Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Sunnis - No ISIS. Shia militias wage counterinsurgency on ISIS in Iraq


In many respects this Guardian report echoes other reports here and here. The absence of Sunni population. Systematic destruction of Sunni property. Shia Kurdish tensions that exploded in clashes the day after the Guardian left. In fact, its appears to be largely the same area visited by the Foreign Policy team.

In my view all reports are valuable as long as they are done professionally. Repeated confirmations establish certainty. So there is no shame in collecting reports that repeat themselves.

In one respect, however, this report adds on its predecessors. The Shia militia operating in the area is not among the ones that usually appear in reports from Iraq such as the Mahdi Army, Badr Brigades, Hezbollah or Asaib Ahl Al Haq. At least, until now.

According to the reporter, this new brigade has pledged allegiance directly to Iran's Supreme Leader of and intends to establish in Iraq an Islamic state in the style of Iran. This puts it at odds with Iraq's mainstream Shia establishment such as Ayatollah Sistani. Never min the secular minded Kurds or the Sunni Arabs with their paranoia of Iran and a Shia intervention from outside.

To summarize this and similar reports from Iraq until now, there are two factors here that can make the war against ISIS unsustainable in the long run.

1)The propensity to infighting between the Peshmerga and Shia militias should increase to the degree to which the threat of ISIS recedes. That is, the less ISIS is there around, the less likely this Shia Kurdish time bomb is to detonate.

2) In the same way, as the ISIS retreats from Sunni populated areas it previously captured, more Sunni population becomes exposed to the scorched-earth method of ethnic cleansing of the Shia militias.

To be fair, the number of Sunni civilians executed by the militias doesn't seem to number in thousands and not even in many hundreds. While some Shia militiamen have been spotted running around with severed heads, these heads apparently belonged to dead ISIS fighters. These were not civilians and no person was beheaded alive, even though some observers appear to have been confused into believing that that was the case. (Full blown beheadings by Shia militias may still happen though. In fact, they may be just weeks or days away)

At any rate, if we assume that sectarian escalation is the ISIS's best chance to keep the Sunnis on its side, sending US warplanes to clear the way for Shia militias into Sunni areas may ultimately prove self defeating.

Considering these two factors, the Shia Kurdish tensions and the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shia militia, a progress on the battlefield by the anti-ISIS forces may be dialectically negating itself. It takes the US-led coalition one step forward towards the victory and two steps back towards an utter sectarian unraveling of Iraq. The latter may create the kind of environment in which groups like ISIS thrive like fish in the water.

# The Guardian
By Fazel Hawramy in Tuz Khormato and Luke Harding () {

Date = 12 November 2014 15.41 GMT

[...]

As the Shia militias grow in power, Iran’s military and religious footprint inside Iraq appears to be getting bigger: one prominent militia is the Khorasani Brigade, which openly swears allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

The group intends to establish an Islamic state like the one in Tehran. It uses an emblem on its yellow flag similar to the ones used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. A hand firmly holds an AK47, a symbol of resistance.

The brigade’s field commander in the Tuz Khormato area is 30-year-old Juwad al-Husnawi. Husnawi said he had 800 men under his command and had fought alongside Qassem Suleimani – a legendary Iranian general – in both Syria and Iraq. Husnawi recalled an incident when Suleimani personally contacted him in the heat of a recent battle and told him to stand firm until reinforcements turned up.

“The following day he came to the frontline, kissed me on the shoulder and thanked me for holding the line,” Husnawi said. “He is down-to-earth. He will go wherever he is needed. He eats with others and mingles with his fighters. We know him very well and trust him fully.”

[...]

For men like Husnawi, the fight against Isis isn’t just about freeing the land occupied by radical Sunni jihadists. He said the battle was a Manichean struggle between good and evil, that pits Shias, led by Iran, against the enemies of Islam. When asked who these enemies of Islam were, he replied: “America, Israel, Salafis of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni jihadists.” The group’s long-term goal, he said, was to liberate Palestine and to “remove Israel”.

The Shia militia have developed a reputation for brutality. One Kurdish driver who drives an SUV taking passengers from Irbil to Baghdad said he was more afraid of the Shia militia than the Isis militants when he travels down to the Iraqi capital.

The relationship between Kurdish and Shia forces in the area, meanwhile, is uneasy, even though Iran is the main patron of both parties. Husnawi and a local Kurdish commander speak of friendship, but the two men communicate mainly in sign language.

The day after the Guardian visited Salam village, fighting broke out between the two groups, leading to the death of one Shia militiaman. The Khorasani Brigade temporarily took six peshmarga hostage in revenge.

[...]

Husnawi explained that he was one of numerous Shia volunteers from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon who had flooded to Damascus to prop up the Assad regime. “My fiancĂ©e disagreed with my trip to Syria for jihad. She wanted me to stay in Iraq. I could not stay, so I divorced her before I left,” Husnawi said.

On his second trip, he was wounded near a shrine south of Damascus, he said. He was still recovering from his injury when Isis attacked Mosul in early June. As the battle to break the siege of Amerli loomed, he decided to go to the frontline with his younger brother.

Asked what he would do once the battle was finished, Husnawi said he would return to his civilian life, albeit reluctantly: “To tell you the truth, I don’t want it to be over”.

Source = http://gu.com/p/4398m/tw }