- Created: Thursday, 13 June 2013 13:07
- Written by Jim Craven
At the beginning of May, a senior Iraqi politician told Patrick Cockburn of The Independent: ‘It is wrong to say we are getting close to civil war. The civil war has already started.’ Jim Craven reports.
On 23 April, Iraqi government forces attacked a Sunni protest camp at Hawija near Kirkuk, killing at least 23 people. In the ensuing clashes, over 50 more people were killed. The next day, Sunni militants took over a police station and killed three Iraqi soldiers near Tikrit. A few days later, five more soldiers were killed in Fallujah and at least 23 people were killed in bomb blasts in southern Iraq. The UN estimates that 700 people were killed in April, the highest monthly figure for five years. On 20 May, more than 70 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in bomb blasts across the country – from Baghdad and Samarra to Basra and Hilla in the south. People in Baghdad are reported to be stocking up on food and other supplies. Shia militias, in the guise of government soldiers, are surrounding Sunni areas as they did during the worst sectarian conflicts of 2006. The main road to Jordan, where many Sunnis sought refuge, has been closed.
The Sunni population believes it is being persecuted by the predominantly Shia government of Nouri Al Maliki, who is accused of operating a highly centralised and dictatorial regime. Al Maliki was first appointed by the US ambassador Zilmay Khalilzad. The Sunni vice-president Tariq Al Hashemi remains in hiding abroad, after having been sentenced to death by Al Maliki’s government. The Sunni revolt has taken strength from the rebellion in Syria. Some of the strongest Sunni areas lie close to the Syrian border. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which is playing a leading role in the uprising, founded the Al Nusra Front in Syria and sent fighters to support it. In March, they killed 47 Syrian government soldiers when they temporarily tried to seek refuge over the Iraqi border. Although Sunnis account for only 20% of the Iraqi population, they constitute the vast majority within the region and the Islamic world as a whole. Many Iraqi Sunnis believe their demands can only be achieved by a wider reorganisation of power.
Iraqi Kurds link with Turkey
In the Kurdish north, the regional government (KRG) has persistently defied the central Iraqi government over the right to sell oil. Last year Kurdish militia clashed with government forces and Al Maliki set up the Dijla (Tigris) Operational Command to enforce central military control over disputed Kurdish areas. Fuad Hussein, chief of staff for the KRG president, Massoud Barzani, said that if the present crisis deepens there is nothing to prevent it exploding into a bloodbath. In May, it emerged that the KRG had signed a secret oil deal with Turkey including the building of a pipeline to Turkey. The landlocked Kurdish region depends on Turkish roads and ports for access to Europe. As one KRG official put it, ‘Let’s be honest. Turkey is our door to the world’. At the same time, Turkey, with an annual $50bn energy import bill, is desperate to secure cheaper energy to fuel its economic expansion. There are presently around 1,000 Turkish companies operating in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
The Turkish government has long waged a dirty battle against Kurdish groups fighting for independence. But now it has reportedly reached an agreement with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by which PKK fighters will withdraw to Kurdish Iraq; a move that Al Maliki says is ‘unacceptable’. Abdullah Ocalan, PKK leader, has talked of a ‘stateless union’ between Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. In Syria, Kurds have seized control of their own villages. The Turkish foreign minister has called for the Middle East to make its ‘artificial’ borders irrelevant. These artificial borders were created by British and French imperialism when they carved up the Ottoman Empire during and after the First World War, enabling them to divide the spoils (particularly oil) and the people, regardless of ethnic and religious differences. With US imperialism’s failure to impose its ‘New World Order’ with the war on Iraq, other rising powers and the people of the region are seizing the opportunity to advance their interests. Israeli planes have attacked Syria. Shia militias from Iraq and Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon have entered the country to support the Assad regime. The machinations of the imperialists threatens to unleash a conflict that could engulf the whole region and beyond.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013