Modern Mongols: Sunni Arabs outraged at Iran role in Iraqi Gov’t Fallujah Campaign

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

BBC Monitoring surveyed the Arabic press on 27 May for the issue of the Iranian role in the Iraq government campaign to take Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Although Saudi and other newspapers say they want to see Daesh defeated, they are deeply critical of the Shiite militias or Popular Mobilization Forces, alleging that they use indiscriminate fire and create high numbers of civilian casualties when operating in Sunni Arab areas.

Fallujah is a storied Iraqi Sunni stronghold of several hundreds of thousands of residents, the “city of minarets.” It fell to Daesh in January of 2014, and I think it is fair to say that there is much more angst in the Sunni Arab world about its liberation at the hands of Iran-backed Shiites than there has been about Daesh’s brutal occupation of the city.

BBC Monitoring writes,

“In Bahraini pro-government Akhbar al-Khalij, Hamed Ezzat al-Sayyad balmes Tehran for attacks on Sunnis in Fallujah. He describes Iran as “the modern Mongols”, and “a cancerous entity that should be faced through an Arab liberation project”. He cites “the brutal assault on Fallujah which is a stronghold for Sunnis in Iraq”.

It also reports that the pro-government Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh alleged that the Shiite militias had randomly attacked a civilian hospital, and complained that 300 Iraqis had already been killed in the run-up to the main battled.

Jordan’s al-Ghad (private) ran a column by Isa al-Shu`aybi alleging indiscriminate killing “based on sectarian segregation” by the Shiite militias.

Abdullah al-Awady of the UAE’s al-Ittihad (Unity) attacked the Shiite militias for “exterminating” Sunnis and alleged that the Iraqi government was firing Sunnis from all state institutions.

In a May 23 report, BBC Monitoring had quoted some tweets by Sunnis actually rooting for Daesh if that meant that the Shiites would be defeated:

Iraqi activist named in Arabic “Shammariyat al-Iraq” (@moonnor27, 160K followers), whose tweets show her support for jihadism in Iraq, tweeted: “A call to every Muslim to tweet by using the hashtag ‘Support_Fallujah_with_prayer’. The Shia PMF are fiercely shelling [the city]. Genocide of Sunni families is being carried out. Pray for the oppressed, O Muslims.”

Needless to say, the Shiite militias for all their faults are not actually interested in “exterminating” Sunnis– in fact there are photos showing Iraqi Sunnis around Fallujah greeting them as saviors. But in some instances, as at Tikrit, they have allegedly committed reprisal attacks against Sunnis they held responsible for massacring Shiites or actively collaborating with Daesh.

On the other side of the aisle, BBC Monitoring surveyed the Iranian press on this issue on May 24:

Keyhan predicted that the high morale of the Iraqi armed forces, in particular the Popular Mobilization Forces or Shiite militias, a quick victory at Fallujah is possible. It claims that Daesh has moved chemical weapons to residential districts of Mosul, to deter the inevitable assault on their last major stronghold in Iraq, after Fallujah falls. [Mosul metropolitan area probably had 2 million inhabitants before Daesh took it over; it is now probably half that or less].

Khorasan predicted that the liberation of Fallujah will strengthen Iraqi national unity and put more power in the hands of the central government. It also paves the way to an assault on Mosul. It urges the government to resettle people in the city and integrate it into Iraq’s democratic system.

Javan argued that Daesh in Fallujah posed a security problem for Baghdad and for nearby Shiite cities such as Karabala. It also presented a baroque conspiracy theory in which the US is actually behind Daesh and other Sunni extremist groups even while it is orchestrating their demise.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: ” Iraqi Gov’t Forces Battle IS Near Fallujah”

28 Responses

  1. “Mongols” you say. When Persians were culturing and moderating the various Mongol kingdoms, like they had done for invading Muslims (where would Islamic civilization be without Persians) others invented wahhabism and stuck their head in the sand. As if ignorance is bliss. rooting for Daesh.

