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Iraq – it could take years

Ten weeks after Parliament voted to bomb IS (Islamic State) in northern Iraq, US Secretary of State John Kerry has admitted that it could take years for them to be defeated.  Since Parliament’s vote in September, other European countries have lined up to take part in the campaign – but it remains uncertain whether these actions will materially alter the balance of forces on the ground.

The murderous nature of IS is not in question. Three months ago they kidnapped hundreds of women from the Yazidi sect and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse, slavery and forced marriage.

In Iraq, there are reports of former election candidates being hunted down and publicly executed in areas now under their control. In Syria, children are being recruited, given religious training and sent off to fight. 

But serious questions are now being raised about the air strikes intended to destroy their forces by the US and its allies. There is evidence of 100 or more non-combatants killed since the US bombardment began in August. In one particular incident, an estimated 65 civilians, mainly women and children, were bombed in a crowded market, an atrocity scarcely reported in western media.

Yet the Pentagon has no plans to pay compensation for those killed in error – a significant departure from its practice in recent conflicts. A recent article in Foreign Policy in Focus expresses fears this might play into IS hands. It quoted a terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch:

The U.S. and its allies began making no-fault payments for civilian casualties in Afghanistan after their failure to acknowledge these tragedies created a backlash and handed a recruiting card to groups like the Taliban. While states have no international legal obligation to compensate for so-called ‘acceptable collateral damage,’ doing so is the right move morally and strategically.”

The US-led Coalition against IS continues to grow. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE are bombing IS targets in Syria and the Europeans – the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, France, Belgium, as well as Canada and Australia – are active in northern Iraq. In a move that could well backfire politically, Iran too has joined the bombardments. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the action. Singapore is the latest country to send military personnel.

Boots on the ground are supplied by the notoriously corrupt Iraqi army. Patrick Cockburn has documented how salaries and equipment were claimed for some 50,000 “ghost soldiers”. It was this state of affairs that led to the army’s military collapse in Mosul earlier this year, leading to the town’s seizure by IS. The New York Times confirms this:

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.”

Despite the removal of former prime minister Nouri Al-Malaki whose sectarian policies fuelled the Sunni uprising from which IS extremists have profited, the Iraqi military continues to behave in a sectarian manner, targeting Sunnis indiscriminately. According to a recent New York Times report, when the Euphrates Valley farming town of Jurf al-Sakhar was recaptured from IS, the town’s last remaining civilian residents – about 70,000 Sunnis – were driven out of town. The army was helped in its work by the Shia militias that accompanied it. There have been reports of these militias carrying out the most brutal reprisals.

In a classic mission creep, US combat troops are gradually returning to Iraq too. Under the new puppet prime minister Haider al Abadi, the Pentagon has secured for its forces what was denied by his predecessor: immunity for US soldiers from prosecution for any offence. Bush’s discredited war looks like being part of Obama’s legacy too.

In the UK, it’s tempting to be discouraged by the large numbers of MPs who voted to join the bombing of northern Iraq eleven years after British forces invaded. But talking to some of them, it’s clear that they are profoundly ignorant of the situation. They have bought the line that IS are “pure evil” and that other forces in play are well-meaning, including the puppet Iraqi government, that is in fact led by the same Shia party that unleashed a sectarian conflict in Iraq that fuelled the Sunni rebellion that IS have been able to capitalise on. It’s worth trying to explain patiently to some of these MPs – especially those who rebelled against the 2003 invasion – what’s really happening.


  1. swatantra says:

    It has to be a Regional solution, and NOT led by America or any western power. About time these Arabs got their fingers out and started tackling nepotism and islamofacism themselves. I know they themselves are the problem. States like Saudi and Bahrein and Kuwait, all regressive powers. I’d rather see a secular military dictatorship rather than a dictatorship of the Monarchy and Feudal tribal families. Preferably a dictatorship of the prolatariat would be the very best solution for the Middle East. Democracy is completely out of the question, because the Arabs have little conception of ‘democracy’; its just an idea they see in textbooks.

  2. P Spence says:

    Disappointing that there is no acknowledgement of the secular Syrian government’s war with IS; on the ground SAA forces have been the most effective at fighting IS the last three years. Why don’t we conditionally and materially support their struggle?

  3. David Ellis says:

    American imperialism has successfully diverted the Arab Spring into an America versus the Islamists war. By refusing to help the Syrian people against The Butcher Assad they assured the rise of the Jihadists and the slaughter of the revolution. That is what they, the neo-Stalinist scum that back Putin and every other counter revolutionary turd on the planet wanted. Ironic now that those who have protested a non-existent Western intervention in Syria for the last three years are suddenly welcoming an actual intervention and even demanding the NATO forges an alliance with Iran, Iraq, the PKK and you guessed it Assad.

  4. Barry Ewart says:

    The whole thing is a mess. Are there any democratic socialist forces there who could try to unite diverse religious groups and others plus most importantly win the tribes over? Are trade unions existent? I remember reading an article in the New Left Review a while ago on how many in the West ignore the importance of tribalism in some countries in the World. Of course oil may also be on the minds of the powerful with Western oil interests in Iraq, with IS grabbing a share and rival oil giants Saudi Arabia and Iran having their own self interests. Socialists aim to unite the WHOLE OF DIVERSE WORKING HUMANITY whilst the extreme religious factions seem to want the complete dominance of their one perspective of one religion. Can democratic socialists offer hope and peaceful solutions when everything there to the World seems utterly hopeless? The World needs a positive banner. Yours in peace and international solidarity.

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