The Antichrist And His Men Take Over (Revelation 13:16)

The Iraq War’s Key Players: Where Are They Now?

It has been over a decade since the United States launched a war to topple Saddam Hussein. Three years ago the last U.S. troops left Iraq.

Over the course of the war, nearly 4,500 U.S. troops and an estimated 120,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives, although a recent study suggested the real number of Iraqis who died as a result of the war could be as high as 500,000.

Now, Iraq’s government remains half-formed after an April election and unable to confront the militants led by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who have taken over cities, including Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and Tikrit.

Here are some of the key individuals and groups that played a role in Iraq’s slow unraveling, from the beginning of the war to the present day.


Iraqi army

Iraq Army

Iraq Army
Soldiers from the Third Iraqi Army Division at a ceremony in Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

When coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Saddam Hussein’s army was estimated to number between 300,000 and 350,000 troops. After Saddam was toppled, the Bush administration appointed L. Paul Bremer in May 2003 as Iraq’s top civilian administrator.

Within days of his appointment, Bremer issued Order Number 2 — a directive to dismantle the entire Iraqi army, which was predominantly Sunni. The move shocked the army, and also took U.S. commanders by surprise. “Now you have a couple hundred thousand people who are armed because they took their weapons home with them, they know how to use the weapons, who have no future and have a reason to be angry at you,” Col. Thomas Hammes told FRONTLINE.

The United States spent an estimated $25 billion on training and equipment for new security forces between 2003 and September 2012, according to a report from the special inspector general in Iraq. In 2013 alone, the Iraqi government spent an estimated $17 billion on its security forces.
And yet, this past June, when confronted in Mosul with a much smaller force of around 1,000 armed militants from ISIS and its Sunni allies, Iraq’s army crumbled. Multiple reports described uniforms and weapons discarded by Iraqi soldiers during their hasty retreat from Iraq’s second-largest city.
What happened? The disintegration was gradual, but there were warning signs. The country’s security forces lacked cohesion, with their loyalties divided along Iraq’s sectarian lines, according to a 2010 report from International Crisis Group.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki further weakened the structure by subverting the chain of command, forming new groups that reported directly to him. He also reportedly created a personal army of sorts out of 4,500 U.S.-trained special forces, nicknamed “Fedayeen al-Maliki.”

After the fall of Mosul, Iraqi soldiers were quoted saying they felt “betrayed,” and “abandoned” by their officers.

Recent reports from Iraq suggest Shia militias that once took up arms to fight U.S. troops have emerged to augment the Shia-dominated Iraqi army, or in some cases, fight in its stead.


Al Qaeda in Iraq

Iraqi Prisoners

Iraqi Prisoners
Iraqi army soldiers stand by two men suspected of being Al Qaeda members in Baqouba, capital of Iraq’s Diyala province, on Oct. 10, 2006. (AP Photo)

Iraq’s insurgency emerged in August 2003, with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, followed a few days later by a suicide bombing at a United Nations compound that killed the U.N.’s top envoy in Iraq.

Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, a Sunni extremist, claimed credit for the U.N. bombing, and in October 2004, his group pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, taking on the mantle of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

AQI initially was comprised of recruits from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt. It wasn’t until 2006 that the group’s membership was largely Iraqi, according to The Washington Post. The group — which expressly targeted Shia in an attempt to provoke a civil war — reached its peak in power and violence during the bitter sectarian conflict of 2006 and 2007.

But AQI’s brutality led to its undoing, even as it carried out kidnappings and beheadings.

“The Sunnis of Anbar and the Sunni populations of Baghdad had figured out that Al Qaeda was just too extreme to deal with,” said Douglas Ollivant, who oversaw Iraq policy at the National Security Council under both Bush and Obama. “They wanted to marry into their families. They were insisting they maintain a very strict Sharia.”

AQI’s heavy-handedness drove some Sunni tribes, who became known as the Sons of Iraq, into an alliance with the Americans (see below).

On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike. Abu Ayyub al-Masri became the new leader and renamed the group the Islamic State of Iraq in October 2006. Masri and another top leader were killed in April 2010.

