Post-ISIS Iraq (IV): The Demographic Time Bomb

Aِbbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

داعشI am coming back to this series of articles to address another catastrophic consequence of the Mosul occupation by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), that is the traumatized population and what to expect from the demoralization that is underway in this devastated region.  The citizens of Mosul have been under ISIS control for almost two years, and the way liberation plans are moving, it seems that they will be controlled by ISIS for another year or maybe more.  What does this mean for their future political, social, and religious orientation?

Let us, before answering this question, take a step back and look at Mosul before ISIS.  The city was Iraq’s most important Sunni cultural icon, with its unique music, food, poetry, and social identity.  Out of all Iraqi Sunni centers, Mosul was the least likely city to embrace the rigid religiosity and social norms of ISIS.  For centuries, Mosul was the home of all Iraqi ethnic groups (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans) and an assortment of Iraqi religions and sects (Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Izadis and, until recently, Jews).  It is very hard to imagine that the people of this city would choose to live under one color of everything, as ISIS made their present life.

But this past is behind us now and the city is without Christians for the first time in almost 2,000 years and it is without the Shia for the first time in more than a 1,000 years, and the tragedy of the Izadis needs no further elaboration.  The big question is this: will the liberation of Mosul undo the arrangement ISIS put in place?  The answer is an emphatic “No”.  It will be impossible to convince the victims of ISIS that what happened to them was an anomaly after seeing their neighbors in many cases turn against them and loot their homes and lead ISIS to them.  With this broken trust, it will be insane to risk it again and return to live among the same people.

The other grave consequence of the ISIS occupation in Mosul is the damage to the souls of its citizens, which is irreversible in some cases.  Since taking control, ISIS recruited thousands of men and women in Mosul and turned them into terrorists.  What will happen to those people and their families?  Will they be brought to justice, or their defense of “I was forced to do it” is going to be accepted, as many Ba’athist criminals were given a second chance?  And if so, what do we expect of them?

داعش 2And what about the minors whose personality is being shaped by ISIS education and training?  Will the children who were trained to slaughter human beings be rehabilitated?  What kind of psychological programs can reverse their acquired psychopathic tendencies?  Indeed, even the general population of Mosul has been touched in various degrees by the daily display of barbarism.  It is hard to tell what kind of a human beings are in the crowds that gather to watch public beheading and shooting events and instead of feeling sick because of it, they watch and hold their cell phones with steady hands to film the scenes for memory’s sake.  Is this a sign of a psychologically stable population?  Who is going to make the determination, and on what basis?

ISIS has turned what once was a great city into a nest of demons.  The longer its control lasts, the harder this corruption of human mind and soul will be reversed.  Mosul may be liberated in a year or two, but the aftermath of this social catastrophe will be with us for generations to come.  In other words, Iraq’s greatest challenge is not how to get Mosul from ISIS, but how to get ISIS out out of Mosul.

The 1991 Uprising in Iraq: A Regime Change That Didn’t Make it (II)

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

Uprising 1In the first article, I presented a general historical overview of the 1991 uprising, its ambitious beginning, and its unfortunate end.  In this second part, I will address the charges that were made against the uprising — that it was accompanied by cruelty and random killing.

The fall of each province took a day or two in most cases.  During this short period, there have been a number of government officials, mostly security officers and personnel, and Ba’ath Party members who refused to leave their positions or surrender.  Those ended up fighting back in defense of the government buildings they occupied. When waves of people, many of them unarmed, or armed with light weapons tried to enter these buildings, these government personnel fired their weapons at the crowds, wounding and killing a number of them.  At the end, they lost the fight and died in the fight or were killed by the angry crowds.  A number of them were captured and held in local custody.  Among those, a few were identified as Ba’athist criminals and were killed at the orders of some local leaders of the uprising.

