By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
From Informed Comment:
By Lars Berger
The decision by President Obama to launch missile and air strikes against Islamic State (IS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate “Khorasan” in Syria draws the United States ever closer to yet another prolonged military confrontation in the region.
But there’s a difference this time: the participation of a coalition of Arab states, variously offering diplomatic, intelligence and military support. So far, the partner states have been named as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Jordan.
From Washington’s perspective, the importance of Arab participation is obvious: a synchronised display of high-level multinational cooperation is clearly meant to head off the usual criticism of the often unilateral nature of US foreign policies.
This is of particular importance for President Obama, who has invested considerable capital over the years in distancing himself from the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
As he put it in his brief statement announcing the strikes: “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
The White House clearly hopes that the participation of Arab partners will undermine that radical Islamist narrative of “the West versus Islam”, and instead reframe the conflict as another chapter in the decades-old struggle between the vast moderate Muslim majority and a tiny minority of radicals.
But aside from these explicit American goals, Obama’s new Arab partners have interests of their own.
Regional rivals: Saudi and Qatar
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia can hope to shift attention away from the criticism for their attitude to Islamist extremism. Over the years, they have been charged not only with supporting radical Islamists in Syria, but also with allowing their religious elites to propagate a version of Islam that is open to easy manipulation at the hands of radical jihadist recruiters.
Both countries will also hope that weakening the radical Islamists of IS will help moderate elements of the Syrian opposition regain the initiative against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some among the elites of Riyadh and Doha might even be hoping Washington will realise the threat of IS will never be extinguished while Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains in place – and that Obama will see the job is finished.
Finally, Saudi Arabia in particular clearly has to be concerned with preventing the success of an organisation which aims to establish the perfect “Islamic state”.
IS’s claim to ultimate leadership of the world’s Muslim community as put forward by its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is a direct challenge to the Saudi claim for global religious leadership based on King Abdullah’s role as “custodian of the two holy places” in Mecca and Medina.
Saudi authorities are fully aware that al-Baghdadi’s radical Islamist fringe project has attracted followers from Saudi Arabia, with recent estimates putting the number at up to one thousand.
As Nawaf Obaid and Saud al-Sarhan have pointed out, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target for any “serious” radical Islamist organisation, whether IS now or al-Qaeda in years past.
Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (which consists not just of Yemeni Islamists, but also Saudi Islamists), driven out by Saudi counterterrorism measures over the last decade, is now beginning to mutter words of approval and support toward IS, and Riyadh will be deeply concerned about the spectre of being engulfed in an arc of Islamist instability to its south and north. Read the rest of this entry »
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An advance upon the traditional Trotskyist anti-fascist ‘Proletarian Military Policy’.
From the USFI’s International Viewpoint:
Why Danish leftists supported military aid to Iraq
Monday 15 September 2014, by
Danish socialists voting for a parliamentary decision to send a military plane to Iraq under US command is not usual. Even more unusual is the fact that I – considering myself a revolutionary Marxist – voted to support that decision. Nevertheless, that is what happened a few weeks ago.
The parliamentary group of the Red-Green Alliance (RGA – Enhedslisten) voted together with all out parties for sending a Hercules airplane to Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. The plane will transport weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
According to the statutes of the RGA such a vote in parliament has to be approved by the National Leadership (NL) of the party. A thorough discussion took place a few days before the vote in parliament, which was also before the exact wording of the proposal was known. The National Leadership voted instead on a resolution, allowing the parliamentary group to vote Yes under certain conditions. Almost all NL-members had some kind of doubts before voting, but finally the text was adopted by a majority of 14 for – myself included – to 6 against, and 5 not voting or not present.
Many valid arguments were put forward against the decision. Most basic was the problem of supporting a military action under the command of the US. The US government and military defend the interests of US big business and imperialism, both in the narrow sense of gaining access to resources, markets and profits, and in the more general sense of geopolitical dominance.
