October 05, 2014

Iraq: Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Yohannan Chemarapally

THE gruesome beheading of three westerners by the Islamic State (IS), previously known as ISIL and ISIS, has once again led to a large scale American military intervention in Iraq. Alarmingly, the US has used the alleged threat posed by the IS to its homeland security to extend the military intervention to Syria. The chorus of right wing voices in the United States has demanded a full scale military intervention in the region. In the videotapes released by the IS on the beheadings, it is a masked man speaking with a pronounced British accent, who carries out the decapitations. Thousands of westerners are known to have joined the jihadi forces fighting in Syria and Iraq. It is only now that the governments in the West have started to take serious notice. The lightning military advances made by the IS in northern and central Iraq and the control of strategic assets like dams and oil wells by the militant outfit, had initially prompted a lukewarm response from the Obama administration. In fact, initially there seems to have been some coordination between the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq and the IS. The IS forces had taken over Mosul while the Kurdish forces ousted the Iraqi government forces from the disputed oil city of Kirkuk. But what many observers in the region had viewed as a tacit opportunistic alliance was short lived. The IS soon turned its attention to the Kurd controlled areas of northern Iraq and another oil city, Irbil. That as far as the Americans were concerned was the crossing of a “red line” by the IS in Iraq. Irbil is the capital of Kurdish administered northern Iraq and the offices of big American oil companies like Exxon Mobil have their regional offices in the city. It was the threat posed by the IS to Kurdish run northern Iraq that prompted the White House to order the large scale deployment of the US air force. The Americans have a consulate and hundreds of military advisers and security operatives in the city. President Barack Obama told Thomas Friedman of the NYT, that American lives would be endangered if Irbil falls to the IS. Northern Iraq, controlled by the Kurds, is for all practical purposes being run like an independent state. The Kurds in northern Iraq are going to hold a referendum later this year to formally chart out an independent course. The Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq has been a long standing ally of the West. An independent Kurdistan will be an all weather friend of Washington like another small but powerful country in the region, Israel. America was left with no other option but to intervene militarily to prevent the collapse of its only political ally in Iraq and hurt its “special interests” in northern Iraq. The US Vice President, Joseph Biden, has been talking about the need for the “soft partitioning” of Iraq for some time. The US has been rushing in more sophisticated arms and advisers to bolster the Kurds. The Kurdish army in the north, known as the Pesh Marga was reputed to be an effective fighting force unlike the Iraqi army. But in the face of the IS assault, they retreated even faster than the Iraqi national army. The US is now funneling more sophisticated arms directly to the Kurdish government in northern Iraq without the central government in Baghdad being in the loop. Another reason for the American military intervention was to free the Mosul dam which had come under the control of the IS. The dam which supplies electricity and water to a large section of the Iraqi population has since been retaken by the Kurdish Peshmarga and Iraqi forces after American planes used massive firepower to disperse the IS forces. The US also used its air force to drop food for thousands of Yazidis who had fled to a desolate mountain top to escape the depredations of the IS fighters. All non-Sunni residents in the vast swathe of territory under IS control have been victimised. The Yazidis, who are not Muslims and reside in Mosul and the surrounding areas, were given an ultimatum to rebut their faith, which is a mix of Old Testament Christian, Zoroastrian and Islamic beliefs. The Islamic militants have derided them as “devil worshippers”. The plight of the few thousand Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar and the efforts of the US to provide them succour was front page news at the time when the Israelis were bombing Gaza into rubble. Another minority group, the Turkmen, who are Shias, were also brutally targeted by the IS, but their plight was not similarly highlighted in the West. The IS chose to time their military offensive at a time when the West’s entire focus was on crisis in Ukraine and the Israeli offensive against the 1.8 million people trapped in the Gaza Strip. Washington was busy threatening Moscow while refusing to lift a finger against Israel as it continues with the massacre of innocents. The death toll in Gaza has now more than 2000 dead. WASHINGTON’S DIVIDE & RULE POLICY The Obama administration has not been that forthcoming with military help for the beleaguered Iraqi army which has lost the key cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul in quick succession. The IS has declared Fallujah the capital of the so-called Islamic Emirate they have proclaimed. Washington instead chose to make the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al Malki, the scapegoat for the military and political quagmire the country finds itself in. The fall of Mosul to the IS had sealed Malki’s political fate and he was forced to throw in the towel. It was the American occupation that led to the deepening of the sectarian divide in Iraq. Washington encouraged a divide and rule policy in the country to lengthen its occupation. Malki after two terms in office was finally forced to forsake his claim for a third term in office after he lost the backing of many of his allies, including the leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The new Prime Minister, Haydar al Abadi has the support of both Washington and Teheran. He was the surprise choice of the newly appointed Iraqi President, Fuad Masum, and an Iraqi Kurd. The Americans had played a key role in his selection. Abadi was living in exile in London for a long time. He, like the former prime minister, is a senior member of the Dawa Party, which has once again emerged as the largest bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. Washington viewed Malki as being too close to Teheran. They hope that the western educated Abadi would be more open to American demands. Abadi however faces an uphill task with the Kurds demanding more concessions and the Sunni leadership refusing to acknowledge the new political realities in Iraq, where the Shias constitute the overwhelming majority of the population. Iran has not criticised the use of American air power against the IS in Iraq. The IS had captured the town of Jalawla less than 50 km from the Iranian border. The IS considers Shias heretics all worthy of beheading. The leadership in Teheran is no doubt bemused with the latest talk in Washington about targeting the IS positions inside Syria. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Martin Dempsey said on August 21 that the IS can only be defeated by “addressing that part of the organisation that resides in Syria”. The US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said the US was looking at “all options” against the IS, including the redeployment of American troops in Iraq. Washington has now classified the IS as a “long term threat” to American interests. US officials have admitted that the IS fighters are using American equipment and military vehicles, including personnel carriers and Humvees. Hagel said that the IS is “tremendously well funded” and that the group poses an “imminent threat” to American interests globally. A lot of money has entered the IF coffers through covert and overt funding from American allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Washington had decided to stand aside for more than two years as the IS grew into the most potent fighting force against the Syrian government. The Qatari government was forced to issue a statement in late August denying that it had funded or supported the IS. The statement was followed by the release of an American hostage, Peter Theo Curtis, who was abducted two years ago in Syria. The family of Curtis has publicly thanked the Qatari government for facilitating his release from the custody of al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliated group. The release of the American hostage is an illustration of the influence some of the conservative monarchies continue to have with the “jihadist” groups like the al Nusra and the IS. Now the chickens have seemingly come to roost. In the last week of August, the IS carried out simultaneous bombings in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Irbil, killing more than a hundred people. In Diyala province, more than 70 worshippers were killed in a mosque. The IS is going all out to make the sectarian divide unbridgeable. The Iraqi army is a shadow of the force it once was. The first thing the Americans did after they occupied the country in 2003 was to disband the Iraqi army. The first Gulf War and the draconian sanctions that followed had already adversely impacted the Iraqi army. The Iraqi air force, once the most potent in the region, was scrapped altogether. The new Iraqi army, set up under the overall supervision of the US occupying forces, turned out to be underequipped, undisciplined and manned by corrupt officers. Recent events have shown that it is incapable of putting up a fight. The fight against the IS in Iraq is now spearheaded by various militias, many of them trained by the Iranians and the Hezbollah. Many of the IS fighters on the other hand were either experienced men having earned their spurs in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other terrorist hotspots or were trained by western intelligence agencies in Turkey, Jordan and other countries. Many of the IS fighters had defected from so-called moderate groups fighting in Syria that had the open support of the West, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies. “The US and its regional allies armed and trained ‘moderate’ Sunni rebels to oust President Bashar al Assad in order to weaken Iranian/Russian influence in West Asia. Then those ‘moderate’ rebels became more radical and joined the IS which has emerged as the largest, wealthiest and most radical terrorist organisation in the region”, French intellectual Thierry Meysan recently wrote in the Voltaire website. GENIE CREATED BY THE WEST NOW OUT OF THE BOTTLE The IS has said that the execution of Foley was directly connected with the targeting of its forces in Iraq by the American air force. The IS had been allowed a free run in neighbouring Syria where the West and its regional allies viewed the secular government led by President Bashar al Assad as the bigger enemy. “In Syria, ancient Christian churches were destroyed, nuns and bishops were kidnapped and priests were killed. This was widely ignored in large part because many in the region and in the West were so focused on attacking the Assad government”, an academic, Edmund Ghareeb from the American University recently observed. More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria since the western backed insurrection started four years ago. Most of the sophisticated arms supplied by the West to the jihadi forces fighting in Syria are now in the hands of the IS. Many of the IS leaders were in fact toasted as freedom fighters by US dignitaries like Senator John McCain during their visits to the region. In May last year, the war mongering senator illegally entered Syria and met with the leadership of the armed opposition in Idlib. Among those present in the meeting, as illustrated in photographs released, were known al Qaeda activists. McCain on his return pronounced that the armed opposition to Assad comprised of “moderates, who can be trusted”. The Obama administration has been well aware that for the last two years, the ISIS and other al Qaeda affiliated groups have been doing the fighting in Syria. President Obama has said that his goal is to prevent the IS from creating “some sort of a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria”. The Syrian province of Raqqa and a large swathe of Iraq are already under the control of the IS. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the IS leader, has already proclaimed himself as the leader of the new Islamic Caliphate. Bombing the IS may no longer solve the problem as the genie created by the West and its allies is now out of the bottle. There are credible reports that former Ba’ath Party members and soldiers of Saddam’s army have aligned with the IS and have lent their military expertise. When this correspondent was in Baghdad just before the American invasion, senior Ba’ath Party officials said that they would be willing to join with the devil to exact their revenge on the occupying forces and their collaborators. But there are reports that this opportunistic alliance is showing signs of breaking up mainly because of the violent sectarian rampage that is being spearheaded by the IS.