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Proletarian issue 62 (October 2014)
Islamic State: Frankenstein’s monster is out of control
Will imperialism now be forced to abandon its plans for regime change in Syria?
The Islamic State (IS) terrorists, now officially established by imperialist politicians and presstitutes alike as ‘enemy number one’, are in reality a Frankenstein’s monster of imperialism’s own devising. But, like the original monster of fiction, IS is getting beyond its master’s control.

Whilst some aspects of its frenzy of violence in Iraq may be exploited to the West’s advantage, this state of chaos may prove to be most dangerous of all to the Anglo-American imperialist hegemony that for so long sowed and watered this particular noxious weed of jihadi terror in the Middle East. To be opening up yet another battle front in Iraq, when the full bitterness of the failure of its proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine have yet to be fully absorbed, speaks less of confident expansion than of a febrile over-extension of empire, exposing itself to the hostility of ever wider masses.

Islamic State: a proxy out of control

However loudly Washington talked about separating the Free Syrian Army sheep from the IS goats, US intelligence has all along known very well that all the military assistance that it was suppying to supposed ‘moderates’ via the likes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were ending up in the hands of the most ruthless and efficient forces, pre-eminently IS. So long as IS concentrated on fighting Assad’s forces, albeit with more and more of its energies consumed in internecine strife with opposing teams of headbangers, this was all seen as usefully destabilising Syria. Meanwhile, Washington could appear to distance itself, taking no responsibility for the behaviour of its own monstrous creation.

Even when IS spilled into northern Iraq and seized Mosul and Tikrit, there was no great haste to limit the scope of its mayhem, with the Iraqi army left to face the invasion on its own. Indeed, this unwonted passivity of the West has been interpreted by some as evidence that the whole exercise had been planned at the highest level from the start.

Even setting such speculation to one side, it is certainly the case that, at the very least, Washington has sought to salvage as much advantage from the wreckage as it can, seizing the chance to replace Maliki with what it hopes will be a more pliant prime minister suitably hostile to Iran, undermining the authority of the Baghdad government and geeing up the Kurds to resist IS.

The clear aim of all this is to balkanise Iraq into three servile vassals of imperialist power. All is not going to plan however.

Why Maliki was dumped

The intended dismemberment of Iraq as a unitary state faces many obstacles, not least that raised by the government in Baghdad itself.

Every government that has emerged since the invasion and occupation has been, in theory, a puppet government. When the country was still fully occupied, the government was clearly ‘elected’ under the shadow of the gun. And since the occupation officially ended, it has been made crystal clear to Baghdad that it ‘rules’ Iraq only under US sufferance.

Maliki’s predecessor as prime minister was ditched when he strayed too far from the line, and now Maliki has gone the same way, dropped like a hot potato and branded as ‘sectarian’. For the West to make this accusation is rich indeed, given its own disgusting history of sowing sectarianism where little or none previously existed. Maliki’s real crime, it is suspected, is having made efforts to stop Iraq being used as a stepping stone for foreign fighters to slip into Syria from Saudi Arabia to join their accomplices in terror, while allowing the passage of materials supplied by Iran to Assad’s government.

Such traffic in mercenaries and weaponry had been a regular practice, with Saudi Arabia smuggling IS fighters through the Al-Anbar province of Iraq and across the border into Syria. When, two years ago, Maliki dared to send his army into Al-Anbar province to challenge the smugglers and close down their rat run, the smugglers were obliged to switch the route from Saudi Arabia to go via the Jordanian border town of Al-Mafraq instead.

