The Iraq war is far from over, and the fall of Ramadi blasts US policy to pieces

The long-running Iraq war, now entering its twelfth year, re-appeared in the corporate news media with the announcement that another major city, Ramadi, had fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The much vaunted Iraqi army, barely eleven months after their decisive defeat in Mosul, turned and fled the battlefield, surrendering American military equipment and resources to the ISIS militia. Ramadi, situated in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar, had always resisted the American military occupation and its client armies, namely the associated Shia-militias controlled by the Baghdad authorities.

As David Alpher, adjunct professor at George Mason University states it;

The loss is devastating, and not only because of the city’s size or symbolic value, or because it’s another reminder that ISIS is on the march. The loss is devastating because between Ramadi and Baghdad there is only one major city, Fallujah, which has long since fallen to ISIS and has always been known as a radical hotbed.

American policy, still reeling from the Saigon-style debacle at Mosul last year, has been blasted to smithereens. After the Mosul defeat, the Obama administration and their associates in Baghdad made reassuring noises that the difficulties of the Iraqi army were temporary and measures would be implemented to reinforce its demoralised ranks. Former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was held responsible for the defeats on the Mosul battlefield and ousted in backroom manouevres initiated by the United States.

In September 2014, after the removal of Maliki, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad to express the American government’s continued support for its clients in Baghdad, stating that the reformed Iraqi government would be the engine of the fightback against ISIS. US President Obama pledged his enthusiastic support for the new Abadi regime in a televised speech, declaring that his government would adopt a fresh strategy for dealing with the Iraq crisis. Promising a more inclusive government, the Baghdad authorities announced their determination to turn a new page in Iraq’s history, and fight determinedly against the ISIS militia.

Seven months after the Obama administration launched ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’ to respond to the reversals on the Iraqi battlefield, ISIS has not only remained a viable force on the ground, and taken Ramadi, but expanded. As the Financial Times correspondent in Washington put it, the ISIS takeover of Ramadi ‘blows a hole’ in Obama’s Iraq strategy. Maliki has remained one of three vice presidents in Baghdad – and Mosul remains in the hands of ISIS.

The loss of Ramadi is not only a serious defeat for current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. This defeat indicates that the Iraqi army, no matter how much training, money and munitions, is incapable of becoming an effective fighting force. The continuing failure of the American-backed Baghdad authorities to create an efficient fighting army, undermines the United States post-2003 political project in Iraq.

The political class in Baghdad, installed in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 US invasion, is unable to rise above its own factional squabbling, and implement a functioning government capable of providing services. Composed of former CIA assets, political exiles, con artists, warlords, economic charlatans, and self-identified agents of American and British secret services, this political class is currently under attack and being decapitated by an Iraqi Sunni insurgency. The remains of the former ruling Iraqi party, the mainly Sunni Ba’athist Party, has entered an alliance of convenience with the Sunni fundamentalist guerrilla groups, the Salafi ISIS being the most obvious spearhead. This alliance of Iraqi Sunnis has managed to shatter the post-2003 American-imposed order in Iraq.

Professor Juan Cole, expert in Middle East and Islamic history from the University of Michigan, stated back in 2005 that the possibility of a Ba’athist Sunni uprising was not only probable but quite likely. This prediction has turned out to be quite accurate. Professor Cole wrote recently for Common Dreams online magazine that:

In early 2005, I wondered if the Sunni insurgency could eventually turn into a “Third Baath coup.” By that I meant that the remnants of the Baath Party (socialist, nationalist) allied with Salafi Muslim hardliners were systematically killing members of the new political class being stood up by the Bush administration, and were angling to take back over the country. We now know that former Baath officers set up the so-called “Islamic State” as a means of gaining recruits for their ongoing insurgency, at a time when the Baath Party no longer had any cachet but political Islam seemed a growing trend. The ex-Baath/ Salafi cells of resistance were all along strong in Ramadi.

As Cole states, while Washington is asking ‘who lost Ramadi?’, they are actually asking the wrong question – they never had Ramadi in the first place. And this evaluation of the current Iraqi situation is from someone who has supported US military policies in the past, hardly the prognostications of a hardened anti-war Leftist-Bolshevik.

