Editor’s Note: This is the second of a four-part series on predictions for Middle East security by former US Army soldier Curtis Nelson.
The conflict against ISIS has longer lasting consequences than Americans perceive because America’s focus on ISIS and preventing a Sunni caliphate will only help to create an even more dangerous Muslim caliphate being led by Shia-dominated Iran.
From 2006-2008, I was in Baghdad, Iraq where we lived inside the city for six months with the Iraqi Army. Our purpose was showing locals our willingness to leave our large bases to become neighbors with them to fight Al-Qaeda. Our efforts were focused on the neighborhood of Ameriya where Al-Qaeda controlled operations for the whole country.
The Sunnis in Ameriya rebelled against Al-Qaeda and created their own security forces led by “Abu Abed.” The Iraqi government showed interest in this independent Sunni security force creating a strained partnership with the Shia led Iraqi Army. One event clearly reflected Iraqi attitudes and mutual suspicions between Sunni and Shia was “The Gunfight at The Ameriya Corral.” During a meeting between local Sunni’s and the Iraqi Army, tempers flared then guns were aimed at one another. Lt. Colonel Dale Kuehl intervened and made a split second decision to diffuse the situation that put himself in-between the two groups who were ready to start shooting at each other. After the showdown calmed there was less hostility between Sunni locals and Iraqi Army, yet there never was a complete reconciliation. When American military left Iraq, I foresaw a fractured Iraqi nation.
“Abu Abed” spoke about the issue brought to the forefront in Iraq; “Initially, this was rather surprising for me because we had worked so hard on national reconciliation. For instance, I personally promised all of the displaced Shi’a families from Ameriya that they could return home, and I ensured their protection. Over time, I began to realize that the new Iraqi government had no intention of reconciliation, and this never seemed to come up in the media. The Americans promised to merge the SOI [Sons of Iraq] with the security forces and other governmental organizations. Most of the people I know that were hired ended up being arrested, trapped or killed by the Shi’a militias.” Iraqi’s Sunni groups had partnered with Baghdad and were treated with contempt because of the Saddam’s abuse of the Shia. As a result, ISIS’s Sunni fighters were welcomed into Iraq.
In 2007, we finally had the upper hand on Al-Qaeda in Iraq, I knew America was going to leave a fragile security force in Iraq. During the intense heat of the summer we drove around giving Iraqi Security Forces water and other supplies. Recently when ISIS made such sudden gains against Iraq’s military, the corruption and inadequate logistics system together with rumors of battle losses created a mass panic and retreat.
America has short term goals eliminating a national security threat due to goals of ISIS and the beheadings of two Americans journalists. I agree they are a national security threat. Yet, the threats and disturbing videos are primarily for improving ISIS morale and recruiting. Could ISIS do damage to America? Yes. Could they destroy us? No. ISIS has no chance against an armed American populace. The second amendment works to our advantage. American fears are largely just that: an unjustified emotion because our comfort is perceived to be in peril. On a national scale, we are safe. I am not saying individual events could not occur.
One parallel in history that I can speculate with certainty after living inside Iraq. ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s tactics are similar. The brutality of Al-Qaeda increased as Al-Qaeda’s authority was challenged. Conquerors of territory are rarely proficient administrators, as a consequence Al-Qaeda’s violence increased to maintain dominance. In my neighborhood, this fueled the rebellion in conjunction with the Sunni Uprising in the Anbar province of Iraq.
American forces including the author led by Lt. Colonel Dale Kuehl, assisted this local rebellion. Local support is ISIS’s Achilles heel, Arab’s close social relationships ensures that angering the wrong leader will result in an inevitable backlash against ISIS. Fighters from Libya, Chechnya, and other nations will not treat locals with respect. This fuels passive resistance that is just as damaging in the long term. As ISIS begins to be seriously challenged and local residents are forced to join the fight, suspicions will increase against local residents and so will the brutality. Support for ISIS will die as the heavy handed tactics wear on locals living with the consequences. Looking at the big picture: ISIS will fall. Most importantly the Sunni will eventually be powerless to object to the Shia rulers in Baghdad.
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