Tag Archives: Iraq wars

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!

The Battle for Mosul: Who are the Good Guys?


I know I have been going on and on about war in the Middle East, particularly the wars in Iraq.  My American friend got me going on these thoughts when he said if he was President he would “take out Iran.” That sounds so simple.

Ben Taub in his New Yorker article described the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS as the” most intense urban combat since the Second World War.”  One of the interesting things about that battle was that the brutal ISIS fighters were often seen as preferable to the U.S. supported Iraqi security. As Taub said,

“They told us that the Iraqi security forces would kill the men and rape the women,” a young woman from the village of Shirqat told me… “We trusted ISIS more than the Iraqi state.”

Of course that did not end brutality by ISIS. As Taub reported,

“We trusted ISIS more than the Iraqi state.” Other villagers, who had spent years awaiting liberation, were loaded onto buses at gunpoint by ISIS fighters, and packed into Mosul’s front-line neighborhoods, to be used as human shields. In the ensuing months, the jihadis murdered hundreds of people who tried to escape, and hung bodies from electrical pylons.”

 Mosul was a very difficult place to fight a war. After all it was an old city. The west part of the city was particularly difficult because it was so densely packed with narrow streets and alleyways. As Taub said,

“The coalition concluded that the Old City could not be captured according to the rules of engagement that had governed the battle in East Mosul, so it loosened its requirements for calling in an air strike. In March, the U.S. dropped a five-hundred-pound bomb on a roof in the Old City, in an effort to kill two ISIS snipers. The explosion killed a hundred and five civilians who had been sheltering inside the building. Survivors reported that there were no ISIS fighters in the vicinity at the time of the strike.” Who thinks this makes sense?

There is only one question that is really pertinent here: “Who are the good guys?”  After all this was “our side.” Our side is always the good guy right?

Of course both sides were guilty to atrocities. ISIS fighters killed thousands, so the Iraqi forces retaliated in kind.  Taub described it this way:

“By early July, ISIS fighters had killed thousands of government troops and police officers, and Iraqi commanders were under enormous pressure to finish the battle. The next few weeks were a bloodbath. ISIS fighters who surrendered were executed on the spot. Iraqi security forces filmed themselves hurling captives off a cliff, then shooting them as they lay dying on the rocks below. Helicopters buzzed the Tigris, bombing people as they tried to swim across. The troops assumed that anyone still living in the Old City sided with the Islamic State. For the rest of the month, corpses bobbed downstream, dressed in civilian clothes. “We killed them all—Daesh, men, women, and children,” an Iraqi Army officer told a Middle Eastern news site, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. As he spoke, his colleagues dragged a suspect through the streets by a rope tied around his neck. “We are doing the same thing as ISIS. People went down to the river to get water, because they were dying of thirst, and we killed them.” When the battle was over, soldiers used construction equipment to shovel rubble into the entrances of ISIS tunnels—ostensibly to suffocate any remaining jihadis, but also to mingle corpses and concrete, thereby obscuring the scale of the atrocities. As late as March of this year, journalists were still finding the bodies of women and children on the riverbanks, blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in their skulls.

When the battle was over the Old City of Mosul was in ruins.  According to the UN, besides the dead and wounded, the battle for Mosul has left behind around ten million tons of rubble. Many of those destroyed buildings were continuously inhabited from the 7th century until July 2017. Of course the greatest losses were suffered by people.

The brutality of ISIS forces is well known and for good reason. The brutality of coalition forces, supported by the US and Britain are less well known. As Taub reported,

“In October, 2016, Iraqi security forces filmed themselves executing a captive in Qayyarah, an hour south of Mosul. They also tied the bodies of several dead ISIS fighters to the back of a Nissan pickup truck and dragged them through Qayyarah’s main road, while villagers cheered; children kicked the corpses, and a man stood on one of the bodies, surfing. According to Human Rights Watch, which obtained thirteen videos from the scene, a man from a nearby village came to Qayyarah after hearing that the man who had killed his father and three of his uncles was among the dead fighters. He beheaded the man and cut out his heart, then presented it as a gift to his mother.”

Little wonder that coalition forces tried their best to conceal the casualties:

“The coalition has acknowledged a civilian death toll in the low hundreds. But the West Mosul civil defense has retrieved thousands of corpses from the Old City. Last December, the Associated Press obtained a list of nearly ten thousand civilians whose bodies had been registered at the local morgue. Most had been crushed to death by falling concrete; for others, the cause of death had been entered into the morgue’s database simply as “blown to pieces.” (Thomas Veale, a U.S. Army colonel and a spokesman for the coalition, told the A.P. that it was “irresponsible” to draw attention to civilian casualties in West Mosul. If not for the coalition’s campaign, he said, Iraqis would have suffered years of “needless death and mutilation” at the hands of “terrorists who lack any ethical or moral standards.)”

Are we to believe that “our side” is ethical and moral?  The evidence clearly does not support that assumption.

