Iraq: US policy in tatters with fall of Ramadi

Issue 
Iraqi army forces.

The long-running Iraq war, now in its 12th year, re-appeared in the corporate media with news another major city, Ramadi, had fallen to the self-styled Islamic State (IS).

Barely 11 months after the Iraqi army's defeat in Mosul, it turned and fled the Ramadi battlefield, surrendering US military equipment to the IS.

Ramadi, situated in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar, has always resisted the US military and its client armies, such as Shia militias controlled by the Baghdad authorities.

In a May 22 piece at TheConversation.com, David Alpher said: “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.”

US policy, still reeling from the Mosul debacle, is in tatters. After Mosul, the US government made reassuring noises that the Iraq army's difficulties were temporary and measures would be implemented to reinforce its demoralised ranks.

Then-Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was held responsible for the defeats and ousted. In September last year, after Maliki's ouster, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad to express continued support for its clients in Baghdad. Kerry said the reformed Iraqi government would drive fight back against ISIS.

US President Barack Obama pledged his enthusiastic support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, declaring his government would adopt a fresh strategy for dealing with the Iraq crisis. Promising a more inclusive government, Baghdad announced its determination to fight the IS.

Seven months later, the IS has expanded its control over Iraqi territory. The Financial Times said on May 21 that the ISIS takeover of Ramadi “blows a hole” in Obama’s Iraq strategy.

The loss of Ramadi is a serious defeat for Abadi. It indicates that the Iraqi army, no matter how much training, money and arms it gets, is incapable of becoming an effective fighting force.

The political class in Baghdad, installed in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion, is unable to rise above its own factional squabbling and form a functioning government.

Composed of ex-exiles, con artists, warlords, economic charlatans, and former and current agents of US and British secret services, this class is under assault 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, of which the IS is the most significant. This alliance of Iraqi Sunnis has shattered the US-imposed order in Iraq.

In a May 21 Common Dreams piece, Juan Cole said: “In early 2005 … 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.”

Cole said that, in asking “who lost Ramadi?”, Washington is asking the wrong question as it never had Ramadi in the first place.

Iraq’s Sunni people, having been removed from positions of power by the US invasion, were marginalised by the Shia-Kurdish dominated political class in post-Ba’athist Iraq. The Sunnis were now the targets of revenge by US- and Iranian–backed parties.

Sunnis were excluded from top jobs, the largely state-owned industries set up by the Ba’athist Party were privatised and Iraqi oil opened up to foreign multinational corporations. Throughout 2006-07, the sectarian Baghdad authorities carried out a program of ethnic cleansing, systematically killing and removing the Sunnis of Baghdad.

Backed by the US and Iran, Maliki launched a war of terror against the Iraqi Sunni population. US forces empowered Shia militias to carry out 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 US occupation. Desperate for allies, they turned to a rival and growing strand of resistance – the Sunni fundamentalist groups advocating their particular brand of political Islamism.

The roots of the IS reside in the Syrian conflict, but its ability to tap into the grievances of Iraq's embattled Sunni population gave it a beachhead inside Iraq from which to batter the US-backed Baghdad regime.

As well as Ramadi, Palmyra in neighbouring Syria fell to the group in early May. Its ability to inflict military defeats on its opponents indicates to regional powers that the US is either unable or unwilling to confront the disturbing reality on the ground.

[Abridged from www.rupensavoulian.wordpress.com.]

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