Unresolved issues, Fallujah and Iraqi protests

The Washington Post, the ‘liberal’ mouthpiece of the US ruling class, published an interesting article earlier this month examining the latest round of protests to erupt in Fallujah, Iraq, against the current Iraqi regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In similar tactics used by other Arab protesters in this Arab Awakening, the mainly Sunni demonstrators in Fallujah have risen up because of unresolved grievances since the armed truce of 2008-09 and the purported withdrawal of American forces in 2011. Although the US withdrawal was accompanied with great fanfare, the US has mandated a more discreet, clandestine presence in Iraq through its intelligence services, special force operatives and armed mercenaries. The withdrawal was more about removing the immediate, direct presence of the US and rebranding the occupation in more disguised form. But make no mistake, the withdrawal of US forces from the major cities of Iraq represents a serious defeat for US policy in that country.

The current peaceful protests in Iraq, triggered by the sacking and suppression of Iraqi Sunni politicians in Maliki’s coalition government, actually reflect wider political and social grievances that stem from the destructive US invasion of that country and the failure of the current Iraqi government. The Sunni Iraqis feel disenfranchised and ignored by the current Maliki administration, and have campaigned to remove the sectarian influence of the Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Maliki has accused the protests of being orchestrated by external powers, namely the Sunni regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His accusations are unfounded and reflect a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real, unresolved grievances of the Iraqi population. The protesters denounce the sectarian hostility of the Maliki government, the widespread corruption and use of torture, the lack of employment and education, the breakdown of basic social services, and the general economic downturn that has afflicted Iraq since the US invasion.

The Iraqis on the streets of Fallujah are motivated by the historic and unbroken line of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Iraqi people have carried out several nationalist uprisings throughout the twentieth century. The Iraqis first rose in 1920 against the British colonial regime and its puppets, the royalist dictatorship of King Faisal I. In 1958, the British-supported monarchy was overthrown in a nationalist revolution, and ushered in the period of Republican Iraq and Ba’athist Party political domination. It is no secret that the rise and rule of Saddam Hussein, a Ba’athist official, was supported and nurtured by US intelligence agencies, namely the CIA. Hussein was a key asset for the United States throughout the 1980s in Iraq’s long and savage war against Iran. The Ba’athist party controlled the police state apparatus of the regime, and committed its worst crimes against the Iraqi Kurds and Shias while receiving military arms and largesse from the imperialist powers. The Ba’athist regime promoted Iraqi nationalism, through its educational policies, identifying the Babylonian and Islamic heritage of the country with the Hussein regime.

The first American attack on Iraq in 1991, and the subsequent sanctions regime, reduced the economic and social health of the country. But the 2003 US invasion brought death and destruction to a relatively developed society, destroying the electricity, health and education infrastructure of the country. The American-installed regime, having swept out the Ba’athist Party from power, resorted to extreme violence, torture and sectarian killing to suppress the population. After the mass insurgency by the Iraqi people throughout the mid-2000s, the Maliki regime came to an arrangement of sorts to end the immediate violence and include various Shia militias in a new political setup. However, Maliki is entirely dependent on the United States and Iran, the latter having gained an increased presence in the country with the removal of the Hussein regime. Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the United States, have attacked the recent protests.

It is important to view these protests not just as a ‘Sunni’ concern, but rather a resurgence of Iraqi Arab nationalist political motivation. The demands of the protesters are not confined to a purely sectarian viewpoint – they are articulating basic demands for an improved economic and political system. Among their list of demands is the release of political prisoners, and end to torture and the death penalty, the provision of health and electricity services to impoverished communities, to stop corruption and to fight against sectarianism.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, has explained that this revolt is motivated by domestic concerns, grievances that have remained unaddressed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He writes that Maliki does not have the force to suppress this revolt;

It is unlikely the Maliki government would succeed where Saddam and the US failed. It has military superiority but not dominance in Iraq, fully controlling only about half the country. It has no authority in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s three provinces or in the Kurdish-held disputed territories further south. Its authority is contested in the Sunni majority provinces and cities in western and central Iraq.

Go read Cockburn’s complete article here.

The Iraqi revolt has demolished the myth peddled by the corporate media that the Iraqi war is ‘all over’. The protesters are responding to the unhealed wounds and divisions caused by the US occupation and its compliant tool, the Maliki regime. They give hope that the Iraqis are rising up to assert their legitimate demands to repair the damage done by the US war and sectarian division.