Ben Taub did not mince words in his description of Iraqi forces and Iraqi people:

“Elsewhere in Iraq, security forces filmed themselves punching, kicking, and whipping men in ad-hoc detention sites, including school classrooms. They dragged suspects by the hair, stepped on their heads, slammed knees into their faces, and threw furniture at them. They beat people unconscious; they beat people to death. They filmed themselves gunning down captives in open fields and stabbing them in the face with knives. A group of Hashd members struggled to interrogate six foreign fighters who couldn’t speak Arabic; in the end, they shot them, doused them in gasoline, and lit them on fire—including two who were still alive. A federal police officer filmed himself beheading captives, including minors, and posted the videos to his Facebook account. He told a Swedish reporter that he had decapitated fifty people so far, all while they were still alive; as he paraded through the streets holding severed heads aloft, other uniformed police officers and soldiers cheered and marched alongside him. All through northern and western Iraq, anti- ISIS forces kept lists of people they wanted to kill. They hung bodies from telephone poles, and encouraged civilians to desecrate the corpses of their former jihadi oppressors. The irony was not lost on the killers—they knew that they were mirroring the Islamic State’s worst acts.” 

The Iraqi government has sought to minimize attention to such atrocities. Haider al-Abadi, who served as Prime Minister between 2014 and October, 2018, dismissed them as “individual acts” for which the perpetrators would be held to account. But there have been no meaningful investigations. According to the senior Iraqi intelligence official, “all Hashd violations are carried out with the knowledge and approval of the national-security apparatus, in all governorates.” He added that the government has provided official cover for numerous civilian massacres, by organizing press conferences and lying about the provenance of mass graves. “The Iraqi government brought in journalists and said, ‘Look, ISIS killed these civilians,’ when in fact it was the Hashd al-Sha’abi,” he said. “The reality is totally different from what ends up in the media. At least ISIS had the courage to not hide its crimes.”

Yet even that is not enough to describe what the liberators–people who were liberated from ISIS by American sponsored forces have done.  As Taub said, “Throughout the ISIS period, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the Iraqi government has carried out mass executions in order to mollify an outraged public.”

If there are no good guys in a war, what does that mean?

Wars in Iraq



I have been thinking a lot about the Wars of the United States in the Middle East.  There have been so many of them I have a hard time keeping track of them all. As I said in an earlier post on this blog, my American friend believes they should start another war, this time with Iran. He wants the Americans to “take out Iran.”

The first Iraq war was a response to the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. He attacked a small country just because he could. He had been led to believe America would look the other way.  Until then Iraq  had been A US ally in the Middle East. I think some American describe Hussein this way: ‘He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.’ President George H.W. Bush had made the sensible idea of stopping the war as soon as Hussein was driven out of the country. Many in the US, particularly belligerent Americans, were disappointed, for they  thought The U.S. should have gone ahead and driven him from power too. But Bush senior stopped when his limited goal was achieved.  Regime change was not part of the goal. Limited goals are important.  Too often, political leaders forget that in the heat of the moment when they are seeking blood and fame.

Does anyone remember how the 2nd Iraq war started? President George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush,  got America into the second Iraq war. No one was demanding it. In the American election that preceded it no one in the US was calling for it except some neo-liberals or neo-conservatives. It was not even an issue. Dick Cheney, Bush’s Vice-President and some like Donald Rumsfeld the Secretary of Defence wanted it. Just like John Bolton, Donald Trump’s recent security advisor, wanted war with Iran, Cheney wanted war with Iraq. They wanted “regime change”. Both thought victory would be easily attained.  After all the US was the most powerful country in the world.  They really believed that after a short war, the people of Iraq would thank the Americans for invading and removing a brutal dictator. This was hubris of the worst sort. We know what happened. A long war that right now, 18 years after it started, seems endless.

The Americans, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld, demanded that Saddam Hussein, their erstwhile ally, turn over all weapons of mass destruction. Inexplicably Hussein refused. How could he do that? Most Americans thought that was because he was hiding them. Well in time the answer was clear. He had none to turn over!  Dick Cheney was convinced he had them and they would find them, but they never did.  I remember hearing an interview with him where he confidently assured us those weapons of mass destruction would soon be found. So America went to war. This time only a few allies followed them, unlike the first War in Iraq led by the first George H. W. Bush where there was a broad coalition of supporting countries behind the US led attack.

When George W. Bush and his Vice-President Dick Cheney led America into the 2nd Iraq war they believed that after defeating Saddam Hussein a brutal dictator, the Iraqi people would welcome the Americans as liberators. After all, Hussein tortured and gassed his own people. They also believed this might lead the entire Middle East towards democracy. All they had to do was get rid of the oppressive dictator. It was simple! After he was toppled they fully expected the Iraqi people to embrace the Americans for delivering them from this cruel and vicious dictator.

But  in war  things are never that simple. As we all know, things did not work out that way. Not at all. War is a perfect time for humility not hubris.

The war was not over in May 2003 when George W. Bush was photographed aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier under a sign that read “Mission Accomplished.”  In fairness to Bush, at that time he had only declared that the major battles were over, but his supporters thought he was being too modest. Yet, he was photographed grinning broadly under that sign with a thumbs-up sign of approval. The initial battle only took a few days and there was remarkably little American bloodshed. The mighty Iraqi army had crumbled in a few days. Hussein had promised “the Mother of all Wars,” but it was an empty boast. Or was it? 18 years later we might have to say he had a point. At the time the Americans appeared to have reason for self-satisfaction. But again, it was not quite that simple. Wars seldom are that simple. The U.S. has been there ever since continuing what more and more looks like an endless war.

What has happened to the war in Iraq since supporters of George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003? Do we have something to learn from that war?  I think so. Will we learn a valuable lesson? Listening to my belligerent American friends it seems unlikely.