The bitter fruits of the monstrous evil the United States inflicted on Iraq are ripening before our eyes. The blitzkrieg by ISIS, a radical militia so extreme that even al Qaeda disowned it, has swept through large swaths of the country and laid bare the sham of the government system imposed by the American invaders.
Having engineered the senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and provoked a murderous sectarian war, the Americans installed a government based along strict sectarian lines -- a choice that was guaranteed to exacerbate internal strife and produce weak, ineffective, disunited governments. And so we have watched the government of would-be strongman Nouri al-Maliki wither away into corrupt factionalism and brutal repression in its frantic and failing efforts to impose its will on the inevitable chaos. This week we may be witnessing its total collapse, as its army -- built and funded by the American invaders -- is simply vanishing in the face of the onslaught by ISIS, which is itself funded, in part, by America's own staunch allies in the Gulf … and, via America's funding and arming of murky stew of Syrian rebel groups (which includes ISIS), indirectly by Washington itself.
Yes, it is madness. The US-UK act of unprovoked aggression in Iraq -- which in principle and illegality differs not one whit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 -- has spread unimaginable ruin and destruction throughout the region, creating a Hobbesian nightmare of "each against all": of factions combining, breaking apart, recombining, fighting together, fighting each other, using each other, betraying each other, with no boundaries, no meaning, just a constant churning, chewing, gnashing of teeth, a vast, seething mass of death and brutality, held together, locked together, by a single, shared creed: the way of violence. Violence as a first principle, and the final solution; violence (and the ever-present, never-ceasing threat of violence) as the highest expression of human achievement, the physical embodiment of power, of domination over others -- which is the supreme value, the ultimate concern for all those who hold to this fanatical creed. It's the true religion of the American militarists, the Islamic extremists, the NATO nabobs, the authoritarian nationalists, the covert operators, the backroom financiers, and all the bit players and fellow travellers around the world who serve and support or profit from this ghastly faith.
There is a larger historical context to what's happening in Iraq today, which Juan Cole covers well here. But the immediate responsibility for the death and suffering we are witnessing in Iraq right now lies squarely on those who launched (and those who supported) a war of aggression that destroyed Iraqi society and -- just as was predicted -- "opened the gates of hell" to sectarian strife and world-rattling chaos.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the uprising is broader than the operations of ISIS, a group that with its al Qaeda-surpassing extremism is tailor-made to serve as a convenient devil. Just as one of their precursors, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, served as the Scarlet Pimpernel of much of the American occupation -- seemingly here, there and everywhere, and was blamed for every bit of unrest and resistance against the noble American and British liberators. It was Zarqawi's supposed presence in Fallujah that led to America's vicious destruction of that city; he was, of course, nowhere near the city, which the Americans well knew. In fact, Zarqawi too had once been an ally of Americans, at least indirectly; before the invasion, his terrorist group found safe haven in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, where Saddam's writ did not run, and where American officials moved freely. The Bush Administration vetoed several chances to capture or kill Zarqawi, preferring to let him attack the common enemy, Saddam. Later, as noted, he served as a convenient PR foil for the Americans during his rampages in the post-election landscape.
He was a loathsome character -- a fierce adherent of the cult of violence he shared with Saddam and America's bipartisan foreign policy elite. And ISIS is a malevolent faction of the same faith -- although of course they yet to kill even a fraction of the number of innocent civilians slaughtered in the region by the Defenders of Western Civilization and their clients. But as with Zarqawi, the focus on ISIS obscures the larger discontent and resistance to what it is still, essentially, an occupation regime in Baghdad. The Guardian has featured reports from the ground in the cities seized by ISIS; reports which paint a somewhat more complex picture than we are seeing in Washington, where the 'debate' has, as usual, congealed around partisan point-scoring -- and minute calibrations of just how much violence America should employ to exacerbate the chaos and ruin.
