, but into the present-day “liberation” efforts.
Reuters (August 23rd) explains why so many Sunnis prefer their fellow-Sunni-ISIS and fear “liberation” by Shiites with hatred on their minds: “Shi’ite militias in Iraq detained, tortured and abused far more Sunni civilians during the American-backed capture of the town of Falluja in June than U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged, Reuters has found.
“More than 700 Sunni men and boys are still missing more than two months after the Islamic State stronghold fell. The abuses occurred despite U.S. efforts to restrict the militias' role in the operation, including threatening to withdraw American air support, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
“The U.S. efforts had little effect. Shi’ite militias did not pull back from Falluja, participated in looting there and now vow to defy any American effort to limit their role in coming operations against Islamic State.
“All told, militia fighters killed at least 66 Sunni males and abused at least 1,500 others fleeing the Falluja area, according to interviews with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats.
“They said men were shot, beaten with rubber hoses and in several cases beheaded. Their accounts were supported by a Reuters review of an investigation by local Iraqi authorities and video testimony and photographs of survivors taken immediately after their release…
“Washington’s inability to restrain the sectarian violence is now a central concern for Obama administration officials as they move ahead with plans to help Iraqi forces retake the much larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s Iraqi capital. Preliminary operations to clear areas outside the strategic city have been under way for months. Sunni leaders in Iraq and Western diplomats fear the Shi’ite militias might commit worse excesses in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group, seized the majority-Sunni city in June 2014.
“U.S. officials say they fear a repeat of the militia abuses in Mosul could erase any chances of reconciling Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities. ‘Virtually every conversation that we have had internally with respect to planning for Mosul - and virtually every conversation that we’ve had with the Iraqis - has this as a central topic,’ said a senior Obama Administration official.
“In public, as reports of the abuses in Falluja emerged from survivors, Iraqi officials and human rights groups, U.S. officials in Washington initially played down the scope of the problem and did not disclose the failed American effort to rein in the militias.
“Brett McGurk, the special U.S. envoy for the American-led campaign against Islamic State, expressed concern to reporters at a June 10th White House briefing for reporters about what he called ‘reports of isolated atrocities’ against fleeing Sunnis.
“Three days before the briefing, Gov. Sohaib al-Rawi of Anbar Province informed the U.S. ambassador that hundreds of people detained by Shi’ite militias had gone missing around Falluja, the governor told Reuters. By the time of the White House briefing, Iraqi officials, human rights investigators and the United Nations had collected evidence of scores of executions, the torture of hundreds of men and teenagers, and the disappearance of more than 700 others.”
In short, our strategy is not working. Word of these atrocities has spread throughout the Sunni community, both within and without ISIS-controlled territory, and without a strong non-Shiite force to rescue these very unhappy “citizens” under ISIS control, our tactics simply will not produce the kind of stabilization that will extinguish the horrors of ISIS… and what may just replace it. They may hate ISIS but they fear Shiite liberators more.
I’m Peter Dekom, and our leadership – evidenced in the rhetoric of both presidential candidates – along with most of the American constituency, just do not get that just wanting something to happen, reinforced with slogans, is not remotely the same as making it happen.