Tag Archives: ISIS

Jeff Collins: Paper tigers and the failure of ‘Iraqization’

In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the beginning of the American withdrawal from South Vietnam. In exchange for removing half-a-million military personnel the United States would funnel billions of dollars in equipment to the South Vietnamese military so that it could prosecute the war against the North, a process known as ‘Vietnamization’. In doing so, the South Vietnamese armed forces emerged as one of the world’s most formidable militaries. But yet it was a paper tiger, collapsing a mere two years after the removal of the last American military forces in 1973.

Like the South Vietnamese military before it, on paper the post-Saddam Hussein military of Iraq is impressive: 250,000 troops backed by 2500 armoured vehicles, 400 tanks, 278 aircraft, and 129 helicopters. Following an almost identical approach as that used by Nixon, both the Bush and Obama administrations focused on building up the Iraqi military so that it could take the lead in fighting the insurgency in exchange for an American withdrawal in 2011.

‘Iraqization’ saw the U.S. spend, between 2003 and September 2012, $25 billion on creating, equipping, and training the Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi government itself spent billions more – via a U.S. aid package – on purchasing F-16 jets, Apache gunships, precision Hellfire missiles, M-16 assault rifles, ScanEagle reconnaissance drones, and M1A1 Abram tanks; essentially, the same equipment used by the U.S. military.

What remains remarkable in light of last week’s events is how none of this really mattered. Four of the country’s 14 army divisions practically folded in the face of less than 1,500 ISIS militants, who were outnumbered 15-to-one. As such, the problem of Iraqization, much like it’s South Vietnam predecessor, is that it tried to establish a unified, nation-building professional military model onto a politically unstable government.

In short, the failure of the U.S. in not accounting for, or at least ensuring prolonged stabilized communal relations on the political dimension after 2011 automatically undermined the military effectiveness of the Iraqi armed forces which have turned into, what one observer calls, a Shia army on steroids, targeting the Sunni minority.

Sadly, the failure of the Iraqization approach is not limited to Mesopotamia. The United States has seen a similar repetition of blowback in other communal, conflict-riven countries: Mali, Libya, and Afghanistan. While American airstrikes may halt the ISIS tide the absence of a serious political compromise between Iraq’s communities ensures more bloodshed and fracturing.

The Hustings


J Dan Aiken: The US is right to aid Iraq

US President Barack Obama made the right choice in providing military assistance to Iraq’s troubled government. Putting aside the question of whether America should have engaged in Iraqi nation-building in the first place, the reality is that the actions of the past decade have already occurred and that America must nurture the democracy it has helped to conceive.

The insurgent group ISIS does not respect the rule of law, democracy, the conventions of war, or even human life. Iraqi soldiers and civilians captured by this repugnant group have been dehumanized for propaganda purposes and summarily executed. This group cannot exist in a democratic Iraq. And while ISIS must be stopped and brought to justice there are clear concerns that Iraq’s government cannot resolve the crisis.

Iraq’s government has not developed as quickly as many had hoped. The incumbent prime minister has been ineffective in building a unity coalition among sectarian groups. It’s now up to Iraqis to determine their own government, while it’s the responsibility of their friends and neighbors in the international community to provide counsel and assistance where it is needed. Prime Minister al-Maliki has asked for help to protect Iraqi citizens and the country’s fragile democracy. Considering the barbarism of ISIS, it would be a stunning repudiation of America’s own efforts to decline al-Maliki’s request.

For the US, providing military assistance to Iraq’s fragile government may seem unsavory, but so too is the disgraceful alternative. Nearly 4,500 Americans were killed in Iraq over the span of a decade-long fight for a free democracy with liberty for all citizens. There can be no greater insult to the sacrifices and memory of these soldiers than to allow the progress made possible by their bloodshed to be undone. At the same time, the Obama administration is embroiled in a scandal about its failures to adequately care for returned and injured veterans. Imagine veterans’ frustration in the face of a reality in which their government does not properly care for them following military service, and in which their government allows that service to be rendered all but purposeless.

Iraq’s request is reasonable: reconnaissance flights, tactical advisers, and perhaps limited air support to eradicate a barbaric horde of homicidal would-be theocrats. For a country that has already given thousands of its sons and daughters and billions of dollars, this action is a drop in the bucket to preserve all that has been gained. What is necessary to protect the innocent from the reprehensible is infrequently ideal; yet in this case, it is a necessity nonetheless.

The Hustings


Geoffrey Wale: ISIS and child martyrs

There is a disturbing report in the news that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) kidnapped 145 Kurdish children on May 29 with the intention of grooming them to die as martyrs. In Islam, martyrdom refers to one who dies in Allah’s cause. However, one form of martyrdom in Islam, Istishhad, meaning heroic death, has come to be defined in the 20th and 21st centuries as dying in a suicide attack.

This modern martyrdom was formed  by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the Iranian revolution in 1979. Khomeini established the Basij, a paramilitary group intended to recruit men and women between the ages of 18 and 45. In practice, during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, children were employed in the Basij, used among other things to clear minefields by walking through them and detonating the mines, dying in the process. This was considered martyrdom by the mullahs who had recruited them.

