Ramadi disaster awaiting? Why are we still committed to nation-building in Iraq?
We keep hearing that we are not in the business of “nation-building.” Yet our insistence that all military aid must go through the national government in order to provide a unified, integrated Iraq, clearly is nation-building. And like many such efforts, this one seems elusive to the edge of calling it impossible. We’ve had how many years now, from Bush to Obama, where the Shia dominated government has failed to take the suggested steps towards integrating the Kurds and Sunnis into a national unified Iraq?
Simply put, the Shia national forces have no will to fight. And the Shia don’t trust the Sunni Militia after years of Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a Sunni, though he eschewed any religious power in his Baath Party rule of Iraq.
Embarrassed by their troops’ helter-skelter retreats in Mosul, and more recently in Ramadi where they left valuable weapons behind in their rush to run from the battles—even when they significantly out numbered their ISIS opponents–Shia governmental leaders have yielded the battlefield to the Shia Militia. Yes, these are the same Shia militia that fought our troops and who have just been reported as imitating their ISIS counterparts by the distribution of videos showing them burning a Sunni prisoner. A key parliamentarian in Iraq admitted that the government had no controlling power over these same Hashd al-Shaabi, or People’s Mobilization militia as they operated in the Sunni dominated Anbar province. As if to underscore the sectarian nature of their effort to “liberate” the recently lost Ramadi, the al-Shaabi used as the name of their offensive a slogan widely used by Shia jihadi in sectarian conflicts against Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon’s spokesperson, Colonel Steven Warren said in an understatement, ”I think it’s unhelpful.” Yet he still supported our failed policy of sending arms exclusively through the Shia government. A position he, once again, rationalized the policy by arguing that “the key to victory, the key to expelling ISIL from Iraq is a unified Iraq,” one that “separates itself from sectarian divides.” He added, “The solution is a unified Iraqi government.” This is the same old failed mantra, and how he expects freedom from a sectarian divide by sending in clearly sectarian Shia jihadists to fight Sunni Islamists in a Sunni territory is a question whose answer seems obvious to all but our decision-makers.
Indeed, Lieutenant General H R McMaster, Director of the Army capabilities planning group, noted that the use of Shia militia in a Sunni area is a “matter of grave concern” for regional stability.
Meanwhile, the non-Islamic jihadi Sunni tribal militias are pleading for weapons directly from the U.S. government. They have wondered out loud why the U.S. wants them to fight ISIS but follows policies that keep the means of accomplishing that task in the hands of the Shia government, on whose ears their pleas fall deafly.
The third group fighting ISIS are the Kurdish Pesh Merga. The Kurds, unlike the Sunni in Anbar, have control of a key oil field in Kirkuk. But they, too, have had problems with the Shia government’s fulfilling their promises. There is another problem with using the Pesh Merga in Anbar. Not only are their numbers limited, and many are tied down in a series of fights with ISIS in Northern cities, but their activities are viewed quite negatively by the government in Baghdad, by Turkey and to some extent Iran. The three corners of those countries are inhabited by Kurds, whose ultimate aim is to create one Kurdistan out of those regions. The largest number of Kurds live in the Turkish part of the triangle, and, not surprisingly, Turkey is the most vocal in opposition to the Kurds and Pesh Merga. Perhaps their Kurdistanian goals plays into the Shia administration in Baghdad’s caution. It surely does in Shia Iran.
The ingredients for disaster are all present in the play for Anbar. I can understand the Shia long-held distrust of Sunni tribal militia. But the alternative, relying on sectarian militants, can hardly fit into our objectives. A more realistic view of the goal of a peaceful, integrated Iraq is called for. And support for the more moderate of the Sunni tribal militia is essential.