Monday, July 20, 2015

The New Yorker

"Letter from Iran: Tehran's Promise" 

My piece about the Iranian revolution's mid-life crisis, the inside story of how the nuclear negotiations played out behind closed doors (and the five close-calls), plus what it all means for Iran's future. I had a riveting trip to Tehran. I even went to see Huck Finn--in Farsi!

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/27/tehrans-promise


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Post-Deal Future
By Robin Wright
The long slog of diplomacy with Iran—a pariah nation since its 1979 revolution—was always about more than the bomb. It was about the return of the world’s eighteenth-largest country—and its vast military, population, and consumer base—at a time when the Middle East is crumbling. A nuclear deal could alter the regional dynamics. The chaos in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State, which has come within twenty-five miles of Iran’s borders, have redefined the dangers to Iran, as well as its priorities. During the nuclear talks in Vienna, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, released a YouTube message to the West, in English, about how a deal could “pen new horizons to address important, common challenges.” Even Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, amid his customary anti-American bombast, offered a tantalizing remark. “If the other side gives up its usual diversionary tactics,” he told a group of poets, in April, “this will become an experience for us that, very well, we can negotiate with them on other issues.” Throughout the spring, Tehran was abuzz over the prospect of co√∂peration with the United States. During the final weeks of negotiations, I spoke to Zarif in Tehran about Khamenei’s statement and how a deal might impact other conflicts in the world’s most volatile region.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New Yorker

An Iran Deal, At Last 
By Robin Wright 
After nineteen days of marathon negotiations and four missed deadlines, Iran and the world’s six major powers announced a nuclear deal in Vienna this morning. The exhaustive and elusive diplomacy—sustained by an unsettling combination of Twizzlers, gelato, string cheese, and Rice Krispies treats—was dicey to the end. Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t sure that the often volatile talks would succeed, until Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed up at Kerry’s working quarters, in Room 103 of the opulent Palais Coburg, just before midnight Monday.

“This has always been a Rubik’s Cube,” a senior U.S. negotiator told me. “In the early morning hours of July 14th, the last cubes clicked into place. It was an incredibly arduous and incredibly complex process.”

It was also the longest mission of a Secretary of State in more than three decades. Since October, 2013, Kerry has flown some four hundred thousand miles—the equivalent of circling the world sixteen times—to prevent a tenth country from getting the bomb. Read on....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The New Yorker

Nuclear Deal's Adversaries Await
By Robin Wright
For the world’s six major powers, getting to a nuclear deal with Iran has been torturous. The talks, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have repeatedly been extended by months, then weeks, and, now, in the opulent Palais Coburg, in Vienna, almost day by day. Today, they were extended to July 10th. Deadlines, Iran’s senior negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said (after missing today’s), are not holy. Marie Harf, the State Department senior adviser, said, “We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won’t get any easier with time.”

Campaigns against a deal are already in full swing in both Washington and Tehran. If an agreement eventually emerges, both parties will have to sell it to constituencies that remain skeptical because of the even more tortured history between the two countries—spanning six decades and including a coup, terrorist attacks, assassinations, the shooting down of a passenger aircraft, covert operations, nuclear sabotage, and hostage dramas. Privately, the American and Iranian delegations have mused, more than once, over which government was taking the bigger risk, or was going to pay a bigger price, for the nuclear diplomacy. Read on....



Thursday, July 2, 2015

The New Yorker

The War that Haunts Iran
By Robin Wright 
The historic nuclear diplomacy taking place in Vienna’s elegant Coburg Palace has roots in a gritty war between Iran and Iraq that ended more than a quarter of a century ago. Iran suffered more than a hundred and fifty thousand dead between 1980 and 1988. In Tehran, it’s called the Sacred Defense. In the final stages, U.S. aid to Iraq contributed to Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear capability—the very program that six world powers are now negotiating to contain.... 
Read on: 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TIME