US imperialism is the basic reasons for the sectarian fighting in the region – due to the previous Iraqi wars, and specifically US imperialism has a big part of the responsibility for the existence of IS. Some of their close allies have been funding ISIS, and Turkey – without any objection from Washington – has allowed ISIS to operate across Turkish borders.
Finally, Denmark has had three very bad experiences of participating in US-led warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Everyone in the RGA leadership and the parliamentary group was aware of all this. But the decision was based on a concrete analysis of the situation in area. US imperialism created ISIS and allowed it to grow to a certain point. But it grew too much and became militarily too strong and dangerous for US interests – exactly as happened with the Taliban. So at the moment US imperialism wants to stop IS.
I don’t think that much argument is needed to back the fact that revolutionary socialists also want to fight and stop IS, a murderous, sectarian and deeply reactionary force. A victory for IS will set back any social, democratic, pro-women or anti-imperialist development that may have taken place in parts of Syria and Iraq.
In that way there is a temporary coincidence of interests between imperialism and socialists on the simple issue of fighting IS. We want to supply the Kurds with weapons, and US imperialism want to supply the Kurds with weapons – for the time being. Not supporting it, only because of the US command, would be as if Lenin had refused to travel in the sealed train supplied by German imperialism through imperialist Germany to Russia in the middle of the Russian revolution, as another NL-member said.
But don’t we risk being a part of a broader US military campaign that has quite other intentions than we have, and which will do much harm to the people of the region? That was another argument against the decision. No one will deny that this can happen, also with the acceptance of the Danish government. But – in accordance with the resolution of the National Leadership – our MPs made sure:
that the Danish Hercules plane cannot be used for any other purpose than delivering arms to the forces fighting IS;
that this decision does not allow any other Danish military activity in the region;
that whatever happens, a new parliament decision is necessary if the government wants to prolong the activity of the airplane after 1 January 2015
Counting as an argument against the decision was also doubts about who exactly will receive the arms. No one in the RGA was keen to supply this government with weapons, to say the least. But in the formal language of the parliamentary decision it was called an action for the Iraqi government and other forces fighting IS.
The National Leadership was assured and convinced that this was necessary for the decision to be in accordance with International Law – only governments can receive military help from other governments. Secondly the Iraqi army is not lacking weapons, and Eastern European weapons would be of no use for them. Thirdly the Iraqi army is practically not fighting IS at all.
That still leaves the question if the most progressive Kurdish forces, Turkish PKK and its Iraqi counterpart, YPG, actually will receive the weapons, or if the regional Kurdish government in Iraq will monopolise them. This government traditionally is in conflict with the PKK/YPG, and it is pursuing a strict neo-liberal policy in the areas that it controls.
There is really no telling exactly who will get how big a share of the weapons. But all the Kurdish forces have established a common military front to fight ISIS. There is evidence that they are actually sharing weapons, and the PKK/YPG is doing most of the effective fighting.
Confronted with relevant arguments against and without any 100 % guaranties of the outcome, I and the majority of the committee voted for the resolution allowing the MPs to vote Yes in Parliament. What tipped the balance between Yes and No for many of us, was the fact that all the progressive Kurdish forces, including socialists, in the region plus all the Kurdish organisations in Denmark, including several RGA-members, not only advised us to vote for, but begged us not to oppose the decision. They were sure that such a decision will most likely result in weapons for the PKK/YPG, a necessary strengthening not only of the fight against IS, but also a strengthening of the progressive forces in the region.
As a follow up to the decision the RGA have taken other initiatives to stop military and financial supply for IS, to popularise the fight for the Kurdish peoples’ right to self-determination and to have the PKK removed from the US and the EU list of so-called terror organisations. A special Danish aspect is the fact that the TV-station of Kurds for all Europe was based in Denmark until it was recently banned, and 10 people from the Kurdish community face trial for collecting money for organisations that – according to the police – transfer the money to PKK.
