By Paul Roberts
The conflict in Iraq that has unfolded this past month, like the war in neighbouring Syria, is unlikely to be settled fast given the significant alliances assembled behind each side.
The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) led insurgency that took control of much of Iraq’s north in June has the support of the US and its local allies, with Saudi Arabia providing arms and finances. The US wants to replace Nouri al-Maliki’s government with a pro-US regime. What it calls establishing a ‘more balanced’ government is all about breaking the regime’s alignment with Iran and returning US troops to the bases it was forced to vacate in 2011.
On the other side, Iraq’s government is backed by Russia, Iran and Syria. This past week it has launched a concerted push back with its army fighting to re-take Tikrit, the Syrian air force bombing ISIS positions and Russia delivering fighter jets.
Oil underpins the strategic importance of this region to the US. In particular it wants to block the developing Silk Road commerce with China. China and the Middle East are complementary producers. Exchange between the former’s vast industry and the latter’s huge energy resources is mutually beneficial.
The US is determined to thwart this development, so requires pliant puppet regimes willing to sacrifice their own economic interests. Hence imperialism focuses on toppling the region’s independent regimes, principally Iran and its allies Syria and Iraq.
The US and Britain knew in advance of ISIS’s June offensive but failed to warn Iraq. The imperialists have no intention to intervene against ISIS while it is just attacking the regimes in Syria or Iraq. Their concerns about ISIS are confined to any threat it may present to themselves or their allies, in particular Israel and Jordan.
The Iraqi insurgents are an alliance of several Islamist militias, including the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Baathists, under the leadership of ISIS. Their rebellion took control of Fallujah last December and in June rapidly seized Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, followed by taking control of Tikrit. Their June advance faced little opposition as the Iraqi military commanders mostly deserted.
The US is taking advantage of the rebellion to try to secure a change of government and it has been discussing with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership and other opponents of Maliki the establishment of a more pro-US government. Neither side will find it easy to get a new government agreed. Maliki’s coalition has the largest number of seats in the Council of Representatives (winning 92 of the 328 total at April’s elections), but his opponents can block any decision by walking out to deprive the parliament of its quorum as they did on 1 July.
As Sammi Ramadami points out here there was no significant fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities before the US-led invasion in 2003. ‘Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities.’ Al Qaeda had no significant presence in Iraq prior to the imperialist invasion.
Far from combatting terrorism as imperialism claims, its intervention spurred the development of Al Qaeda in Iraq, then subsequently elsewhere in the Middle East and across north and east Africa. Its emergence and expansion in Iraq was deliberately fostered by the US, because it was unable to stabilise its occupation and faced a resistance launching more than 100 attacks per day against its troops. So the US developed a ‘divide and rule’ counter-insurgency strategy to stimulate sectarian fighting between Iraqis and reduce the pressure its own military.
US ‘elite forces’ orchestrated psychological warfare campaigns which promoted Al Qaeda activities with ISIS emerging out of this, financed and armed by Saudi Arabia. It soon became infamous for its sectarian bombing of market places and funerals in majority Shia areas of Iraq. Currently it engages in conventional warfare, but its terror operations remain central; it boasts how it executes prisoners and disseminates the gruesome images across social media.
The US wants Iraq to be subordinated as a single state, but leading forces opposing the government want the country divided into separate entities. Both ISIS and the Kurds favour a complimentary partition of Iraq, so avoid confrontations with each other.
ISIS’s ambition is to set up an independent Sunni Islamic state, a ‘caliphate’ across Syria and Iraq which it declared established at the end of June.
Iraq’s Kurdish leadership’s long term aim is for a separate state encompassing all Kurds in the region. In June they took advantage of the insurgency to seize Kirkuk and its local oil fields, adding one-third more to the territory under their control. Both Israel and Turkey have signalled they would support an independent Kurdish ‘state’ within the borders of today’s Iraq.
The Iraqi government’s earlier alliance with the US plus its requests for US assistance have helped the US falsely portray its military as a potential ally of Iraq against the insurgency. The reality is the US deploys its resources only to secure its interests, which in this case the goal is regime change. That is the purpose of the US ‘military advisers’ recently dispatched to Baghdad.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have already died as a result of the US’s 2003 invasion. The current US support for the insurgency only helps increase that death toll.
Given the alliances, both internal and external, pitted against each other in this rebellion, it is unlikely to be a short conflict.