Sunday, May 14, 2006

Divide and rule strategy behind strife in Iraq

WHO really blew up Samarra's al Askariya mosque?

IS partition the next move on the occupiers' agenda for Iraq?
ARE undercover forces being used to do their damnedest to foment sectarian strife and whip up talk of "civil war" so as to set the stage?

Recent incidents, followed by Western leaders talking up sectarian violence and the threat of civil war, may be aimed at giving a pretext for prolonging the occupation "We have to remain to keep the warring sides apart".

American protection racketeering is nothing new, nor is the readiness of British leaders (and Labour politicians particularly) to proclaim themselves as the world's policeman, reluctantly staying to keep the savage breeds from slaughtering each other. It may not convince outsiders, but our leaders think it keeps folk happy at home, even as the casualties rise.

But is the "divide and rule" strategy going further? Has the idea of carving up Iraq, heard in the background at the start of the war, been brought nearer to the fore?

Here's an article in the current English-language weekly of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram:

Final phase of the Iraqi war
Could the fourth year of the Iraq invasion see the country divided into several entities, asks Firas Al-Atraqchi

The argument to
divide Iraq into three or five distinct
regional and ethnic entities
resurfaced with renewed poignancy in recent months.
Such ideas came to head when a senior Democratic Senator offered his blueprint for resolving the Iraq
debacle last week. United States Senator Joseph Biden and foreign policy expert Leslie Gelb wrote in The New York Times that dividing the country into three separate entities would be the surest way to end the violence.
Modeled after the 1996 Dayton Peace Accords for the former Yugoslavia, "The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralising it, giving each
ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests,"
they wrote. The timing of this declaration is not at all surprising because it follows a long list, like a recipe for civil war and decimation, which has been employed by foreign occupiers -- and covert allies -- in Iraq.

Anyone who remembers what really happened in Bosnia will know the Dayton "peace" was imposed after three years of war and "ethnic cleansing" in which Bosnia was beset on two sides and denied the means to defend itself, and the Bosnian people were starved, betrayed by the UN and subjected to the worst massacres in Europe since World War II. We must also remember that the kind offers of partition, such as the Vance-Owen plan, did not end the bloodshed but set it going, encouraging the warlords and hate racketeers to grab what they could with the help of neighbouring states. Dayton rewarded "ethnic cleansing" and set the divisions, while opening the country to continued occupation.

The comparisons will not take us far, except in warning us of imperialist aims and the suffering they can bring. If Bosnia was multi-ethnic, with people living alongside each other and many mixed families, particularly in the cities, Iraq is even more so. As Hani Lazim was explaining to a recent meeting of Iraq Occupation Focus, the Kurdish struggle and Shi'ite insurgency in the south was against a regime, not against fellow-Iraqis as such.

This is not to deny the existence of angers or frustrations which the past dictatorship or present opportunist warlords may stoke up (though they are likely to be overshadowed by hatred of the occupying imperialist powers!).
But those who would divide Iraq, with its centuries of intermixing, have no "age-old hatreds" or spontaneous hostilities to rely upon. They must turn to the dark arts of the agent provocateur.

On February 22, at 6:55 a.m. local time, explosions tore through al Askari mosque in Samarra, bringing down its famous golden dome and effectively destroying three quarters of the mosque. Dating back to 944 AD, and built around the tombs of two Imams, Ali l'Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, it became a centre for pilgrims for centuries. The gold dome added in 1905 made it as important in Samarra's skyline as al-Aksa's in Jerusalem.

This was a Shia holy site in a predominantly Sunni city, attracting Shia pilgrims from allover. Besides the two buried Imams, said to be descended from the Prophet, tradition had it that the "Hidden Imam", Muhammad al-Mahdi lay hidden under the shrine, since 878 AD,waiting to reappear one day to punish sinners and bring justice for humanity. For many years, a saddled horse and soldiers would be brought to the Samarra shrine every day to be ready for his return.

Men dressed in the uniform of Iraqi Special Forces reportedly entered the mosque and handcuffed police who were meant to be guarding it. Following the blast, US and Iraqi forces surrounded the shrine and began searching houses in the area. Five police officers responsible for protecting the mosque were taken into custody. As news of the explosions spread, angry crowds came onto the streets in other cities, and by the end of the day mobs had attacked 27 Sunni mosques in Baghdad, killing three imams and kidnapping a fourth, Interior Ministry officials said. At least 15 people were killed in related violence across the country.

