Why is the U.S. bombing Iraq?

August 21, 2014

The U.S. military stepped up its air strikes in northern Iraq, reportedly carrying out several dozen missions in mid-August in support of Kurdish and Iraqi government military forces in an operation to retake the Mosul dam from fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

This represents a new escalation in the U.S. military intervention, which has been justified as a "humanitarian" mission to defend the Yazidi people and beleaguered Kurdish government forces from the extremist Sunni fundamentalists. But does the U.S. have the interests of Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities at heart. Joseph Daher, a member of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria, explains in this article for his blog Syria Freedom Forever that Washington's imperialist interests are driving this latest stage of the U.S. war on Iraq.

THE INTERVENTION of American military forces in Iraq was presented in Western and other media as an intervention to protect religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq against the military offensive of the ultra-reactionary jihadist group Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State Iraq and Syria, or ISIS). This propaganda hides the imperialist interests of the United States in its military intervention, which has no humanitarian purpose.

The IS, since the month of June, has continued to progress militarily in various regional areas, after the occupation of the city of Mosul. In the beginning, the IS was acting within a diverse coalition with former Ba'athists and tribal leaders, but the jihadist group quickly gained the upper hand on the other components (for background on the events of June in Iraq, see "Iraq, the continuous suffering" at the Syria Freedom Forever blog).

The IS suppressed all components of the population withholding its authority, including Sunni Muslims, while attacking and oppressing the Christians and Yezidi (a Kurdish-speaking minority whose monotheistic religion has its roots in Zoroastrianism, practiced particularly in Iran) minorities. The IS has emptied Mosul of its Christian population, and it has occupied Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq.

Islamic State militants deployed in Syria
Islamic State militants deployed in Syria

We have to mention the solidarity displayed by some of the Muslim population of Mosul in opposing the abuses of the IS against Christians. Muslims actually joined the Christians in protest, waving placards with the inscription "I am a Christian, I am Iraqi"--placing themselves between their Christian compatriots and the jihadists of the IS. Mahmoud Am-Asali, a law professor at the University of Mosul, was the first Muslim killed by jihadists for defending Christians.

On Saturday, July 19, the deadline set in the IS's notorious terror ultimatum--in which the jihadists proposed three choices to the Christians of Mosul: Islam, the dhimma (paying a special tax) and "if they refuse these two options, there is only the sword left"--Muslims in Mosul joined the mass at the church to pray alongside their Christian brothers. They also did so Sunday, July 20, in Baghdad, at the Catholic Church of Saint George.

The military offensive and the terror carried out by the IS have so far led to the flight of 100,000 Christians who were forced to leave their homes, in addition to 20,000 to 30,000 members of the Yezidi community who remained trapped by the IS in the mountains of Sinjar, without food, water or shelter, according to the office for UN refugees. Thousands more, exhausted and dehydrated, were able to reach the Kurdistan via Syria. More than 200,000 people in total have been displaced because of the military operations of the IS, and it has also committed massacres against civilians.

The IS has about 10,000 men in Iraq and about 7,000 men to Syria.

THE AMERICAN military intervention has until now taken the form of launching "targeted" air strikes against the jihadists of the IS, deploying military advisers on the ground, and sending arms to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurdistan regional self-government. France and Britain also supplied weapons to the latter. We must underline the support of Iran, the so-called "anti-imperialist" power, in supporting these American strikes to assist the Iraqi allied regime...

The Iranian regime has also sent Pasdaran, also known as the Revolutionary Guards, to Iraq to fight the IS. It has also sent to the Iraqi government a few Sukhoi Su-25 "Frogfoot" ground attack aircraft, which only the Pasdaran are equipped with among Iranian forces. Similarly, Iran continues to mobilize and fund Iraqi Shiite militias, with more than 20,000 members, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has been supporting for years.

Members of Lebanon's Hezbollah are also present in positions of command and coordination. One of them, Ibrahim al-Hajj, a veteran of the 2006 war against Israel, was recently killed in the north, near Mosul, where the IS has exercised control from the very beginning of its offensive in June.

On the other hand, Kurdish fighters from Iraq, Syria and Turkey have joined forces in a rare alliance, putting their disagreements aside temporarily to deal with jihadists in northern Iraq, in the region of Rabia and Sinjar, to the west of Mosul. Kurdish fighters of the PKK in Turkey, the PYD in Syria and the Iraqi peshmerga have united their forces in an unprecedented collaboration.

The U.S. military intervention, despite its "humanitarian" propaganda, nevertheless has clear strategic objectives, including to protect American diplomatic personnel stationed in Erbil (which is also home to a CIA base) and large multinational companies in the hydrocarbon sector, such as Mobil, Chevron, Exxon and Total, that are exploiting oil production in the region and have already invested more than $10 billion.

