Addressing the Day After the Removal of ISIS


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Addressing the Day After the Removal of ISIS


January 2017



Table of Contents

  I. Mosul and Offensive Against ISIS-Controlled Regions                                 

 II. Background on Security Situation in Mosul                               

III. Potential Solutions

         Local Division Formula (LDF)

         Local Police

         Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)

         Iraq Armed Forces (IAF)

IV. Training of Police and Military Force        

  V. IG and Reporting Structure

         Rule of Law

VI. Unemployment and Infrastructure Projects

VII. Wartime Behavior

         Desecration of Flag Being Used By ISIS

         Professionalism and Uniformity

         Removal of Shia-Related Flags


Addressing the Day After the Removal of ISIS 

Safety. Prosperity. A better life. These are the aspects that are needed for the population of Iraq. The population of Iraq has endured war, mass migration, daily kidnapping, death, and the constant pull between different government interests. This inability to address issues of today has caused an unknown future for years to come. There is a need to address difficult subject matter in order to avoid missteps over the past decade and a half. In a country where there are a multitude of issues there is a growing need to address concerns, especially when it comes to avoid potential conflicts in the future.

Within this mindset, the purpose of this short report is to offer suggestions that can assist, avoid previous mistakes, improve the quality of life for the average citizen, improve the security situation, and most importantly, the steps to get there. Within this short guideline, there is a need to understand the current government climate, security failures and to mitigate these issues with the suggestions offered. This short report only serves as a brief and condensed guide to potential opportunities, pitfalls and the ability to go forward in a constantly changing environment. Each section can be expanded to include volumes of information; however, this is a guideline to address problems today in order to avoid catastrophes in the future.

      I.         Mosul and Offensive Against ISIS-Controlled Regions

The anticipated ending of the Mosul offensive could end in weeks up to months; it’s unlikely that the combat portion of the Mosul offensive will last the entirety of the calendar year of 2017. As the Iraqi forces, brigades and additional military resources from outside nations encircle Mosul, there will be continued fighting from one block to the next. Essentially, it will be a fight street by street of what is controlled. Streets will turn into neighborhoods. Neighborhoods will turn sections of the city.

ISIS will be put up an extended fight during the operations, but their current numbers can’t support an extended fighting campaign. After the main fighting campaign, more than likely, the members of ISIS will go underground, similar to what happened with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government. It will take some time for their reemergence after initial military defeat in order to gather resources, people and funding. The mid-long term association of ISIS in Mosul and controlled areas will be smaller attacks against government and military troops. It’s highly unlikely that the remnants of ISIS, after their initial defeat, will resort to car bombings that are common in Baghdad. The reason for this is the majority of ISIS territory is Sunni-dominated, and a car bomb going off in the middle of Mosul is unlikely, unless there are security forces in the area and the actual target. Bombings in Baghdad have almost entirely targeted Shia-dominated populations, and there is an important reasoning for this. Most people would tend to think that ISIS doesn’t want to bomb and kill people closest to their belief of Islam.

In reality, ISIS is closer to a marketing campaign. There is a realization that they can’t continue to oppress the populations they rule because the ranks of ISIS need to increase. The increase in their ranks will not come from outside foreigners coming in to fight for ISIS, but has to come from the populations they are currently in. Borders that used to be relatively open towards Turkey, with the ability to just walk across in previous years, are closed now. That point of suffocation of difficulty of bringing additional ISIS recruits in makes them rely on the inward population to grow their ranks. In addition, continued news reports of the savagery of ISIS have pushed potential recruits to rethink making the plans for travel.

After recapturing Mosul from ISIS, there will be a continued and sustained level of low engagement. This will include attacks on Iraqi and associated forces. The attacks will happen mostly at checkpoints, base camps and while convoys are in travel. The larger issue is that ISIS has used underground tunnels to move weapons and people around, but more importantly, the tunnels are rigged with explosives. These tunnels run the span of neighborhoods, from home to home, across different neighborhoods and will cause ongoing issues for Iraqi forces. These tunnels potentially are rigged with explosives; entire neighborhoods can be collapsed within seconds, causing additional infrastructure projects.