Imams appealed for calm, and in many places Shia and Sunni came together to denounce the bombing and violence. Although Western media reports had no doubts the Samarra bombing was the work of either Sunni extremists or al-Qaida, many Iraqis and others asked who would benefit from such an attack, and suggested that was where suspicion should be directed.

In Samarra, local people were both angered by the destruction of their city's proud landmark and convinced there was something suspicious about the circumstances. They point out that this Shi'ite shrine survived ten centuries unharmed, and protected by them. Respected by all Muslims regardless of sect, al Askari was part of a shared cultural heritage. Attracting pilgrims and visitors from around the Muslim world, it was a valuable asset for the most materialist of Samarra's citizens. As for the religious, Samarra's Sunni had long been known for taking some Shi'ite traditions.

What's more, on the night before the explosions Samarra, scene of fierce fighting when US occupation forces were ambushed a few years ago, was under a stricter than normal curfew. Here's one witness:

Muhammad Al-Samarrai: I own an internet-cafe near the mosque, I sleep in my shop because I am worry about my computers from thieves.
8,30 (evening) joint forces of Iraqi ING and Americans asked me to stay in the shop and don't leave the area.
9,00 (evening) they left the area.
11,00 (evening) they came back and started to patrol the area until the morning.
6,00 (next day morning) ING leave the area .
6,30 Americans leave the area .
6,40 first explosion.
6,41 second explosion.
He confirmed again that the curfew starts at 8,00 (evening) until next day 6,00 (morning), INGs and the Americans will surround and patrol the city all that time.--"
The night before the bombing: Two eyewitnesses," Baghdad Dweller, February 23, 2006]

Other Samarra residents said they had heard drilling noises through the night. Those who have visited al Askari say the thick solid walls of the old mosque would not have been easy to demolish, explosive charges would need to have been planted skilfully and well to have such effect.

Although the sectarian outrage generated by the attack on the Golden Mosque was shown by western corporate media, there was a different side that emerged in its wake, which the media did not show..

Sunnis in Samarra rallied to show outrage over the mosque attack and solidarity with their Shi'te neighbours. Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunni and Shia were held all over Iraq: in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah al-Din. Thousands of Shia marched shouting anti-American slogans through Sadr City, the huge Shia slum area of Baghdad, where nearly half the capital's population lives. In Kut, a mainly Sh'ite city south of Baghdad, thousands marched shouting slogans against America and Israel and burning U.S. and Israeli flags.

(Dahr Jamail, "Who Benefits?," Iraq Dispatches, February 24, 2006]

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, shortly after the Golden Mosque was attacked, called for "easing things down and not attacking any Sunni mosques and shrines," stating: "We call upon believers to express their protest ... through peaceful means. The extent of their sorrow and shock should not drag them into taking actions that serve the enemies who have been working to lead Iraq into sectarian strife."

Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr warned that "terrorists want to ignite strife between the Iraqis" by the bombings, but said, "The Iraqi Shiite authority strenuously denied that Sunnis could have done this work." He added "Of course it is not Sunnis who did this work; it is the terrorists who are the enemies of the Shiites and Sunni, Muslims and non Muslims. They are the enemies of all religions; terrorism does not have a religion." Warning against touching any Sunni Mosque, the Shi'ite leader said:, "our Sunni brothers’ mosques must be protected and we must all stand against terrorism and sabotage." He added: ‘The two shrines are located in the Samarra region, which [is] predominantly Sunni. They have been protecting, using and guarding the mosques for years, it is not them but terrorism that targeted the mosques…"

Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has already lead two uprisings against occupation forces, held Takfiris [those who regard other Muslims as infidels], Ba’thists, and especially the foreign occupation responsible for the bombing attack on the Golden Mosque. Sadr, who suspended a visit to Lebanon and returned to Iraq called on the Iraqi parliament to vote on the request for the departure of the occupation forces from Iraq.

"It was not the Sunnis who attacked the shrine of Imam Al-Hadi, God’s peace be upon him, but rather the occupation [forces] and Ba’athists…God damn them. We should not attack Sunni mosques. I ordered Al-Mahdi Army to protect the Shi’i and Sunni shrines."

