Government and citizens alike appalled at ISIS prisoner swap
By: Gilgamesh Nabeel and Jacob Wirtschafter/The Media Line
[ISTANBUL]Zainab Zwain, a gynecologist in Erbil, could not believe her eyes.
“Iraq sacrificed many of its sons to defend Arab countries,” Zwain told The Media Line,
“but the Syrians are acting like Joseph’s brothers, throwing us into the depths of the well of terrorism.”
Zwain was watching TV pictures of more than a dozen busloads of Islamic State fighters being transported in comfortable air conditioned coaches from the Qalamoun Mountains near the Syrian capital to a negotiated zone in the Euphrates Valley within driving distance of the Iraqi border.
War-wary Iraqi civilians are as outraged as their government at the Monday accord between Syrian authorities and ISIS allowing the Sunni jihadists to redeploy from their former stronghold just 15 miles outside Damascus to the eastern desert a short drive to Iraq.
“We consider it an offense to Iraq’s people,” said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in an official statement. “Transferring such a number of terrorists …to the east of Syria in Iraq’s vicinity is not accepted.”
“This will cause more losses and sacrifices for both Iraqis and Syrians,” he added, “Terrorism is gasping its last breaths; we do not have to negotiate with it. There is no justification to negotiate with terrorists.”
Pro-[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad media outlets in Lebanon reported Wednesday that Damascus’ agreement with ISIS was reached after the Sunni group agreed to hand over the bodies of eight Shiite fighters including Lebanese soldiers, Hizbullah fighters and perhaps even a fallen member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
On Sunday, the daily An-Nahar reported that ISIS will get a map of hundreds of mines planted in Ras Baalbek, Jaroud and El-Qaa in order to be able to evacuate the area without further casualties.
On Wednesday, the Syrian president told visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari that the “terrorist project in Syria has failed.”
But Iraqis fear that Assad is working with Iran to push ISIS back inside their country, perhaps as retaliation for Baghdad’s ongoing cooperation with Washington in the fight against the most extreme Sunni jihadist group demonstrated most recently in the battle for Mosul.
“Recent incidents reflect deeper older divisions among Shias upon their vision for Iraq,” said Jasim Bdaiwi, an Iraqi political scientist currently a visiting professor at California State University, Chico.
“Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf opposes Iranian domination and supports the Baghdad government’s independence and another group associated with the Iranian clergy in Qom considers Iraq the backyard for Iran’s battles and conflicts.” Bdaiwi said the Iranian clerics want to prolong the battles in Iraq to delay a possible American return to the region.
“Iran used many factions including those of Moqtada al-Sadr to prolong the war against U.S. troops before, and this might be a way to extend the war again,” Badawi told The Media Line. It’s already clear that Washington will do everything it can to keep Assad and his Iranian backers from re-introducing ISIS into Iraq.
“Coalition military forces conducted airstrikes in Syria to prevent the transport of ISIS terrorists to the borders of our Iraqi partners,” said Brett McGurk, a Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS at the U.S. Department of State on Wednesday. Baghdad’s sectarian preference for Assad is now being eroded by what Iraqis see as a cynical move by her Shiite co-religionists in the Hizbullah strongholds of Beirut, the Alawite enclave in Damascus and the sect’s political powerhouse in Tehran.
“It’s again Iraq being thrown under the bus by regional politics and civil wars,” said Faisal al-Mutar, an exiled human rights activist. “The government in Baghdad seemed to have forgotten how many al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) terrorists used to arrive to Iraq through Syria. At least the government is speaking out against this deal.” Fadi Sumer, a 20-year old dentistry student in Erbil thinks Baghdad needs to go further than merely condemning the ISIS arrangement with Assad, Hizbullah, and the Iranians.
“Iraqis went to defend the Shiites, while the biggest Shiite Jihadi [Hizbullah leader Nasralla] sends us a gift named ISIS,” lamented Sumer, “It is a message that our ‘brothers’ are obliging us to shed more blood. Iraq should cut its relationship with these countries.”