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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/1/14

Iraq: Behind the Escalating Civil War and U.S. Intervention & Where Our Interests Lie

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The June 10 collapse of Iraqi government forces in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and the city's fall to the reactionary Islamic jihadists of the ISIL and other Sunni forces, stunned the Iraqi government, the U.S. rulers, and other regional and global powers, setting off alarm bells in capitals around the world.

Since then, the situation has evolved very quickly. Jihadists and other Sunni forces have rapidly extended their control of north and west Iraq, including taking control of Iraq's border with Syria and perhaps Jordan, and moving to within 40 miles of Baghdad. There are reports that ISIL and Sunni fighters may have taken over Iraq's largest oil refinery. So far, the Iraqi government, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, has been unable to mount a counter-offensive, and there are deep fissures among Iraq's ruling parties. The Obama administration is furiously working to craft a response and prevent the fall of Baghdad, including deploying military forces to the region. Iran is stepping up its presence in Iraq, and other regional states, including Saudi Arabia, are also reacting to protect their own interests.

It's impossible to predict where this is all going, but it could develop into a major turning point--fracturing or breaking national boundaries and ruling structures that have existed nearly 100 years, since World War I. These structures and relations have been key components of 70 years of U.S. domination of the Middle East, which has been crucial to the functioning and power of U.S. imperialism globally and domestically.

1. How Did We Get Here? Not Essentially Bush or Stupidity, But the Dynamics and Necessities of Imperialism!

People need to understand some key truths about the current crisis in Iraq.

It isn't simply the "fault" or "stupidity" of Bush, Cheney and the "neocons," as some argue. If this were the case it might be fairly easy for the U.S. to extricate itself. But it's not. This crisis is rooted in the dynamics of capitalism-imperialism, the history of its domination of the Middle East, and the actions the U.S. rulers have felt compelled to take to maintain that dominance.

Imperialism has colonized, dominated, strangled, twisted and suffocated the Middle East for over 100 years. After World War 2 ended in 1945, the U.S. became the dominant imperial overlord. During these decades, the U.S. worked to basically put the whole region on lockdown: overall integrating the core pillars of the traditional social order--feudal, tribal, and patriarchal relations, including the prominent role of Islam and the clerical establishment--into the forms through which it dominated and exploited the region. This meant backing up or installing kings, military juntas, and tyrants, while arming and training their secret police and torturers. Nationalists, revolutionaries, and especially communists were ruthlessly suppressed. Israel has been America's local enforcer, ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population and waging war on its neighbors. During its post-World War II reign, the U.S. has marauded all over the world, for instance sponsoring death squads that murdered hundreds of thousands in Central America during the 1980s alone. Yet over the last 30 years or so, there's nowhere it has waged so many wars and military interventions as the Middle East. And both Democrats and Republicans have supported all of this!

Why? Because this was--and is!--a key strategic, military and economic crossroads linking Europe, Asia, and Africa, and home to roughly 60 percent of the world's energy reserves. (While technological changes like fracking are shifting the global energy landscape, the Middle East still accounts for a third of global oil production, more than any other region.)

The issue here is not simply or mainly U.S. oil consumption. Control of this global oil spigot has been called the "greatest strategic prize" in history by various imperialists because it's been essential to the profitable functioning of U.S. capital, to its global economic and military dominance, and to its leverage over other powers. Hence no disruption of this setup was to be tolerated.

But by the dawn of the new millennium, tensions and contradictions were cracking the edifice of U.S. control. The 1979 Iranian revolution ended up bringing Islamic fundamentalists to power. The 1979-1988 war in Afghanistan, fueled by U.S., Pakistani, and Saudi Arabian support for anti-Soviet Islamist fighters, spawned organized jihadists hostile to both the former Soviet Union and to the West and its regional clients.

The 1989-1991 collapse of the Soviet Union (by then an imperialist power 1) was a geopolitical earthquake that shifted the whole global terrain, ushering in what the Revolutionary Community Party has identified as a "period of major transition with the potential for great upheaval." The savaging of Iraq during the 1991 U.S. war and then 13 years of sanctions sent tremors throughout the region, yet did not take down the Hussein regime. (Watch Iraq: War Against the People, The Hidden Story of the Gulf War.)

This and Israel's crimes against the Palestinians stirred anger and discontent across the region. Through all this, Middle Eastern oil and natural gas have created enormous, obscene wealth for imperialism and its local collaborators, while most of the region's 300-400 million people remained impoverished and oppressed. At the same time, capitalist globalization has torn up traditional ways of survival and socialization, and propelled millions from the countryside into sprawling urban cities and slums.

These developments occurred in the wake of the 1976 overthrow of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in China following Mao's death. This had profound ideological and political reverberations worldwide, including creating a void of genuine opposition to imperialism. This also strengthened the Islamic fundamentalist current, which by the century's turn was becoming a serious challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.

So in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the imperialists felt it was necessary to radically restructure the region. As Bush later summed up, "Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither." They also felt they had the freedom to pursue their grand ambitions because the U.S. was then unquestionably the world's dominant power.

So they launched a "global war on terror." This was, in reality, a war for greater empire that aimed to defeat anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, take down regimes that stood in the U.S.'s path, and economically, politically, and socially transform the whole region. They called this "draining the swamp"-- drying up the roots and sources of the growing strength of Islamist opposition. All this was part of a larger strategy of preventing any other powers from rising to challenge the U.S., globally or regionally, locking in American hegemony for decades to come. In short, they aimed to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable empire.

This "war on terror" started in Afghanistan in October 2001, but shifted quickly to Iraq with the March 2003 invasion. The Bush regime considered Iraq key to advancing all of its objectives. They envisioned transforming it into a new kind of neo-colony in the region--more open to global capital, especially its oil sector, as well as a U.S.-led "democratic" pole and military platform. A central objective: weakening if not overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran, which the U.S. considered one of the prime sources of Islamist opposition regionally. Taking down the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein was also seen as dealing a death blow to Arab nationalism and what remained of Russian regional influence.

Such a vision required clearing the ground, so to speak, and this is what the Bush team did--shattering and disbanding the Baathist Army, privatizing the economy, and then purging the state of all former Baathists, which ended up gutting much of the Iraqi state and barring many Sunnis (who'd had the predominant role in Iraqi government society since the country's founding by the British in 1921) from having any meaningful future. These moves were seen as necessary and logical as part of the larger strategy the U.S. was pursuing.

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Larry Everest is the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004), a correspondent for Revolution newspaper ( where this first appeared, who has reported from Iran, Iraq and Palestine, and a (more...)
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