Category Archives: War in Iraq (2nd war)

Camps: Incubating the next Jihad.

There are some consequences of the war to the “liberation” of Mosul that I was not familiar with.  That is the existence of camps for refugees. One of the often forgotten results of war is the displacement of people. It is just not possible for people to live in a war torn country. As Ben Taub reported in the New Yorker, “The war against the Islamic State displaced a million people in Nineveh Province.” (emphasis added) And that is just one province of Iraq! It is difficult for us in the west to comprehend 1 million people not being able to live in their own homes. Imagine the distress this would cause.

 

Many of these people were placed in refugee camps, often near by in other parts of Iraq some distance from the worst fighting. Originally the main inhabitants were people displaced by ISIS. Later ISIS linked families were added to the list of the displaced as the U.S. led coalition forces claimed “victory.”  Many were transported to the camps in 115°F weather in open trucks without shade or water.  Taub reported how the head of a major Non-governmental organization described the camps as“like a concentration camp.”

 

Many of the security forces were reluctant to protect the camp residents. They are more interested in exacting revenge for violence inflicted on their loved ones. Life inside those camps was gruesomely bad:

 

In some camps, humanitarian workers offer aid in exchange for sex. Many women are pregnant from having been raped by the security forces or from having sex to feed themselves and their children. Although the fighting has ended, “these camps are meant to stay,” the N.G.O. director said. “If you are ten years old now, and you have no food, no assistance, and your mother has to prostitute herself to survive, and the whole of Iraqi society blames you because you were close to ISIS—in two, three, four years, what are you going to do? It’s clear. The seeds for the next conflict are all here.” (emphasis added)

Many commentators criticized President Obama for the chaos he left behind in Iraq, saying it generated ISIS. Now the American supported coalition forces are doing it again. As Taub said,

“At a police compound in West Mosul, I asked a colonel named Mezhar Sedoon whether he thought that the camps are creating more security problems than they are solving. “Some of the mothers in the camp are raising ISIS children, but others have become prostitutes,” he said. He laughed. “Money-money, fucky-fucky!” he said in English. “I’d rather they become whores than raise terrorists!”

Some women try to carry out abortions inside their tents. Others give birth, and discard the babies in unpopulated parts of the camp. Those who are found alive often end up in the care of Sukaina Mohammad Ali Younnis, an Iraqi government official who is in charge of women’s and children’s issues in Mosul. Over tea in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, she showed me hundreds of photographs of children she has found in camps, on the streets, and dead in trash cans. Earlier this year, she saw someone throw a bundle out of a car, and found that it was a baby boy. She showed me a video of herself cradling him in the back of an ambulance, as blood bubbled out of his nostrils. He died on the way to the hospital.

Outside the camps, thousands of other children have been abandoned or orphaned by the war. Many of them were born to Yazidi women who had been kidnapped by ISIS and forced into sexual slavery. “After ISIS, the Yazidis accepted the women back into the community, but not their half-ISIS babies,” Younnis said. “They force the women to turn over their children to the orphanage. Every day, these women call me, wanting to know how their children are doing.” (emphasis added)

Hundreds of very young children are living in Iraqi prisons because their parents have been sentenced to death. As Taub said,

“Iraqi children whom ISIS trained to become fighters and potential suicide bombers, are imprisoned, as if their lives were irredeemable. “They are useless in interrogations—they just cry,” the senior Iraqi intelligence official said. “We are holding children as young as twelve in cells with hard-core jihadi fighters.”… Thousands of children in Mosul live on the street, searching through the trash for scrap to sell. “After their parents were killed or imprisoned, their relatives refused to take them in,” Younnis said. “They are seen as tainted, even if they were too young to absorb the ideology.” Many of them hang out in traffic and at checkpoints, choking on dust and diesel, trying to wipe down windshields or sell water and tissues to passing motorists. “They will do anything for fifty dollars,” she said. “I go to many government officials, asking to find ways to help these kids, but they all say, ‘It’s not my area of responsibility.’ ” (emphasis added)

Thousands of children in Mosul live on the street, searching through the trash for scrap to sell.