The tunnels serve a separate issue in the future that will happen. Guilt by association of residents that have tunnels going through or below their homes will happen; Iraqi forces will associate residents with tunnels as “ISIS sympathizers” and will have unlawful acts of justice, even though the resident will be the farthest from supporting ISIS. These acts of injustice are the reason why ISIS had the ability to move-in to Mosul, and surrounding areas, with limited issues. When there is a perceived amount of injustice from government-associated forces, lack of dignity and no improvement in situation then the general population will turn to whatever is new and available, as they did with ISIS.

    II.         Background on Security Situation in Mosul

In order to understand the complexities of Iraq’s security, we must first understand the issue on a local level. By using the Mosul example, prior to the entrance of ISIS, then there is an understanding of why the population was so sympathetic to ISIS upon their entrance into the region.

The distributions of Iraqi military forces in Mosul were mostly Shia. Mosul is predominately Sunni with a higher proportion of a Christian population than other parts of Iraq. In fact, the Christian population is more than the Shia population within the city. The one aspect that was clear amongst residents is that Iraqi National Troops within the city came from Southern Iraq and were significantly higher population of Shia.

There are numerous issues within the framework and blend of national forces within Iraq, but the greatest mistake started with having individuals not from the region patrolling and in-charge of security of people that are opposite in beliefs. While there is an understanding amongst top-tier politicians that there is a need to work across party and religious lines, this understanding does not communicate effectively to the lowest level enlistee that is patrolling the roads in a city he does not know. The ease of ISIS taking over Mosul started with the incorporation of Shia troops in a predominately Sunni region adding to the already-enflamed religious issues.

  III.         Potential Solutions

There are not many times in a nation where whole institutions can be rebuilt, reconfigured and new ideas can be incorporated, as if it is being built from new. This opportunity arises with Mosul, so all efforts need to be put forth effectively in order to rebuild in a way that ISIS or the next version of ISIS 2.0 don’t have the ability to regenerate from the ashes of defeat.

There is an attempt within Iraqi Forces and police to try to incorporate a more equal number of the makeup of the population, but these standards have not been felt in locations, such as Mosul. The following are suggestions in order to effectively resolve the long-term security and population issues within Mosul:

1- Local Division Formula (LDF)

The need arises to rebuild the ethnic and religious makeup of security forces in Mosul. There is a need to have a more simplified system of security, where local police take the lead and national institutions will serve in the background outside of the view of the general population.

The local police will need to be rebuilt, but within the ethnic and religious makeup of the city, province and immediate region. For instance, the Mosul Police will need to be reconstructed with the following populations and will be referred to as the Local Division Formula (LDF): 75% Sunni Arab, 15% Kurdish, 5% Other Minorities, 5% Shia. There will be a standing rule that wherever you serve in the local police, you must live within a 30-minute drive or predetermined distance of “as the crow flies.”

Using the example of the City of Mosul, a new police force would be rebuilt with the makeup to include the populations that live there. As the region is expanded to other cities within Mosul Province, the makeup of the police force will change to the closest available government data percentages that support both the ethnic and religious distinctions. By having localized police forces reflect the makeup of the population they serve, there will be less issues that will arise amongst sectarian and ethnic lines.

2- Local Police

The localized police will need to rival similar resources to the national forces of Iraq. This will help the local police fight off any potential threats, similar to ISIS emerging, in a timely manner without the need of national forces. Automatic weaponry will need to be similar to the national forces. Humvee and transport vehicles will need to be in the hands of local police for everyday use. The distinction between local police and national forces is the following:

            A- Local police won’t have heavy military vehicles, such as tanks. The only vehicles allowed within police ranks will be vehicles mainly used for transport. This is to ensure that there is a clear division between local police forces and military forces within Iraq. Additionally, this will ensure that if ISIS 2.0 emerges the only vehicles captured can be used for transport and little more than that.

            B- Any weaponry that can fire missiles, RPG’s or explosive material will not be    under the control of local police. This will serve as a distinction between local police and military forces.

            C- Local police will have the ability to investigate, set up courts under direction     of MOI and run jail centers under the direction of the government. Local and federal jurisdiction systems will need to be visited at a future date, since this has been abused in the past thirteen years.

            D- Local police forces will need to be decentralized with the ability to be independent on the security of their city and province. The reporting structure will lead to the provincial management and MOI, but the average citizen on the street will not necessarily see the reporting chain. By creating a decentralized zone under the control of a police head, for instance, in Mosul city the accounting of responsibilities of all aspects will fall under that individual.

