It’s important to understand that the JCPOA is not just an agreement between the US and Iran, but one negotiated alongside our partners in the P5+1 – the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – and endorsed by the United Nations security council. Trump’s withdrawal further deepens tensions with our most important democratic allies, France, the UK and Germany, who all continue to support the agreement and have consistently said that it is in their own national security interests to see it upheld.
Trump also rejected the advice of his own top national security officials like the joint chiefs chairman, Gen Joseph Dunford, and defense secretary, James Mattis, both of whom have repeatedly stated that staying in the agreement is in the national security interests of the US. Nuclear non-proliferation and national security professionals around the world share that assessment. Just as he has done on the issue of climate change with his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Trump has chosen to ignore the overwhelming expert consensus and sided instead with a small ideological faction, with disastrous consequences for our global security.
If you are living in Israel, these days, you get the impression that the huge State of Israel is dictating to its American vassal what to do about Iran.
President Donald Trump listens and complies. Bibi the Great tells him to tear up the Iranian deal for no obvious reason, and he obeys. He has no choice, poor man
According to the Israeli narrative, the timeline of violence that resulted in Syria shooting down an Israeli fighter jet began just a few hours earlier. But Israel has been bombing inside Syria for months.
What Israel and the West don’t want you to know
Iran boasts the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel with a population of more than 8,700. Despite tensions between Israel and Iran, Jews claim to feel safer there than they would in the US or EU.
“The Jews of Iran can freely worship and perform the traditional rights. They face no kind of pressure. Our synagogues here are safer than in the US or in Europe. The Iranian government supports us,” Homayoun Sameyehead of the Iran Jewish Association told RT.
READ MORE: Iran FM accuses Netanyahu of ‘fake history’ over ‘Persians tried to destroy Jews’ comments
Decades after the exodus which followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s is the only growing Jewish community in any predominantly Muslim country. The country boasts 65 synagogues, a 100-bed Jewish hospital and a Jewish cemetery established in 1933, while Tehran has a Jewish library with 20,000 texts, and an abundance of kosher restaurants.
By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – – An Arabic site that aggregates Facebook and other social media postings …
The bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran can be seen played out across the Middle East, from the rise of Islamic State to the assault against the Houthis in Yemen. Amin Saikal writes about what this means for the US as it attempts to find a coherent policy.
The Middle East continues to be a zone of frenemies. The latest development is the collective military assault by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a number of its Arab allies against the Houthis as an allegedly Iranian-backed terrorist group in Yemen.
This comes hot on the heels of these countries’ refusal to assist the US-led air campaign with ground forces against ‘Islamic State’ (IS) in Iraq.
Why against the Houthis, but not IS?
The answer lies in the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical driven sectarian rivalries, and America’s attempts to maintain its de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies, negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran, and fight IS with as much regional support as possible.
The Houthis are followers of Shi’a Islam and claim representation on behalf of 45 per cent of the Yemeni population. As such, they have a sectarian affiliation with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Tehran has been accused of materially supporting the Houthis rebellion, which since last September has taken over the capital Sana. The Houthis have successfully fought the Saudi-backed government of president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who has fled the capital, as well as the Sunni Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Saudis and their partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Egypt want to get rid of the Houthis and reinstall Hadi’s leadership. The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has condemned the Saudi-led assault as a “genocide” and called for its end. However, the United States has backed the Saudi-led military campaign to Tehran’s annoyance.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia and its allies have only made a symbolic contribution to the US-led Western air campaign against IS. Yet, clearly what could help this campaign to roll back IS is a regional ground force to assist the Iraqi military.
Two reasons account for why this has not occurred. First, IS is an extremist Sunni, anti-Shia entity, whose ideology is rooted in the Saudi brand of Wahabi/Salafi Islam. IS, which established itself over large swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territories last June, was initially a beneficiary of funds coming from Saudi Arabia and some of its oil-rich GCC partners. These countries were motivated by the consideration that Iran had gained too much influence in Iraq, which had traditionally been identified with the Arab world, and Syria, where Iranian aid has sustained Bashar al-Assad’s government as Iran’s only Arab strategic partner, and Lebanon, in which the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has reigned supreme in support of Iran’s wider regional interests.