So the American supported coalition forces have created a problem that will come back to haunt not just he Middle East, but likely, the world.  All of this is just one more unintended consequence of war. Taub put it this way,

“The camps are a time bomb,” Younnis continued. “The fathers are in prison or dead. The mothers are being raped. They will raise the kids accordingly, and their sons will seek revenge. This won’t just affect Mosul, or Nineveh, or Iraq. This will affect the whole world.” (emphasis added)

At least the Pentagon is not saying “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. They have learned that the next generation of jihadists is being incubated. No matter what Trump says, ISIS is not destroyed. He did not start any of these wars, but he seriously misjudged, as did Obama, how difficult it is to end these crazy wars in the Middle East. That is one more reason not to start them in the first place. Already since its “defeat” ISIS has set up checkpoints and has carried out abductions and assassinations in parts of Iraq. It has been said that they have buried large quantities of weapons and even cash to be unearthed when the next jihad is declared. Taub concluded his article in the New Yorker this way:

” According to the Pentagon, ISIS is “more capable” now than Al Qaeda in Iraq was at its peak, in 2007, and there are still some thirty thousand fighters operating in Syria and Iraq. Citing the camps, Umm Hamad told me that she expects the Islamic State to return to Mosul. “Not soon, but more powerful than before,” she said.

The other woman was Umm Hamad’s niece. She was in her twenties, and spoke softly and wistfully of the past. “Everyone in my family welcomed the Islamic State, except my youngest brother,” she said. “He hated them.” Throughout the occupation, she and her other brothers had tried to convince him of the merits of the caliphate, to no avail. Then he was arrested by the Iraqi security forces, under suspicion of ISIS affiliation. He was twelve years old. She has no idea where he is, or when he will get out of prison—she knows only that, if the government doesn’t kill him, by the time it lets him go it will have taught him that she was right.”

 I keep thinking about my American friend who wants to “take out Iran.”  How easy will that be? What unintended consequences would such actions usher in? The United States has helped cause the death of thousands of people, helped displace millions of others, spent hundred of billions of dollars (if not trillions) in Iraq and the result has been the Middle East is filled with people who hate Americans and the next generation of jihadis has already been  born to unleash their reign of terror on a new generation of innocents. This is not madness; it is much worse than that!

Victory in Mosul

 

Mission Accomplished

What does victory look like? Donald Trump bragged about how he had helped the Iraqi forces defeat ISIS (or ISIL or IS as it is sometimes called). For convenience I will refer to them all as ISIS.  ISIS as we all know is not an organization of Sunday school teachers.

I suppose such a victory is what my American friend was looking for when he called for the American forces to “take out Iran.”

Mosul is Iraq’s second most populated city. In June 2014, much to their surprise, ISIS  captured Mosul as the government forces, trained and outfitted by the Americans, collapsed at the mere sight of the fearsome  ISIS warriors. Much to the disappointment of the Americans, the Iraqi forces abandoned all that fancy and expensive American equipment largely without a fight. Years of American training, advice, and money, created security forces that at the first sign of trouble folded up and left their military hardware behind.

The Iraqi government was dominated by Shia Muslims. ISIS was dominated by Sunni Muslims.   That made for natural enmity. It was in Mosul that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the beginning of their self-proclaimed “caliphate.” At the time the population of Mosul was 2.5 million people After ISIS ruled for more than 2 years those numbers dropped to 1.5 million.

ISIS had about 3,000 to 5,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul.  The estimates of their strengths varied widely. Many of them were not well trained and included teenagers, but because of their reputation for brutality they struck fear into the hearts and minds of Iraqis and westerners alike. Only the Kurds were keen on fighting them. About 10,000 were foreign fighters in including both Arabs and non-Arabs. The rest of ISIS fighters were Iraqi.

The Iraqi-led coalition that eventually drove out ISIS included about 100,000 Iraqi security forces, (ISF), 16,000 Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or PMU) 40,000 Peshmerga that included about 200 Iranian Kurdish female fighters from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK). It was estimated that Peshmerga and ISF outnumbered ISIS fighters by about 10-1. The Kurds did  most of the fighting for the American military, until the US abandoned them at the end of 2019. The world was notified of that abandonment by a tweet from President Trump and it shocked the world. The Kurds were more shocked than anyone else, even though many people told them not to trust the Americans.

