Iraq Imperialists fan the flames of sectarian violence

FRFI 190 April / May 2006

In a major speech last autumn President Bush described the establishment of democratic elections as a ‘moral imperative’ of US policy in the Middle East. What he intended, of course, was that such elections would legitimise the imposition of puppet governments sympathetic to US concerns. But the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian election and the continuing difficulties in forming a government following the Iraqi elections are forcing a reassessment of the policy and adding weight to those in the imperialist camp who would prefer to divide and rule through naked military power. JIM CRAVEN reports.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post the leading US neo-con and arch Zionist Daniel Pipes said ‘The bombing on 22 February of the Askariya shrine in Samarra was a tragedy but it was not an American or a coalition tragedy. When Sunni terrorists target Shi’ites and vice-versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt. Civil war, in short, would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one. Civil war will terminate the dream of Iraq serving as a model for other Middle Eastern countries, thus delaying the push towards elections. This would have the effect of keeping Islamists from being legitimated by the popular vote, as Hamas was just a month ago’. Pipes also welcomed the fact that civil war ‘would likely invite Syrian and Iranian participation hastening the possibility of confrontation with these two states’. Pipes was updating a scenario first elaborated by other influential neo-cons such as David Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith in 1997.

Fanning the flames
The destruction of the Shia Askariya shrine sparked a new wave of sectarian violence. Some sources claim over 1,300 were killed. Many were Sunni victims of reprisals by the Shia militias. They included 47 men who were taken from their vehicles and shot and a group of teenagers who were shot while they played football. John Pace, head of the UN human rights commission, said up to three-quarters of all bodies in the Baghdad mortuary had been executed or showed signs of torture by death squads.

The imperialists have tried to use these events for their own purpose, to distract from the over-riding culpability of the occupation and legitimise it as the only means of maintaining some form of order in what they would have us believe is a country on the brink of internecine implosion. US Ambassador in Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad claimed Iraq was ‘on the brink of civil war’. US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, in line with the neo-con strategy, said the US would not interfere if civil war was to break out.

There is evidence that the imperialists have not only tolerated but also provoked the sectarian violence. Reports from the Iraqi resistance stated that (not for the first time) US and British forces withdrew to their bases or stood by and watched as the carnage took place. On 9 March three British soldiers disguised as Iraqis were discovered by Iraqi police trying to plant a bomb outside the headquarters of the Sunni Islamic Party of Iraq. A similar event had been reported last September when British troops were arrested in Basra while trying to plant a bomb at a Shia shrine.

Bush blamed the upsurge in violence on Iran and said the Iraqi people had the choice between ‘unity and chaos’. In fact, the Iraqi people are remarkably united against the imperialist occupation. A poll carried out for the British Ministry of Defence found 82% of the Iraqi population were ‘strongly opposed’ to the presence of imperialist troops. Another survey for the Brookings Institute in Washington found that 80% of Iraqis favoured US troop withdrawals in the near term. Following the attack on the Askariya mosque Shia leaders rallied to maintain Iraqi unity. Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said that those who bombed the shrine ‘do not represent the Sunnis in Iraq’. Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to refrain from harming fellow Muslims and Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, called for a halt to the divisions.

Occupiers cannot secure their puppet government

In the elections, the party of Iyad Allawi, the man favoured by the imperialists, fared badly and Allawi is now being opposed for any role in the new government by supporters of Moqtada Al Sadr. The Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the leading group in the new parliament, has chosen Ibrahim Al Jafaari, the standing prime minister, as their candidate for that post in the new government, ahead of the imperialist’s preferred man Adel Abdal Mahdi, a member of SCIRI, the biggest group within the UIA. In response SCIRI is demanding that it should retain control of the key interior and defence ministries. Under its control, the Badr militias attached to SCIRI have carried out brutal abductions, torture and murder, particularly of Sunnis suspected of being active in the resistance. While the imperialist forces have been happy to encourage these atrocities as a means of dividing the resistance, they would need a strong Sunni presence in any puppet government able to isolate the resistance and create the conditions for troop withdrawals. Consequently, never slow to interfere in the ‘democratic process’ when it’s not going the imperialists’ way, Foreign Minister Jack Straw has called for the interior and defence ministries to be ‘in the hands of competent people, probably technocrats’, while US Ambassador Khalilzad demanded that the ministries should not be in the hands of sectarians and threatened to cut off US aid to Iraq if Shias dominated the new government. It is already over three months since the elections and there is no sign that an agreed government will emerge before the summer. Little wonder that there is confusion in the imperialist camp about what strategy to take.

