people need to know يحتاج الناس إلى معرفته
This article was issued on February the 26th 2016 by Yeni Safak Turkish daily in the english version and by Derin Ekonomi magazine in Turkish language in the January 2016 issue
Evil’s shadow sometimes takes the shape of fear. It is happened in Tikrit when the bank of Tigri river was shaded by the blood of countless victims. It was June the 12th 2014 when a selective elimination, by the hands of Islamic State, started for the Shia members of the Iraqi Army and the young Air Force cadets at Camp Speicher. Now that a doctored Sunni/Shia crisis is rising for political purposes in the region, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and that probably there is Islamic State hand behind Baghdad and Istanbul terroristic attacks, is better to remember what kind of outcome could bring a “religious” confrontation. That Summer the black flags of Devil’s sons, so called Islamic State, spread fear trough a disbanding Iraqi army, that eventually melted 2 months later. Thanks too a political will of the former PM al Maliki, as vox populi says in Iraq. The real number of victims is still under investigation. IS claims 1.700 executions, Human right watch (NYC based ong) analisys and new discovered mass graves so far brings that number around 1 thousand.
Now that Baghdad government is conquering back the Salahuddin province and, step by step, even Anbar area, it is time to remember the origin of that a shocking event. Meanwhile Usa has decided to step forward to a more sound fighting against IS, is useful understand how it happened. White House new policy was to stay at the window, with a minimum force use, to let local actors reshape the regional balance of power. It was not a great idea. The will and the intent of IS and their accomplices was to destroy a religious group for cleansing purposes. They used slaughter as a mean for “community building” and fear to corrupt people’s souls and minds, to bend their will, to destroy any resistance, to erase any feeling of humanity. The will of IS was clear as a result from several reports and detailed information by local witnesses and survivors, interviews with Iraqi security members, and of data available. IS leaders’ public speeches and propaganda videos also represent a clear evidence of the “policy” by so-called Islamic State militia.
Camp Speicher is a military base located 16 kilometers north-east of Tikrit in Salahuddin province, Iraq, on the west bank of the Tigris river. The base was one of the Iraqi Air Force airfields and went under the name of Al-Sahra (Desert) base. During Operation Iraqi Freedom became an US forces base, in October 2011, it was back in Iraqis control and became the home of the 4th Regiment, 16th Brigade of the Iraqi Army, as well as an Air Force academy to train young cadets. Beginning with the fall of Mosul in Nineveh province, to the permeation of Salahuddin by IS militants, then the fall of Tikrit, and finally the build-up to the Speicher massacre – I will try to contextualize the events that enabled this tragic event in Iraqi history. Islamist militants, who acted as a precursor to IS, had begun to rally support and flare up tensions in Tikrit. As early as 2011, they had started to extort money from local businesses and engage in racketeering as a source of funding for their terrorist activities in Syria. From 2012, this escalated to assassinations, both attempted and successful, against various security officials in the city. By the 10th of June 2014, Mosul had fallen and security forces were fleeing from Nineveh. IS members were able to march for 153 kilometers into Salahuddin, completely unopposed.
The long-term plan to weaken Tikrit by IS Islamists was so effective in instilling fear that a contingent of merely thirty militants, travelling in seven vehicles, took over a city of two-hundred thousand inhabitants. All happened without any kind of military opposition, over a thirty minutes period, due to senior civilian and security administration leaving the city. Tikrit’s take-over was carried out while Iraqi military units were withdrawing rapidly from Baiji, a strategic area laying 46 kilometers North of Saddam’s hometown, inbound
the fortified Camp Speicher. Meanwhile, IS associated themselves with the local Tikriti tribes, many of whom had former Baathist links, inciting locals against the Shia minority. This enabled a small detachment of IS militants to become incredibly effective in implementing their murderous plan against Shiia military forces. By associating and allying themselves with the dominant Sunni tribes of the region, they were able to take control over local political institutions and counting on a large number of supporters. These alliances with the tribes gave IS both a strong socio-political power throughout the province, and the means to start their cleansing plan through the massacre of all Shia military personnel at Camp Speicher garrison.