Sensing an opportunity, the group entered the Syrian conflict in 2011, once again rebranding itself, this time as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While ISIS was fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, it was left alone, according to Ollivant, and “allowed to metastasize into something very, very new and very, very different.”

“This time, it’s Al Qaeda version 6.0,” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “They make [Osama] bin Laden’s 2011 Al Qaeda look like boy scouts. They are far stronger, they are far more numerous. They have thousands who hold foreign passports and require no visas to get into the United States or other western countries. They are well funded, they are battle hardened and they are well armed. And they now control far more territory exclusively than bin Laden ever did. They have the security, they have the safety to plan their next set of operations and they are a messianic movement. Believe me, they are planning those operations.”

In July 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate in territory seized from Iraq and Syria and renamed itself again — this time as the Islamic State.


The Sunni Awakening/Sons of Iraq

The Awakening

The Awakening
Members of the so-called “Awakening councils” celebrate while patrolling the streets of north Baghdad’s Azamiyah neighborhood, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2007. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The so-called Sunni Awakening movement began when the Sunni population in Anbar province, some of them insurgents who had fought against U.S. troops, tired of AQI’s excesses.

Gen. Petraeus, who was then leading U.S. forces in Iraq and implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that became known as the “surge,” decided to try to exploit this wedge.

“They’d gotten tired of Al Qaeda,” Petraeus told FRONTLINE. “Al Qaeda had been abusive. It had been blowing Sunni Arabs up and Sunni mosques up, in addition to Shia Arabs and mosques. And so they were keen to get these individuals out of their areas.”

As part of his plan, Petraeus promised the Sunnis a role in the government — and he agreed to pay them, ultimately spending $400 million on what became a paramilitary group he called the “Sons of Iraq.”

“Ultimately, we had 103,000 former insurgents and actually over 20,000 former militia members, part of that 103,000, to give you a sense of the magnitude of this endeavor,” Petraeus said.

Prime Minister Maliki, who was never comfortable with the Sons of Iraq, eventually stopped paying them after the Americans left. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal, the Sunnis who had joined the Sons of Iraq grew angry as Maliki’s government targeted prominent Sunni politicians and cracked down on Sunni protesters.


Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army

Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr became the face of Iraq’s largest and most feared Shia militia, the Mahdi army, as early as 2004. Deriving his power from his father — a much-revered and “martyred” Shia cleric — Sadr rallied his followers to kick coalition forces out of Iraq, calling the United States, the “great serpent.”

Although Sadr never held political office, he’s often described as a “kingmaker” thanks to his wide base of support in the Shia community.

Sadr’s relationship with Maliki has been volatile. He reluctantly backed Maliki as prime minister in 2006 and 2010 in exchange for government positions for his Sadrist political bloc. But he was also quick to withdraw support each time — in 2007 over Maliki’s refusal to come up with a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, and in 2012 over Maliki’s alleged dictatorial abuses.

Muqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi

Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi
Members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army parade along a road in the southern town of Basra in Iraq on Feb. 22, 2005. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Sadr’s Mahdi army repeatedly clashed with U.S. and Iraqi security forces, starting with fierce fights in Najaf in August 2004. By 2006, the Mahdi army had stormed mosques, thrown out moderate clerics and reportedly threatened the lives of [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and other moderate ayatollahs. Sadr’s militia was also accused of slaughtering Sunni civilians during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

In 2007, Sadr entered a three-year, self-imposed exile in Iran. He said he was leaving Iraq to pursue religious studies in Iran, but his departure coincided with the surge.

Maliki and Iraq’s security forces moved against the Mahdi army in March 2008, launching a campaign to drive the militia out of its strongholds in Basra and Sadr City. In August 2008, Sadr had ordered the Mahdi army to disarm, and it remained largely inactive for awhile.

“The day the Americans left [Iraq], the Sadrist militias more or less stacked their rifles, and we haven’t heard anything from them until just very recently,” said Ollivant.

Sadr returned to Iraq in 2011, as U.S. troops prepared to withdraw and the Sadrist movement made political gains. Although his party held 40 seats in Iraq’s Parliament and seven ministry positions, Sadr announced in February 2014 that he was withdrawing from politics. Observers noted at the time that Sadr has made similar pronouncements before, only to return.

