Imperialists launch war on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

On 11 September 2014, Barack Obama, US President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate announced the escalation of the military campaign against the Islamic State (IS), extending air strikes and military operations from Iraq into Syria. This will be accompanied by a renewed push to arm and support ‘moderate’ rebel forces who have been fighting Syrian President Assad. At the NATO summit in Newport on 4 September, British Prime Minister David Cameron argued that Assad’s ‘illegitimacy’ provided moral and legal justification for breaching Syrian sovereignty in the pursuit of IS. On 11 September, a spokesperson for Cameron stated that the British state had ruled out nothing over Syria. It is only a year since a proposal in the House of Commons calling for airstrikes was defeated. It is also a year since Obama attempted to build a coalition to launch a war against Syria. Splits in the ruling classes foiled imperialists plans at that time. However, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, and rivals emerge, the need for strategic domination increases. A year later, IS has provided the suitable pretext for war which chemical weapons could not. Openly fighting a war inside Syria’s borders, whatever the stated aim, could provide the imperialists with a strategy to finally overturn the Syrian government.

The US military has been bombing IS in Iraq since 8 August, and openly has more than 1,000 troops on the ground, with another 476 set to join them. In addition, the Australian government has announced a deployment of 600 troops. Predictably, a humanitarian pretext was advanced initially, with firstly the fate of Yazidi, and later Turkmen, ethnic minorities apparently occupying the minds of the imperialist warmongers. However, it was clear that the decision to intervene came when the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northern Iraq - a loyal imperialist client - was threatened. Irbil, the KRG capital, is home to thousands of US and British citizens running the regions booming oil industry. According to Reuters, if the KRG were a country, it would rank in the world’s top ten national oil reserves. The KRG continues to build relations with Israel and the US, selling oil to Israel, and spending $100 million a year lobbying the US government. Once engaged to protect the KRG, however, the imperialists have taken the first steps to establishing the direct control in the Middle East which they have long desired.

The formation of IS - the context

In the 2003 Iraq war, the imperialist 'coalition of the willing', led by the US and Britain, had clear objectives. They intended to destroy the government of Sadaam Hussein, install a pliable client regime to control Iraq thereby facilitating the extraction of oil and gas by their energy companies, at the same time blocking potential rivals - China, Russia - for these strategic resources. The imperialists failed to meet all these objectives. Iraq was devastated, with sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims ignited and with no functioning state. This was the cradle for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the forerunner of IS. The imperialist war machine turned to Libya in 2011, with similar consequences. Fundamentalist Muslim groups were given the ideal situations in which to operate and recruit, and the weapons and training they needed to become significant fighting forces. Many of the forces nurtured in Libya joined the imperialist campaign against Syria from late 2011.

The covert campaign to destroy the Assad government, led by the US, Britain, and France, with enthusiastic support from the Gulf ruling elites, contributed directly to the rise of IS. The imperialist countries were averse to committing their soldiers on the ground, and Russia and China were stepping up their opposition to NATO interventions, so a covert strategy was implemented. With the coordination and support of US, British, French, and regional intelligence agencies, anyone willing to take up arms to fight against Assad's government, was paid, trained and armed. AQI took advantage of these conditions, moving their base from Fallujah in Iraq, to Raqqa in eastern Syria, and declared themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - later IS. The imperialists insisted that they were only supporting 'moderate' rebels, but these forces became irrelevant on the battlefield, with the Syrian opposition becoming dominated by jihadist groups such as Jahbat Al Nusra, Ahrar Al Sham, the Islamic Front, and IS. 'Moderate' groups, such as the Free Syrian Army, soon lost their weapons to their jihadist rivals.

Much of the direct funding and arming of the fundamentalist groups was directed by imperialism’s allies in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. IS is widely known to have been supported directly by the Gulf monarchies. On 20 August German Development Minister Gerd Mueller accused Qatar of financing IS militants, before being reprimanded by his government. Britain's former Foreign Secretary, William Hague , has admitted that IS was among the rebel groups in Syria that received support from the US and Britain and a former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, claimed IS was established by Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was tasked with destroying the Syrian government (The Independent, 16 July 2014). Alongside this support, an uncontrolled flow of private donations from Kuwait and elsewhere, further strengthened IS. In June 2014, the now heavily-armed IS advanced from their base in Syria and took control of one-third of Iraq. The imperialists covert strategy had not managed to destroy Assad's government, but instead had created a monster which they could not control.