From the Guardian:
Among those who took control of Tikrit were large numbers of former Ba'ath party members. Ba'athists were the cornerstone of Saddam Hussein's regime and have been persecuted ever since. Residents of Tikrit said some insurgents were wearing the drab green military fatigues worn by Saddam's army. "There are no Isis flags in town," said one local woman. "They are playing Saddam and Ba'ath party songs."
…In nearby Samara, where insurgents have been negotiating with Iraqi army officials, car dealer Taher Hassan said militants had turned up on Sunday and quickly taken control of most of the city.
He said: "All the local police forces have pulled out of their bases in the city. … Everyone in Samara is happy with the fighters' management of the city. They have proved to be professional and competent. The fighters themselves did not harm or kill anyone as they swept forward. Any man who hands over his arm is safe, whatever his background. This attitude is giving a huge comfort to people here. We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can't stand any more.
Four days ago, Maliki’s military dirty force raided Al-Razaq mosque in the city, brought a few locals whom they picked up from different parts in Samara and killed them in the mosque. What do you think the people feeling would be towards these military forces? We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can’t stand any more.”
Abu Riyad, 50 years old, tribal leader in Mosul city: “It seems the fighters have a good security plan for the city. They really know the nature of the city and have not made the same mistakes as the US forces, or Maliki’s forces, when they invaded Mosul. They are protecting all the governmental buildings in the city and have not destroyed or stolen anything. They haven’t harmed a person in the city.
[Isis] fighters have opened and cleared out all the bridges, roads and checkpoints set up by the army. Now, we can move easily. It is so quiet here – not a bullet has been fired so far. Most of the families who fled the city began to head back today. We have suffered a lot under Maliki’s unfair government. …We’ve had enough injustice and corruption and no longer accept Maliki’s army. Since the US invasion until now, an organised ethnic cleansing was taking place here. Maliki’s men would show up on TV revealing their love to peace and security but the reality is completely different. They are all killers, fanatic and sectarians….
Last Thursday, the fighters attacked the right bank of the Tigris river. The army used planes and mortars in the fight, in a crowded residential area. The bombardment cut the power and water supply and sparked panic among the locals. Many civilians were killed.”
As always, extremist elements thrive where the "legitimate" authority is repressive and corrupt. (And in this case, implanted by foreign aggression.) The same dynamic was played out by the Taliban in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces that had been supporting, brutally, the secular government. The Soviets were forced out by a resistance led by violent sectarian extremists -- armed and supported by the Americans and their Saudi allies (such as Osama bin Laden). This led to years of ruinous chaos as warlords tore apart what was left of the country after the Soviet departure; many who later had cause to regret the Taliban’s ascendancy at first applauded their highly disciplined restoration of order.
This is evident in the current situation in Iraq as well, as illustrated by the quotes above. The welcome relief from corruption and chaos now will likely give way to dread and repression as ISIS — adherents to the Cult of Violence — impose the same kind of forcible domination as Maliki and his American predecessors. As the Guardian reports:
Isis has been handing out flyers in the towns it has seized assuring residents who have remained that it is there to protect their interests. The campaign for hearts and minds is gaining some traction, with some residents railing against perceived injustices at the hands of the Shia majority government. But yesterday it said it would introduce sharia law in Mosul and other towns, warning women to stay indoors and threatening to cut off the hands of thieves. "People, you have tried secular regimes ... This is now the era of the Islamic State," it proclaimed.
In retrospect, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the late 70s looks more and more like the linchpin of the modern era, the decisive event that gave rise to a multitude of later evils (much like the mobilisations of 1914 -- the blind exacerbation and amplification of a local crisis -- was the fatal pivot of the 20th century, seeding the even greater horrors of World War II). Here too, as in so many situations in our time, a distorted story was invented to paint America’s dark and deadly realpolitik as a bright cartoon of the Shining City vs. Pure Motiveless Evil. Americans were sold the false story of Kremlin Hitlers swooping down for no reason on the simple rustics of Afghanistan — the opening salvo in what we were told was surely a diabolical campaign of world conquest.
