The Iraq Inquiry: Imperialists clean their stables - FRFI 213 February/March 2010

Iraq war protest

On 21 January it was announced that the long awaited inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war of 2003 would be delayed until after May's general election. Sir John Chilcot, who has led the inquiry, explained that the delay was due to the time taken for those criticised in the report to respond. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has denied that he has any role in holding up the report. The inquiry began its work 6 years ago in 2009 and has interviewed countless key figures in British imperialism's drive to war. No doubt the results of the inquiry - if they ever come to light - will further undermine any remaining confidence in the major ruling class political parties, and the very notion of bourgeois 'democracy'. Below we republish an article from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 217, first published in 2010, which sets out the context of the inquiry.

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US threatens intervention as ISIS advances towards Baghdad

On 12 June 2014, the Iraqi air force began bombing its own people in Mosul and Tikrit. The attacks were part of a desperate attempt to stop the advance of Sunni fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who had earlier captured the two cities. The following day ISIS captured two more towns in Diyala province. In the previous few days, ISIS had also attacked parts of Samara and Kirkuk, taken-over the university in Ramadi and seized the town of Baiji, the site of a major oil refinery and a power station for Baghdad. ISIS stated its intention to attack the capital.

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Iraq’s election sham

Parliamentary elections in Iraq this spring took place within the deepening conflict between the mainly Shia government and the Sunni Al Qaeda inspired group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since December, over 1,700 members of the Iraqi military and 4,000 civilians have been killed. ISIS now has effective control of Anbar province and other areas in the north and west. It controls the Fallujah dam and has been able to damage water supplies to Baghdad. ISIS levies taxes in cities such as Mosul and Tikrit and has held a military parade on the outskirts of Baghdad. ISIS also controls large parts of southern and eastern Syria. It is recruiting fighters from North Africa, Chechnya, Iran and Tajikistan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting ISIS. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia made a grant of $2bn to Pakistan, which has since announced that it will supply weaponry to Saudi Arabia. This is supposed to be used only for Saudi defence but most of it will find its way to Saudi-supported groups such as ISIS.

A US official announced that ‘ISIS is our enemy as well as Iraq’s and we want to continue supporting them in this fight’. In early June, the US will resume training for Iraqi elite forces that it began earlier this year. The training will take place in Jordan because the US cannot officially be involved directly in Iraqi fighting without a Status of Forces Agreement, although it has increased the size of its intelligence units in the country. The US recently announced it wants to sell warplanes, armoured vehicles and surveillance equipment worth $1bn to Iraq. These are in addition to the Apache attack helicopters it has already provided and the 36 F-16 fighters Iraq wants to buy.

Election uncertainty

Meanwhile, Al Maliki, who is seeking a third term in office, won most seats in the election but, as before, does not have a majority and must build a coalition. In 2010 the process took 10 months. This time it will be even more difficult. All the political factions cling tightly to the security institutions and patronage they control. The other main Shia groups, the followers of Moqtada al Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, together with the Kurdish parties and the largest Sunni bloc, led by speaker Osama al Nujaifi, have all said they will not co-operate. Indeed, some are threatening to form their own coalition to deny al-Maliki victory. The uncertainty and the increasing violence are deepening the problems of the Iraqi people. Food prices are rising and economic recovery is stalling.

‘Demented’ Blair

A high-profile speech made by Tony Blair at the end of April was variously described as ‘demented’ and ‘manic’ by the British press. Blair proposed that the main problem in the Middle East was ‘a titanic struggle between those who want to embrace the modern world and those who want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity’. In Blair’s simplistic fantasy, the baddies are Islamic jihadists. Incredibly, Blair claimed that at the centre of this plot against freedom and democracy was the Muslim Brotherhood – the same Muslim Brotherhood, of course, that won elections in Egypt, only to be overthrown by a military dictatorship that has since killed at least 1,400 protestors and, according to Human Rights Watch, ‘shows zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting (people) for peacefully expressing their views’. On the other hand, amongst those wanting ‘pluralistic and open economies’, Blair included theocratic absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, who, Blair claimed, ‘promote religious tolerance and open, rule-based economics’. These despots not only control vast reserves of oil but have been willing to award lucrative contracts to Western multinationals (particularly armaments) and support imperialist interventions in the Middle East. This is what Blair means by ‘embracing the modern world’. However, the relationship is sometimes bumpy because the imperialists are expected to turn a blind eye to their vicious and corrupt rule. Blair is one of a circus of former politicians, business executives and diplomats who help to keep the merry-go-round turning smoothly by making introductions, opening doors, initiating deals and generally acting as public relations dogsbodies. In return, Blair can delude himself that he is a world statesman and at the same draw huge fees for consultancy and speeches. Blair’s friends (yes, apparently he still has some!) have described his personal wealth, quoted at £100 million, as a serious underestimate.

Meanwhile, four years after the close of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, the report remains unpublished. The Cabinet Office is refusing to de-classify exchanges between Blair and President Bush in 2002-3. Leaks from the report suggest these documents ‘challenge previous accounts of what happened’. In other words, Blair, self-styled champion of openness, and the Labour Party lied to us all.  