When the first shipment of weapons to the PKK/YPG by a Danish airplane under US command has taken place, it will be hard for the authorities to explain that they are supporting a terror organisation.
H/t: Comrade Coatesy
Above: Fisk says ‘apocalyptic’ talk is “childish”
An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Yazidis driven onto Mount Sinjar to escape genocide; 130,000 other Yazadis fleeing to Kurdistan or Irbil; 100,000 Assyrian Christians in flight for their lives; 20,000 Shia Turkmen residents of Amerli besieged for two months and at risk of massacre and/or starvation; countless women and girls kidnapped, raped and sold into slavery; massacres, beheadings, crucifictions, forced conversions …
… I’d say that was a pretty apocalyptic picture, warranting strong action by those of us who care about human rights and democracy.
But for The Independent‘s Robert Fisk, not only is strong action unwarranted: even strong language is to be deplored.
Yesterday, Fisk’s characteristic combination of sneering and preaching was directed at Obama’s use of language:
‘Foley’s murder [has been turned] into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate” . And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President/ A battle on strictly religious terms … Yes Barak Obama … informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West's] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that any serious commentator on Isis would have more important things to fulminate about than Obama’s use of language? Never mind the fact that Fisk’s interpretation of what Obama said and the comparison with Bush’s use of the word “crusade” is plainly nonsense, and even Fisk himself goes on to admit as much in his next paragraph. So what point, exactly, is this so-called “expert” on Middle Eastern affairs trying to make? Who knows, except that it’s all “our” (ie the West’s, the US’s, Britians’s, Europe’s, etc, etc) fault, perhapd because of “our” use of language. But cutting through Fisk’s verbose waffle is a difficult task, and I for one actually prefer the straightforward ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ western self-hatred of, say, Seumas Milne, and the Stop The War Coalition’s simple formula that everything’s the fault of the ‘West’.
And Fisk’s linguistic concerns continue: in today’s Indepenedent he once again deplores the Yanks’ use of strong language when describing Isis/Islamic State:
‘”Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”
6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).
A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar
The organisers say:
“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism
“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”
Other sponsoring organisations
Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708
Short notice, I know, but readers in or near London should make every effort to attend:
Organised by the Kurdish People’s Assembly UK
On Saturday the 16 of August, a large demonstration will take place in central London calling for urgent action to protect the people of Sinjar and the surrounding region from attacks by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
ISIS represent a new and unprecedented threat to the lives and way of life of millions of people in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, this is a threat we in the West cannot afford to ignore since it could potentially jeopardise our own national security.
The demonstrators will be calling on the UK government to make more effort in assisting the Yezidi people and put diplomatic pressure on states such as Turkey and Qatar for their policy of supporting jihadism in the region.
ISIS linked terrorists are carrying out a wholesale massacre against the Kurdish people and other ethnic and religious groups including members of the Shia, Sufi, Christian and Yezidi communities.
In the meantime, thousands of Yezidi Kurds are still stranded in the Jabal Mountains area of Sengal and with temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius during the day, the civilians are suffering from thirst and hunger whilst living under the constant threat of extermination.
We at Quilliam believe such a demonstration is vital at this critical juncture because, unopposed, ISIS will continue to take territory, kill innocent civilians, take women as slaves and create conditions in which many children will die of starvation.
Quilliam Chairman Maajid Nawaz said:
“I hope as many people as possible turn up in order to express the outrage we all feel towards ISIS and their barbaric actions. I also hope our government does all it can to support the victims of ISIS as well as those on the ground who are fighting against them.”
Date and time: Saturday 16 August 2014, 13:00
Venue: Gathering at BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, W1A 1AA; marching towards the US embassy and later to Marble Arch
Organised by: The Kurdish People’s Assembly UK.
For more information or media inquiries contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07540 156019
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As ever, with a reblogged article, please do not assume that all of us at Shiraz agree with all the contents of this piece, which first appeared on the Australian GreenLeft discussion group:
Above: the US Answer anti-war coalition last year on Syria: what do they say now?