The prime minister, the weapons salesman and the hypocrite

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, traveled to the Persian Gulf countries back in November 2012, the royalist dictatorships that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. He spoke to the rulers of the various petro-monarchies, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Speaking to the media, he defined the purpose of his trip – to encourage British weapons sales to those regimes, to smooth over any difficulties that British armaments manufacturers might have in their dealings with the Gulf states, and to increase lucrative contracts for the British Aerospace systems company (BAE). The Guardian newspaper elaborated on the trip, stating that:

“Speaking to students in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, Cameron said: “I’m a supporter of the Arab spring, the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa.”

The same story in the Guardian explained that the British government, while paying lip service to the Arab awakening, values its most important strategic allies in the Gulf region, namely regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been generous recipients of British military hardware, and Cameron did his best as a traveling weapons salesman and prime minister.  In fact, Cameron was quite unapologetic about British arms sales, stating that the UAE should replace its declining fleet of French-supplied Mirage jets with the latest hardware from Britain. In 2009, Saudi Arabia assisted the Yemeni government to violently suppress anti-government demonstrations in that country by lending Yemen UK-built fighter planes and military equipment. Saudi Arabia also assisted the violent crackdown of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, and all the while the corporate media minimised the brutality of the Bahraini government’s suppression. The British government sold millions of pounds worth of military hardware directly to the Bahraini state during the 2011 political unrest. Cameron met with the Bahraini King in London during the 2011 London Olympics, where King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was an honoured guest.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, opined that while his government had raised concerns about the appalling human rights record of the Bahraini and Saudi Arabian regimes, he assured the House of Commons that Saudi forces were only sent in to Bahrain to guard military installations and not to participate in the suppression of demonstrations. Apparently Saudi forces were just helpless bystanders, caught up in defending the fragile Bahraini dictatorship from the maelstrom of violence unleashed by the anti-government demonstrations. Hague continued:

On Saudi Arabia, Hague said the government had raised concerns about its treatment of women and foreign workers. But 99% of Britain’s exports to the kingdom consisted of Typhoon jets. “They are not relevant to our concerns about these rights,” the foreign secretary said.

Early in January 2013, PM Cameron made a quick trip to his friend and ally, the petro-monarchy of Saudi Arabia, to discuss further economic and political cooperation. The question of weapons sales was top on the agenda, but their discussions also encompassed the growing spheres of energy and security cooperation. The BBC article explained the importance of the visit:

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual trade worth £15bn a year. It has £62bn invested in the UK economy.

Without a hint of irony, Cameron went on to deplore the ‘appalling bloodshed’ on the streets of Syria, and called for renewed efforts by the Arab League to deal with the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.

When George Galloway, Respect Party MP and sitting member for Bradford West, asked the Prime Minister why the government fully supported the ongoing French intervention in Mali against supposedly ‘Islamist extremist’ groups, but was quite happy to continue its support of Islamist extremist groups that are waging a war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Cameron sneeringly dismissed Galloway’s question, and attacked the latter as a supporter of Arab dictators. Apart from being a perverse accusation by Cameron, the British PM is studiously ignoring (or outright denying) that support for dictatorships in the Arab world is precisely long-standing British government policy.

Glenn Greenwald stated it plainly – the smear tactic used by Cameron, tarnishing opponents of war and militarism as apologists of dictators – shuts down debate and avoids the crucial issue. Opponents of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq were branded ‘Saddam supporters; those who opposed the NATO intervention in Libya were derided as ‘Gaddafi supporters;’ and fifty years ago, those who campaigned against the American war on Vietnam were maligned as ‘communist dupes’. By suppressing debate on the imperialist powers and their policies in the Arab and Islamic world, we are engaging in an act of self-delusion and hypocrisy, seeing US and its associated allies (such as Britain) as a force for ‘good’ in the world. When it comes to supporting dictatorships in the Arab countries, surely there is no better advocate for those regimes than David Cameron. Interestingly, over the two-year period 2010-2011, Britain exported $142 million worth of military hardware to the former Gaddafi regime in Libya. The secret police in Libya under Gaddafi were receiving training from British military personnel. And let us not forget that the widely despised Mubarak-regime in Egypt was fully supported by the United States. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on to proclaim in 2009 that Mubarak was a ‘personal friend’ – a touching reminder of just whom is considered a worthy ally by the imperialist states.

Go read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article in full here.

The British prime minister is to be given credit for his multitasking skills – he combines the roles of politician, weapons salesman and hypocrite very elegantly.