            E- The head of local police will need to someone that shares the same religious sect, ethnic majority or both of whatever the highest populated segment is in the city or locality that is being served. This will ensure that there is a common understanding and foundation with the citizenry in order to avoid mistakes of the past within Iraq. If there is association with the average citizen, for instance in Mosul, with a Sunni police chief then many of the problems amongst the average population might be avoided.

The goal is to give localized police the ability to protect their immediate surroundings and city without the fear of weapons falling under the wrong hands, such as ISIS, and have a protection that those weapons will not be turned on neighboring locations or Government of Iraq. If the weapons do fall under a separate group, they will mostly consist of transport vehicles and automatic weaponry without access to heavy weaponry and vehicles. This will serve as a stopgap of limited weaponry access, in the case, of ISIS 2.0 reemerging.

3- Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)

The elimination of Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), commonly referred to as Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi Brigades, in the soonest manner possible. The PMU are being used in order to find a resolution to the ISIS issue. While the brigades assisted in the combat role, the long-term damage will be felt when they’re outside the control of Government of Iraq, even though they fall under the Prime Ministers Office. Numerous examples exist of lack of control over the PMU, and the sooner they leave conflict regions, the better off the regions will be.

The goal in rebuilding a locality is to have accountability. Accountability of extrajudicial killings without crimes charged, court appearances or judges. The accountability of innocence being killed and a positive interaction with the general population should be the underlying goal of any group associated with the government. Being that the PMU have a separate chain of command outside the control of the Government of Iraq, there is zero accountability. The long-term affects of limited accountability by the PMU mimics the injustices of ISIS. Once a competent local police force is established, for instance in Mosul, the PMU needs to pack up and leave back to Baghdad. Animosity amongst the population of Mosul because of the PMU’s continued presence will cause continued issues with potential attacks further enflaming religious and sectarian issues. The need arises to mitigate such issues, and that includes the PMU leaving Mosul in a timely manner. Disbandment of the brigades or bringing them under the control of Iraqi National Forces is a decision for the Central Government of Baghdad. While there is an opportunity to rebuild the city and province of Mosul, every opportunity must be taken to not repeat the same issues of the past by avoiding conflicts that will arise. If the PMU are looked at like an occupying force, as citizenry of Mosul will see them, then clashes and issues will arise. If the PMU are not in the city or region, then it will lessen potential issues.  

4- Iraq Armed Forces (IAF)

The Iraq Armed Forces (IAF) will need to play an important role in recaptured areas from ISIS, but in a manner where they take a role in the background with local police taking the initial lead. The conceived role of the IAF is to be a force that has base camps in strategic locations within a province, but with limited authority dealing with the average population.

The need arises to get back to normalcy with the population of recaptured lands from ISIS, and if citizens continue to see tanks, armored carriers and national troops at every intersection then the perception of “normalcy” is delayed and non-existent. The vision is to have the national military in camps under the full control of the Iraq military, free from all outside brigades and will serve in locations on a rotational service. The military camps will serve the following needs:

A- Backup to local police forces for certain operations, if they are requested by the local police leaders and approved by the national government.

B- Will serve as an increased backup to police forces if the possibility of reemergence of ISIS or similar groups. The proximity of national army camps to larger areas of population will work effectively if a situation requires a quicker response.

C- The camps will come under the control of the Iraqi Government and be shared across different national military services. This will ensure that there will be cooperation amongst different services. If there is a problem with one service in one camp, then it will be realized quicker amongst other forces.

D- The ethnic and religious makeup of the individuals in the military will be mimicked similar to the local police numbers, and similar to the LDF formula. This will ensure that proper representation of the city and province will be reflected within the national forces serving in the region. The cooperation will be “forced” in a way, but will avoid previous years issues of having, for instance, military camps made wholly of Shia volunteers in a predominately Sunni region.

E- The need will arise to incorporate Kurdish forces within military camps; however, only if they fall under the umbrella of a government entity. Shia militias or PMU’s not associated under the full control and umbrella of the government will not be allowed into camps, since there is no reporting control to the government. The goal is to avoid consistent issues that have been problematic across Iraqi camps, where militias have taken control and gained access to military bases without prior authorization; this has led to numerous issues amongst national troops and militias for control of supplies, authority and bases.

