Civilians emerge from Mosul’s rubble starving, injured and traumatized

A woman ran through an alley in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, with two babies clutched to her chest and two small children following closely behind, grabbing for her skirt. The family was among hundreds of civilians emerging from the rubble of the besieged neighborhood on July 3 as Iraqi Special Forces went door-to-door clearing homes. The evacuations were part of a final bid to wrest the last pockets of the city still controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the hands of extremists.

Many who remained in the militant-controlled areas of the city were injured and malnourished. Some had been hiding in basements for weeks as the fierce fighting between the Iraqi military and Islamic State forces raged around them. Civilians have long been caught between Islamic State snipers, who targeted those trying to leave, and heavy bombardment from Iraqi and coalition forces.

In June, the United Nations warned that thousands of civilians in Mosul were being used as human shields by the militants as their grip on the city loosened. Supplies dwindled as the Iraqi mission to retake the city escalated, and the risk from airstrikes and Islamic State snipers made it impossible for some to flee.

“People don’t have access to water or food supplies,” Bruno Geddo, head of the United Nations refugee agency in Iraq, said in an interview. The food remaining in the city was seized by Islamic State militants, according to recent escapees. “People have told us they were eating grass, so things are really desperate.” Others were injured and had to be carried down city streets.

Mr. Geddo said Mosul’s displaced residents were often “totally emotionally and physically exhausted” by the time they made it to nearby humanitarian camps, whether by escape or military evacuation. “Whenever we receive people from there, they look aghast,” Mr. Geddo said, “like someone who has gone through an experience like hell.”

For residents of the city, their plight had just begun, Mr. Geddo said. Fierce and prolonged fighting left portions of the city uninhabitable, meaning a swift return to some neighborhoods will be impossible. And even after the Islamic State’s defeat, the Iraqi forces face the arduous task of clearing the city of improvised explosive devices and booby traps left behind by ISIS.

Drone footage of the Old City neighborhood showed a city in ruins. Thick smoke filled the air from several fires burning on the ground, and buildings teetered on broken walls. Much of the damage has been done by airstrikes, but Islamic State fighters have also destroyed landmarks as they were pushed out of the city.

More than 900,000 people have been displaced by the fighting for Mosul, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. And aid groups in the region lack the resources to deal with the those who suffered the most severe deprivation and violence under the Islamic State, Mr. Geddo said.

“Its like coming back from the afterworld, and so we are doing everything we can. But to be honest, I don’t think we have the tools with his level of trauma,” Mr. Geddo said.

– edited from The New York Times, July 3, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


U.K. Chilcot report on Iraq war offers damning critique

On July 28, 2002, roughly eight months before the American-led invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain sent President George W. Bush a personal note that alarmed some of Mr. Blair’s top national security aides and was greeted with relief in Washington. “I will be with you, whatever,” Mr. Blair wrote, in what appeared to be a blanket promise of British support if the United States went to war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Getting rid of Mr. Hussein was “the right thing to do,” Mr. Blair wrote.

Fourteen years later, Mr. Blair’s pledge was revealed publicly as part of a 12-volume, 6,275-page report of a seven-year official investigation into how and why Britain went to war in Iraq.

The main conclusions in the report, by an independent Iraq Inquiry Committee chaired by Privy Counselor Sir John Chilcot, were familiar: that Britain, like the United States, used flawed intelligence to justify the invasion; that Iraq posed no immediate national security threat; that the allies acted militarily before all diplomatic options had been exhausted; and that there was a lack of planning for what would happen once Hussein was removed.

The report also amounted to a moment of searing public accountability for Mr. Blair, whose legacy has been defined in Britain almost entirely, and almost entirely negatively, for his decision to invade Iraq alongside the United States. Now rejected by his own Labor Party, his place in British history is defined by those crucial days in 2002 and 2003.

The current leader of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, apologized for the party’s having led Britain into the war, and the governing Conservatives were happy to let the Labor Party eat itself up over Blair and Iraq. Corbyn, an anti-war activist, told MPs: “Frankly it was an act of military aggression on a false pretext — [which] has long been regarded as illegal.”

