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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Iraq—The U.S. back in Baghdad

Lately I have been writing on the Kurd situation and how both the imperialists and the Kurds had a common enemy in ISIS (Islamic State). That does not mean it is OK to support imperialist war efforts in Iraq and Syria. This article is a good reminder of that.

People will always be made fools of, Lenin once wrote, until they learn to discern the class interests behind all social phenomena. At the height of the Vietnam war, the U.S. antiwar band Country Joe and the Fish put it another way: "What are we fighting for?" What is the U.S. ruling class fighting for with its "coalition" against Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria? More people need to be asking themselves this question, especially those whose "we" lately objectively includes the American armed forces.

Attention has deservedly been focused on Kobane, where men and women Kurdish fighters are resisting a Daesh encirclement that, should it succeed, could lead to a horrendous massacre. How can you not hold your breath? In that light, people of good will in many countries have tended to see the stepped-up U.S. intervention as part of what they consider a "united front" to "save Kobane", to see American actions in Syria and Iraq as positive – and even to demand more intervention by Western powers that have held back so far, like France. The call for a 1 November "Global Rally Against ISIS – for Kobane, for Humanity", signed by a long list of internationally prestigious progressive personalities, urged the "global players" in "the so-called international coalition against ISIS" to fulfil "their real international legal obligations." This means they want "the so-called international coalition" to become a real coalition and take more action.

The first problem with this idea is that it was the U.S., UK and France that raised the banner of "international legal obligations" (including what France pioneered in calling the "duty to intervene to protect people") and used it to attack or invade Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq (among other places). This banner cannot be used against them, because it can only mean more intervention.

Second, why has the U.S. bombed Daesh in Kobane and taken on Daesh in Iraq? Is it true that world public opinion has forced them to do so despite themselves, as argued by people who claim, "The U.S. supports the Saudis and the Saudis have supported Daesh, so resisting Daesh means hitting the U.S."? That argument oversimplifies some truths (in the first two points) to construct an untruth. The situation is full of contradictions and the imperialists like to have as many cards in their hands as they can. But the U.S. certainly wants to defeat Daesh, which has emerged as the major challenge to the regional domination without which the U.S. cannot long maintain its dominant status among the imperialist powers. These are the same motives that have led it to push against the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and make support for Israel an essential and irreplaceable component of its power projection in the Middle East.

It is not true that the U.S. created Daesh or other Islamist forces, although Washington and its allies did much to encourage their growth, especially earlier, when that suited their interests. Islamic fundamentalism has become a force in its own right, with its own independent and highly reactionary aims. What is true is that the explosive expansion of these forces would be inconceivable without the actions of the U.S. and its allies in the region. That means their barbaric crimes (the Daesh core emerged from the U.S. Abu Ghraib torture centre, and its Iraqi social base is especially strong where the U.S. inflicted large-scale atrocities, such as in Fallujah), and their sweeping away of old power structures in a failed attempt to build new regimes the U.S. could better rely on. More important than the many U.S., Israeli and Saudi plots are the enormous economic and social changes as the region became increasingly caught in the web of international capital. (For instance, the catastrophic collapse of much of Syrian rural society following Assad's opening to international markets provided a vital component of a suddenly-expanding social base for the previously more limited Islamist forces).

How, truthfully, can anyone say "if the world wants democracy in the Middle East it should support the Kurdish resistance in Kobane", as the 1 November call does, when clearly that is not what the rulers of this world or any of the other major "players" are doing? How can more U.S. intervention have anything but negative results, in terms of the interests of humanity? 

Just look at what the U.S. and Turkey have done so far to "save" Kobane. Turkey and the U.S. have clashing interests and aims at the moment, but neither Obama nor Erdogan want to see Syrian Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia emerge as a force beyond their control, and this guides their actions. That should be obvious in the joint decision, no matter how much arm-twisting it took to achieve it, to "help" Kobane by sending troops from the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq rather than better arm the YPG. These peshmerga reinforcements are supposed to stay in their own units under KRG command and keep their rockets and heavy artillery under their own control.

Both Ankara and Washington strongly prefer the KRG, dominated by the feudally-rooted Barzani and Talabani clans whose rise in the world is made possible by their willingness to bend to Turkey (their main trade partner) and the U.S (which brought them to power). Relying on American and Turkish aid to save Kobane or echoing Obama's call for a global coalition against Daesh is not just "tactics" – it means following those same politics.

Even if Daesh pressure on Kobane is reduced by American-led bombing raids, what solution to Kurdish oppression is sought by the leaders of the Syrian YPG  – and the PKK in Turkey they are associated with? And what will be the overall effects of U.S. intervention for the region and world? While anyone in a desperate battle would of course welcome any relief they can get, in a tactical sense, if the defence of Kobane is the signboard under which the U.S.'s overall efforts and project in the region are legitimized and welcomed, that is very bad. Calling for an international united front or coalition to save Kobane is not anti-imperialist but being fooled by the imperialists. 

U.S. military actions so far have already revealed much about their war aims. The positional warfare being waged by the Daesh besiegers has made them vulnerable to air strikes there, even as they respond to such attacks elsewhere by dispersing their forces and abandoning the use of large convoys and fixed facilities and positions. But American political and military authorities have openly and repeatedly said that such air strikes must lead to more war on the ground, and this won't happen without more U.S. and other Western troops.

The U.S currently has 1,400 troops in Iraq, 800 covering the U.S. embassy and Baghdad airport (the bridgehead for further invasion), and the rest in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they work with the FRG, as they have for more than two decades. Now U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a "new phase" in which these numbers will be increased to 3,100, with the additional troops to be sent to "train" the Iraqi army in Al-Anbar province and elsewhere where the Iraqi regime's survival is at stake. They are not going to protect Kurds, Iraqi Sunni, Shia or anyone else, or prevent religious warfare. Their job is to achieve the aim that led the U.S. to invade Iraq in the first place, to secure American regional domination and build a regime that can help do that.

Why are these troops back in Iraq? After all, U.S. military authorities pronounced that country's army well-trained when most foreign troops were pulled out in 2011 ("We did spend a lot of money and effort training the Iraqi army. When we left them in 2011, we left them capable," said Pentagon press secretary rear Admiral John Kirby recently). Yet whole battalions collapsed in the face of the June Daesh offensive when they refused to fight for the Shia-sectarian, corrupt and thoroughly criminal regime that the U.S. had established to protect its interests. And they haven't shown much enthusiasm for fighting to defend the new Shia-sectarian government the U.S. has set up to replace it. Whether or not U.S. troops become directly involved in combat, their task at present is to put together an army that will do what the U.S. wants it to – the same task U.S. "advisers" are carrying out with the KRG peshmerga.

The world has had more than enough experience to understand what such "advisers" are for. The word became infamous during the early days of the U.S. war against the Vietnamese people, when it became apparent that it was a euphemism for what is now called "boots on the ground". But even before the 1965 full-scale invasion, the U.S. needed "advisers" working with Vietnamese troops as part of its endeavour to cobble together the kind of regime it needed.

If the U.S. falls short in that endeavour in Iraq, the government that represents the interests of its capitalist and imperialist ruling class has already frankly said what could happen: "Over time, if it's not working, then we're going to have to reassess, and we'll have to decide whether it's worth putting other forces in there, including U.S. forces," warned the U.S. armed forces chief of staff Ray Odierno. When asked if the newest shipment of troops is a prelude to more, Obama replied, "As commander in chief, I never say never." This is not at all what they were saying before, when it seemed that the U.S. could stand back and still hold sway – and they don't consider holding sway in the region optional.

In a detail that is nevertheless revealing, official U.S. troops in Iraq are complemented by mercenaries originally employed by the Blackwater security company, whose men opened fire at a Baghdad roundabout in 2007 for no good reason, killing 17 people (including two children) and wounding 18 more. How can anyone seriously argue that sending more U.S. forces to Iraq will be anything but a murderfest? But that is the logic of calling for an anti-Daesh coalition.

Those who hope that somehow Islamist fundamentalism can be stopped with help from U.S. warplanes and guns should think about the effect if Daesh is allowed to hold the banner of resistance to the U.S. and secular forces drop it. That is what is at stake in Kobane.
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