The story of one of these child martyrs, Mohammad Hossein Fahmideh, is publicly commemorated in Iranian society and held as an inspiration to others to follow. He is said to have died in battle, having thrown himself under an Iraqi tank with a hand grenade, blowing himself up and disabling the tank in the process. There is every reason to suspect this is what ISIS intends for these kidnapped children.

From the perspective of Christian martyrdom, as I understand it, refers to one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death). A very lengthy list of children and adolescents beatified and venerated as saints and martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church includes the names of children who died along with their parents who maintained their Christian faith, knowing that they risked death in doing so.

As for the grooming of children for martyrdom by sending them on suicide missions, one has no qualms in condemning this outright. Children are dependent on their parents and mentors for their well-being, and while they may be caught up in events beyond their control, using children in warfare and justifying it with a twisted understanding ofs faith is universally wrong. I hope one day that those in the Iranian regime and ISIS responsible for these crimes will be brought to justice, and that the children who died in their futile cause will be afforded a fitting commemoration.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Iraq and Syria were destined for failure

War appears to have broken out afresh in Iraq as armed rebels make their way toward the capital. Regional and international observers are caught off guard, but a conflict of this kind is predictable, almost inevitable, when viewed through the lens of religion.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, has made a name for itself with its quick conquest of western Iraq. Following the fall of Mosul and Tikrit this week, 500,000 Iraqis, many of them Shia Muslims, have fled the region west of the Tigris River. Now ISIS, whose aims are the indiscriminate destruction of Shiites and the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic state, threatens to win the second successful capture of the city of Baghdad in just over a decade.

The word for ISIS rebels, before their unexpected coalescence and territorial aggrandizement, was “insurgents”. By 2011, the United States had nearly eradicated the insurgents, then known as ISI, after killing their leaders and shoring up the Iraqi defense. But after the American departure, and in the midst of the horrifying Syrian civil war, the movement was resurrected. Now it numbers 10,000 and controls a region the size of Jordan.

“Security concerns” don’t begin to capture the regional mood. Bumbling Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been caught flat-footed by the stunning geopolitical upheaval. The US-trained troops in the military are deserting their posts after brutal threats from ISIS conquerors. The United States thus far has committed nothing tangible to a defense of the Maliki regime. In the most peculiar turn of events yet, Iran is bidding for Baghdad’s rescue with an offer of 10,000 troops.

Commentators are asking: How do a few thousand rebels undo, in a matter of weeks, the effect of a decade’s worth of American blood and treasure? Why is Iran coming to the aid of the country against which it waged a bitter war from 1980 to 1988? And what force is animating these brutal Islamist rebels?

By taking a step back from the immediate conflict to view the centuries-long scene we have the answer, which is obvious to anyone who has ever felt the soul-transforming power of religion for good or evil. Sunni and Shia Islam are irreconcilable in the hearts of their adherents. Political attempts to unite them, whether they are named Iraq or Syria, and whether they are enforced by superpowers or not, are ultimately doomed.


Tom Stringham: Cantor’s defeat and Mosul’s fall

All bets are off in Virginia and Nineveh this week. Last night US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor shocked the political world by losing to an unknown Tea Party candidate in a Republican primary in his home state. Earlier in the day, a few hundred rebels affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, unexpectedly captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in the province of Nineveh.

Of the two surprises, Virginia’s might be the more baffling. Polling had never had Cantor, the second highest-ranking House Republican, with less than a twelve-point lead in his primary race. At one point he was even leading his opponent by 34 percentage points.

The former Republican House Whip has been notable, if in nothing else, for his ability to maneuver nimbly in the political world. Until yesterday, observers thought that Cantor had placed himself in what is perhaps a House Republican’s most enviable spot: one that is “Establishment” enough to not to carry the Tea Party label, but sufficiently populist to separate the politician, in the public view, from the unpopular Speaker, John Boehner.

The emerging theory of the half-day since Cantor was defeated is that he was done in by his compromises on immigration. The Tea Party victor, David Brat, sold voters on the idea that a vote for Cantor was a vote for amnesty. Whatever its cause, Brat’s triumph will force the Republican Party and everyone else to rethink the already uncertain political landscape as 2016 approaches.

If Cantor’s defeat was perplexing, ISIS’ conquest of Mosul is by far more disturbing to Western interests. The victory out of nowhere turns the group from a scattered insurgency into a quasi-state actor in Eastern Syria and Northwestern Iraq—some observers are asking whether the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” has already had its birth. The balance of power in the region is unstable enough without this new player, which can count, unlike very few other organizations, both Bashar al-Assad and the United States among its sworn enemies.

The paths forward for Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration in the Middle East are now extraordinarily unclear, and the best prognosticators, in their failure to foresee these events, have left those parties unprepared. The lesson to be learned in the immediate aftermath of these twin wonders of political change is to avoid betting too heavily on a sure thing.

The Hustings