The truth was nothing like that. The Soviets were, of course, invited into Afghanistan by the Communist-run government in Kabul — a rather nasty and ineffective regime, to be sure — as it struggled with internal factional conflict and, more importantly, with a well-armed insurgency of Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the government’s modernization and secularization — including emancipation for women. The decision to accede to the Afghan government’s request and greatly increase the already existing number of Soviet military advisors was hotly debated in the Politburo. In the end, the reluctant decision was made to support the troublesome Afghan government. (The story is well told in Rodric Braithwaite’s book, Afgantsy.)
America’s meddling pre-dated the Soviet “invasion” of 1979. In fact, the “invasion” was a response to America’s horrifically short-sighted fomenting of violent Islamic extremism. The saintly Jimmy Carter and his Kissinger manqué, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided they could give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” by luring it into an intractable guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan — as Brzezinski has proudly confirmed many times. So they joined with Saudi Arabia and other allies to create a worldwide network of heavily armed, well-funded Islamic extremists: the ultimate seed-bed of groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, Zarqawi’s faction and ISIS.
These events don’t just arise, stir trouble for awhile, then go away. They have lasting effects, reverberating down through the years and bearing malignant fruit in a myriad of unexpected ways. We are all still paying the costs of Jimmy and Zbig’s murderously ignorant Great Gaming more than 30 years ago. Likewise, the Iraq War did not just go away when American forces finally pulled out less than three years ago. Although the country disappeared from the American consciousness, the destructive forces inflicted and unleashed upon the conquered land continued to ravage the lives of ordinary, innocent people there (and in America), leaving them in chaos, bitterness, hopelessness and despair. What is happening now was inevitable, in one form or another.
But our rulers — these pathetic, third-rate minds (for all their elite educations), lacking the imagination or the will or the desire to look beyond the blinkered constrictions of their imperialist worldview — have learned nothing from the past three years, or the past 30 years. It’s unlikely that Barack Obama will send American troops back to Iraq, but he will almost certainly take some kind of action, in his desperation to look “tough” to his critics, and to stave off the accusation of “losing” Iraq to “the terrorists.” Already the Idiot Choir of the political-media class is placing the blame for the current turn of events on the fact that America did not retain a troop presence in Iraq — as if THIS was the great error, the great “failure” of American policy, instead of the decision to invade the country in the first place.
(And also forgetting, as Cole points out, that the Iraqis themselves would not have accepted a continuing American presence; Maliki’s own hold on power depended on his image as a leader of a “sovereign,” independent nation, even as his power was entirely beholden to a political system set up by invaders. And of course, a continuing American presence during the past three years would have provoked even more resistance, more attacks on the American troops, more “force protection” by the occupiers, more raids, more atrocities, provoking more resistance — the same insane cycle we saw throughout the original occupation.)
But it’s pointless to dwell on the hair-splitting schisms of these fanatics of the Violence Cult. We already know that whatever response they come up with will adhere to the Cult’s orthodoxy: it will be violent, it will involve the death and suffering of innocent people, it will breed more chaos and extremism, and it will exacerbate the very problems it is ostensibly trying to resolve. These are the only results the Cult can produce; and there is no one in power — or even near power — in America who is not an adherent of the Cult.
And so the suffering — the pointless anguish and ruin — will go on.
UPDATE: A new article out today by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett underscores the insanity of the policies that have produced the situation in Iraq today. They pay special attention to the role of the Syrian conflict, which I only glanced at above. It is an important angle -- and one of the best illustrations of the madness now raging through the halls of power in the West. Once again, as in Afghanistan, Washington and its European and Saudi partners have poured massive amounts of money and weapons into an insurgency led by violent religious extremists -- and are now shocked to see this extremist insurgency spread throughout the region, particularly in Iraq, where a corrupt, crippled, invader-installed regime has led the country into further division and degradation.
