Iraq deteriorates as imperialist carve-up unravels/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

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.

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Iraq deteriorates as imperialist carve-up unravels

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

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.

Libya: oil output collapses

The activities of militias and striking workers have reduced Libya’s oil output from 1.4m barrels a day at the start of 2013 to 200,000 barrels in August. As a consequence, Libya’s government and foreign oil companies such as Total, Eni, Marathon Oil, ConocoPhilips and Repsol are losing $100m a day in revenues. Most of Libya’s main oil export terminals were closed in early August by guards paid to protect them. Oil pipelines have been sabotaged. Now the oil multinationals are saying that they plan to sell up and leave Libya.On 17 September Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited Britain and Prime Minister David Cameron and asked for help in disposing of the mass of weapons in Libya. The United Nations Security Council warned of a ‘worrying’ increase in the movement of weapons and ammunition across Libya’s borders ‘and an increasing number of reported cases of trafficking such material to Syria’. Libya’s militias are beyond the control of the central government and were armed by such as France, Britain and Qatar to fight the Gadaffi-led government forces. Now these militias have such a glut of weapons that they are advertising them for sale on Facebook.

Trevor Rayne

Iraq war’s bloody aftermath /FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

An estimated 1,000 people were killed in May in the sectarian violence that is escalating throughout Iraq. Former Iraqi security adviser Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie warned: ‘If we go on like this we will have civil war and then partition – partition of Iraq would be as bloody as the partition of India.’ Both will have been the consequence of imperialist intervention and occupation.

While much of the violence is around Baghdad and the south of the country, it is the Kurdish north that poses the greatest immediate challenge to the unity of the country. Ignoring the central government, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has unilaterally signed oil contracts worth $20bn with over 50 companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total and the Russian Gazprom. A pipeline delivering 300,000 barrels per day from the high quality Taq Taq field to Turkey is due to open shortly. The pipeline is a joint venture by the Turkish company Genel, run by former BP boss Tony Hayward (of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill infamy) and the Chinese company Sinopec. Security at the oil field is provided by a British company using ex-special force mercenaries from South Africa.

The US government is opposed to the Kurdish ventures but China is investing widely in Iraqi oil, accepting lower profit margins and providing management and technical expertise and so gaining an advantage over western companies. Turkey, which includes a Kurdish population of around 16 million, is forging close links with the KRG. After signing a peace agreement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), guerrilla forces have reportedly left Turkey and moved to Iraq. Consequently, Turkish security forces have increased their presence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, establishing military fortifications and checkpoints. On 28 June, Turkish forces opened fire on Kurdish protestors in Lice, Diyarbakir, killing a teenager and wounding nine others. Nazif Atman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party said ‘People here feel like they are under siege. The military controls are reminiscent of war.’ Turkey hopes to make the region a special production zone.

The Kurdish homeland was divided in the carve-up of the region by British and French imperialism after the First World War. There are also millions of Kurds in Iran and Syria. The Iranian government has already objected to the transfer of PKK fighters to Iraq, fearing they will incite the Kurds in Iran, while Kurds in Syria have taken control of their own areas. The aftermath of the imperialist war on Iraq is engulfing the whole region.

Jim Craven

Iraq ‘civil war’ widens/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

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.

Iraq – 100 years of imperialist division /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

The prime minister of Iraq, Nouri Al Maliki, recently warned ‘If the Sunni opposition is victorious in Syria, there will be civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq’. His prediction was provoked by the growing, mainly Sunni, movement against Al Maliki’s government. Over 250 people were killed during January and February in attacks by Sunni groups on Shia and government targets. More than 50 were killed in 17 bomb attacks in and around Baghdad on the 10th anniversary of the invasion. In February, tens of thousands of Sunni demonstrators blocked the streets in five major cities. In Samarra, Sheik Mohammed Jumaa called for an end to ‘tyranny and oppression’, threatening: ‘You will witness what other tyrants have witnessed before’. The movement is gaining inspiration from the Sunni opposition in Syria. In March, 48 Syrian government soldiers were killed by Sunni fighters when they crossed the border into Iraq. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The war on Iraq provoked the present sectarian struggles in the region, but their roots lie in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire by British and French imperialism after the Second World War. Without regard for ethnic, regional or religious differences, the two countries drew lines in the sand of the old Mesopotamia. France took the north, including what is now Syria and Lebanon, while Britain took the south. From the outset, therefore, the area was riddled by sectarian divisions ready to be manipulated by the imperialists in order to prevent any opposition to their interests. In 1914, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later to be BP) and Royal Dutch Shell helped create what was to become the Iraq Petroleum Company. Esso (now Exxon-Mobil) and four other US companies took a quarter share in 1928. Between 1915 and 1921, British forces occupied Baghdad and Basra and annexed the oil-rich Kurdish region around Mosul. Britain created an Iraqi ‘ruling class’ from amongst the most backward landlords and tribal leaders and engineered the election of King Faisal as titular head of state. By giving these parasites huge tracts of land and providing whatever state apparatus, civil service and army was necessary, British imperialism ensured the Iraqi ‘rulers’ had few concerns beyond their individual and tribal interests.

