The Disconnect

If we have no interest in Iraq and there’s nothing we can do there, why is this news?

BAGHDAD — Wielding the threat of sectarian slaughter, Sunni Islamist militants claimed on Sunday that they had massacred hundreds of captive Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces, posting grisly pictures of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence and warning of more killing to come.

The possible mass killing came as militants cemented control of the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, after two days of fierce clashes with Iraqi troops, residents and senior security officials said. The city came under mortar attack, sending residents fleeing toward Sinjar in the north, which is under control of Kurdish pesh merga troops. Residents said the militants freed dozens of prisoners.

Even as anecdotal reports of extrajudicial killings around the country seemed to bear out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s intent to kill Shiites wherever it could, Iraqi officials and some human rights groups cautioned that the militants’ claim to have killed 1,700 soldiers in Tikrit could not be immediately verified.

The NYT is transparently attempting to drum up fervor for U. S. military intervention under a “responsibility to protect”.

19 comments… add one
  • Andy

    Pretty much the entire MSM and particularly the beltway crowd are wrong about Iraq.

    This, on the other hand, is the best analysis I’ve seen yet:

  • I agree with parts of that and disagree with others. I think he’s underestimating the likelihood of a protracted, bloody conflict within Baghdad. Check out the nomme de guerre of ISIS’s leader. He’s a home boy and Baghdad while important for both practical and propaganda reasons probably assumes even more significance for him.

  • Andy

    Hmm, I don’t see where he discounts a bloody conflict in Baghdad – he specifically mentions the possibility (likely in my view), of ethnic cleansing against Sunni’s in Baghdad. It all depends, though, on if ISIS is able to contest the city at all.

  • PD Shaw

    Joshua Landis’ analogy, that we are watching the equivalent of the genocides and ethnic cleansing of Central European and Turkey, will be sure to push all of the right buttons in America to take action to stop it.

  • ...

    From the article Andy linked:

    Sunni Arabs will not be pacified so long as they receive scant justice and minimal political representation in both Syria and Iraq, but ISIS cannot represent their needs. It is an expression of sectarianism run amok.

    I think the writer is missing the mark somehow. What’s going on in Iraq and Syria now looks similar to the first decade or so of the French Revolution: Much extremism with attendant extremist violence, with no stability in sight. There’s no reason that entire region can’t end up looking like Somalia of the 1990s on a larger scale.

  • ...

    My point is that ISIS may disappear only to be replaced by another extremist group.

    And while he assumes that the Shia are going to find competent officers, he seems to discount the idea that the Sunni’s may continue to mobilize and find their own competent officers. It’s only been eleven years since Saddam’s regime fell, I imagine some of the old officer and NCO crew are both still around and young enough to lead troops.

    Further I think his comparison to Central Europe’s ethnic cleansing up through the end of WWII misses the mark somewhat. Europe was/is full of talented people and civilization and industrialization. While losing out on a good coal or iron deposit might hurt in Europe, it isn’t necessarily a recipe for poverty. But if some Sunni state emerged in Iraq without oil, it would doom that nation to poverty, as scarcity is largely the order of the day, in terms of resources, talent, organization, etc. They’ve got a helluva lot of reasons to not let themselves get pushed out of regions with useful resources.

    Analogies can be extremely useful, but we also need to seek out the flaws in any analogy used.

    PS I haven’t read the article Schuler linked to yet. But it looks like more of the same from stuff I’ve read in recent days.

  • Andy

    From Pat Lang:

    “The present Iraqi government will have one opportunity for a counteroffensive to the north. If that fails then we will see the de facto partition of the country in a way that largely cancels long-established Western imposed structure in the region.

    Present events in Iraq and Syria bring to mind all the “experts” in government and academia who over the decades insisted to me that sectarianism was only a surface screen that hid the economic realities beneath. Their brains had been rotted by IR/PS in universities and they were incapable of seeing the truth of continuing and vital community identities. They still are incapable of understanding that simple reality. For them everything is a struggle for economic assets in a western system of “rationalism.” The idea that Maliki would try to destroy the Sunni Arabs in Iraq from sheer malevolent ancestral hatred was beyond their comprehension.

    “Sykes-Picot is Dead.”

    Yup. That’s true. The eighty year old deal between the French and British over dividing up the spoils of war in the former dominions of the Turkish sultan is finished. At Versailles the “Allies” (Churchill, Gertrude Bell, TE Lawrence et al) decided that these dominions would be cut up along lines that ran north-south with greater Syria (to include what is now Lebanon) going to the French, what is now Iraq going to the British and an enclave made out of Ottoman lands south of Syria going to Britain “in trust” for a Jewish homeland that had been promised by Britain in the Balfour Declaration in 1916 as they sought Jewish support during WWI. The “minor issue” of the rights of the previous inhabitants of the Holy Land was simply ignored.

    We should remember that “Syria,” “the Lebanon,” “Palestine,” and “Iraq,” had not been names that denoted political entities. These were geographical expressions that transcended politics. These lands had previously been organized along different lines in the administrative structure of the Ottoman empire. In that oecumenical empire the various peoples had only recently been “infected” with the Western notion of ethno-linguistic nationhood. Before that, people thought of themselves as; Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Jews, different kinds of Christians, etc. In those locally characteristic categories people lived in their “millets” in relative order under the yoke of the Ottoman state. Saddam continued that tradition.