This means that whilst Saudi Arabia and its allies would like to see IS contained, they do not find it in their strategic interests to see it eliminated as an anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian government force. The second reason is that the Iraqi government is dominated by the Shi’as, who form a majority of the Iraqi population, and cannot afford to offend Tehran by being receptive to an Arab force to fight IS on its soil.
Paradoxically, whilst opposed to IS and helping the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as well as cooperating informally with the US and its Western allies in combating IS, Tehran shares the Arab countries’ step-back approach to IS, although for different reasons.
Iran views IS as an extension of Saudi Salafism, and does not mind to see its continuation in a symbolic form for a while to discredit the Saudi brand of Islam and thus counter the Saudi opposition to Iran. Meanwhile, to shore up its domestic and regional position, the Iranian regime, with moderate/reformist Hassan Rouhani in the presidency, wants a breakthrough in its long-standing hostilities with the United States.
In response, US president Barack Obama has found diplomacy as the best means to settle the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and to come to terms with Tehran. Yet, like the Iranian leadership, Obama faces his internal and regional detractors, who do not view a possible normalisation of US-Iranian relations to be in their strategic interests. Israel has campaigned viciously against it, and Saudi Arabia and its regional allies have voiced serious apprehension about it. For Obama to overcome this opposition, he has engaged in a regional balancing act. He has supported the Saudi-led military action against the Houthis and has blamed Iran for Yemen’s woes (although Yemen’s strife stems largely from internal factors) and assured Israel of America’s unwavering commitment to it.
What may emerge from all this is unpredictable. But one thing is sure. Irrespective of whether or not there will be a US-Iranian rapprochement, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry may continue to be a main cause of regional volatility, unless the two sides agree to a summit to settle their differences peacefully through dialogue and understanding.
As for the United States, it presently lacks a clear and coherent policy in dealing with a region riven by contradictions and paradoxes. It appears to be shuttling between various forces to find a niche of determining influence in the region. However, if there is a major improvement in its relations with Iran, that could help it to play a meaningful role in resolving some of the regional issues, ranging from Iraqi to Yemeni conflicts, that at least partly underpin the Saudi-Iranian rivalry.
Amin Saikal is Distinguished Professor of Political Science, public policy fellow and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) at the Australian National University, and author of Iran at the Crossroads (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015, forthcoming).
Here’s the latest from our pal in Russia:
President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran, potentially complicating negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program and further straining ties with Washington.
The sale could also undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to sell Congress and foreign allies on the nuclear deal, which Iran and the United States are still struggling to complete. It might also reduce the United States’ leverage in the talks by making it much harder for the United States or Israel to mount airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if the country ignored such an agreement.
Well, there you have it: Putin is eager to undermine any possibility of a US nuclear deal with Iran. This gives Republicans a choice: they can side with Putin or they can side with Barack Obama.
Decisions, decisions. I wonder what they’ll choose?
Washington and Tehran deny coordination as part of US-led coalition against Islamic State
Iran’s air force has attacked targets of Islamic State (Isis) in eastern Iraq, the Pentagon has said.
Tehran has denied carrying out raids and acting in coordination with the US, which is leading a western-Arab coalition to defeat the jihadi group.
The Pentagon said air strikes in Iraq’s Diyala province were the first since Isis captured the Iraqi city of Mosul in June.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, insisted that the US has not coordinated military activities with Iran. He said the US continued to fly its own missions over Iraq and that it was up to the Iraqi government to avoid conflicts in its own airspace.
“Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians,” Kirby told reporters in Washington.
A senior Iranian official said no raids had been carried out and Tehran had no intention of cooperating with Washington.
“Iran has never been involved in any air strikes against Daesh [Isis] targets in Iraq. Any cooperation in such strikes with America is also out of question for Iran,” the senior official told Reuters.
In Tehran, the deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Brigadier-General Massoud Jazayeri also denied any collaboration. Iran considered the US responsible for Iraq’s “unrest and problems”, he said, adding that the US would “definitely not have a place in the future of that country”.