The revenge of the past

Iraq’s Sunni people, having been overthrown from positions of power by the 2003 American invasion, were marginalised by the Shia-Kurdish dominated political class in post-Ba’athist Iraq. The Sunnis were now the targets of revenge by the American – and Iranian – backed Shia and Kurdish parties. Sunnis were excluded from top jobs, the largely state-owned industries set up by the Ba’athist Party were privatised, Iraqi oil opened up to foreign multinational corporations, and throughout 2006-07, the sectarian Baghdad authorities carried out a program of ethnic cleansing, systematically killing and removing the Sunnis of Baghdad. Former Prime Minister Maliki, with the support of his American and Iranian patrons, launched a war of terror against the Iraqi Sunni population. American General David Petraeus, implementing a ‘troop surge’, is responsible for this ethnic-sectarian warfare, empowering the Shia militias to carry out their revenge attacks.

It is no surprise that the Ba’athist Party members and supporters, driven underground and marginalised, formed the first cells to militarily resist the US occupation. The staggering reversal of Sunni fortunes in Iraq since the 2003 invasion left them desperate for allies. They found such allies, in a rival and growing another strand of resistance, one that we now see today – the Sunni fundamentalist Salafi groups, advocating their particular brand of political Islamism.

While the roots of the ISIS militia reside in the Syrian conflict, its ability to tap into the grievances of the embattled Sunni people in Iraq demonstrates gives it a beachhead inside Iraq where it can batter the American-supported Baghdad regime. The fall of Ramadi is not the only recent success of the fundamentalist ISIS; Palmyra in neighbouring Syria fell to the group earlier in May 2015. Its ability to inflict military defeats on its opponents indicates to regional powers that American policy is either inadequate, or unwilling, to confront the disturbing reality on the ground.

ISIS a product of US and Saudi imperialism

Make no mistake; ISIS is a fundamentalist movement that is the child of American and Saudi parents – more specifically the policy of the US to use political Islamism as a battering ram in the Arab and Islamic countries. As Jacobin Magazine stated in an article earlier in 2015, do not blame Islam for the rise of ISIS. It bears the imprint of its American and Saudi sponsors – religious fanaticism, virulent anti-socialism and strong dedication to capitalism. Originating in the soil of Al Qaeda and similar fundamentalist groups, ISIS has taken root by exploiting the social and economic grievances of large sections of the Iraqi population.

It is out of the scope of this article to examine the entire history of the ISIS movement or to go into an extensive history of the financial and military collaboration between US imperialism and reactionary political Islamist groups. However, we can note that ISIS was incubated and nurtured by the political patrons of Sunni fundamentalist movements, namely US and British imperial power. The reaction of US officials to the fall of Ramadi and the rise of ISIS is one of bewilderment and shock. But a cursory examination of recent history makes such a reaction unnecessary. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists noted in June 2014 that the success of ISIS in Iraq is an unsurprising surprise, and is no shock to those who have followed developments in Iraq closely. The loss of Ramadi to ISIS, in one sense is a replay of the loss of Mosul in 2014.

The monster of Frankenstein

The loss of Mosul eleven months ago was attributed to the personal failings and leadership inadequacies of former Iraqi PM Maliki. While all individual politicians have their failings, it is simplistic to ascribe military and political defeats to the personal qualities of this or that politician. Maliki was made a scapegoat for a wider failure – the fundamentally flawed, sectarian and kleptocratic nature of the post-2003 Baghdad political order.

Excessive violence is a feature of ISIS, particularly against Christian minorities. But it is not the original practitioner of such extreme coercion. Sectarian fanaticism was built into the post-2003 political system in Iraq, dividing up power along ethno-sectarian lines. The responsibility for this setup rests with the United States. Its criminal and predatory invasion of Iraq, and its exacerbation of sectarian divisions as a tactic to keep control, has resulted in the fracturing of the country and the demolition of the reasonably developed, educated and functioning society that Iraq was during the Ba’athist era.

