Friday, August 15, 2014

Look Behind the Barbarity in northern Iraq

AS the US and British governments appear to dither about how to help the victims of ISIS barbarity in Iraq and Syria, and whether to step in to the conflict, many people are remarking on the bitter irony that this bloody mess is a result of the West's previous intervention, that is the invasion of Iraq.

They may be right, as far as this goes, but I would ask whether ISIS and the sectarian war it brings to a horrific head is the entirely unintended result of a war and occupation that went wrong, or part of an imperialist policy that succeeded all too well?

We know now that the Iraq war was not aimed at destroying Saddam Hussein's supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction, about which Tony Blair went to such lying lengths. It was not aimed either at stopping a sectarian war in Iraq, which scarcely existed before the invasion and occupation. It was not about "War on Terror", for which Iraq was not the base (aside from the terrorist Mojahideen e Khalq operations against neighbouring Iran, which the US supported). That would seem to leave the popularly believed assumption that it was a war about oil, though not in the sense that the Iraqis were sitting on scarce oil and refusing to sell it (quite the contrary) or even big oil companies had their eye on Iraqi oilfields for profits (though of course they do).

It was the overall US strategy of maintaining its supremacy by controlling as much as possible of the world's energy supplies, and for this destroying any kind of independent development by countries like Iraq.

From the outset there were warnings that the occupiers would follow a divide-and-rule policy, carving up Iraq. To the physical destruction wrought by "Shock and awe" was added the destruction of Iraq as a modern state and the imposition of a confessional constitution modeled on that bequeathed to Lebanon by France, so that religious divisions are given permanence, and scramble for privilege and supremacy. Secular Iraqis, those for whom religious belief or not took second place to progress or patriotism, lost out, as did minorities. As for women, mothers who had been used to their mode of dress being a matter of choice learned from their daughters that going out unveiled could be a fatal risk.

Sectarian gangs could be a cover for death squads targeting not just political opponents but educated Iraqis, thousands of whom - including doctors, teachers, geologists and engineers - were killed or driven into exile, or 'disappeared'. Many Palestinian families in Iraq found themselves refugees for a second time (and since the Syrian war, a third). But would the invaders of Iraq deliberately foment, rather than attempt to contain, sectarian strife?

Watchers had noticed the move to Iraq of British officers with special experience in Northern Ireland. On September 19, 2005, two British Special Forces soldiers dressed in Arab clothes and driving an unmarked car, were captured in Basra. They were reportedly members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR, and according to British accounts were on a surveillence mission. But the equipment they had with them suggested a more offensive role, and the suspicion raised by Iraqis, and nasty-minded people like me, was that they were posing as terrorists and acting as agent provocateurs, on a mission to plant bombs in a mainly Shi'ite area, a 'false-flag' terrorist attack.

Whatever the truth, the army and the SAS launched an operation to forcibly free its men from the Iraqi police hands, so that they would not give anything away under interrogation or before any court.

On April 1, 2005, the top of the Malwiya minaret in Samarra had been damaged by a bomb. Built in about 850 AD as part of the caliph Al-Mutawakkil's Great Mosque, this minaret is unique, its name 'malwiya' means "snail shell", because it is a hollow conical spiral, looking like some of the pictures one sees of the Biblical Tower of Babel.

Some reports said innsurgents had attacked the tower because U.S. troops had been using it as a lookout position. But Tony Blair in his January 21, 2011 Iraq Inquiry testimony said insurgents had attacked the mosque to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilize the country.

Another Samarra mosque, al-Askari, was severely damaged by explosives on February 22, 2006 at about 6:44 a.m. The mosque, and shrine of the two imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, was one of the holiest sites for Iraqi Shia, and blame focussed immediately on Sunni militants, although as one man from Samarra told me, the city's historic mosques and shrines had long been a source of pride to local people no matter what their religious affiliation or lack of it.

There were also questions such as, how any mere amateurs with home made bombs could have caused such damage to the mosque's thick walls; and how they could have got their explosives into place for what seemed like a skilled demolition job, while evading the US occupiers curfew and patrols.

Nevertheless, the mosque's bombing sparked off violence against Sunnis , with 168 mosques attacked, ten imams killed, and well over 1,000 people killed all told. The normal daily patrols of US coalition forces and Iraqi security forces were temporarily suspended in Baghdad during the few days following the bombing.

Discussing whether outside forces could have been responsible for attacks like those on the Samarra mosques or the many car bombings that have taken civilian lives in Iraq, an Iraqi friend Munir shook his head. " The CIA does not have suicide bombers". I replied: "Maybe not. But the Saudis have". I was not referring to the Saudis' own personnel so much as to those recruited and trained by organisations set up with Saudi money, such as Taliban and al Qaeda.

Even while Tony Blair was warning the Iranian regime against interferance in Iraq (where its influence over the Shia-dominated Iraqi government was an unintended consequence of the US-led invasion), we were seeing reports that most of the armed infiltrators entering Iraq came over the Saudi border. The Saudi ruling family are the allies of our own and US imperialism, and certainly good customers for armaments, as well as generous with backhanders for politicians. But they are also waging their own war for hegemony in the Muslim world, mainly but not exclusively against Iran and Shi'ites. It was with this in mind that Saudi backing propelled the Taliban into power in Afghanistan, But we should not forget either that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudis, like Osama Bin Laden, and according to CIA reports received Saudi money from not just private but government sources.

If there was any doubt whether al Qaeda was involved in the attack on al Askhari mosque, as the Iraqi government alleged, there was no need to question their connection with the outrage on Sunday, October 31,2010, when more than 100 people were taken hostage in an attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad,during Sunday evening Mass, and at least 58 people, including children, were killed. The attackers referred to their victims as "infidels", and shouted out allegations about supposed offences committed against Muslims by Christians in Egypt. Witnesses reported that though the gunmen spoke Arabic, they spoke with non-Iraqi accents, even foreign dialect.

The then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility.

It may be that the ISIS eruption has got out of hand and has gone further than any of its backers intended

But there are a few questions I would ask, for which I claim no originality or ingenuity:

One, how come that after seeing events like that attack on the Baghdad christian Mass four years ago, the CIA and MI6 and other agencies, with all their experts, and sources of intelligence - human and electronic - were so taken by surprise by what has happened in Mosul and northern Iraq - or at least, their governments were?

Two, remembering all we heard after 9/11 about tracking down sources of aid and weapons to al Qaida etc, how come these governments and agencies, with all their surveillance and hacking into communications and transactions by companies,trade unions, and ordinary individuals like you and me, have seemed unable - or unwilling - to touch the flow of money and resources to the real terrorist groups?

Three, how is it that volunteers from as far afield as Britain, the United States and as I heard the other day,Indonesia, have been able to reach ISIS in landlocked northern Iraq, without its own airport, and not traveling by magic carpet so far as I am aware.

Four - assuming that the ISIS forces' heavy modern military equipment, unusual for a supposed rebel guerrilla force, was all captured (what with, catapults?) who trained them to use it?

It is traditional for the youngest child of the family to ask four questions as part of the Passover ceremony, but if my four seem too simple and obvious to bother answering, I'll add a fifth. Why have they been passed over without being asked, let alone answered, by those clever people we see on TV?

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