Iraq: Is the Sunni-Shiite Slaughter at Jurf al-Sakhr really a US Victory?

By Juan Cole

Apparent good news was announced on Sunday in the fight against the extremist ISIL organization: The Iraqi army, backed by fundamentalist Shiite militias, managed to take the village of Jurf al-Sakhr, southwest of Baghdad, from ISIL fighters. This town has a population of about 80,000, consisting mostly of Sunnis from the Janabi and Dulaim clans. Some 100 ISIL fighters are said to have surrendered.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 1.49.00 AM

This victory was strategic because from Jurf al-Sakhr, ISIL could have hoped to launch terror attacks in Shiite south Iraq, at Hilla and the holy shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. ISIL apparently has no other major toehold so far south of the capital. Iraqi military commanders hope to be able to clear ISIL out of Babil province, which is mostly Shiite but has Sunnis in the northwest, some of them planted there by Saddam Hussein in an attempt to shore up Sunni dominance of Baghdad (an effort that was altogether thwarted by the US-Shiite victory of 2003 and after).

Moreover, the Iraqi army and the Shiite militias hope now to turn the tables and to use Jurf al-Sakhr to launch an attack on Amiriyat al-Fallujah to the northwest, beginning the process– they hope– of pushing ISIL back out of al-Anbar Province in western Iraq, a largely Sunni Arab region.

The celebration was short-lived. On Monday, an ISIL suicide bomber was able to deploy a captured US humvee packed with explosives to kill 27 Shiite militiamen and to wound 60. Another ISIL operation was to shell Jurf al-Sakhr with mortar fire from its outskirts, wounding dozens and killing some.

The Shiite militias are the Mahdi Army, now renamed the Peace Brigades; the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (which is close to Iran); and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq or Bands of the People of Truth– extremists who fought and kidnapped US troops in the previous decade. They are in force in Jurf al-Sakhr because they gave tremendous support to the regular Iraqi Army in its push on the town. Many of the militiamen now dress in Iraqi army military uniforms. To the 80,000 Sunni Muslims of Jurf al-Sakhr, this motley crew would have seemed absolutely terrifying, less liberators than occupiers. It is not impossible that they sneaked intelligence out of the town to ISIL remnants in the neighborhood that aided in the counter-strike.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that Youtube video allegedly from the Shiite militias in Jurf al-Sakhr shows them furious about the car bombing and shelling, and threatening their ISIL prisoners of war, some of them Chechens. One Shiite militiaman is quoted as saying that the terrorists had given up all the information they had of use (presumably under torture) and were now useless — implying that they should be killed.

Apparently about 50 ISIL fighters’ bodies are lying on the ground in Jurf al-Sakhr unburied, on the grounds that ISIL did not bury its own victims and deserved to be treated worst than dogs themselves.

This, folks, is what the counter-offensive in Iraq against ISIL is going to look like. The Iraqi army is largely Shiite and it isn’t very good. It needs the help of the extremist Shiite militias to make any progress, as at Jurf al-Sakhr. If the Shiites can hold the latter against the will of the local people (who admittedly likely don’t like ISIL either), and can advance into al-Anbar Province, it is going to look like a Shiite conquest of Sunnis aided by US close air support.

A big problem is that news of these American-Shiite advances against Sunnis in Iraq is going to get to Syria, which is majority Sunni Arab, and it isn’t going to incline the Sunni Arabs of Syria to ally with the US against ISIL. Every victory in Iraq will be a propaganda defeat in Syria, which is why it is crazy to try to fight a two-front air war against a guerrilla group with a strong ethnic-sectarian identity and base.

The Obama administration hopes to avoid this scenario by raising provincial national guards in the Sunni Arab provinces who will fight ISIL. On Monday, Shiite prime minister of Iraq Haydar al-Abadi warned Sunnis against joining the army or national guard in search of a career. That doesn’t sound like a promising start to me. Al-Abadi met with some Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders in Amman on the margins of his state visit to Jordan, urging them to help defeat ISIL. They demanded that he stop pursuing prominent Sunnis with criminal charges, stop exiling them, and allow them to return to Iraq and be rehabilitated. That also does not sound to me like a promising beginning.

Related video:

PressTV News Videos: “Iraqi army retakes strategic town of Jurf al-Sakhr”

15 Responses

  1. The Obama administration should not back off. If they didn’t bomb in Kobane, ISIS would overrun the city and celebrate a great victory. ISIS would escape paying the price for their huge military blunder. Kobane really would end up like the Alamo.

