Tragic Setbacks for U.S. Allies in Iraq and Syria

Tragic Setbacks for U.S. Allies in Iraq and Syria

Western Iraq saw more brutal bloodshed this weekend after the Islamic State massacred 322 people of the Albu Nimr tribe, a Sunni group, including women and children. The Iraqi government confirmed the attack in the Anbar region, which began on Saturday and continued into Sunday, and was described as "systematic killings."

The tribe had been working to fend off ISIS militants, but began to run low on ammunition, food, and fuel last week. Sheik Naeem al-Ga'oud, a tribe leader, had according to Reuters "repeatedly asked the central government and army to provide his men with arms but no action was taken." Al-Ga'oud noted the killings were execution-style and included high schoolers and college students who tried to escape ISIS militants.

In response to the mass killing, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered more airstrikes against ISIS-held territories, though details surrounding the timing of new airstrikes remain unclear.

Beyond the lives lost, the success of these "systematic killings" will have a long-term impact on the struggle between ISIS and the Iraqi government. "The fall of the village dampened the Shi'ite-led national government's hopes the Sunni tribesmen of Anbar—who once helped U.S. Marines defeat al Qaeda—would become a formidable force again and help the army take on Iraq's new, far more effective enemy," noted Reuters's Michael Georgy.

In Syria, the United States faced another setback in its battle against terrorist groups, when weapons distributed to anti-government rebels ended up in the hands of an al-Qaeda splinter group, Jabhat al-Nusra. The weapons provided by the United States included GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles.

It is unclear if the moderate rebels who had been trained by the United States surrendered or defected to the terrorist group. The Independent reported that a U.S.-backed rebel group, Harakat Hazm, surrendered on Saturday night "without firing a shot" after al-Nusra attacked the villages it controlled. Some soldiers apparently defected, and the Syrian Revolutionary Front, another group receiving U.S. support, was driven from its strongholds.

Though these more moderate rebels are strong in southern Syria, northern Syria is in danger of becoming fully ISIS-controlled. Some rebel groups have been trying to escape ISIS by heading toward the Turkish border, "heralding a significant defeat for the rebel forces Washington had been counting on as a bulwark against the Islamic State," reported The Washington Post.

As Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center explained to the Post, "Although some groups have already been receiving U.S. support, it was never sufficient to tilt the balance of power on the ground. This sends a message that Western support doesn’t equal success."

The reach of ISIS was also felt thousands of miles away in Sydney, Australia, when alleged supporters of the Islamic State shot Rasoul Al Mousawi, a Shiite Muslim community leader, with a pellet gun on Monday morning. The incident occurred on the first day of Ashura, a holy festival on the Shiite calendar, and the attackers reportedly screamed "ISIS lives forever." Al Mousawi is expected to survive his injuries.

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