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Proletarian issue 61 (August 2014)
Isis: Imperialism gets tangled up in its own traps
From Plan A to Plan B.
Frustrated in its efforts to overthrow the constitutional government in independent Syria after three years of proxy war, and fearing that the sectarianism with which its divide-and-rule policy has contaminated Iraqi society will not forever serve to smother the resurgent voice of national resistance within that country either, it seems that imperialism now prays that the development into a major force in Iraq of its own unacknowledged offspring – the well-equipped and trained islamist forces of Isis – may one way or another help to tip things back in the West’s favour.

It has long been plain that the most ruthless and the best organised of the counter-revolutionary forces fighting to subvert the sovereignty of Syria have been those of Isis (the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, now grandiloquently rebranded, with delusions of establishing a global ‘caliphate’, simply as the Islamic State). Whilst it seems that this organisation, incubated by the West and the Gulf states, has by its extreme violence and obscurantism in fact made it harder than ever to unite the ragbag of anti-Assad forces, it remains the most potent continued military threat to the Syrian people.

Now with Isis rampant across the border into Iraq, capturing Mosul in a lightning strike and threatening to push south toward Baghdad, and with the feeble Iraqi army, hand-reared by the imperialist occupation, initially mounting poor resistance, the rapidly developing facts on the ground are throwing much received wisdom into question and opening the flood gates to speculative analysis and prognostication, of varying levels of usefulness.

How far US imperialism is successfully stage-managing events and how far it is itself being overtaken by those events is a moot point. Where it is capable of steering events to coincide with its interests, it will do so. However, it is even able to benefit from instability, chaos and bloodshed to the extent that it weakens imperialism’s opponents, and is prepared to wait for an opportunity to pounce again on its weakened enemy.

So in Syria it has been clear to all observers for many months now that imperialism has failed to unseat the country’s lawful president by means of a proxy war. The dream of a scrubbed-up secular united-front government of comprador stooges capable of overthrowing the constitution, supplanting the elected government and acting as a stable cipher for imperialist interests has totally failed.

Their pet ‘Syrian National Coalition’ (SNC) has completely fallen apart and the fight against Assad has morphed into a vicious internecine scrap between rival mercenaries and jihadists. Meanwhile, the patriotic forces of Syria are getting on with mopping up the pockets of rebellion and the president has been overwhelmingly re-elected for a further term of office.

However, the fact that imperialism has not won this proxy war does not mean that it will accept defeat. If it cannot impose its ‘New Order’, then, for the moment, it will set its sights on stoking up yet more chaos in the region, in the hope that out of all this witches’ brew something may turn up to imperialist advantage. Imperialism has a long history of backing more than one side in a conflict, the better to exercise command.

In this light, it is possible to start making some sense of the yawning contradictions raised by the Isis invasion from Syria into Iraq. Least significant in this respect are the barmy subjective notions entertained by the fighters themselves, with their pipe dreams of establishing a caliphate embracing Syria, Iraq and beyond.

Such pipe dreams are no threat to imperialist interests. Indeed, they usefully blow smoke in people’s eyes and make it harder to discern what is really going on. The more imperialism can bamboozle us all into falsely blaming ancient tribal, ethnic or confessional enmities for the horrors unleashed by its own actions, the happier it will be.

The counter-revolutionary role of Isis in Syria is only too obvious, and the additional nuisance value of having a permanent Isis occupation of the north of Iraq, with the Iraqi border serving as a home territory for the proxy war, will not be taken lightly by Damascus.

Indeed, since its rapid advance in Iraq, Isis has also stepped up its activities in Syria – both against the legitimate government of President Assad and the patriotic people, and against various other stripes of counter-revolutionaries, as well as the Kurds.

In late July, Isis managed to seize control of the major Shaar oil field, east of the city of Homs, and, using its international connections, has even pressed it into commercial service, further filling its counter-revolutionary war coffers as a result. Further, with its military capacity much augmented by the weaponry seized from a demoralised Iraqi army, Isis has also temporarily captured Deor-al-Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria.

A Ba’athist revolt?

What the Isis incursion really means for the people of Iraq itself is less obvious. Some commentators have suggested that the invasion, billed in the media as a sunni islamist takeover, is in fact primarily the work of the Ba’athist resistance, with former Ba’athist generals in the van.

