The fall of Ramadi in Iraq to ISIS has some haunting echoes in America this Memorial Day. A city with over 400,000 residents, it was “won” from the Al Qaeda insurgency in 2006-2007. Americans died in that months-long battle and it featured some an alliance with some 40 Sunni tribes in the Anbar region. In the words of , Major General James Mattis: “if Ramadi fell the whole province goes to hell”.
America has divided over the entire war in Iraq. Originally touted as necessary to removed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) from Saddam Hussein’s regime, it suffered a drop in popular support when such weaponry was not found (or was it?). In the post-9/11 national mood, it was not hard for the US to both be belligerent and direct that towards well-established enemies. Many call the Iraq war a mistake; I call it a fact. Once it happened, it created a situation for America and Americans with which to grapple. And I know people who served in the conflict and I honor them for their service (on Veteran’s Day, not Memorial Day, which is for those who died in war).
Given the American political polarity and as an action to undo that “mistake”, the Obama administration withdrew American troops en masse. This exposed and increased the larger tribal divides that define the Iraqi people – Shiite vs. Sunni Muslim.
In the US, we have had and presently do have divisions marked by violent conflict. Race is one of the most persistent points of such division. But to the credit of the nation and its people, most people do not engage in violent behavior towards those of the other side. We may vote differently, promote partisan causes and ideology, but when the national sovereignty is threatened, Americans band together.
Not so Iraqis. I view the tribal organization society – not only that of Iraq but all tribal areas – as inferior to one which but very political process mixes people across tribes. That mixing is not solely an American phenomenon; it is a democratic one. The cloistering of Muslim populations in Europe vividly contrasts the two types of society. And Muslims lose out. I say that wishing they did not.
The rise of ISIS is the rise of Sunni Islam over and against Shiite Islam. In the wake of the American occupation, the Shia rose to power over their former oppressing, ruling tribe. And they did so shedding blood and maintaining the violent schism that marks the region. While the savagery of ISIS is well-promoted and boasted upon, it is hardly a feature of that group alone. But the outcry it has produced in the west has caused even those on the left to rethink the withdrawal of its forces. And the air campaign has recommenced and will continue into the foreseeable future.
Now the “threat of ISIS” toward American people and interests is real and growing. The group is a well-defined enemy of the west. So far, despite the declarations of commanders, strikes from the air have not been enough. Ramadi has fallen, with the Shiite Iraqi army retreating, fully displaying its unwillingness to fight hard given its confused, light loyalties.
That’s easy for me to say I know. I’m not a soldier on the ground there. But it’s accurate to observe that ISIS is more determined than most of the armies they fight. They die on purpose to advance their cause and take some of their enemy with them. The same was true of Al Qaeda in 2006 and by uniting the area’s Sunni tribes, they were defeated. The willingness of the current Iraqi government to do anything like that is suspect. The Sunni tribes therefore have no affinity. Those who could turn the tide are instead left to be swept up by it.
So what does does the US do? Let’s learn, ok?
It’s become obvious that the Iraqis have no taste for democracy. But it’s the only system that will bring their society out of its darkness. I don’t believe Americans know what these tribal divides are like, but I do believe Americans can unite in saying they are wrong, and destructive to the Iraqi nation forever. Even if the former Hussein-ruled territory is dissolved into tribal states, the conflict will go on.
So I believe Iraq needs democracy. Not American democracy, Iraqi democracy. And bringing democracy to Iraq requires a generation or two of investment.
Iraq most of all needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. Muslims would absolutely recoil at the thought, but the faith that spreads forgiveness from the cross is the only one that will bring peace. Again, not American Christianity, Iraqi Christianity. If this is seen as just another sect in the tribal mix, then the gospel is simply misunderstood.
Ephesians 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility
I believe Americans will again fight in Iraq as I believed they eventually would when Saddam Hussein ruled, for some reason and under some circumstance. ISIS will not be allowed to reign and advance unchecked. I believe the Shiite influx from Iran is no better than the Sunni influx from ISIS. Iraq is broken, and it won’t be fixed quickly, easily or cheaply. But it will be fixed.