Parts of Iraq’s Anbar province are in open rebellion right now against the central government. One of the main complaints of the Sunni population who is behind the revolt is the abuses of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The army and police no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations where they attempt to protect the population, but rather act like the United States did before the Surge with indiscriminate shelling of population centers and mass raids and arrests. Because of these tactics many feel like they are suffering mass punishments simply because they live in the wrong area and happen to be Sunni. This is a major reason why some people have decided to take up weapons against the government once again.
Before and during the Anbar fighting the ISF was also carrying out mass punishments against Sunni neighborhoods. January 11, a parliamentarian from Mutahidun demanded that the prime minister stop security operations in Abu Ghraib, Latifiya, Radwaniya, Tarmiya, and others areas of Baghdad where the ISF were limiting the movement of residents. December 12, 2013, another politician called on the government to stop blockading the Tarmiya area in north Baghdad, claiming that it had been on lockdown for over a week. In November, militants assassinated the mayor of Fallujah. In response, the ISF arrested 400 people and held them for over two weeks with no charges according to their relatives. That same month Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that the Iraqi forces routinely cordoned off Sunni areas such as during Shiite pilgrimages. During the first week of Muharram for instance in November, the security forces raided houses and carried out mass arrests in Dora and Adhamiya in the capital, as well as Diwaniya in Qadisiyah, Hillah in Babil, and Fallujah and Hit in Anbar. Sheikhs told Human Rights Watch that this had become the norm. Whenever there were Shiite religious events the army and police would arrest people before the ceremony, and then release them afterward. Again, the ISF may believe that this is the way to impose security, but it only antagonizes the population. Many come to believe that they are being harassed and arrested simply because they are Sunni. Not only that but the mass arrests rarely include people actually involved with the insurgency. Instead it usually nets not only young men, but the family members of people the government is looking for who are held as virtual hostages until their relatives turn themselves in. This is another repetition of the mistakes that the Americans made from 2003-2006. The U.S. Army and Marines would routinely round up all fighting aged males. In turn, these men were often radicalized in jail or would turn against the government and sometimes join the insurgency after they were released. The same thing is likely happening again today.
The Iraqi army and police had years of training in counterinsurgency operations from the Americans, but after their departure they stopped because Premier Nouri al-Maliki did not want to cooperate with the Sunni community anymore. The result is that the ISF have reverted back to the routine of the pre-Surge U.S. forces carrying out raids, arrests, and indiscriminately firing artillery and mortars at populated areas. This use of group punishment only increases tensions between the populace and the government. It also provides the perfect environment for the insurgency to flourish. Not everyone in these areas that feel punished by Baghdad support militants, but some do, and their numbers appear to be growing. More importantly others turn a blind eye to their activities denying the ISF of valuable intelligence that would allow them to carry out more precise operations and round up the bad guys rather than groups of innocent people. It is up to the prime minister and his aides to recognize the missteps they are making, so that they can start to turn around the security situation, which is deteriorating with each day.
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