My Iraqi Friend and the Obama Betrayal
When Islamic State began its murderous attack on Ramadi, I thought of Ismail and worried for his safety.
By Mario Loyola in the Wall Street Journal
As the fight to retake Ramadi from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, heats up, I can’t help thinking of my visit to the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province nearly eight years ago, and of America’s broken promises since then.
In September 2007, I was in Ramadi for a gathering of Iraqi and American military commanders, politicians and local tribal leaders who had joined forces with the U.S. to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. Then-Sen. Joseph Biden was there. “These are difficult days,” he told our Iraqi allies. “But as you are proving, you can forge a future for Iraq that is much brighter than its past. If you continue, we will continue to send you our sons and our daughters, to shed their blood with you and for you.”
It was a noble promise, and Iraqis believed it. The surge in U.S. forces and the “Anbar Awakening” had succeeded beyond all hopes. U.S. troops patrolled casually where just a few months before Marines couldn’t fight their way in. There as a journalist, I walked through one village east of Ramadi where an old vegetable vendor waved to me and said, a grandson smiling on his knee, “Thank you coalition.”
In Ramadi I met an Iraqi police lieutenant who was earnestly pro-American, and who kept talking about the need for “honest leadership” in the local police stations. The police lieutenant (I’ll call him Ismail, for his protection) was hopeful, if also wary. He mistrusted some of his fellow police and was afraid that al Qaeda might return if U.S. forces left too soon.
He explained to me that the Anbar Awakening started in September 2006, when al Qaeda murdered two of Ramadi’s most important sheiks. Local tribes rebelled against al Qaeda and were soon joined by others. They took up arms alongside surging U.S. forces in early 2007 and together they eradicated al Qaeda from Anbar province.
By the end of 2008, the U.S. and its allies had done the hard work of building a political coalition of Iraqi parties committed to reconciliation and to a long-term alliance with the U.S. I lost touch with Ismail after that, and had every reason to believe he was well.
Then came President Obama, and the end of the fragile reconciliation process in Iraq. At the end of 2011, he withdrew all U.S. forces, ignoring the advice of commanders on the ground and the private pleas of senior Iraqi leaders.
Things fell apart quickly after that. Suicide bombings, a trademark of Sunni terrorism, returned, as did the reprisals of Iranian-backed militias. Not surprisingly, Shiite-dominated Iran filled the vacuum created by the U.S. departure and ISIS fighters poured in from Syria.
When ISIS began its siege on Ramadi in April, slaughtering innocents and creating tens of thousands of refugees, I thought of Ismail and worried for his safety. Soon after that, he reached out to me. The good news: He was alive. The bad news: everything else.
Now a police captain, Ismail had moved back to his hometown of Rawa, north of Ramadi. When Rawa fell to ISIS last summer he was put under house arrest. Yet with his cellphone he took the risk of providing intelligence on ISIS locations to a friend in the Iraqi air force. In early March, he decided to flee to Baghdad. But because ISIS controls so many roads and highways, he was forced to travel through the heavily Shiite city of Karbala, where he was promptly arrested on suspicion of ties to ISIS, simply because he’s Sunni.
The local police in Karbala do the bidding of the Shiite militias, one of whom—an Iranian—interrogated and beat him. He was held for two months in a filthy jail so crowded that inmates were forced to lie on their sides. Luckily, a former colleague in Ramadi, before it fell to ISIS, verified his identity. After two months, he was released.
“I fought for my country,” Ismail says, “and this is how they repay me.” He is now in Baghdad, in ill health, sleeping at an uncle’s house, afraid of being arrested again. “I am almost homeless,” he says. “I want to become a refugee in any country.”
Sadly, Ismail isn’t alone. President Obama’s 2011 abandonment of Iraq was a betrayal of America’s promises to millions of Iraqi men, women and children. The ISIS victories, and the horrors that follow them, are a direct result of that betrayal. As Ismail said to me: “They shouldn’t leave us like that.”
Mr. Loyola, a former counsel for foreign and defense policy to the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, was an embedded journalist with U.S. forces in Iraq in the summer of 2007.
1) This “betrayal” of sorts is way past one individual, Obama.
2) We are suffering from a “betrayal” by our present national political leadership, in my opinion.
3) Hence a “bottom up” change in the status quo is beginning to occur.
4) It will probably be more obvious around the Federal Election in 2020 or so.
5) The forces of change will be Americans all, previous Democrats, Republicans, Independents, again Americans all; and also again in my opinion.