Iran's Dealmaker
By Robin Wright 
    The new TIME profiles the world's 100 most influential people in 2015. I was asked to write about one of them: Iran's Dealmaker Javad Zarif, the diplomatic pivot on the most important deal in over a quarter century to prevent a 10th country from getting the world's deadliest weapon. Here's the link: 
http://time.com/3822829/mohammad-javad-zarif-2015-time-100/




Monday, April 6, 2015

The New Yorker

Rouhani's Bet on an Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
My piece in The New Yorker on the Iran deal -- from the Iranian side. President Rouhani faces a bigger risk than President Obama. In a speech to the nation, he said the nuke agreement would begin a “new chapter” for Iran. If he fails, though, it could be the last chapter for yet another Iranian President. Read on...
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/rouhanis-bet-on-the-iran-deal

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The New Yorker

It's a Deal, Almost 

By Robin Wright
History may have been made today. 
It's not just the potential that will prevent Iran from getting the bomb. It's also the potential to end 36 years of hostilities with Iran. 
As John Limbert, a former hostage told me, “Symbolically, it is enormously important, because it means that we can move to something other than just spitting at each other. When the ‘bomb, bomb Iran’ crowd says we can’t trust Iran, I say, ‘So what?’ Throughout history, we’ve made deals with people we don’t trust. I support whatever gets us out of this morass.”
Read on...My piece in The New Yorker.
http://www.newyorker.com/n…/news-desk/iran-its-a-deal-almost

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

The Tragedy of Tunisia
By ROBIN WRIGHT

If ever there were an Arab country you want to work, it’s Tunisia.
Of the 22 Arab countries, Tunisia is the only one that has weathered the stormy Arab Spring and ended up with a viable democratic government. Its Islamist party has consistently worked with secular counterparts and not made the kind of power plays that doomed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its democratic transition. And Tunisia’s three national elections–held at unheated schoolrooms across the country–between October and December were practically pristine. (I was an international monitor at the December presidential vote.)
Tunisia is a sliver of North Africa nestled between disintegrating Libya and the military-backed government of Algeria. It is a stark contrast to those neighboring geographic giants, and to increasingly autocratic Egypt further east. Tunisia has represented a slice of hope.
Yet Tunisia has also provided more foreign fighters than any other country—in absolute numbers and proportionately—to Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. More than 3,000 had joined by the end of 2014. Last fall the government said it had prevented an additional 9,000 from leaving the country. Just as alarming, an estimated 500 that have trained as killers have returned home.
The tragedy of Tunisia, which played out Wednesday in the terrorist attack at a Tunis museum that killed more than 20, is reflected in Sidi Bouzid.
The poor central city is a long way from the Mediterranean beaches and white-washed buildings with aqua trim that are more familiar to tourists. It was in remote Sidi Bouzid that a young fruit vendor set himself on fire in late 2010 to protest social inequality.Mohammed Bouazizi‘s grisly death sparked the wave of uprisings in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.
A large stone monument at the site where Mr. Bouazizi covered himself with paint thinner and lit a match honors his inspiration. It shows a fruit vendor’s cart pushing over several thrones. On the side, written in Arabic, English, and French: “For those who yearn to be free.”
Tunisia’s problem is that four years after Mr. Bouazizi’s self-immolation, flash points remain and many still face profound inequities. When I went to Sidi Bouzid in 2012, a vendor selling bulbous oranges at the street corner where Mr. Bouazizi had worked told me, “We have more freedoms now, but fewer jobs.”
Today, almost a third of Tunisia’s young people are unemployed. It’s not just the poor: More than 200,000 recent university graduates can’t find work. “Most of them have been waiting five, eight, even ten years for a job,” Karim Helali of Afek (“Horizons”), a progressive party favored by Tunisia’s young, told me in December.
Mr. Helali was not surprised by the appeal of militant groups. “Any time these people decide to go to their deaths, it’s because they don’t accept conditions of life. They believe they are rejected by society,” he said.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party, told me: “The young are still waiting for the fruits of the revolution. So the poorest region is still in protest.”
On the eve of Tunisia’s first democratic election, for parliament, in October, a Pew pollfound that almost 90% of Tunisians described the economy as bad. More than half said the tumultuous transition had left Tunisia worse off than it had been under autocratic rule. Support for democracy had “declined steeply” since the Arab Spring, Pew found.
Three successful elections gave Tunisia a badly needed boost. Lack of jobs is only one of several issues that have disillusioned Tunisia’s young and enticed some of them to militancy. The fragile democracy faces tougher core issues, reflected in the fact that only 32% of eligible voters participated in the final presidential poll. The lowest turnout was among the young. And the lowest turnout in any town nationwide was in Sidi Bouzid.

