After the gunfire stopped 34 were dead. The massacre had taken place at the mosque during noon prayers. Those who carried out the massacre did so with automatic AK-47 assault rifles. Given the nature of its execution it could indeed have been any sectarian massacre in Iraq.
This one happened to take place in Musab bin Omar Mosque which is in a village just under fifty-miles from Baquba on August 22 of this year. What makes this particular incident notable was its executioners. The Human Rights Watch group have compiled testimonies of survivors which points a clear finger at the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) working in cahoots with Shia militants. A damning and disturbing situation.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) goes on to point out that the nature of that horrible mass-murder is not unlike other instances it has become aware of at the hands of Iraq’s Shia militias. Groups like the Badr Brigades. It is of course no secret that such militias have sympathizers within the ranks of the army, government and security forces. But the nature of that chilling incident at Musab bin Omar Mosque cannot be ignored. And one is glad that HRW is investigating it and finding out just who is responsible and how high-up this grizzly affair goes.
The situation in Iraq is indeed highly unstable and one is disheartened to see that in the middle of establishing a new government, in the wake of the pure ineptitude of the Iraqi state which was a direct result of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki divisive governance, Sunni lawmakers are withdrawing support and demanding those responsible for that mass-murder be arrested. One of course agrees wholeheartedly that the perpetrators should be arrested. But one also recognizes that a thorough investigation needs to be undergone first. And one thinks those Sunni lawmakers should not withdraw from those important negotiations (it is not by far an exaggeration to say these negotiations are of vital importance to the Iraqi states’ future) but instead demand that the first order of the day of the new government is a thorough investigation of that massacre and the bringing to justice of its persecutors.
Iraq cannot be divided any more, especially in the wake of the threat it faces. The more divided it is the easier it will be for Daesh to rule (in other words the Iraqis will end up doing the “divide” part of Daesh’s “divide and rule” strategy themselves). That is in no ones interests.
Enter Joe Stork. He is the deputy Middle East director at HRW. Recently he rightfully points out that, “Pro-government militias are becoming emboldened and their crimes more shocking,” in light of the threat posed by Daesh. I concur and would add that in such times its more important than ever not to downplay, ignore or trivialize certain actions carried out by the side in a war you are supporting.
But Stork takes this into territory I quite frankly find a little bit disturbing. He says that, “Iraqi authorities and Iraq’s allies alike have ignored this horrific attack and then they wonder why the militant group Islamic State has had such appeal among Sunni communities.”
I have addressed the plight of Iraq’s Sunnis and think it’s a very real and very important issue. Their grievances against the former Maliki government were genuine and one does sympathize wholeheartedly with them. And one has also contended many times that Maliki’s divisive government was bad for Iraq and thankfully not necessarily supported by the Iraqi Shia community. Far from it in fact.
Furthermore analysts and observers shouldn’t fall into the trap of conflating the Iraqi government of the day with Shia militias as a whole. Even the leader of the Sadrist movement has expressed sympathy with those mass Iraqi Sunni protests which began in late 2012 as a result of the popular feeling of discontent with Maliki’s quasi-sectarian governance.
Stork’s comment simply will not do. It is an insult to most Iraqi Sunnis to conflate their discontentment with top-down political marginalization in a multi-denominational state to sympathy with a brutal and violent mass-murdering terrorist group like Daesh. It is also very irresponsible for HRW to call on the United States and other countries to stop giving Iraq “military support and assistance until the government ensures that such widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity have ended.”
Ceasing support in the wake of Daesh’s continued onslaughts and atrocities in Anbar is unrealistic. Once again HRW should be commended for its important research, but these suggestions (and that suggestive comment made by Stork) are quite ridiculous given the circumstances. At least 200 members of the Albu Nimr tribe were executed just days ago in Anbar. Those same brave Sunni tribesmen repudiated Al-Qaeda in Iraq and helped in the fight against it – those very same Anbar-based tribes were later disgracefully discriminated by Prime Minister Maliki who refused to incorporate them into the security services, another reason the Sunni Awakening needs serious re-invigoration as part of the broader political situation to this crisis. They are among the bravest and best of Iraq’s Sunnis. The ones who when reinvigorated and empowered will dispense themselves and their society of a barbaric force of reaction like Daesh. A process that will indeed require a more inclusive government in Baghdad, a government whose first steps will indeed see to it that the perpetrators of that disgusting massacre at Musab bin Omar Mosque are jailed.
But for the meantime to imply that Iraq’s Sunnis would naturally find a group which kills Iraqi minorities, enslaves and murders women and children and executes en masse fellow Sunnis in an intentionally barbaric fashion “appealing” is frankly insulting. A man of Mr. Stork’s professionalism and humanity should know – and I really hope he does and this was mere hyperbolic – so much better.