BY Jim Harding
In 2004 I published a book “After Iraq” (Fernwood and Merlin Presses). We were in the early aftermath of the U.S.-U.K. invasion, but you could already see that the killing, trauma and chaos were seeding a whole new era of violence.
I wrote “Even if the U.S. succeeds in getting a compliant Iraqi government in place (and) in setting up an Iraqi military and policing system, resistance will continue.” I speculated that the U.S. version of “Iraq for the Iraqis may even lead to the kind of para-military forces the U.S. helped create in its attempt to dominate Latin American countries and resources,” and concluded that “…Iraq may be one of the worst case scenarios for trying to impose a pro-U.S. corporate liberal democracy”.
Saddam Hussein was captured well before the book came out, and revisionism about his regime was already well underway. Nothing much was being said, I wrote, “…about what brought the anti-communist, nationalist Ba’ath Party to power; nothing at all about the U.S. backing or arming Iraq when it invaded Iran; and definitely nothing about the U.S.’s role in Iraq getting its materials for its initial attempt at Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).”
Rather, there was a show trial that focused “on victims and not complicity…on the 100,000 dead from the campaign against the disloyal Kurds in search of autonomy and on the 300,000 buried in the mass graves resulting from Hussein’s repressive twenty-four-year rule.” I added: “There must be no mention that the U.S. was arming Hussein through much of this period.”
As leader of the opposition in 2003, Harper cheered on George Bush; he clearly wanted Canada to join the illegal invasion. He supported the rhetoric for a preemptive strike without regard for further destabilizing the region or undermining the United Nations and international law. As Prime Minster a decade later, he still has no interest in understanding “the roots” of the ongoing violence. He’s about to launch Canada into this precarious conflict which could so easily escalate into a world-scale war.
War is always fanned by demonizing “the enemy”. Rather than moderate, intelligent discussion of what to do to avert further bloodshed and trauma, we hear ever-more ramped-up rhetoric about “evil, barbaric terrorists”. The “war on terrorism” has turned into a war on language itself. The beheading of two U.S. journalists by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) was the big trigger for ramping up the rhetoric. But, as with all war rhetoric, this is selective and insincere.
A main ally in the offensive against ISIS is Saudi Arabia. The September 11, 2014 Washington Post reported that according to the UN, in just the last month, Saudi Arabia beheaded “at least 8 people”. The August 22, 2014 Independent reported that according to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia “beheaded at least 19 people since the beginning of August”. Over the last few decades the Saudis have beheaded 1,000 people.
Clearly the U.S. does not want Saudi Arabia as its ally because of its record on human rights or because it is a democratic country. Iran is actually more democratic. As the Washington Post put it, Saudi Arabia is desirable as an ally because of its “well-equipped military and its broader influence among the Middle East’s Sunni states.”
And what about the new-found concern for barbaric actions against journalists? According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 70 journalists died worldwide in 2013. Most died reporting on politics, war or human rights. More than half died in Syria (29) or Iraq (10), the two most deadly countries for journalists. But they weren’t primarily from western countries so their plight was largely ignored.
External Affairs Minister Baird talks as though the fight with ISIS is because “we don’t want to see any more people having to flee their homes”. What about the millions of refugees left from past wars, the 2003 invasion and civil war in Iraq? The outpouring of people from Iraq has already strained Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Have Baird and Harper deluded themselves into thinking that expanded warfare won’t create an even greater humanitarian catastrophe? Money spent on missiles will again outstrip that spend on the humanitarian aid required due to the warfare.
The U.S.-led coalition is not going back into Iraq primarily because of humanitarianism but because the Iraqi government, largely of its creation, can’t maintain its borders. This is part blowback from Assad’s repressive Syrian regime and for the Shia-controlled Iraqi government’s oppression of the Sunni. Not only has ISIS gained control of significant cities like Mosul and Fallujah, where the invading armies and their government creations carried out their own form of “barbarism”, but six weeks into U.S.-led aerial bombing ISIS remains within 5 miles of Baghdad and is now battling along the Syrian-Turkish border.
The region is a quagmire of conundrums with steadily shifting alliances. It’s a tinderbox; it’s the most armed region anywhere and boots are already on the ground. Like Saddam Hussein, ISIS gets much of its armaments from the U.S. As they lose one skirmish after another, Iraqi troops leave ISIS with even more American-provided arms. Much military equipment came from Libya after western bombing helped bring down the Gaddafi regime, leaving the region with another imploded state.
So the U.S.-led intervention is counting on the highly disciplined Kurdish army. But let’s not forget the motive for the Kurds battling ISIS: an Islamic State undermines a new state of Kurdistan. Turkey, a NATO member with the largest ground army in the region, bordering both Syrian and Iraq, is now to enter the conflict. Turkey is an enemy of both Syria and its allies Iran and Russia. But the Turks also fear that the Kurds have territorial ambitions within Turkey itself.
Kurdish communities exist across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The leftist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), battling Turkey since the 1980s, is deemed a “terrorist” group by the EU. The parliamentary motion for Turkey to enter the ground war was carried by 298 to 98 votes, with 150 MPs staying away. But it was opposed by the Kurdish National Party which was concerned that both Syria and the Kurds, not just ISIS, could become Turkey’s military targets. More and more national self-interests are at play.
Then add in Israel. The Prime Minister’s advisor talks of the “threat from Iran and Sunni extremists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Jihadists”. Netanyahu refers to them all as “branches on a poison tree”, surely not a signal that Israel is open to the necessary evolution of Islamic democracy in the region. Meanwhile Israel has already shot down a Syrian military plane and may want to use the gathering storm to further its expansionist plans and undermine a two-state solution in Palestine.
And where does Harper really stand on all this? To justify us entering the combat, he says “Being a free rider means you won’t be taken seriously.” His reasons have more to do with his perception of power than the promotion of peace. His “leadership” in international affairs is as bankrupt as it is on the climate crisis.
His government’s mindlessly-righteous rhetoric is cause for great concern. Past Conservative Minister Stockwell Day cheers Harper on with rhetoric about “insane terrorists”, while using simple-minded metaphors about bank robbers and sheriffs. No one wanted WW1 but it escalated out of a quagmire of unholy alliances and lots of righteous, mindless rhetoric. Middle East borders now up for grab came out of that war, so it is a time for caution not bravado.
Taking place without UN sanction or even NATO oversight, this military action is a further assault on international law. Airstrikes on Syria already step over the line. The escalation will surely further destabilize the region. If any place in the world proves that peace can only be created by setting a peaceful path, it is the Middle East.
Near the end of After Iraq I wrote that while both western and Islamic ideologues remained stuck in distorted and destructive constructs “…a dialogue of historical demystification, mutual understanding and solidarity is nonetheless well underway.” We must keep this going. It is heartening that the official opposition NDP, the Liberals and the Greens are all opposing Harper bringing Canada into the Iraqi quagmire. This broad-based opposition can help create space, prior to the 2015 election, for a broader understanding of the Middle East in its own terms. This is long overdue. Meanwhile the clock leading to a wider war is ticking down.