Iraq – How do we answer the pleas of those about to die? | Charles Duelfer

Iraq – How do we answer the pleas of those about to die?

I expect every American official who has worked in Iraq with Iraqis gets calls like this.

Here is an example of one call I got:

A very prominent Iraqi–a former Minister and Ambassador, now out of Iraq called to relay the urgent dilemma of his cousins outside Haditha.

Haditha is the location of a critical dam across the Euphrates river which was prominent in US news a month ago when ISIS took it over and it became a priority for US airstrikes.  Well US attention is now elsewhere and ISIS is back threatening Haditha.

The dam itself is defended by Iraqi Army.  The immediate surrounding area is defended–to the extent it can be–by local tribal groups. But unreported is the underlying rot of Iraq without government.  Gangs, violent criminal gangs who seek to profit in the lawless interlude before ISIS returns run rampant. They maraud among the inhabitants.  Local tribes are conserving their limited force to defend the town’s limits against ISIS.  Unless they see some evidence or word of support from either the US or the Iraqi government, they will not intervene. And no word of support or encouragement is forthcoming from either. They are alone on the ground.
Hence the phone call.  Family members outside the limits of Haditha are threatened with death unless payment of unachievable sums are made.  They have five days. There is no reason to doubt the seriousness of anyone in this story.  Life is cheap and there are no consequences.  I saw the same pattern play out when chaos broke out in Iraq in April-May 2003. Gangs of thugs committed atrocities with no restraint. Their incentives were money or drugs or simply because they could. 

So the plea from the Iraqi is:  “Can’t some senior American simply contact the tribal leaders and say, “Yes the US would like them to broaden their control, if only to just to rein in the criminals.”  Or, won’t the US cause the Iraq government to convey such a message?   
Despite the substantial diplomatic steps in building an international consensus, largely around airstrikes, the people who matter are on the ground.  They are the ones who are dying and will continue to die.  Someone has to take and hold the ground. 

This man’s relatives will likely die shortly.  Somebody could do something. At this point, many Iraqis would rather have ISIS (and Saddam looked good by comparison).I would like to know how others who have been deeply involved in Iraqi affairs answer such calls.


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