Iraq: US dismayed Shiite Gov’t hasn’t Armed Sunni Tribes fighting ISIL

By Juan Cole

The pan-Arab London daily Hayat [Life] reports that members of the al-Anbar provincial council say they have met with American officials who are “disgusted” and the slowness of Baghdad to arm the Sunni Arab tribes fighting ISIL.

Last week 220 members of the Al-Bu Nimr tribe were murdered by ISIL for taking up arms against them. Now another 50 bodies have been found.

Al-Hayat says that Sunni Arabs in al-Anbar believe that the national unity government in Baghdad (still dominated by fundamentalist Shiites) does not trust the Sunni al-Anbar tribes and is not sure about arming them.

Moreover, he said, Baghdad has a relatively small circle of al-Anbar notables that the members of the government know and trust. But these individuals are not necessarily very powerful on the ground out in the province.

Sha`lan al-Nimrawi, a leader of the Al-Bu Nimr tribe, told al-Hayat that many of his people have been forcibly displaced and are wandering in the desert–women and children included. He said he’s been in touch with the US and the Baghdad government but no one has intervened. He said the al-Abadi administration told him that they were afraid to send out rescue forces because ISIL might be using the displaced civilians as bait to lure government troops into a trap. Nimrawi said that at that point he was angered and hung up.

Al-Hayat reports that the US is thinking about arming and training the Sunni tribes itself, but that report contradicts what Gen. Martin Dempsey has said about needing the Iraqi government itself to do the arming.

The problem in Iraq is similar to that in Syria. The Baghdad government only wants to see ISIL destroyed if it can pick up the pieces and assert itself. It doesn’t want armed Sunni Arab tribesmen taking over al-Anbar, either. And Baghdad doesn’t trust the tribesmen, some of whom have fought the Shiite government in the past.

In Syria, Turkey is not getting involved very much in defending Kobane because it doesn’t want to see the leftist, Kurdish separatists of the PKK and their Syrian allies strengthened.

ISIL is benefiting from the ambivalence of the two major powers in the region to assert itself beyond what its military capabilities alone would really allow.

Iraq and Syria exemplify the verses of W. B. Yeats:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”


Related video:

Wochit: “Bodies Of 48 Sunni Tribal Fighters Found In Iraq”

16 Responses

  1. I find it hard to believe they don’t have weapons. Are they really eager to do battle? Are they waiting for anything?

  2. Leefeller Guy

    Expecting people to protect themselves means the government is useless, unlike the US where arming is a way expression?

  3. If reports of the Albu Nimr massacre are correct, one has to wonder what our ‘allies’ in the area have in mind. If ‘stability’ in the region is in the US national /strategic interest, one has to wonder what the US has in mind. If dialogue over war is of global concern, one has to wander what the UN has in mind.

  4. Iraq and Syria exemplify the verses of W. B. Yeats:…

    Or, as the Scottish bard put it, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,” (To a mouse, Robert Burns)

    • So, if the best laid schemes of mice and men go awry, what hope is there for schemes coming out of a corrupt and, consequently, perennially bungling Washington?

  5. The enemy of my enemy’s enemy’s enemy’s enemy’s enemy’s………….enemy is my????

    Don’t bather to knock, just go in ad hoc.

  6. Having crushed Saddam and disarmed the Sunnis, now we are pushing to re-arm them so that they can fight ISIL? What a great idea. While we are at it, why not send some good weapons to Iran to help them join the battle? Will we never learn?

  7. This is because, despite the government calling itself a government “of national unity,” there is no national unity. The three major factions are the Shi’ia, the Sunni and the Kurds. And none of those three trust the other two. So, as long as the Shi’ia are running things in Baghdad, the Sunnis will find themselves on the outs. The Kurds have all ready set up their own de-facto state in the north and they are currently dealing with Turkey, selling them oil. They are negotiating with foreign countries as if they were their own nation. Since they have oil, lots of countries want to talk to them.

    Any country, created out of a whole cloth with a straight edge without any respect to who lives where and what the various factions are, how they work together or even if they get along at all is doomed to either a dictator or this kind of factionalism, leading to civil war.

  8. On a similar note, the Free Syrian Army has been routed from Allepo region.

    link to

    I wonder how Obama figured that he could leave Assad to intensify bombing of the FSA, while the United States infuriated Jabhat al-Nusra with symbolic strikes, and everything would work out fine for the FSA.

    Admittedly, there aren’t any great options there.

    Obama’s insistence on working through Baghdad to retake Anbar is doomed to failure. His strategy of creating a moderate opposition in Syria while leaving Assad to destroy any moderate opposition is cognitive dissonance.

    • The WP article illustrates a further disintegration of the anti-Assad rebels as a collective entity.

      Previously, Jabhat al-Nusra (“Succor Front”) had coordinated its efforts with the Free Syrian Army when victories were being rolled up against the Assad regime in 2012 and 2013. While not allies, they nevertheless saw the Baathists as the common enemy and did not battle each other. Furthermore, while designated by the U.S. State Department as a terror organization, the Succor Front did not undertake any known terrorism against any American interests – and the Syrian National Coalition, whom the U.S recognizes as a government-in-exile, attempted to lobby the U.S. to drop this odious designation.