For instance, Iraq did have a self-sustaining, technologically advanced and functioning health care system under the Ba’athist state, back in the 1970s and 1980s. That health care system was deliberately targeted by the incoming US invaders. Now, Iraq is a society that has high rates of child malnutrition and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases. There were hospitals and clinics being built in Iraq to be sure – by the Bechtel corporation, an American private company that secured the rights to privatise the health system in the country. Bechtel failed to adequately provision the population with medical facilities, and finally pulled out of Iraq in 2006-07.

While ISIS is definitely the monster that has turned against its master, the US imperialist Dr Frankenstein, the real poison is the sectarianism inherent in the Baghdad political class. ISIS savagery is nothing to be celebrated, but its actions are only occurring within the larger context of the savagery of the US imperialist power in the region. Reversing ISIS cannot be done by military means alone – the policies that the United States has pursued over the decades to subjugate Iraq must be reversed as well.

What do Detroit and Iraq have in common? Both are the targets of disaster capitalism

The title above comes from a thoughtful and perceptive article by Margaret Kimberley, writer and activist with Black Agenda Report. Her essay called ‘The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq’ was republished in the Common Dreams online magazine, a nonprofit reader-driven independent news outlet dedicated to building a progressive community, an antidote to the corporate-controlled media. Kimberley accurately points out that disaster capitalism, driven by the imperative of corporate profits, has created and is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophes that we are now witnessing in Detroit and Iraq. Kimberley starts her essay by stating that ‘the ugly face of empire and disaster capitalism is visible all over the world’.

Detroit deindustrialised

Detroit exhibits all the classic signs of a city that has been systematically deindustrialised over many decades. Once the hub of the car industry in America, a city that exemplified the best US labour, industry and technology, Detroit is now a bankrupted city, with urban decay, declining infrastructure, a diminishing population, and a financial system that is preserving its own wealth while leaving the residents to struggle with making ends meet. Dollars and Sense magazine, which publishes articles on economic justice, critiques of the mainstream bourgeois economics and primers on economics for activists, published an extensive analysis of the decline of Detroit back in 2013. The authors of that article correctly note that there were the standard conservative-driven reasons given for the blight of Detroit – greedy unions, incompetent black American politicians, people taking easy loans from the big banks knowing that they could ill-afford repayments. Perhaps all of these are partially valid.

However, the major share of the blame for the deindustrialisation and subsequent decline of Detroit rests on the shoulders of the corporate class, the owners of the large multinational corporations, the large financial institutions that not only systematically withdrew from Detroit and undermined the living and working conditions of the majority of people. The new financial managers of Detroit, led by the emergency manager Kevyn Orr, are deliberately shifting the cost of the financial burden onto the working people. Detroit’s plan of adjustment, introduced by the city’s creditors, involves privatisating the city’s public assets, massive cuts to pensions and health services, the sell-off of the electricity and sewerage systems, and most scandalously of all, selling off the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the meantime, the residents of Detroit will have to continue living in squalid conditions, recorded in a photo-essay here.

Meanwhile in Iraq

The nation of Iraq lies in tatters, fractured by sectarian divisions enshrined in the post-2003 invasion political establishment. The country underwent terrible destruction as a result of sanctions, and they took their toll on the population. Food, medicines, the necessities of life were denied Iraqis as they struggled to overcome the destitution brought on by crippling sanctions. For instance, water purification became virtually impossible, because chlorine was banned as an import. What happens to drinking water if it is not regularly purified? What bacterial diseases spread when water supplies become contaminated?

Iraqis bravely resisted the US invasion, and brought the troops of the marauding empire into defeat. So the US empire, just like the Roman empire of old, resorted to the tried-and-true tactic of divide and rule, inflaming sectarian divisions by rewarding political office on the basis of religious affiliation. The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was installed with US support, even though his political party has strong ideological ties to Iran. Maliki implemented the sectarian division of the country, worsening relations between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. Meanwhile, he did nothing to restore the once-functioning health and electricity systems that made Iraq a standout in the Arab world.

The Baghdad government is now tottering precipitously on the brink of total defeat, after its much-vaunted and American-sponsored army was routed by the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While this is a stunning defeat for American (and British) foreign policy in Iraq, the ISIS guerrillas, buoyed by a burgeoning Sunni insurgency that began back in 2013, will only worsen the sectarian hatreds that are currently inflicting damage on the country. Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report correctly notes that the Islamist guerrillas, once financed by Washington, represent a growing threat not just to the American empire’s interests in the region, but also undermine the existence of a corporate-viable Iraqi state that can be subjugated to imperial dominance.