    In Iraq, if Obama doesn’t bomb ISIS in Anbar province, they will expand their control, dig in and be much more difficult to roll back and defeat. The U.S. should push it right now and do all the damage they can do. It’ll shorten the conflict and keep our most gung ho war luvin’ politicians from starting a much bigger war.

    There won’t be a 30 year war against ISIS. They’ll become minor players, small fish in a big pond.

  2. Don’t get me wrong. The American leadership should be at the ICC charged with crimes against humanity for their wars of aggression, torture regime, state terrorism, grand larceny, etc.

    That being said, if the Americans want to preserve or extend their influence over Middle East oil production, they’re definitely taking the correct steps. In the grand scheme, the Americans want compliant controllers of Iraqi oil fields. In the near term it looks like Kurds and Shiites, with American assistance, will be able to capture the oil producing areas. As long as Sunnis remain a threat, the Kurdish and Shiite leadership will continue to rely on American assistance, and remain mostly compliant.

    It seems reasonable to assume that appearing to take the side of Shiites and Kurds will strengthen ISIL in Syria and Sunni Arab parts of Iraq. But, as long as those parts are denied oil revenue, it should be considered a success. It is true that this could result in a long drawn out war killing millions, it could result in expensive terrorist attacks on US mainland. However, those must be balanced against the plus to American credibility when it comes to ensuring compliant controllers of oil production.

    True, in the best of worlds, the US would like to have compliant governments in a stable Syria and Iraq. However, it should still be considered a success if Iraq and Syria are wracked by civil war as long as oil production is under compliant actor control.

  3. Seems like the US is attempting to orchestrate a bar brawl, with the serious intention of prolonging it as long as possible.

    I guess it was just a pipe dream to imagine our troops returning to the barracks. We’ll keep handing the tail of the tiger to the indigenous forces and they’ll keep handing it back. The Pentagon can’t afford to get its butt kicked again, so it will do all it can make victory over ISIS a national obligation.

    • Some of “us” are pretty good at getting other people to trash each other: “F**k The EU” – US State Department Blasts Europe; Revealed As Alleged Mastermind Behind Ukraine Unrestlink to What happens when “the US” foments bar brawls elsewhere, in case we forget there are otherwheres than Khesanhalamokobane, speaking of Valor:

      “Ukraine fighters, surrounded at wrecked airport, refuse to give up,” link to

      Pretty narrow and misleading, to focus on battles and tactics, to forget Sun Tzu, and keep on with the incentivizing of chaos and anomie. Unless one profits from it, or likes to cheerlead for it, of course…

  4. Divide, conquer, divide and arm, and arm some more, oh Lordie, we have a regular inferno of war making profit on a scale which only matches that of the 2nd World War in the magnitude of percentage of GDP spending, however now war is a means to its own ends, hence profit$.

  5. The Pentagon is immune to any consequences for “getting its butt kicked,” with zero incentive to change the many problem behaviors, from huge corruption to Milbabblerry to incompetence, etc., and every incentive, personal and institutional, to keep on keeping on. What changes is the DEFINITIONS, like “war,” and “success,” and “victory.” The DoD writes, and expediently re-writes, its own dictionary, link to, and its PR divisions assault the common language daily.

    The “Defense Department” has long known the real trick is in controlling the Narrative and thus the belief structure that keeps all this going, “justifies” the cost, and bushwas us ordinary people into going along and funding it all.

    Context, anyone? One observer’s take:

    The lack of definition in the war on terror is problematic. While it allows national leaders the flexibility to define and redefine success in ways that suit political purposes, it also has potential drawbacks. From an operational perspective, it potentially leads to lack of clarity and understanding, and thus lack of focused national effort along with its attendant risk of failure. The very phrase “war on terror” lacks definition, and therefore presents the United States with a strategic issue that inhibits its efforts to prosecute the war effectively. As multiple sources have indicated, “terror” is not the enemy. In the “war” on terror, neither terror nor terrorism can be defeated since terror is a method and terrorism is a tactic. From this perspective, neither terror nor terrorism takes on the characteristics of entities that can be defeated in the traditional sense. link to There’s a nice diagram in there, that fits really well with this one: link to Another illustrative bit of scholarship: link to And one more telling piece on how it all really works, related to the first combat death, link to, in Operation Inane Repetition: link to

    Now we know the first official dead guy’s name. Who, asked Kerry, will be the last one to die?

