July 26 — In early June news from Iraq suddenly burst out in the media, which told us a “terrorist” Sunni group called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant was about to storm Baghdad. In a June 19 speech, President Barack Obama promised U.S. military advisers to aid the regime of unpopular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
On June 10, ISIL declared a caliphate or Islamic state in areas of Iraq and Syria where its military had a presence and became known as I.S. Like al-Qaida, the I.S. is a fundamentalist Sunni sect that excommunicates other sects as enemies of Islam, treats women as near slaves, is socially repressive and doesn’t recognize Iraqi nationhood.
When the offensive stalled north of Baghdad, media news from Iraq almost disappeared, replaced by reports of battles in Ukraine and Palestine, but the crisis in Iraq continues. To blame is U.S. imperialism, whose criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq (2003-11) supported Maliki’s rise and which continues to play a thoroughly negative role in the region.
Washington wrecked Iraq
In the 1980s, the U.S. offered military aid to both Iraq and Iran to encourage them to keep fighting each other in a war that debilitated both countries. In 1991, the U.S. bombed Iraq mercilessly and then imposed murderous sanctions for 12 years that killed a half-million children.
In 2003, making up the pretext of “weapons of mass destruction,” the U.S.-British alliance invaded and occupied Iraq, a war crime which led to the death of 1.5 million Iraqis and drove another 5 million into foreign exile or internal relocation. Faced with a heroic Iraqi resistance, the U.S. occupation imposed conditions forcing Iraqis to identify as Sunni or Shiite Muslims and as Arabs or Kurds, creating and exacerbating differences to “divide and conquer.”
When it comes to groups like the I.S. and al-Qaida, U.S. imperialism and its absolute monarchy clients in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have armed, funded and used groups like these to weaken or overthrow progressive regimes — for example in Afghanistan in the 1980s and more recently in Libya and Syria. At the same time imperialist politicians and media demonize these groups as “Islamic terrorists” to justify military intervention from Africa to South Asia.
While the presence of I.S. and its ambivalent relation to imperialism raise questions about the anti-Maliki opposition, the Iraqi uprising nevertheless has a popular following based on mass hostility to Maliki. Other participants have their own agendas and supporters. These include Iraqi tribal leaders from the mostly Sunni areas and organizations associated with the Ba’ath Party, whose bourgeois nationalist regime had ruled Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The Ba’athists declare publicly that there is no permanent agreement between them and the I.S. and that they have always been a secular party that promotes a unified Iraq and will protect the rights of religious minorities, educate women, etc. Thus they are in direct conflict with the I.S. program.
The Ba’athists’ public statements oppose both Washington’s and Iran’s support for the Maliki regime.
Maliki has persecuted all his opponents, especially those in the mostly Sunni areas. Much of the Sunni population see him as a sectarian anti-Sunni dictator, set up by the occupation. Steeped in corruption, he also faces organized and mass opposition from the majority Shiite regions; this is hardly ever reported in the corporate media.
On July 16 in Amman, Jordan, some 200 Iraqi tribal leaders, Ba’athists, Islamists and activists representing about 90 percent of the tribal and rebel groups in Iraq gathered to form the Iraqi opposition’s first unified coalition at the “Amman conference to save Iraq.” The meeting excluded I.S., which was not invited.
As the meeting closed, Ahmed Dabashi, head of the Islamic Army revolutionary group in Iraq and conference co-organizer, said, “We call on the international community to cut ties with the Maliki government, which is killing its own citizens, and to support the Iraqi revolution to restore a united Iraq.” (jordantimes.com, July 16) Opposition leaders agreed to unite all rebel forces under the leadership of former Saddam-era military commanders, in what they called the Revolutionary National Iraq Army.
The coalition plans a second meeting in Amman in August where it hopes to gather more than 1,000 representatives from the opposition to Maliki.
According to the same report, the coalition was unable to reach agreement regarding its future relations with the I.S., which has the military initiative in much of the opposition-controlled territory.
The one event in July that received corporate media attention was I.S.’ expulsion of Iraqi Christians from the city of Mosul. The Muslim Scholars Association in Iraq, which had given ideological support to the anti-U.S. resistance during the occupation, denounced this forced deportation. (middleeastmonitor.com, July 21) The MSA often calls for actions that would reinforce unity among Iraqis, such as defending the integrity of Shiite holy sites in areas controlled by the opposition.
As International Action Center co-coordinator Sara Flounders wrote in Workers World on June 25, it was Washington that “promoted Iraqi organizations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect” and the only solution for Iraq is anti-imperialist unity that can force the U.S. to get out and stay out of Iraq. (tinyurl.com/lnc5b9p)