US-Supported Shia Militias in Iraq Lead Ethnic Cleansing

Oh, yes, and also civil war. Here’s a preview of what to expect in Iraq after ISIS is mostly run out of the country.

Set the scene: the country formerly known as Iraq was basically an steaming pile of ethnic/religious tension in 2003 when the U.S. invaded. It was divided among three broad groups we didn’t seem to know much about then, but damn well do now: Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. The Kurds, who always wanted to be independent, like from nearly the time of the dinosaurs always, saw their opportunity and broke away and are now essentially their own country. The Sunnis and Shia both wanted the same land and resources and freaking hate each other, and so have been fighting one another since 2003 when the post-U.S. invasion chaos unleashed them.

Among the many reasons the U.S. plans for Iraq failed was that it took the United States years to realize they were sitting squat in the middle of a civil war, hated by both sides as much as both sides hated them. The U.S. exit strategy, as it was, was a last gasp (The Surge) try to balance the power between Sunni and Shia and when that failed, run for the exit and allow Iran to push the Shias into power. The Sunnis took the bait from ISIS to be their protector from the Shias and zowie! it’s Mad Max in 2016.

A bit simplified, (duh) but that’s basically the outline.

When a couple of years ago the U.S. woke up and decided ISIS was the worst thingie ever, the U.S. also leaped into bed with Iran and the Shias to smite Islamic State. The reason was that the U.S.-paid for Iraqi National “Army” collapsed overnight and the Americans were desperate for someone to fight ISIS. The Shia were more than happy to help chase ISIS, and along the way, any other Sunnies they could find, out of Iraq.

So it is no surprise in any way that we learn since Shia militias recaptured most of (Sunni) Diyala from ISIS in 2015, they have dominated the province, with minimal oversight from the Iraqi state. As a result, the ultra-sectarian Shia groups have been free to attack Sunni civilians with impunity. The effect has been quite clear: Diyala has been depopulated of Sunnis.

Anywhere else in the world the U.S. would label this ethnic cleansing, and say it was a forerunner of genocide. It is, and likely will be, we just don’t want to call it that for PR purposes. You know, one person’s evil thugs are another’s freedom fighters.

And Diyala’s problems point to something bigger: While the militias are especially powerful in Diyala, they wield enormous influence throughout Iraq due to their role in the fight on ISIS. Their influence is doing serious harm to the prospects of Sunni-Shia reconciliation in Iraq – which is the only way to ensure ISIS’s long-term defeat and will happen only after pigs fly over a frozen Hell.

So in a way, if ISIS is not defeated in Iraq, that will be the good news in the long view. As Forrest Gump, who appears to be running American foreign policy at present, once said “Stupid is what stupid does.”

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

11 thoughts on “US-Supported Shia Militias in Iraq Lead Ethnic Cleansing”

  1. Thanks for this. I actually wasn’t aware, until recently, that Shia were ethnically cleansing Sunni, as well as Christians (and likely everyone else).

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the extremist Shia had come to appear moderate next to ISIS… I remember meeting a secularish Sunni-American who told me the Shia whip themselves, are fanatical. But that was years ago, pre-ISIS.

    Do the Shia happen to respect archaeology?

    1. There is no such thing as “the Shia” or “the Sunni”, just like with any religious faith: You will find fundamentalists on all sides, they are not exclusive to any one side or faith.

      I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the extremist Shia had come to appear moderate next to ISIS…

      Some would argue that’s the whole point about ISIS existence. Even the Taliban and al-Qaeda tried to boost their public image, by joining in the fight “against ISIS”. Without ISIS being present nobody would come up with the idea of calling groups like Al Nusra as “moderate”, because everybody would realize how ridiculous that would be.

    2. Yes they do respect archaeology. Bring me a video of Iraqi Shia destroying any historical artefacts.

      1. Someone posted on twitter a video of an Arab (Iraqi I assume) attempting to recreate some of the Assyrian art destroyed by ISIS.

  2. The US basically created ISIS to break the Shia crescent that Ahmed Chalabi hoodwinked us into creating. We’ve actually done a lot more to undermine the Shia then support them. Of coarse we play both sides as usual but the ultimate goal has always been to weaken Iran because that means weakening Russia.

    As for Shia war crimes, there undeniably tragic and totally unacceptable but there only half of the story. Just like with the Kosovars and the Serbs, The Tutsi’s and the Hutu’s and the Abkhazians and the Georgians- The Shia and the Sunni’s hands are both bloody and any Shia atrocity pales in comparison to America’s latest Sunni Frankenstein.

    I also don’t recall seeing anything about Shia crimes against Christians. I’m sure they happened after Saddam as revenge for there support for the strong man but there both fighting ISIS now. A Shia attack on Christians would be strategically unwise at this point. Then again, it is the Middle East and more f**ked up things have happened so get back to me on that.

    1. comrade hermit,

      Nothing comes up in a google search of Shiites driving out Christians from Iraq. I didn’t imagine the article, but it could be false or a misreading on my part. Ah, if it’s true and materially significant, there’ll be more articles on it. The article noted how Christians are called “The Nazarene”.

      And yes, I was surprised by the article. I hadn’t expected to see Shiites against Christians.

      I get most of my foreign policy news from this website, so I’m no expert.

  3. The establishment elites and their PNAC collaborators lied their way into promoting regime change in Iraq and we and the people in Iraq continue to pay for it. No one was held accountable just like on 9-11. Until we start holding individuals from the top down accountable nothing will change.

  4. Terrible piece by a former occupier who I guarantee you had never set foot in Iraq except in his role in aforementioned occupation.

    The Shia are not ethnically cleansing “every Sunni they find”. They could, if they even wanted to, yet large Sunni communities live in peace in Shia controlled areas such as Baghdad and deep, deep in the south in Basra and elsewhere.

    It was the Shia who were ethnically cleansed in Tal Afar and elsewhere by Sunni neighbours of decades who joined with ISIS’s assault over night.

    The Sunnis by and large made the wrong choice and the smarter ones are now joining the Hashd Shabi militias because they know it’s the only show in town now.

    Sunni supremacy is a cancer. Crush it, and articles like this, which rival Saudi media in their mythical qualities.

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