The invasion of Iraq was driven by deep capitalist interests intending on exploiting the vast mineral and economic resources of the Arab region. The plunder of Iraq, just like the devastation of Detroit, is designed to enrich a tiny financial minority class while the majority are left to struggle to their own devices. Margaret Kimberley points out in her article that;

Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate “suits” who made a fast buck for themselves. The end result is the same for Michiganders and Iraqis alike. They end up suffering in a plundered society while other people make out like the bandits that they really are.

The Obama administration, while marketing itself as an anti-war government, has actually continued to expend resources on propping up and extending the imperial reach of the US empire, while impoverishing the American people at home. The demolition of viable societies in Iraq and Detroit are not the result of any innate human propensities, but rather the end result of a specific political programme to enrich a capitalist financial oligarchy at the expense of working people. As Kimberley explains in her essay:

…millions of Americans live an existence far from the myth of the great country. They are struggling to survive just like millions in the so-called third world. It is the gangsters who run the show in Baghdad and in Michigan too.

It is time to overthrow this criminal regime. Go read Margaret Kimberley’s full article here.


The Iraq war can no longer be ignored; the fall of Mosul and the end of imperial delusions of grandeur

The fall of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, to the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), represents not just a defeat for the Iraqi army and the US-supported regime in Baghdad. It also stands as the end of a whole set of US imperialistic policies, designed to bring Iraq under its total control. The seemingly sudden dissolution of the Iraqi army in Mosul is a defeat for US imperialism that shatters decades-long policies that formed the backbone of US conduct in the Arab world, delusions of imperial grandeur and empire-building that must now be brought to an end. The capture of Mosul, Iraq, by Islamist rebels and Iraqi Sunni insurgents is a defeat for US imperial empire-building, on the same magnitude as the scattering of the remnant forces of the misnamed Republic of Vietnam from Saigon in 1975.


Only a few months ago, on this blog, the current author made note that the eleventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion was studiously ignored by the corporate media, promoting the impression that Iraq, while still having some remaining problems, has largely settled down into a functioning society. The implicit message in ignoring that anniversary was that the architects of the 2003 invasion were generally vindicated in their decision to go to war. Former UK prime minster Tony Blair, one of the main enthusiasts for the Iraq war, has made numerous comments in the media, defending his decision to lead Britain into the American-driven invasion.

All these imperial delusions have come crashing down, as the Iraq war literally exploded, and the consequences of that invasion are plain for all to see. The decision by the US and Britain to unilaterally invade Iraq has resulted in the destruction of that society. The seizure of Mosul by forces loyal to ISIS, represents the collapse of the US imperial project in Iraq.

The 2003 invasion, launched on the false pretext that Iraq possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’, intended to install a regime that was compliant with US and British business interests. The Maliki regime, composed of CIA assets, pro-American politicians, war profiteers, and associated Kurdish warlords, now stands humiliated and in tatters, its armies refusing to fight the Iraqi insurgency. American and British imperial hubris stands condemned, as the army on which they spent billions of dollars proved ineffective in responding to insurgent attacks. As Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North in Britain has stated, the overrunning of Mosul, followed by the quick seizure of other cities by the Iraqi insurgents, represents the unravelling of a century of imperialism. Focusing on the oil and gas resource of Iraq, and the wider Middle East, the US and Britain wanted to expand their economic and military influence across the region, and have devastated Iraqi society in the process. This set of policies now stands condemned, as the consequences of imperial intervention threaten to engulf not just Iraq, but the region as well.

