Best Defense

Iraq, the unraveling (XXI): An Iraqi mayor’s worried assessment

The former mayor of Tel Afar, the northwestern Iraqi town that saw the first major successful counterinsurgency campaign in the war, has written a paper warning that Iraq may again be drifting toward ethno-sectarian conflict, which is to say, a form of civil war. This is particularly striking on a day when another round of ...

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The former mayor of Tel Afar, the northwestern Iraqi town that saw the first major successful counterinsurgency campaign in the war, has written a paper warning that Iraq may again be drifting toward ethno-sectarian conflict, which is to say, a form of civil war. This is particularly striking on a day when another round of bombings killed at least 50 people in the country.

Najim Abed al-Jabouri was mayor of Tel Afar when the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment took the city back from insurgents and terrorists in 2005-2006. He is now a senior fellow at the National Defense University, at which the study was written. It runs sharply contrary to the optimistic view lately advanced by some experts and observers in the United States that the chances of sectarian fighting have dwindled in Iraq. 

In contrast to American views of the Iraqi security forces, or ISF he writes: “Iraqi assessments suggest that without separating the ISF from the incumbent ethno-sectarian parties, the ISF will be a tool for creating instability in the country. Iraqis realize that the reasons and justifications for a civil war are still at play in Iraq.”

A major reason that the army and police can drive the country apart, he said, is that political meddling has created a divisive situation within those forces. “The majority of [Iraqi army] divisions are under the patronage of a political party,” al-Jabouri asserts. Unusually, he then lists the political affiliations of various units:

  • “the 8th IA division in Kut and Diwanya is heavily influenced by the Dawa party”
  • “the 4th IA division in Salahideen is influenced by President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan”
  • “the 7th IA division in Anbar is influenced by the Iraqi Awakening Party”
  • “the 5th IA division in Diyala is heavily influenced by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq”

Similarly, he adds, many of the forces of the Ministry of Interior actually operate beyond the control of that ministry and instead report to political parties. Officers who blow the whistle on the role political parties play in the Iraqi army risk losing their personal security guards as well as their jobs, he notes. 

To my knowledge, word of the report was first published by the Washington Times.  

Steven Pettibone/US Army via Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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