While there is a new opportunity to completely rebuild the security situation in a region, there is a need to make the best of it to avoid mistakes that have plagued the nation. The previous issues of having security services overwhelming one religious sect, having individuals serve under the banner of the government with separate interests and not being represented of the population they serve can be resolved going forward. The goal is to give the citizens of the city interest in the security of their region. Mosul residents will look at the makeup of the security services, and if they closely mimic the numbers of the population they serve, it should lead to less of an issue. ISIS has taken the steps over the past few years to eliminate the majority of Sunni officers in the military and police under the regions they controlled; this has left a vacuum of lower-level and inexperienced senior officers to rebuild the security services. The need will arise to effectively train and move competent officers from the military to lead the new police units.

  IV.         Training of Police and Military Forces

Training of police and military forces has dropped off, since the departure of the United States. While there were training mission’s setup by different entities within Iraq, the issue has not been training. The main issue within Iraqi police and military forces has been the lack of representation amongst the society the serves. As discussed in multiple sections, if the representation of the population is not considered then it will be broken from the beginning. Training a broken team and system does very little with the long-term security abilities of the country. The need arises to fully understand this continued issue and address it in a proper manner.

The LDF formula can play a role in rebuilding an effective security force. As with the case in Mosul, the retraining will need to concentrate on the following activities from outside forces and experts:

1- The ability to investigate properly within the police force by having advanced methods of investigation based on sciences and not by forced confessions.

2- Have a transparent system among the population with no hidden prisons and detention centers outside the prevue of the government.

3- Build a just judicial system that is based on punishing the guilty, but not at the expense of the innocent.

4- Community building and positive interaction from local police to the general population. The ability for the police to be seen as a savior to keeping society safe and not a deterrent to safety.

5- The elimination, and most importantly, punishment of any government officials involved in torture, kickbacks and ransoms.

The LDF formula can resolve a number of issues within the current security state of Iraq. The largest issue that arises is that there has been a continued decade of mismanagement of resources and the overall judicial system. In order to work properly, the need arises for a decentralized reporting structure in order to have more independent police forces that will start with the local city level that reports to the region then to province then to the overall federal government. Simplifying the system of reporting and structure will allow for a greater opportunity to train effectively the security services within a province. It allows for the individuals that live within the society to police themselves, but still allowing an opportunity to root out ineffective leaders and individuals that are out of line of the duties of their job.

    V.         IG and Reporting Structure

One of the biggest problems within Iraq is how to report behavior that is not in line with a proper functioning government. Citizens have grown accustomed to this to the point that they will see wrong done in front of them, but there is no place to turn to report such wrongdoing. As the rebuilding of Mosul security services happens, the goal is to simultaneously build the citizen reporting structure and to have the population be comfortable with reporting negative behavior of security and government services, no matter where they serve. The quick adaption of ISIS in different regions by the population in the beginning was mainly due to a desire to find a replacement to the ineffectiveness of the previous local, regional and national government. Over time, the population realized that ISIS was not a solution to their problems, but the original lack of comfort with the government was justified. We need to address these issues going forward.

A proper Office of Inspector General needs to be designed, implemented, funded and staffed properly for every province. Again, the makeup of this office needs to reflect the population they’re serving and must have direct access to the national government of the country. By creating such institutions there is a long-term investment for citizens to report activities that are in line with the rule of law and not be afraid of retribution or punishment for reporting such issues.

Rule of Law

The biggest issue across the whole of Iraq is a lack of an effective judicial and court system. Going forward and as Mosul is being rebuilt, the proper institutions need to be staffed and funded properly. With the lack of an actual court system, ad-hoc prisons have been used to house potential suspects. This has been a growing issue amongst Sunni areas taken back from ISIS with the help of militias. The problem has increased to the point that it mimics Saddam Hussein’s prison system of prisoners disappearing with no hearing, unjustified killing and lack of a justice system. Extrajudicial killings by troops in the field has been seen as the “most effective and quickest form” of law and justice. This has led to individuals suspected of being with ISIS being killed in fields with little or no proof. This type of behavior creates a snowball issue for years to come because with every person killed, it creates an enemy of the government for the long-term; this is irrespective if they are associated with ISIS or not. The behaviors and documentation with videos and pictures, of groups fighting under the umbrella of the Iraqi Government, of extrajudicial killings in the field of war will only increase tensions between sectarian sects. The need arises to create a punishment system for any soldier that performs extrajudicial killings and attempts to take the rule of law in their own hands. Unfortunately, the society and culture of Iraq understands more the forcefulness of punishment for doing something wrong than explaining the significance of their wrongdoing.

