Before the 2003 intervention, Baghdad was an incredibly hybrid city, inhabited by Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, Shia and Sunni living in mixed neighborhoods.

Soran Hasani

“I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own.  That they design and want.  That they fight and work for.  [Not one] crammed down their throats by Americans.”

This is Marine Commandant David Shoup in 1966 in a speech concerning the war in Vietnam. Shoup’s comments are highly relevant regarding the current situation in Iraq.

Iraq was created in the aftermath of the First World War, primarily in the interest of the British. However, the British dominance of the Middle East was taken over by the United States after the Second World War as it became the most powerful state. Since then, Iraq has experienced almost constant interference by big Western powers, predominantly by the United States government.

The acts of aggression towards Iraqi society are too numerous to be elaborated here. One incident will suffice for our discussion.

The clearest act of aggression towards Iraq was the Bush and Blair war in 2003, carried out without any credible pretext. The 2003 attack on Iraq was a clear act of aggressive war. According to the principle set by Nuremburg trials, aggressive war “is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” And if we are not total hypocrites, we will apply the same rules for ourselves that we do for others.

Right after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the US created the Iraqi Governing Council, where people were selected to serve based on sectarian and ethnic identities. The security situation deteriorated severely as a direct consequence of the invasion as the occupiers destroyed the institutions on which the Iraqi state was based. This created an environment where political parties could play on ethnic and sectarian divisions—ultimately leading to a civil war.

By now, Iraq had descended into a nightmare where even the basic needs of society were not met. Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi expert was asked by Bill Moyers, about the situation before and after the invasion in 2003. He replied that “before 2003, Iraq was not a very happy place to live, but it was home for millions of people. They went to work, and they had their basic needs satisfied. They could not express themselves politically. But after 2003, people still could not – and cannot – express themselves politically and they also lost all of the security that they used to have and all of the basic services.”

It is true that there has been conflict between Shia and Sunni Islam, but the sectarian conflict in Iraq and the Middle East that we have seen unfolding is quite a new phenomenon. One only has to look at the map of Baghdad before 2003 and after, to see how much US aggression has exacerbated sectarian and religious conflicts.

Baghdad was an incredibly hybrid city, inhabited by Christians, Kurds, Turkmen, Shia and Sunni living in mixed neighborhoods. Now, many of the small minorities have been kicked out, and Baghdad is strictly divided between Shia and Sunni areas. The case of Baghdad is being repeated in other mixed areas around Iraq as the sectarian war continues unabated.

The war in Iraq resulted in another catastrophe for the region—the creation of ISIS, previously known as Islamic State in Iraq. This extremist group, notorious for its savagery, now controls most of the land between the two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, crossing Syria and Iraq. The group has shrewdly taken advantage of the civil war in Syria. Patrick Cockburn, one of the best western journalists in the region describes ISIS as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Since ISIS attacked and conquered one third of Iraq in June, there has been considerable attention to the groups’ crimes. Rapidly, ISIS became enemy number one for US president Obama.

But the crimes of ISIS did not start in Iraq. In fact, ISIS and similar fundamentalist groups, in their fight against Assad’s murderous regime, have been committing similar crimes against fellow Muslims and other minorities. However, since this was in Syria, where the stated goal of the West was to get rid of Assad, the victims did not receive the same kind of attention as in Iraq.

Obama rightly pointed out that the group has managed to grow in strength due to the civil war in Syria and the sectarian strife in Iraq. But what he omitted was the fact that Western powers and their Sunni Arab allies in the region are largely responsible for prolonging the civil war in Syria. The West has effectively blocked a political settlement by insisting that Assad must go, even though he holds 13 out of 14 provincial capitals in Syria. The chances of a settlement have been hindered further by preventing Syria’s main ally, Iran, from participating fully in political negotiations.

This policy was repeated once again in Obama’s speech on 10 September 2014, outlining his strategy for defeating ISIS; but with a different twist. This time, US ally Saudi Arabia will help to build a “moderate” fighting force to combat both Assad and ISIS. You don’t need to be an expert to understand that this strategy will lead to even more bloodshed and war.

Those who follow the civil war closely know that the so-called “moderates” represented by Free Syrian Army (FSA), quickly became irrelevant and were taken over by other violent and sectarian groups. In his reports, Cockburn repeatedly stated that the opposition consisted mostly of radical insurgents and Al-Qaida affiliates and not moderates. He warned the Western powers that this would eventually lead to a destabilization of the region.

The fact is that the US, since the early months of the civil war, have been hesitant to make a decisive move in Syria in favor of the “moderates” that they offer so much official praise. They probably prefer Assad compared to the opposition. But it is difficult to make a complete U-turn after all the propaganda and condemnations by Western leaders.

They have another motivation because continuing the civil war will keep many of their opponents busy in the region. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the former Iraqi National Security Adviser, explains why the civil war “is the best option for the West and Israel”, “because it knocks out Syria as an opponent of their policies and keeps Iran busy. Hezbollah is preoccupied by Syria and not with Israel. Turkey’s idea of a new Ottoman empire is gone with the wind.”

Without a political settlement in Iraq and Syria, there is little chance that the quandary over ISIS and other extremist groups will be resolved. Extremist groups grow during war and in times of desperation; more bombs is not the solution but that is what Obama promises the region.

He mentions the success of limited airstrikes in cases of Yemen and Somalia. We should ask the people in these two countries how they feel about Obama’s drone campaign, carried out with total impunity. We should also think about the likely consequences of more bombs for civilians caught in this war without end.

Source: Stop the War Coalition

16 Sep 2014

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