Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The truth about Iraq’s liberation

US air strikes on Iraq are part of a criminal scheme to safeguard western control of the country’s oil, writes Dahlia Wasfi

Al-Ahram Weekly

In March 2003, the US military began an aggressive bombing campaign against Iraq’s major cities for the alleged purpose of liberating the Iraqi people. Of course, “liberation” was the explanation of choice after allegations of Iraqi ties to the events of 9/11 and the claims of weapons of mass destruction were called into question.

The US/UK-led war that followed was inspired by the so-called shock and awe military doctrine. The strategy was authored by two Americans, Harlan Ullman and James Wade. Its objective was “to destroy or so confound the will to resist that an adversary will have no alternative except to accept our strategic aims and military objectives.”

Earlier this month the US Air Force began launching new air strikes in northern Iraq, for the alleged purpose of liberating a besieged community of Iraqis starving to death and with no place to go. The Iraqi Yazidis are, indeed, suffering from a frightening humanitarian crisis. They have fled their homes in fear of the barbarism of Islamic State (IS) militants who have already swept through eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, establishing what they say is a new caliphate.

By all possible means we should deliver humanitarian supplies to these refugees, not to mention those in other parts of Iraq, Syria, and Gaza. But air strikes? Why air strikes now, without congressional or UN approval? Make no mistake, the control of oil remains the driving force behind the US attacks on Iraq. An examination of US policy in Iraq from 2003 to the present illustrates this point.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: The sovereign state of Iraq was destroyed by the March 2003 invasion. Subsequently, by way of “de-Baathification” and a brutal military occupation, US administrators employed a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to rule Iraq.

The so-called transitional government of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) appointed an Iraqi Governing Council, a 25-member advisory panel hand-picked by the occupiers along sectarian and ethnic lines. The CPA also created the organisational apparatus and rules for Iraq’s first “democratic” elections.

In January 2005, these CPA-orchestrated elections brought conservative Shiite parties to power. Ibrahim Al-Jafaari, one of the Shiite members of the US-chosen Iraqi Governing Council, was named Iraq’s new prime minister. During his one-year term, Shiite death squads began operating in Iraq as part of government militias, the Iraqi army, and the Iraqi police force.

These Shiite armed forces, many of them originating from the militias of conservative parties based in Iran, conducted operations in Iraq with assistance from the US occupiers. Sunni Iraqis were the main victims of these Shiite units, whose grip on Iraq strengthened following the naming of Nouri Al-Maliki as prime minister in 2006. Like Al-Jafaari, Al-Maliki is a member of the conservative Shiite Dawa Party based in Iran.

In addition to the Sunnis, tiny minorities in Iraq, like the Christians and Mandeans, were also endangered. As the number of militias grew, the safety of Shiite families depended on their allegiance to the Shiite leader of the militia controlling their neighbourhoods. Among these leaders were Al-Hakim, Al-Maliki and Al-Sadr. During this time, most Iraqis were facing shortages of power and potable water and jobs were scarce.

An assassination campaign targeted intellectuals and academics to eliminate governmental opposition, the same strategy used by former president Saddam Hussein when the Baathists came to power in 1968. Amid this chaos, foreign companies gained control of Iraq’s valuable oil resources, which began flowing out of the country.

Iraqi resistance to the US-led military occupation developed immediately after the invasion. Over time the resistance developed into a nationalist movement. At the same time, however, foreign fighters began arriving in Iraq to wage war in the name of an extremist ideology. One of the groups of foreign fighters evolved into the organisation of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which gained prominence in western Iraq, primarily Al-Anbar province, through 2005-06.

As AQI became more powerful, possibly with support from regional powers like Saudi Arabia, nationalist resistance forces grew more and more worried. These tribal, Sunni resistance groups opposed AQI’s indiscriminate tactics, theocratic ideology, and foreign-led interference in a national movement. In 2006, Sunni groups known as the Awakening Councils, which had formerly fought against US occupation forces, began fighting alongside them, using their US training and arms to weaken the influence of AQI in Iraq.

