What Muslims Fighting ISIS in the Middle East Say About Trump

At an outpost near the town of Tuz Khurmatu, Iraq, a dozen or so members of the Badr Organization, an Iran-backed Shiite militia fighting the Islamic State, seat themselves on the floor and begin to eat lunch. They dip bread into a meat stew poured over hot mounds of rice, then sip from cups of Kurdish ayran, a watery, yogurt-like drink swimming with white chunks.

When the men are finished, they light slim Iraqi cigarettes and smoke them over small glasses of dark, sweet tea. The subject of the upcoming 2016 United States presidential election is raised, a topic that, unsurprisingly, has sparked some interest among the Badr fighters. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of Iraqi Shiite militias to which the Badr Organization belongs, are ideologically opposed to the United States, which considers some of its leaders to be terrorists. But the PMF’s fight against ISIS has called for a tenuous quasi-alliance with American forces providing military assistance to the Iraqi army and other enemies of the notorious terrorist group.

One round, mustachioed captain offers his thoughts on a certain former reality TV star and presidential candidate.

“I can tell from Trump’s words that there is something wrong with him,” he says with a chuckle. “He says he will not allow Muslims in the US, and he will bring an army to conquer Iraq. I do not think a person who says this is an appropriate candidate. It is illogical.

“If the Americans have any reason, they will not vote for Trump,” the captain continues. “But if he wins and says he will come to Iraq by force—well, he can try it. The Americans left [the country] based on [diplomatic] agreements. Let Trump come without any agreements and see what will happen. We would love to welcome him to Iraq.”

It’s unlikely that the Badr fighters, whom I visited earlier this month, watched the first debate between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday. Middle Eastern militiamen aren’t usually that plugged into domestic American politics, and there isn’t all that much time for livestreaming on the front lines of the war with ISIS. But as their discussion suggests, the outcome will almost certainly affect the lives of the Muslims fighting ISIS in a tangible way—even if the various militant groups engaged in the struggle are reacting rather differently. After all, with the help of Iran, the militia is in the midst of battling ISIS forces in Iraq alongside the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga, the fighting force of the Kurdish Regional Government—both of which are being assisted and trained by the United States.

Trump has roundly attacked the Obama administration’s approach to fighting ISIS and doubled down on his strategic criticism at Monday’s debate. At one point, the moderator, Lester Holt, raised the question of how the candidates would approach the issues of terrorism and ISIS.

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