• What’s In A Name? Iraqis Change Names to Avoid Being Targeted by Militias

    January 30, 2016 // 12 Comments »

    johnkerryhearing


    So, yep, thanks for asking, this war is going well.


    Especially now, as we learn some Sunnis are far more afraid of Iraqi government-supported Shiite militias than they are of anyone from Islamic State. This will not end well, especially since the United States still hopes to get those same Sunnis to turn on ISIS and support the same goals as the Shiite Iraqi government.


    Fear of those Shiite Muslim militias is driving many locals in Diyala Province, where the population is mixed, to change their names to more neutral formulations.

    The reason is simple survival. “Just over the past two months our department has received between 150 and 200 applications for a name change,” said an official working for Diyala’s Directorate of Nationality. “Most of the applications are being submitted by people whose names reveal their sect or the areas from where their family or tribe comes.”


    In the Middle East, a name can tell a lot about its bearer. A surname may indicate which tribe one comes from originally, and thereby which part of the country. A first name or father’s name can indicate which sect one belongs to, especially if one is given a name specific to either Shiite or Sunni Muslims.


    In Diyala, a province with a population where Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and a variety of ethnicities are thrown together, locals say that they fear being targeted for their Sunni religious background, even though they may not actually be very religious. They specifically fear the Shiite Muslim militias, supported by the United States, Iran, and the Iraqi government in Baghdad, who are ostensibly fighting Islamic State. The militias are also engaged in some serious ethnic cleansing directed against the Sunni population.

    Iraq’s Shiite-controlled Ministry of the Interior issued an order two months ago to put a stop to the Sunni name changes, stating that only those who have the name “Saddam” would be allowed to change their names. However, the responsible (Sunni-controlled) department in Diyala has resumed its work in defiance of Baghdad.



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    Posted in Iran, Iraq

    Ramadi is Free! But This Ain’t Over Yet…

    December 29, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    ramadi


    So, have you heard the good news? The town of Ramadi, in the Disneyland of the Middle East, Iraq, is free again. Iraqi military forces have retaken the town from Islamic State. Sort of. Maybe.

    The town of Ramadi is a popular place for liberationing. In 2003, the United States liberated it from Saddam, though fighting continued right up through 2011, when the new Iraqis liberated the town from the Americans. That lasted until spring 2015, when ISIS liberated Ramadi back from the new Iraqi National Army. Now, in December, somebody Iraqi sort of took the town back.


    — Sort of… is the operative word, in that even the best estimates suggest that ISIS still controls some 25 percent of Ramadi.

    — Sort of… in the sense that U.S. bombing and the Iraqi siege has destroyed much of Ramadi in order to free it and left many of its residents homeless, or dead.

    — Sort… of in the sense that it was not solely the Iraqi government’s forces which liberated Ramadi, but also Shia militias controlled by various factions in Iraq, and beholden to Iran. The event was stage-managed by the U.S. to create the appearance of a more unified effort by the Iraq side, and to use Ramadi as an example of how America’s train and equip strategy was finally working… sort of… somewhere.



    Newsweek’s Jeff Stein reports that the security forces of the Iran-backed regime in Baghdad that captured Ramadi largely consist of Shiite fighters in league with murderous militias that have slaughtered innocent Sunnis after ousting ISIS militants from Tikrit and other battlegrounds in the past year. Ramadi is the capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, and the Shiites are ready to break some sectarian skulls.

    “We are not calling a spade a spade,” says Derek Harvey, a retired U.S. Army intelligence colonel who’s been dealing with Iraq for over 25 years, including as intelligence adviser to both General David Petraeus,as quoted in Newsweek. “My sources on the ground say Shiite militias and sectarian fighters… are wearing MOI [Ministry of Interior] uniforms with MOI patches.” So they look like Iraqi Government forces, even though they are not.

    Their vehicles, Harvey adds, fly Shiite militia banners, “and the people who are commanding them are still Shiite militia leaders. Just because you put on a different uniform doesn’t mean you aren’t who you are, who their group identity is and who they’re committed to.”

    In Tikrit earlier this year, such circumstances of “victory” lead to reprisals killings of Sunnis, and loss of central government control over the city. If that happens again in Ramadi, there is nothing close to a victory to celebrate.

    The U.S. coalition denies any Shia groups were involved in Ramadi, and reports from the very few journalists on the ground tend to support that position,in contrast to the Newsweek report.



    BONUS: The Ministry of Interior is controlled by the Shia Badr political party, which originated in 1982 as an Iran-backed Iraqi exile group headquartered in Tehran. With the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, it moved inside the country, and its members infiltrated the army and police. In 2014, the stand-alone Badr Brigade, led by Iranian officers, was basically the only force standing in the way of an ISIS takeover of Baghdad.



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    Posted in Iran, Iraq

    Appointment of Shia Militiaman to Iraqi Cabinet

    October 29, 2014 // 23 Comments »



    A key part of America’s strategy in Iraq is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, one that will pull together the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. This has been a persistent American myth since the 2003 invasion, one that is impossible realize and thus a single point of failure for Obama’s war.

    History of the Myth

    First, in 2003, as symbol of the democracy the U.S. sought to create in Iraq, then again in 2006 (remember the purple finger photos?) that the war was not actually already lost, and then forever after as the solution to the internecine fighting that America’s Occupation unleashed, the myth has had a long run. As you can see from Embassy Baghdad’s Tweet above, America again imagines it has achieved its interim goal of a balanced government; peace and prosperity is just around the corner.