While the AQI was weakened, by 2007 an offshoot of AQI known as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) had emerged. For the next several years, ISI maintained a presence in northern and western Iraq, but its influence was considered minimal. Its low profile changed after the start of the Syrian popular rebellion of 2011 and subsequent American interference in Syrian affairs.

In 2012, the Obama administration authorised overt support for Syrian “rebels” opposed to the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad. Obama also signed a secret order giving the CIA and other US agencies authorisation to bolster these opposition groups. That same year, ISI leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi allegedly sought involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Once in Syria, Al-Baghdadi declared a union with another Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Al-Nusra Front, creating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also translated as Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS). The union was rejected by the Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda leaders. But IS continued to grow in strength within Syria, especially in 2013 when the CIA officially began arming such “rebel” groups.

ARMED REBELLION IN IRAQ: Meanwhile, in December 2012 Iraqis in western and northern Iraq launched peaceful demonstrations against the Al-Maliki regime in the spirit of the (later co-opted) mass anti-government demonstrations in Libya and Syria.

The demonstrators had a list of 13 demands for the government to address, including an end to the death penalty, the provision of essential services throughout Iraq, an end to the anti-terrorism laws used to arbitrarily detain citizens without charge, an end to the rape of women held in Iraqi prisons, and the end of sectarianism in Iraqi rule.

 Though the demonstrations were strongest in the predominantly Sunni cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Beiji, both Shiite and Kurdish delegations visited the protest camps to show their solidarity. Shiite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr also lent his support to the demonstrations. But a massacre at the protest camp in the city of Hawija in Kirkuk province prompted the opposition to abandon peaceful demonstrations in favour of armed rebellion.

In April 2013 in Hawija, Iraqi soldiers surrounded 4,000 protesters for four days, depriving them of food and water. At 5 am on the fifth day, the army attacked the protesters with live ammunition, tanks and helicopters. At least 50 people were killed, more than 150 injured, and more than 400 arrested. In response, former Baathist Iraqi army officers located both inside and outside of Iraq established the General Military Council of Iraqi Revolutionaries (GMCIR). This new military organisation began planning an armed uprising against the Al-Maliki regime that would begin in June 2014.

Over the next year, the GMCIR grew to include many armed groups opposed to the Iraqi government, including the Jaysh Rajaal Al-Tariqa Al-Naqshabandia (JRTN, primarily former Baathists), the Awakening Councils militias that had worked with US forces to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2006, and other Sunni tribal militias in western and northern Iraq. These latter militias were united under the Military Council of Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries within the GMCIR.

The GMCIR also agreed to collaborate with, but remain distinct from, IS in order to achieve the common goal of overthrowing the Al-Maliki government. The extremists’ access to armaments and funding, believed to come from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, may have been a factor in this alliance. Besides these armed groups, the opposition located its socio-political base in the Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq’s largest organisation of Sunni clerics representing more than 3,000 Iraqi mosques.

While the GMCIR began planning an uprising, anti-government demonstrations continued in multiple Iraqi cities. There was growing frustration and anger. In January 2014, the Al-Maliki government ordered the army to violently disrupt another protest camp, this one in the city of Fallujah. Al-Maliki claimed that the army was attacking the terrorists of ISIS/ISIL who had taken over the city, but the claim was false. As in Hawija, the protesters were local citizens with political demands.

Local tribal leaders were (and remain) in control of Fallujah, not IS, despite what numerous media outlets have reported. “Rooting out terrorists” as an excuse for quashing local resistance is a story we have heard before. One only needs to recall the November 2004 siege of Fallujah, in which the US military conducted massive aerial bombardments and then designated all residents remaining in that city as “insurgents”. Iraqi government air strikes and barrel bomb attacks on the people of Fallujah in the name of combating ISIS/ISIL terrorists began in January, and have continued through to today. These attacks have included numerous strikes on the general hospital in Fallujah. This ongoing violent and criminal government oppression in Iraq has further emboldened the opposition forces.

In June, after months of preparation, the GMCIR launched its armed rebellion and declared its identity and intent: an Iraqi nationalist, non-sectarian movement comprised of predominantly Sunni tribal leaders and fighters. The council announced its opposition to Iranian influence in Iraq, especially the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in developing Iraq’s security forces. It also appealed to Arab Shiite tribal leaders in southern Iraq to join their struggle to remove Al-Maliki from power.