  6. On Frontline last night, it was clear that the rise of ISIS can be blamed on Maliki and the hands off policies of Obama. But as Dexter Filkens explained, ISIS members are the hardest of the hard core and get off on killing people more than building a caliphate or anything else.If an ISIS killer can shoot someone in the back of the head from point blank range they like that the best, especially if the victims hands are tied behind them.

    They are BRUTAL!

    The last one to die in Kobani will be some poor Muslim from the U.K. ISIS is using as cannon fodder waiting for a U.S. bomb with his name on it.

  7. Frontline is the last word? One would think that tribal sentiment would extend a little more patently to the Troops We Support. My question about who would be the last one to die in this idiocy was related to the same question our retread Secretary of State asked, as a Hippie Medal-Tossing Vietvet Activist: “Who will be the last American to die for a mistake?”

    A little history for Context:
    Charles McMahon (May 10, 1953 – April 29, 1975) and Darwin Lee Judge (February 16, 1956 – April 29, 1975) were the last two United States servicemen killed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The two men, both U.S. Marines, were killed in a rocket attack one day before the Fall of Saigon.

    Charles McMahon, 11 days short of his 22nd birthday, was a corporal from Woburn, Massachusetts. Darwin Judge was a 19-year-old lance corporal and Eagle Scout from Marshalltown, Iowa….
    The first U.S. casualty in Vietnam was Flying Tiger John T. Donovan who was killed on May 12, 1942, but American involvement in Vietnam was not considered official at that time and as such his name does not appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

    For over 40 years the first person who died in Vietnam was in controversy. Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr.’s death in June 1956 was deemed to have taken place before the start of the Vietnam War. However, the family of Fitzgibbon had long lobbied to have the start date changed and their cause was taken up by U.S. Representative Ed Markey of Malden. After a high level review by the DoD and through the efforts of Fitzgibbon’s family, the start date of the Vietnam war was changed to November 1, 1955. The November 1955 date was chosen as the new start date because that was when the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), Vietnam was separated out from MAAG, Indochina in a reorganization into the different countries that the deployments were stationed. With this new date Fitzgibbon became the first person to die in the Vietnam War, Fitzgibbon’s name was added to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in 1999. The former first two official casualties were U.S. Army Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Charles Ovnand who were killed on July 18, 1959.

    While McMahon and Judge were the last American ground casualties in Vietnam, they are not the last casualties of the Vietnam War (a term which also covers the U.S. involvement in Cambodia and Laos) recorded on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; those names belong to the 18 Americans killed in the Mayaguez Incident. link to

    ISIS gunmen are brutal, no doubt. So are US “kill squads,” link to, and link to, and of course the Phoenix Program and its extensions, link to, and prison guards and etc. But it seems the ISIS Chechens are pretty good field forces, not just executioners like “the Brit,” and one wonders if their warrior skills and brutality have anything to do with Soviet Imperial abuse of their homes and families and culture. Sort of like what our Empire is engaged in, from drone warfare to “boots through doors.”

    The last dead “person,” excluding GIs, from the current Kobane battle seems more likely to be some resident of that city that was unable to flee. Death by US Really Smart Bomb, or sectarian vengeance, or “stray bullet,” or random murder? We will just have to wait and see…

  8. ISIS is just a buncha gangsters who like to murder people. Yesterday, they murdered 46 SUNNIS in Heet, Iraq. It was a public execution. The victims, were barefoot with their hands tied behind their backs. Killed in broad daylight to send a message to other Sunnis tribes in Anbar.

    If American bombs don’t degrade ISIS, American politicians will send in the troops. That’s where this is going.

    • Keep saying it. Maybe next time it will come true… Do cheerleaders for Trooping ever go there themselves and hump a pack?

      • If he was drafted, Charles McMahon (May 10, 1953-April 29, 1975) was the unluckiest American soldier. One of the last to get killed in Vietnam AND sent there after getting drafted by the war criminal Nixon in the last draft of 18 year olds. Those born in the 1st half of 1953. That’s when I was born but I was lucky–300+ drafted number.

        I’m not a “cheerleader for Trooping.”

        You’ll think “hump a pack” if the Republicans win control of the Senate and McCain and Graham start going on the send troops now warpath.

Comments are closed.