The forces against ISIS were supported by many countries, including Canada, but most importantly the United States. The assault to recapture the city of Mosul really started in October of 2016. The coalition forces inflicted severe pain on ISIS in that effort and because by then ISIS was totally embedded in Iraq, the local population also suffered greatly. As the above photograph makes abundantly clear, the “victory” of retaking Mosul from ISIS came at a horrendous cost to the city and the people who lived there.

The UN stated that ISIS had taken tens of thousands of civilians to use as human shields in Mosul. Those who refused to go were executed. Life (and death) was simple in Mosul.

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeted ISIS positions, and ISIL started tire fires to reduce visibility. Heavy fighting occurred in the city. The city was “won” back from ISIS by hard block-by-block fighting.  Before the battle to take back Mosul was over, it was estimated that it would cost more than $1 billion to repair “basic” infrastructure in the city. This process would likely take years. Again looking at the photograph above that is hardly surprising.

 The UN also estimated that more than 5,000 buildings have been damaged and another 490 were destroyed in the Old City. During the battle Amnesty International accused Iraqi, Kurdish  and United States forces of using unnecessarily powerful weapons including MOAB the so-called Mother of All Bombs, the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the world. Both sides damaged many religious sites.

The US accused ISIS of using civilians as human shields. It was confirmed that this happened and was widely condemned by human rights organizations.  The International Business Times reported that ISIS had forced boys as young as 12 to fight for them and that ISIS had trained the children to behead prisoners and make suicide bombs. Civilians were shot and deposited into mass graves in the city. ISIS also carried out retribution killings of civilians for welcoming Iraqi and Peshmerga troops.

The presence of Iraqi forces with several militias with histories of human rights abuses caused various organizations to criticize the US led coalition forces.  The International Business Times reported cases of Iraqi security forces torturing and interrogating young children for information about ISIS. On March 17, 2017 a U.S. led coalition air-strike in Mosul killed more than 200 civilians.  Amnesty Internationals reported, “The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

Kurdish intelligence estimated in July of 2017 that the total number of civilian casualties at the time were 40,000. The largest portion of this loss of life is attributable to the unyielding artillery bombardment by U.S. supported Iraqi government forces. The US-led coalition forces were one of the significant sources of civilian deaths.

Thousands of people had been forced to flee the country as a result of ISIS attacks and bombardment by U.S. led coalition forces.  Of course, many of these refugees were children. The refugees were not welcome in the Us as part of his Muslim ban. All sides were accused of violating human rights laws. About one day after victory was declared by Iraqi forces, Amnesty International accused both sides of violating international laws. The Iraqi forces, supported by the U.S. were accused of carrying out unlawful attacks using explosive weapons and failing to take necessary precautions to prevent the loss of civilian life and in some cases including disproportionate attacks.

An Associated Press investigation that cross-referenced independent databases from non-governmental organizations, claimed that 9,000–11,000 residents of Mosul were killed in the battle. It blamed airstrikes and shellings by Iraqi forces and anti-ISIS coalition of being responsible for at least 3,200 civilian deaths. The coalition on the other hand has acknowledged responsibility for 326 deaths. ISIS was held responsible for killing one third of the civilians out of the death toll. Both sides were brutal. As I said before, savagery was the chief legacy of the war in Iraq, not democracy as George W Bush an dDick Cheney had envisioned.

Official victory over ISIS was declared in July of 2017, but that did not stop further heavy fighting as ISIS continued to resist in the Old City of Mosul.

It has been estimated that removing explosives from Mosul and repairing the city will cost $50 billion over the next 5 years.

This is what “victory” looks like. It’s not a pretty picture. Who is looking forward to another victory in the Middle East?

Iraq: The Chief Legacy of War is Savagery

As a result of my conversation with my American friend where he suggested the current foe, Iran, should obliterated, I have been thinking a lot about what succession war would look like. It is not obvious.

The Second War in Iraq started in 2003 and in 2017 Donald Trump bragged about how the Americans had defeated ISIS in Iraq. Of course he neglected to mention how most of the heavy lifting in that battle was done by the Kurds. Those were the same Kurds he shamelessly abandoned in 2019.

