Thursday, December 18, 2014

Clarification on US Funding Request to Train and Equip Iraqi Tribes

     In a post published earlier this week, I discussed a funding request the Department of Defense submitted to Congress that included up to $24 million for equipment to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq to bolster their stand against the Islamic State who has trampled over western Iraq.  I stated at that time, it was not clear who those Sunni tribes are or how such tribes would be vetted to receive the arms, other than fitting the description of "pro-[government of Iraq] tribal and local forces."

     Today, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (the official name of the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State), Lt. Gen. James Terry, in a briefing at the DoD, indicated that the effort to train and supply these Sunni tribes was in the hands of the Iraqi government.  Gen. Terry stated that the US is playing an active role in training Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) who will then train Sunni tribes. The the US and the Iraqi government want those tribes to become the Iraqi National Guard.  But the difference between current conditions and the "Sunni Awakening Movement" that took place at the height of the Iraq War insurgency is the hesitation by Gen. Terry "to call [this] an awakening," and the government of Iraq is in charge, not the US.

     The United States has been unwavering in its unequivocal support of the new government of Iraq and its security forces in ousting the Islamic State.  US trainers and special operators will be working very closely with ISF (24/7 in the words of Lt. Gen. Terry) in training efforts.  The US will likely continue to have immense influence with the Iraqi government and ISF but as Lt. Gen. Terry stated, the national guard program is in the hands of the Iraqi government.  This is being done through legislation moving through the Iraqi parliament and Lt. Gen. Terry says the conditions for shaping this national guard are getting better every day.  He also expressed the importance of pointing out that the new Iraqi government is only 100 days old. 

     I expressed skepticism in my piece earlier this week for providing so much lethal aid given recent history in which US arms have been used by anti-US groups.  The US is placing a great deal of trust in the new government to choose the tribes to train, though the US is sure to exert a great deal of influence.  Ultimately, this broader fight against what many describe as a global jihad insurgency belongs to the region, not to the US.  If the idea of the Islamic State group is to be defeated (not Islamic values but rather the view they and other radicals share) it must be defeated by those in the region.  After the Iraq War, the Sunni "Awakening" tribes were originally supposed to fit into the ISF as a national guard force.  However, former authoritative and secular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isolated those tribes and removed them from incorporation into the Iraqi military.  Current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he will be more inclusive and to some degree, the US must give him a chance to make good on his promises.

     My skepticism will continue to persist, however, especially when the US is supplying such a great deal of arms without a clear vetting process vis-a-vis the vetting credentials for the Syrian rebels.  It is possible this process is not public information.          

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