Monday 22 July 2019

Rebels have unifying force of loyalty that the army lacks

A militant stands in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq. AP
A militant stands in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq. AP
Refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region in Irbil, Iraq, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad. AP
A volunteer who is going to join the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces, reacts to camera as he waits to register in Diwaniya province. Reuters
Members of the Kurdish security forces patrol during an intensive security deployment on the town of Tuz Khurmatu, north of Baghdad. Reuters
Gunmen travel on an army truck with members of a police special forces battalion after the latter were captured by the fighters, in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. Dozens of members of a police special forces battalion were paraded before a crowd in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Thursday after they were captured by fighters who overran their base. Reuters
Iraq refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, as they walk past an area in Irbil, Iraq, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad. AP

Gen Jonathan Shaw

The disintegration of the Iraqi army in the face of the ISIS advance should not have taken us by surprise.

If we are to understand events in Iraq, we need to look at the Arab culture, of which we show repeated ignorance.

"[The challenge] is not about equipment or about training, it's all about loyalty", I was told in 2007 by a police general who had just survived his third assassination attempt.

Iraq is the creation of lines on a map imposed by the French and British after World War I. The challenge ever since has been to bring together the varied interests and loyalties of a people divided by religion, ethnicity and locality.

In the hierarchy of internal loyalties, the weakest loyalty is to institutions. The Iraqi army lacks the historical and cultural foundations that create selfless loyalty and sustain fighting spirit.

The ISIS forces that routed Mosul are imbued with a unifying loyalty.

This weak moral component was throughout the Achilles' heel of the mission to rebuild Iraq's army.

The culture of Iraq has not always been fertile ground for extremism. In 2007, the civil war was ended by the majority of Sunnis rejecting al-Qa'ida and siding with the Shia-run Iraqi state. Together they threw al-Qa'ida out of Anbar province.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's rule has been characterised by paranoia and sectarianism, alienating both the Sunnis and the Kurds.

It is unlikely the Sunni majority in Anbar can be persuaded to reject ISIS/al-Qa'ida again.

The future success of ISIS is not assured, especially if it continues to push on to Baghdad, entering Shia territory.

If ISIS tries to invade Kurdish lands it will come up against the Peshmerga who have all the loyalty and experience the Iraqi army lacks. And if the Iraqi Shia state is really threatened, then Iranian assistance might be expected.

This incursion has a long way to run, with ISIS victory far from assured. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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