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Iraq: A crisis of Bush and Blair's making

The threat to Iraq’s unity from a rapid Islamist advance is another disastrous consequence of the 2003 invasion, writes ANDREW MURRAY

If credit were given where it is due, the black banners of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant now flying over Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi would be emblazoned with portraits of Tony Blair and George Bush.

For the sudden and stunning military triumphs of the Isil fighters is both the consequence and the collapse of the policy launched with the Anglo-US aggression against Iraq in 2003.

The overthrow, by means of illegal invasion, of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq spawned an increasingly sectarian, authoritarian and corrupt state which is now on the brink of disintegration along more than one axis.

A presumably uneasy alliance of Isil, Baathists and other Sunni-based resistance groups — united in their opposition to the Shia-sectarian regime of Premier Nouri al-Maliki — now controls much of the north of the country, with at least some degree of reported public support.  

If Obama, presently pondering bombing raids, does indeed intervene then the further advance of Isis towards Baghdad — where the Shia majority would not make them welcome in any case — may be prevented, but it is hard to see how their present gains can be reversed in the absence of a ground force willing to confront the insurgents.

The leadership of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, forever looking for the opportunity to upgrade their autonomy to the foundations of an independent Kurdish state, has taken advantage of the chaos to seize control of Kirkuk and the surrounding oil field, a position which they will not voluntarily relinquish since it could make the difference to the capacity to create a viable state in the future.

Thus the scene is set for a de facto tripartite division of Iraq — an effectively independent Kurdistan which would be a pole of attraction to Kurds in other states, including Turkey, Iran and Syria, a fundamentalist-ruled north and a Shia-based authoritarian US satrapy in the south.

It is cold comfort to say that precisely this fracturing was a clearly foreseeable outcome of the invasion of 2003, joining the long list of prescient warnings ignored by the hubristic and messianic Tony Blair.

Undoubtedly the most humiliating aspect from the point of view of London and Washington is the triumph of Isil across not only much of Iraq but a large slice of Syria as well, where it has benefited from western and Saudi support for the rebellion against Assad.

So here is the finale of the “war on terror” — an Islamist terror group ruling across the heartland of the Arab world as a direct result of western intervention.

Add that to the growing power of the Pakistani Taliban — unknown in 2001 — and it is fair to describe the Bush-Blair war as a strategic disaster almost beyond measure.

For Blair, of course, none of this is his fault. Bizarrely, he argued on his Faith Foundation website — the faith in question seems to be his own omniscience — that the rise of Isil could have been avoided had the West intervened militarily in Syria. 

Yet the intervention in Syria he was urging — he seeks an uncommon amount of Middle East wars for a peace envoy — would have been against the Assad government not Isil, so it could only have left the Islamist insurgents even stronger.

Obama is now reviewing his possibilities for bringing the situation back under control. His main problem may not prove to be Isil but the sectarian government in the Green Zone. 

This is still headed by Maliki despite his limited popular support — revealed in the recent elections in which he led a fragmented field but secured well short of a majority — and by his failure to build a functioning government.  

Maliki serves as his own minister of defence, of security and of the interior, which gives a sense of the extreme concentration of power he has engineered in his sectarian project.

Unless Maliki is replaced by a government able to operate on an inclusive and non-sectarian basis, all efforts at undermining Isil and its allies will likely falter. 

The new Iraqi army, created by the US after its occupation liquidated the existing armed forces, has had its sectarian character enhanced by Maliki to the point where it seems uninterested in fighting outside “its own” territories in Baghdad and to its south. 

Not enough newly elected MPs could be persuaded into attending the Iraqi parliament to legitimise Maliki’s putative declaration of a state of emergency — for all the difference that makes to the real democratic situation in Iraq.

So Obama is left contemplating the virtual disintegration of the Bush-created surrogate state in Iraq. His talk of bombing Isil is likely to prove of only limited effectiveness if translated into action for the reasons outlined above. 

It would also be deeply ironic if he now bombed those in insurrection against the Syrian government when this time last year he was gearing up to bomb the troops of that self-same government. 

Seldom have the contradictions of imperialism’s policies been so nakedly displayed, highlighting the difficulties the great powers now have in assembling an acceptable cast of surrogates to preserve their interests in the region.

Ironies — and dangers — abound. Iran now appears to be cooperating with the US in propping up Maliki’s regime, over which it exercises considerable influence. And will Turkey stand indifferent while a Kurdish state emerges, or will it claim the right to protect the Turkoman population around Kirkuk as the Iraqi state disappears?

In total, the picture is a more vivid indictment of Blair’s war policies than anything likely to emerge from the elephantine gestation of the Chilcot report. 

Every charge made against the invasion in 2003 by the anti-war movement — including the danger of sparking a wider regional conflict — has been confirmed in spades.

Of course, there will be those keen to double down on disaster. Blair’s former aide John McTernan, who was seconded to Iraq to work with long-time MI6/CIA asset Ilyad Allawi when the latter was briefly named Iraqi premier by the US, last week urged British military action to prop up Maliki.

The deployment of land forces seems unlikely. But the danger of some form of armed intervention is real enough, and the anti-war movement must mobilise against it. 

Britain owes the Iraqi people the obligation, after a century of disastrous and bloody intervention, of now doing nothing.

One thing is clear. In Mosul, in eastern Ukraine and in the South China Sea the post-1991 world order is breathing its last. 

The new order is full of danger of new and expanding wars but also of the possibility of the defeat of imperialism on a world scale.


Andrew Murray is deputy president of the Stop the War Coalition


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