Imperialism's chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq, and once again it is the people of the region who will pay the price.
In a week of events that is in some ways shocking and in other ways not even slightly surprising, a radical Islamic fundamentalist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, sometimes translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or referred to by the Arabic name Da'ish) seized Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, and capturing more cities along the way, has advanced as far as Baquba, just 50 kilometers from Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
In the face of a sudden advance by the black-clad, black-flag bearing fighters, lightly armed and driving around in open trucks, the massively US-funded and trained Iraqi army melted away. The unravelling of the Iraqi army in the north seems to have been a combination of demoralization and, at least according to some sources, a revolt by former Baathists loyal to the deposed Saddam Hussain.
In any case ISIS seized control of city government, immediately announced the imposition of a strict Islamic law, and reportedly began executions of civilians and other opponents. It also apparently seized millions of dollars from Mosul banks. Hundreds of thousands of civilians including the large Iraqi Christian population of Mosul reportedly fled immediately to the neighboring semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
Fighters from that Iraqi Kurdistan Region quickly seized the moment and occupied the nearby city of Kirkuk, strategically located amidst the northern oilfields and long coveted by Kurdistan as its capital, despite being one of the most multi-ethnic cities in Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan first carved out some autonomy in the 1990s after the first US war against Iraq; it's been pushing towards possible independence ever since. (Kurdish independence would certainly be just, despite the massive oil-company induced corruption that now rules the autonomous zone.)
In the face of the ISIS surge, the central Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki has been seemingly paralyzed. Its parliament has been unable to make a quorum. The leaders of Iraq's Shi'a Muslim community have started to rally support to defend Baghdad: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr have called for Iraqi Shi'ites to form militias to defend Shi'ite-populated cities against the ISIS advance. And the government of the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran, ironically now the chief backer of the Maliki government, is reportedly already sending in troops to defend its fellow Shi'ites from the ISIS attack. One report suggested that Iraqi soldiers lining up to defend the Baghdad “Green Zone” are wearing civilian clothes under their uniforms should they need to make a hasty retreat and discard any signs of allegiance to the government.
What is ISIS?ISIS is one of the militias that has come out of the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria. While apparently funded by wealthy interests in the Gulf, it competes in the civil war against the Syrian government with forces like the so-called Free Syrian Army, and while it shares a Sunni Muslim identity and a hard right-wing sectarian ideology, it has been deemed too extreme even by Al-Qaeda. It has also been opposed by the Syrian Kurdish movement. Its goal is a unified Islamic state across a wide swath of what is now several different countries.
While from a communist perspective one might be tempted to welcome the success of ISIS against corrupt capitalist governments and former US puppets, it is clear its ideology and practice is deeply sectarian and brutally repressive against the people. Disturbing videos can be seen online showing that ISIS has a policy of horrifying, random terror against those deemed to be its enemies. One video, shot from inside an ISIS vehicle, shows fighters in a speeding car randomly gunning down passing civilians.
ISIS's advance in the north of Iraq is not actually their first major victory. They already control portions of northern Syria, and most of Iraq's Anbar province, having seized the long-suffering city of Fallujah several months ago. Fallujah was of course the scene of brutal battles between Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the US occupation army; it's notorious for being dosed by “depleted uranium” weapons which have left a horrible legacy of health problems for the local population.
Triple legacy of imperialism, Zionism and revisionismWhen British and French imperialism co-opted the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago during WWI, they created a patchwork of states that didn't really correspond to real ethnic or religious divisions in the Middle East. States like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq were created to the advantage of imperialism, which understood the growing importance of oil and therefore their strategic imperatives in the region. As in Africa, divide and conquer was their watchword. Soon nationalism and anti-colonialism grew in response to the regional imperialist mandates, forces of rebellion appeared all over the Middle East. Communist parties and militant labor movements blossomed.
But with the creation of the Zionist entity of Israel in the late 1940s, suddenly the obvious divisions of class were not the only faultlines. Palestine was occupied and a whole nation dispersed. Iraq before Israel had a large Jewish population, and this population was a backbone in fact of the Iraqi Communist Party. As Israel insisted on the “Israeliness” of Jewish Arabs, suddenly sectarian identity became crucial, pushing rifts in contradictory societies to the fore. Jewish Arabs fled to Israel en masse. Arab nationalist forces kicked out direct imperialist rule across the Middle East and tried to forge secular societies, often using at least the rhetoric of socialism. Leftists (perhaps best identified as “revisionists”) subordinated their politics to those of the nationalists in country after country, and over the decades found themselves in turn co-opted or brutally repressed. Meanwhile, the State of Israel, opposed by radicalizing, communist-influenced guerrilla armies of Palestinian fedayeen, quietly began to foster the development of Islamic social movements to subvert the influence of secular nationalism and communism.
But with the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the collapse of Soviet influence in the region ten years later, nationalism and leftism buckled ineffectively against the continued injustice and brutality of the Zionist state. All of a sudden the sectarian and ethnic tensions began to flare, first with the Lebanese civil war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then the Iran-Iraq war, and eventually three invasions by US imperialism. Islamic fundamentalism gained new legitimacy as an effective form of opposition to local corruption, to imperialism and to some extent Zionism, and suddenly secular ideologies, including Marxism, seemed irrelevant. (Islamic fundamentalism also gained a fortune in aid from the US as it positioned itself against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; even Osama bin Laden was America's best friend for a hot minute in the 1980s).
ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is a product of this new reality. Social revolution, though vastly different than what how we communists define it, is now the watchword of the religious far right. Of course the Middle East is not the only place where that is increasingly true: there's a serious warning embedded here for leftist revolutionaries. The social revolution promised by ISIS involves a repressive, deeply conservative view of Islam.
Today's Iraqi government was created by US imperialism in the aftermath of its unprovoked invasion in 2003. The government was set up in a power-sharing arrangement between Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish populations, inverting the dominance from Sunni under Saddam to Shi'a under al-Maliki. The US stopped a Sunni insurgency through a combination of mass violence and bribery. And then the US left.
The blood-soaked arrogance of US imperialismLet's be direct: responsibility for the violence in Iraq can now be laid squarely at the feet of US imperialism. The US broke and shattered the country of Iraq by invading and dismantling the existing secular state. Without shedding tears for the anti-communist dictator Saddam, it's important to recognize what happened when the most powerful country in the world (allied with a host of the world's reactionary forces from British imperialism to local reactionaries like the Saudi Arabian monarchy) steamrolled over Iraq. By destroying nation-states and replacing them with cesspools of corruption they have unleashed the worst kind of intercommunal violence.
American media, pundits, and most politicians all cheered the drive to war in the aftermath of 9/11. They ignored the simple fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; they wrapped themselves up in falsified evidence and lies; and they ignored a mass antiwar movement inside the US. So sure of themselves and their superiority in a one-superpower world, they lead the US into a war that cost uncountable thousands of Iraqi lives, and made the daily lives of the Iraqi people a dangerous hell. They bolstered the reactionary Al-Qaeda they claimed to be fighting, sending thousands of Iraqis into its arms as a rallying point for resistance.
The US adventure in Iraq was simply a failure for imperialism. Aside from its atrocious but futile toll in Iraq itself, it had a devastating effect on the US economy. It damaged US hegemony over Europe. And the weakness it revealed in US imperialism's resolve to sustain an extended conflict has emboldened a resurgence of Russian imperialism, which seems to no longer be particularly concerned about US intimidation, witness events in Syria and Ukraine. And now the US is faced with the ignoble prospect of simultaneously bullying and threatening Iran over its nuclear program while watching Iranian ground forces forestall an ISIS sweep into Baghdad. And as further evidence of the wreckage of imperialist policies, US allies have poured millions into Syria to arm reactionary armies including ISIS that the US is now trying to figure out what to do about.
When ISIS swept Iraq last week, all the familiar stinking vultures of the US political scene started squawking. Everybody from ideologue-fantasist Kenneth Pollack and disgraced government media agent Judith Miller who both stoked the 2003 invasion to actual war criminal John McCain have started to offer their opinions and demand US action. The Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, virtually called President Obama a “lazy ni**er” for failing to send in the bombers. When Obama finally spoke up, he outrageously lectured the Iraqi government about how it should be respecting Iraq's religious diversity better. He says he has not yet decided how to respond to the ISIS advance. It is certainly possible he will unleash his war machine, which is good news for nobody but imperialism.
Obama was elected in large part due to his vote against the Iraq war; and while he has long ago come to own the US adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan, he knows that as disinterested in international affairs as Americans seem, they're not eager to put up with another military adventure that puts boots on the ground; especially on the same ground that so many lives were already thrown away. Probable presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of George Bush's 2003 invasion, has also chosen the grotesque path of lecturing the Iraqi government. She dared to say, “Because you’d be fighting for a dysfunctional, unrepresentative, authoritarian government and there’s no reason on earth that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that.”
No US intervention!US imperialism cares absolutely nothing for the people of Iraq. They don't care how many lives are wasted. They don't care if their victims are Shi'ite or Sunni or atheist. They just care about their power. We must stop any further US intervention in Iraq: no invasion, no bombing, no drones, no proxies or "contractors," no mercenaries, no "no fly zones," no advisers, no bases.
The antiwar movement after 9/11 was significant. It dissipated in the face of the 2004 elections. Occupy in 2011 was a significant challenge to the domestic status quo. It dissipated in the face of the 2012 elections (and in the face of coordinated repression directed from Washington). President Obama went from being a supposedly anti-war candidate to the master of drones that have killed thousands of civilians in over a half dozen countries across the Middle East and Africa. Hillary Clinton's record of support for war is perfectly clear. Liberal darling Elizabeth Warren has already indicated her hawkishness on Iran and Israel.
The next elections, including the upcoming 2014 midterms and the following 2016 president elections are a loser's game where the people are guaranteed to lose no matter who wins. Just like the previous elections, they're a trap for social movements in the US.
It's time to stop worrying about those creepy, lying politicians and start to build and sustain a real anti-war movement to stop the machinations of the empire. The best way those of us inside the belly of this beast can help the beleagured Iraqi people is to destroy US imperialism from within. The mess imperialism has left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests how weak imperialism actually is. It's dangerous, it's intimidating, but it's not invincible. We need to stand up and oppose any further US intervention in the middle east, Africa, or anywhere else.
The movement against the Vietnam war back in the 1960s and 1970s revolutionized US society. It obviously wasn't successfully transformed into a movement to defeat capitalism itself, but it shows us how things can begin.
Are you as disgusted at what's happening now as I am? Let's get to work!