Iraqi Journalist Who Embedded with Shia Militias on Fighting ISIS & Why US Strategy is Bound to Fail


As ISIS continues to make advances in the face of U.S.-led airstrikes, we are joined by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi journalist working with The Guardian who recently embedded with Shia militias around Baghdad fighting the Sunnis. “The war that ISIS is raging on the Iraqi government is a coalition of many different tiny little wars,” Abdul-Ahad says. “Everyone has his own grievances against the central government of Iraq, yet ISIS has managed to include them all under a single umbrella.” Abdul-Ahad argues that any attempt by the United States and its allies to fight the Islamic State as a monolithic organization is bound to fail. “By sending more weapons, sending more money, you’re just adding to the fuel of the war. You need a social contract with the Sunnis of Iraq.” We are also joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. His new book is “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, his new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, joining us from London; and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqi journalist working with The Guardian, who was awarded the Orwell Prize for Journalism this year for his coverage of the war in Syria. He’s joining us via Democracy Now! video stream. He worked with—over the summer, embedding with Shia militias around Baghdad, and wrote a piece headlined “On the frontline with the Shia fighters taking the war to Isis.” Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, I want to turn to comments that were made by Jeremy Scahill to ask you about who exactly is joining ISIS in Iraq and why ISIS is expanding at the rate that it is. Last week, Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy, who first reported from inside Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion. He pointed out that a number of former secular Baath Party members were now fighting in ISIS. Let’s go to a clip.

JEREMY SCAHILL: The Obama administration, in engaging in this policy, is continuing a Bush administration outcome of the decision to invade Iraq. And that is, they’re empowering the very threat that they claim to be fighting. Who is ISIS? What is this group made up of? Is it just people that are radical Islamists that want to behead American journalists? No. One of the top—and this almost is never mentioned in corporate media coverage of this—one of the top military commanders of ISIS is a man named Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri al-Takriti. Who is Izzat Ibrahim? Izzat Ibrahim is the leading Baathist, who was on the deck of cards, that the United States has not captured. He was one of Saddam Hussein’s top military commanders. He was not just some ragamuffin Baathist. He actually was a hardcore general in the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War, and he was a secular Baathist.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Jeremy Scahill speaking to Democracy Now! last week. So, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, could you talk about the former Baath members who are joining ISIS and also go back to the point that you raised earlier about the extent to which Shia militias in Iraq are now fighting exclusively along sectarian lines?

GHAITH ABDULAHAD: Well, [Nermeen], one of the biggest, you know, things we know about ISIS is what ISIS is telling us about themselves. We don’t know anything about ISIS from the inside. Everything we seem to know about ISIS is what ISIS is reflecting about itself. So, the whole issue of the Baathists joining ISIS is—you know, it’s a valid point. But also I would like to—you know, if I answer Jeremy’s point, it’s—ISIS is not one monolithic organization. The insurgency, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, as Patrick knows very well, is not one dominated by ISIS. I went to Ramadi a few times before the fall of Mosul, and let’s remember that the whole Sunni war against the central government had started back in December 2013. So, in 2014, I went to Ramadi, and Ramadi had already fell out of the control of central government. The government had a few bases inside the city, but the streets were controlled by the insurgents. Who were the insurgents? They were a coalition of Baath army officers, former generals, different groups of the insurgency, all having their grievances with the Shia-dominated government in Iraq. So, the war that ISIS is waging on—at least in Iraq, on the Iraqi government, is a coalition of many different tiny, little wars. The Sunni insurgents in Ramadi are different from the Sunni insurgents in Diyala. The Sunni insurgents in Mosul are different from the guys in South Baghdad. So, everyone has his own grievances against the central government of Iraq, yet ISIS have managed to include them all and under a single one umbrella. So that is one, you know, very important point.


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