Why are we bombing ISIS? Our government has no idea

Why are we bombing ISIS? Our government has no idea

Postby Oscar » Mon Jul 27, 2015 7:49 am

"State of Delusion" - Why are we bombing ISIS? Our government has no idea

[ http://thewalrus.ca/state-of-delusion/ ]

By Patrick Graham · From the June 2015 magazine

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What of Canada’s campaign against ISIS? A bad idea, he told me: “Canadian planes are the air force of Iranian-backed militias. Daesh”—the local term for ISIS—“will say you’re waging a crusade against Muslims. The coalition will strengthen Daesh, not get rid of it. You are watering the sapling, and it will grow.” - Mohammad Bashar al Faidhi, spokesperson for the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq

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What is Canada accomplishing in this war, which former foreign affairs minister John Baird called the “greatest struggle of our generation”?

No doubt our six fighter planes and our six-dozen special forces have had some impact on ISIS, though it’s impossible to say how much. In purely arithmetic terms, our contribution is a rounding error in the overall order of battle: the United States is fielding more than 4,000 troops and an aircraft carrier–based strike group, along with drones and other high-tech weapon systems.

But in at least one theatre of operations—the northern front, where Kurdish peshmerga troops have been pushing ISIS back from Kirkuk and other towns—Canadian advisers have made an impact. This contribution has not been without cost. On March 6, a member of the Canadian special forces, Sergeant Andrew Doiron, was killed, apparently by Kurdish friendly fire.

The front lines were quiet when I visited last fall. This section of the front had been built up after ISIS captured Mosul the previous June. It looked like a real border post. A large metal canopy hung above a four-lane highway, offering protection from the winter rain. Mobile trailers to process refugees and house the Kurdish rear echelon lined the road. The highway still had signs for Mosul, thirty kilometres on, but the way was blocked by a series of dirt ramparts designed to stop suicide attacks, particularly by armoured garbage trucks stuffed with explosives—the ISIS version of a Hellfire missile.

The Kurdish military retains the casual flavour of a guerrilla army. Even their baggy uniforms evoke the mountain heroics of their name, which means “those who face death.” The sentry enthusiastically welcomed me when he saw my passport. “Kanada!” he said, pointing to one of the trailers and assuming I was visiting the four Canadian soldiers stationed there, perhaps for lunch. In fact, I had an appointment to see some of the Kurdish officers commanding this part of the line.

I was led through the mud to a trailer complex. Several black Humvees topped with weaponry were parked next to a row of new SUVs (it all looked like the entourage of a particularly well-armed rapper). Inside, a group of officers gave me the kind of mustachioed welcome that makes the Kurds famously charming. Amid much bonhomie, we had tea and oranges, and they unrolled a large map the Canadians had given them. (When they wanted to show me anything of a topographical nature, however, they reached for their iPads or pulled up Google Earth.)

While the officers enthused over their military “guest” and promised to keep me safe, their real interest was in obtaining a type of German-made anti-tank missile they hoped to use against the attacking garbage trucks. This made sense. A few days earlier, I met with a Kurd who had been wounded in one of these demolition derbies. ISIS filmed the assault and posted it, so in a sort of cyber Möbius strip the soldier could show me his near-death experience himself, over and over. It lacked the production values of the execution films, but I haven’t been able to pass a garbage truck since without thinking of the fireball, and the camera shaking in the aftershock. And the screeching cries of “Allahu Akbar!”

One reason Kurdish forces collapsed so quickly in the face of the enemy, they claim, is that Baghdad starved them of military equipment for years. Indeed, some of their present armoury did not come from the capital directly but was instead captured by ISIS after the Iraqi Army abruptly left Mosul—and was then taken by the Kurds following skirmishes with those same ISIS forces.

There was a certain logic behind Baghdad’s reluctance to arm them. Following the ISIS advance, the peshmerga seized such disputed territories as Kirkuk, the symbolic capital of a dreamed-of Kurdish state, which is surrounded by equally disputed oil fields. A well-armed force, politicians in Baghdad and Washington have long reasoned, will inevitably lead to an independent Kurdistan. If this comes about, Canada will have done its small part to make it happen. In this part of the world, it is much wiser to speak of overlapping conflicts than to speak of any single conflict.

After a while, the officers suggested we visit the Canadian soldiers. I was skeptical, but one of them picked up the phone in hopes of arranging a meeting. After a few moments, he put it down, a bit deflated. The Canadian advisers didn’t want to meet the Canadian journalist. This lack of national solidarity must have seemed a bit off-putting to those without a nation.

So instead, the Kurds offered to take me closer to the front themselves. We went out to the SUVs, and I waited while they put an M16, captured from ISIS, in one of the cabs. We convoyed up the highway, which was pocked with IED holes, and passed the earthen barriers to a burned-out town, Hasan Shami, the home of Hussein’s former defence minister. Before retreating, ISIS had blown up the main bridge, which since had been replaced by linked pontoons. The houses, many of them booby trapped, were mostly ruined, their flat rooftops pancaked onto the ground, some destroyed by ISIS, others by vengeful Kurds punishing Arabs.

I had not been in the area since 2002, when I spent a few days with a Yazidi family in a nearby village. Who knows what has happened to them in the decade since Hussein’s fall—a disaster for most of the “micro-minorities” that make up Iraq’s intricate mosaic of ancient cultures. If they survived the civil war and the car-bomb attacks carried out by al Qaeda, they might now be refugees from ISIS, their daughters sold at auction as wives for the group’s fighters.

On the far side of the town, where a two-kilometre no man’s land led to the ISIS lines, a lone Humvee guarded the highway. It was a promising day for suicide bombers. “Perfect for Daesh,” said the Kurdish officer, looking at the rain. “The planes can’t see them.”

As we returned to the rear, a double rainbow appeared above brown hills still covered with the detritus of refugee encampments from the previous summer. Here and there, a solitary sheep fed on new grass. It reminded me of the idyllic scenes I observed while driving north from Baghdad in the fall of 2002, as armies waited for the winter rains to end and the fighting to get going that spring. Thirteen years later, it’s still going strong.
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