I recently wrote this piece for Slate arguing the behavior of Iran’s militias in Iraq are actually damaging Tehran’s long-term interests.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was in the U.S. last month, begging for arms and cash in order to fight ISIS. His requests come none too soon; the Iraqi military is reportedly gearing up for a summer offensive against ISIS in Anbar Province. But the impending series of battles will result in little intelligence gathered for the conflict-to-come in Mosul, Syria, and elsewhere. This spells bad news for Baghdad, Washington—and Tehran.
Why? Here’s one answer: Buried in a recent New York Times article about Iraq’s liberation of Tikrit from ISIS is this startling fact: The Iraqi militias battling ISIS took no prisoners of war. That was despite a fierce series of battles taking place in a dense urban area, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties.
It goes without saying it’s against the laws of war to commit atrocities. Of course, in the heat of battle, incredible brutality can and will occur, and ISIS has gleefully slaughtered thousands of captured troops and broadcast their executions on the Internet. But that doesn’t mean Iraqi forces—even the Shia irregulars who did much of the fighting in Tikrit—should engage in atrocities as well. Not only is this an ugly war crime, but it also is a terrible way to win the greater battle for the integrity of the Iraqi state.
photo: Screenshot of a video made by one of the Shia militias assaulting Tikrit earlier this year.