- Created: Tuesday, 27 May 2014 21:03
Parliamentary elections in Iraq this spring took place within the deepening conflict between the mainly Shia government and the Sunni Al Qaeda inspired group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since December, over 1,700 members of the Iraqi military and 4,000 civilians have been killed. ISIS now has effective control of Anbar province and other areas in the north and west. It controls the Fallujah dam and has been able to damage water supplies to Baghdad. ISIS levies taxes in cities such as Mosul and Tikrit and has held a military parade on the outskirts of Baghdad. ISIS also controls large parts of southern and eastern Syria. It is recruiting fighters from North Africa, Chechnya, Iran and Tajikistan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting ISIS. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia made a grant of $2bn to Pakistan, which has since announced that it will supply weaponry to Saudi Arabia. This is supposed to be used only for Saudi defence but most of it will find its way to Saudi-supported groups such as ISIS.
A US official announced that ‘ISIS is our enemy as well as Iraq’s and we want to continue supporting them in this fight’. In early June, the US will resume training for Iraqi elite forces that it began earlier this year. The training will take place in Jordan because the US cannot officially be involved directly in Iraqi fighting without a Status of Forces Agreement, although it has increased the size of its intelligence units in the country. The US recently announced it wants to sell warplanes, armoured vehicles and surveillance equipment worth $1bn to Iraq. These are in addition to the Apache attack helicopters it has already provided and the 36 F-16 fighters Iraq wants to buy.
Meanwhile, Al Maliki, who is seeking a third term in office, won most seats in the election but, as before, does not have a majority and must build a coalition. In 2010 the process took 10 months. This time it will be even more difficult. All the political factions cling tightly to the security institutions and patronage they control. The other main Shia groups, the followers of Moqtada al Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, together with the Kurdish parties and the largest Sunni bloc, led by speaker Osama al Nujaifi, have all said they will not co-operate. Indeed, some are threatening to form their own coalition to deny al-Maliki victory. The uncertainty and the increasing violence are deepening the problems of the Iraqi people. Food prices are rising and economic recovery is stalling.
A high-profile speech made by Tony Blair at the end of April was variously described as ‘demented’ and ‘manic’ by the British press. Blair proposed that the main problem in the Middle East was ‘a titanic struggle between those who want to embrace the modern world and those who want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity’. In Blair’s simplistic fantasy, the baddies are Islamic jihadists. Incredibly, Blair claimed that at the centre of this plot against freedom and democracy was the Muslim Brotherhood – the same Muslim Brotherhood, of course, that won elections in Egypt, only to be overthrown by a military dictatorship that has since killed at least 1,400 protestors and, according to Human Rights Watch, ‘shows zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting (people) for peacefully expressing their views’. On the other hand, amongst those wanting ‘pluralistic and open economies’, Blair included theocratic absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, who, Blair claimed, ‘promote religious tolerance and open, rule-based economics’. These despots not only control vast reserves of oil but have been willing to award lucrative contracts to Western multinationals (particularly armaments) and support imperialist interventions in the Middle East. This is what Blair means by ‘embracing the modern world’. However, the relationship is sometimes bumpy because the imperialists are expected to turn a blind eye to their vicious and corrupt rule. Blair is one of a circus of former politicians, business executives and diplomats who help to keep the merry-go-round turning smoothly by making introductions, opening doors, initiating deals and generally acting as public relations dogsbodies. In return, Blair can delude himself that he is a world statesman and at the same draw huge fees for consultancy and speeches. Blair’s friends (yes, apparently he still has some!) have described his personal wealth, quoted at £100 million, as a serious underestimate.
Meanwhile, four years after the close of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, the report remains unpublished. The Cabinet Office is refusing to de-classify exchanges between Blair and President Bush in 2002-3. Leaks from the report suggest these documents ‘challenge previous accounts of what happened’. In other words, Blair, self-styled champion of openness, and the Labour Party lied to us all.