The ongoing violence across the Middle East and the threat posed by the religious ideology represented by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should come as no surprise. The precursors to this aggressive unrest were weak, corrupt Arab governments that lacked stability and integration. In Iraq, the early signs of violence post 2003 were soon ignited into a full-fledged civil war accompanied by consistent terrorist attacks that left Iraq a vulnerable state and a regional proxy for foreign and neighboring countries. One of the major mistakes the U.S. did in Iraq was dissolving the Iraqi Army. Little did we know that this action was going to bring about disastrous outcomes such as enabling militias and other non-state actors to take over the country as they have now.
The fall Mosul and Tikrit under ISIS control last year has brought disastrous outcomes. It is estimated that 3 million Iraqis have been displaced since June 2014. Thousands have been killed and thousands of women have been captured and taken as sex slaves by ISIS fighters. The humanitarian situation is dire. With the lack of a government response to the urgent need of Iraq’s displaced population; thousands spent the cold months of winter without shelter or basic living necessities.
The ISIS offensive was a hard test for the Iraqi Army capabilities and leadership that is sinking in mismanagement and corruption. Shortly after the former Prime Minister al-Maliki lost the election to Mr. Al Ubadi, investigations found 50, 000 ‘ghost soldiers’ on payroll. This finding explains why the Iraqi army suddenly disappeared 48 hours after ISIS invaded Mousl in June 2014. Relying heavily on Iranian militias and leadership supported by the so called the ‘popular crowd’, the battles against ISIS take the form of guerrilla war, where the actual Iraqi army does not have a role or authority over these groups. The former head of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, General David Petraeus, tells The Washington Post that Iran and Shiite-backed militias pose a greater threat to Iraq than the self-described Islamic State.
General Petraeus is correct. Once the militia groups entered Tikrit to fight ISIS last month, they began their retaliatory actions by looting, burning and bombing residential and commercial areas in the city. Similar incidents were reported in Baghdad and Diyala showing that elements of the Iranian militias exchanged fire with Iraqi police, trying to practice full power in the streets of Baghdad and the southern provinces. It should come as no surprise when we see theses militias attack minorities or hassle women in work places as they did in many incidents in the past.
Most recently, the proposed U.S. defense bill that authorizes funding the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Sunni tribal fighters in Iraq to combat ISIS has spawned a sense of division and raised questions about the future of Iraq as an integrated state. This feeling of division among Iraqis is stirring mixed feelings, yet it may eventually be the only reliable solution that can put a short-term end to the Shiite-Sunni animosity. This model will bring out more changes and divisions within these states; a visible change that could take Arabs back to tribal establishment and armament of tribal men. Iraq certainly will not become a place where human or women’s rights are practiced.
It is true to suggest that when wars are waged, women and children suffer the utmost consequences. The problem of ISIS is far more complex than merely political; there are yet more tragedies to happen after the return of residents to their cities, towns and villages that have been ruined almost entirely by ISIS. In addition to the infrastructure destruction, there is the social fracture; the sensitive issue of dealing with rape and sex trafficking committed by ISIS on thousands of girls and women.
The big question is how will these women who were taken as sex slaves be reaccepted into the society? How will the parents, brothers and husbands deal with these women? What will be the future for their children? Who will guarantee the safety of these victims and protect them from domestic abuse? Most of these women will need psychological and medical help. Is there a plan to provide them with what they need? Not to mention, many of these women have already become widows and orphans as their families have been killed by ISIS.
Both history and the current chaotic status quo of the country suggest that Iraq is far from being capable to response to crises, thus the situation calls for urgent international attention and actions with careful measures to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis and to give these thousands of victims including women and children a hope and a reason to live and give back.
Miaad A. Hassan A native of Iraq, and recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, Miaad earned her Master’s Degree at the Monterey Institute of International Policy Studies, California, USA, specializing in Conflict Resolution and International Negotiations. Maintaining special interest in the Middle East and North Africa, Hassan’s work focuses on various issues including post-conflict development, peace building, human rights, women’s rights, resource conflict, terrorism, democratic governing, Islamic movements, and gender conflict.