Political and religious leaders in neighbouring Iran urged Shi'ites not to seek revenge against Sunni Muslims, saying there were definite plots "to force the Shia to attack the mosques and other properties respected by the Sunni. Any measure to contribute to that direction is helping the enemies of Islam and is forbidden by sharia." Ayatollah Khamenei blamed the intelligence services of the U.S. and Israel for being behind the bombs.

Tony Blair said: those who committed the attack on the Golden Mosque "have only one motive: to create a violent sedition between the Sunnis and the Shiites in order to derail the Iraqi rising democracy from its path."
But Iraqis were not entirely impressed by Blair's concern, remembering that less than a year ago a British SAS team dressed in Arab clothing and posing as Sunnis were detained in Basra, whilst traveling in a car full of bombs and remote detonators. Accused by Muqtada al-Sadr and others of attempting to generate sectarian conflict by planting bombs in mosques, they were broken out of the Iraqi jail by the British military before they could be tried.

In some Iraqi city neighbourhoods people have organised defence squads to guard against attacks. But elsewhere, people in mixed neighbourhoods have been told to move out - not by neighbours but by organised, armed gangs,often masked anonymously with balaklavas. Iraq's Ministry of the Interior has been accused of directing death squads that have kidnapped and tortured people. Hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations' outgoing human rights chief in Iraq has revealed. . . . last July the morgue alone received 1,100 bodies, about 900 of which bore evidence of torture or summary execution. . . . the activities of the death squads are pushing Iraq ever closer to a sectarian civil war.--Andrew Buncombe and Patrick Cockburn, "Iraq's death squads: On the brink of civil war," Independent, February 26, 2006]

This bears out fears expressed when Bush appointed John Negroponte as his Iraq envoy that the same kind of death squads for which Negroponte gained notoriety in his time as an ambassador in Central America would soon be seen in Iraq.

Iraqi commentators were not the only ones suspecting a hidden hand in the Askariya mosque bombing. Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA analyst and presidential adviser said: "The main question is Qui Bono? Who benefits from this kind of thing? You don't have to be very conspiratorial or even paranoid to suggest that there are a whole bunch of likely suspects out there and not only the Sunnis. You know, the British officers were arrested, dressed up in Arab garb, riding around in a car, so this stuff goes on."--"Former CIA Analyst: Western Intelligence May Be Behind Mosque Bombing,", February 26, 2006]

As McGovern said, these intelligence services have used such tactics as "false flag" operations to destabilise regimes. We might also recall the "strategy of tension" bombings of civilians used over a period in Italy, in the hope of creating conditions for a right-wing military regime.

Whatever the identity of the masked gunmen and bombers, the clamour to carve up Iraq is not new, nor is it mysterious. It does not come from Iraqis. Leslie Gelb, a senior member of the US Council on Foreign Relations penned several treatise urging that Iraq be divided. In November 2003, Gelb urged the Bush administration to create three states out of Iraq allocating the north to the Kurds, the centre to the Sunnis and the south to the Shia community.

Following in Gelb's footsteps is David Zohar, an Israeli Foreign Ministry Iraq analyst, who said in a Jerusalem Post article (9 April) "With patience and skill it is not too late to partition Iraq and establish a confederal state in its place. It may be the only way out of the deadlock."
(see al Ahram article quoted earlier).

A weak, divided Iraq would be unable to help Palestinians or stand up to Western oil interests. Of course, saying that hostile outside interests hope to gain from fomenting internal strife does not of itself prove their responsibility for sectarian attacks, though it is not the only evidence. Nor does it absolve from blame those inside the country who serve such aims, whatever their claims, whether politicians who carve out ethno-religious fiefs, or terrorists deliberately killing civilians. (As Munir, an Iraqi friend pointed out when we were discussing responsibility, "The CIA does not have suicide bombers". But that does not mean they or one of their allies could not manipulate some group that did.)

We don't have to idealise the Iraqi people to recognise these things. But since we can count on the corporate media to stress the "religious divisions" and sectarian strife, as though it was a natural thing, we might as well do what we can to publicise the other side.



At 4:59 PM, Blogger Cyberotter said...

We have a series started on this topic. If interested you can read it here.


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