America and the Sunni Revolt

Since 2008, the Sunni awakening has disestablished order in Iraq. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government have been unable to hold control of the country and continue to fail at reaching an agreement with the militant rebels. The Sunni revolt has continued to escalate due to the Obama administration’s removal of all US troops in 2011. The presence of the United States is the main reason why Iraq had maintained a semblance of stability and harmony. Because the United States supplies the Iraqi military with a great deal of military training and weaponry, America insures the stability of the Iraqi government and bolsters its military. When the US withdrew, they took the stability of Iraq with them. Since the removal of American troops, the United States has not been physically involved with the ongoing conflict. The physical absence of American troops is negatively impacting Iraq’s chances of success and increases its suffering.

            The Sunni awakening began in Iraq in 2005 among Sunni tribes within the Anbar Province, with goals of becoming an “ad hoc armed force.” The people who became a part of the Sunni Awakening were soon known as the Sons of Iraq. The Sunni tribal leaders were paid by American forces in the western and northern regions of the country to turn against al-Qaida. Now the country is witnessing the emergence of a cadre of individuals, who are poised as the successors of al-Qaida, called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This group consists of a rapidly expanding extremist army. However, the many issues that plague Iraq cannot be completely blamed on this new group. During an interview by Audie Cornish with Shashank Bengali of The Los Angeles Times, the origins of the Sunni revolt was discussed.

“CORNISH: So help us understand what happened to the leaders of the local brigades and militias who were part of the Sunni Awakening movement after the US withdrew from Iraq. Why do they feel so burned?

BENGALI: Well, starting in 2008, the US government handed control over the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government, and that’s where things began to sort of fall apart. The Sons of Iraq movement say that they didn’t get all that they had been promised. A lot of the jobs were never offered, salaries were lower than they expected, some of the jobs were quite menial. And then a lot of the guys began to get arrested by Iraqi forces. This Shias in Maliki’s government, some of them regarded the Sons of Iraq as thugs or terrorists and a number of them were arrested. Quite a few remain arrested. Hundreds, in fact, are believed to still be in detention awaiting trial.”

Though the United States entered Iraq with the intentions of engendering stability, it seems that America’s lack of trust is contributing to the current conflict. Also, the US’s control over the Sons of Iraq contributed to the perception that they were “thugs or terrorists”, and because American troops were removed, it made it much easier for the Maliki, the Iraqi government, and the ISIS to seize control over them. The US government’s control over the Sons of Iraq appears to not have been in America’s best interests.

            As time progressed, the ISIS has become stronger and has begun seizing cities in Iraq. The first city captured was Fallujah on January 2014. On June 10th, 2014, ISIS seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The fall of this large city helped the insurgents acquire large quantities of weaponry (most of which was originally American), vehicles, ammunition, US trained Iraqi soldiers, and police officers. Since American troops arrived in Iraq, the Iraqi military have proven itself incapable of maintaining order without an American presence. Despite this, the Obama administration continues to espouse the argument that Iraq is better off without American involvement. Iraq is currently faced with an increased percentage of violence and increasing opportunity for ISIS militants. With no deterrence from the US, the ISIS is continuing to advance to the southern and eastern parts outside of Mosul, overrunning several smaller areas along with Fallujah. The Iraqi security forces have yet to reclaim Fallujah back because the loss of the city of Mosul and its recovery remains a more important priority. Though the United States has been contributing to Iraq by supplying weaponry, an increase in the quantity of arms appears to be an ineffective solution. An increase in available armaments simply increases the likelihood that the terrorists will find themselves with larger arsenals.

            Along with the weaponry, American involvement in the Sunni revolt includes initiatives to lessen the degree of corruption within Nouri al-Maliki’s administration.  The exiled Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi said that, “There is anger against Nouri al-Maliki and the behavior of the government over almost eight years so there was no other option other than to go into Sunni revolt.” In addition to problems of corruption, Maliki and his government reneged on a sizeable number of promises that were made. One of these unkept promises was the building of an all-encompassing government with the Sunnis as soon as the American troops left Iraq. When Americans were present, “US policy during the crucial years following the 2008 Sunni Awakening was to place faith in Maliki to build an inclusive system rather than use American influence to support other political actors”, said Ali Khedery, former US official in Iraq. When the US withdrew from Iraq, it left in its wake a government incapable of functioning efficiently.

            The Obama administration sent US advisers and equipment to improve the situation of the Iraqi military, an action which Tariq al-Hashimi thought was a mistake (The Daily Beast). Hashimi suggested that if the United States were to have any further involvement in the Sunni revolt, the US would need to partner with Iraq, an act which he believes will lead to long-term security and stability. According to Hashimi and others ideologically situated with him, the stability of Iraq is the highest responsibility of the United States:

“The US ethically is still in charge of our security, our stability and preventing interference from foreign countries, whether neighboring countries or far away countries, it is still the responsibility of the US ….Transparency, human rights, no corruption, justice, no interference. All of these values have been talked about nicely but nobody has pressed the government on which have been achieved and which have failed. That is the role of the United States.”

As the United States withdrew its military personnel from Iraq, the levels of political corruption in Iraqi government increased. Maliki and the Iraqi government have demonstrated that they will not take any actions or keep any promises that would be beneficial to the Sunnis. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, who monitors jihadist activity for the Middle East Forum gave a commentary on the current revolt:

“At least some of the soldiers serving on the Sunni side of the city may have been infiltrated by ISIS, explaining why they did not present an effective challenge to militants…more seriously, however, the Iraqi security forces have consistently failed to win support of the people they serve, giving them little backing in local communities…It is not a lack of manpower. But they have not built up local support that would enable them to fight.”

            The removal of American troops from Iraq has given the local population the impression that the US no longer cares about their plight. As the people of Iraq attempt to break free of the corruption of Maliki’s administration, they concurrently strive to steer clear of the violence promulgated by the ISIS and al-Qaida. If America continues to sit on the sidelines, it seems inevitable that Iraq will only continue to descend deeper into disarray.

Works Cited

Al-Salhy, Suadad, & Tim Arango. “Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 June 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

Cornish, Audie, & Shashank Bengali. “In New Iraqi Conflict, ‘Sunni Awakening’ Stays Dormant.” NPR. NPR, 26 June 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.

“Iraq VP to US: Stay Out of Our Civil War.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company LLC, 08 July 2014. Web. 16 July 2014.