BY SCOTT TAYLOR
With the release last week of Sir John Chilcot’s damning report on the United Kingdom’s role in the Iraq war and its aftermath — which concluded that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary and colossal blunder — discussions about the current plight of that war-ravaged nation have been renewed.
After more than two years of fighting, the Iraqi army pronounced in late June that the fighting for Fallujah was over. With the last of the Daesh holdouts finally forced from the city, which they captured in the spring of 2014, the months-long campaign to reclaim Fallujah involved massive U.S.-led air support as well as heavy artillery and armoured support from both U.S. and Iranian armies.
Of course, simply driving out Daesh extremists does not mean that the approximately 80,000 Sunni Arab inhabitants will welcome the Iraqi army and Shiite militias as liberators.
Fallujah has long been a hotbed of resistance in what is known as the Sunni Triangle of central Iraq. During the U.S. occupation following their ill-advised 2003 invasion, Fallujah became a household name for its fierce insurgency.
In 2004, during the fiercest urban warfare U.S. ground forces had yet encountered in Iraq, more than 100 American soldiers died and another thousand were wounded fighting Fallujah insurgents.
The Sunni minority population of Iraq had prospered under Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, but with his ouster and execution, the Shiite majority reversed its fortunes.
Under the U.S.-led de-Baathification of Iraq, all of the Sunnis who had enjoyed senior positions under Saddam's rule were relieved of their powerful posts. Although they had enjoyed secular freedoms under Saddam, Iraq’s Sunnis turned to al-Qaeda for support after they felt completely marginalized by the newly empowered Shiites.
The success of U.S. General David Petraeus’s surge strategy in 2007 came from his understanding of the rift between Sunnis and Shiites.
Realizing that most Sunni tribal leaders were not Islamic extremists, Petraeus and his officers spent $400 million to secure their allegiance against the al-Qaeda extremists.
With their support base turned against them, al-Qaeda was quickly driven from the Sunni Triangle. This temporary arrangement fell apart after the U.S. troop withdrawal in December 2011 and then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, ignored American advice not to marginalize the Sunni tribes.
Once again sensing their livelihoods to be at stake, the predominantly secular Sunni tribes welcomed Daesh extremists back into their fold in 2014.
For the central Baghdad regime to successfully secure Fallujah — and other Sunni Triangle hotspots — it will not be down the gun barrels of hated Shiite militia. It will only come with the full inclusion of the Sunnis into some form of a federated state. Until that happens Fallujah will remain a powder keg waiting to reignite.
With Fallujah now occupied by the Iraqi army, all eyes have turned to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the last remaining urban bastion of Daesh extremists. The Kurds have been responsible for containing Daesh north of Mosul, and thanks to international trainers — including a Canadian contingent of special forces operatives — they have been the most effective ground troops against Daesh evil-doers.
However, in the wake of Fallujah’s capture and in anticipation of an assault on Mosul, the Kurds have made their own position clear.
“No Kurd will die to restore Iraqi unity,” wrote Aziz Ahmad, a senior aide in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in a recent edition of The Atlantic. Ahmad made it clear that the Kurdish peshmerga would be seen as an occupying force in the Arab city of Mosul, explaining that, “The Kurds cannot force the Shia and Sunni Arabs to live together peacefully.”
While not prepared to shed their blood to drive Daesh from Mosul, Ahmad made it clear that the Kurds have no intention of relinquishing the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they captured from the Iraqi army in the spring of 2014.
A further indication of the Kurds’ full march towards an independent state came on June 23 when Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, called an all-party meeting to discuss the final wording of a referendum he intends to hold later this year. “It is time that we start frank and brotherly talk with Baghdad,” Barzani told the media.
That independence train has clearly left the station. So the question begs: How long will the Canadian government maintain that our special forces trainers in Kurdistan are striving to sustain a unified Iraq? The Kurds are at least honest about what their troops are fighting for.