Jim Craven

IRAQ: US supports attacks on Sunni opposition

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

At the turn of the year, Iraqi government forces launched attacks against centres of Sunni opposition in Anbar province. In Ramadi they destroyed a Sunni protest camp and arrested Ahmad Al Awani, a Sunni MP. Al Awani’s brother and five guards were killed, together with a further 11 people. In Fallujah, 15 Iraqi soldiers were killed in initial clashes. The leading force in the Sunni uprising, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), took control of police stations, burnt military vehicles and captured 75 Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqi government attacked with air strikes and artillery, claiming to have killed 60 ISIS fighters. Indiscriminate mortar fire in civilian areas was reported, forcing more than 10,000 people to flee the city. Clashes were also reported in Abu Ghraib and Baghdad. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The US strongly backed the assault. Secretary of State John Kerry said it will do ‘everything that is possible’ to assist Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. The US provided intelligence and sent 75 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. The Obama administration is also sending Scan Eagle observation drones and pressing for the release of a fleet of Apache attack helicopters, which, together with F16 warplanes, Al Maliki has been wanting for some time. Some US officials have suggested using armed drones operated by the CIA, though this is unlikely to be accepted by Al Maliki. For the time being, at least, the US is adamant that it will not send in ground forces.

Kerry described ISIS as ‘the most dangerous players in the region’. The Al Qaeda-linked organisation has been chiefly responsible for the wave of bombings and shootings that has plunged Iraq into the worst violence suffered there since 2008. Last year, over 9,000 people were killed. ISIS is also fighting against the Assad government in Syria and holds large parts of the country in the north around Aleppo and the Al Omar oil field. For ISIS, the two areas of conflict are part of one struggle, with Iraqi fighters in Syria and Syrians fighting in Fallujah. The US is demanding that the Syrian government forces stop bombing around Aleppo but supports air strikes by Iraqi state forces against the very same people in Fallujah.

Rise of Al Qaeda

In 2011, the Pentagon estimated there were no more than 800 to 1,000 Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq: now, there are many more. The reasons why so many young Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere choose to join such organisations must, of course, be as various as the individual recruits. One over-arching factor, however, is that other pathways of protest and resistance to the poverty and violence they suffer have been blocked by the very forces that exploit and humiliate them – the imperialists and the submissive regimes that serve them. The monstrous imperialist invasion of Iraq has generated a monstrous response; this has happened in the absence of a working class and socialist movement.

Among the first decrees of the Provisional Authority (PA) after the occupation of Iraq in 2003 was to disband the Iraqi army and forbid anyone closely associated with the (mainly Sunni) Ba’ath Party from holding state jobs, thus immediately robbing more than a million families of their livelihood. The PA, however, maintained Saddam’s laws banning trade unions and industrial action. Al Maliki, who had the personal backing of then US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, seized several top government posts and established a corrupt regime based on sectarianism and patronage. In a country where most jobs are with state organisations and where you need either big bribes or contacts in high places to get them, ordinary Sunnis stood little chance of secure work or promotion. In 2011, Al Maliki forced the Sunni vice-president Tariq Al Hashemi to flee for his life and a year later arrested his Sunni deputy and finance minister Rafia Al Issawi. Al Maliki’s US-trained ‘counter-terrorist’ units continued to arbitrarily arrest or assassinate huge numbers of young Sunnis. Last April, Al Maliki’s forces killed 53 peaceful demonstrators in Hawija. For many it was the last straw and they joined the armed resistance.

The recent history of Iraq, however, is just one episode in the longer story of imperialism’s determination throughout the Middle East and other Muslim countries to destroy any movement that does not conform to its interests. From the British and French carve-up of Mesopotamia and the imposition of arbitrary frontiers and puppet rulers to the subversion of progressive governments such as those of Mossedegh in Iran and Nasser in Egypt; from support for autocratic and corrupt regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Mubarak’s Egypt to turning a blind eye to the ousting of democratic Muslim governments in Algeria and Egypt; from unrelenting support for Zionist crimes to the blockade of the elected Hamas administration in Palestine; from the sponsorship of jihadist warlords against the 1980s communist government in Afghanistan to the dismantling of the 100,000 strong Iraqi communist party and the slaughter of over half a million communists in Indonesia.

British troops and Labour ministers accused of war crimes

A 250-page dossier on torture by British forces in Iraq has been submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The document draws on ‘thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ made by more than 400 Iraqis. They include cases of burning, electric shock, threats to kill or rape, hooding, sexual assault, mock executions and cultural and religious humiliation. Many of these forms of torture were used against Irish republicans, but were supposedly banned in 1972. The ICC has already acknowledged that there is little doubt that war crimes were committed by British forces in Iraq but refused an investigation on the grounds that only 20 cases had been submitted. The new document greatly surpasses the threshold required but many observers are concerned that the ICC is unwilling to act on cases of imperialist war crimes, preferring to concentrate on those that suit the propaganda of the Western nations. The dossier implicates ‘individuals at the highest levels’ and concludes the evidence ‘justifies further investigation’ into the criminal responsibility ‘of senior individuals within the UK military and government’. Among those named in the report are Geoff Hoon, former Labour defence secretary, Adam Ingram, former Labour armed forces minister and General Sir Peter Wall, head of British military operations in Iraq 2003-2005. So far, only a handful of courts martial have been held into torture and abuse by the British military, resulting in just one prosecution.

Defeat in Iraq undermines US hegemony

A recent statement from the official Chinese Xin-Hua News Agency emphasised China’s determination to end US global hegemony. It said, ‘The world is still crawling its way out of an economic disaster thanks to the voracious Wall Street elites. Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated.’ While the US tries to control the consequences of its failure to impose military domination in the Middle East, China has been extending its influence by economic and political means. China has cancelled Iraq’s huge debt and made extensive investments in the infrastructure and oil industries. It plans to buy 30% of Iraq’s oil exports next year. China is also a major customer for Iran’s oil, putting it in a strong position to affect events at the core of the region. In contrast, US hopes of affecting regime change in Syria and Iran, if necessary by military means, have been dashed, first by Russia’s intervention over Syrian chemical weapons and then by Iran’s readiness to negotiate over its nuclear programme.

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