The Commander of Salahuddin operations, Lieutenant General Ali Al Furaiji, was facing a challenge as he saw his troops disband and retreat. He had no other option but to tactically retreat and rebuild the strength of his units in a safe compound with a defensive military strategy in mind. In the evening of June 11th, Al Furaiji gave the order to move his troops to Camp Speicher, where they joined a scattered number of units that had also retreated from IS coming in from the north of Salahuddin and Nineveh, in addition to 1,300 cadets who were yet to complete their basic military training at the base. A defensive framework that would provide an ideal position to launch a counter-offensive with a small number of organized troops against IS military penetration. However, the troops that arrived on the 11th were gripped with fear and low morale.
Meanwhile, IS was reinforcing their ranks. Thousands of Iraqi troops besieged in the base with a strong sense of impending doom as news of an incoming IS onslaught spread rapidly. They began to scramble and search for weapons to prepare to defend themselves, but as fear and confusion ran rampant, many of the troops panicked and sought to flee.
Tha’ir Abdulkarim, one of the survivors of the massacre, reports that a senior official told them to leave their weapons and uniforms and go home, as they had been granted a 15-day ‘free to leave’ chance. He was reassured that after three miles on foot they would find military vehicles to rescue them and that the path would be secured by both the Army and local tribes.
Indeed, there were vehicles waiting for them, but he realized that these were not the army trucks as promised. After arrived to the palace of the former dictator Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, Abdulkarim and his two mates, Asil and Salem, were tortured and held in captivity together with hundreds of others for more than five hours. After that, he reported, the terrorists divided their prisoners by Islamic sect – the Sunnis were allowed to repent for serving the government, while the Shia were massacred.
Hassan Khalil Shalal, another survivor, claims that they were forced to leave Speicher, “[they] confirmed to us that the road is safe, protected by tribes and not to wear military clothes”. A fellow cadet and survivor, Mohammed Majul Hamoud, points the finger towards both the tribes of Salahuddin and their military leaders. He specifies: “If we had weapons no one could have stormed Speicher (…) We were four thousands and no force could have confronted us.”
Ali Hussein Kadhim presents a slightly different account of that day; “We were alone, so we decided to flee because there were no officers” stating that the army officers simply fled, as they had done in Mosul. Lieutenant General Ali Al Furaiji, the commander of Salahuddin military operations at the time gave a different version. During his speech before the Parliamentary inquiry he stated that there was never an offer of safe passage, and that the soldiers were never told to leave the base. He maintained that he and his subordinates attempted to stop people from leaving, and that 440 soldiers and 96 officials remained at the camp. He also argued that the soldiers were fleeing as rumors were being spread of an incoming onslaught from IS.
The New York based Human Rights Watch, analisying satellite imagery, pictures, videos, and information from survivors, revealed five mass execution sites in September 2014, and confirmed between 560 and 770 deaths. Following the liberation of Tikrit, in April 2015, the Iraqi forces that retook the city discovered severalnew mass graves, raising the total number of sites to eleven.
A small contingent of IS militants were able to massacre a huge number of Shia soldiers, thanks to their collaboration with the Sunni tribes of Tikrit, particularly Albu Nasser and Albu Ajeel. Having the tribes – powerful non-state actors – on their side, IS militia were able to accomplish the most heinous crime in contemporary Iraqi history.
According to an interview with Saeed Al-Jishi, the security analyst commissioned to investigate the Speichermassacre, the tribes met the fleeing cadets and soldiers in trucks, promising to aid them in returning to their families. Instead they imprisoned the cadets, and tortured them before they separated the soldiers into Sunni and Shia. The Sunnis were given a chance to repent and return to their families, whilst the Shia were systematically executed by the tribesmen and IS militants: they were beheaded, stoned to death, buried alive, and thrown into the Tigris until it had turned red with their blood. It is better to remember.