Capture of Mosul

Patrick Cockburn, the veteran foreign correspondent for The Independent newspaper, detailed the initial fall of Mosul to the ISIS, and the subsequent developments in the rest of Iraq. His articles, republished in Common Dreams, are a valuable resource for an up-to-date analysis of the political and economic situation inside Iraq. Cockburn states that while ISIS guerrillas provided the front-line ‘shock troops’ in the capture of Mosul, they are just one component of a more generalised Iraqi, largely Sunni, uprising against the pro-American regime in Baghdad. While the emergence of ISIS as an important factor in Iraqi politics heralds the rise of an Islamist program for Iraq, the seeds of rebellion against the Maliki regime go back to 2012-13. Since 2013, peaceful, political demonstrations have been occurring against the sectarian policies of the Baghdad government. The latter responded with violent repression, and thus drove thousands of Sunnis into the arms of the insurgent groups.

The social and economic grievances of the Sunnis were ignored by Maliki, and he resorted to brutal, oppressive measures (much like President Assad in neighbouring Syria) to suppress any resistance to his rule. The Sunnis, disenfranchised and excluded economically and politically by the Baghdad government, have been agitating for a number of years to end the sectarian order established after the 2003 invasion. The growing Sunni revolt, documented by Cockburn, demonstrated that the Maliki regime had no popular support or legitimacy outside Baghdad and the associated Shia militias that have helped to prop up that government. Maliki was bound to fail to gain any traction for his heavily sectarian project. A number of different insurgent groups, some ex-Ba’athist officers, Iraqi nationalists, and others have all joined in the armed rebellion and helped in defeating the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. As Patrick Cockburn stated, ISIS was not the only Sunni militant group to rise up; it was part of a multi-pronged, carefully coordinated armed uprising that left the Baghdad government aghast and paralysed by inaction.

The fall of Mosul, and the ease with which it was captured by the insurgents, confirms that Baghdad had no political support, and its army refused to fight for it. Thousands of Iraqis did flee the fighting in that city, and the mass movement of refugees increased as town after town fell to the ISIS guerrillas. Iraqis, particularly from the ethnic minorities, are wary of the brand of extreme Sunni fundamentalism and the vision of a caliphate promoted by ISIS. However, not all Mosul residents feared ISIS, in fact, they were more worried about the prospect of barbaric Iraqi army counterattacks. One resident informed The Guardian newspaper that:

I feel we have been liberated of an awful nightmare that was suffocating us for 11 years. The army and the police never stopped arresting, detaining and killing people, let alone the bribes they were taken from the detainees’ families.

“Me and my neighbours are waiting for the news that the other six Sunni protesting provinces falling in the hand of the Isis fighters to declare our Sunni region like the three provinces in Kurdistan.

It is not just The Guardian that is reporting this sentiment from Mosul residents. The loyal lapdog of the US empire, the New York Slimes, covering the ongoing offensive by ISIS in northern Iraq, reported that ordinary Iraqis were unified in their opposition to the Maliki government. The New York Slimes recorded the reaction of Iraqi and American officials to the scale and speed of the ISIS-insurgent uprising:

As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. One of the Baathists, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was a top military commander and a vice president in the Hussein government and one of the few prominent Baathists to evade capture by the Americans throughout the occupation.

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The lack of support for the Maliki regime is a searing indictment of the political system established by the Americans, and their associated Iraqi collaborators, since the 2003 invasion. The institutionalised sectarian division, the main feature of the Baghdad government, has further worsened relations between the Sunni and Shia communities, and between the Muslim-majority and the Christian minorities. The Shia parties, such as the Islamic Dawa party of which Maliki is a leader, failed to be inclusive and build political support among the population. The reason that the Iraqi army dissolved so quickly is that nobody was willing to take up arms and sacrifice their lives for a despised regime.

ISIS, an offshoot of  Al Qaeda, advocates a Sunni fundamentalist vision, and works to establish a caliphate in the areas that it controls.  Whether it has the support of  the local population for its narrow platform of a Sunni fundamentalist, religiously-based political order remains to be seen. However, since taking Mosul in June 2014, residents have reported that life is returning to normal. Time magazine reported that the residents of Mosul are getting on with their jobs, resuming their businesses and that life is actually getting somewhat better. In spite of the warnings of the implementation of strict, literalist interpretations of Islamic Sharia law, residents are reporting an improved atmosphere. From the Time magazine article is the following snippet:

“Do you know how it was in Mosul before ISIS came? We had bombings and assassinations almost everyday. Now we have security,” said Abu Sadr, who asked to be identified by a nickname, from his home in Mosul’s Hay Al Sukar neigbourhood. “I’m going to work, going to the market, like normal, and people are coming back to the city.”

