Posted 9 months ago on Aug. 3, 2014, 9:28 a.m. EST by flip
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The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities incapable of cohesion. (1916 intelligence memo by Colonel T. E. Lawrence ‘of Arabia’ cited in Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs, Pluto Press, London, 2010, p. 9)
The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has to be seen in the light of large-scale destruction and divide and rule policies enforced by Western powers on Iraq. Since 1990, the US and UK have not been able to establish a reliable client regime in Iraq. However, they have used an array of policies that have destroyed Iraq’s societal foundations and fractured the country along sectarian lines. As scholars Raymond W. Baker, Shereen T. Ismael and Tareq Y. Ismael argue in the book Cultural Cleansing in Iraq (Pluto Press, 2010) the policy of “ending states” has been applied on Iraq – the outcome of which we see today in the partition of Iraq and the rise of ISIS.
The major goal of US and UK policy in Iraq has been to prevent the rise of “Arab nationalism”. A sovereign Iraq would exploit the enormous oil resources of the country to the benefit of the Iraqi population and at the expense of Western corporations. It would pursue an independent path in international relations. It would unite Shia, Sunni and Kurdish people in one nation. It would strengthen Iraq’s relations with Iran. It would become a major economic, cultural and military power. It would provide a role model for “Arab nationalism”. In short: an independent Iraq would challenge Western hegemony in the Middle East.
The Iraq Wars: State-Destruction as Policy
A US-led coalition launched the 1991 Gulf War in order to disallow Iraq to control the Kuwaiti oil fields. According to an official UN report, the allied bombing campaign reduced the country to “pre-industrial age”. Under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, the US and UK voted for a “genocidal” sanctions regime (in the words of former UN Human Rights Coordinator in Baghdad, Denis Halliday) which likely killed about 500,000 Iraqi children. The sanctions effectively weakened the Iraqi population, both in material and political terms, and ensured that Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein remained in power. This was well in accord with US/UK policy goals as, at the time, the West was not able to invade Iraq and could not find a political alternative in line with its interests.
In 2003, the US and UK called for an invasion of Iraq because of the country’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Available evidence from former UN inspectors pointed to Iraq’s nearly completed disarmament. However, in the political climate after 9/11, US and UK government propaganda was sufficiently able to manufacture Western elites’ compliance for war. Notwithstanding: the invasion/occupation was illegal according to international law.
During the 2003 Iraq War and subsequent occupation, the neoliberal “shock doctrine” was enforced via military and economic means. The military phase of the “shock” entailed an intensive bombing campaign during which the US/Coalition targeted military and government buildings, as well as so-called dual use facilities such as factories, media installations, telecommunication centers and electrical power stations. As the UK Charity Medact cautioned in a report on the 2003 Iraq War: “The mental and physical health of already weakened and unhealthy people is being damaged further.”
The Occupation of Iraq: State-Ending
The economic phase of the “shock” included the dismantlement of the state controlled economy during which the US installed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) crushed the massive state apparatus of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and dismissed hundreds of thousands of largely Sunni state employees and military personnel. The CPA also laid the political ground for a sectarian state by introducing ethnic quotas for the Iraqi Interim Government. At the same time, the CPA opened the economy for “foreign investment”.
“Privatisation” measures did not have any long-term recovery effects on the economy. Quite to the contrary, major parts of Iraq’s economy collapsed, forcing the country into a downturn spiral of unemployment and depression. The radical shift to private enterprise also inhibited the reconstruction and maintenance of the already weakened public institutions like electrical, hospital, water and sewage facilities. While the degree of economic decline varied across regions, it were the Sunni cities, largely harbouring state facilities and government employees, which were most heavily affected.
The policies implemented by the CPA cemented the “ending” of Iraqi state institutions and fostered sectarian tensions as they virtually excluded the Sunnis from political and economic participation. It was consequently in the Sunni cities where national resistance against the occupation regime recognizably emerged in 2003 and 2004.
ISIS and the “Salvador Option”
As part of “counter-insurgency” strategy, US/Coalition forces trained Shia and Kurdish militias to quell Sunni resistance, thus contributing to the devastating Sunni/Shia civil war of 2006/2007. US/Coalition forces did not shy away from also funding Sunni paramilitaries during the so called “surge” in 2007 when local Sunni militias were armed to fight al-Qaeda in the tribal areas. Such measures were adopted from a previous “counter-insurgency” operation in Latin America – the so-called “Salvador Option”.
Despite of visual successes in curbing violence with the “surge” in 2007, it could be argued that the US/Coalition had encouraged long-term sectarian conflict over reconciliation in Iraq. According to Chas Freeman, former US-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the policies of arming fractions in Iraq “essentially supported a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority…Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-à-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future.” (cited in Cultural Cleansing in Iraq, p. 15)
It is therefore not surprising that a body like ISIS has been rising out of the ashes of Iraq. It should also be clear that a politically weak and fractured Iraq serves Western interests better than a united and independent nation.
Today, Iraqi society is destroyed with more than 1 million people killed since the invasion/occupation of 2003. The foundations of these developments were laid during the process of “state-ending” that uprooted Iraqi civil society and undermined the basis of a secular state. Under US/Coalition and subsequent Shia-Iraqi rule, the Sunni minority of Iraq has not been adequately included in the political process.