Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Why the New Iraq War Could be More Savage Than the Last


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is itself amazed by its spectacular victories this week, but vows to press on to Baghdad and the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf. Its spokesman says that “enemies and supporters alike are flabbergasted” by its triumphs that he attributes to divine intervention.
He calls on Isis fighters, who have captured Mosul, Tikrit and a string of other towns not become arrogant but behave modestly. “Be warned and do not fall prey to your vanities and egos,” says Isis spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. “Do not let your egos fall prey to your recent military gains such as the Humvees, helicopters, rifles and military equipment.”

The speech is interesting and significant because Adnani gives the first insight into how Isis views its spectacular territorial gains as well as its intentions in the immediate future. Ominously, he stresses hatred for the Shia, who make up 60 per cent of Iraq’s population, as apostates with whom no compromise is possible, saying it is “the Lord alone who overpowers the Shia. Praise be the Lord who brings terror to their hearts.”

The sectarian denunciations of the Shia are important because they imply that Iraq will be plunged into a renewed sectarian war between Sunni and Shia. There is a warning against any faltering in the present advance: “Do not concede territory gained to the Shia unless they walk over your dead bodies to retrieve it.

“March towards Baghdad. Do not let them [the Shia] breath.”

This is bound to create a counter-reaction among the Shia who are suddenly struggling to preserve the predominance they won in Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003 overthrew Saddam Hussein and the centuries-old rule of the Sunni minority. The army having failed them, they will fall back on mobilising militias that will hold back the Isis advance. There could be a return to sectarian massacres that killed tens of thousands of Shia and Sunni, mostly in and around Baghdad, in 2006 and 2007.

Adnani is derisive about “the Fool of the Shia. Nouri [al-Maliki]: Look at what you have done with your people, fool! You were always an underwear merchant! … Your people could have reigned supreme over Iraq, but you made them lose that opportunity. Even the Shia will curse you now.”  This analysis, though rhetorical, is probably correct and many Shia today blame Mr Maliki’s leadership for the disasters that face them.

In contrast with Isis’s bloodthirsty threats against the Shia, Adnani recommends fighters to behave moderately against Sunni, even those who may previously have fought on the government side. He says: “Accept repentance and recantations from those who are sincere, and do not bother those who do not bother you, and forgive your Sunni folk, and be gentle with your tribes.”

Overall, there is a strong sense that Isis did not expect such a swift victory, recalling that only recently they had been subjected to “imprisonment, torture, military raids”. Their houses had been occupied and they had had to take refuge “in the mountains, in underground bunkers, in valleys, and in the expanse of the desert.” The flight of 30,000 Iraqi army troops and police from Mosul in the face of 1,300 or so of their fighters seems to have caught the Isis leadership by surprise much as it did the rest of the world.

Again and again the speaker spits out sectarian hatred of the Shia and it is this which is most alarming for the future. “The Shia are a disgraced people,” he says, accusing them of being polytheists “who worship the dead and stone.” The new war in Iraq could be even more savage than the horrors that went before.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq


Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare