New devastation in Iraq

August 12, 2017

Flanked by military commanders, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was in the nation’s second-largest city, Mosul, on July 10 to announce the city’s liberation from ISIS.

An end to the three-year-long rule by the extremely violent and authoritarian terrorist group is obviously good news for the city's residents. But it seems unlikely the group’s defeat will mean an end to their suffering, which began long before ISIS captured the city in June 2014.

ISIS was driven out of Mosul through massive bombardment by aircraft and artillery. The destruction is apocalyptic. As well as the damage to infrastructure and property, and the civilian body count, which is in the thousands according to Amnesty International — 40,000 according to an anonymous Iraqi Kurdish “intelligence source” quoted in the July 19 Independent.

Greater threat

With ISIS gone, a greater ongoing threat to peace and public safety in Mosul and throughout Iraq is likely to come from the nature of the forces that liberated the city.

The July 30 Scottish Sunday Herald reported that since the city’s liberation from ISIS, its morgues continue to be filled with bodies.

“Most of the dead are now found floating in the river or washed up on its banks. Many have their hands bound, eyes blindfolded and have been killed by a bullet to the back of the head … the evidence points … toward extra-judicial killings of local Mosul residents accused of having joined IS, now that the territory is under Iraqi government control,” the Herald said.

“Almost daily, accounts grow of extrajudicial killings, torture and unlawful detention by Iraqi forces in the final phase of the battle to retake the city and since.

“In some instances the atrocities are no secret, with videos and photographs surfacing on social media of Iraqi soldiers participating in torture and revenge executions of IS suspects.”

Officially, Mosul was retaken by the armed forces of the Republic of Iraq. However, Iraq has not had a properly functioning state since 2003, when the US-led coalition of Western powers destroyed the country and dismantled the existing state.

To thwart anti-occupation resistance, the Western coalition created an ethno-religious civil war before trying to create a new state to replace the one they destroyed.

More than a million Iraqis were killed in this nation-building experiment, which was preceded by a 12-year starvation siege that followed an earlier US-led Western blitzkrieg against Iraq in 1991.

The human, physical, ecological and economic consequences of this imperialist aggression were devastating. But perhaps most damaging of all was the division of the Iraqi population into mutually hostile sectarian ethno-religious identities.

Of course, the different religious and national communities of the region had not always lived in harmony. The politics of divide-and-rule were institutionalised by the British who invaded the country 100 years ago.

But the US-led occupying coalition took divide-and-rule to a new level. The Iraq that emerged is a hierarchy of armies, militias, feudal clans and criminal gangs (several with only marginally better human rights records than ISIS). They are linked together by deeply held antagonisms and shifting alliances.

Rise of ISIS

ISIS was also born from the US invasion and destruction of Iraq, and the ethno-religious civil war. Founded by prisoners in the jails of the imperialist occupying forces, it was originally just the Islamic State of Iraq.

By 2011 the divide-and-rule strategy had enabled the US to assert enough control over Iraq for then-President Barack Obama to announce the withdrawal of most Western forces and the birth of the new “independent” Iraqi republic.

The winding down of occupation and ethno-religious civil war in Iraq coincided with a democratic uprising in Syria descending into a multi-sided ethno-religious holocaust. ISI relocated across the border and became ISIS.

The success of ISIS in Syria — becoming by 2014 one of the most prominent participants in that country’s multi-sided war — was facilitated by material support from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This was due to ISIS and Erdogan’s shared hostility to the 2012 revolution in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).

The rapid advance of ISIS back into Iraq in 2014 was aided by the alienation of the Sunni Muslim Arab population by Shia sectarian militias and gangs affiliated to the occupation-created Iraqi state. The chronic incapacitation of the post-occupation Iraqi armed forces by corruption, demoralisation, and political and ethno-religious factionalism also helped ISIS.

The Iraqi forces that retook Mosul are divided between those of the federal government in Baghdad and those of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil. Iraqi Kurdistan has had a semi-independent regional government since the first US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 1991.

But these forces did not take Mosul alone. It was recaptured with considerable assistance from foreign military “advisers” and special forces, and considerable firepower from foreign air forces.

The US and Iran both have more troops and hardware in Iraq than in Syria. France, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany and Turkey have also sent forces.

Unlike in Syria — where the US, Iran and Turkey all back different sides in the military conflict — in Iraq all foreign powers are intervening as “allies” of Iraq.

Ethnic cleansing by both the KRG and factions linked to the Baghdad government has been particularly virulent in areas whose inclusion in the Kurdistan region is disputed between Baghdad and Erbil. This conflict receded while ISIS occupied large parts of northern Iraq but has flared up again as ISIS retreats.

The complex ethno-religious political mosaic created by the West’s divide-and-rule policies makes the conflict more than simply Arab versus Kurd.

Some Sunni Muslim Arab groups have aligned with the KRG, while some Shia Muslim Kurdish groups have aligned with Baghdad. Different Christian Assyrian militias are fighting alongside both KRG and Baghdad forces.


Part of the area in dispute between the KRG and Baghdad is the district called Sinjar in Arabic and Shengal in Kurdish. This is the homeland of the Yazidi people, a small ethno-religious minority who speak Kurdish and practice an ancient and unique religion. They have been singled out for particularly savage treatment by religious fundamentalist groups.

Before ISIS invaded, the KRG’s peshmerga [military force] and the Baghdad government’s forces were jockeying for control. When ISIS attacked both fled, abandoning the Yazidis to ISIS, whose genocidal violence against them was extreme even by ISIS standards.

However, forces from Bakur (Turkish Kurdistan) affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and forces from Rojava in Syria — the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) — intervened.

These forces helped many Yazidis escape, mainly to Rojava, and fought to retake Shengal from ISIS. They also assisted the Yazidi survivors to set up grassroots, democratic structures of self-administration, similar to those in Rojava, and create their own democratically accountable armed forces: the Shengal Resistance Units (YBS) and Shengal Women’s Units (YJS).

The genocide against the Yazidis gave the US-led Western coalition the pretext to resume its airstrikes in Iraq in August 2014. In a cynical display of hypocrisy, however, this intervention was to support the peshmerga and the forces of the Baghdad government, who had abandoned the Yazidis.

Three years later most of Shengal is under democratic self-administration, defended by the YBS and YJS. There are even YJS fighters taking part in the assault on Raqqa, aiming to rescue Yazidi women and girls enslaved there.

Shengal itself remains under attack, now not from ISIS but from the peshmerga and Turkish airstrikes. The US-led Western forces continue to use the Yazidi’s suffering to justify their presence. Yet they not only support the peshmerga who are attacking them, but demand the withdrawal of the PKK, by which they mean not only the small number of remaining PKK-affiliated fighters but the YBS and YJS.

The Shengal democratic self-administration insists that the PKK-affiliated forces will remain until the YBS and YJS have sufficient capacity to defend Shengal unaided. This was made clear on August 3 at mass rallies held in Shengal to mark the third anniversary of the ISIS-inflicted genocide and protests in a number of European cities.

Regardless of the pretexts, the motive for the repeated Western invasions of Iraq is control of the world’s oil and gas, much of which is in the Middle East.

The climate change resulting from the hydrocarbon-burning global system supported by these wars is particularly intense in regions that already have extreme climates. This includes Iraq, where average temperatures have risen by 10°C in the past 10 years.

A notable feature of the Battle of Mosul is it was fought in temperatures of more than 50°C. With this combination of extreme violence and extreme heat, Iraq now resembles hell — the direct result of the Western-based global capitalist system.

The world should take note because in Iraq, you can see the future this system has in store for the rest of the planet.

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