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Isis and the fight against imperialism

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Issue 2440

Most people will be understandably horrified by Isis’s latest atrocity, the burning alive of Jordanian military pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. 

Isis is a deeply reactionary and sectarian group, carrying out murders of its political opponents and other religious and ethnic minorities. But our rulers are using its attacks to further clamp down on Muslims in Britain, and bolster support for their intervention in the region. 

US imperialism has always tried to keep a grip on Iraq because of its large oil deposits. 

To do this it has inflicted horrors on a whole different level to Isis. Western sanctions in the 1990s and the last war have killed two million Iraqis. 

And during the 2003 invasion the West shelled Fallujah with white phosphorus incendiary weapons and tortured civilians.   

Isis is a product of such imperialism—and also of the failure of the Arab revolutions to break through. 

The US has smashed Iraqi society through a cycle of war, sanctions and free market “shock therapy”. 

The West’s brutal crackdown on protests after the war triggered a national resistance movement. To face it down the US used divide and rule at every turn. 

First it sought to turn Shia and Sunni against one another. 

It brought Shia politicians into the government and got the Shia clerical hierarchy to bless the 2004 elections. 

While there was a large turnout in Shia and Kurdish areas, the majority of Sunnis boycotted the election. 


The sectarian Shia politicians then quickly moved to consolidate their position, using nepotism and corruption. 

This created the space in which Isis’s forerunner Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) could grow. While AQI was small and had narrow politics, many Sunni organisations tolerated it because it was militarily effective. 

But here the US once again used divide and rule. AQI’s sectarian attacks started to alienate other Sunni organisations so the US promised Sunni groups “power sharing” in exchange for crushing it. 

There was a chance that this sectarian fighting could be overcome when the ripples of the Egyptian revolution spread to Iraq in 2011. 

But the Iraq government’s brutal response fertilised the ground for AQI’s growth. While beaten in Iraq, it was able to cross the border and regroup in Syria.

In response to the Syrian revolution, the Assad regime launched a brutal sectarian civil war where AQI, now Isis, was able to become the dominant faction. 

The counter-revolutions have also fuelled Isis’s rise. 

Many people say that the problem with Isis is with Islamist movements as a whole. But Islamism is not a homogenous set of inherently backward ideas. 

Islamist groups such as Hamas in Palestine have built bases and led struggles against imperialism. 

But Isis is incapable of defeating imperialism because it is sectarian and reactionary to its core. 

The real alternative against imperialism lies with the sort of revolutions that swept the Middle East in 2011.

These can unite people against imperialism and their own rulers. 

In Britain we have to fight our rulers’ attempts to use Isis to justify more air strikes and build the anti-war movement.

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