Originally that war was started to remove Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction with which he could not be trusted. Only the US and their friends can be trusted with such weapons. Later, when none of such weapons were found, the purpose of the war switched to defeating ISIS who had rushed into the country to fill the void left by Hussein.

But there is more to this story than victory. Ben Taub wrote a very interesting article for the New Yorker on what has happened in Iraq since ISIS had been defeated (more or less) in 2017.

To begin with, we must remember that the Iraqi government was installed by the Americans after they defeated Saddam Hussein and his army during the second Iraq War. Ever since then the US has been engaged in nation building in Iraq with pretty meager success. They have trained the military and police, since they did not want to keep Saddam Hussein’s Baathist security forces around for fear they would revive Saddam’s government. So really the Americans now own those security forces and the problems they have created. The US can’t really say it is not responsible and wipe its hands of the matter.

Taub described how a trial of Iraqi terrorists proceeded in 2018. After ISIS was largely defeated the Iraqis went on a rampage of revenge.  Taub saw dozens of suspected  terrorists who were crammed into a jail cell. Several of them had not yet seen a lawyer yet but were already dressed for execution.

Taub described the trial of one of those suspected terrorists this way:

“In terrorism cases, lawyers are usually denied access to their clients until the hearing begins. Shortly after ten o’clock, three judges in long black robes shuffled into Courtroom 2 and sat at the bench. Suhail Abdullah Sahar, a bald, middle-aged man with a thin, jowly face, sat in the center. There were twenty-one cases on his docket that day, sixteen related to terrorism. He quietly read out a name; a security officer shouted it down the hall to one of his colleagues, who shouted it to the guard, who shouted it into the cell. Out came a young man named Ahmed. A security officer led him to a wooden cage in the middle of the courtroom. Judge Sahar accused him of having joined ISIS in Qayyarah, a small town south of Mosul.

“Sir, I swear, I have never been to Qayyarah,” Ahmed said.

Sahar was skeptical. “I have a written confession here, with your thumbprint on it,” he said.

“Sir, I swear, I gave my thumbprint on a blank paper,” Ahmed replied. “And I was tortured by the security services.” Sahar listed Ahmed’s supposed jihadi associates; Ahmed denied knowing any of them.

“Enough evidence,” the prosecutor said. “I ask for a guilty verdict.”

Ahmed had no lawyer, and so Sahar called upon an elderly state attorney named Hussein, who was seated in the gallery, to spontaneously craft a defense. Hussein walked over to a lectern, repeated from memory what Ahmed had said, and, without requesting his release, concluded with a plea for “mercy in his sentencing.”

Ahmed wept as he was led out of the room. His trial had lasted four and a half minutes.”

And we should remember that the usual sentence for terrorist cases is death.

The second trial Taub observed lasted 8 minutes while the lawyers in the room yawned, cracked jokes, or closed their eyes. The Defendant said he was charged by mistake because his name was similar to that of someone in ISIS.

The trial of the third Defendant was a 23 year old from a village near Mosul who was charged with being a member of ISIS and again claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.

2 of these accused men had lawyer, which according to Taub was a good sign that they were innocent, since lawyers rarely wanted to represent guilty people because often after doing that the lawyers would be charged with being members of ISIS.  “As the lawyer spoke, the judges tended to administrative tasks. The trial was over in nine minutes. “I hate ISIS—they blew up my house!” the suspect shouted, in tears, as he was led out of court.”

In each case the prosecutor said: “Enough evidence—I ask for a guilty verdict.” It was the only phrase he uttered in court that morning. He did not have to do any more to get convictions from the judges even though many Defendants explained how they had been tortured into giving confessions.

One accused man had waited 4 years for his trial and then had a 3-minute trial during which time the judge paid no attention to his case. As Taub said,

 “The Islamic State has been mostly destroyed on the battlefield, but the war is far from over. Air strikes cannot kill an idea, and so it has fallen to Iraq’s fractured security, intelligence, and justice systems to try to finish the task. But, insofar as there is a strategy, it seems almost perfectly crafted to bring about the opposite of its intent. American and Iraqi military officials spent years planning the campaign to rid Iraq of ISIS, as if the absence of the jihadis would automatically lead Iraq toward the bright democratic future that George W. Bush’s Administration had envisaged when U.S. forces invaded the country, in 2003. But ISIS has always derived much of its dangerous appeal from the corruption and cruelty of the Iraqi state.”