Kirby’s comments followed reports that American-made F4 Phantom jets from the Iranian air force had been targeting Isis positions in Diyala. Jane’s Defence Weekly identified al-Jazeera footage of a jet flying over Iraq as an Iranian Phantom.
It had earlier been reported that Iran sent three Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq designed for close support of ground troops and that Iranian pilots flew Iraqi aircraft on combat missions.
The anti-Isis campaign has raised the intriguing possibility that the US and Iran, enemies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, might work together against a common foe. The model has been seen as their brief cooperation against al-Qaida in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Talks about Iraq have taken place in the margins of the so-far inconclusive international negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme.
But the US has repeatedly denied coordinating with Iran. Last month, following a personal letter sent by President Barack Obama to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the US national security adviser, Susan Rice, said that “we are in no way engaged in any coordination – military coordination – with Iran on countering Isil [another name for Isis]”.
Iranian F-4 fighter jets fly during a military parade in April. Iranian F-4 fighter jets fly during a military parade in April 2014. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
The two countries remain at odds over the crisis in Syria, with the US calling for the removal of Bashar al-Assad and backing rebel forces. Iran, displaying far greater commitment, provides military and financial support for his regime. Tacit cooperation between Washington and Tehran over Iraq is seen as a classic example of the notion of “my enemy’s enemy becoming my friend”. Key US allies in the Middle East, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, fear any kind of US-Iranian rapprochement.
The US has not invited Iran to join the coalition fighting Isis, and Iran has said it would not join in any case. The grouping includes the UK, France and Australia as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain – Sunni Arab states which are deeply suspicious of Iran’s regional ambitions.
Iran has been actively involved in supporting the Shia-led Baghdad government and in recent weeks has gradually raised the profile of its semi-covert presence in Iraq, especially the activities of General Qasim Suleimani, commander of the al-Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Suleimani has coordinated the defence of Baghdad and worked with Shia miltias and Kurdish troops.
The US-led air campaign against Isis began on 8 August in Iraq and was extended into Syria in September. But several countries, including the UK, which operate in Iraq, refuse to do so in Syria – highlighting confusion about overall strategy.
News of Iran’s apparently widening role emerged as minsters from the coalition met at the Nato HQ in Brussels for a summit chaired by the US secretary of state, John Kerry.
Speaking at the summit, Kerry said the US-led coalition had inflicted serious damage on Isis, but that the fight against the militants could take years.
“We recognise the hard work that remains to be done,” Kerry said. “Our commitment will be measured most likely in years, but our efforts are already having a significant impact.”
“We will engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail,” he added.
Talks are focusing on military strategy as well as ways to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining Isis and how to counter its slick propaganda, disseminated on social media. The meeting will discuss ways to send “counter-messages” to de-legitimise Isis, a senior US state department official told AFP.
With Islamic State militants just kilometres from the country’s western border, and increasingly radical anti-Shia militants to the east in Pakistan, Gareth Smyth examines Iran’s Sunni problem
Nearly ten years ago, a story circulating in Tehran had Mohammad Khatami say of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his successor as president, “No matter how extreme you are, you will always be in a queue behind Ousama [bin Laden].”
This may well have been an urban folk tale, but it highlighted a fear that Ahmadinejad’s assertive Shi’ism was not in Iran’s best interests. Rather than spread Iranian influence, unleash a revolution of the world’s dispossessed, or liberate Jerusalem from the Israelis, Iranian radicalism carried the danger of a backlash from Sunnis Muslims, who are around 80% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, while Shia are 10-15% and a majority in only Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.
Is that nightmare now becoming real? Today the Islamic State (Isis), which regards Shia as infidels and has killed thousands, is barely kilometres from the Iranian border in Iraq’s Diyala province. But if the rapid rise of Isis to the west has alarmed the Iranian public, there are also developments to its east.
Several Pakistan Taliban commanders have declared their loyalty to Isis, including former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. There are reports of Isis establishing an affiliate, Ansar-ul Daulat-e Islamia fil Pakistan, and luring recruits from two Sunni militant groups, Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Ahl-e Sunnat Wai Jamat.
For 30 years, Pakistan has been a centre of a brand of Sunni extremism, related to Saudi Wahhabism, that considers Shia apostates. Violence against Shia has killed thousands in recent years. In Baluchistan, neighbouring Iran, eight Shia were taken from a bus in October and gunned down in Quetta, the provincial capital.
