IRAQ: US supports attacks on Sunni opposition

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

At the turn of the year, Iraqi government forces launched attacks against centres of Sunni opposition in Anbar province. In Ramadi they destroyed a Sunni protest camp and arrested Ahmad Al Awani, a Sunni MP. Al Awani’s brother and five guards were killed, together with a further 11 people. In Fallujah, 15 Iraqi soldiers were killed in initial clashes. The leading force in the Sunni uprising, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), took control of police stations, burnt military vehicles and captured 75 Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqi government attacked with air strikes and artillery, claiming to have killed 60 ISIS fighters. Indiscriminate mortar fire in civilian areas was reported, forcing more than 10,000 people to flee the city. Clashes were also reported in Abu Ghraib and Baghdad. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The US strongly backed the assault. Secretary of State John Kerry said it will do ‘everything that is possible’ to assist Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. The US provided intelligence and sent 75 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. The Obama administration is also sending Scan Eagle observation drones and pressing for the release of a fleet of Apache attack helicopters, which, together with F16 warplanes, Al Maliki has been wanting for some time. Some US officials have suggested using armed drones operated by the CIA, though this is unlikely to be accepted by Al Maliki. For the time being, at least, the US is adamant that it will not send in ground forces.

Kerry described ISIS as ‘the most dangerous players in the region’. The Al Qaeda-linked organisation has been chiefly responsible for the wave of bombings and shootings that has plunged Iraq into the worst violence suffered there since 2008. Last year, over 9,000 people were killed. ISIS is also fighting against the Assad government in Syria and holds large parts of the country in the north around Aleppo and the Al Omar oil field. For ISIS, the two areas of conflict are part of one struggle, with Iraqi fighters in Syria and Syrians fighting in Fallujah. The US is demanding that the Syrian government forces stop bombing around Aleppo but supports air strikes by Iraqi state forces against the very same people in Fallujah.

Rise of Al Qaeda

In 2011, the Pentagon estimated there were no more than 800 to 1,000 Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq: now, there are many more. The reasons why so many young Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere choose to join such organisations must, of course, be as various as the individual recruits. One over-arching factor, however, is that other pathways of protest and resistance to the poverty and violence they suffer have been blocked by the very forces that exploit and humiliate them – the imperialists and the submissive regimes that serve them. The monstrous imperialist invasion of Iraq has generated a monstrous response; this has happened in the absence of a working class and socialist movement.

Among the first decrees of the Provisional Authority (PA) after the occupation of Iraq in 2003 was to disband the Iraqi army and forbid anyone closely associated with the (mainly Sunni) Ba’ath Party from holding state jobs, thus immediately robbing more than a million families of their livelihood. The PA, however, maintained Saddam’s laws banning trade unions and industrial action. Al Maliki, who had the personal backing of then US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, seized several top government posts and established a corrupt regime based on sectarianism and patronage. In a country where most jobs are with state organisations and where you need either big bribes or contacts in high places to get them, ordinary Sunnis stood little chance of secure work or promotion. In 2011, Al Maliki forced the Sunni vice-president Tariq Al Hashemi to flee for his life and a year later arrested his Sunni deputy and finance minister Rafia Al Issawi. Al Maliki’s US-trained ‘counter-terrorist’ units continued to arbitrarily arrest or assassinate huge numbers of young Sunnis. Last April, Al Maliki’s forces killed 53 peaceful demonstrators in Hawija. For many it was the last straw and they joined the armed resistance.

The recent history of Iraq, however, is just one episode in the longer story of imperialism’s determination throughout the Middle East and other Muslim countries to destroy any movement that does not conform to its interests. From the British and French carve-up of Mesopotamia and the imposition of arbitrary frontiers and puppet rulers to the subversion of progressive governments such as those of Mossedegh in Iran and Nasser in Egypt; from support for autocratic and corrupt regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Mubarak’s Egypt to turning a blind eye to the ousting of democratic Muslim governments in Algeria and Egypt; from unrelenting support for Zionist crimes to the blockade of the elected Hamas administration in Palestine; from the sponsorship of jihadist warlords against the 1980s communist government in Afghanistan to the dismantling of the 100,000 strong Iraqi communist party and the slaughter of over half a million communists in Indonesia.

British troops and Labour ministers accused of war crimes

A 250-page dossier on torture by British forces in Iraq has been submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The document draws on ‘thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ made by more than 400 Iraqis. They include cases of burning, electric shock, threats to kill or rape, hooding, sexual assault, mock executions and cultural and religious humiliation. Many of these forms of torture were used against Irish republicans, but were supposedly banned in 1972. The ICC has already acknowledged that there is little doubt that war crimes were committed by British forces in Iraq but refused an investigation on the grounds that only 20 cases had been submitted. The new document greatly surpasses the threshold required but many observers are concerned that the ICC is unwilling to act on cases of imperialist war crimes, preferring to concentrate on those that suit the propaganda of the Western nations. The dossier implicates ‘individuals at the highest levels’ and concludes the evidence ‘justifies further investigation’ into the criminal responsibility ‘of senior individuals within the UK military and government’. Among those named in the report are Geoff Hoon, former Labour defence secretary, Adam Ingram, former Labour armed forces minister and General Sir Peter Wall, head of British military operations in Iraq 2003-2005. So far, only a handful of courts martial have been held into torture and abuse by the British military, resulting in just one prosecution.