Meanwhile, as I noted above and the Leveretts underscore here, in Washington the only response being offered is more of the same: more intervention to combat the extremists in Iraq, more funding and weapons for the extremists in Syria (and often the groups are the same), more war, more death, more violence. They literally do not know anything else.
Here's an excerpt from the article:
In Iraq, the resurgence of sectarian violence stems not from the 2011 American withdrawal. It is, rather, the fruit of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and the much vaunted “surge” of 2007-2008. The U.S. invasion and occupation destroyed the Iraqi state and ignited tensions among Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic communities. The surge sought to empower certain Sunni militias while paying them (temporarily) not to kill American soldiers; this ended up giving Sunni militants the means to press their grievances through escalating violence once U.S. forces were no longer around.
Unfortunately, Washington seems determined to compound its appalling policy choices in Iraq with equally grievous choices regarding Syria. For over three years, America has provided Syrian oppositionists with “nonlethal” aid, trained opposition fighters, coordinated with others openly providing lethal aid for U.S.-vetted recipients, and extended high-level political backing to the anti-Assad campaign – including serially reiterated public demands from Obama that Assad “must go.” Yet, from the conflict’s start it has been clear that opposition fighters would not dislodge Assad, no matter how much external help they received – because, from the beginning, the constituencies supporting Assad and his government have added up to well over half of Syrian society. …
These realities were readily observable in spring 2011; we have been writing and speaking about them for over three years. Yet the Obama administration decided, within weeks after the outbreak unrest in parts of Syria in March 2011, to support oppositionists seeking to overthrow Assad. It did so – as administration officials told the New York Times in April 2011 – because it calculated that destabilizing Assad’s government would undermine Iran’s regional position.
This was a colossally irresponsible exercise in policymaking-by-wishful-thinking, for two reasons. First, outside support for opposition fighters – a sizable percentage of whom are not even Syrian – has taken what began as small-scale, indigenously generated protests over particular grievances and turned them into a heavily militarized insurgency that could sustain high levels of violence but could not actually win. The Obama administration prides itself on overthrowing Libya’s Muammar al-Qadhafi in 2011 without putting U.S. boots on the ground (though the results are comparable to those in Iraq: the destruction of a functioning state and the arming of militias that kill with impunity – including the U.S. ambassador in 2012). Assad is a vastly tougher target. Stepped up support for anti-Assad fighters will not accomplish anything positive strategically; it will, however, perpetuate conditions in which even more Syrians die.
Second, it was utterly foreseeable that backing an armed challenge to Assad would worsen the threat of jihadi militancy – in Syria, in neighboring countries like Iraq, and beyond. Well before March 2011, it was evident that, among Syria’s Sunni Islamist constituencies, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Syrian branch was historically more radical than most Brotherhood cells – was being displaced by more extreme, al Qaeda-like groups. External support for anti-Assad forces after March 2011 accelerated the trend and reinforced it with an infusion of foreign fighters, including organ-eating extremists. Many of these jihadis, according to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, are now working not just to bring down Assad but also to mount attacks against the United States.
The Obama administration’s transformation of Syria into a magnet-cum-training ground for transnational jihadi fighters has directly fed the resurgence of jihadi extremism we are witnessing in Iraq. Three years ago, at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 from Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi’s “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” movement – was on the ropes. Reinvigorated through the creation of an externally supported insurgency in Syria by the United States and America’s European and regional partners, it rebranded itself in 2013 as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11, has taken over swaths of both Syria and Iraq with lightning speed.
Washington has only itself and its collaborators in the anti-Assad crusade to blame for such an outcome. As ISIS captures more cities and territory in Iraq, it is also capturing stockpiles of weapons and military equipment that America supplied to the post-Saddam government – weapons and equipment that will enable further gains by ISIS fighters. Against this backdrop, calls to increase the flow of weapons into neighboring Syria are a case study in Einstein’s (apocryphal) definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Calls for the United States to “go back” to Iraq, to undo the horrific damage it has already done there, are equally delusional.