It did not seem possible for ISIS's barrage of suicide bombings in southern Iraq to get any worse, but on Monday the group crossed a symbolic new threshold: it set off a car bomb made from an American Humvee.
ISIS detonated the bomb in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, just south of Baghdad in the half of Iraq still controlled by the government, killing 27 pro-government Shia militiamen and wounding about 60. ISIS and Shia militias (who are better fighters than the formal Iraqi army) have been fighting over Jurf al-Sakhar for months.
ISIS seized huge amounts of American-made military equipment when it first conquered northern Iraq this summer. During ISIS's advance into Iraq from Syria, the Iraqi army fled, abandoning hundreds of millions of dollars worth of US-made military equipment that had been an extremely expensive gift from the American military. It included guns and missiles, as well as heavy vehicles from Humvees to mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to mobile artillery rigs and the trucks to tow them.
It's difficult to overstate the dark irony of ISIS, which spent years building improvised explosive devices to target American Humvees, that omnipresent symbol of the American invasion, now using those very same Humvees as IEDs themselves. The vehicle that was supposed to signal "help is here" (not that it ever quite achieved that) is becoming just another possible explosive. Iraqi civilians now have the pleasure of seeing Humvees as simultaneously representing both of the two major horrors they have faced in the past decade: foreign occupation and sectarian bombing.
And this is all happening as the US is spending an estimated $8.3 million per day to fight ISIS, much of it spent bombing the American-made military equipment seized by ISIS.
The absurdity runs deep: America is using American military equipment to bomb other pieces of American military equipment in Iraq, so that ISIS does not use that American military equipment to bomb Iraqis. The reason the equipment got there in the first place was because, in 2003, the US had to give out American equipment to rebuild the Iraqi army, which it just finished destroying with the American military. The American weapons the US gave the Iraqi army totally failed at making Iraq secure and have become tools of terror used by an offshoot of al-Qaeda to terrorize the Iraqis that the US supposedly liberated a decade ago. And so now the US has to use American weaponry to destroy the American weaponry it gave Iraqis to make Iraqis safer, in order to make Iraqis safer.
It's not just ironic; it's a symbol of how disastrous the last 15 years of US Iraq policy have been, how circuitous and self-perpetuating the violence, that we are bombing our military equipment, and that the Humvees we sent to protect against Iraqi IEDs have now become IEDs themselves. Welcome to American grand strategy in the Middle East.