A Human Rights Watch report in June highlighted a litany of atrocities against Shia, especially against ethnic Hazara in Baluchistan province, that have killed many hundreds in recent years, including two bombings in Quetta in 2013 in which at least 180 died.
Pakistani Baluch army recruits take part in a training exercise in Quetta in 2010.
Pakistani Baluch army recruits take part in a training exercise in Quetta in 2010. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
It is not easy for Iran to isolate its own territory. Around 10 million Baluchis straddle Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan, both poor provinces with widespread drug smuggling.
Last year Iran executed 16 members of Jundallah, which had carried attacks on Iranian security forces, mixing Baluchi nationalism with al-Qaeda style practices including beheadings, and declared its insurrection over.
But a new group, Jaish al-Adl, appeared and in February captured five border guards, provoking a drawn-out crisis that provoked major social media activity among alarmed Iranians before mediation by the main Sunni leader in Sistan-Baluchistan, Abdul-Hamid Esmaeel-Zehi, secured the release of four.
Iran fears both that the United States and Saudi Arabia have encouraged Jundallah, alleging when it captured and hanged its 27-year-old leader Abdul-Malik Rigi in 2010 that he had visited the US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, shortly before his capture. The New York Times has recently offered new evidence of US intelligence involvement with the group.
Iran is also aware of collusion between sections of Pakistani security – especially Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – with militant Sunni groups, which goes back at least to both Saudi and Pakistani intelligence fuelling jihad against Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Hence the limits of last year’s bilateral agreement with Pakistan to co-operate against crime and security threats were exposed by several weeks of recent border tensions. In October, Tehran warned Pakistan after militants killed at least four Iranian soldiers or border guards, and then reportedly crossed the border (17 October) and, according to Pakistan, killed one and wounded three border guards. This culminated, a few days later, with the two sides’ armed forces exchanging mortar fire and the dispatch of a deputy Iranian foreign minister for urgent talks.
Pakistani officials have denied Iran’s claims that insurgents use Pakistan as a base, with some arguing unrest has its origins in legitimate Baluchi resentment. With support growing for Isis, this is no time to be “soft” on Shia Iran.
But for Iran, the Baluchi make a Sunni-Shia conflict domestic. Inside Iran, Sunnis are around 10% of the country’s 78 million people and are mainly ethnic Baluchi or Kurds. Extreme Sunni militancy has made far less headway among the Kurds than among the Baluchi, partly due to the influence of Sufism and the strength of pre-Islamic Kurdish culture, but a growth in Kurdish nationalism caused by both Syrian and Iraqi Kurds fighting Isis has its own implications for Iran’s 8 million Kurds.
But in any case, all Iran’s Sunnis allege discrimination in government employment and investment, and begrudge the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran and the common naming of buildings and streets in Sunni provinces after Shia leaders.
President Hassan Rouhani has promised to address the grievances of both ethnic and religious minorities. In last year’s presidential election, he did better in Kordistan province (which is not all of the mainly Kurdish region) with 71% and Sistan-Baluchestan (of which Sistan is mainly Shia) with 73% compared to 51% nationally. But delivery is far from easy, as Mohammad Khatami found when he made similar promises.
While there is political opposition to reform both among Shia clerics and the political class, Iranian security favours “strategic depth”, whereby border provinces are heavily militarised to create a buffer, an approach that can fuel resentment as much as improve security.
In terms of politics, Iranian leaders have been at pains to deny there is a regional battle between Shia and Sunnis and to argue that Sunni militants should be distinguished from the wider Sunni community. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, has called several times in recent months for Muslim unity. He told Iranian hajj officials in late October that the “ummah shouldn’t practise hostility towards each other, but should support each other over important global issues”.
But does at least some hostility towards Shia – and therefore rise of militant Sunni groups – stem from the behaviour of Iran and its allies?
