Iraq’s Sectarian Purges Throw a Wrench in US War Strategy

Pentagon Repeatedly Warned Iraq About Troops' Atrocities

Taking back ISIS-held towns for the Iraqi military has become a much bigger long-term problem than anyone expected. It’s not just the fighting that’s the problem, it’s the brutality that comes afterward.

A Shi’ite dominated military, backed by Shi’ite militias, chased ISIS out of a Sunni town, and atrocities are soon to follow. Sunnis are rounded up on flimsy pretexts by the winning troops, tortured and sometimes killed.

Publicly, the US has tried to downplay this, but officials are conceding that privately the Pentagon has repeatedly warned Iraqi leaders about atrocities.

Iraq claims they’re investigating reports of atrocities carried out by the Shi’ite militias, but those investigations never go anywhere. It’s not just the militias, either, with Iraqi troops getting involved oftentimes.

With the US couching their entire Iraq strategy on religious unity, an admittedly unrealistic plan in the first place, regular sectarian massacres are really leaving that plan in tatters. Iraqi Sunnis may not like living under ISIS control, but they may look fondly back on that if living under Shi’ite occupation is too brutal.

The US had, after all, already claimed “victory” in Iraq before, only to see the increasingly violent crackdowns on Sunnis by the Maliki government give ISIS an opening to make huge gains. Any new military gains, then, are likely to similarly be temporary with the purges that follow.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of