Clearly, Tunisia has not yet produced enough to believe in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

Global Arms Sales Soar
By ROBIN WRIGHT   March 16, 2015

If judged by arms sales, the world is getting deadlier. Much deadlier.
For decades, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has monitored the flows of weaponry. Its new report, which evaluates sales in periods of five years to account for multiyear deals and fluctuations in delivery, found that volume of arms exports rose 16% globally from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five years.
The United States, once again, was the largest exporter. Its export of major weapons–to 94 countries and territories–grew 23% in the same five-year period. But sales increasingly reflect the economics of the arms industry, not just policy or alliances.
“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” Aude Fleurant, director of the institute’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said in a statement Sunday.
The next largest exporters were Russia, China, Germany, and France. Sixty countries export arms, but the top five account for almost three-quarters of all arms transfers worldwide.
China surpassed Germany for the first time. Its exports soared 143% between the two most recent five-year periods, though its share of global exports is still only 5%, the institute reports.
Russian exports of major weapons–to 56 countries and to rebel forces in Ukraine—increased 37%. But its largest sales were more concentrated, with India, China, and Algeria accounting for almost 60% of Moscow’s exports.
The most notable numbers may be arms imports by the six oil-rich Gulf sheikhdoms, which increased 71%. Saudi Arabia became the world’s second-largest importer of major weapons globally between 2010 and 2014, the report says. Saudi imports were four times larger than in the previous five-year period.
The five largest importers among 153 countries that bought arms were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, according to the report.
Overall, Asia accounts for five of the 10 largest importers. “Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the institute. “Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.”
Among other trends the report noted:
* To fight Islamic State, Iraq received arms from countries as diverse as Iran, Russia, and the U.S. in 2014;
* Cameroon and Nigeria received arms from several countries after an urgent appeal for more weapons to fight Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist movement;
* African arms imports rose 45% from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five-year period.
* Azerbaijan had the largest single-country increase in arms exports: 249%.
The report does not bode well for the prospects of peace almost any place in the early 21st century.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

