Last December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi was declaring that Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) had been driven from Iraq into Syria. It is hard to understand such hubris, since even if the claim were true, proclaiming it so triumphantly was like a red flag to the terrorist bull; the killers would have made a point of launching new operations in Iraq to prove Abadi a fool.
And so it has proved to be. In recent weeks a rising tide of violence, particularly in Salahuddin Province, has seen dozens of kidnappings and murders. Last week, the corpses of eight men seized earlier were discovered by a road. Clearly angered at the embarrassment of these murders, Abadi ordered the immediate execution of some convicted Daesh killers. Baghdad has not yet given any details but it appears a dozen terrorists of the hundreds already found guilty and sentenced to death were hanged.
The executions are certainly not going to deter Daesh and are unlikely to do anything for the reputation of Abadi’s government in its final days in office, a term which, apart from incompetence and corruption, has been characterized by a consistent lack of realism. This was best demonstrated by repeated premature announcements of total victory in the retaking of Mosul and later Tikrit from the terrorists. It was always clear that once the spurious statehood claims of the blasphemous Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had been crushed on the formal battlefield, his killers would revert to the classic terrorist tactic of lurking in and striking from the shadows. It is a major government failing that there has been little preparation for a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign.
This said, Abadi has had poor material to work with. For all its extensive US-equipment, the army is still a dubious resource. The large Mosul garrison cut and ran in the face of what appears now to have been merely a probing assault by the terrorists. Not only did the troops take to their heels, but they left behind hundreds of armored vehicles, thousands of weapons and mountains of ammunition. The army’s weakness lies in its poor training and lack of a cadre of professional officers. Under Abadi’s deeply discredited predecessor, Nouri Al-Maliki, military commands were handed out to incompetent political cronies.
And there is another problem. Much of the heavy lifting in the fighting to defeat Daesh was done by the Shia militias of the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), assisted by the now apparently-departed Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard under its top commander General Qasem Soleimani. Though these fighters protested that they were protecting the Sunni communities they had come to liberate from terrorist oppression, the reality is that their behavior has often been poor. All Sunnis were automatically suspected of being terrorists or Daesh supporters. A foreign journalist embedded with a Shia militia reported witnessing the brutal treatment of detained suspects and hearing of summary executions.
The PMF includes the Badr Brigade of Hadi Al-Amiri, which actually fought alongside the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, as well as Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Saraya Al-Salam militia, formerly the Mahdi Army. Sadr, who is avowedly anti-Iranian, and Al-Amiri triumphed in May’s election but have yet to form a coalition government. Tehran is doubtless pleased at the prospect of fresh conflict between Shia militias.