With ISIS being defeated in due time, there is a public relations and marketing campaign that will emerge. If the average citizen only knows the Iraqi forces as the people that committed extrajudicial killings, then there is no way to win the mind of that average citizen. The need arises for, when and if, behavior of soldiers is out of line with the laws and norms of the country, then appropriate and swift punishment through the national legal system will need to occur. There is no benefit of replacing a group of individuals killing indiscriminately, such as ISIS, with a government-sponsored group that also engages in the same behavior. The lessons recently of ISIS being evicted from Ramadi and Tikrit serves a learning lesson for the Government of Iraq of subpar behavior amongst groups under the national umbrella of security. Stories, videos and pictures emerged of militias rounding up males of fighting age in Ramadi and Tikrit killing them because of a perceived belief they were supporting ISIS. In addition, homes and businesses were burned in the name of ridding supporters of ISIS. Such behavior will only add to continued issues. The fight is not about getting rid of any potential supporter that leans towards the beliefs of ISIS; in fact, the real fight is for the public’s mind that the government and every member that represents it, including security forces, is there to serve the population in a law-abiding nation.

  VI.         Unemployment and Infrastructure Projects

Rebuilding conflict zones must be the priority of the local and federal government, especially in locations suffering from ISIS. Damage from an active war zone, where entire neighborhoods were destroyed during fighting, offers an opportunity to improve infrastructure, projects and daily lives of citizens. The unemployment rate within Iraq, depending on the region, can hover around twenty-percent. The deficiencies within the infrastructure, unemployment and underemployment allow an opportunity for outside organizations to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, similar to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under President Roosevelt.

Infrastructure projects within the Iraq have been delayed, cost overruns are the norm, funding for projects are used up without the project being completed and levels of corruption have plagued the rebuilding stage. The continued issues of not completing whole projects, having companies associated with government officials and a few companies having access to the majority of potential projects has spread to a sense of “government corruption” amongst the average citizen.

The need arises to have organizations not directly associated with the government to take control of rebuilding projects on the ground. Even though it might not be within the mandate of these organizations, such as the UN and NATO, the need arises to take previous war zones into a rebuilding phase that is not in the direct control of the Government of Iraq. As different nations, consistently and continually, donate money to Iraq for various projects the shift of responsibility of completing the projects will lye under international organizations. Numerous projects that are of need can be started relatively quickly and are of interest to Iraq’s population including: Mosul Dam repair, transportation projects, rebuilding of government buildings, bridge repair/reconstruction, electrical and water works improvements.

The fight against ISIS should not be a purely military engagement, but requires the need to have an effective, full-fledge and ready-to-initiate plan that can put citizens back to work, while improving the area they live in. In order to avoid mistakes previously made for infrastructure rebuilding and projects within Iraq the following will need to be a guideline:

1- A department, similar to the WPA, will need to be formed quickly. The proposed organization, Iraq Works Progress (IWP), will take the lead on infrastructure and works projects.

2- The IWP will create a database of potential workers for a region. The hiring of everything from plumbers, engineers, construction workers and street cleaners will be hired. The variety of skills and abilities will be varied, but all will be needed. Documentation of these individuals with full biometrics with iris scans in order to avoid known issues within Iraq government departments of non-existing workers that receive paychecks, commonly referred to as “ghost workers” or “ghost soldiers” in the armed services.

3- In order to work on a project the IWP will employ small and separate teams to tackle each project. The employees will be required to live, with appropriate documentation, within thirty-minutes drive or a satisfactory short distance of “as the crow flies” of a project. This will ensure that the residents of that city have a direct hand in rebuilding that project. The second reasoning is to ensure that work is spread out and there will be less of an opportunity for favoritism to occur of sending only the people that might be connected to administrators of the IWP.

4- The goal is to hire as many people as possible to do different types of work and not have small segmented groups. The segmented groups could lead to one small group working from one project to the next without involvement of other pools of labor that might not be working.

