Montag, 30. Juni 2014

The U.S. – most responsible for sectarian civil war in Iraq and Syria

24 June 2014. A World to Win News Service. The people in Iraq, Syria and and other countries, already in hell, face even worse as the U.S. desperately tries to figure out how to draw some advantage out of the mess it has made in the region, or at least preserve core interests. The U.S., which is not alone in stoking sectarian civil war in the region but bears more responsibility than anyone else, is now justifying further interference and maybe even more violence in the name of stopping it. In Syria it helped turn political conflict into religious war by using Sunni fundamentalists against the Bashar al-Assad regime. In Iraq it allied with a section of the Shia elite to put down Sunni-based resistance to the U.S. occupation. In both cases, it used religious sectarianism to seek political control. Ironically, the Assad government is still standing, while the U.S.-installed Maliki government is tottering. Everything the U.S. has done has brought "blowback", but it cannot just accept these setbacks if it is to maintain its position in the region and the world. The imperialists did not create the division of Sunnis and Shias, but often deliberately worked to deepen antagonism and further entangle religious differences with competing political and economic interests. In the region as throughout much of the colonial world, they sought to build a social base for their rule by relying on one religious or ethnic group against others, whether Christians in Lebanon, Alawis and other religious minorities in Syria, or Sunnis in Iraq, not to mention the Jewish state of Israel on stolen Palestinian land. Further, the region would be very different if the U.S. and its allies had not encouraged the Sunni-based Saddam Hussein regime to attack the new-born Shia Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980 and then also armed Iran (through Israel and directly). That war decimated a generation of youth on both sides, with a total of a million casualties, so as to advance U.S. interests by weakening both countries whose regimes Washington found problematic. (See Oil, Power and Empire, by Larry Everest, Common Courage Press, 2004) This process continued with the 1991 first Gulf War and the dozen years of sanctions on Iraq that served as a weapon of mass destruction against Iraqi lives. Estimates of the number of people who died as a result of malnutrition or disease because of the sanctions range from half a million to a million. Saddam responded by encouraging a rising Sunni religiosity and religious identification, during a time when the pressures of globalization on societies and local exploiters were giving impetus to the rise of religious fundamentalism in many countries. The nationalist and secular slogans that had been the signature of the ruling Ba'athist party in Iraq (and Syria) faded, and Saddam himself came to an ignominious end, first deposed and captured by the U.S. and then hastily hanged. President Barack Obama and other leading spokespeople for the U.S. ruling class are now bitterly complaining about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but they were the ones that put Maliki in power in the first place with the aim of defeating Sunni forces that are now much stronger than ever. Maliki and the people around him (the Shia Islamist Dawa party) worked with the U.S. invaders from early on. The U.S. counted on their support as it waged a decade-long war that, coming on top of the sanctions, turned Iraq from one of the better-off and best-educated countries in the Arab world, where religiosity played a relatively small role in official life, to an inferno. Although Dawa was connected to the Iranian regime and was said to have been involved in an Islamist attack on U.S. troops in Lebanon, Washington decided it needed to overlook that. The U.S. rampaged through the country and killed Iraqis in massive numbers, at times with no distinction. Think of the secret U.S. armed forces video Wikileaks founder Julien Assange and the American soldier now known as Chelsea Manning made public. It shows a U.S. helicopter gunship shooting people just walking down the street, and deliberately coming back to blast a van with children in it. Or the Blackwater mercenaries who opened fire on a Baghdad traffic roundabout full of cars and pedestrians because the sight of so many Iraqis made them nervous. Even more, the U.S. ramped through and tore apart Iraqi society, in an attempt to impose its own order, and then tried to reorganize it on a basis even more reactionary than Saddam's rule. The occupiers held the 2005 elections, touted by the U.S. as a great victory and proof that it is a force for good, for the purpose of establishing an Iraqi regime willing and able to advance American goals. The U.S. ambassador at that time, Zalmay Khalilzad, picked Maliki to be the new prime minister and arranged