British military favours imperial counter-insurgency tactics

These uncertainties in tactics and strategy must be severely testing the imperialists’ unity. An article by British Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster in the November/December US Military Review severely criticised the US army’s strategy in the occupation of Iraq. He said that the US failed to realise ‘that all military activity is subordinate to political intent, and must be attuned accordingly: mere destruction of the enemy is not enough’. Drawing on the vast experience of British imperialist counter-insurgency operations in places such as Malaya, Kenya and Ireland, Aylwin-Foster said that an occupying army must drive a wedge between ‘insurgents’ and their base in the rest of the population. Rather than treating the population as an obstacle to be cleared out of the way, the occupying forces must interact with the people, gathering HUMINT (human intelligence), ‘winning hearts and minds’ and being acutely aware of cultural differences. As if to prove Aylwin-Foster’s point, the Governor of Karbala Province cut off all co-operation with US forces in February when they used sniffer dogs to search local houses.

However, despite attempts by the media to show British troops in a different light, they have been just as brutal as the US forces. A video broadcast in February showed British troops in Amarah beating up young Iraqi protesters. The callous commentary to the video and the casual attitude of other troops passing by indicated that such beatings are not unusual events. Following the incident two provincial Iraqi councils ended co-operation with British troops. In a demonstration against the beatings at Amarah, two British troops were killed and others stoned by the local population.

British forces under stress
Britain has announced a small reduction in the number of its troops in Iraq, but this has more to do with the army being over-stretched, given its increased commitment in Afghanistan, rather than any improvement in the security situation. By the beginning of March, 103 British troops had died in Iraq. Approximately 230 were being treated for combat injuries in British army hospitals, including 40 for serious injuries such as loss of limbs and brain injuries. At least 1,333 service men and women have returned from Iraq with serious psychiatric problems. Families of dead servicemen in Britain, many of whom now oppose the war, say that Blair ignores them. The number of US troops killed in Iraq was 2,290 at the beginning of March. Bush has imposed a ban on the photography of coffins returning to the United States. The Pentagon has confirmed reports that it pays for favourable Iraq news stories to be published and broadcast. Donald Rumsfeld in typically cynical double-speak called it ‘non-traditional means to provide accurate information’.

Problems mount for imperialists throughout Middle East
Having hounded Syria as part of the ‘axis of evil’, the US has now had to make a deal with the Syrians. In return for arresting over 8,000 supporters of the Iraqi resistance and for using their influence to prevent the forces of Moqtada Al Sadr from uniting with the Sunni resistance, the US has agreed to ease up on the investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Syrian agents are accused of murdering the ex-prime minister of Lebanon. The US, Britain and France were threatening sanctions if the perpetrators were not brought to trial. A major suspect in the inquiry, Syrian secret policeman Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, has been released by a French court.

Iran shows no signs of giving way to US and British threats over its nuclear programme. The matter is now with the UN Security Council but US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has reiterated Bush’s assertion that all options, including the threat of military action, remain on the table. Indeed, the US has been secretly moving massive numbers of bombs into Afghanistan, probably ready for use against Iran.

In Afghanistan US forces suffered more casualties last year then in any since the invasion. The Taliban and other resistance fighters control large areas of the country and the puppet government of Hamid Karzai is barely hanging on. The British armed forces in Afghanistan are to be raised from 850 to 3,300 by late summer. A British officer said ‘Man for man, the Americans consider this is now a more dangerous operation than Iraq’. They will be supported by eight Apache attack helicopters, 10 other helicopters, a battery of high-tech 105mm guns, a battery of Desert Hawk drones and four Hercules aircraft. Their base, Camp Bastion, will be the biggest British military base since the Second World War, suggesting it is intended to house even greater forces there in the future. Alongside it the US has built another $50 million base for Afghan government forces to be trained by the British.

One of the main tasks of the British will be to cut off supplies and reinforcements for the resistance forces coming from over the border in Pakistan. However, the stability of Pakistan itself is under threat. Waves of mass demonstrations have hit the country over the past few weeks. The underlying causes of the discontent are the policies of President Musharraf, nicknamed Busharraf for his pro-western stance. If Musharraf falls he is likely to be replaced by a regime far more sympathetic both to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the resistance fighters in Iraq.

Preparing for global war
No matter what difficulties the US imperialists face they cannot afford failure in the Middle East for it would be a major blow to their global strategy of maintaining economic and political domination through massive military superiority. Consequently they continue to tool up for more and more wars. The Bush administration’s new budget, proposed at the beginning of February, gives $439 billion to the Pentagon, up 6.9% on last year. On top of this is $120 billion in ‘emergency funds’ for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The National Security Strategy declared that the US military will be ‘strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the US’. The Labour government, keen to defend the interests of British imperialism, will continue to ride on the back of this death machine.


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