    • Iran’s role in backing Shiite militias in Iraq has nothing to do with “culturing and moderating” Sunnis. It has everything to do with extending and cementing Iran’s influence in Iraq and the wider Near East.

      • The point is that the original comparison that the Arab newspapers are making is false. Iran today is not Genghis Khan’s Mongolia. In addition, despite the excesses, Iran’s role in Iraq and Syria is not comparable to the Mongolian invasion of the Near East. The comparison is just shoddy propaganda.

        Iran largely operates at the request of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Human rights organizations are right to point out that Iranian operations in Iraq and Syria are not following human rights law or international law. With the case of the Mongolian invasion, no governing authority in the near east requested their invasion. As a result, the comparison is extremely faulty. It is just an attempt to ‘otherize’ or stigmatize Iraqi and Syrian attempts to curtail Daesh as a barbarian onslaught through linking it to Mongolian invasion of the Near East.

      • … has nothing to do with “culturing and moderating”

        No it has not, but Nap is correct in pointing out that comparing Persia/Iran with Mongols is an ahistoric absurdity.

        • Agreed. But it is equally absurd to think Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Syria is anything other than an attempt to extend and cement it’s influence in the Near East.

        • @William

          It is not absurd to think that Iran would like to see Daesh curtailed. Daesh has carried out terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Europe. If Daesh and it’s backers are able to topple Assad, not only will Daesh be able to further their sectarian strife in the region and complete pogroms of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, they could very well topple the Iraqi government, which would put them in a strong position to attack Iran or carry out terrorist operations in Iran and globally.

          The second point that you raise needs to be addressed. Iran has very little hard-power in the middle east in comparison to the States. What they do have is soft-power in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. With the religious demographics of Iraq and Lebanon it is difficult to envision a scenario where they would not enjoy such soft-power. It was our invasion that tilted Iraq away from Saudi Arabia to Iran.

        • Long before ISIS became a problem, Iran had extended its influence in Iraq, Syria, and much of Lebanon. It doesn’t need to exercise “hard power.” It is enough, and it has worked well for Iran, to support elements in all three countries (Shiite militias, Hezbollah, and the like) that advance Iranian interests.

          It is what one would expect of a country like Iran that aspires to be a regional hegemon. Any student of the “realist” school of international relations would recognize the phenomenon. And, yes, our installation of a Shiite Government in Iraq played into Iran’s hands.

        • @William Regardless, my point still stands that Iran’s interest is in deterring Daesh from morphing into a central governing authority that could attack Iran–which is left unaddressed in your response. American troops must have been coordinating with Iran to avoid attacking each other’s positions, reflecting the reality that both sides are fighting against Daesh. Besides the Kurds (with US support) and and Syrian Arab Army, who else is fighting Daesh on the ground?

          As for Iran being a regional hegemon, there is scant evidence to back that position. Iran has not illegally invaded any country in the middle east in recent history. Our main ally in the Near East, Saudi Arabia, has bombed Yemen to pieces, creating a humanitarian catastrophe with our supervision. In addition, they have flooded Iraq and Syria with munitions that are used by extremist groups. Syria has seen a fifth of it’s population forcibly transferred from it’s borders as a result of Turkish and Saudi foreign policies. If we were to engage with Iran economically and diplomatically, we might have some leverage with the government of Iran.

          We have considerable leverage with Saudi Arabia. We could get Saudi Arabia to desist in it’s actions in Yemen and Syria. Instead, we do nothing, and the result is what you see today.

        • “As for Iran being a regional hegemon, there is scant evidence to back that position. Iran has not illegally invaded any country in the middle east in recent history. ”

          Regional hegemony does not necessarily require illegal invasions of other countries in the region. In Iran’s case, as I noted above, Iran is served well in its drive for hegemony by its surrogates operating in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Shiite militias, Hezbollah, and the special forces arm of the Revolutionary Guards known as the “Quds Force” have all been involved in advancing Iran’s interests in these countries.