According to Abu Sadr it is basically life as usual in Mosul. There is little of the tyrannical Islamic Sharia enforcement the group’s name has become synonymous with. Abu Sadr has seen Pakistani, Afghani and Syrian fighters amid the Iraqi ISIS recruits, but says the fighters have yet to adorn the city with their signature black flag. They fly them only above their checkpoints, which some residents say are fewer than the army had there, two weeks ago.

The fact that ISIS rule is seen as less threatening, even though the Islamist guerrillas espouse a brand of extreme Sunni chauvinism, indicates the widespread hostility to the Maliki government. This does not mean that the sectarian nature of ISIS is to be downplayed; far from it. But this does demonstrate that the central state in Baghdad offered nothing to the people in Mosul and other parts of the country.

Sectarian order comes crumbling down

However, this does not mean that ISIS will be any more successful than Maliki in restoring the basic services necessary for a functioning society. Though they are off to a good start; Mosul has a consumer protection office where people can air their grievances, amnesty has been offered to those from the security services should they lay down their arms, and social services are being provided. However, while Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and other cities have fallen easily, Baghdad will not be so easy. As Professor Juan Cole writes, the insurgents have picked a fight they cannot win in Baghdad, if they do not appeal to the Shia masses in the south of the country. Without a power base to sustain them, the Iraqi insurgents can cause damage, make some gains in Baghdad, but they cannot win the city on their own steam. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia authority in Iraq, called on all Iraqis, regardless of religious orientation, to rise up and organise a sturdy defence of Baghdad against the ISIS guerrillas. Thousands have responded to the call. Various Shia religious parties, including the Mahdi Army, the militia of the Sadrist bloc headed by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are forming brigades to defend Baghdad and the holiest Shia shrines located in the south of the country from attacks by ISIS.

It is interesting to note that Sistani, while a Shia, did not include any reference to jihad, or any sectarian appeals, in his statement. He specifically asked that Iraqis join the national army, not private or political-party-based militias, and he appealed to a sense of patriotism and nationalism. He went so far as to call ISIS ‘terrorists’, a designation not taken lightly in the political climate of the Arab and Islamic worlds. He reiterated that the defence of the country was paramount. This message, coming from an important and revered religious figure like Sistani, is important because it demonstrates that Arab nationalism still has a resounding resonance in Iraq. Sistani did not directly mention Maliki, but in his pronouncements, it is clear that Sistani is finding fault with the sectarian political order that arose in the aftermath of the US invasion.

Responsibility for the current crisis resides with the imperialist powers

The Iraqi state is going through its worst crisis since the worst days of the Iraqi insurgency and subsequent sectarian warfare in the mid-2000s. Maliki and his associated Shia politicians certainly shoulder a heavy burden of blame for the current impasse. Maliki and his Shia sectarian policies have resulted in a state where the main institutions of the army, police, parliament, and associated militias are controlled by Shias. But this is only one part of the story. The ultimate responsibility for the sectarian fracturing of the country lies with the policies of the United States. As Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker newspaper writes, “The principal cause of this crisis is three decades of U.S. imperial policy that culminated in Bush’s 2003 invasion.” In his extensive analysis, Smith notes that the first Gulf War of 1991, followed by years of crippling sanctions, devastated a functioning society that provided healthcare, education and services for its citizens. Iraq never fully recovered from deleterious effects of the 1991 aerial bombing campaign, a programme of aerial warfare on a par with the Allied bombing of German cities during World War Two.

It is true that sectarianism existed prior to the 2003 invasion. The Ba’athist party built a Sunni top-heavy state, with the top levels of political and military power going to Sunnis. The lucrative government contracts to conduct business were usually awarded to Iraqi Sunnis. However, each town had its own mix of religious and ethnic groups, and there was nothing like the fratricidal sectarian warfare that we see today. The responsibility for the explosion of sectarian violence in Iraq resides directly with the US and Britain, fomenting ethnic and religious divisions in order to fragment a determined opposition. The traditional tactic of divide and rule was implemented by the US occupation authorities, backed up by savage repression. In an article written in 2013, Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker explained that the US adopted the Lebanese model for Iraq, attempting to Balkanise the country, exacerbate ethnic tensions and apportion power according to sectarian loyalty. Sectarian polarisation was not the product of ‘ancient hatreds’, or the result of a ‘clash within a civilisation’ as the New York Slimes columnist David Brooks once opined.