“Anti-imperialists” protesting US war on Iraq?
By Michael Karadjis
For days now, the US military has been launching air strikes against the reactionary Sunni-fascist group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS, or just IS now) in Iraq. Yet, strangely, not only have I not seen any evidence of anti-war demonstrations, or organising for them, I have also not seen the entire faux-“left” cybersphere full of fulminating attacks on US imperialist intervention, with everyone repeating and slightly re-wording the same half-baked, evidence-free article, like we saw last August during the alleged build-up to an entirely imaginary US attack on the reactionary, secular-fascist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
The geopolitics is of course interesting. While the Syrian regime of Assad barely fired a shot at ISIS for an entire year (and vice versa), and instead both focused on crushing the Free Syrian Army (FSA, and its more moderate Islamist allies, and also Jabhat al-Nusra), often even directly and blatantly collaborating against the FSA, and in oil deals, and “the West”, forever refusing to send even a bullet to the FSA under the bullshit rubric that such arms “might get into the hands of extremists”, even though for the whole year, the only force in the entire region (apart from the Kurds) that were actually fighting ISIS (the worst extremists) were the FSA and its allies (and indeed are still furiously resisting ISIS in Syria right now); well now that the US is bombing ISIS, and bolstering and arming Assad’s ally, the sectarian-Shia regime of Maliki, so now the Assad regime and ISIS have also FINALLY come to blows! What an amazing coincidence!
Anyway, let’s try to figure out some differences for anti-war western leftists.
Perhaps we should only oppose US interventions when they are just a figment of our imaginations, as opposed to ones that are actually happening in our face.
Perhaps we should only oppose imaginary US interventions when the US shows that it is impossible to intervene without going around in a whole lot of circles like countless committee meetings, taking a war proposal to Congress for the first time in half a century etc, whereas when the US shows that you can order air strikes without all that pretense, then it is OK.
Perhaps it should depend on the degree of imaginary “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary tyrants under real or imaginary US attack. So apparently, since the Syrian Baath regime has collaborated with US imperialism for decades, right up to the rendition and torture program of “terror” suspects on behalf of the US in very recent times, and slaughtered Palestinians and their camps and organisations and militants with a passion rivalling the Zionist regime, we should defend such a well-intentioned regime, whereas a regime like ISIS which is totally, fundamentally anti-imperialist to the core (I don’t use that as a compliment, rather it is a neutral statement), then we should not oppose a US attack.
Perhaps we should look at who has done the most slaughtering. Both of course are monstrous tyrants to the core and neither has any redeeming feature whatsoever. But since ISIS has probably killed several thousand, and Assad has pretty much levelled every city in Syria, turned the whole country to rubble, killed over 100,000 people to be generous, tortured tens of thousands to death in medieval dungeons, bombed hospitals and schools with a fury rivalling Israel in Gaza, and at that very time, last August, had bombed hundreds of children in their sleep with chemical weapons, of course we should defend only Assad, not ISIS.
Perhaps someone could offer some other suggestions.
This is so desperately sad that I thought twice about publishing it. But it’s important to be aware of the immediate human consequences of young men being seduced by a fascist ideology – especially as some idiots seem to wilfully misunderstand what’s going on.
From the Daily Telegraph:
By Tom Whitehead
Young British jihadist Reyaad Khan was told he was “killing his parents” and had turned them against Islam, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
His uncle texted the fanatic pleading with him to come home because he was tearing his family apart.
The stark message also warned Khan that his father would “pray he went to hell” if he did not come home.
The desperate attempts to get Khan back emerged as his mother Rukia made an emotional plea to her son to come home.
She also pleaded directly to terror group Isis to send her son back to her before she “died”.
Khan’s family said they were in shock when they discovered he had gone to Syria and believe he has been “brainwashed” by extremists, either over the internet or in Cardiff
He disappeared in November after telling his family he was going to Birmingham for talks.
