BAGHDAD -- It’s all a ruse, some Iraqis say, nothing more than a carefully thought-out plan to destabilize their bloodied country even more.
Twelve years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and three years after U.S. forces pulled out, the U.S. role in fighting the Islamic State group here is met with great distrust.
Conspiracy theories abound, with many Iraqis insisting that the United States is actually funding and supporting the Sunni extremist group in order rip apart what’s left of the country and strengthen Iraqi reliance on the West.
“I think ISIS is something that the United States made up,” Aia al-Marsoumy, a 25-year-old dentist in Baghdad, told The WorldPost. “They want their army to be in Iraq. They want Iraq to be helpless without the support of the United States.”
Hundreds of American military advisers are currently training Iraqi security forces to join the fight against ISIS after the country’s military nearly crumbled last summer. When ISIS launched an assault on the northern city of Mosul in June, Iraqi forces ran for their lives, stripping off their uniforms on the side of the road.
The United States is also leading an international coalition striking ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq and this weekend, began reconnaissance flights over ISIS-controlled parts of Tikrit, where Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shia militias struggle to regain control from ISIS. U.S. airstrikes there may soon follow, indirectly aiding Shia militias accused of grave human rights abuses.
As the United States’ already controversial role in Iraq’s fight against ISIS only grows more complicated, so does distrust of the West. Many Iraqis say they just can’t believe that the United States is truly vested in the fight against ISIS to make Iraq safer.
“A lot of events happened in multiple places supporting the opinion that the U.S. in one way or another supports ISIS -- giving them food or arms,” Hanan al-Fatlawi, an outspoken Shia member of parliament, said by phone. She has publicly stated that the United States may be secretly throwing its weight behind the extremist Sunni militants who have violently seized control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria. She points to a blast in the restive Anbar province, where Sunni tribesmen are battling ISIS, that killed dozens of Iraqi troops, saying that it was the Americans who killed them. She's not alone in her views.
“Many people in Iraq believe me,” she explained. “They believe that ISIS is probably a baby of the USA or a baby of Israel.”
Al-Fatlawi says she’s suspicious of U.S. involvement in the battle to retake Tikrit that stalled 10 days ago. While Iraqi officials cited the need for more well-trained reinforcements to help clear the heavily booby-trapped city, she has a different story: The United States made Iraqi forces halt the offensive to help ISIS, or so that the Americans could swoop in and save the day, claiming victory as their own.
Most of all, Al-Fatlawi says, she just can’t believe that the United States, with all of its weaponry, military intelligence and international sway, would have this much trouble taking out ISIS. It just doesn’t add up, she says.
In late December, the popular Iraqi television show, Afaq, funded by former prime minister turned vice president Nouri al-Maliki, aired a news segment claiming that the United States was arming ISIS militants.
“Video shows international alliance airplanes dropping military aid to the terrorism groups of Daesh and landing in an area controlled by ISIS,” the television presenter said.
“I swear to God, I’ve seen with my eyes, around 11:30 or 12, that American airplanes landed over the al-Basateen area,” claimed a man introduced as an eyewitness. “To carry personnel and drop ammunition. God willing, we are victorious, no matter who supports ISIS.”
Naeem al-Ubody, spokesman for the notorious Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, one of the Iran-supported militias fighting ISIS in Tikrit, doesn’t pause for a moment when asked if he believes that the United States is supporting ISIS.
“We have evidence and documents that have been found by our fighters on the frontlines proving that the United States is dropping aid and ammunition to ISIS,” he said. His group is infamous for its attacks on American and Iraqi soldiers during the Iraq War.
Al-Ubody says his militia’s men in Tikrit have not directly corresponded with the Americans. He does not trust any U.S. involvement in the fight to root out the remaining ISIS militants holed up in Tikrit’s city center, despite the Iraqi government asking for American assistance.
“The Iraqi people believe that the United States isn’t serious about combating ISIS in Iraq," and instead wants to "use it as a card to collect as much intelligence as it can,” he continued.
The conspiracy theory that the United States is actually supporting, not fighting, ISIS isn’t just common in Iraq, but all across the Middle East.
In August, rumors that former secretary of state Hilary Clinton had devised a plot to form ISIS ran so rampant across the region that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut issued a message on social media slamming the allegations as entirely false.
And in Egypt this February -- after ISIS beheaded over a dozen Coptic Christians in Libya -- newspaper headlines boldly proclaimed that the United States and Daesh (the widely used derogatory nickname for ISIS) were one and the same.