The fall of Mosul and other cities to ISIS prompted mass rallies of Shia militias who called themselves the “Peace Brigades.” But analysts have suggested the new outfits are a reincarnation of Sadr’s Mahdi army, with a new name designed to distance itself from the tarnished reputation it earned in 2006 and 2007.


Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Sistani and Iraq

Sistani and Iraq
Shia tribal fighters chant slogans, raising weapons and a poster of spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad’s Sadr City, Iraq, on June 18, 2014. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is known as Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. Described as a “recluse” who shuns the spotlight, Sistani has generally wielded his influence to encourage calm in Iraq.

In 2003, Sistani threw U.S. plans for a rapid transfer of power into disarray when he called for direct elections. He also said Iraq’s constitution must be written by an assembly elected by Iraqis, not appointed. At the time, a New York Times article noted, “Ayatollah Sistani has been tolerant of the United States occupation and has refrained from openly criticizing the occupation authorities.”

In 2004, Sistani negotiated a truce between Sadr’s Mahdi army and U.S. and Iraqi forces fighting in Najaf. Sistani’s influence was such that Al Qaeda in Iraq’s then-leader Zarqawi called for his death in 2006.

Days after the fall of Mosul in June, Sistani called on Shia followers to take up arms to defend “the country, the citizens and the holy sites” against ISIS and its allies. He later adjusted his statement, saying the appeal “was not only about one sect.”

That month, Sistani called for the formation of a government with “broad national support,” phrasing that many interpreted as a rebuke of Maliki’s sectarian politics.

Sistani again indirectly called on Maliki to step aside on July 25, saying that political leaders should not “cling to positions or posts,” but should have a “spirit of national responsibility.” Two days later, Maliki’s own party released a statement echoing Sistani’s language urging politicians not to “cling” to their positions.

Israel Returns To Its Own Vomit (Proverbs 26:11)

Israel Attack On UN School

Israel Attack On UN School

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Israel’s leaders of committing “genocide” in Gaza and called on the Islamic world to arm Palestinians fighting “the Zionist regime,” according to AFP.

In a speech marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, Khamenei said Israel was acting like a “rabid dog” and “a wild wolf” in acts that amounted to a human catastrophe in Gaza and which must be resisted.

Khamenei dismissed talk of a ceasefire in Gaza, saying it was a ploy by the United States and European states to save Israel and said Hamas should be re-armed, rather than disarmed as otherwise they will be “unable to defend themselves.”

“The US president issued a fatwa that the resistance is disarmed so that they cannot respond to all those crimes (committed by Israel),” the supreme leader said, referring to a call by Barack Obama for the “disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza”.

“We say the opposite. The world and especially the Islamic world should arm … the Palestinian people,” Khamenei said.

Last week, Khamenei called on the Palestinian Arabs to keep fighting Israel and to expand their “resistance” from Gaza to Judea and Samaria.

“The only way to deal with this savage regime is to continue resistance and armed struggle and extend it to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria -ed.),” the official IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying.

Iran, which does not recognize Israel, is a supporter of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups that have been at the forefront of the fighting in Gaza.

Iran has provided Hamas and Islamic Jihad with long-range missiles such as the Fajr-5 and M302 – the latter of which is believed to have been used in the attack on Hadera in north-central Israel Monday. Earlier this year, Israeli naval commandos seized the Klos C ship, and discovered weapons including long-range rockets destined for terrorist groups in Gaza.

Despite its active role in providing the rockets raining down on Israeli population centers, Iran condemned the IDF operation aiming to stop the rockets as “savage aggression” earlier this month.

Khamenei and other Iranian leaders have been for years attacking Israel and calling for its elimination – and has used the phrase “rabid dog” to describe Israel on more than one occasion.

In November, Khamenei said that Israel is a “regime doomed to collapse” and referred to the Jewish state as “the rabid dog of the region.

Several weeks before that, he called Israel an “illegitimate and bastard regime,” and further called the United States a “smiling enemy” that is not to be trusted.