An Iranian Revolutionary Guard covers his chest with a portrait of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guard covers his chest with a portrait of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq unnerved the Sunni-led states, especially Saudi Arabia, by creating a new, Shia-led order in Baghdad that Iran welcomed. In 2008, Hezbollah’s military assertion in west Beirut, in response to a Sunni-led government challenging its security role at the airport, alienated “moderate Sunnis”. Above all, by 2012 the Syrian war appeared clearly sectarian as an Iranian-backed, Allawi-led regime confronted mainly Sunni rebels.
Since Isis took Mosul in June, Iran’s approach in Iraq has been rooted in Shia solidarity. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi vice-president and as former prime minister widely blamed for alienating Iraq’s Sunnis, was recently in Iran to improve what he called “mutual co-operation” against “Takfiri terrorists”. Shia militia leaders in Iraq have been quoted extolling the role of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds section of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, to the extent of leading a front-line operation in the recapture of Jurf al-Sakher from Isis, shunning a flak jacket in the process.
Human Rights Watch has documented abuses both by mainly Iraqi Shia government forces and by Shia militias (it has described the two as “indistinguishable”). After the killing of 34 civilians in a mosque in Diyala province in August, Joe Stork, HRW regional director noted: “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.”
Iran says a decision by volleyball’s governing body to ban the country from hosting international tournaments as long as women are barred from watching men’s games is “unfair”.
The international volleyball federation FIVB announced its decision on Sunday, a week after a British-Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, was reportedly jailed by a Tehran court for trying to attend a match.
An Iranian judiciary official denied on Monday that Ms Ghavami was sentenced to jail, saying her trial had not yet finished.
Ms Ghavami was detained on June 20 at Azadi (“Freedom” in Farsi) Stadium where Iran’s national volleyball team was to play Italy, after female fans and even women journalists were told they would not be allowed to attend, leading to a brief demonstration.
She was released within hours but was rearrested days later at a police station she had visited to reclaim items confiscated from her near the stadium.
The FIVB said it had informed Iran the country would not be able to organise the under-19 world championships in 2015, awarding the tournament instead to Argentina.
The FIVB will “not give Iran the right to host any future FIVB directly controlled events such as World Championships, especially under age, until the ban on women attending volleyball matches is lifted,” a spokesman said.
But the president of Iran’s volleyball federation said he had yet to receive any official confirmation of the ban.
“We haven’t received any letter from the FIVB concerning the change of host nation,” Mohammad Reza Davarzani said.
To make a connection between a non-sporting activity and our sport is unfair.Iran volleyball federation president Mohammad Reza Davarzani
“We have had no official announcement on the decision to ban Iran from organising international competitions.
“If that is the case we will file an official complaint.”
The FIVB said in a statement that it had written to Iran’s president.
“The FIVB has been working, and continues to work, with the Iranian Volleyball Federation and other authorities in Iran to try to secure Ghoncheh Ghavami’s release,” the statement said.
“The FIVB does not normally seek to interfere with laws and cultures of any nation; however this sensitive incident merits particular attention.
“Therefore, the FIVB’s efforts in this area are ongoing in order to find a solution without putting the athletes and the fans of volleyball in the country at a disadvantage.”
Mr Davarzani said Ms Ghavami’s case was not related to volleyball and “to make a connection between a non-sporting activity and our sport is unfair”.
Iran’s volleyball team is one of the best in the world and very popular at home.
It finished 6th in this year’s World Championships in Poland and 4th at the World League.
A British-Iranian woman who was arrested in Iran after trying to attend a men’s volleyball match has been sentenced to one year in jail, local media says, quoting her lawyer.
Ghoncheh Ghavami, a law graduate from London, was arrested in June at a Tehran stadium, where Iran’s national volleyball team was to play Italy.
The 25-year-old went on trial last month.
Ghavami’s lawyer said she has been found guilty of spreading anti-regime propaganda.
Her brother, Iman Ghavami, said his family was still waiting for a court hearing to officially announce the sentence.
“My parents are kind of shattered really. I mean they didn’t expect this you know, she’s already been through enough and now she’s going to get a year,” he said.
“They’re running from one office to another to see if they can get some sort of leniency or they can make an appeal.”
Earlier Ghavami’s lawyer Alizadeh Tabatabaie was quoted in Iranian media as saying the judge had shown him the sentence, but no reason was given for the conviction.
Iranian officials have said Ghavami was detained for security reasons unrelated to the volleyball match.
