Iraq and Syria are no strangers to capitalist war and the very existence of these countries comes directly from the imperialist war of 1914-18. Iraq and Syria were created by imperialism along the Sykes-Picot border drawn up by Britain and France in 1916 to carve up the region from the lands of the Ottoman Empire. These two countries were born in and from a war that in some ways has continued ever since. Both were assets for the Allies in the Second World War against Germany and subsequently subject to coups and manipulations by the British and Americans in the Cold War against Russia from the 50s. Iraq was again used by the West against Iran in the bloody war of 1980 and was the whipping boy in 1991 where many tens of thousands were killed in a failed effort to keep the western bloc together while the butcher Saddam Hussein and his Revolutionary Guards were left intact. The 2003 invasion, led by the US and Britain, saw thousands more killed and injured by fuel-air and cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs and uranium-tipped shells. The peoples of Iraq are not unfamiliar with the embrace and kiss of imperialism, particularly the American, British and French kind.
The taking of Mosul on June 10, a city of over one million people, by IS (the “Islamic State”, known until June this year as “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”), has opened up a whole new descent into capitalist barbarity, chaos, terror and war across the already blighted region of the Middle East. IS is no rag-tag army of loose affiliations like Al Qaeda (which formally disavowed IS in February this year) but an efficient and ruthless fighting machine that is presently capable of waging war on three fronts: south towards Baghdad; east towards Kurdish territories and west into Aleppo, Syria. The Baghdad-based expert on IS, Hisham al-Hashimi says that the force is 50,000 strong (The Guardian, 21/8/14) and the same report says that it has “...five divisions’ worth of Iraqi military weapons, all of them US supplied” and suggests that “the large numbers of foreign fighters are increasingly holding sway in many areas”. IS has spread its particular reign of terror by growing from Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), then spread into the maelstrom of Syria where it absorbed, either willingly or under pain of death, other jihadist or ‘moderate’ anti-Assad forces; it now controls significant areas of the Euphrates Valley where it has established its ‘Caliphate’ across what little remains of the Iraq/Syria border, i.e., the Sykes-Picot line. The destruction of this border is significant of the deepening decay and chaos that is more and more the mark of capitalism across greater regions of the world.
With the regression into this particular shambles of the Middle East, comes a force, the Islamic State, whose tenets of a Muslim Caliphate are based on religious divisions and arguments of over a thousand years ago. The completely reactionary nature of this Caliphate is both a deepening and a reflection of the reactionary and irrational nature of the whole world of capitalism - a tendency in continuity with the First World War and all the subsequent imperialist massacres. The Islamic State has no possible future except as another destabilising gang of bandits, thugs and killers, an expression of imperialism which has stepped into the bloody mess of the wars tearing the region apart. Despite being a force of religious reaction, as shown in its brutal terror against civilian Shias, Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, IS is fundamentally an expression of capitalism that has been supported and built up by local imperialist powers then assimilated into becoming the front line in an anti-Assad, anti-Iranian front. This development has been supported by the actions - direct or indirect, it doesn’t matter - of America and Britain.
Biting the hand that feeds you
Surely not, some would say, where’s the sense in that? But capitalism has a history of creating its own monsters: Adolf Hitler was democratically put in place with the assistance of Britain and France in order to act as a force of terror against the working class in Germany primarily. Saddam and his killer regime were made in the west, particularly Whitehall. The same for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. The Islamic fundamentalist madrasas and Osama bin Laden were essentially products of the CIA, and of MI6 with the Pakistani secret service ISI, acting on their behalf in order to confront Russian imperialism in Afghanistan – a concoction which then gave rise to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The establishment of Hamas was initially encouraged by Israel as a means of weakening the PLO and jihadi forces have been armed, encouraged and supported by the west in Libya and the ex-Russian republics.
All the above have turned and bitten the hands that reared and fed them, showing that it’s not a question of evil individuals, but efficient capitalist psychopaths armed and encouraged by democracy. And now in the Middle East, more than ever, everything that the local and major imperialisms do to try to confront their rivals, play their cards or shape events ends not just in failure but contributes to the general deterioration of the situation, piling up more profound and widespread problems in the longer term.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been a force for over ten years but its offshoot, IS, under the new leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - released from US prison in the US Iraqi facility of Umm Qasr on Obama’s orders in 2009- has been backed by Saudi and Qatari monies laundered through the compliant Kuwaiti banking system with their fighters given access to and fro across the border of Turkey. They have been armed, directly or indirectly, by the CIA and there are ongoing reports of IS fighters trained by US and British special forces in Jordan and the US base in Ircilik, Turkey. Why? Because they wanted an effective fighting force against the Assad regime - much more effective than the ‘moderate’ forces. Even the Syrian regime has done business with IS and used it in the age-old strategy of supporting one’s enemy’s enemy. By supporting the forces of IS the local powers and the west sought to counter the growing strength of the Iran/Hezbollah/Assad fighting machine backed by Russia.