5- No overtime abilities will be allowed. This will ensure that appropriate labor assumptions for a project will be more accurate. In addition, each job duty will have a classification of pay without a range. For instance, a plumber will be paid the same and no discrepancy will occur in getting paid more than his counterpart. This will ensure fairness amongst all classes of employees, and there is no way to effectively check the experience level of a plumber with twenty years of experience versus someone with a few years in Iraq.

6- We are eliminating the need of a company to do the work for a certain project, which has been the norm in Iraq. At times, many of the projects were taken over by companies in Turkey, Iran and partnered with companies on the ground within Iraq. The issue that arises is that local hiring of talent was limited and the interest was to make money instead of employing people on the ground. Only organizations with no interest in the profit mechanism can truly ensure that rebuilding of infrastructure projects concerns are weighted more towards the greatest number of employment in a region.

7- The local division formula (LDF) will need to be taken into account for the IWP. In order to avoid issues of one-sided employment that has plagued ministries and defense forces. The formula will ensure that rebuilding of local projects is represented by the local mixture of the population that is benefited by the local population through improvement of infrastructure and employment.

Commonly, outside organizations have avoided discussing and not fully understand the tribal, sectarian and ethnic complexities within Iraq. The previous thirteen years of issues within Iraq is an ongoing example of this strife. There is no need to ignore such complexities, but address them in a responsible manner by initiating different methods to avoid such issues. The ability to create an IWP organization on previously held ISIS regions, under the arm of large international entities, can serve as a foundation for expanding the method of improvement to other regions within Iraq. Various countries continue to send funds to Iraq for various security-related expenses. If the funds can be used for improvement of the lives of the resident, then this will do more in the long-run than adding more security vehicles and personnel training to a region.

There are not enough missiles and bombs to destroy ISIS and people associated with such mindsets; however, the improvement of an individuals life, through the improvement of employment and their immediate region, serves as a heavy counterweight to groups like ISIS. There are examples of recruits signing up for ISIS merely for the paycheck that varied from $400-$1400 a month. Many of these recruits lack even the most basic and fundamental understanding of the Salafi understanding of ISIS, but the continued paycheck held great importance. Payments for the Central Government of Iraq were cutoff upon the entrance of ISIS in different regions and this created despise amongst the local population. The social security net is non-existent in parts of Iraq, so the immediate cutting off of monthly funding, even if it was a small amount, led groups of “not as religious Iraqi’s” to join the hoards to ISIS. By giving people a paycheck to rebuild their city and localities, we are ensuring a more stable future with the benefits for years to come. People have already seen misery. If there an improvement for one’s family, safety, ability to go to school freely, roads free of craters, and clean water then it would do more than a million bombs dropped on ISIS.

VII.         Wartime Behavior

Understandably, there are enormous tensions between ISIS-held zones and the umbrella of troops fighting them including a combination of Kurdish Forces, National/Official Military under the control of the Government of Iraq and Hizb Al Shabi associated groups (HAS). The tensions raised have been discussed already. The section of Wartime Behavior will deal with the public relations need in order to avoid images and documentation that can be used for propaganda purposes. More than likely, there will be a reemergence of a group similar to ISIS, but probably less extreme. There will be a realization that ISIS went more extreme than Al-Qaeda ever was, and there will be a need to scale it back if there is ever a desire to rule over a large landmass or population. Current behaviors by associated groups fighting against ISIS will be used for future propaganda to lure in more people into ISIS 2.0. Some of the behaviors are documented below.

Desecration of Flag Being Used By ISIS

The commonly used flag and symbol of ISIS has been used in a manner to invite Muslims to their cause. On purpose, this flag was chosen for it’s historical significance. The roots of the flag are from the 7th century during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and in fact, the circular part of the flag was used as the seal. Flags similar to this design have evolved over the centuries, but this design was the root of those other versions. The flag states the following “There is no God, but Allah” with the seal of Prophet Muhammad stating “Allah, Messenger, Muhammad.”

The common behavior of troops flipping the flag upside down, spray painting graffiti on the flag or burning it is looked at as a desecration to the religion of Islam, as seen by religious Sunnis. This is a “calling cry” that can be used by ISIS to illustrate that whomever is desecrating the flag is not on your side, and in-fact, your enemy. The flag has no reference to “ISIS”, group leadership or any other associated details to the group in Iraq. The goal of ISIS was to show desecration of symbols of the religion in order to persuade the masses that they’re the “protectors of Islam.” Desecrating the language on the flag is a few levels below physical desecration of the Quran; this has been lost on all the troops fighting ISIS.

