Arguably, this is not dissimilar to the exhortations of David Petraeus to his troops in a May 2007 letter, reminding them to have excellent conduct with Iraqi civilians. This revised American approach and , although imperfect, was tactically strong but politically flawed. However, when fully realized it likely saved countless Iraqi and American lives, and for a while dramatically reduced violence: in 2011, more Iraqis were dying in traffic accidents than from terrorism. A confluence of factors contributed to this: the Mahdi army ceasefire, the Sahwa, Coalition JSOC raids and the Surge.
But reading some observers of the Iraq conflict against ISIL, one might believe the Iraqis are incapable of a more nuanced, more political and less violent approach.
In recent months, a number of articles have appeared suggesting that Iraqi
govt. forces are a highly sectarian, ultra violent force, in thrall to Iran and an inevitable threat to the West. Some even have made comparisons to ISIL. This is based on a number of over simplifications, and seems a highly questionable observation from my own recent experience, having tea with a Sadrist Sheikh in Thi Qar. Nothing about the experience seemed very ISIL, or needless to say I would not be writing this now. Elsewhere in the province, I met Iraqis whose relatives were in the Hashd al Shabi, and one prominent Sheikh was keen to introduce me to a Sunni from Mosul that he was looking after at his villa.
Nationally, evidence suggests that not only are Iraqis capable of transitioning from a heavy handed response to terrorism to local engagement, but that they are actively achieving this aim. It is early days, but these changes could prove critical to events on the battlefield, and need international support, through the Iraqi government. That must be with the ultimate aim of absorbing these militias into the government armed forces, although that will likely be a huge challenge.
This article will also look at some of the challenges Kurdish anti-ISIL forces have faced, which are not dissimilar to some of the issues experienced by the government in Baghdad, but receive less publicity. Accusations of human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and politicized paramilitaries with links to Iran, have all been reported from the Kurdish front lines.
That does not mean the Kurdish fight is somehow wrong, and it is heartening to see Kurdish victories, both holding the line and hitting ISIL. As long as there are strong, top down efforts to stop abuses among combatants, anti-ISIL forces need support as much as they need constructive critique. But the former is critically lacking.