He phoned his uncle, who asked not to be named, to reveal he was actually in Syria and asked him to “tell his mother”.
The uncle then embarked on a series of text message exchanges trying to persuade his nephew to return.
In one, he wrote: “I must let you know that you are killing your parents with worry and stress to the level that they hate Islam.
“Blame Islam for their son.”
He told him that his father had said “If you do not come back he prays for you to go to hell.
“Your dad curses you in a way you would not believe and hates the mosques.”
But Khan simply replied: “I’m fine. No reception, I cannot speak.”
The uncle told the Telegraph: “I was shocked and told him he should be here. I said to come back home now. I said ‘come home, you will kill your mother’.”
The uncle said he could not tell Khan’s mother at first “because she would have collapsed”.
She was devastated by the news and was “acting mad and screaming”, he said. “She was blaming everyone.”
In her own tearful appeal, Mrs Khan said: “Reyaad, please come back home. I’m dying for you. You’re my only son. Please come back Reyaad.”
She also begged Isis: “Please send my son back home. He is my one and only son. I and my family need him back. Please just send my son back to me before I die and it is going to be too late for Reyaad, he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life.
“Please send my son back to me and his family. We all need him.”
She told Sky News: “He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever have or want.
“I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don’t know who it is but there is someone behind them keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people. There is someone behind them, I don’t know who.”
The mother said the actions of her 20-year-old son had hugely impacted on her family.
“It is absolutely devastating. It has turned our lives upside down. I can’t sleep or eat, I am very ill,” she said.
Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck.
The following article, by Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty, carries weight because it is largely based upon interviews with representatives of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan. It first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:
On Wednesday 11 June, the Al-Qaeda-oriented Sunni Islamist group ISIS seized control of Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul.
It has taken several other cities in the Sunni-majority north and west. Before 11 June it already had control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, and of significant areas in Syria.
Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq told Solidarity:
“What’s going on now with ISIS is a new phase of the sectarian violence which reached its peak in 2006-7 with the bombings in Samarra”.
That simmering sectarian civil war died down in 2007-8 and after. But, said Nadia: “After the Arab Spring [in 2011], the Sunni [minority in Arab Iraq] became more assertive.
“In 2013, [Iraq's Shia-Islamist prime minister] Maliki ended the [peaceful, and not sharply Islamist] protest camps outside the roads to Fallujah and ignored their demands.
“Now in 2014, after the election two months ago, Maliki wants to stay in power and has marginalised even the other Shia parties.
“Because of the sectarian nature of the government, this sort of violence will happen again and again. Socialists need to call for a secular state.
“The left and the labour movement in Iraq are not powerful right now, so first of all we need a secular state without religious identity which will give us ground to build. The target now is to end the sectarian nature of the state”.
Some of the roots of this collapse of the Iraqi state lie in what the USA did after invading in 2003. It disbanded much of the Iraqi state machine, including low-ranking people, and promoted “de-Baathification”.
At first the USA hoped that pro-US and relatively secular people like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi would create a pro-US Iraqi government. But those neo-liberals turned out to be good at schmoozing US officials while in exile, hopeless at winning support from Iraqis in Iraq.
Amid the chaos and rancour which followed the invasion and the destruction of everyday governance, the mosques and the Islamist factions won hegemony.
The US adapted and worked with people like Maliki. As Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan told Solidarity: “The Americans made a political system that depended on balancing three ethnic and sectarian identities.
“Iraq had been a modern society, with sectarian divisions not so deep. These events are the product of the new system America brought to Iraq. Especially with other powers like Turkey and Iran intervening, seeking their allies within the Iraqi system, it has been a disaster”. Now Saudi Arabia has seized on the current crisis to call for the fall of Maliki and his replacement by “a government of national consensus”.
Nadia Mahmood explained: “I think some of the Ba’thists saw the de-Ba’thification policy as targeting Sunnis more than Ba’thists. In fact there were Shia Ba’thists who held powerful positions in the state, and they were protected because they were Shia.
