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Obama admin gives cover to Iraq Shiite militia abuses: Ex U.S. official

Ali Khedery argues that U.S. response to ISIS is playing in the hand of Shiite militias in Iraq

Mustapha Ajbaili

Published: Updated:

A former U.S. official and special assistant to five American ambassadors in Iraq and senior adviser to three chiefs of U.S. Central Command has accused the Obama administration of providing cover to abuses committed by pro-government Shiite militias in Iraq.

In a Foreign Policy article published on Thursday, Ali Khedery describes the Iraqi government as “hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern.”

He argues that through its response to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet.”

“These are “allies” that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself,” added Khedery, who now runs Dragoman Partners, an international strategic advisory firm.

He blamed the Obama administration for Iraq’s implosion and the rise of ISIS by undermining the country’s constitution and bypassing the secular winner of the 2010 legislative elections Ayad Allawi in favor of the runner up Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian pro-Shiite policies helped boost ISIS presence in the country.

Khedery also accused the White House of having supported brutal pro-Iran Shiite war lords in Iraq, including “Badr Organization commander Hadi al-Ameri — who was welcomed in the Oval Office by Obama in 2011, and is known for favoring power drills to murder his victims.”

The former U.S. official also pointed out to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the suspected mastermind behind the 1980s attacks on American and French embassies in Kuwait.

Khedery wrote that al-Muhandis “was given command of the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) militia, an Iranian-sponsored group responsible for some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the war.”

He argues that these militia leaders and others are “deeply embedded within Baghdad’s power structure” and a lot of U.S. military assistance to Iraq actually ends up in the their hands is used to expand their abuses outside central government or Washington’s control.

Asked by Al Arabiya News whether the Obama administration is “deliberately” turning a blind eye to Shiite militias’ abuses in Iraq, Khedery replied: “Of course.”

“Basically again because this White House is not especially interested in foreign policy and is not especially interested in continuing what it believes to be the ‘dumb wars’ – it was Obama’s words – the ‘dumb wars’ that Bush launched in Iraq in 2003. So what he is desperately trying to do is extract the United States and his administration and his legacy from anything related to Iraq, but he’s done so in a very naïve poorly informed poorly executed way,” Khedery told Al Arabiya News.

“The more he [Obama] distances himself from Iraq the more he leaves a vacuum that is filled by strategic adversaries like the Iranians or like ISIS, and you will never be able to defeat ISIS with the militias because they will always be abusive, which will always create a Sunni backlash, which will always radicalize millions of Sunnis around the world further and so it’s just a vicious cycle,” he added.

He said “they know in the White House that this [abuse by Shiite militias] is happening and yet they have not condemned it. They did not say anything about it. All they are doing is further emboldening it which is a strategic mistake.”

He said the only way to defeat ISIS is by coopting Sunnis, like U.S. General David Petraeus did when he helped create and support a Sunni force known as Sahwat (or the Awakening Councils) to fight the Sunni-rooted al-Qaeda in 2006.

“You can’t defeat a Sunni extremist organization with Iranians and Shiite militia and Peshmerga, you can only defeat it with Sunni Arabs,” the former U.S. official said.

Some security experts have expressed similar concerns about relying on Shiite militias to rid Sunni areas of ISIS militants.

“Without a new power-sharing agreement, promises that they will not be mistreated, and a program for reconstruction, the Sunnis may well see Iraqi government forces (and even the Kurds) not as liberators, but as a conquering Shiite army,” former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth M. Pollack wrote in the New York Times earlier this month.

Last week, Human Rights Watch published a report accusing Iraq’s pro-government Shiite militias of escalating abuses against Sunni civilians. “Residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped, and in some cases summarily executed,” the rights group reported.

“Iraqi civilians are being hammered by ISIS and then by pro-government militias in areas they seize from ISIS,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “With the government responding to those they deem terrorists with arbitrary arrests and executions, residents have nowhere to turn for protection.”