With the resultant appearance of both foreign fighters and US troops in Al-Mafraq, with the precise mission of the latter unclear, Jordan got the jitters. The deputy speaker of Jordan’s public, Khalil Atiya, stated that “As deputies, representing the Jordanian people, we do not accept the United States or any other country’s troops in Jordan,” adding significantly that “Jordanians do not think that Syria could pose a threat.” (‘Isis unveiled: The identity of the insurgency in Syria and Iraq’ by Christof Lehmann, 15 June 2014, nsnbc.me)

In other words, Jordan admitted that it was the US troops and the foreign fighters that posed the threat, not Syria. Such heretical sentiments were prompted by fear of its own people. As Oraib Rintavi of the al-Kudsk centre for Political Studies noted, “Jordanians do not feel comfortable with the presence of US troops and their weapons in the country. For the common people of Jordan, the US military presence is associated with a conspiracy against Jordan’s neighbours ... Society does not welcome Americans here, even if they say that they want to protect our country.” (Ibid)

And in Turkey, too, Erdogan is feeling similar pressures from a population that is sick of bailing out jihad in Syria. Hence Ankara’s nervous protestation that it will not allow Turkey to play a full military role in support of Obama’s coalition, supposedly limiting itself to ‘logistics’.

Haider al-Abadi: if the US can’t get rid of IS, time to ask Syria ...

With the north of Iraq now de facto partitioned between IS and the Kurdish Peshmerga, it might have seemed that all that remained for US meddling to achieve was the substitution of an Iraqi government that knows better than to try and defend Iraq’s northern borders and keeps to its own corner in the south.

This may prove more difficult than Washington anticipated, however. The new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, though hailed by pundits as an English-speaker who understands the West better than his predecessor, gave Washington something to think about when in June he told the Huffington Post that he would be prepared to “take any assistance, even from Iran” in the struggle to roll back IS, adding for good measure: “If US air strikes [happen], we don’t need Iranian air strikes. If they don’t, then we may need Iranian strikes.” (‘Haider al-Abadi: A new era for Iraq?’ by Mohamed Madi, BBC News Online, 9 September 2014)

Or as one might translate: USA, clear your crap out of Iraq or we will call on the axis of resistance to do the job instead. Abadi has also been outspoken on the question of foreign ground forces being deployed in Iraq, saying that is “out of the question”, adding “Not only is it not necessary, we don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.” (‘Iran says Islamic State can’t be beaten by air strikes; Barack Obama assures Iraq it won’t send ground troops’, newscom.au, 18 September 2014)

The US has made over 160 air strikes in Iraq since the beginning of August, acting in tandem with the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army. Now, along with Britain, it is threatening air strikes within Syria itself.

Damascus has made its position clear. It has spent the past three years fighting IS and the rest of the rats fattened and released over the border by the will of imperialism. If Anglo-American imperialism now wishes to switch sides and join in the fray, fine – so long as it is understood that any action on or over Syrian soil can only be countenanced if agreed on by Syria’s government, with all steps taken in coordination and full sharing of military intelligence.

Moscow and Iran have pointedly endorsed Syria’s avowal that were there to be any encroachment on Syrian territory without permission, this would constitute a violation of international law. By making this statement up front, Syria pre-emptively removed any spurious justification that the US might advance as a smokescreen for direct aggression aimed at Syria, making it harder for the US to sell its war plans to its uncertain ‘allies’.

Allies get cold feet

As anticipated, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama waded in with both flat feet, bragging that US forces would conduct airstrikes in Syria to defeat ‘barbarism’, ‘genocide’ and ‘warped ideology’. But whilst those Arab countries most instrumental in having nurtured the ‘warped ideology’ of political Islam in the first place were all happy enough to echo this rhetoric now the game has changed, it was a different story when US Secretary of State John Kerry assembled them at Jeddah to persuade them to put Arab boots on the ground whilst US planes and drones cruised at a safe distance overhead.

Mr Obama has said he has no plans to deploy US ground troops to fight the jihadist militant group. On Wednesday night, he insisted the US can’t ‘take the place of Arab partners in securing their region’. A senior western official said the Riyadh government and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – were consulted in Jeddah over whether they would commit their forces to fight Islamic State.

That suggestion was likely to be met with deep reservations, said Alaa Batayneh, a member of Jordan’s senate who served as the country’s energy minister until last year. ‘Having boots on the ground is a red flag for many countries, and Jordan is one of them,’ Mr Batayneh said.”(‘Mideast allies pledge to help US fight Islamic State’, Dow Jones Business News, 11 September 2014)

Nor was America’s lynchpin Saudi Arabia overly keen about committing troops to the latest phase of America’s war, fearing the destabilising consequences for itself.