Britain said on Sunday it was worried about the case and the way Ghavami had been treated.
“We are concerned about reports that Ghoncheh Ghavami has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for ‘propaganda against the state’,” the foreign office said in a statement.
“We have concerns about the grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial and Ms Ghavami’s treatment whilst in custody.”
The “Free Ghoncheh Ghavami” Facebook page, where her friends and family campaigned for her release, features photographs of her set against the slogan: “Jailed for wanting to watch a volleyball match.”
An update on the page on Sunday appeared to corroborate the one-year sentence but bemoaned the closed-door legal process that has prevailed in the case.
“This morning Ghoncheh’s family and lawyer returned empty handed from branch 26 of revolutionary court,” it said.
“It is not clear to her family and lawyer as to what the current legal basis of her detention is. A fair and just legal process according to Iran’s legal framework is the basic right of every Iranian citizen. Why are these rights not upheld in Ghoncheh’s case?”
Ghavami’s arrest came after female fans and women journalists were told they would not be allowed to attend the volleyball match at Azadi stadium in the capital.
National police chief General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam said it was “not yet in the public interest” for men and women to attend such events together.
Women are also banned from attending football matches in Iran, with officials saying this is to protect them from lewd behaviour among male fans.
Iraq’s Shiite militia, Kurds use U.S. air strikes to further own agenda
Helped by the United States and Iran, Kurdish forces and Shi’ite militia are finally beating back Islamic State militants who overran most Sunni Arab areas in northern and central Iraq nearly three months ago.
But the aftermath illustrates the unintended consequences of the U.S. air campaign against Islamic State.
Kurdish and Shi’ite fighters have regained ground, but Sunni Muslims who fled the violence are being prevented from returning home.
Rather than help keep the nation together, the air strikes risk being used by different factions for their own advantage in Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Yet again with weapons supplied by the West.
The fallout also risks worsening grievances that helped Islamic State find support amongst Iraq’s Sunnis. It allows the militant group to portray the U.S. strikes as targeting their minority sect.
The unlikely coalition of Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Shi’ite militias and the U.S. air force have won for the moment. But the Sunni villagers,
“There is no way back for them: we will raze their homes to the ground,” said Abu Abdullah, a commander of the Shi’ite Kataib Hizbollah militia in Amerli.
The area is now held by Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militia, who have become the most powerful forces on the ground, rather than the Iraqi army, whose northern divisions collapsed this summer when Islamic State attacked leaving the US weapons behind for IS.
Sunni civilians have now fled, fearing for their lives.
“If a regular army were holding the area we could return, but as long as the militias are there we cannot,” said a 30-year-old displaced Sunni resident “They would slaughter us on the spot.”
He admitted some villagers had supported IS, but said it was only one or two for every 70 to 80 households, and that the rest were innocent civilians who were too scared to stand against the militants or had nowhere else to go.
A non aligned family had their son kidnapped. The next time they saw him was in a video on the internet captioned “arrest of an Islamic State member”, which appears to show their son being beheaded by Shi’ite militia fighters.
“We cannot return. Even if the Shi’ite army and militia withdraw, Islamic State will come back and the same will happen all over again,” said the mother.
“Since there is no confidence between Sunni and Shi’ite any more, they need guarantees from a third party, maybe the Kurds, then we can live peacefully together again, as we were.”
Sunni Arabs are also feeling a backlash in villages where they used to live alongside Kurds, who accuse them of collaborating with Islamic State. Kurds, who are also mostly Sunni but identify first and foremost with their ethnicity Kurds no longer trust Arab Sunnis enough to live with them.
“All my neighbors were Arabs. Now most of them are with Islamic State,”
But even during the operation, there were cracks in the coalition: Shi’ite militia and Kurdish forces fought under their own banners and the least visible flag was that of Iraq.Now that the common enemy has been pushed back, the alliance is unraveling. Kataib Hizbollah, which controls access to Amerli, is denying Kurds entry to the town and one peshmerga commander described the militia as the “Shi’ite IS”.
The tensions reflect a struggle for territory which the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad claims, but the Kurds want as part of their autonomous region in the north of the country.All with a renewed armoury