So the United States has delivered 75 Hellfire missiles to Iraq, The New York Times reported, to help Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fight Al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The US has already sent Iraq reconnaissance helicopters, and plans to deliver more aerial drones and F-16 fighter planes in 2014, the article said. The Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and reconnaissance drones, along with US intelligence, are meant to “augment limited Iraqi ability”to locate and strike Al-Qaeda militants, the article said.
The US focus on new weapons seems to be missing the point about the security problems facing Iraq. There’s little evidence that Iraq’s failure to improve security in the country stems from a lack of weapons, but rather from its short-sighted approach to corruption and sectarian politics, and a counterterrorism strategy that targets Sunni Iraqis amounting to collective punishment.
Corruption is deeply entrenched in the security forces, and Maliki has at best turned a blind eye and at worst encouraged the graft to his own advantage. Many people in Baghdad – including military officers, and advisers in the Prime Minister’s Office – have told me that there is a system for buying positions in the army and police, with set prices for each rank.
Shia militias interested in escalating sectarian warfare ahead of elections have infiltrated the security forces, which are filled with men whose only loyalty is to the officers they’ve paid for their positions. In the last six months there have been at least four prison breakouts and numerous attacks on government buildings and security installations that would have been impossible without help from within the security forces.
Maliki has also blatantly encouraged sectarian policies, visually apparent in the Shia flags and slogans that cover virtually every SWAT and army vehicle in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda effectively exploits Iraq’s main problem, the gulf between the Shiite-led government and the minority Sunni population. The Iraqi army and police are just as likely to turn any new weapons and capabilities against the Sunni population at large, rather than against those posing imminent threats to human life.
US President Barack Obama should be doing more to address the human rights issues underlying Iraq’s security problems. He needs to take the Iraqi leader to task for his abusive and sectarian policies and his failure to curb corruption.These failures have helped strengthen Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and won’t disappear without ending the discrimination and abuses.