Winning the peace in Hawija


The odious monuments to its savagery Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) is leaving as it is driven from its final lairs include mass graves of those who opposed its violent and blasphemous rule. Whole communities have been butchered or driven out by the terrorists.

The United Nations estimates that in Iraq alone, Daesh has been responsible for the displacement of almost five and a half million people. Many have lost family members, and those who have fled have abandoned their homes and their possessions. They are now refugees with little means of survival, not least in the face of the coming winter. They are entirely dependent upon the support of the Iraqi government and international aid agencies.

However, this tragedy is in danger of being compounded by the actions of some of the forces that are supposedly under the command of the Baghdad government led by premier Haider Al-Abadi.

Two weeks ago, the Iraqis began the operation to reduce the Daesh-held enclave of Hawija where there were reported to be 2,000 terrorists. Just over a week later, Baghdad’s troops made their triumphant entry into the town. But remarkably, nothing like 2,000 terrorists were killed or captured. They appeared to have disappeared into thin air. Another oddity about the town is that is has been cut off from other Daesh areas for over a year, yet the population, which before the conflict was put at around 100,000, appears to have survived relatively well. How were they sustaining themselves and how could so many core terrorists have managed the slip away? Two answers suggest themselves. The first is that the cordon supposedly thrown round the town was badly organized and inefficiently commanded. The second is that there actually might not have been that many terrorists in the town because the majority of them fled long before the final assault.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi armed forces, which tend to be dominated by the irregular Shia Popular Mobilization militia, are working on the basis that the terrorists have merged into the community. They argue that after the 2003 US-led invasion, Hawija proved itself a hotbed of pro-Saddam diehards and a nexus of Sunni resistance to the occupying forces. Some Popular Mobilization commanders are choosing to overlook the reality that Daesh killers treated the town’s Sunni population with their normal brutal disdain and merciless ferocity. Thus for the victorious Iraqi forces, every citizen of Hawija is deeply suspect. There is credible evidence that this suspicion has translated into beatings and extrajudicial killings of suspected townsfolk. As a result, many locals are fleeing for the countryside or the perceived safety of Kirkuk, 45 kilometers away.

This mean that it is not just the terrorists of Daesh that have induced more than five million people to flee their homes. The Iraqi armed forces are also making their shameful contribution. In reality, Prime Minister Abadi has little control over the battlefronts. But he does have his political platform. He should be saying loudly and clearly that there must be no deliberate persecution of any Iraqi by another Iraqi arising from their different communities.

Abadi has almost won the war, now he must win the peace. His standoff with the Kurds is deeply threatening to Iraq’s existence. His Shia majority needs the support of the Sunni minority. Persecuting the citizens of Hawija is not the way to win that.