    Now, the ancient system of loyalties is re-asserting itself. Like calls to like. The Iraqi Sunnis have begun to align themselves together in a way not seen since WWI. In the “American War” in Iraq, US Army SF and the marines succeeded in separating traditional Sunni Arab tribal groups from AQ and friends. We threw that advantage away by accepting the exclusivist sectarian policies of Malii’s government.

    Now, “the chickens has come home to roost.”

  • michael reynolds

    Seen this?

    But there’s no money [in northwest Sunni Iraq]. All these provinces are dependent on Baghdad for their budgets. This is what held Iraq together all these years — it would have fallen apart years ago had it not been for this financial dependence. Anbar [an insurgent-contested Sunni province] is totally dependent; over 95 percent of their money comes from Baghdad. They got a little bit of money from customs when they controlled the [Syrian] border, but they don’t even get that now. Ninevah [the insurgent-controlled province containing Mosul] is going to suffer a complete economic collapse.

    My point is that, in theory, the insurgents could just keep fighting until the Shias give up and form a region. But the regions they control are not viable entities. The Kurds would annex the north and northeastern parts of Ninevah. Most of the oil there is in the Kurdish controlled area or on the borderline already.

  • michael reynolds

    I’ll tell you an interesting sidebar to all this. If the idea is that we and the world essentially endorse the concept of ethnic/sectarian states – Serbia, Bosnia, a Shiite southern Iraq, a Sunni Anbar (or whatever they decide to call it) then a large part of the international objection to Israel as a distinctly Jewish state disappears.

  • PD Shaw

    Ellipses, you touch on some of the points that underlay my skepticism of the WWI boundaries critique. There are a lot more ethnic and language groups in Europe than the Middle East — the Middle East is often described synonymously with Arab. I think the reasons are primarily geographic. Europe is a peninsula, jutted with smaller peninsulas, islands, highlands, and mountain ranges. While the Middle East has some of these features, like the mountains that nurture the Kurds and helped Persia withstand complete Arabization, the primary feature of the Middle East is the desert and the nomads that thrive there, and invade the cities on the plain.

    There are few natural boundaries, the cities are unusually vulnerable to invasion, and the prospect of religiously homogeneous communities sharing the same river valley peacefully are probably close to nil. Small states like Kuwait exist because they are under Western protection.

  • Andy:

    That hearkens back to the way I analyzed the conflict in Libya which was that we were in essence taking sides in the conflict for ascendancy between the Ottoman Benghazi province and the Ottoman Tripoli province.

    That was not a dog we had a hunt in although our allies did and IMO we were being fed a line of propaganda about atrocities to spur us into taking the side of people who were not a whit less atrocious than the people they were fighting.

  • PD Shaw

    @andy, I’ll bite. What are the natural borders of the Middle East that Sykes-Picot tampered with? Is the Near-East one large Arab state, or is numerous small states based upon the Ottoman Vilayets? I don’t think either are obviously better than the map that emerged. (I won’t argue that the map that emerged was better, just no worse)

  • PD Shaw

    Without waiting for Andy to respond to something I’m bound to disagree with anyway, here are my problems with the common alternatives to the WWI era borders:

    Going small. The administrative borders were created by the Ottomans for the purpose of administering the various localities of the Empire for the convenience of the Empire. In common, each Vilayet featured a large central city, which would serve as a bridge between Constantinople 😉 and the local populace. They are no more an organic expression of a people’s identity than the borders of the state of South Dakota. The Vilayets were multi-ethnic and multi-religious. They changed size, the Baghdad Vilayet at one time stretched to Qatar. Since these were created for purposes of serving the Empire, they were not created with the idea of being independently viable, any more than South Dakota is. I don’t think many of the internal borders created by the Empire survived in Europe.

    Going big. Some Arabist wanted to replace the lands conquered from the Empire with a single Arab Empire. This was the Hussein bin Ali dream, but when he declared King of Hejaz, King of all Arabs, and later Caliph. This helped precipitate the Saudi revolt against him, which forced him into exile. Arab unity has again and again been shown to be a lie and a vehicle for self-enrichment of a would-be Emperor. Whatever the borders, Damascus and Baghdad have been rival centers of power, each of their own vision of its natural extent based upon its own golden age.

  • PD Shaw

    Damn, forgot to work the word “landlocked like Afghanistan” into my comment.

  • ...

    which would serve as a bridge between Constantinople 😉 and the local populace


  • PD Shaw

    We have some friends vacationing on one of the Turkish Islands of the Aegean this summer, whom I counseled to call the city
    “Constantinople,” because their knowledge of history would make them appear worldly. He said I was full of $#@@ because They Might be Giants.

  • ...


    That was the sound of that last joke going right over my head. And I have no intention of looking it up. It reeks of being college music for college students.

  • PD Shaw
  • Andy


    “What are the natural borders of the Middle East that Sykes-Picot tampered with?”

    Off-hand, I don’t know without doing some research, and I’m just finishing an 18 hour day. But more to my point is the fact that natural borders were not seriously considered. The borders were drawn to satisfy European political interests following WWI and, in particular, the British need for administrative units that they could control – and control often meant ensuring there were competing factions/ethnicities/sects to use as leverage.

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