“So the Sunni Ba’athists went to the Sunni side and the Islamist side, not the Ba’thist side. They held to their religious identity”.
According to Aso Kamal, Maliki’s government is seen as a Shia government, and that rallies groups like ISIS and ex-Ba’thists against it.
For us in Workers’ Liberty, the horrible events confirm the arguments we made during the previous simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq (especially 2006-7) for slogans of support for the Iraqi labour movement and democracy against both the US forces and the sectarian militias, not the negative slogan “troops out”. The two-word recipe “troops out” then certainly entailed a sectarian collapse like this one, only worse. Now it is happening, even those who previously most ardently insisted that anti-Americanism must be the first step, and everything else could be be sorted out later, dare not hail the ISIS advance and the Shia counter-mobilisation as “liberation” or “anti-imperialism”.
Of course, rejecting the slogan “troops out” did not mean supporting the US, any more than being dismayed at the ISIS advance means endorsing Maliki.
The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army as the relatively small ISIS force advanced shows how corrupt and discredited the state has become.
Nadia Mahmood explained: “Soldiers from Mosul were saying that even when ISIS were still far away from the city, the leaders of the army took off their military clothes and left the soldiers. The Mayor of Mosul told the soldiers to leave. Some of the soldiers are saying that there was a deal”.
The knock-on effect of the ISIS victories is a sharpening on the other side of Shia sectarianism. As Nadia Mahmood says: “Now the Shia political parties are becoming closer to each other and calling for resistance. There is a sectarian agenda against the Sunni”. Aso Kamal adds: “Sistani and Maliki are also calling for a holy war. This is taking Iraq back centuries. It could become like Somalia. That will destroy the working class. It is a very dark scenario”.
Workers’ Liberty believes that defence of the labour movement in Iraq, which will be crushed wherever ISIS rules and in grave danger where the Shia Islamists are mobilising, should be a main slogan now, alongside the call for a secular state.
“ISIS”, says Aso Kamal, “have announced what they are going to do. Women must stay at home. Nothing must be taught in schools outside the Quran. There will be no freedom of speech. They are like the Taliban”.
“I’m not sure how ISIS came to Iraq”, says Nadia Mahmood, “and whether they are popular even amongst Sunnis. Maybe they are allied with the Ba’thists. But are there more Sunnis supporting them? Many Sunnis seem very scared and oppose ISIS.
“It is horrible what is going on”. But, now they have power and access to big arsenals, “ISIS may keep hold of the Sunni cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit, for some time. It’s obviously not the same for Baghdad.
“Bringing in Iranian groups to fight ISIS will only encourage sectarian discourse and maybe accelerate Shia-Sunni polarisation. Already Maliki is accused by ISIS, and by the Ba’thists, of being an Iranian agent. Whether Iranian intervention calms the situation or it worsens it is unclear.
“Many people in Iraq would prefer the United States to attack ISIS. They have come all the way from Mosul to 60km outside Baghdad, killing in their wake. I don’t know if they stay longer how many crimes they will commit, how many tragedies are going to happen. People in Baghdad feel very scared now”.
That doesn’t mean endorsing US bombing. The US’s 12 years of bombing in Afghanistan have not installed a secular state, but rebuilt a base for the once-discredited Taliban.
As Aso Kamal explains: “The Americans have a common front against ISIS now. But the Americans are playing with both sides. They do whatever they think will stabilise the region and the markets, and ignore the future of the people. In reality, they are supporting reactionary forces in Iraq.
“The effect of the developing sectarian war will be to inflame nationalism in Kurdistan. Already the KDP and the PUK [the main parties] are asking people to support them in order to keep the territory which Kurdish forces have conquered”.
For the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, “the main issue is to keep Kurdistan separate from this war. We say there should be a referendum and independence for [Iraqi] Kurdistan”.
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