The report’s 2.6-million words reveal that, in a phone call to President Bush two days after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Blair said, “It would be excellent to get rid of Saddam.” He added “there needed to be a clever strategy for doing this... An extremely clever plan would be required.”

The prime minister did want stronger evidence of the need for military action and a more solid plan for occupying Iraq and reconstituting a government there. His July 28, 2002, note to Bush warned broadly of the risks of “unintended consequences’’ from an invasion and presciently forecast that other European nations would be reluctant to back the war.

But by the time the invasion was launched, most of Blair’s warnings and conditions had been swept aside, the report concluded. Committee chairman Chilcot said upon release of the report that Blair had been advised by his diplomats and ministers of “the inadequacy of U.S. plans” and their concern “about the inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning.” Blair chose to override their objections.

The inquiry’s verdict on the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen. “We do not agree that hindsight is required,” Mr. Chilcot said. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”

Blair’s concern before the invasion of Iraq, the report makes clear, was less about the need to overthrow Saddam Hussein than about how to justify doing so. The report says: “At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programs identified and examined” by Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Blair was warned explicitly by the JIC in early 2003 that an Iraq war would “heighten” the threat from Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists. That has come true to a devastating extent. The invasion of Iraq opened Pandora’s box, out of which flew sectarian violence and terrorism. Iraqis — Sunni and Shia — fought the U.S.-led coalition and slaughtered one another. Suicide bombings and death squads spread terror throughout the land.

The JIC’s verdict before war broke out said: “Al Qaeda and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-U.S./anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West.”

Before the U.S.-led invasion, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq. The murderous Islamic State is an offshoot that has redefined terrorism to the point that even al Qaeda has condemned it for being too extreme.

The results of the war have haunted Iraq, the United States and Britain ever since: more than 200 British dead, at least 4,500 American dead, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, most of them civilians, as sectarian warfare, terrorist groups and actors like Iran have filled the vacuum left by toppling Saddam Hussein.

The entity Bush and Blair helped create, today’s Iraq, is one of the most corrupt countries on earth. It floats on a sea of oil, but little of that wealth trickles down to the ordinary people. Water and electricity cuts are commonplace, even in the capital..

Most recently, almost 300 Iraqi civilians died in the smoldering ruins left by a car bomb in Baghdad as they celebrated the final days of the holy month of Ramadan. The distraught people searched for loved ones blown to pieces or burned beyond recognition.

The instigators no longer have to deal with the quagmire they helped create. But the unlucky people of Iraq must live — and die — with what Bush and Blair have wrought.

– edited from The New York Times, Mirror (U.K.) and CNN
PeaceMeal, July/August
2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Iraqi city of Ramadi, once home to 500,000, lies in ruins

RAMADI, Iraq — Ramadi, once home to about 500,000 people, now largely lies in ruins. A U.N. report released January 16 used satellite imagery to assess the devastation, concluding that more than 3,000 buildings had been damaged and nearly 1,500 destroyed in the city 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. All told, more than 60 percent of Anbar’s provincial capital has been destroyed by constant air bombardment and the scorched-earth practices of Islamic State fighters in retreat, according to local estimates.

So complete was the destruction of Ramadi that a local reporter who had visited the city many times hardly recognized it. He swerved to avoid the aftermath of months of fighting: rubble, overturned cars and piles of twisted metal. Airstrikes and homemade bombs laid by the ISIS had shredded the poured-concrete walls and ceilings of the houses and shops along the road.

Officials are already scrambling to raise money to rebuild, even as operations continue to retake neighborhoods in the north and east. Their concern is that the devastation could breed future conflicts, recreating the conditions that allowed the Islamic State group to first gain a foothold in the province in late 2013.

