By Struan Stevenson

The city of Ramadi in central Iraq was captured by so-called Islamic State (IS) in May last year. It was a city of more than one million, mostly Sunni, people. Last month, most of the city was recaptured by the Iraqi military, with the assistance of Shi’ia militias, funded and led by commanders from the Iranian Quds Force, a listed terrorist organisation.

Nine months under the control of Daesh was devastating enough for Ramadi but the final onslaught during the battle for its recapture has seen virtually every building in the city destroyed; only a handful of women, children and elderly men remain. Some estimates state that the population numbers less than 1,000. The ruthless Shi’ia militias have waged a genocidal campaign against the Sunni population, torturing, burning and butchering at will. Thousands of civilians have been killed. The men of Ramadi between the ages of 14 and 70 have simply disappeared. Some say they are being held in secret prisons; others claim they have been murdered.

Shocking reports have emerged of the organised slaughter and execution of Sunni citizens in Diyala Province and the blowing up of Sunni mosques in the town of Meqhdadiya. Regrettably, the government of Iraq and the US administration have been silent in the face of these atrocities perpetrated by the militias affiliated to Iran who operate under the leadership of Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the terrorist-listed Badr Organisation. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has faced a humiliating climb-down over his efforts to secure a nuclear weapon. Iran’s economy was crumbling under the combined weight of international sanctions and the collapsing oil price, forcing it to seek a deal with the West. In a bid to buttress his beleaguered regime, Khamenei is trying to extend Iran’s influence in the Middle East. His efforts to shore up the gore-encrusted regime of Bashar al-Assad have fuelled the civil war in Syria for the past five years, creating the perfect environment for IS to exploit and expand. Khamenei, in turn, uses IS as his excuse to provide money, men and material to bolster the scorched-earth campaign by the Shi’ia militias in neighbouring Iraq. Western silence on this carnage has simply contributed to the spiralling sectarian war that threatens to tear Iraq apart.

The next target for recapture is Mosul in Nineveh Province, Northern Iraq; it is Iraq’s second city and home to more than two and a half million people. IS has held Mosul since June 2014. Strict restrictions have been placed on the local population, with only trusted traders being allowed to leave and return to the city. The remaining, largely Sunni population has been held hostage. IS captured vast quantities of modern American weaponry when the Iraqi army fled and the city has become an almost impregnable fortress. The Sunni population of Mosul has witnessed the fate of its brothers and sisters in Ramadi and must be wondering if it is to be slaughtered like sheep during the forthcoming battle for the city. The appalling brutality of the Iranian-led militias will do little to encourage the population. Many may feel that life under IS, although harsh, is better than death at the hands of the Iranian militias.

This is the dilemma facing the West. American airstrikes assisted in the recapture of Ramadi, crushing most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure to dust. Now warplanes from a US-led international coalition have begun bombing raids on IS targets around Mosul. An American general in the battle for the historic city of Hue during the Vietnam War notoriously stated: “We had to destroy the city to save it!” It seems like history is about to repeat itself in Iraq. IS has become a convenient vehicle for proponents of the war on terror. The US-led international coalition has rushed to provide air cover, while the Shi’ia militias provide the "boots on the ground". Everyone can then puff out their chests in pride at their involvement in the campaign to drive IS out of Iraq. Sadly, such victories are won at a terrible cost that is borne, for the most part, by Iraq’s hounded, oppressed and brutalised Sunni population.

Struan Stevenson is President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). He was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.