          Hegemony can be achieved via several paths that don’t involve “illegal invasions.” Sometimes just the threat of power projection is enough, especially when surrogates are operating on the aspiring hegemon’s behalf.

        • One further thought on Iran fighting ISIS, it is not a contradiction for Iran to fight ISIS and simultaneously aspire to extend and cement it’s hegemony in the Near East. The two activities are not mutually exclusive.

          In fact, it serves Iran’s hegemonic aspirations to deter ISIS from becoming the governing authority over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Were ISIS to prevail, it would represent a Sunni roadblock to Iran’s regional aspirations. Iran’s interests in the region–both aspiring hegemony and fighting ISIS–are in alignment.

        • @William

          Let us very crudely compare:

          (1) United States: Illegal invasion of Iraq that resulted in tremendous loss of civilian lives. Extensive occupation of Afghanistan for more than a decade that likewise resulted in a tremendous loss of civilian lives. Drone strikes in numerous countries in the Near East that also resulted in loss of civilian lives. Supporting Saudi Arabia and Turkey in funneling munitions to Syria, which in turn have effectively enabled extremists to overrun entire sections of Syria and Iraq. Supporting Saudi Arabia in the destruction of Yemen with the supply of cluster munitions, advanced military technology, and logistical support.

          (2) Saudi Arabia: Funneling munitions and financial support to extremist groups in Syria. Bombarding Yemen to the point of humanitarian catastrophe. The use of US-supplied cluster munitions goes against international and human rights law. Of course, Saudi Arabia and the United States are not signatories to the ban of the use of cluster munitions: another example of exceptionalism.

          (3) Iran: Shia militias in Iraq and Lebanon, which receive some training and material support from Iran.

          Who exactly is engaging in hegemony in the Near East?

        • Once again you miss my point, Anon. I never stated others were not attempting to engage in hegemony in the Near East. I am well aware of Saudi Arabia’s role and ambitions in the region. And as I stated above, the U.S. debacle in Iraq resulted in an open door for Iran’s influence in that country.

          If you had read my comments carefully you would have noted that I stated that Iran is an “aspiring” hegemon in the Near East, and that, inter alia, it is using Shiite militias, Heazbollah, and the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force to achieve that hegemony.

          Moreover, Iran is doing just what one would expect a major player in the region to do. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the “Realist” school of international relations would recognize the phenomenon.

      • Saudi Arabia’s cult of death and mayhem, Turkey’s authoritarian half democracy bent on arming the Jihadists and Western daemonization of Iran and Iranian peoples has everything to do with Iran’s attempt to build a buffer zone around her. If you go to Iraq today, a lot of infrastructure is build by Iran and hundreds of thousands of small merchants owe their livelihoods to Iranian tourism and money; to a lesser extent Afghanistan also benefits from Iranian investment. There is not a single shred of evidence that Iranian regime with all its faults is behind a single act of ethnic cleansing or mass killing. Criticism of Iran should be reserved for Iran’s internal politics and mostly assigned to people of Iran. What have other Arabs, Turks and Westerners done for people of the region?

        • It is nice to run across a sensible voice when it comes to discussion on the Middle East. Iran, for all it’s internal flaws as you say, has done more for Iraqis — whose government tried to invade Iran decades earlier, at the behest of the US and UK — in the last few years than a full decade of Western intervention did for them. Never mind what the West did to Iraqis BEFORE the occupation. And I’m not talking about just the Bush administration, there’s Madeline Albright’s attitude toward the suffering of Iraqi children to ponder too.

  2. If the majorities of populations in these lands are indeed absorbed in possibly participating in Sunni-Shi’a intra-Islamic civil wars — on top of all the other wars in the region, from the over 80-year-old Arab-Israeli one which does so much to define the modern Middle East as a region of lack of hope and progress, to all the other inter-governmental wars going on, and the various multi-factional civil wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya Yemen and others —
    then the future of our so-called “civilizations” in that region is destined to be tragic.

