Iraq’s current slide towards sectarian chaos was not just likely, but “totally predictable,” according to a former Marine Corps military adviser to the Iraqi Army.
First Lt. Wesley Grey, the current team leader of asset management fund Alpha Architect, served for two years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps starting in 2004. In 2006, Grey served in a Military Transition Team for eight months in Haditha, in Iraq’s Anbar province.
“I was embedded training the Iraqi soldiers out in Al Anbar province,” Grey told Business Insider, referring to the largely Sunni western region of Iraq. “The entire Iraqi Army I was working with was 90% Shi’a from Basra, Najaf. How do you think they got along with the locals?”
The Sunnis of Anbar province were deeply sceptical of the Shiite led Iraqi Army. Some of the fiercest fighting in the Iraq War took place in Fallujah, one of the major cities in the province. Today, Anbar is almost completely controlled by ISIS.
“I would have Sunni tribesmen come up to me and say things like ‘we don’t exactly get along with the Shi’a in the army,'” Grey said. “They would say things like, ‘why would we trust them? We have families to feed and we have got to make money, so if we can get $US500 from al Qaeda to plant a bomb in the road we’ll take it.'”
In the widely believed version of the decisive “surge” years of the Iraq War, the Sunni tribes in Anbar became disenchanted with al Qaeda’s extremist ideology and eventually revolted against them during the “Anbar Awakening.” Grey offers a different and perhaps less encouraging explanation from a U.S. perspective: economics.
“Al Qaeda was the bad guy who didn’t control anything in Anbar,” Grey told Business Insider. “When Petraeus told the tribes we’d pay them double what al Qaeda paid, suddenly overnight no Americans were getting killed because the sheikhs said ‘we’re backing the American guys.'”
But the long-term impact of funding the sheikhs and the Sunnis in Anbar — without creating a more inclusive national government — was that the possibility still existed of a future uprising against the still deeply resented Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
“The longterm downside of funding the sheikhs was you fund a revolution,” said Grey. “You have all the sheikhs out west flexing their muscles because they’re the ones really in control. ISIS, that’s just a front for the sheikhs to get what they want.”
“We fund the sheikhs and they’re just going to help and funnel the money towards Sunni tribes and militants against the Shiites,” Grey told Business Insider. “And if you fund the Shiites they’re just going to go and cooperate with Iran.”
You can read Grey’s full experience in Iraq in his book “Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army” »
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