In War on ISIS, Numbers 

Don’t Always Tell the Story

By ROBIN WRIGHT   March 13, 2015
Wars often degrade into numbers games of competing troop strengths, arsenals, territory held, bombing runs, and body counts. But judging an asymmetric conflict is complicated, and the battle against Islamic State involves militaries that are, in most respects, vastly different.
In Iraq, the battle for Tikrit reflects the imbalances and oddities. In Syria, the aftermath of the battle for Kobani shows how victories in this war are not always clean or decisive.
In Tikrit, some 30,000 have been fighting to retake Saddam Hussein’s home town. There are at least three disparate forces–the Iraqi army, an umbrella group of Shiite militias, and Sunni tribal fighters–with senior military advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards providing strategy. They attacked ISIS simultaneously on three fronts.
ISIS had only hundreds of militants in Tikrit, according to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited Iraq this week.
By numbers alone, the first major Iraqi offensive against ISIS should have been a romp.
Yet the fight to retake this city 90 miles north of Baghdad has been a slog, partly because of such immeasurable factors as motive, incentives, and ideological commitment. Sunni militants loyal to ISIS have repeatedly demonstrated more discipline and greater devotion, in Iraq and in Syria, than their rivals.
At this point, ISIS seems destined toretreat from Tikrit. Iraqi Prime MinisterHaidar al-Abadi declared Thursday that victory was near, despite suicide bombings and booby-trapped roads and buildings that have slowed the offensive.
Although the Iraqi army nearly collapsed last summer, ISIS is now outnumbered and outgunned in Iraq. The Iraqi military has 48,000 effective forces–about a quarter of its peak strength of 210,000 troops in 2009. A handful of Shiite militias, operating under the umbrella of Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, made up two-thirds of the fighting forces in the Tikrit campaign. Between 1,000 and 3,000 Sunni tribal fighters also took part in the battle.
Yet Islamic State militants have proven their willingness to fight, whatever the cost in human life or urban destruction. And insurgencies always have the edge of stealth. As it ceded turf in Tikrit, ISIS intensified its assault on Ramadi, a city nearly twice the size of Tikrit and only 60 miles west of Baghdad.
On Thursday, ISIS fighters blew up an Iraqi army headquarters in Ramadi, killing more than 40 soldiers. ISIS militants had dug a tunnel below the headquarters and set off homemade bombs, according to local officials.
In Syria, the first and biggest success against ISIS illustrates the complexities of this asymmetric war. On Jan. 26, ISIS was forced to retreat from Kobani, the little Kurdish town on the Turkish-Syrian border. With the help of more than 600 airstrikes since August by the U.S.-led coalition–at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars–a Kurdish militia with vintage arms pushed the militants out. It was a costly defeat for ISIS: More than 2,000 of its fighters were killed, U.S. officials said at the time.
Yet since that victory, the U.S.-led coalition has bombed “near Kobani” 175 times, according to a tally of U.S. Central Command’s daily press releases. That’s 67% of the coalition bombings in all of Syria since the win in Kobani. In other words, ISIS is still a threat “near Kobani,” just as it may be near Tikrit even if it pulls out.
In short, numbers don’t always tell the whole story of any battle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

Four Years of War Destroyed Syria

By Robin Wright 
Four years into its civil war, Syria is a “catastrophic” disaster where society has begun to disintegrate, life expectancy has plummeted, most people are jobless, and millions of children have abandoned school, a new report reveals.
The Syrian Center for Policy Research, supported by two United Nations agencies, concludes that human development is “rapidly regressing,” which is destabilizing a country that has long been the strategic center of the Middle East.
The numbers are staggering in every category, but the shortened life expectancy stands out. In 2010, life expectancy in Syria was almost 80 years. Today, life expectancy from birth is estimated at 55 years, the report says.
Syria began to implode shortly after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime cracked down on peaceful demonstrators in March 2011. The conflict has produced dozens of militias, including Islamic State, and destroyed vast swaths of major cities and countryside.
Survival is an issue for the majority of Syrians because the economy is no longer sound, the report says. Unemployment has surged to 57.7% from around 15% when the uprising began in 2011.
Four out of five Syrians live in poverty. Two-thirds are unable to secure basic foods and essentials for daily life, and Syria “has become a country of poor people,” the report warns.
Economic loss since 2011 exceeds $200 billion. “The armed conflict has depleted the capital and wealth of the country,” researchers conclude. “The continuing closure of businesses and the shedding of labor have resulted in a fundamental restructuring of the economy, with a lacerating contraction of most economic sectors.”
Education is in a “state of collapse.” More than half of Syrian children no longer go to school. Most have not been to school for three years, spawning the beginning of a lost generation.
In desperation, the “economy of violence” has led growing numbers of Syria’s young people to enlist in networks engaged in illicit activities, smuggling, and war-related enterprises, the report says.
Human geography has been transformed in just four years, the report warns. Syria’s population has been hollowed out by 15%; more than half of Syrians have been displaced from their homes by violence. More than 3.3 million have fled Syria as refugees, with an additional 1.5 million migrating to find work and safer terrain in other countries.
Physical trauma is rapidly escalating too, the report says. At least 6% of Syria’s population has been killed, maimed, or wounded over the past four years. The number of injured has reached 840,000, while the death toll almost doubled in 2014 and is nearing a quarter-million people—with no end to the conflict in sight
International diplomatic efforts so far have failed. Western-backed rebels have increasingly lost territory over the past year to militants in Islamic State and Nusra Front, with the exception of Kobani, a small Kurdish town on the Turkish border. And the Assad regime, with help from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, appears able to survive for the foreseeable future. 
There may be many more years of war to come, mainly at the expense of Syria’s people.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

 Boris Nemtsov,  
Advocate for Russia  and Its People
By Robin Wright
Boris Nemtsov, the charismatic Russian opposition leader assassinated Friday night just blocks from the Kremlin, has been an inspiration for a generation. He just refused to give up, defying the growing odds against him and despite the murderous assaults on other opposition leaders.