Crushing the popular movement

Iraq received nominal independence in 1932, but British imperialism maintained its presence and grip on the country. In 1948, the Portsmouth Agreement extended British control for a further 20 years by ensuring the RAF had access to bases in Iraq and that Britain would continue to train the Iraqi army. Huge demonstrations against the agreement, led by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), were brutally suppressed by the Iraqi army. By 1958, just 1% of landowners held more than half the private land. Vast numbers of landless and rural poor were forced to seek a meagre living in the cities. The urban bourgeoisie resented the restrictions imposed by the semi-colonial economy. In that year, Iraqi army officers, supported by a massive popular uprising, overthrew the monarchy. The IPC, aiming to unite the Iraqi people across sectarian divisions, became so popular that it could not accommodate the flood of applicants. Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, warned that the situation in Iraq was ‘the most dangerous in the world’ (for the imperialists, of course). Fearing the advent of socialism, the leadership of the army coup split. An attempt was made by to assassinate General Qasim, the army leader who maintained an alliance with the popular movement. Among the plotters was a young Saddam Hussein. The Baath Party and the Iraqi police launched a campaign of terror and murder against the communists. In 1963, the Baathists overthrew the popular government and set about destroying the ICP. A list of ICP members was provided by the CIA. The Baathists, by then predominantly Sunni, brutally repressed any opposition from the majority Shia community, from the Kurds and from the Iraqi working class as a whole. The Baath dictatorship was supported by both US and British imperialism, who gave it assistance in the 1980s war against Iran. It was only when Saddam Hussein attempted to annexe oil fields on the Kuwait border that the imperialists decided he was no longer a trustworthy ally and eventually overthrew him.

Crushing opposition to the occupation

When US and British forces invaded Iraq in 2003, one of their first measures was to ban the Baath Party and dismantle the Iraqi army. Sunni militias rose in revolt against the occupation but some Shia militias, most noticeably the Mahdi Army, also fought the invaders. As anti-occupation forces gained ground, the imperialists once again played the sectarian card.

In 2004, General James Petraeus (later to become US commander and director of the CIA) was sent to train the Iraqi police force in counter-insurgency warfare. Around the same time, Colonel James Steele was sent by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to oversee the Iraqi Special Police Commando unit (SPC). Steele was a veteran of the dirty wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Steele worked alongside Colonel James Coffman. Together they channelled $8.2bn to the SPC to establish 13 interrogation and torture prisons in Baghdad. Coffman reported to Petraeus. In the summer of 2004, the US lifted the ban on Shia militias joining the Iraqi security forces. Members of the Badr Brigade, but also of the Mahdi Army, flocked to the police force, many seeking what they saw as revenge for years of Sunni oppression. In September 2005, Jabr Al Solagh, who was linked to the Badr Brigade, was appointed Minister of the Interior. The SPC units became death squads. At the height of the ensuing sectarian war in 2006, over 3,000 people were being killed every month. Many Iraqis suspected US special forces were responsible for bombings that exacerbated the sectarian hatred. A US soldier with the 69th Armoured Regiment described the situation in the torture camps as ‘like the Nazis – like the Gestapo basically’. Iraqi General Muntadher Al Samari said ‘[The US] knew everything that was going on there... the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture’. Eventually, the overwhelmed remnants of the Sunni anti-occupation forces had to seek the protection of the imperialist forces in order to avoid extermination.

Corrupt dictatorship

For the time being, the bulk of the armed resistance to the occupation was quelled, but the consequence was a rampant elite of former exiles squabbling over the pickings of the Iraqi state. Al Maliki was chosen by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to become prime minister in 2006. At the time of the invasion, an Iraqi civil servant told The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn: ‘The Iraqi exiles are the exact replica of those who currently govern us. Those who accompany the US troops will be ravenous’. A former minister recently described the Iraqi government as ‘an institutional kleptocracy’. Kadom Al Jabouri, one of those who pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003, told The Observer recently, ‘Then we had one dictator. Now we have hundreds. There’s no future... as long as the political parties running the country are in power.’

But, although in power, the Iraqi government is not in control. Not only has the Sunni opposition reignited, but the Kurdish Regional Government is increasingly taking measures independent of the central government, resulting in fighting between Kurdish militia and Iraqi government forces. There have also been Sunni attacks on the Kurds in disputed areas. The sectarian fault lines engineered by the imperialists are as wide as ever. One Iraqi leader recently warned that ‘[if not mended] the end of Iraq and the division of the country will be inevitable’.