Iraq deteriorates as imperialist carve-up unravels

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In the aftermath of the imperialist occupation, Iraq has become ever more unstable. The Iraqi people are suffering the highest levels of bloodshed since 2008. At the end of July, at least 55 people were killed and more than 100 injured in five bomb blasts in Baghdad and elsewhere. On 28 August, at least 66 were killed in bombings and shootings, which included an attack on a military convoy. Altogether, more than 700 people were killed in July and more than 800 in August – a total of over 4,000 since April. Much of the violence has been initiated by Sunni militias, particularly the Al Qaeda affiliated group called Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and has been aimed at Shia and government targets. The Sunnis claim they are being discriminated against and denied jobs and influence by the predominantly Shia government of Nouri Al Maliki, though the aims of ISI no doubt extend beyond parity with the Shia. Shia militias and government forces have retaliated against the Sunni population such that most areas of Baghdad and elsewhere have become ever more divided along sectarian lines. Jim Craven reports.

With the central Iraqi government pre-occupied with the sectarian conflict, the Kurdish regional government (KRG) in the north has been able to take increasingly independent steps to secure oil contracts and expand economic relations with other countries. These are regarded as illegal by the Baghdad government, which claims sole rights to Iraqi oil. The central government, however, has been unable to intervene. The Iraqi army, disbanded by the invading imperialist forces, is in no state to take on the powerful Kurdish Peshmerga militias. When it tried to do so at Tuz Khurmatu last November, the Iraqi army was forced to back down.

Just four years ago, Turkey had troops massed on the Iraq border threatening to invade because of the rising independence of the Kurdish north. For decades, the Turkish government had waged a brutal campaign against the Kurdish national liberation movement within Turkey. Now, Turkey has become a major economic partner of the KRG; opening a pipeline to transport KRG oil to Turkey – oil which is crucial to Turkey’s economic expansion. Turkey has reportedly reached a peace agreement with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), whose guerrilla fighters have left the country and headed to the mountains of Iraq. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Erdogan, is hoping for Kurdish support in order to amend the Turkish constitution to allow him ten more years in office after next year’s elections.

Consequences of imperialist occupation

This situation, however, could exacerbate instability and violence in Iraq and throughout the region. The Turkish government is dragging its heels on promises to allow education in the Kurdish language and to change election rules so that Kurds can achieve parliamentary representation. A PKK leader, Cemil Bayik, warned that 1 September 2013 was the deadline for a deal and that failure to reach agreement ‘will be understood [to mean] that the aim [of the Turkish government] is not a solution’.

As well as angering the Iraqi government by its collaboration with the KRG, Turkey is a strong supporter of the anti-government forces in Syria, while Iraq supports the Assad government. Prominent among the anti-government fighters are members of ISI, while Shia militias from Iraq are reported to have joined the pro-Assad forces. About 10% of the Syrian population are Kurds, many of them denied Syrian citizenship. The Kurdish homeland was arbitrarily divided by British and French imperialists during their carve-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The Syrian Kurds have taken the opportunity presented by the civil war to seize control of their own areas in the north and east of the country – the region that contains most of Syria’s oil reserves. The Kurdish Democratic Union there is fighting, not against Assad’s forces, which are focusing on events further south, but against anti-government forces in the shape of ISI and the Al Nusra Front, who realise that control of Syria’s oil would give them a major advantage in any eventual settlement.

There is also a large Kurdish population in Iran. With the question of Kurdish independence now playing a significant role in the region it is likely that the Iranian Kurds will make their own demands. The Iranian government objected strongly to the movement of PKK fighters to a region of Iraq close to the Iranian border. Iran, of course, supports both the government of Iraq and the Assad government in Syria.

Imperialists imposed the geopolitical structure of the Middle East in their own interests over 90 years ago. Having failed to re-impose their control by the invasions of Iraq that structure is unravelling. Millions have died in the process. Many more will die as a consequence.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013