Israel’s Double Standard (Leviticus 19:35)

Gaza Cease-Fire: Unlike Iraq, Iran, Libya and N. Korea, Israel Has Impunity From Defying UNSC

Posted on Jul 29, 2014

By Juan Cole

PM Netanyahu's Double Standard

PM Netanyahu’s Double Standard
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. yakub88 /

This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

The United Nations Security Council is theoretically a sort of sovereign in international law.  If it designates a regime like that of Gaddafi in Libya as a threat to international peace, it can deputize the nations of the world to remove it.  One major exception to UNSC authority is Israel, which routinely thumbs its nose at the world body while suffering no sanctions or other punishment.

Defying the UNSC can be extremely dangerous and costly.  It demanded that Iraq dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and destroy any stockpiles of such unconventional weapons, in a series of resolutions after the Gulf War.  The Bush administration alleged that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein had declined completely to destroy those stockpiles and so was in violation of international law, and therefore claimed a sort of indirect sanction from the UNSC to invade and occupy Iraq in order to finish the job.  (Unfortunately for Bush, the Baath regime in Iraq had in fact destroyed the stockpiles; this had not stopped Bush propagandists from continuing to this day to cite Saddam Hussein’s alleged defiance of the UNSC as a justification for the US war on Iraq.)  Saddam Hussein was hanged in December 2006.

The UNSC demanded a decade or so ago that Iran mothball its civilian, peaceful nuclear enrichment program, aimed at gaining the capacity to fuel nuclear reactors to produce electricity.  Iran refused, citing the pledge in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that guarantees all countries the right to close the fuel cycle.  (Note that Israel went for broke to develop a nuclear warhead, of which it has several hundred, and never suffered any sanctions at all.)

As a result of the UNSC resolutions against Iran, the Obama administration was emboldened to impose a financial boycott on Iran, having it kicked off all the major banking exchanges and making it difficult or impossible for Iran to get paid for its petroleum.  Then the US went around strong-arming countries like South Korea in a bid to force them to stop importing Iranian petroleum.  A simple US congressional resolution would probably not have given the US the legitimacy to pursue this financial blockade against Iran, but the UNSC resolutions were much more persuasive, combined with US threats to sanction companies that traded with Iran.

Iran’s oil export earnings fell to $61.92 billion in 2013, “down 46% from $114.75 billion in 2011.”  That was an over $50 bn annual fine for defying the UNSC, even when it wasn’t clear that international law justified the UNSC stance.

UNSC resolutions against the North Korean nuclear weapons program (a kind of military program Iran does not even have) imposed an arms embargo and even permitted other countries to board North Korean vessels at will on the high seas if they suspected that weapons were aboard– a severe attack on the country’s national sovereignty.

So when the UNSC calls on Israel and on Hamas in Gaza to institute an immediate ceasefire, and they refuse, they will attract sanctions, right?  These demands, everyone knows, would be full-fledged resolutions if they weren’t watered down by the US.  (And let us face it, Israel is the one with the firepower here; it has killed over a thousand in this round of fighting, 80% of them non-combatants;  Hamas has killed four dozen or so Israelis, all but three soldiers).  I mean, Saddam Hussein was hanged merely for being falsely accused of violating UNSC resolutions!  And what if, as with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel not only refuses the demand for an immediate ceasefire but actually accuses the world’s major powers of being accomplices to terrorism? Doesn’t that sound a little bit like Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking of “global arrogance”?

Wouldn’t the UNSC do something to Netanyahu for sassing them that way?  Wouldn’t they devastate the Israeli economy the way they did the Iranian?  Wouldn’t they authorize military action to protect civilians in Gaza from Israeli war crimes, as they did in Libya?


President Obama will protect Israel from any accountability by wielding his veto.

And that is one of the reasons for the mess in the Mideast.  The Israeli leadership is completely fearless because it knows that the US will protect it no matter what it does, up to and including calling high American officials terrorist sympathizers.

The truth is that Mr. Obama could end the madness fairly easily.  He could just abstain when the UNSC votes sanctions on Israel for its violations of international law.

The European Union has forwarded the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the US, as an American sphere of influence.  The US congress and government more generally, in turn, has been bought and paid for by the Israel lobbies, including the “Christian Zionists.”  Unless and until counter-lobbies are formed that effectively contest with AIPAC for influence over US representatives, the problems in the Mideast are unsolvable.