Alleged evidence can breathe life and give credence to the most incredible conspiracy theories in the often volatile Middle East region. And there are quite a few in Iraq relating to the wicked phenomena that is Daesh (ISIS).
Many of these theories, unsurprisingly, ascribe a lot of the blame to the United States and accuse it of supporting and arming that marauding terror gang – for various alleged reasons ranging from punishing governments hostile to Israel to bleeding Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq. Proponents of these theories often claim that the fact many U.S.-made arms and military vehicles (hastily abandoned by the Iraq Army after its embarrassing retreat from Mosul last year) are in the hands of Daesh conclusively proves that the U.S. has been aiding the group. They have also instanced the United States’ dropping of small arms to besieged Syrian Kurds defending Kobani last October as circumstantial evidence that the United States is directly arming Daesh – remember one of those air-dropped crates of small arms drifted off course to Daesh’s nearby positions where they then, predictably, showcased those captured weapons on social media.
Conspiracy theories everywhere are founded on highly spurious evidence and foundations. They thrive simply because they play on peoples confusions and fears when it comes to comprehending and grasping the complex and convoluted events which affect them, their lives and their societies. Today’s Iraq is certainly no exception. However given the often volatile nature of the Middle East region it can be very dangerous when those actively engaged in the fighting truly believe in such theories.
At least some of the Shia militias backed by Iran who are presently fighting Daesh in Iraq appear to believe in such conspiracy theories. Some of those militias even fired at a U.S. helicopter apparently believing the U.S. to be actively conspiring with Daesh against Iraq and the Shia. Some reports also claim that the famous commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force (the branch of that Iranian paramilitary organization responsible for operations outside of Iran) Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani “absolutely” believes in such theories. One, however, wonders if he does genuinely believe them or simply acts as if he does given the fact that the hard-liners back in Tehran have been parroting such conspiracies through their state-run media outlets.
Whether they genuinely believe them or not the reality is that many of Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq are reluctant to work with, or be seen to be coordinating with, the United States in their campaigns against Daesh. The recent liberation of Tikrit aptly showed this to be the case. When the U.S. began targeting Daesh some of those fighters withdrew in protest. They clearly wanted all the credit for combating Daesh on their own and saving Iraq from Daesh and appear to believe that help from the U.S. would taint, or even sour, any victory over that group.
One really doesn’t envy the position Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi finds himself in. The Iraqi Army has suffered two humiliating defeats over the course of the past year – the dramatic, and now infamous, fall of Iraq’s second-city Mosul last June and the recent fall of Ramadi. The latter setback has led analysts to conclude that Mosul will unlikely be liberated this year.
Abadi needs two long-time rivals, the United States and Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq, to help his country defeat Daesh. The United States possesses sophisticated air power and can swiftly strike Daesh anywhere in Iraq. The Iraqi Air Force is still quite small and consists primarily of helicopters. It also has yet to take delivery of the long-promised U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets. Iran and Russia provided Iraq with a small number of effective Su-25 Frogfoot attack planes last year. Direct Iranian air support has consisted of brief supporting air attacks against Daesh in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province near the Iranian border and drone overflights for reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering purposes. Bar these, albeit useful, contributions the United States has much greater abilities when it comes to striking Daesh from the air. Therefore Abadi does not wish to alienate them.
These Shia militias on the other hand provide a very valuable, arguably more valuable, asset for this kind of war. They are committed to defeating their Daesh enemies. Such competent and determined ground forces are of paramount importance when it comes to defeating and dismantling Daesh. U.S. air power alone will certainly not be enough to do that, that much was obvious from the get-go. What Mr. Abadi ultimately would like is a scenario whereby these militias lead whatever forces the Iraqi Army can muster on an offensive to retake Ramadi (something which is unfolding as we speak, and is being requested, it’s crucial to remember, by the Sunni tribesmen in Anbar whom Baghdad has been reaching out to and who are joining the mobilized umbrella group of Shia militias, the ‘Popular Mobilization Units’, which in turn means it is no longer an entirely Shi’ite paramilitary fighting force), the rest of Anbar and eventually Mosul. A fighting force he can pass off as thinly constituting the Iraqi Army under his command so as not to alienate American air and logistical support for Iraqi operations (Washington does not, after all, want to end up becoming the air force nor arms supplier of Iranian-backed militia forces in Iraq). It’s not a perfect solution, but times are tough and it may prove necessary against Daesh. Especially in light of those recent, highly discouraging, setbacks in Ramadi.
Conspiracy theories which lead Iraq’s various Shia militias to believe that America is conspiring against them in cahoots with Daesh would certainly undermine, and possibly even compromise, such a delicate effort. And, ultimately, who do you think will benefit from that?
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