Uncle Sam’s sabre-rattling also had a mixed reception across Nato. Whilst the social-democrat warmonger François Hollande was gung-ho over bombing Syria, hosting the Paris summit to drum up support in Europe, the picture is less clear with some of the other countries drawn into the coalition net – even in Britain.

No sooner had Obama announced that America would make airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and anywhere necessary to ‘hunt down terrorists’ than cracks opened up within the British government itself, with the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, wanting to stand by parliament’s vote last year against airstrikes in Syria, and Downing Street insisting such interventions had not been ruled out in the future.

One Tory MP, John Barron, expressed “grave doubts” about the prospect of British intervention in Syria, and asked “Can we have some clarity with regard to government strategy? It does appear there has been an element of discrepancy between the foreign secretary and No 10. On Thursday, the foreign secretary seemed to rule out British involvement in air strikes altogether, but No 10 seemed to row back almost immediately and said that everything must remain in play.”

Another eminent Tory critic, Malcolm Rifkind, currently chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, was, up till a year ago, one of the most rabid in demanding direct military attacks on Syria. But now, with Damascus holding its own in Syria and the situation spinning out of control in Iraq, Rifkind is openly advocating collaborating with President Assad in the struggle to contain IS.

As news surfaced recently of an abortive US special-forces mission to rescue western hostages back in the summer, it has become obvious that any serious effort to deal with IS must include Syria in the equation. And Syria will not accept anything less than complete equality in any such joint action.

As Rifkind acknowledged: “We have to deal with facts on the ground. Not as we would want them to be, but as they are,” suggesting that the West needs to overcome its squeamishness and cooperate with Assad in the same way that it did with Joseph Stalin in World War II. (Doubtless Stalin had to overcome his own natural revulsion when necessity drove him to cooperate with the arch-reactionary Churchill, too.)

Nor is Britain, America’s foremost strategic ally, alone in vacillating on this question. Germany, the other half of the Franco-German alliance that drives EU imperialist policy, is also refusing to participate in air strikes on Syria, preferring to stick to the less perilous role of gun-runner to the Peshmerga.

With Britain, the EU and Nato all internally divided over the wisdom of getting involved in bombing Syria, the Syrian government and people remaining steadfast and Baghdad increasingly looking to Tehran for support, all the signs are that in the end the biggest casualty of all the barbaric chaos it has unleashed in Syria and Iraq will be imperialism itself.

Postcript – US bombing Syria

As we go to press, news is breaking of the first US-led air strikes against Islamic State on Syrian soil. The attacks on the night of Monday 22 September were conducted by the US, assisted by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Jordan and Qatar. Targets included the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

A statement from the Syrian government said that “the American side informed Syria's permanent envoy to the UN that strikes will be launched against the Daesh terrorist organisation in Raqqa”. But ‘informing’ is a long way from asking permission and coordinating.

Both Damascus and Moscow have previously made it clear that for any such operation to be undertaken without coordination with the Syrian government would be illegal. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said any such unilateral strike within Syria would constitute “a flagrant violation of the international law”, and Syria's foreign minister Walid Muallem has likewise made plain that it would amount to “a violation of his country's sovereignty and an act of aggression”, adding that “Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate ... [at] the regional and international level in the war on terror, but any efforts to combat terrorism should come in coordination with the Syrian government.”

It remains to be seen to what degree, if any, such coordination now obtains. In the meantime, all progressive people must do everything they can to oppose the US’s direct and indirect war moves against Syria, and to demand measures by imperialism that will really end the march of Isis – the closing down of Isis safe havens in Nato-aligned Turkey and an end to Turkey’s open border policy for jihadis, for example, and the cutting off of funding from US regional proxies Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

These measures are quite within the purview of the USA, should it really want to stop the rampage of Isis in Syria. Destroying Syria’s infrastructure and air defences, on the other hand, will not stop Isis, but it is clear that the US hopes such blows will bring its goal of toppling the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad one step closer to fruition.

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