With American Help Iraq’s Cycle of Violence Spirals

I published this last week in the Huffington Post:

Amnesty International published a report yesterday on Iraqi Government and Shia militia war crimes against Sunni populations in Iraq. This important piece of documentation helps to illustrate the cycle of violence that has been devastating the people of Iraq for 11 years and why US military intervention, on behalf of the Shia government and against the Sunni population, is not working, will not work, and will only prolong the suffering of millions of Iraqis.

Over the last several years, since the US military withdrew in late 2011*, the Shia government in Baghdad has persecuted the Sunni minority population relentlessly. Persecution against Sunnis has included killings, disappearances, mass arrests, indefinite detainment without charges or trial, torture, and exclusion from national, provincial and local political, security and revenue structures.

The result has been Sunni alignment with the Islamic State and organized revolution against the Shia dominated government in Baghdad with the all too predictable accompanying sectarian slaughter. Mass Sunni retaliation against non-Sunnis, led by the Islamic State, highlighted the news cycle this summer, although this type of bloodshed was nothing unique or new to the people of Iraq. The cycle of violence continues as Shia forces, now with American military support, engage in retribution against Sunni civilians.

This cycle of violence started with our invasion of Iraq in 2003, and while it diminished for a period of time from 2007-2011, it has since been progressing steadily. Nearly 10,000 Iraqis were killed in sectarian violence in 2013, and, if nothing changes, at the current rate, nearly 20,000 Iraqis, maybe more, will die this year.

What can and should be done?

Address the political grievances of the Sunni population. Give the Sunnis a reason not to support the Islamic State. Right now the Sunni population of Iraq is choosing to side with the Islamic State because that is a better option than to further acquiesce to the Shia government in Baghdad. To accomplish Sunni rejection of the Islamic State pressure must be put on the government in Baghdad to reform by incorporating Sunnis back into the security forces, into the political system and into the revenue streams, as well as removing Shia dominated security forces from Sunni areas. Greater autonomy must be given to Sunni areas; note this is not a Sunni only demand, but the government in Baghdad is so corrupt, that the Shia province of Basra in southern Iraq wants autonomy too.

The government in Baghdad will not reform or stop its persecution of Sunnis while we provide it with unconditional support through weapons sales and the use of the American air force or while we allow the continued sale of Iraqi oil. With no reform and no negotiation the Sunnis will remain attached to the Islamic State. With no political efforts the Islamic State will continue to grow stronger.

Sound familiar? Like our misadventure in Afghanistan? The greater we supported the corrupt government in Kabul and the more American troops we sent, the more the Taliban prospered. A similar dynamic is at play in Iraq. Consequently, without a change in American policy the cycle of violence in Iraq will continue its ghastly spiral, Amnesty International will find cause and need to publish more reports, and parasites of war, like the Islamic State and American defense companies will be the sole beneficiaries.

You may find the Amnesty International report here.

*This is not an endorsement for US forces to have remained in Iraq, but rather acknowledgment of one of the consequences of massive policy folly and foolishness. Despite a revisionist view currently circulated by hawks in D.C. and on TV, the prospect of American troops staying in Iraq past 2011 was wildly unpopular with a majority of Iraqis and would have led to a re-opening of the Iraq Civil War, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces once again killing American troops in large numbers. One of the foremost lessons that somehow, amazingly, we have not learned as Americans, is that once war has begun, war is impossible to control and there may be no options that result in anything other than death, maiming and destruction.

5 thoughts on “With American Help Iraq’s Cycle of Violence Spirals

  1. Appears we care much more about weapons sales than we do logical steps to build peaceful reconciliation.Peace brings in little demand for more weapons.


  2. @Matthew, I just saw your interview today at Democracy Now and your comment on the number of suicides from military vets just simply shocked me. I just started a thing where I donate to 3 charity groups every month, and considering this Tuesday is Veterans Day can you recommend a charity that you feel does a great job helping soldiers with PTSD? Thanks.


    • Hello Sahar,

      Thank you for writing and for your generosity in your charity.

      I would strongly recommend The Semper Fi Fund. They have helped a number of veterans I know and they keep very strict charitable standards (unlike many veterans charities).


      Peace to you Sahar.



  3. Matthew – It was great listening to your conversation with Amy on Democracy Now this morning. I remain truly amazed at the complete lack of integrity in the ‘conversation’ as is generally created through our media outlets, government ‘experts and Military Leaders. Your career certainly provided you with a vantage point of observation and direct involvement these past 10+ years and you nailed the reality perfectly on the program this morning. Much like, sadly, the situation with Ebola, mis-information sets the nature of conversation, completely out of valuable context, always a pathway to failure. It remains very difficult for the vast majority of people to step back, examine and evaluate factual context on everything relative to the Middle East, emotional opinions will not allow it.

    Our Politicians, many of them, fail as leaders – often generating the fever pitch of distraction from important issues. The population at large, also fails to demand and take action – even if nothing else, at the Voting Booth.

    It seems as though our new VA Secretary, McDonald, is exactly what is needed in order to break through the many ‘pillars’ of resistance and protectionism, long in the making. Leading, out on the front lines, getting the details needed to effect change and improve the many areas in need. There is nothing easy about this job he’s stepped into, his life experience is surely providing a great deal of positive impact. It seems he will continue to generate many completely necessary changes, providing Congress doesn’t somehow screw up his ability to do what’s necessary.

    Thank you! And, thank you for your Military Service!


    • Thank you Rex. Yes, McDonald has his hands full, but I really liked his announcement yesterday about removing over 1,000 VA employees. I’ve become very anti-institution in many respects, and I believe that the VA is too large of a bureaucracy to be successful in its mission. Still, I believe the veterans care is a primary obligation of the US government and so how do you meet that obligation, yet still deliver first rate, compassionate and timely care. My thoughts naturally turn towards a Medicare like system, but maybe with specific locations, centers and staff dedicate to veteran specific issues, like post-war mental health.


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