As if this is not bad enough, we must remember that by far most of the young men and boys who were convicted of ISIS never made it to trial. They were disposed of without trials!

Ben Taub reported this way:

“Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of ISIS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. But, according to the senior intelligence official, these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees. “A few of the suspects are sent to court, but only to maintain the illusion that we have a justice system,” he said. (emphasis added)

 From 2014 to 2017, ISIS controlled about half of Syria and 1/3rd of Iraq. This territory was about the size of Great Britain. Millions of people lived inside this territory. Some of ISIS’s military leaders were former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They combined a police state with what Taub called “the certainty of Jihadism.” He describe the situation in Iraq this way:

“The group blew up mosques and ancient archaeological sites, and pursued a campaign of ethnic cleansing through mass murder and sexual slavery. It conscripted local bureaucrats, doctors, and teachers, often on pain of death, and devoted enormous effort to radicalizing a generation of children and inuring them to violence, suffering, and loss. At the height of its success, in 2014, there was a real possibility that ISIS would capture Baghdad, and the Iraqi state would collapse. Now, more than a year after ISIS lost Mosul—its largest source of legitimacy, wealth, and power—hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering at the hands of their liberators. Anyone with a perceived connection to ISIS, however tenuous or unclear, is being killed or cast out of society.’

 Nothing is more dangerous than such incinerating certainties. Iraqi forces, supported and trained by America, were laying waste to what was left in Iraq. As Taub said,

 “Not long ago, I met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official who is deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. For three hours, over tea and cigarettes, he described systematic criminality within the security forces, detailing patterns of battlefield executions, murders in detention centers, and coverups organized by the state. He spoke as a witness, but also as a participant; although he is in a position to have stopped certain abuses, by intervening he would have risked incurring accusations that he is sympathetic to the group he has sought to destroy.

He believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadis’ narrative—that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out,” he told me. “We rarely abide by the law.”

It is noteworthy that the conviction rate in Iraq is 98%.  I wonder how that compares with the regime of Saddam Hussein. I suspect the similarities are overwhelming.  The real problem, according to Taub is that “We’re deleting thousands of families from Iraqi society,” the official told me. “This is not just revenge on ISIS. This is revenge on Sunnis.”

This is the regime that Bush and Cheney thought would encourage all of the Middle East to jump on board the democracy train. This is the regime the Americans have spent billions (if not trillions) to uphold.  As Taub told the story:

“Nine years ago, two C.I.A. officers walked into an Iraqi prison and saw a hallway filled with hooded men, about to be executed for supposed affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that gave birth to ISIS. “We were hammering A.Q.I., but the Iraqi government was just rounding up Sunnis,” one of the C.I.A. officers recalled. “And, for a moment, it worked.” But, instead of releasing the innocents, the Iraqi government sentenced them to death. “So, of course, they came back,” the officer said, of Al Qaeda in Iraq. “What do you expect? You literally killed their dads.”

 Now the people of Iraq are in the unenviable position of deciding who is better: ISIS or the Iraqi government?  It does not matter that the Americans have spent billions supporting the current Iraqi regime. Ben Taub has a significant warning for the rest of us:

 “Iraq is now entering one of the most delicate moments in its recent history. To the extent that ISIS functioned as a state, it was entirely predatory. But, by having lost on the battlefield rather than being toppled by its own depravity, the caliphate lives on as a fantasy of Islamic justice and governance which is measured against the corrupt reality of the Iraqi state. What is at stake, in this post-conflict period, is whether the Iraqi government can win over the segment of the population for whom ISIS seemed a viable alternative.

Of course none of this should surprise. This has happened around the world over and over again. The Americans back one side of a dispute, support them with equipment, training, and money and then discover, much to their surprise, that these “good guys” are just as bad as the regime they were to replace.   And again, much to their surprise the people they were saving were not very grateful. All too often this is what “success” in war looks like.