ISIS: a product of imperialism and dictatorship

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As The Socialist was being produced, Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was seizing towns across Iraq and threatening to overthrow the Iraqi government. It’s actions have horrified many. But we need to cut through the mainstream media’s view of Isis as just another blood-thirsty movement.

How did Isis emerge?

ISIS is the offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It emerged during the U.S. occupation in 2006. Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it looks to an extreme version of Sunni Muslim fundamentalism that regards Shia Muslims as heretics. ISIS claims to have executed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers from the Shia-dominated army, who were taken prisoner during its offensive.

With fighters drawn mainly from Iraq, but also other countries around the region and the world, ISIS aims to establish a new caliphate (religious state) in Syria and Iraq. Its reactionary politics and brutal practices in both Syria and Iraq are so extreme that even al-Qaeda expelled the group from its network.

But Isis also emerged in Syria during the civil war. Reacting to the revolution in 2011 against hi dictatorial regime, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad broke up the country by launching a sectarian civil war.

Isis is an extreme Jihadist movement. It grew out of what was happening in both Iraq and Syria. The social fabric of Iraq was broken up in 2003 when the West invaded for control of Iraq’s oil resources. Isis has ruthlessly used the Syrian war and popular hatred of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to build its own state.

In Syria the social fabric was broken up by al-Assad, protected by Russian imperialism which has a brutal history in Afghanistan and Chechenia.

The ruling classes of the region, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia have an interest in Isis in Iraq for sectarian reasons.

Iran has uncharacteristically joined forces with the US and western imperialism. It has sent in the commander of an elite division of the Revolutionary Guard, along with other advisers and 2,000 troops, with the hope of shoring up the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad. The Islamic Republican regime in Tehran is particularly important as the main backer of al-Assad and al-Maliki, and also of Hizbollah, the Shiite Islamist movement in Lebanon.

On Iraq’s northern border, Turkey is contemplating action in defense of its personnel kidnapped by ISIS from a consulate in Mosul. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been accused of supporting Isis.

The ruling classes of the region are prepared to incite bloody sectarian conflict to shore their own rule and protect their own interests – even if it means collaborating with those who have for years been sworn enemies.

The background in Iraq

The west has ensured that a regime sympathetic to its oil interests is in power in Iraq. But the al-Maliki government is viewed by many as an occupying force and is dis-liked. A garrison of 30,000 Iraqi Army soldiers was organised to defend Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from Isis. Instead, apparently on orders from their commanders, they fled the city leaving behind a huge cache of weapons. This cache is now wielded by Isis. Once in the city, Isis raided banks and seized the equivalent of five-and-half billion Rand in assets.

But whilst half-a-million people fled from Mosul in terror, most of them were happy to see the Iraqi Army leave. As one Mosul resident, Ali Aziz, told the Guardian:

“I feel we have been liberated from an awful nightmare that was suffocating us for 11 years. The army and the police never stopped arresting, detaining and killing people, let alone the bribes they were taking from detainees’ families. Me and my neighbours are waiting for the news that the other six Sunni provinces have fallen into the hands of the ISIS fighters, to declare our Sunni region, like the three provinces in Kurdistan.”

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.

Tactics learned from the U.S. occupation– neighborhoods sweeps, mass arrests and torture

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.

ISIS has mainly targeted representatives of the central state and has yet to impose its harsh version of Islamic law in the conquered territory, instead trying to curry favor with the population. It remains to be seen how the population will respond if and when ISIS imposes bans on smoking and drinking, restricts women’s rights and conducts summary executions of infidels and those who disobey its edicts.”

After the quick conquest of Mosul, the insurgents sent forces to seize Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, and a couple other cities. They hope to add these to Falluja and Ramadi, which have been under the control of Sunni forces for months, to form an incipient Sunni-controlled section of Iraq.

Ominously, ISIS spokespeople have declared that they will attack Baghdad, along with Shia religious sites in Samara and the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. They have called for the indiscriminate murder of Shia that stand in their path.

Isis did not emerge from thin air

Isis did not emerge from thin air or from the pronouncements of a few crazed individuals. The dynamics that led to its formation have been developing for years in the region.

Faced with resistance to its to its imperial project in Iraq, the US precipitated a fractured resistance of both Sunnis and Shias. The response of the puppet government was first to alienate Shia Moslems as they were seen as being sympathetic to Iran. But then it was the turn of Sunni Moslems losing their jobs. In short, the US can only count on the support of Kurdish Moslems in the north of Iraq to remain loyal to the occupation project.

The Arab Spring rebellions

In many ways the sectarian conflicts in the region have their origins in the Arab Spring – a period beginning in December 2010 in Tunisia when there were revolts across the Middle East, the most profound being Egypt. These revolts demanded not only democratisation but also economic equality and freedom.

The response of the Arab autocracies (many of them unelected Kings with ineffective parliaments) was to intensify and stoke sectarianism.

The U.S.–and its regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist regime- -now tilted again, spreading fears of a “Shia Crescent” that would challenge the regional balance of power. Thus, the U.S. directly facilitated the increasingly state-backed sectarianism that is ripping through the Middle East.

War is no answer

The response from western and regional ruling classes to Isis has been to call for a war.

But because of its recent military history in the area (and the opposition that it has generated) it would be utter madness for the west to intervene again.

Similarly, for regional regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to intervene will lead to further sectarian bloodshed.

To add to all this, the serious long term threat is to US hegemony. The region is next to east Asia where the challenge is from China. But China is no friend of the masses. It seeks to extend and strengthen its own imperial ambitions.

All of this means that western, particularly US, imperialism is at bay for now.

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