Arming Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qaeda formed a key part of the strategy of the Surge in Iraq in 2007. Today in the fight against ISIS the tribesmen are being slaughtered, unarmed and defenseless, as a result of corruption in Iraq’s central government, the Washington Post reports:
“We demand that the government does something,” said Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, a tribal leader with the Albu Nimr. “We feel that we have been abandoned and neglected.” […]
Al-Gaoud said the tribe received some arms: 30 PK-C machine guns and 15,000 bullets on Jan. 15, two weeks after Islamic State seized control of Anbar’s two main cities. There has been little from the Iraqi army since, he said, save an airdrop of 50,000 bullets during the summer.
“There is corruption—those that are meant to be delivering us ammunition are selling it on the black market and we instead are forced to buy it,” he said. “There are so many corrupt officers.”
Gaoud said a meeting with [Iraqi PM Haider al-]Abadi two weeks ago had resulted in promises, but there are concerns over whether the support will be forthcoming. “They said they have supplied so many arms to Anbar, but nothing arrives because of corruption, and they are investigating,” he said […]
“They have three Kalashnikovs between them,” joked Firas Qusai, a 25-year-old from Mosul at Bakhira camp, who has friends who have left to join the military camp.
After they had held out for almost a year, some 320 members of Gaoud’s tribe, the Albu Nimr, were executed by ISIS last month. The Albu Nimr fought as part of the Sunni Awakening Movement in 2007, but that opportunity was squandered under the tenure of Nouri al-Maliki, who failed to integrate Awakening fighters into meaningful positions in the Iraqi military forces, and by the U.S. government, whose support for the groups disappeared when it withdrew troops from Iraq.
The result has been the exclusion from the armed forces of those groups most likely to fight, while corrupt officials continue to hold posts. ISIS has collected tanks, artillery, Humvees, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and huge amounts of cash that were abandoned when regular Iraqi army units fled after mustering only minimal resistance. If the best we can offer Sunni tribes being killed by the hundreds is thirty soviet-era machine guns and limited ammunition, it shouldn’t be surprising that we don’t seem to have many friends in Anbar province these days.
The article goes on to note that Iraq’s finances are in trouble and that this, too, is hindering the government’s ability to fight ISIS. But the corruption and lack of finances are actually the same problem, all resulting from the gross inefficiencies left over from Maliki’s Shiite patronage networks.
President Obama has announced that the fight in Iraq is entering a “new phase.” While it’s not entirely clear what that will entail, additional U.S. troops, and particularly troops deployed to Anbar province itself, could provide some desperately needed relief.