As Sami Ramadani, Iraqi exile and senior lecturer in sociology at the London Metropolitan University explained, the sectarian hatred is promoted by the imperialist powers, and this partition would be a recipe for endless wars. Iraq is not a random aggregation of disparate ethnic and religious groups all straining for the first opportunity to slaughter each other, Ramadani elaborates in his article. He does not spare the Ba’athist party from blame, criticising its Arab-centric ideology and its marginalisation of the poorest segments of society. The Ba’athist party had no love for the Kurds, and possessed a strong anti-Shia undercurrent in its political operations. The largest mass political organisation, and the most multicultural, was the Iraqi Communist Party, until decimated by Ba’athist repression in the 1970s.

Ramadani reserves his most scathing criticism for the US invasion and its aftermath, holding it responsible for the worst upsurge of violent sectarianism in Iraq’s history. Ramadani wrote that;

The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq’s modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam’s army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

It is this officer class that this month abandoned Mosul and a third of Iraq’s territory to the terrorists of Isis, beefed up by thousands of foreign fighters, members of Saddam’s Ba’ath party, and the Islamic party (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). It has also become clear that leaders of the Kurdistan regional government have expanded their control and implemented a de facto ceasefire with the sectarian insurgents.

Iraq’s partition would only benefit the arms manufacturers, oil companies and war profiteers.

The ultimate responsibility for the calamitous state of Iraq today lies with the long history of imperialist interference in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The 2003 US invasion is just the latest in a long line of imperialist interventions, starting with the redrawing of boundaries at the end of World War One, without the consent or input of the Arabic-speaking peoples. As the Ottoman Turkish empire collapsed, Britain, France and the other powers rushed to carve out spheres of influence for themselves, with the Arabs and Kurds failing to gain self-determination.

Mick Armstrong, writing for the Red Flag newspaper, correctly observes that the imperialist states, determined the dominate the resource-rich areas of the Middle East, resorted to divide-and-rule tactics, propping up proxy forces that were amenable to their economic and political interests. Armstrong writes of how the British, given the mandate to govern Iraq, formed alliances with friendly pro-British Arab forces, installing a puppet king from the Hashemite clan as their ruler in the newly formed Kindgom of Iraq. Whenever the Iraqis rose up to resist this arrangement, as they did in the 1920s, the British resorted to aerial bombing to bring the recalcitrant indigenous people back into line.

Sectarian policies, implemented by the United States, are only the latest incarnation of imperialist meddling in Iraq. The sordid consequences of this long history of violent interventions by outside powers is now plain for all to see. The capture of Mosul is not only an indictment of the US occupation’s divide-and-conquer strategy and inflammation of sectarian tensions. It is also a searing indictment of the 2003 US invasion, an invasion that is still causing casualties, because it destroyed an otherwise functioning society. The crimes of imperialism in this region are becoming more glaring in the light of the debacle the US has suffered in Iraq. As Seumas Milne of the Guardian explained in one of his many articles on Iraq, the Arab and Islamic worlds are living with the disastrous consequences of imperialist attempts to control their resources and futures.

The Iraq war was not just some ‘tragic mistake’ or ‘error in judgement’ as many corporate media pundits would have us believe. It was a deliberate, coldly calculated predatory crime that resulted in millions of deaths, the outflow of refugees, and the poison of fratricidal sectarianism taking hold. While ISIS is a takfiri, Sunni fundamentalist group that will be unable to appeal to a broad segment of the Iraqi population over the long run, the political and economic order against which they are fighting is a criminal regime born of a violent occupation and sustained by rampant sectarianism. The grievances of Iraqis against imperialist interference in their affairs are real and legitimate. It is time to listen to the Iraqis and let them determine their own future.