Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI)
4th of March 2014
It was very hard to imagine that it would turn so bad. Iraqis are at war again without any legal avail and war slogans are louder than the voice of reason and wisdom. Iraqi people wished for an end of the war era, after suffering for 34 years, but the tragedies of war repeat themselves, and again this war is internal: both the killers and the victims are Iraqis.
Despite the difference in opinions about what is really happening in Anbar, after two months of continuous military operations, everyone in Iraq agrees that the truth is the first victim in this war. There is no accurate information about the number of people killed by security forces, weather they are civilians or armed fighters, and there is not enough information about who is fighting and why, about the progress of military operations, or an expected date for the end of this war.
Social media and especially “Facebook” show the Iraqis’ reaction to this war every day, and the e-newspapers publish many articles describing the fighting. According to most articles, the number of victims killed by security forces in this war exceeds 1000, and “Almada Press” declares that politicians and media are circulating the following information: about 350 died and 600 are missing among soliders in the army, 300 civilian and an unknown number of ‘terrorists’ have been killed and material damage in the province is uncountable in terms of cost.
The number of people convinced about the need of this war is decreasing as time goes by, but strong government propaganda has been used since the start of military operations in Anbar’s desert. The news at that time talked about groups crossing the border from Syria, and using the Iraqi desert as a training camp for extremists, linked to al-Qaeda. But after military operations moved inside the cities, especially Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraqis started seeking for the truth and they grew concerned about the high secrecy imposed by the government on information about this conflict. The war hawks in the government of Prime Minister Noori Al-Maliki started to spread the image of frequent victories and of the liberation of some areas, of the sophisticated weapons used by the army, of new combat units being introduced, and of new volunteers joining the army. But some Iraqis seemed not to be convinced, some of them made jokes about the news, comparing them with the propaganda of the former regime, who moved from a war to another and from a “victory” to another, producing ruins and destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure.
A member of the Parliamentary Commission of Security and Defense, Shwan Mohamed Taha, declared in an interview quoted by Almada Press: “the reasons of the battles in Anbar are vague and their end will be ambiguous too”. There is “an intentional media blackout about what is going on there, and since the beginning of the crisis we have only seen pictures circulated by the state media, which has a role in the crisis that is taking place”. He asserted that “the Parliamentary Commission of Security and Defense is unaware of the number of victims among military forces, among innocent citizens and terrorists. Accurate information is only available for military leaders, who did not accept to reveal them”.
Some attributed the problems of non-transparency and of the failure in military operations, which turned into a long war, to the lack of professionality among decision makers and politicians, and the lack of expertise in the management of war. The blogger “Nibras Al-Kazimi ” stated on his page that on the field there are more than 48 different military battalions as well as the Federal Police, and that “police officers accuse politicians of abandoning them, while terrorists receive high quality and costly training programmes and are properly equipped to run special operations”. Police forces, which are being overused as ground forces, also complain about “overkilling since the ninth armored division (which is seen by officers as a strategic one for Iraq) has been used in the hit-and-run fight, which is completely different from what the division has been trained for, and not fit for the rules of engagement it follows”.
The same writer published the opposite point of view by politicians, who accuse army officers of being the main responsible for what is happening. He writes: “Politicians complain about the hesitancy of the officers and the lack of commitment to follow the orders of the General Commander, and accuse them of negligence and inaction. They also say that the operations in Anbar revealed the corruption of high-ranking officers, which is reflected in the low-quality provisions, equipment, ammunitions and other logistic arrangements for the soldiers. These politicians consider the seventh military division (the one of the martyr leader Mohamed Alkorwy) to have chosen implicit disobedience, because they refused to leave their barracks or comply with the orders. Criticism has been voiced by the office of the General Commander (the Iraqi Prime Minister) on the gold division (the anti-terrorism division), for what they describe as superficiality of its leader who had promised to accomplish his task in few days. Instead, the gold division has been lost, since its members are now dead or wounded”.
On the other side, some write about the overlap and confusion between clans and other armed groups fighting with or against the government. All agree that this war involves more than one opposition faction, including armed clans penetrated by Al-Qaeda and its dangerous affiliates, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, “Daash”. Some websites published videos and pictures about the so-called “victories”. One of them shows the whole battle in which a police station has been targeted and taken by the rebels, another video shows fighters hitting a convoy of the Iraqi army. Such videos depict these operations as decisive victories in the process of “liberation”, and people add in the comments that this is like “the battle to liberate Jerusalem!”. This published material presents the victims as Iran’s agents or Iranian Revolutionary Guards! On the other hand the Government portrays all those who fights against the army as foreign terrorists, legitimizing the choice of bombing cities and houses with military aircraft and artillery.
Reason suggests that foreigner fighters are also involved in this war, but they represent only a very small portion of its fuel. The regional political influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular is evident in today’s Iraq, but the allegations that fighters or victims are not Iraqis have no connection with reality. It is part of a strong propaganda from both sides that paves the way for killing Iraqi soldiers and police officers on one hand, and all those who stand against them on the other hand. Some clerics, tribal leaders and politicians are casting fuel on fire, interpreting the war as a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite, to keep their influence high in the community and perhaps as propaganda for the upcoming elections. Some turn the legitimate demands of Iraqis for political reform into “grievances and demands of the Sunnis”, others turn the Iraqi government and its security forces into foreign agents and Iranian Revolutionary Guards! Also, some Iraqi provinces and cities are being described as “incubators of terrorism” and a center of Al-Qaeeda and the Saudi intelligence!
The civilians who have been trapped between sides of this conflict accuse the army and armed groups to turn their cities to an unbearable hell. Means of communications have been cut off more than once, and civilian houses have been targeted without any discrimination. Images show indiscriminate shelling and atrocities being committed by armed groups on civilians or isolated war prisoners, whose bodies are offended and exposed after they get killed, in a non-human and non-moral behavior that some armed groups such as “Daash” use as a means to terrorize anyone who is against them. Most Iraqis confirm that there is no safety in Iraq, and that the war did not succeed in protecting civilians. What is described as tight siege of the gunmen did not prevent the execution of multiple crimes, nor the wide targeting of civilians in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, in a round of senseless violence who harvested the souls and blood of civilians and threatens to expand to other Iraqi cities.
Despite the increase in violence, a few positive images can be found on the same websites: they publish news about ordinary citizens, both in the South and North of Iraq, who receive displaced people from war zones, extend a helping hand and offer fugitives a temporary shelter from the hell of the new war. Most of these news end with comments about a shared hope that this war may end with dialogue, producing political and security agreements, involving civilians in finding solutions and enhancing their confidence in the Iraqi security forces. There is no doubt that those who are paying the price of this war are Iraqis in general and tens of thousands of displaced civilians in particular. Let us hope that many keep rejecting the language and logic of sectarianism, waiting for better days to come.