by Schuyler Kempton
This post does not necessarily represent the views of the Anti-Oppression Forum as a whole
Iraq, never truly stable since the U.S. invasion of 2003, is now under threat of falling apart at the seams. The central, US-backed government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is made up almost exclusively by, and is working almost exclusively in the interests of, the country’s Shia Muslim majority. Iraq’s Kurdish population, massacred under former dictator Sadaam Hussein and shunned by Maliki’s government, have claimed more land for their semi-autonomous region, and militant Sunnis, backed by the military might of the violent extremist group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), have claimed cities such as Mosul (Iraq’s second largest) and Tikrit in the country’s North, expanding their already large presence in Eastern Iraq. ISIS is already claiming that they have massacred thousands, and have announced that they will indiscriminately slaughter Shias along their warpath.
On Friday, Iraq’s highest Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, echoed Obama’s call for the newly elected president to form the country’s next government as soon as possible. Sistani’s statement, read out by a representative at Friday’s prayers in the Shia holy city of Karbala, urged the new government to ‘open new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis.’
Maliki had gone on a diplomatic offensive Wednesday, reaching out in a televised address to try to regain support from the nation’s disaffected Sunnis and Kurds. His conciliatory words coupled with a vow to teach the ISIL insurgents a ‘lesson,’ came as almost all of Iraq’s main communities have been drawn into violence not seen since the dark days of sectarian killings following the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the ignorant corporate media, ISIS’s victory did not come out of nowhere. The dynamics that enabled its fights to seize Mosul and other cities have been developing for several years.
Over the last year and a half, the Sunni population of Iraq has been conducting a mass campaign of mostly nonviolent resistance against Iraq’s central government. This is the result of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki increasingly transforming the government into a Shia one. Maliki has refused to integrate the Sunni Awakening Councils into the Army; maintained the anti-Baathist law, implemented after the U.S. invasion for use against remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime, to target all Sunni political forces; and went after Sunni politicians and leaders with accusations that they support terrorism.
The Sunni population across Iraq responded by fighting for their rights with mass demonstrations and sit-ins throughout 2013. At one point, important Shia leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr, who have their own grievances against the Maliki regime, expressed solidarity with these Sunni protests and threatened to organize demonstrations of their own. But this hopeful moment of solidarity proved fleeting, just as similar developments have in the past.
Maliki responded to the wave of protests–what some called the Iraqi Spring–with a brutal campaign of repression. He turned to tactics learned from the U.S. occupation–neighborhoods sweeps, mass arrests and torture. Thus, the overwhelming majority of the Sunni population was driven into desperate opposition by the actions of the Maliki government.
With the repression intensifying, forces among Sunnis like ISIS, which opposed the regime on sectarian grounds, gained increasing prominence and leadership because of their willingness to confront security forces. Maliki in turn used the threat of ISIS’s sectarianism to convince Sadr to stage demonstrations in support of the Iraqi state. This further consolidated Maliki’s hold on an increasingly exclusive Shia autocracy, defended by a Shia-led and -staffed army.
[f]rom the South, the various Shia militias are being formed again…[t]hey are going to have a very large demonstration of military force against the ISIS advance and Naashbandi Army advance. The danger in all these on-the-ground military defenses, on the one side the Kurds, on the other the Shia, is it’s making this a deeply sectarian war, when much evidence suggests the general public in Iraq is not interested in going down the road of a full-scale sectarian war.
You know, this thought that Mr. Kerry has been talking about of aerial strikes is delusion. I mean, you know, the Iraq War began with shock and awe. It was unable to pacify and make Iraq submit to Western authority. It’s very unlikely that a massive aerial bombing campaign against ISIS will do anything more than put off the situation that ISIS thinks is inevitable, which is taking all of Iraq, or at least a substantial part of northern Iraq.
The working class in Iraq is the common force that exists across the county, from the north of Kurdistan to the furthest points south. It is this force whose very existence and survival depends on the eradication of discrimination and the unification of the Iraqi people. This is the only force that can end fragmentation and division.