Prime Minister Tony Abbott has committed Australia to join the US’s latest military intervention in the Middle East. About 600 Australian military personnel and aircraft operating from a base in the United Arab Emirates will join US forces in bombing Islamic State forces in Iraq and assisting the Kurdistan Regional Government with weapons and training.
These days all imperialist military interventions have to be carefully packaged ideologically for popular consumption. The IS’s public beheading of three Western captives has provided Abbott and US President Barack Obama with a useful handle.
Abbott said: “This is essentially a humanitarian operation, to protect millions of people in Iraq from the murderous rage of the [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] movement … What we have seen is an exaltation in atrocity unparalleled since the Middle Ages … [The IS] death cult is uniquely evil in that it does not simply do evil, it exults in evil.”
Consistency is not a strong point here. The US wars on Iraq, in which Australia was an enthusiastic partner, led to the deaths, directly and indirectly, of hundreds of thousands on Iraqis. One estimate put the death toll at around one million by 2007. This completely dwarfs anything the Islamic State has done or is ever likely to do.
Perhaps it is not the evil that is the problem but the exulting in it. The West just does it and relies on the corporate media to obscure the carnage that is really going on.
The focus on beheadings also raises a few thorny problems. Close US ally Saudi Arabia executes people publicly, usually by beheading. Between 2007 and 2012, it executed 423 people. On August 21 Al Jazeera reported that at least 19 people had been beheaded in that month alone. Perhaps the PM can look into this while he is visiting our forces in the UAE.
A recent Leunig cartoon in the Age raised the burning question: “Should heads be cut off or blown off?” The government acts as though beheading is mediaeval and barbaric while Western bombing is modern and civilised.
WASHINGTON’S BOMBING CAMPAIGN WON’T WORK
The US bombing campaign is unlikely to defeat the IS forces.
Firstly, the fundamental reason for the IS successes in Iraq is the intense alienation of the Sunni community from the sectarian, Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has now been forced out and a new figure from the same party installed. But the Iraqi government depends on a number of sectarian Shia militias that appear to be just as murderous as the Islamic State forces they are fighting. The Sunni Arab tribes will not rally to such a regime.
Secondly, a cornerstone of the US effort involves shoring up the peshmerga forces of the KRG. However the peshmerga are not a unified national army but are divided between the Kurdistan Democratic Party of KRG president Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Even if the peshmerga increase their military capabilities and are able to defend the Kurdish areas more effectively this will not deal with the wider issue of the Islamic State.
Thirdly, Turkey has refused to join the US coalition. But Turkish support is absolutely vital to the Islamic State. It provides vital transit facilities to IS fighters coming and going to Syria; it treats IS wounded in Turkish hospitals; it allows IS to buy utilities and trucks in Turkey; and the Turkish blackmarket takes oil from IS-controlled fields in northern Syria thus providing vital funds.
US AVOIDS DEALINGS WITH KURDISH LIBERATION FORCES
Washington’s plan to defeat IS carefully avoids dealing with most effective forces actually fighting the Islamic State. These are the revolutionary wing of the Kurdish liberation struggle — the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a long struggle for Kurdish rights against the Turkish government, and the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) in Rojava, the liberated Kurdish-majority area of northern Syria.
The PKK has played a decisive role in fighting IS in a number of battles on the borders of the KRG. But, out of deference to NATO member Turkey which oppresses its large Kurdish minority, the PKK remains classified as a “terrorist” organisation by Australia, the US and the European Union.
The YPG has been fighting IS for two years in northern Syria and has inflicted heavy defeats on the fundamentalist gangs. When the Yezidi Kurdish population at Sinjar in Iraq was threatened with annihilation in August, it was the YPG and PKK forces which rescued them and escorted the refugees to safety in Rojava.
TURKEY MUST STOP SUPPORTING IS
Last week’s Green Left Weekly carried a statement by the Socialist Alliance opposing any US-Australian military involvement in Iraq. Two key demands it raises are to take the PKK of the list of declared “terrorist” organisations and that Turkey stop supporting the IS gangs.