Back in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union’s collapse produced a different world order, I searched the globe for new leaders who would shape emerging trends. I called them the “Nine names of the Nineties.” The first person I set out to interview was Nemtsov.

By the age of 25, Nemtsov was heralded as one of the country’s leading physicists. By 32, he was mayor of Gorky, which he returned to the pre-Soviet name of Nizhny Novgorod and designed an imaginative economic reforms to convert the military-industrial complex in Russia’s third largest city.

Under Nemtsov, factories for nuclear submarines, MIG warplanes, armored vehicles and radar were sold off or converted into plants for vacuum cleaners, cars, appliances and televisions.

“The most important result is making people believe they can themselves achieve results they want,” he told me in 1997. “We are proving that Russians are not some sort of lost people without hope. We are showing they are worthy of a better life and can have it.”

By 37, Nemtsov was named deputy prime minister and put in charge of directing Russia’s transition to a market economy, under President Boris Yeltsin. He was often mentioned as a possible successor to Yeltsin.

Then Vladimir Putin came to power.

In gutsy rebukes, Nemtsov relentlessly challenged Putin’s government. He alleged mass corruption over the Olympics in Sochi, his hometown. He contested the fairness of elections. In 2011, he was jailed for 15 days after participating in public protest – against restrictions on public protests. He was scheduled to lead a protest Sunday against Russia’s role in the war in Ukraine.

The BBC reported that Nemtsov’s last tweet was an appeal for Russia’s fragmented opposition to come together for protest against the war in Ukraine. “If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” the tweet said.

He bravely ridiculed Putin on media both at home and abroad. “This is a country of corruption,” he told Anthony Bourdain on CNN’s Parts Unknown. “This is the system.”

The impact of his loss has been quickly felt both at home and abroad too.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted Friday, “Nemtsov was a real patriot, who believed in the possibility of Russia's greatness. I cry now both for his family & the country he so loved.”

President Obama, who met Nemtsov in 2009, called him a “tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled.” Obama called on Russia to hold a “prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation” into the murder. Nemtsov was shot as he was walking across the Bolshoy Zamoskvoretsky Bridge, with the Kremlin in view.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “shocked” by Nemtsov’s brutal murder. “Nemtsov committed his life to a more democratic, prosperous, open Russia, and to strong relationships between Russia and its neighbors and partners, including the United States…In every post, he sought to reform and open Russia, and to empower the Russian people to have a greater say in the life of their country,” Kerry said in a statement Friday night.

When I looked back at the story I wrote about Nemtsov two decades ago, one quote really struck me. “For all the things we have achieved today [in ending communist rule],” he said, “history will say that the real success was changing the consciousness of the people.”

Russia has lost a hero who was committed to raising that consciousness and betting Russian lives.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

