Thursday, June 1, 2023

Review Impossible Victory, How Iraq Defeated ISIS

Al-Abadi, Haider, Impossible Victory, How Iraq Defeated ISIS, Croydon: Biteback Publishing, 2022


Impossible Victory, How Iraq Defeated ISIS is an autobiography written by former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. It was probably ghost written and starts off like a personalized version of government press releases. Abadi paints himself as an underdog who always had to fight against the odds from becoming the leader of Iraq to the war against the Islamic State. That’s all to be expected, but when the war begins the book becomes a re-writing of history as he omits and glosses over all the problems and abuses that occurred during the conflict.


Abadi starts whitewashing with his account of the first two victories against the Islamic State. He writes that the initial turning point in the war was the expulsion of the militants from Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad. He said that the population fled before the fighting started. In fact, not only the town but the entire district was emptied of people by the Hashd al-Shaabi, converted into a military base and as of 2023 not a single resident has been allowed back. Next was the liberation of Tikrit which he claimed was done with minimal damage to homes. He didn’t mention that a whole district was levelled by the Hashd and there was mass looting which Abadi himself called for an end to. One critical element in the battle was U.S. air strikes. In the book those were not forthcoming at first because the American were afraid of damaging infrastructure and killing civilians. The real reason was the Tikrit operation was led by Iran and their allies in the Hashd which the Obama administration refused to help. When the Iraqi army and police took over was when the air strikes began. In the Jurf al-Sakhr case the prime minister didn’t want to admit that the first success in the war led to the mass displacement of thousands of people that continues to this day because then it would be a hollow victory. For Tikrit he didn’t want to admit that he was not in control of all the Iraqi forces. Factions aligned with Tehran wanted to lead the war instead of following Abadi. He therefore made up a reason why the U.S. did not initially provide support. These kinds of false stories continue with several other events.


Throughout Impossible Victory Abadi stated that he wanted to protect the population and make sure their homes weren’t destroyed during the fighting. This was especially true of the Sunni community which many accused of being IS sympathizers. He said that if there were any abuses he investigated them and found they were individual acts and not systemic. He then said that many reports of crimes were made up by the media who didn’t check their stories or accepted propaganda from the Islamic State. He claimed it was very difficult for the government to confirm anything as well because they came down to contradictory stories and because he wanted to enforce rule of law he couldn’t prosecute anyone based upon those circumstances. There were plenty of crimes committed by Iraqi forces from the mass killing of civilians to destroying towns. There were several other areas like Jurf al-Sakhr where entire populations were forced out because they were believed to be with the insurgents. The PM covered up these incidents rather than following through with his belief in protecting civilians. That was because he felt like winning the war was more important than punishing people for how they fought it. He therefore deflected negative stories about how it was conducted.


The prime minister wasn’t done when the Islamic State was defeated, he also rewrote how the Kurdish independence referendum and protests in Basra played out. With regards to the Kurdistan referendum he said that the Kurds wanted a bloody confrontation with Baghdad to rally support for independence but there was no fighting because the people, including the Kurds listened to Abadi who advocated for a peaceful resolution. In fact, federal and Kurdish forces clashed for 10 days after the voting. In 2018 protests broke out in Basra province over water shortages and pollution caused by a Turkish dam being completed. The Iraqi government knew the dam would cut the flow down the Tigris River for years but did nothing about it. Abadi claimed it was Iran that was responsible. After the war with the insurgency was over he didn’t want to say that a civil war almost broke out over Kurdish demands. Instead he portrayed himself as a peacemaker. In blaming Iran for the Basra protests he could also avoid the fact that Baghdad ignored the impending water problems from the Turkish dam.


Autobiographies of world leaders are usually full of myth making and Impossible Victory is no different. Prime Minister Abadi wanted to portray himself as always fighting against the odds and coming out on top in the end. This made his struggles seem heroic. Unfortunately much of his recollection of events is completely made up. When his forces committed crimes he said they didn’t really happen or blamed the media. When Iran and its allies tried to take over the war he didn’t mention it. He continued this pattern with the problems that happened after the Islamic State. The average reader would not catch any of these and would only be left with Abadi’s version of events that he came out as a premier who was committed to preserving his country and protecting his people. The reality was Abadi’s years in power were made up of one crisis after another where the PM was not always in control of events. Of course politicians never want to admit to such things so they end up with books like this instead.


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