for that to happen. (Now Khalilzad is calling for the U.S. to return to Ahmad Chalabi, the Shia politician who assured the Bush White House that U.S. invaders would be welcomed with open arms and provided it with fake evidence about Saddam's non-existent biological and other weapons.) But Maliki outlived the Bush neo-cons and enjoyed the support of Obama as well. In the 2010 elections, which resulted in a stalemate between Sunni and Shia politicians, the U.S. again arranged for Maliki to continue in office. Obama announced a plan to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq in 2009, just as he was about to shift 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The project of keeping 10,000 U.S. troops and many mercenaries in Iraq fell apart because Washington wanted a treaty that would give them immunity from Iraqi law, which after Blackwater, Maliki found too dangerous to deliver, but also because, as leading figures in the Obama government announced, they felt that the situation had stabilised, and the Maliki regime could be counted on. Note that as Obama now sends troops back to Iraq, his advisers say they don't need to wait for legal immunity – presumably because guns trump law. That "stabilised" situation when U.S. combat troops left was one in which an elite section among the Shia, centred in the state and army, and tribal leaders, turned the tables on the similarly-based old Sunni elite and reduced its power, wealth and standing. Ordinary people in Sunni areas not only suffered unemployment and new levels of poverty, they also found themselves harassed, humiliated and abused by the Shia authorities. The secret police and army carried out atrocities routinely. (In the face of the ISIS offensive, when government police fled Baquba, just north of Baghdad, the last thing they did was execute the 44 Sunni prisoners in the local jail.) Over the last year and especially earlier this year, as disaffection and rebellion spread, places like Falluja west of Baghdad, one of the cities that suffered worst at the hands of the U.S. military during the war against the occupation, again came under siege and bombardment by the Maliki government. If the U.S. objected, that was not made known. When Obama welcomed Maliki to the White House in December 2011, he said that Maliki "represents Iraq's most inclusive government yet." When Maliki's party "won" the April 2014 parliamentary elections, amid a Sunni boycott, the U.S. was not happy but accepted his legitimacy for want of anyone better suited to their interests. It was not until 10 June, when Maliki's army all but collapsed, that the U.S. decided to take advantage of the fact that parliament has yet to name a cabinet and new (or old) prime minister to try and find themselves a fresh face. Again, note that the U.S. now says that it can send in troops before the formation of a new constitutional government to invite them. Suddenly the U.S. is crying crocodile tears about Maliki's Shia sectarianism and lack of "inclusiveness", but the fact is during the 2006-7 civil war in central Iraq, the U.S. disarmed Sunni militias first and allowed Shia sectarian forces to ethnically cleanse mixed areas in Baghdad, even while also trying to ally with Sunni tribal leaders against the Sunni fundamentalists in what would later be called ISIS. The embryonic ISIS largely retreated to Syria, where it flourished amid a civil war the Western powers certainly at least encouraged. Over the last year it consolidated in eastern Syria and expanded back to Iraq. Now that the border between the two countries has been effectively erased and reactionary civil war threatens to reoccur on a vast and horrific scale in Iraq, as it already has in Syria, the problem, as the U.S. sees it, is not religious sectarianism, or Syrian and Iraqi lives, but simply how to get an Iraqi regime amenable to its interests and still contest for control of Syria. One aspect of the situation that needs to be better understood is the dynamic between ISIS and other anti-Maliki forces. According to the Royal United Services Institute, the International Crisis Group and other sources, organized groups led by intelligence and army officers from Saddam's army, including high-ranking Ba'thists, are prominent among the military leadership in this offensive and the administration of newly occupied towns. The uprising has been strongest in Ba'athist strongholds like Tikrit, Falluja and other towns and villages. Mainstream Sunni clerics (not necessarily hostile to Saddam in the past) have also played an important role, as have Sunni tribal leaders, with tribesmen said to be the most numerous fighters. The U.S. may be hoping to rebuild its ties with these tribal forces, hoping that they don't share ISIS's political goal of an international Sunni sharia/jihadi state. While religion is not the only factor in this situation, it would be wrong to underestimate its importance as a growing phenomenon