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Abadi says it's a ‘psychological’ war on Iraq!

If 70 percent of the war is really psychological, how can the Iraqis comprehend the presence of swarms of fighter jets in their airspace?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Prior to June 6, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took warnings related to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with disdain, claiming reports about the group were meant to exert pressure on him. Although American drones were roaming across Iraqi airspace on a daily basis, monitoring fighters' movements and sending information to Washington - which repeatedly warned Maliki - he preferred to listen to the reassurances of his advisers who had no information.

But truth prevailed in no time as Mosul, along with its military base, regiments and intelligence, fell in the hands of the ISIS. More cities and provinces later suffered Mosul's fate. It wasn't a political maneuver or a psychological intimidating game.

As part of an official campaign aiming to reassure people, new Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi told Iraqi citizens not to worry as 70 percent of the war on Iraq they're hearing about is psychological! To assert this, the defense ministry showed television recordings of citizens saying the situation is safe and that Baghdad is secure.

If 70 percent of the war is really psychological, how can the Iraqis comprehend the presence of swarms of fighter jets in their airspace? And how does Abadi explain the fall of one third of Iraq in the hands of the ISIS?

If 70 percent of the war is really psychological, how can the Iraqis comprehend the presence of swarms of fighter jets in their airspace?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Perhaps the government is afraid that citizens will rush to flee Baghdad the minute they hear news of the arrival of ISIS fighters. The government is right to be worried of the possible disaster; however denying that the threats exist does not eradicate them. Abadi's statements will be tested in the upcoming weeks and months. If Iraqi forces succeed at confronting militias and achieving stability, Abadi will have won the propaganda and psychological battle. But what if other major areas fall to ISIS? This is not ruled out as the terrorists’ pace towards the governorates of Babil and Karbala is increasing and they are ferociously fighting in Anbar hoping to seize the city of Amiriyah Fallujah neighboring the capital Baghdad.

A real war

What's happening in Iraq, and Syria as well, is not a psychological war. It's one of the most real wars in the region's history. Most modern wars are managed like video games - people get killed without seeing the fighters' faces, hearing the roar of aircrafts and witnessing explosions. The fighters of these battles are from the Middle Ages. They carry American and European weapons, use Japanese cars, pursue their victims on foot and display their victims' severed heads.

Abadi can say "70 percent of the war is psychological," but he must recall what Maliki said and did in the months before he was defeated - he was showing footage of soldiers dancing and celebrating delusional victories as towns were being destroyed!

What will happen if gunmen gain entire control of Anbar province, surround the capital and shell the airport?

The governments' reassurances will be of no use without comprehensive steps. One million people may flee Baghdad because their trust in the government is still weak and not because the war is psychological. The escape of Maliki's forces from Mosul and its aftermaths make everything that's being said of no value. Winning the trust of Iraqi citizens requires more transparency and reassuring them with political decisions, not by underestimating militant threats. Abadi has not yet established a character for himself that distances him from Maliki. His promised political plan for reconciliation remains mere talk. This means the war with ISIS and a few rebellious groups will turn into a state of a civil war. This is the terrifying nightmare which the new government is supposed to think about. ISIS is a terrorist group and the Iraqis - both Sunnis and Shiites - will fight it and the world will fight along their side. However a civil war means that Abadi will have to fight on his own.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 20, 2015.


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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.