But the primary purpose above all is to maintain the Iraqi regime, inherited from the American invasion. The United States did not intervene when Mosul fell, along with other cities, and more than 200 000 refugees were on the road in the direction of Iraqi Kurdistan--but after the IS began threatening to conquer Kurdish areas of the north and the capital of Baghdad in the south.

That is why the United States only wants cosmetic and superficial changes in the Iraqi regime, replacing only Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was also let down by his Iranian ally because of his catastrophic mismanagement of the country. The new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is far from representing any radical change. He was a close partner of Maliki and a member of the same party, Dawa, while he was communications minister in the interim government set up after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Abadi has received international support, including from Iran.

Maliki nevertheless tried to remain in power, but finally gave up. Following this announcement, American officials said that they could accelerate economic and military aid to Iraq if the new government of Abadi is more inclusive, particularly towards the Sunni population of Iraq. But this forgets that it is the current political system in Iraq and the same political forces still power that have led Iraq into the situation it is today, as we explained in an article in June.

WE CAN see that the protection of religious and ethnic minorities is not at all a priority for the U.S. if we observe the practices of its political allies in the region. On the contrary, they discriminate and oppress their own minorities--such as Saudi Arabia and its Shia minority, Egypt and its Coptic Christian and Shia minority, or Israel and the Palestinian people, including Christians, who are repressed and pushed them into exile from the territory established in 1948 and the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, not to mention its policy of apartheid, occupation and colonization. Similarly, the U.S. was not as "concerned" as it says it is today about the attacks on minorities in the wake of the U.S. and British invasion in 2003.

We must remember that the origin of the IS is actually in the formation of al-Qaeda in Iraq following the American invasion. The IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began his experience of jihadism after the U.S. invasion when he joined the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, under the command of the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 2010, he took over as head of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (as it was known), replacing Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

It is nevertheless its involvement in the Syrian revolution--fighting mostly the Free Syrian Army rather than the Assad regime, especially from 2013--which allowed the IS to become what it is today. Fighting in Syria provided training and unprecedented learning opportunities for the IS. Now the group has tanks, Humvees, missiles and other heavy weapons acquired in its battles during the offensive in Iraq. This military material, including American-made weapons and equipment abandoned by the Iraqi army during its withdrawal from Mosul in June, greatly strengthened the military capabilities of the IS.

THE U.S. intervention is driven by political and imperialist interests and nothing else. These interests now demand the maintenance of an authoritarian and sectarian regime that the United States created in 2003, and that it has been supporting. The IS is the enemy of the United States because it threatens the sovereignty of a government which collaborates with American--not because it is an ultra reactionary sectarian group that attacks minorities and Iraqis in general.

Similarly, if the United States did not intervene in Syria, it is not because it thinks the Assad regime protects religious and ethnic minorities, but because it does not want to overthrow a regime that has served its political interests on many occasions in the past, including by suppressing the Palestinian and Lebanese progressive resistance in Lebanon and Syria, and by participating in the imperialist war against Iraq in 1991 with the coalition led by the United States.

The United States wants a "Yemeni solution" with the Assad regime--that is to say, maintain the structures of the regime and incorporate a fraction of the so-called opposition that serves Western and Gulf interests. It is for this reason that the United States did not intervene in Syria, not the protection of minorities.

Besides, the advances of the IS in Syria did not require a change of policy of the U.S. in relation to the Syrian revolutionary process. The events in Iraq have simply pushed the Assad regime to increase its attacks on the IS and its base in the city of Raqqa, so as to appear to be fighting "terrorism" before the international community.

The Assad regime since the beginning of the Syrian revolution actually focused on attacking and repressing the Democrats, the Popular Committees, and subsequently groups of the Free Syrian Army, while it freed Islamists and jihadists from its prisons and let them to expand. These jihadists, with political and financial support from regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been able to build large and well-armed military brigades.

The protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and all the citizens of Iraq, will only be possible through a truly democratic and social state, stripped of sectarianism and foreign interventions, whether by international and regional states. Supporting this does not stop us from supporting the self-determination of the Kurdish people, and even the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan if that is their choice. This support does not imply the support for the feudal political leader Masoud Barzani, who is an ally of the U.S. and Turkey. On the contrary, he must be fought and considered an enemy of the Kurdish working class because of his neoliberal and authoritarian policies and alliances with Western imperialism and regional cooperation with Turkey and Israel.

That is why we must oppose the imperialist intervention of the United States and other countries of the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and oppose the jihadists of the IS, their crimes and reactionary policies, as well as the authoritarian and sectarian Baghdad government. These foreign interventions are a major reason for the current situation in the country.

The need in Iraq and elsewhere is to build a democratic, progressive, secular and social popular movement opposed to sectarianism. This will allow the possibility of the working and popular classes to oppose political groups and foreign states seeking to divide them on a religious and/or ethnic basis, impoverishing them with neoliberal policies and oppressing them through authoritarian and repressive measures.

First published at Syria Freedom Forever.

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