By Simon Assaf
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 395

West charges into Iraqi quagmire

This article is over 9 years, 2 months old
Issue 395
Syria in rubble

The new rush to war in Iraq and Syria by the West is a dangerous foray back into the quagmire created by its 2003 invasion of Iraq.

US President Barack Obama announced that he has assembled a 50-country coalition to destroy the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and in Syria — IS is also known as Isis and Isil.

This new “coalition of the willing” includes Western allies in the Arab world — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE — as well as France, which refused to join in the 2003 invasion. Britain is also on board.

The UAE has already seen action this summer, joining Egyptian warplanes to bomb the Libyan capital Tripoli after an Egyptian-backed coup there went wrong.

In the margins of the coalition are “reluctant” partners Iran and the Syrian regime. On the ground are a motley collection of Iraqi troops, Kurdish militias, US proxies, Shia sectarian death squads, Syrian regime troops and Iranian military commanders.

But David Cameron told the United Nations assembly on the eve of a parliamentary vote for war that this time it will be “different”.

He said, “Of course it is absolutely right that we should learn the lessons of the past, especially of what happened in Iraq a decade ago.

“But we have to learn the right lessons. Yes to careful preparation; no to rushing to join a conflict without a clear plan. But we must not be so frozen with fear that we don’t do anything at all.”

Ed Miliband was quick to pledge Labour Party support for the use of British warplanes in Iraq. Earlier this year Labour MPs blocked plans to strike at the Syrian regime. This time Miliband is guaranteeing that his party will toe the line.

The “new plan” appears to be based on waves of air strikes on IS militants in Iraq and Syria, and hope that the “tribes” and others will do the hard fighting on the ground.

But every move in this war has the potential to spiral out of control.

By arming the Kurds to fight IS, the West fears upsetting Turkey and Iran, which have large restive minorities, as well as accelerating the breakup of Iraq and Syria.

They could send more weapons to the Iraqi army, but it has proved too unreliable. Allowing in large numbers of Iranian ground troops is a step too far.

The hope is that bombing Sunni Muslim areas will cause the people themselves to rise up against the Islamic State — a tactic that has failed repeatedly in Lebanon and Palestine.

Islamic State is a cruel and sectarian outfit, but it draws support from among Sunni Muslims who have been marginalised by the sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria.

It will not be displaced by missiles, and nothing is being offered to the Sunnis in return for them to turn on IS fighters.

The IS was able to sweep through western Iraq and eastern Syria on the back of a popular revolt against sectarian governments in Iraq and Syria.

With its haul of US weapons captured from the Iraqi army Islamic State has launched a series of offensives, reaching the gates of Baghdad, overrunning Syrian regime strongholds in the east of the country, displacing mainstream Syrian rebels, and threatening the Kurdish majority areas.

The US has responded with air strikes, while its enemy, and now reluctant ally, Iran, is organising the battles on the ground.

In one remarkable YouTube video a Shia militiaman laughs at the irony as he calls in a US air strike on an IS position through a Kurdish liaison officer.

The skies above Iraq are said to be swarming with Iranian and US drones.

The US has effectively become the airforce for Iraqi Shia sectarian militias in the battle to subdue Iraq’s restive Sunni Muslim regions.

Obama, Cameron and a host of Western leaders say that we must act because of the brutality of Islamic State.

The IS’s treatment of Western hostages, as well as prisoners that fall into their hands, is without doubt brutal.

But no more than the Syrian or Iraqi regimes, or Western occupation forces, or the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon, or the cruel treatment of citizens in any of the countries in the region.

Hundreds of people are said to have died at the hands of IS, but over 180,000 have died at the hands of the Syrian regime, tens of thousands at the hands of Iraq’s sectarian militias, thousands of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis this summer alone.

Over 1 million people were killed during the Western occupation of Iraq.

The hatred towards IS is not because of its brutality or its sectarianism, but that it threatens global interests in the region. IS fighters are on the outskirts of Iraq’s largest and most lucrative oil fields around the city of Kirkuk.

China, Turkey, Korea and Russia have huge investments in these lucrative oil fields. The Islamic State is a threat to these as much as it is to Iran, the Gulf kingdoms and the West.

The West is taking the opportunity to re-establish itself in Iraq following its humiliating defeat at the hands of the Iraqi resistance.

It is being dragged back into the mess it created by the 2003 invasion and its subsequent strategy of promoting sectarian parties to break the unity of the opposition to the occupation.

The attacks by missiles and warplanes represent the beginning of a new war, one with no perceivable end.

This rush to war is a dangerous and reckless move, and despite the hype emerging from the White House and Downing Street, there is no “plan”. These are the first steps into another long war, one that can only create more misery and anger.

US missiles target Syrian rebel groups

The Islamic State is not the only target for the West. On the opening day of air strikes warplanes also targeted Syrian rebel groups.

Missiles rained down on Jabha al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, organisations that have been at war with IS for over two years.

Over the summer Islamist organisations hostile to IS have seized the Golan border with Israel, sparking panic in the West.

The US is now transferring thousands of its Syrian allies to Jordan in an attempt to displace the Islamists in southern Syria, while Israelis are desperate for Bashar Assad’s regime to regain control over what was the “quietest border” along the occupied Golan Heights.

The attacks on the Syrian resistance have stunned many of those who looked to the West as a saviour.

One local told the Washington Post newspaper after the attack, “If they hit [Islamic State] and the regime, it’s okay. But why are they striking Nusra? Nusra are from the people — they are the people.”

Despite its vocal support for the Syrian opposition, the US and its allies have been reluctant to strike at the Syrian regime, even after the gas attack on the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, Obama’s so-called “red line”.

Opposition fighters noted that the missile strikes did not interrupt the Syrian regime’s daily barrel bomb raids on opposition neighbourhoods.

The US allies inside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) discovered that the regime had been informed of the pending air strikes, while they were kept in the dark.

Obama’s pledge of $500 million to the Syrian opposition is for them to fight IS, not the regime.

Many of those who were fighting both the regime and IS are now said to be defecting to the Islamic State.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance