Imperialism and the Islamic State

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The Islamic State (IS) is inextricably tied to the actions of the imperialists. In FRFI 241 we argued that IS was formed as a legacy of imperialist intervention across the Middle East and beyond (see ‘Islamic State: imperialist terror’). The imperialists sponsored and funded jihadists to undermine communists, nationalists and secularists – the social and political forces which held back reactionary trends in political Islam. Countless recruits to jihadist organisations have joined to fight against brutal imperialist occupation, war and torture. It has now come to light that the IS leadership and ideology was largely forged in US prison camps in Iraq. Toby Harbertson reports.

On 11 December 2014, The Guardian’s Martin Chulov interviewed Abu Ahmed, an IS leader, who revealed how the leadership and ideas of the organisation were forged in US prison Camp Bucca in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Under the noses of the US military, key members of Al Qaeda in Iraq – including IS caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi – had the opportunity to meet, recruit, and plan the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. At least 17 of the 25 most important IS leaders spent time in US prisons in Iraq. Ahmed states: ‘If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.’

The imperialists have been responding to IS with their favourite tactic – bombs. Close to 2,000 air strikes have now been carried out by the US, Britain, France and other partners in the last six months – costing the US at least $1.2 billion. On 22 January at a conference in London to discuss the campaign, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the war ‘will neither be short nor easy’. British imperialism is playing a major role, with Defence Minister Michael Fallon explaining that the RAF has flown a ‘huge number’ of missions above Iraq, five times as many as France, and second only to the US. The focus is primarily on Iraq. The British military is sending yet more troops, numbering in ‘the low hundreds’. They will be training the Iraqi army, although some are described as ‘combat ready’. The global slump in oil prices has seriously affected Iraq’s military budget as it depends on oil for 85% of its revenue. At the London summit, the US and Britain promised to supply more weapons.

So has this war met the imperialists’ objectives? At the conference, Kerry insisted that thousands of IS militants have been killed, including a significant proportion of the leadership. He said that IS’s ‘momentum’ has been ‘halted, and in some cases reversed’. What he meant is that the campaign – largely thanks to Kurdish forces – had taken 700 square kilometres from IS in Iraq as of 22 January – around 1% of its territory in the country (Al Akhbar, 24 January). The ‘Iraq first’ strategy has allowed the contrasting situation in Syria to conveniently slip from public focus. The Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a US-linked opposition group, claims that IS have ‘almost doubled their territorial control in Syria’ in the period since the imperialist bombing campaign began.

US-led air strikes have led to the further concentration of jihadists behind the IS flag. On 9 January, 3,000 fighters aligned to the Free Syrian Army – the supposed ‘moderates’ – defected to IS close to Syria’s border with Lebanon. IS is increasingly active in Lebanon. Newly radicalised recruits continue to travel to Syria and Iraq to support IS against international assault. Despite the billions being poured into the war, IS looks like it will be around for a long time yet. Only a struggle against imperialism can destroy the conditions which continue to nurture and fuel jihadist reaction.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015

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