      The Obama administration in 2013 damaged the fortunes of the FSA by suspending aid when one of their arms depots were raided by Salafist fighters. This caused numerous FSA personnel to defect to other groups. The Islamic Front became an umbrella group that consisted of brigades of varying fundamentalist Sunni ideologies. – they received their financing from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

      Jabhat al-Nusra also began fighting ISIS – which led to glee among Baathist leaders. The Islamic Front has eschewed Western covert aid support, but largely considers itself friendly to the FSA – who receives substantial supplies from the CIA and pro-West countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

      There are essentially four discrete armed organizations who largely fight each other despite the fact their primary goal is to topple Assad. Much of this discord can be blamed on policy failures of the U.S. State Department.

  9. The dismay is surprising. The mistrust cuts both ways, and not everyone has the moral fibre that Ayatollah Sistani displays who’d go as far as helping a potential enemy against him before committing an unethical action.

    The earlier, well armed, Sunni rebellion after Al-Maliki’s own govt sectarian state abuses, were lead by non-ISIL Sunni Iraqis from the restive provinces, who wanted to march all the way to Baghdad, which was seen as sectarian provocation (even if Baathists), bringing back memories of the sectarian terroristic Al Qaeda inspired Sunni insurgency post-2003 invasion, which was still ongoing with frequent bombings in Shia areas and elsewhere by Sunni extremists (Al Baghdadi’s AQI) targeting Shiites, after the US left.

    An earlier article how some affected Sunni Iraqis were still unwilling to oust ISIL on anyone’s behalf, as well as joining ISIL after losses doesn’t help in easing the Shiites fears and bring confidence, and vice versa by Shia militia killings. There needs to be some sort of serious guarantees by the US and regional players on harbouring unity and stopping retaliations.

  10. “Much of this discord can be blamed on policy failures of the U.S. State Department.” Yeah, let’s start our Very Important And Impressive Policies by running decades of advancing the interests of petrobarons and various Bubble careerists over stuff like the decency and actual security, in the sense of “needs met,” of lives of ordinary people. And more recently, making global environmental “difficulties” even more inevitable, because that’s in the interest of a few of our buddies and fellow Players, and whattyaknow, there’s profits and careers to be gathered in for a few of us as the “centre” dissipates into disorder and anomie!

    And woo-hoo! Let’s dump lots of weapons into the pot, add some cayenne and Smart Bombs and smokeless gunpowder and blocks and bags and suitcases full of used $100 bills, stir it up, and expect that a beautiful birthday cake will emerge! Because WE know how, after decades of doing it, and thus institutionalizing and regularizing our behaviors and skill sets, WE, the Empire Guys, know how to de-stabilize and “democratize” and move under the radar and all that, fighting our real “insurgent” battles inside the Bubble, over hegemony in controlling the Doctrine and Narrative and Careers and Budget “Share,” and procurement and deployment and all that self-fulfilling disorder-generating-prodigal-profligate prophecy: “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War,” link to And none of this is new news, anyway, whether as to “Dave” Petraeus or the rest of the “E Ringers:” link to

    Remember Petraeus, he who now profits pluperfectly from his time at several of the helms? “Where is he now?” link to, and a little recap on where this Paragon of Policy Leaderism came from, link to Maybe we also remember that this fella, rising Promethean from the careerist rabble, has busily, with his buddies, been carefully and craftily about the business of “redefining” some fundamentals, like “war,” which is now a perpetual condition, and “successvictorywin,” which have had to be redefined due to the painfully cognitive dissonance between muscular rhetoric and actual ground truths. link to , and even more: “Allen, Obama, and Orwell: Continuing war Is Victory,” link to Oh, and to come even more current: link to

    And then there’s this BS from the “Top Kick:” link to

    And some words from the Heartland of the Homeland: “Excuse me, but we never ‘won’ in Iraq,” link to

    And a little more context, for those who want a little more than cowboys-and-Indians and the finer points of bribery and corruption and dissimulation: link to

    Our Rulers’ “Policies” are designed to fail, from the perspective of us ordinary people. A feature, not a bug.

  11. Unfortunately, The David’s surge in Iraq worked well enough to convince Obama that Afghanistan really was a “war of necessity.” He didn’t listen to all the informed people who knew lots more about Afghanistan than Petraeus. The terrain and the different ethnic makeup made The David’s COIN strategy a longshot at best. That’s the reason Petraeus bailed out of the military so quickly. He didn’t want a failure on his record because The David planned a smooth transition into national politics. In baseball, he would have been a smooth switch hitter.

    The New York Times is reporting a coordinated spring offensive is being planned by Iraq and the U.S. It’s designed to cut ISIS supply lines and isolate them in Mosul.

  12. Heavy weapons of IS are operated by ex baathist military men and are not a tribal toy things to fire in the weddings.

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