in itself, as an ideology and a political programme. The international conflict between the U.S. and its allies, and political (and particularly jihadi) Islamism in turn influences local situations. (Note that in Obama's speech after the fall of Mosul, he mentioned the Islamist danger to U.S. interests in Yemen.) In the absence of a revolutionary alternative, and with the ripping apart of the old social fabric and the horrors of life in the Iraq the U.S. created, as well as the force of tradition, it's not hard to understand why many people turn to religious fundamentalism. Another important question is the role of the Iranian regime in Iraq. The U.S. and the Iranian Islamic Republic both supported the Maliki regime and vied with each other for influence within it. Iran's support for Maliki has been an advantage for the U.S., but also a source of serious and growing concern. Voices in both the U.S. and Iranian regimes are hoping for cooperation on common interests, but there are major obstacles to that becoming possible. The Iranian factor is another of the multiple links between the Iraqi situation and overall regional and even world rivalries, from Saudi Arabia's eagerness to undercut Iranian influence by any means necessary, to the current stand-off between the U.S. and Europe and Iran and Russia around Syria, the question of Israel, and overall U.S.-Russian relations. All these things are intricately intertwined. Finally, while we can't focus on the question of Kurdistan here, the Kurdish ruling class, more a lucky beneficiary than a driving force in this conflict so far, would like to be a major player in redrawing the regional map. Where realpolitik ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend") can lead was demonstrated when, despite historic Washington opposition to Kurdish self-determination, they allied with the U.S., which brought the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq into existence. Now they are in a close relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of a country that has longed defined its national identity and existence by oppression of Kurds and has its own reactionary regional agenda. Turkey, a big investor in Iraqi Kurdistan, provides the main outlet for the oil that keeps it prosperous. The very name of the Sunni Islamist group leading the charge against Maliki – the Islamist State in Iraq and al-Sham (sometimes called Da'ish in Arabic) indicates what's at stake. The goal of uniting Iraq and Syria, and maybe Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Cyprus and southern Turkey (the region known as Greater Syria or al-Sham, after an early caliphate there) as a single Sharia-ruled entity would mean completely abolishing the configuration of states that great powers, particularly the UK and France, established when they divided up the Middle East amongst themselves during World War I. Roughly speaking, it has been the configuration of imperialist domination of this part of the Middle East ever since. That is what the U.S., and whatever allies it may draw in, are seeking to preserve: an order of oppression. The new, also oppressive and reactionary forces threatening that order have arisen on the ground prepared by the domination of the imperialists and the workings of their world economic system. The U.S., which not long ago thought it could do almost anything, doesn't seem to know what to do – because it doesn't have a real solution or even obvious choices. Nevertheless, it feels compelled to act. Obama has already sent six warships to the Persian Gulf. The Marines dispatched to re-enforce the U.S. embassy (and the airport) could be used to set up a massive airlift of American personnel – leaving or arriving. The American "advisers" (can anyone believe that after a decade of U.S. "advisers" what the Iraqi army needs is more training?) may be used to coordinate drone strikes, in Syria as well as Iraq, which could provoke further Islamist reaction. A positive outcome for the U.S. is far from assured. The Islamists, despite their current appeal in the region, do not even claim to seek to liberate nations from the imperialist system. Although various factors tend to pull them into conflict with the U.S. and other imperialist powers, they don't have a solution for the people's problems caused by the world imperialist system. They have no acceptable replacement for the current imperialist order. We have witnessed how a deep social crisis, an acute crisis of legitimacy and a few thousand armed men can rout 200,000 soldiers, seize an enormous amount of U.S.-supplied arms and equipment to use against an American-supported regime, and put the world's sole superpower in a quandary. The same colossal contradictions causing so much hardship and misery for masses of people are also producing new possibilities for people to rise up and change this situation through revolution.

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