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Fowlkes: Iraq factions one day may live in peace
Above, W.C. Fowlkes is shown with citizens in Karbala, Iraq. Fowlkes’ Army Reserve unit was mobilized to serve in Iraq. Fowlkes served as the senior adviser of an 11-man Military Transition Team (MITT) that helped to train, advise and assist the Iraqi Army. (Contributed photo)
In spite of recent setbacks in Iraq, Lt. Col. W.C. Fowlkes remains optimistic that the country’s different factions can one day coexist peacefully.
In 2006, Fowlkes’ Army Reserve unit was mobilized to serve in Iraq. Fowlkes served as the senior adviser of an 11-man Military Transition Team (MITT) that helped to train, advise and assist the Iraqi Army.
He continues to serve as an adviser with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), among other organizations. He lives in Martinsville.
According to Associated Press reports, in June, an extremist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) began a push into Iraq, quickly seizing several town and cities.
“ISIS just declared themselves an Islamic state this week,” Fowlkes said Tuesday. “They came in and took (the northern Iraqi city) Mosul. I think they had it pretty well planned out as to where they were going to attack. I understand they got about $400 million worth of gold in Mosul at a bank they robbed there.”
Fowlkes described ISIS as “brutal” and “al-Qaida times 10.”
“They’re not even friends with al-Qaida,” Fowlkes said. “They do have some symbolic parallels, but they’re very independent and on their own. They rule by terror.”
As someone who worked in Iraq training the country’s military to defend against extremist groups like ISIS — and then seeing ISIS seize parts of the country so quickly — Fowlkes said he can’t help but feel disheartened.
“It’s hard not to when you’ve lost buddies that you’ve made,” he said. “I lost several people that I knew from here that went over there. You make friends with people over there, and then they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time (and are killed). You look back on it and you say, ‘Why? What was all this for?’”
However, Fowlkes added, “we’re always taught at that level to try not to focus too much on the immediate, but the bigger picture. You have to focus on the immediate to survive, but you have to look at the bigger picture.”
For example, Fowlkes said, someone who experienced D-Day during World War II might, at the time, have wondered at the point of all the human carnage. It is with the benefit of hindsight, he said, that we now can see it as a tipping point of the war.
Fowlkes said that he believes Baghdad, the capital of Iraq and also its largest and most populous city, likely is fairly safe from ISIS due to its massive size and the fact that it’s bordered by the rivers Euphrates to the west and the Tigris to the east.
Additionally, Fowlkes said, he has no doubt that Iran will protect its border from ISIS.
There are several issues responsible for the Iraqi military having such difficulty thwarting ISIS, Fowlkes said.
“One of the problems you have now in that part of the world is they don’t have infrastructure,” he said. “Part of it’s because it was destroyed in the war, but they don’t have a strong infrastructure. ... If there’s a quality of life for the people, I think everything else kind of falls into place.”
Another issue, Fowlkes said, is the country’s caste system.
“Whatever caste you were born in, that’s what you’re expected to die in,” Fowlkes said. “There’s not an upward mobility promotion of any kind there in that country.”
For example, Fowlkes said, in the Iraqi Army, high-ranking officers are treated almost like royalty. They do not eat with — or even speak directly with — the men serving under them.
Fowlkes said that he believes Iraq’s future lies in the country dividing itself into three “states,” one each for the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. These states, he said, could govern themselves.
Baghdad, Fowlkes said, being located in the center of the country, could serve as a neutral territory where the three factions could peaceably meet and work together to help keep the country secure.
“You’ve got to do something to deter the groups like ISIS,” he said. “You’ve got to do something to deter groups like that from even forming.”
While many in Iraq would resent the suggestion of a government modeled on the U.S., Fowlkes said, it could prove the most effective way for the country’s three factions to cooperate.
“You could have disagreements just like Republicans and Democrats do,” Fowlkes said, “but we don’t go shooting each other. We work it out.”