At first the US and Britain were unsure about how to respond to IS's expansion, but soon committed themselves to a full intervention under pressure from sections of the ruling class. On 29 August, after bombing Iraq for almost a month, Obama declared 'we don't have a strategy' in regard to fighting IS. He insisted 'I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq’. Less than two weeks later, in his 11 September speech, he declared: 'Our objective is clear: we will degrade and ultimately destroy Isil [IS] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy'. Cameron moved rapidly from ruling out British military action in Iraq in mid-August, to promising that Britain will be among the countries leading a 'core coalition' of ten powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark) to fight IS at the NATO summit on 5 September. Both US and British imperialism have warned of the need for a lengthy war to secure the region. US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed, 'It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years, but we are determined it has to happen. The effort to destroy and degrade [IS] will take time and persistence'. Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, reiterated, ‘It's going to be a long campaign’. A decision has been made for a long-term direct military intervention in the Middle East, in order to attempt to control a situation which has started to undermine imperialist interests.

The newly invigorated campaign against the Syrian government is likely to have the effect of turning back the progress of the Syrian army against the mercenaries and jihadists. Whilst some have suggested that fighting IS in Syria will help President Assad, the new strategy will boost imperialist proxies in their campaign against the Syrian government. The US openly sent a small number of special forces into Syria on 22 August, followed by ‘surveillance missions’ the following day. Support for rebel groups in Syria will be more directly and openly controlled by the US military, with a $500 million package of support, which had been stalled by a sceptical US congress, now being pushed through. Saudi Arabia has agreed to train rebel fighters who can oppose IS. The puppet political opposition, the Syrian National Council, declared that it 'stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat ISIS [IS] but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime'. Increased support for any rebel groups in Syria, alternative jihadists or imperialist puppets, will inevitably boost their efforts to overthrow Assad. Syria’s national Reconciliation minister, Ali Haidar made clear Syria’s attitude to US action: ‘Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government is an aggression against Syria’ (9 September). However, scepticism remains about this strategy, with a former US ambassador to Iraq and Syria explaining: 'We need to do everything we can to figure out who the non-ISIS [IS] opposition is ... Frankly, we don’t have a clue' (New York Times, 12 September). Germany has ruled out any active support for the military campaign, as has Jordan. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman declared that any attack inside Syria would be seen as a 'gross violation of international law'.

International tensions, emerging rivals, and economic crisis all featured in Obama's 11 September speech. He pointed to at all the real reasons behind a full imperialist military re-engagement in the Middle East. The speech asserted the continued dominance of US imperialism over the entire world, declaring that 'America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth', adding, 'Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world'. However, US imperialism is increasingly being challenged by emerging rivals. Obama made his wider intentions clear: 'It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression'. The intervention which he signalled in Syria is a further provocation and threat to Russia, one of Syria's strategic allies. Russia has continually stressed the importance of respecting national sovereignty, and is currently being targeted by the US and EU with huge economic sanctions. Russian energy companies have begun to sell oil in roubles, in a move to undermine the dominance of the US dollar as the acknowledged international currency. Obama reminded the world, 'Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression', referring to the most recent expression of the underlying capitalist crisis. It is this crisis which is ultimately driving ruinous intervention in the Middle East. Imperialist actions in the region over the past 100 years have been throwing up contradictions, with each short-term intervention creating new, unpredicted obstacles to strategic domination. A solution to this for the imperialists would be expensive. The current bombing is costing the US at least $7 million a day. How long can they afford to continue? Can they afford not to continue? Whichever strategy the imperialists choose, they are proving unable to meet their objectives, as their system lurches us all towards a new world war.

One thing is certain, further imperialist intervention in Iraq and Syria will cause yet more chaos, death and destruction. Resistance will be ignited and perpetuated, whatever form this takes. In Britain we must fight the consistent, murderous role of British imperialism in the Middle East. Obama's said of IS: 'it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.' The same is true of US and British imperialism.


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