Obama & Bush Sound Alike
On Countering Terrorism
By Robin Wright 

 Despite partisan squabbles in Washington, President Barack Obama’s two speeches on countering extremism could have been given by a Democrat or a Republican. The neo-cons of the Bush era called for the same five-point strategy: confronting extremism, promoting democracy, addressing public grievances, creating opportunities for disillusioned youth, and dignity for all.
Indeed, the two presidents have given speeches with almost identical language on the subject—and the various components of U.S. policy.
Six days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush spoke at the Islamic Center of Washington.
These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that,” he said. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. . . . Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace.  They represent evil and war.”
Speaking Wednesday, at the White House summit on violent extremism, President Obama said, “
We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam. . . . [T]he terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.”
Nothing different.
Both presidents have also promoted democracy—meaning political participation, equal justice, and basic freedoms–to counter extremism.
President Bush discussed democracy promotion in the Middle East at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003.
Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military–so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite,” he said. “Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of … selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions–for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media.”
On Thursday, President Obama said that democracy is an essential part of the cure for extremism.
When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied–particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines–when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism,” he said. “And so we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.  That means free elections where people can choose their own future, and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups. And it means freedom of religion–because when people are free to practice their faith as they choose, it helps hold diverse societies together.”
Almost identical language.
In his 2001 speech at Washington’s Islamic Center, President Bush pointedly lauded Muslims in the U.S.:
“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”
On Wednesday, President Obama noted that,
To their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.”
The same show of respect.
There is no meaningful gap on the guiding principles. So it’s time–for the good of both sides–for petty political bickering over U.S. policy on extremism to stop.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

The Other Powerful Threat
To Iraq's Future
By Robin Wright 
ISIS is not the only threat in Iraq. The future of the state—its mere viability—is being challenged by increasingly powerful militias sanctioned by the U.S.-backed government. Some have engaged in war crimes, human rights groups now allege.
The militias may be the short-term hope for beating back the Islamic State, since the Iraqi army disintegrated last summer and is at least three years away from being fully retrained and reassembled, according to the Pentagon.
But long-term, major militias are also engaging in behavior not all that different from ISIS, also known as Islamic State and ISIL. Rather than recreate modern Iraq, their behavior could deepen Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divisions and complicate the country’s ability come back together again, if and when ISIS is pushed out of the oil-rich country.
The militias have kidnapped, abused, forcibly displaced and even executed fellow citizens, especially in Sunni areas, according to two international human-rights groups. Homes have been torched, whole communities terrorized by militias firing guns in the air to force compliance.
The latest incident involved an alleged mass execution three weeks ago in Barwana, in Diyala Province. Armed men from militias and security forces reportedly escorted them from their homes and then summarily shot them.
“The Iraqi government and its international allies need to take account of the militia scourge,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released Sunday. “Any effective response to ISIS should start with protecting civilian lives and holding those who abuse them to account, especially in areas where people have already suffered from ISIS occupation and attacks.”
The existence of these sectarian, unregulated and unaccountable militias is both a cause and a result of the country’s growing insecurity and instability,” it said.Abuses are reportedly widespread. Thousands of people have been detained or simply disappeared across central and northern Iraq in recent months. Scores of bodies have been found handcuffed and shot in the back of the head in other parts of the country, Amnesty International reported in October.
The government is implicated because militias are operating with varying degrees of cooperation from Iraqi security forces militias, whether tacit consent or joint operations, it noted. The government has also either armed or allowed the militias to have arms, Amnesty reported. The problem is that the militias are now have the upper hand.
Shiite militias also now outnumber the Iraqi military, The Washington Post reported Monday. They have between 100,000 and 120,000 fighters, more than double the number of Iraqi fighting forces, now estimated at around 48,000.
“Militias are not subordinate to the regular forces. On the contrary, they appear to have more authority and effective power on the ground than the beleaguered government forces, increasingly seen as weak and ineffective,” Amnesty said.
“For these reasons, Amnesty International holds the government of Iraq largely responsible for the serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, committed by these militias.
Shiite militias are the main problem, both groups charge. Their abuses have been carried out largely in Sunni and mixed-sect areas. ISIS is Sunni and views Shiites as apostates.
Amnesty cited evidence of civilian abductions and executions by Shiite militias in Baghdad, Samarra and Kirkuk, even when families paid tens of thousands of dollars in ransom.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article in December, Prime Minister Hadi al Abadi vowed to bring all armed groups under state control. “No armed groups or militias will work outside or parallel to the Iraqi Security Forces,” he pledged.
But his government has failed to rein them in, Human Rights Watch reported. As a result, civilians are increasingly vulnerable.
“Iraqi civilians are being hammered by ISIS and then by pro-government militias in areas they seize from ISIS, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “With the government responding to those they deem terrorists with arbitrary arrests and executions, residents have nowhere to turn for protection.”