Socialist Worker

Insurgents seize cities as crisis in Iraq grows

Renewed fighting in Iraq threatens to push the country into a new sectarian hell, writes Simon Assaf

Issue No. 2408

Iraq is teetering on the edge of a precipice. Sunni insurgents spearheaded by Isis (see below, right) have captured vast swathes of territory.

This includes Mosul—Iraq’s second largest city—Tel Afar, Fallujah and a number of other towns. Its forces are now poised to take Samara, home to a key shrine of Shia Islam, and are moving on the capital Baghdad.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shias have mobilised to stop them. The coming battles will be bloody and, as with the recent mass execution of prisoners, merciless.

These battles will draw many other forces into the fray. And many countries have a big stake in its outcome.

Former enemies such as the US, Syria and Iran are making common cause to crush the Sunni Muslim insurgency. 

Turkey has a big stake in the autonomous Kurdish north. 

It fears that the Kurdish seizure of the ethnically mixed and strategic oil city of Kirkuk marks the first steps towards full-scale independence.

Turkey and Iran are fearful that this will reignite similar demands among their own restive Kurdish populations.

The West is desperate to stabilise the country, with US and British imperial credibility on the line. 

Turkey has a major stake in the northern oilfields, China in its southern ones. 

Iran has invested heavily in its strategic partnership with the Shia dominated government. 

And major global oil and construction companies have sunk billions of dollars in infrastructure and key industries.

All of this is now under threat.

Years of sanctions, invasion, a disastrous occupation and neoliberalism have torn Iraq apart. 

Any further foreign intervention can only add fuel to the fire.

Iraqis also have a long history of unity against foreign powers but the torment that has engulfed Iraq provides little scope for hope. 

The impact of this war is set to dash what remains of Iraq’s famous “sushis”—families that are a mix of Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The brutality of Isis and its poisonous anti-Shia sectarianism makes it impossible to appeal to angry and marginalised Shia Iraqis.

Shia leaders are mobilising for a sectarian war with no end.

Yet Iraq once boasted the largest communist parties in the Arab world. Its people were known for their education and culture.

A movement that can unite all parts of Iraq seems far away. Yet we have seen flashes of its potential over the past decade. 

The 2004 uprising against occupation was one such period, as were the stirrings of its “Iraqi Spring” in 2012.

Ordinary Iraqis have no stake in this sectarian war and little to gain from further foreign occupation and intervention.

For now, these voices have been drowned out by the shrill calls for war and revenge, and there are no guarantees that they will emerge anytime soon.

But they will emerge, because all the other “solutions” can only visit more misery on ordinary people. Iraq is oil-rich, culturally diverse and has a proud history.

Real unity will be built among ordinary people. But it can only be based on economic and social justice, and free from foreign domination and outside intervention.

Splits in Syrian revolt lie behind the growth of Isis

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) emerged during the Syrian uprising. It is sometimes known as Isil because in Arabic “Syria” refers to the “Levant” which includes Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.

As the Syrian rebellion gained momentum in 2012, the Iraqi affiliated Al Qaida supplied weapons to Syrian rebels.

As Islamists gained the upper hand among the rebels a Syrian affiliate known as Jabha al-Nusra (JAN) took root.

Tensions developed between the Iraqi and Syrian wings over the aims and methods of the rebellion. 

JAN usually worked with the popular committees and rebel brigades—Isis attacked them.

The organisations split and Isis made a series of deals with the Syrian regime.

In return the Syrian airforce did not target Isis as it did other rebels.

By 2013 Syrian rebels began to push Isis out of many regions and Isis fighters began to filter back into western Iraq.

In December 2012 a largely peaceful and popular movement demanding equal rights for Sunnis was launched in Fallujah.

Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia sectarian government responded with repression.

When Isis launched its offensive on the city of Mosul it expected a protracted fight with the Iraqi army.

Instead the army melted away.

Anti-war protests were right

Many of those on the left, including Socialist Worker, argued from the start that war and occupation in Iraq would bring more instability. 

We argued against claims by Western rulers that war would bring “liberation” and “peace”.

In a special issue in March 2003 Socialist Worker spelled out why the looming war was wrong:

“The US and Britain will not bring democracy to Iraq. 

“They have never brought freedom to people whose countries they have invaded.

“It is not going to end terrorism.

“The war will create more of the bloodshed, oppression, desperation and poverty which drives people to commit terrorist acts.”

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