The Caliphate of IS doesn’t have much long term perspective but at the moment it is expanding and growing, particularly attracting a sort of ‘international brigade’ of nihilist youth. It has billions of dollars of equipment and a cash-flow from its many businesses. In another absurd twist US fighter power is ‘degrading’ its own material in selected areas. That’s not the only twist in events: US air power has given cover to the Kurdish PKK in their fight against the jihadis, even though it is a group designated as ‘terrorist’ by the US. Iran, Assad’s Syria and the West are in some ways now on the same side with reports (The Observer, 17/8/14) of Iranian warplanes operating from the massive Rasheed air base south of Baghdad and dropping barrel bombs on Sunni areas. There are undoubtedly Iranian forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria confronting IS. Turkey and Jordan, even the Saudis are now concerned about the threat of this organisation. Nothing is settled here; everything is in flux - imperialist flux.
When Sunni elements from Anbar Province joined IS to take Mosul in June, it was clear that the war in Syria had spread into Iraq. This was a complete reversal of the situation of 2006/7, where the Sunni tribal leaders of Anbar joined with US forces in the ‘Awakening’ to defeat Al-Qaeda. But the US-backed, Shia-dominated al-Maliki government in Baghdad excluded the Sunnis from any power, encouraged a pogrom-like attitude against them by Shia gangs, and treated their populations as would an occupying army. The new ‘inclusive’ government in Iraq can readmit some of its Sunni MPs but the latter are likely to be beheaded if they dare to go back to their constituencies. The US can hope for a stable government but the perspective for Iraq looks very much like a break up. The US cannot control or contain this chaos which it has, on the contrary, facilitated. For the moment it has decided to defend the Kurdish capital Irbil, where it has American ‘boots on the ground’, oil and other interests. There’s no ‘humanitarian’ intervention here, that’s just a blatant lie. More lies from Cameron with “Britain is not going to get involved in another war in Iraq” (BBC News,18/8/14) alongside lies about the ‘humanitarian’ nature of its intervention. The decision to arm the Kurds by the US, France, Britain, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic, though by no means a common policy, can only strengthen the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), strengthen the tendency towards Iraq’s likely break up and cause more problems in the region.
In Irbil there are 60,000 refugees and in Dohuk, one of the poorest regions of Iraq, there are 300,000 more. Over a million in Iraq and millions across the region. These unprecedented numbers on the move, along with collapsing borders, is an expression of the further decay of this rotten system. The Iranian regime has been strengthened, the borders of Turkey (a NATO member) and Jordan weakened and threatened and yesterday’s terrorists and evildoers become today’s allies. And the ‘blowback’ danger to western capitals and industrial areas, always a threat as Prime Minister Blair was warned of by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in 20054, is now much more acute as the eventually defeated Jihadis return to the major centres and look for ways to continue their brutal attacks. IS encapsulates the putrefying, regressive nature of capitalism and its flight into militarism, barbarity and irrationality: killing and dying for religion, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, the rape and slavery of women and children. The US and its ‘allies’ may be able to push back IS, but it cannot contain the imperialist chaos that has given rise to it. On the contrary, the major and local powers can only deepen this instability further. What they don’t want is exactly what they have worked for and will continue to work for, because the whole capitalist system drives them blindly in this direction.
This article was contributed by a sympathiser of the ICC.
. Obama and Prime Minister Cameron took credit for rescuing the Yazid’s from Mount Singar but they were more concerned with defending Irabil and the same for the Kurdish Peshmergas who abandoned these civilians, giving the more radical PKK the opportunity to step into the breach and present themselves as the true saviours of the Yazidis, although many of them still remain stranded and in considerable danger.
. One of the more effective and absurd defences by IS against US-led Iraqi forces trying to re-take Tikrit was the flying suicide bombers who launched themselves out of windows and off roofs onto the advancing columns.