I mentioned in the previous article that Grand Ayatollah Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khoei issued a fatwa mandating that public property was not to be destroyed or stolen because it belonged to all Iraqis, not to the government.  Before this fatwa, and maybe it was the trigger for it, some government offices were broken into and burnt by certain people in the first chaotic hours of the uprising, causing a great loss of documents and public records.  Popular targets for this wave of burning and looting were the offices of security police, Ba’ath Party offices, and court buildings.  Many people were seen walking out of the security police offices carrying the heavy dossiers the government assembled about them.

Once the uprising’s dust settled, no more violations were observed and people went back to their daily life concerns, most importantly securing food for their families, because the country was already under sanctions for almost six months and food supplies were extremely limited.  It must also be noted that the leadership of the uprising did not act like the regime, which used to impose collective punishment against the relatives of dissidents and often times hold their immediate relatives hostages under harsh treatment until the dissident’s surrender.  The families and relatives of a Ba’athist were not harmed, no matter what crimes he committed.  Indeed, even many Ba’athists themselves, who were turned themselves in or caught after the fighting was over, were not harmed.  They were released and lived to prove through their post-uprising criminal behavior that there is no such thing as a decent Ba’athist.

In the final evaluation of the violence that accompanied the uprising, it can be confidently said that it paled before the barbarism of pre-uprising and post-uprising Ba’athis barbarism.  In the weeks that followed the uprising, the Ba’athists rounded up tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children from the revolting provinces and took them to detention facilities where they were tortured and killed, leaving their families unaware for their fate for eleven years, until the regime was toppled in 2003.  Iraqis are still discovering mass graves from that dreadful era.

A mass grave is uncovered in Hilla, Iraq. The bodies are suspected of being Iraqi civilians during the 1991 uprising against the Saddam Hussein regieme. This mass grave containing thousands of bodies, is the largest discovered in Iraq to date.
A mass grave is uncovered in Hilla, Iraq. The bodies are Iraqi civilians during the 1991 uprising against the Saddam Hussein regime. This mass grave containing thousands of bodies, is the largest discovered in Iraq to date.

One of the important consequences of the uprising was the rise of tribes and the re-tribalization of the Iraqi society.  To be sure, several Iraqi tribes were at the heart of the uprising and some of them became a target of Saddam’s genocidal retaliation, like the tribe of Al-Jwaibir in the marshlands of southern Iraq.  The same can be said about the tribes in Rumaitha, where the 1920 Revolution started and where everyone takes pride in their resistance to government oppression.  But many tribes displayed solid loyalty to the government and started by granting refuge to fleeing Ba’athists and, when the uprising was in its last days, many tribes joined the government in hunting down the participants as they withdrew to safety.  They captured many fighters and turned them to the Republican guards to be executed.  In essence, those tribal shaykhs hedged their bets by showing outward support for the uprising in the beginning when the regime seemed on the verge of collapse, but they also did the Ba’athists a great favor, in case the uprising failed.  I still remember entering the guesthouse of one shaykh in the countryside of Kufa and seeing he still had Saddam’s picture on the wall, as if the uprising never happened, yet his sons set a check-point to give the impression that they were participants in the uprising.

Saddam Hussein appreciated the role of these tribes and reversed his decades-long anti-tribal policy for the balance of his rule in Iraq.  He mandated that all Iraqis reconnect with their tribes and created a special government agency to coordinate tribal affairs in Iraq.  He also practiced a great deal of tribal micro-management, by promoting tribal shaykhs who cooperated with the regime and continued to hunt down those who did not.  This policy led to the rise of a new breed of shaykhs, the so-called “1990s Shaykhs”, who were fake shaykhs promoted and installed by Saddam Hussein’s regime instead of the non-cooperative shaykhs, many of the “1990s Shaykhs” gained prominence in the post-2003 era.

Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim

The 1991 Uprising in Iraq: A Regime Change That Didn’t Make it (I)

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
Uprising 1On 28 February 1991, the United States of America declared unilateral ceasefire that began at 8:00 am.  The war to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation, which was Saddam Hussein’s second fatal adventure since he assumed the Presidency in 1979, the first being the Iraqi Iran war (1980-1988).  A US-led coalition of 30 nations declared the mission accomplished and the leader of the coalition, President George H. W. Bush, said in a speech regarding the fate Saddam’s tyranny and mad adventurism that “there’s another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.”  This statement was interpreted by the Iraqis to mean a potential US help, or at least neutrality, if they took matters into their own hands, so they did.

On 1 March 1991, Iraqi southern cities began to declare a popular spontaneous revolt against the weakened Ba’athist regime, from the Marsh lands to the urban centers.  All the provinces of Basra, Nasiriya, Amara, Samawa, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniya, Hilla and Kut came under in popular control.  In most cases, the toppling of regime elements did not take more a few fighters with light weapons, because the coalition bombardment from January 17 to February 28 left no military units in the region intact, not to mention the complete demolition of government and country’s infrastructure: bridges, roads, factories, government buildings, etc, were all bombed.

G. A. Al-Khoei was taken against his will to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein after the Uprising.

Grand Ayatollah Abu Al-Qasim Al Khoei was the highest Shia authority at the time.  From his house in Najaf Province, he became the spiritual guide of the uprising, while other Ayatollahs, such as Abdul-A’la Sabzavari took active part in the actual day-to-day events.  G. A. Al-Khoei issued two important directives that served as parameters for organization in all southern provinces.  He banned any looting or vandalism of public property and appointed a council to ensure basic governance is taken care of, including the restoration and provision of basic services.  These directives also affirmed his departure from the past apolitical position to a clear intervention to fill the void of political authority, an act that cost him a great deal of harm and possibly his life a year later.

The uprising went very well in the first few days and it was a matter of time before the regime’s stronghold in Baghdad was going to fall in our hands, and then real-politic scenarios kicked in.  Regional regimes, Saudi Arabia in particular, realized that the unfolding regime change was going to bring the Shia of Iraq, a clear majority of the population, to a leading role in their country.  So they used all their influence to dissuade the Bush administration from granting any support for this unwelcome change.  James Baker, who was the U.S. Secretary of State at the time put it in clear terms, without naming the Saudis of course:

“…as much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared that Iraq might fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq’s Shiites and quickly transform themselves into the dominant regional power.” (See Baker, The politics of Diplomacy)

Evidently, the Bush Sr. administration was more comfortable at the time with the Wahhabi “brand of Islamic fundamentalism” whose ideology gave rise soon to the most lethal anti-Western terrorist organizations the world ever seen.  Because of the Shiaphobia of the time, Saddam was allowed to survive as the lesser threat and he used his notorious Republican Guard divisions, long-range missiles and armed helicopters to  crush the uprising in matter of weeks.  On the use of armed helicopters to kill civilians, General Schwarzkopf, the coalition commander who made the decision to allow their use by Saddam, wanted us to believe that he did not realize that Saddam was going to use them to kill civilians.”  This benefit of the doubt that Saddam was given caused the  killing tens of thousands and arresting of many more.  Most of those who were arrested never returned to their families and their fate remained unknown until the collapse of the regime in 2003.  Iraqis are still discovering mass graves belonging to that era.

Needless to say that “the mullahs of Iran” did not consider the massacre of the Iraqi Shia as something worthy of risking their regime’s security.  Indeed, even the Iraqi opposition in Iran did not take part in the uprising and, according to certain accounts, they lobbied the Iranian government to prevent those who wanted to join the uprising from crossing the border to Iraq.  The rest of the Iraqi opposition in Syria, London, and elsewhere were not any better.  The entire assortment of Iraqi opposition in exile did nothing other than issuing some press statements and failed to agree on a place to meet and decide what to do for the Iraqis who were fighting the regime in nine provinces.  However, soon thereafter the same groups, particularly the Shia Islamist parties, shamelessly began to exploit the sacrifices of the uprising to their own quest for power in Iraq.

In the upcoming days of this 25th. anniversary of the uprising, I will write about the most important aspects of its historiography.  Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim