Stop new imperialist war in Iraq and Syria

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On September 10 US President Barack Obama launched a full-scale aerial war in Iraq and Syria against the forces of ISIS, the “Islamic State”, which overran large parts of Iraq and northern Syria in August and September. France and Britain have now joined the US war.
The claim that the objective is to save the Yazidis or Christians fleeing the ISIS advance, let alone the Kurds of Kobanê or Erbil, is a gigantic fraud. US bombing around Kobanê, supposedly to protect the 200,000 Kurds who face genocide at the hands of ISIS, has been largely cosmetic and done little to slow the ISIS advance. Like the expansion of Nato into Eastern Europe and the clash with Russia over Ukraine, this new war is part of the US and its closest European allies’ reassertion of their world domination.
It is aimed at proving that in the Middle East, as in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, their peoples cannot do without the “protection” of the global sheriff and his British and French deputies. Yet it is this protection racket that has stimulated the growth of such movements as ISIS, never mind the funding they received from America’s allies in the Gulf. The growth of reactionary sectarian forces, whether from a Sunni or Shia background, is a direct result of the West’s wars and occupations, its blockades and embargoes and its support for reactionary regimes in pursuit of control and exploitation of the oil wealth of the region whilst the ordinary people live in misery.
Socialists and anti-imperialists, especially those living “in the belly of the beast”, must recognise that, ultra-reactionary as forces like ISIS and al-Qaeda are, the main enemy is at home. We must rebuild a dynamic anti-war movement to oppose the war drive and demand that the bombing ceases and all air, land and sea forces are withdrawn from the Middle East.
While we must reject the West’s humanitarian claims as a mere pretext, we must support wholeheartedly struggle of the genuinely progressive democratic and national liberation forces, like the Kurds or the Syrian revolutionaries against ISIS. We wish to see them defeat their brutal caliphate and recognise their right to take arms from the background, is a direct result of the West’s wars and occupations, its blockades and embargoes and its support for reactionary regimes in pursuit of control and exploitation of the oil wealth of the region whilst the ordinary people live in misery.
However, support for those struggles must not be confused with support for the war waged by the Western imperialist powers. Victory for them would mean the imposition of their rule over all the peoples and resources of the region; therefore we wish to see them defeated in this war.
So far, in Europe and North America, opposition to this new war has been muted and small scale, a far cry from the huge mobilisations against the 2003 Iraq war. Then the imperialists’ predatory aims were as clear as their pretext was flimsy. The lie – Saddam’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” rather than Iraq’s huge oil wealth – was easily seen through by millions.
Moreover, unlike almost any other opponent, ISIS positively wants and needs an imperialist intervention. Its leaders calculate, correctly, that this will not only bring them international recruits but also consolidate their leadership of the “Jihadist” forces – already Al-Nusra has agreed to cooperation. That is why they have used every opportunity to publicise the barbarity of their own tactics. Widespread revulsion has limited opposition to the war, thereby playing into the hands of both ISIS and Washington.
The strategy of the takfiri-jihadi reactionaries behind ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front is based on the knowledge that, when the Americans and their allies unleash their F16s, drones, Tomahawk cruise missiles and UK Tornados, they will kill hundreds, even thousands, of innocent civilians and this will ensure that the masses of the entire region hate the western “humanitarian bombers” even more than they already do.
Added to this is the virulent Islamophobia of the western media and police forces at home, pumped up by fear of suicide bombers. This will further alienate Muslim youth and “radicalise” more to join the jihad. Already, some see the ISIS caliphate as the only means to unite the region against the “crusaders” – just as earlier generations saw Arab nationalism as the unifier against US imperialism and its Zionist ally.
Obama and his Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, claim that there will be “no US boots on the ground”. This is a brazen lie. It is inconceivable that US Special Forces are not already acting as spotters for the air attacks, embedded with the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish peshmerga. In addition, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that in Syria “We need 12,000 to 15,000 to reclaim lost territory”.
It is impossible that all of these will be Kurdish fighters from Rojava or the Free Syrian Army even if these do accept the suicidal role of becoming foot soldiers of US imperialism. If this is to be a long war, lasting years, as Obama, Hagel, Cameron and Hollande have all said, it is inevitable that US and European ground forces will be drawn into it, with all the disastrous consequences of the wars and occupations of 2001-2010.
The USA is now trying to create an alliance of regional forces to rein in, if not destroy, ISIS. This stretches from thethe Iranian regime to the Turkish government of Erdogan, the Saudi Kingdom and the Gulf emirates; from the Kurdish PKK and KDP fighters to the Free Syrian Army and Hezbollah.
It has also led to a tacit understanding with the Syrian regime. It includes Sunni governments that have allowed ISIS fighters to travel to Syria and Iraq and in many cases also armed them. Similarly, Turkey has repeatedly closed its borders to Kurdish refugees and attacked Kurdish fighters wanting to join the defence of Kobanê while allowing jihadis to enter Syria.
The mutual hatreds and bloody atrocities that marked relations between many of these forces in the past, mean that this alliance, even if it can be put together, is unlikely to be effective in achieving the strategic objectives defined by the US. For example, Turkey is likely to oppose the arming of Kurdish forces and may even militarily occupy Kurdish regions of Syria itself on the pretext of “protecting the Kurds”. Equally, the Saudi regime will oppose anything that could conceivably strengthen Iran. When the alliance fails, this will no doubt be used as justification for a full-scale intervention by US and possibly British and French forces too.
ISIS has shown that its 30,000 fighters are more steeled and effective than either the ramshackle and corrupt Iraqi army or the peshmerga whose military efficacy has been talked up by western politicians and journalists. The Iraqi Shia militias are feared and hated in the Sunni north of the country for the atrocities they committed and this in part accounts for ISIS’ support in this region. If the political leaders of the Kurds, either in Iraq or in Rojava, and the FSA in Syria, identify themselves with the US and its allies, they will increasingly be seen as tools of hated foreign imperialism and, as minorities in the region, could find themselves even more the victims of genocide.
Meanwhile, in Europe and North America the large Muslim communities, as in previous wars, will find themselves the target of Islamophobic propaganda from the media and harassment by the police and the secret services. In all these countries, the labour movements must rally to their defence.
It is the duty of the revolutionary organisations in these countries to solidarise in particular with the Muslim youth in their anger at events in the Middle East. That anger is totally justified, as is their hatred of the US, Britain and France’s exploitation and domination of what, for many, is their families’ original homeland.
They are justified in seeing the need for the most radical policies against imperialism. However, the radicalism of the takfiri, that is the adoption of sectarian hatreds and religious bigotry, can only lead to their social isolation. A mass anti-war movement that clearly opposes all imperialist aggression in the Middle East and draws in those youth can be a real force where Obama and Cameron most fear it – at home.

  • Stop the bombing now!
  • Withdraw all imperialist forces and bases from the Middle East!
  • Victory to the Syrian revolution!

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Red Flag is a socialist organisation campaigning within Labour for a democratically planned and owned economy. We campaign for grassroots democracy in the labour movement, militant defence of the oppressed and an anticapitalist programme for the Labour Party. Against Brexit, for free movement. Anticapitalist and internationalist.

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