While the U.S.-led coalition acknowledges the importance of reconstruction efforts, the actual money pledged to help rebuild is just a fraction of the amount spent on the military effort against ISIS. U.S. and Iraqi officials estimate the price tag for rebuilding to be in the hundreds of millions. The Iraqi government, in the midst of an economic downturn triggered in part by the falling price of oil, has shifted almost all costs of rebuilding to the provinces, ruling that reconstruction must come from existing budget allocations. That means provincial governors will depend almost entirely on international aid.

The United States has pledged $15.3 million to stabilization efforts in Iraq, according to figures provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. That’s compared with the estimated $280 million that the Department of Defense spends to fight ISIS each month, according to figures released by department and confirmed by coalition officials in Baghdad.

“We will never kill our way out of the Daesh problem,” U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS, told a recent news conference in Baghdad following the Ramadi gains. “We cannot bomb our way to peace here. The key to defeating this enemy and making it stick is the reconciliation and the stabilization process.”

And even a significant increase in reconstruction help won’t necessarily stop the tribal vengeance and vendettas once Ramadi is fully liberated from ISIS hands. Brig. Gen. Muhammad Rasheed Salah of the Anbar provincial police said no amount of money from the government would prevent him from going after the men he suspects are responsible for destroying his home. “No matter what,” he said, “I will have my revenge.”

– edited from an article by Susannah George, The Associated Press, January 17, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

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Iraqi fighters say more U.S. advisors won’t turn the tide

The U.S. decision to send an additional 450 military advisers to western Iraq to support Iraqis fighting the Islamic State group (ISIS) has left those Iraqi fighters, as well as independent analysts, unimpressed. Front-line fighters say the new advisers, while welcome, can’t address an acute lack of coordination among the three main forces opposed to ISIS: the Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias and Sunni tribesmen.

In interviews with International Business Times, Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province involved in a new training program at the Habbaniya base near Ramadi said there are fundamental problems with the fight against the Islamic State group that “no amount of U.S. military advisers” can change.

“In areas that are Sunni, ISIS does very well,” said Andrew Tabler, an ISIS expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “In other, more mixed areas, it has a harder time.” Tabler said if the U.S. and Iraq do not involve Sunnis in the fight against ISIS, it will “not do anything substantial.”

The lack of coordination and communication among Anbar’s anti-ISIS factions was part of the reason ISIS was able to take Ramadi easily, said fighters recently trained by U.S. advisers. Another part of the reason is the absence of another force that brings far more experience, the Shiite militias whose presence helped route ISIS from Tikrit earlier this year. The Shiites have taken a back seat in the fighting in Anbar.

The Iraqi defense ministry is struggling to coordinate the various armed groups in the fight against ISIS, while also trying to stop the cash and flow of weapons from wealthy Sunni tribesmen to the militant group. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of forces trying to help defeat ISIS, the Iraqi military is looking to the U.S. to come up with a new strategy that will involve those fighting with Baghdad’s armed forces — the Shiite volunteer forces funded largely by Iran as well as Sunnis in Anbar. But experts say the U.S. advisers may not be able to fix that kind of a structural problem among the anti-ISIS factions.

Anthony Cordesman, a former adviser to the U.S. Departments of State and Defense during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, says the addition of the 450 U.S. military advisers does not address the overarching problems. “No overall strategy has been announced for improving the Iraqi army or air force,” said Cordesman. “They are not announcing or dealing with any public strategy for pushing the Iraqis towards unity or finding some way of reducing ... problems between Sunni or Shiite or Arabs and Kurds.”

While some defense hawks want to see a large increase in U.S. forces in Iraq, Yinon Weiss, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Special Forces with expertise in ground intelligence in Iraq, says adding large numbers of troops could actually destabilize the region in the short term and would go against the current White House strategy.

“I don’t believe there is national support right now for an all-in strategy,” said Weiss. “At this point, the most practical option is an attempt at containment. If ISIS can be contained, their access to resources can over time be reduced, and their ability to govern their own territory will be disrupted, thereby weakening them and creating windows of opportunity for their ultimate defeat.”

– edited from International Business Times, June 11, 2015
PeaceMeal, July/August 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)