There are examples of documentation of Iraqi soldiers burning the ISIS flag and marking an “X” with spray paint. The image that is seen by someone that is Sunni, whether in Iraq or outside the country, is that the person that has put an “X” on the flag is putting an “X” on belief in God and his final Messenger. There is no greater weapon for recruitment than the ability to persuade the minds of the religious that your faith is being attacked. This negative behavior is a recruiting gem for ISIS to illustrate that their fight is not for the fight of Mosul, but a greater need to protect the religion of Islam. There is no need to give ammunition to ISIS of documenting and desecrating a flag that has a historical foundation to the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

The flag desecration is similar to issues in the United States of Christian pastors threatening to burn the Quran and documenting it. Literally, the highest levels of the US Government had to persuade some extremist that it would hurt the image of the country and affect soldiers overseas. The desecration of the flag is similar, but a few levels below burning a Quran in order to maximize on extremist responses. In Islam, one is allowed to burn loose pages or ripped pages of the Quran instead of throwing the document in the trash; however, the common Muslim does not know this because it’s a higher level of understanding of the faith, usually reserved for religious leaders.

A standing order needs to be put in place that any troops are not allowed to desecrate the flag being used by ISIS because it will be used for recruitment today and decades from now on. There is no need to do the work of recruitment for ISIS with self-inflicted and negative behavior.

Professionalism and Uniformity

Being that there are a number of associated forces fighting on the side of Iraq, there is no standard of professional behavior. Different groups wear different uniforms with no insignia. The issue that arises is some of these groups have adopted clothing and behaviors that is opposite of the society of ISIS-held regions. A few of these issues will be discussed.

There is a physical and public relations war with ISIS. Skull masks being used by Iraqi associated a soldier only adds to the fear by the general population. Understandably, some soldiers need the masks to hide their identities due to fear of retribution; however, the skull mask trend has grown to include social media pages of skull masks and coverings. There are a few issues of the skull mask, especially from a Sunni or Islamic understanding. The average Salafi will look at these skull masks as a sign of association with the devil. While it might be simplistic to the outside person, the skull mask representation falls in line with beliefs of Islamic behavior, whether Shia or Sunni, that there should be no association with the devil on any level. The ability for ISIS sympathizers to use this for propaganda purposes has been realized already and will continue to be realized. The skull masks create a divide between soldiers and the society they are sworn to serve. The need arises to eliminate skulls masks at all levels. If there is a need for a mask to cover one’s identity, then a mask without any designs can be used. Again, there is no need to be giving propaganda ammunition for ISIS and like-minded individuals.

Removal of Shia-Related Flags

The ability to portray the positive public relations campaign that the PMU is fighting on behalf of the people, previously ruled by ISIS, is extremely vital. The issue that arises is when there is an overly large amount of signs, posters and flags carried by the PMU units that depict Shia-leaning is not helpful in the long-run of bringing Sunni societies within the mix. The average Sunni will look at these forms of advertisements from the predominately Shia PMU as an armed group outside the control of the Iraqi Government. Carrying the Iraqi flag is not an issue, but having dozens of flags depicting which Shia militia one is associated with shows a lack of understanding of bringing societies together. It must be remembered that the weaponry, vehicles and gear is mostly supplied by the Government of Iraq; however, the colorful array of dozens of militia flags show a disassociation with the general public.

The goal is to lessen issues. The goal is to bring people under the same umbrella. Any behavior that adds to the rift and divide should not be allowed. It’s understandable that the PMU units are fighting against ISIS, but the need arises to create a positive public relations campaign in Sunni-dominated areas. The association of the PMU units should portray coming to the assistance of the central government, and not shoving Shia adverts in recaptured regions.

The Iraqi Government needs to immediately set up “Core Rules of Operation” (CRO) for any group fighting for the sake of the government. These CRO are needed in order to have a positive public relations campaign amongst the general population and having set standards for operations, attire, and professionalism for the greater long-term interaction. The need arises to lessen political speeches when PMU units are out of line with extrajudicial killings and aggressiveness out of the norm of war. Building a structure with rules of engagement and a set CRO compliments the abilities of a nation to bring in the general public on their side.


Posted on January 26, 2017 and filed under Intelligence.