As the US continues backing the Iraqi government, and its affiliated militias, in an offensive against ISIS, analysts are increasingly acknowledging that territorial gains on the ground, much vaunted as the recipe to defeating ISIS, are doing nothing to calm decades of sectarian tensions in the country.
If anything, becoming part of “liberated” Iraq has been a disaster for many Sunni Arab communities along the front lines, as they find themselves facing massive persecution by Shi’ite militias, which are backed by the government and practically speaking are above the law.
In big Sunni cities like Ramadi, this has meant the city being virtually destroyed and little to no government interest in reconstruction, while in smaller towns recaptured with little effort, the destruction is replaced by militia looting, summary executions of perceived ISIS sympathizers, and kidnappings.
Fallujah, likely the next target for Iraqi troops, is reporting major humanitarian woes, as the military blockades the city, and food prices are soaring within. The sense is that the Shi’ite government has relatively little interest in easing the suffering in ISIS-held Sunni cities, and even if they do ultimately capture the city, those within can’t expect much better under government rule.
This desperation and sense of sectarian favoritism dominated the US occupation of Iraq from 2003 onward, and much as US “victories” on the ground provided no lasting benefits, the sense is that this latest war is killing a lot of people, but solving nothing.