    A big part of the problem is that the United States thinks creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a sports team. If things don’t work out, try again in next season’s draft. That was the thought behind America’s 180 on former Prime Minister Maliki. In power since 2006 with strong U.S. support, Maliki stayed in office from January to August 2014, even as ISIS had its first successes in Iraq. But as Obama launched the newest Iraq war, Maliki was out and a new player moved up the roster.

    But since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and thus the great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, little changed at the top. So hopes for “inclusiveness” fell to the choices to lead the key ministries of defense and the interior. Both have been tools of repression against the country’s Sunnis for years.

    And now we know the winners of that odd contest.

    Anti-Inclusionary Choice for Interior Ministry

    A Sunni was chosen to lead Defense, a ministry currently in charge of a decrepit Iraqi Army best known for running away at first contact, leaving behind American-supplied weapons for ISIS to repurpose. Not so much joy in that job for now.

    More significant choice is Abadi’s new Interior Minister, Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shiite politician with the Badr Organization. You remember the Badr folks, or should, because every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American Occupation, the Badr militia ran the notorious Shiite death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry it basically now heads to ensure the government would not interfere in their grim work.

    Human Rights Watch quoted a doctor in the Health Ministry: “Sunnis are a minority in Baghdad, but they’re the majority in our morgue.”

    Back in 2009, a SECRET Wikileaked State Department cable had this to say about the Badr militia’s leader, and the man Ghabban still answers to, Hadi al-Amiri:

    Amiri is widely known to have played a leading role in organizing attacks by the Badr Corps militia (the strongest, most disciplined Shia militia at the time and precursor to the current Badr Organization) against Sunnis during the sectarian violence of 2004-2006. Sources indicate that he may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2000 Sunnis. One of his preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.

    Amiri was also previously rejected by Sunnis as a negotiating partner. Again, from the State Department:

    Given his role in sectarian violence and prominent position in the dominant Shia coalition, it is understandable that Sunni leaders were hesitant to view him as a viable negotiating partner when he proposed a compromise parliamentary seat distribution after the November 23 Shia-Kurd backed electoral amendment was adopted.


    Anti-Inclusionary Rise of the Shia Militias

    The elevation of a Badr organization leader to perhaps the most significant cabinet position vis-vis the Sunnis is in line with the broader increasing influence of the Shia militias.

    As much out of necessity given the limp Iraqi Army as sectarian politics, the Baghdad government has increasingly called upon Shia militias to defend the city. While they currently seem to be holding off ISIS advances past the already-Sunni controlled territory west of Baghdad Airport, Shia militias have also abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these crimes, according to Amnesty International. These attacks, as an anti-inclusionary act as can be, are apparently in revenge for Sunni support of ISIS. Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, deliberate execution-style killings that send a message.

    “By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart,” concluded Amnesty.

    Two more points about the Badr group: They were responsible for the deaths of many American military personnel during the Occupation and they remain closely allied with Iran. There is no good news with this one.

    Inclusionary Fail

    “To give the Interior Ministry to a direct Iranian proxy is huge,” said one researcher specializing in Shiite groups. “It shows who the Iraqis are throwing their lot in with.”

    The inclusionary government America’s strategy for Iraq rests on is an illusion, a governmental fantasy in 2014 as it was 2003-2011. Everyone with eyes– except the U.S. government– can see where this one ends.




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    Posted in Iran, Iraq

    Panetta in Iraq: You Do the Math

    July 11, 2011 // Comments Off on Panetta in Iraq: You Do the Math

    Since new SecDef “I suffer from a permanent hound dog face” Panetta dropped by Iraq this week to beg for US permanent bases and to invigorate the new rationale for the war, or more precisely, for continuing the war (hint: it’s all about Iran now), a few things to review:

    Before 2003 (per the 9/11 report and others) there were zero al Qaeda in Iraq. Panetta now says there are 1000 members.

    — Before 2003, Iraq and Iran were sworn enemies (photo above is the “Victory Over Iran” Memorial), and had fought a bitter war. Now Panetta frets about Iranian weapons flooding into Iraq, and Iran and Iraq are good friends. Commerce and social intercourse between the two nations is at an all-time high.

    — Saddam hated Iran and had nothing to do with them politically. After 2003, Iran played a very significant role in brokering the agreement that led to the current Iraqi government’s formation. The current Iraqi government shares close ties to Iranian leadership.

    — Before 2003, the number of American soldiers who died at the hands of Iranian special forces was quite small, possibly limited to a few of our own special forces troops. Since 2003, Iraq’s Shia militias have benefited from Iranian weapons, training and likely direct action from Iranian Qods Force SOF present in Iraq.


    Despite these obvious realities, Panetta in his alternate universe “aimed at urging the Iraqi military to take stronger action against Shiite militias and to see Iran as the Obama administration does — not just as a threat to American troops, but as a potential cancer in the country.” Panetta is the third top American official to raise an alarm about Iranian influence in Iraq in recent days. The Iraqis seem unconcerned, as one might expect. Iran is at war with the US, not Iraq.

    Panetta’s visit to Iraq also coincided with the death of another American soldier in Iraq, bringing the total killed since 2003 to 4471.

    One final note: Number of Americans who will be killed by Sadr militia, Iranian weapons and other sources if the US keeps troops in Iraq after 12/31/2011: Unknown but significant.

    Number of Americans who will be killed after 12/31/2011by Sadr militia, Iranian weapons and other sources if the US departs Iraq on schedule: Zero.


    Which alternative seems the best course for America? You do the math.



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    Posted in Iran, Iraq