While it is clear that the rapid advance of Isis in sunni areas of Iraq has only been possible because of support from Ba’athist elements resentful of the Iraqi government’s marginalisation of Iraq’s sunni population, it is far from clear that the Ba’athists, who are secular, will be any better off under a sunni religious fundamentalist regime than they were under the Maliki government. One can surmise that the Isis headbangers are counting on being able to eliminate the Ba’athists as soon as this becomes tactically feasible (assuming they have much of a clue about tactics), and the Ba’athists are waiting for their moment to eliminate the fundamentalists.

In the meantime, however, the southern sweep has closed the frontier of Syria to the passage of material support from Iran to the Assad government and represents something of a setback to the anti-imperialist cause, although it would seem unlikely to prove fatal.

Imperialism: making the best of a bad job

What is constant in all these contradictory developments is the crisis-driven imperative of imperialism, in particular Anglo-American imperialism, to maintain and extend its stranglehold upon global markets by any means necessary – up to and including the containment and ultimate subjugation of Russia and China. Within that overarching perspective, imperialism will try to snatch a temporary advantage out of the chaotic mess arising precisely from its own humiliating failure to direct events.

There is no doubt that Washington would much prefer to have seen plan A neatly unfold in Syria, with a hand-picked shadow government of the émigrés and chancers in the ‘Syrian National Council’ ready to take over once the ‘respectable’ ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) had done the West’s dirty work for it and toppled the Syrian government. And it seems unlikely that Washington would initially have chosen to see the Isis lunatics (expelled from al-Qaeda as too extreme) sweep the FSA and the SNC aside.

But now, with plan A in tatters, the Syrian army generally on the front foot and the anti-Assad forces at each other’s throats, imperialism needs to pull out of the wreckage whatever might prove to its advantage – with it always understood that imperialism has no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

Imperialism is therefore hurriedly piecing together its Plan B.

So far as Iraq is concerned, for a long time now the Maliki government has tried the patience of the West, putting obstacles in the way of the US prolonging its semi-occupation of the country and maintaining warm relations with Iran and Syria, and, to a degree as a result, with Russia and China, too. Plan B would seem to involve letting the Isis incursion throw a scare into the Baghdad government, in the expectation that this will bring Baghdad to heel and enable the US to replace Maliki with a leadership suitably hostile to Iran and pliant to the West (or force Maliki to flood his government with anti-Iranian elements if he does remain in power).

The Kurdish response to the incursion, defending and expanding Kurdish areas from attack by Isis while seizing the opportunity to hasten secession from Baghdad, also coincides with imperialist plans to balkanise and weaken Iraq. The pre-emptive Kurdish seizure of Kirkuk, ostensibly to save it from capture by Isis but with small likelihood of its voluntary return to Baghdad, marks a further erosion of Iraq’s status as a unitary state.

As regards Syria, the advantage to imperialism of Isis establishing squatters’ rights in the north of Iraq, affording a base area from which proxy war against Damascus could continue to be waged, is obvious.

At the moment there are over 800 US military advisers and troops in Iraq, as the permanent base has been significantly reinforced in the last few weeks. The chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Martin E Dempsey, has announced that Washington is considering airstrikes in support of the Iraqi government and against Isis. However, at the same time US imperialism is stepping up its support for the Syrian ‘rebels’ – support theoretically going to opponents of Isis, but which Isis is strongly positioned to ‘liberate’ on a fairly consistent basis. And meanwhile the threatened airstrikes somehow don’t materialise.

When this US duplicity and its implications come to be realised by the Iraqi government, Plan B could backfire, for there must be a chance that the shia-dominated Iraqi government will be driven to rely more and more on Iran to fight off the Isis advance on Baghdad and hitch its chariot to what former Iranian President Ahmadinejad memorably dubbed the ‘axis of resistance’, causing a definitive breach of the Iraqi regime away from dependence on US imperialism. There is already some evidence of improvement in the Iraqi army’s fortunes after the earlier debacle, with the recapture of Tikrit on 15 July after a very bloody two-and-a-half-week struggle.

Nevertheless, the situation remains very volatile and only time will tell if at last this area of the Middle East is going to be cleansed of all traitors willing to sell themselves, whether out of fundamentalist stupidity or out of greed, to the imperialist enemy of the peoples of the world.

Imperialism out of the Middle East!

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