Within a few days of the uprising’s beginning, and despite heavy bombardment from government forces, the GMCIR, supported by ISIS/ISIL (present in Mosul since about 2007), took control of that city.

Much of the western press has described the GMCIR-led rebellion against government forces in Mosul as the “loss” of this Iraqi city to a single, monolithic horde of bloodthirsty ISIS terrorists. Such a description may indeed apply to the extremists of ISIS/ISIL, but at that stage, according to multiple Sunni leaders, the extremists made up only a small minority of the opposition forces, with the majority of the fighters coming from local tribes.

The major role played by the GMCIR may have been demonstrated by the rapid demise of the Iraqi army in Mosul. Many of the former Baathist military officers who formed the GMCIR had held high posts in the Iraqi army. When the rebellion was launched these officers abandoned their official commands, leading to the rapid breakdown of the state’s forces. Subsequently, opposition groups went on to take control of Tikrit and Tal Afar. In response to these advances, the Obama administration sent more armaments to the Al-Maliki government but did not take military action.

IS remained brazen, seeking to expand control of neighbourhoods in Mosul and imposing its extremist ideology. At the end of June 2014, its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate across a large swath of Iraq and Syria. While news of the announcement was prominent in the mainstream western press, little mention was made of a denunciation issued by the Association of Muslim Scholars.

The statement read, in part: “Any party announcing a state or emirate, whether Islamic or non-Islamic, under these conditions is not in the interest of Iraq and its unity and will be taken as a pretext to divide the country and harm people … [Those] who have announced the caliphate did not consult either with the people of Iraq and Syria, nor with the influential people and elders there who represent the base of the pledge of allegiance.”

The mainstream media still refer to a “caliphate” bridging Syria and Iraq, but it’s not clear what official structure has been put in place. Still, the Obama administration did not take military action.

By late July, the Islamic State (IS) began to overtly target minorities in Mosul, especially Christians, a community that has been resident there for more than 1,600 years. Most of Mosul’s Christian population has now fled the city, becoming refugees inside the country and in neighbouring states. The US delivered 5,000 more Hellfire missiles to the Al-Maliki government but did not take military action.

PUBLIC-RELATIONS COVER: On 3 August, the Kurdish-controlled areas of Sinjar and Zummar in northern Iraq were seized by IS, according to most media reports (it’s not clear whether IS or opposition forces have control).

The community of Yazidis in Sinjar fled to the hills in fear of the IS advance and became stranded there, and so began the latest humanitarian crisis. By 6 August, IS had advanced to within 30 miles of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This was the development that brought an immediate change to US policy. Erbil is home to a key American CIA station, as well as American and British oil companies whose operations have been threatened by the Peshmerga’s loss of territory. There have been numerous humanitarian crises caused by the US-sponsored instability in Iraq. But a threat to the oil industry is what elicits a military response from the United States.

The US government acts to protect the flow of oil and the dollar, with humanitarian causes providing the necessary public-relations cover. No matter how sophisticated the weaponry, air strikes kill innocent people, and it makes no sense to kill one set of innocent people (“collateral damage”) in the name of saving others. The US administration doesn’t care about the welfare of the Yazidis today any more than it has cared about the welfare of the two to three million Iraqis who have died because of US policy since 1991. These air strikes are about oil.

Probably with US encouragement, Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani launched attacks on IS that are striking the city of Mosul. According to witnesses, Peshmerga mortars have hit civilian homes, causing much death and destruction. The Iraqi air force is also supporting Peshmerga fighters around Mosul, and though the US military claims to have struck only “convoys” and other such IS targets these are sanitised propaganda reports.

The people in Mosul are now isolated. They have no water, electricity, or fuel for their cars or generators. Fearing incursion by IS, Kurdish forces have sealed the borders, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.

Another humanitarian crisis has been created in Iraq, this one in Mosul. Who will now help the people of Mosul? Let’s hope help doesn’t come in the form of a Hellfire missile.

The writer is an Iraqi-American physician and peace activist.

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