Violence and context
When we sift through the sands of time, current events take on a different context to what is widely perceived by current commentary, as Michael Rubin recently pointed out. Today, many observers in the West (Weiss, Pregent) view the atrocities committed by Iraqi armed forces and allied militias in the war against ISIL as indicative that sectarian relations in Iraq are broken.
We are left to conclude that it would be foolhardy to continue support for a government that cannot, or will not stop such atrocities. We cannot, the saying goes, be “the air wing” of sectarian Shi’a militias, although the US has already indirectly given the PMU air support.
The end state this argument leads to is unthinkable: ISIL get a free pass on Iraq’s highways (almost the situation now, due to the highly limited Coalition air campaign.) A chaotic partition of Iraq that could match the partition of India in terms of violence and displacement, cannot be ruled out. A war over Iraq’s freshwater in the Tigris and Euphrates is just one terrible possibility that would arise from this (it is more or less happening) and all in a nation that is key for fueling the economies of Asia. Given that there is already dialogue between Anbar, Salahaddin (Sunni majority provinces) and Baghdad, it seems highly premature to abandon Iraq now.
The issue is rebuilding trust. Problematically, to many observers in Iraq, America is not trustworthy: to Moqtada al Sadr, the Coalition made Iraqis “suffer all kinds of torture, murder, expulsion, displacement, bombing and terrorism.”
While critics of the radical cleric would call hypocrisy on this statement (since Moqtada’s Jaish al Mahdi were frequently accused of targeting civilians) a 2006 Pentagon study reported that 9% of US army soldiers (of 1500 surveyed) reported causing unnecessary destruction of Iraqi property, while 36% supported the use of torture.
And yet, when shocked journalists report on documented “trophy photos” taken by Iraqi govt. forces with dead enemy fighters, we seem to have forgotten that this is something our own forces were guilty of in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. In fact, one American General in Vietnam, Gen. George Patton III even sent Christmas cards home with a picture of a pile of dead Viet Cong on the front.
Does that mean that all of these combatants, and our own soldiers, are monsters of war? No, it is a minority who do this: if the crimes of war were committed by a significantly higher percentage (or majority) of Coalition or Iraqi government forces in their conflict zones, bloodshed would have been immeasurably higher than what we have seen so far.