    To the extent that the many, highly diverse people and generally intelligent people of the many majority cultures and sub-cultures that make up the region can learn from the failure of the military models in the region (and elsewhere), and begin to reject old models and learn how to build new more sustainable models, as I believe they can, there may be hope for our region and for our world.

    • “… the future of our so-called “civilizations” in that region is destined to be tragic.”

      If things continue to spiral out of control it could very well turn out that we are at the beginning of the largest religious war of the 21. century, Iran will not indefinitely tolerate being shut out from Mecca.

      link to

  3. Terrible excesses happen in war, and it is highly likely that Hashd al-Shaabi have committed excesses. But to view them as systematically sectarian in nature, there is scant evidence of that. Of course Sunnis are being killed in greater numbers; Daesh is composed exclusively of Sunnis. The real “crime” the Hashd al-Shaabi (or Iran for that matter) have committed is being predominantly Shia.

  4. those pesky fallujah folks. they just won’t get with our program. maybe some squalid refugee camps will bring them to their senses? it worked so well last time. it should do the trick again.

  5. Meat grinders everywhere. Of course, our airstrikes are conducted using “smart meat grinders” – there’s a difference we say.

  6. A three way civil war, we are backing the Bagdad government in the hope we will get access to the oil. this has always been an imperialistic oil war: Started by Bush/Cheney continued by Obama/Clinton and to be carried forward by Warrior Queen Hillary. With the Pentagon Generals singing “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel – were just about to win!”

  7. Not really what Bush/Cheney envisioned, but astoundingly with the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran the oil price collapsed, and we are reaping some economic benefit from this. (The current oil price bounce is due to the wildfire shut-in off the Alberta oil patch).

    Your views of course posit a much more simplistic picture.

  8. wiki says population: 326,000 in 2010
    patrick cockburn says currently 60,000 trapped inside …

    link to
    (I’d be tempted to again mention “ethnic cleansing” of the Sunnis from portions of iraq but we don’t know the disposition of those “other” 275,000 Sunni Fallujah residents).

    Fallujah was the city where “cleansed” Sunnis from Baghdad found refuge despite this being either the 4th or 5th “seige” to eliminate “radical elements” …
    For the Wahabbi and jihadist supporters of KSA to complain about the “barbarity” of the Iranian attack on Fallujah is to laugh — briefly and bitterly.
    Believe no one, however, reports of exhausted Fallujans being unable to leave town and risking being branded traitors and killed “as an example to others” have been ongoing for well over a year (as well as reports of summary executions).
    One can only hope that the “better angels” prevail and that a bloodbath is avoided… that individuals resist the temptation to exact vengeance.

  9. Over at Scott Horton pod-cast with Patrick Cockburn the question was raised as to what Iraq intends for Fallujah once it is liberated … with mention that the “liberation” of Kobane (in Syria) and Ramadhi (in Iraq) were achieved with massive aerial bombardment which would (one hopes) be inappropriate wrt Fallujah.
    Still — will it be necessary to “destroy the village” to save it and what will Fallujah be “the day after” …
    both Kobane and Ramadi (liberated January 2015 and 2016) remain marginally inhabitable due to massive number of mines (IED’s) left by retreating ISIS. (ISIS’s losses in Ramahdi were estimated to be 2000, in Kobane also around 2000, with only an estimated 500 fighters in Fallujah — (fwiw: Ramadhi 375,000/ Kobane preISIS 40,000 population)
    Much as I tend to despise KSA and the Wahabbi version of “manifest destiny”, “ISIS” provides a tempting pretext for Baghdad to finish the task of bringing Fallujah until its control by.any.means.necessary.
    The “day after” is at least as worrisome as the current battle … my memory (hazy) is that the job of emptying Fallujah of civilian population in anticipation of this battle was not going well, not going well at all … so I have to wonder (again) where are those other 275,000 or simply that other 60,000 (from the 120,000 estimate) souls.

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