Couuntless memories haunt me after a decade of service in Iraq. Gripping the hands of an assassin-felled member of the provisional government as the life slipped out of her body in 2003; watching al Qaeda’sbeheadings of American hostages in 2004; seeing photos of young Sunni prisoners raped and tortured by Iran-backed Shiite militias serving within the Iraqi police in 2005; and sitting helplessly at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as news came in of al Qaeda’s 2006 bombing of al-Askari Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Shiite Islam, ushering in the civil war.
But after countless visits to Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed Medical Center, nothing upsets me more than the fact that thousands of American soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, and contractors are now enabling and emboldening a government in Baghdad that is simply beyond redemption.
It took the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, for Western elites to finally begin to understand what many of us saw firsthand in the years since 2003:
The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern what could be one of the world’s most prosperous nations.
The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern what could be one of the world’s most prosperous nations. Washington’s response to the Islamic State’s (IS) advance, however, has been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are “allies” that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself.
The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was branded the “Republic of Fear” due to its wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life. Saddam’s abuses were legendary: The invasion of Iran in 1980, where his forces employed chemical and biological weapons; the genocide of more than 100,000 Kurds during theAnfal campaign; the invasion of Kuwait in 1990; and 1991’s massacre of Shiites in Karbala are only a few examples of his gruesome handiwork.
Post-2003 Iraq was supposed to be different. Throughout the past decade, however, countless NGOs and international news organizations have borne witness to the accelerating pace of abuses. The Republic of Fear is being reborn.
Perhaps the most vivid and disturbing evidence that the Iraqi government simply does not share America’s core values emerged on Feb. 6. In a grainy video posted on YouTube, a three-minute horror show plays out on the front lines somewhere in Iraq. Iraqi military officers and presumably Shiite militiamen — dressed in black, skull-adorned “Sons of Anarchy” shirts — crowd an ambulance emblazoned with the Iraqi state seal. Inside, a blindfolded and hog-tied man in military fatigues pleads for mercy as the Iraqi vigilantes beat him over the head, taunting him with expletives.
“We will f— your sisters,” they shout.
“No, God,” the prisoner weeps.
One of the vigilantes picks up a metal toolbox and slams it down on the crying man, as others enter the ambulance to beat and kick the helpless prisoner. A minute into the video, the man is dragged out of the ambulance and onto the ground, still blindfolded, arms bound behind his back. A dozen fighters surround him and begin kicking him until he lies motionless, blood dripping from his head. With some yelling “enough,” a man in camouflaged trousers walks up to the prisoner and beats him over the head repeatedly with a sandal, a gesture of monumental insult. Another man, also in camouflaged trousers, leaps up twice and lands with his full weight on the detainee’s skull. A third man, in full military uniform, kicks and punches the hemorrhaging man, whose blood spills across the sand below.
In the final horrific minute, the vigilantes carry the man a few feet away and drop him to the ground. Several men armed with U.S.-supplied M4 rifles then empty several magazines — perhaps more than 100 rounds — into the man.
The video concludes with one man chillingly yelling, “Enough! What’s wrong with you?”
Any viewer capable of understanding the dialogue overlaying the savage imagery is left in utter shock. But that emotion should soon be replaced by rage, as the realization sets in that countless American lives, families, and taxpayer dollars were sacrificed — and are being risked today — to facilitate such brazen cruelty.
Twitter is abuzz with speculation about the victim’s identity. A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter? An Islamic State spy? Regardless, one thing is clear: These were 196 vivid seconds of a lynching, a field execution, an Iraqi government and Shiite militia-orchestrated war crime broadcast around the world. And the sad reality is that this killing was facilitated by the White House.
Since assuming office in 2009, President Barack Obama and his national security team have turned a blind eye toward the growing crisis in Iraq. They seem to have simply hoped that Bush’s “dumb war,” as Obama oncedescribed it, would not distract them from a domestic-driven agenda. Even as the cancer at the heart of the Iraqi government metastasized, senior American officials ignored the countless classified and open sources implicating the Iraqi government in theft, torture, rape, and ethnic cleansing — insisting that the country remained on the right track.
In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden confidently insisted that Iraq “is going to be one of the great achievements of this administration,” lauding Iraqis for “us[ing] the political process, rather than guns, to settle their differences.”