Claims that civil war in Iraq was ever “inevitable” are dubious. In the aftermath of the invasion there were dozens of massive, peaceful, joint Sunni and Shia demonstrations calling for British and American forces to leave Iraq. In April 2003 20,000 shia and sunni demonstrators marched together against the occupation in Baghdad. In May 2003 the joint demonstrations were even bigger.After US forces killed demonstrators in Fallujah armed insurgency developed there. When the US responded with the April 2004 assault on Fallujah Shias and Sunnis – including the supposedly “sectarian” Al Sadr - joined in opposition to the coalition assault.
Units including many sectarians like the (now mostly Shia) ‘Wolf Brigade’ (one of whose senior commanders believes Sunni clerics are ‘infidels’) were brought into Ramadi and other cities as part of coalition offensives. These units took away suspected insurgents. Those later released said they had been tortured – some are still unaccounted for. Iraqi army units including many former members of the Kurdish peshmerga militia were also used and are now being brought into Baghdad.
Whether this was incompetence, the infiltration of units by sectarian militias or an attempt to divide Iraqis to make them easier to rule can’t be certain.– but it’s fairly clear that ending the Iraq war is not a high priority for the Bush administration and the companies linked to it as long as the army supply and reconstruction contracts keep coming.
Al Qa’ida and other religious extremists have certainly used attacks on civilians to try to divide Iraqi Sunnis from Shias (who they see as ‘apostates) and other Iraqis. The renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has discovered that US Vice President Dick Cheney and Elliot Abrams (among others) have since decided that since the Iraq war has tipped the balance of power in the region towards Iran and the Shia they are organising “black operations” to back Sunni extremists linked to Al Qa’ida – particularly in Lebanon but also across the Middle East - using Saudi money and “unaccounted for” Iraqi and US funds (such as some of the $8bn of Iraqi money which went missing under Bremer’s CPA and the $4bn a year lost to corruption in Iraq). Many members of these sunni extremist groupstrained in Al Qa’ida camps in Afghanistan before the 2001 invasion.
This is a worrying echo of the US-Saudi-Pakistan co-operation to arm, train, organise and fund the Mujahedin (including Bin Laden) in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 80s.
To quote Bin Laden (long before September 11th) “I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region. There I recieved volunteers [from Arab and Muslim countries]...these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis.” (See p132 of Ahmed Rashid’s book ‘Taliban’ published by Tauris in London in 2001)
Of the 370,000 weapons provided to the Iraqi army by the US CPA only 10,000 had their serial numbers recorded. Now it’s possible this was simply incompetence or carelessness – but it’s also possible that serial numbers weren’t recorded so that no-one would know who supplied weapons to who
That may be why Moqtadr Al Sadr – an Iraqi nationalist who is focused on getting all foreign troops out of Iraq and has tried to restrain his Madhi army from reprisals against Sunnis – is being targeted by the Pentagon. Al Sadr apparently initially supported the recent US “security drive” in Baghdad – yet it’s target is now being described by the Pentagon as being him and his militia.
The new US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus has said there’s a need to negotiate with the militias – except Al Sadr’s. Why? It’s fairly clear that the Madhi army is not a monolithic organisation all of whom obey Al Sadr. It has factions within it. Refusing to negotiate will weaken those like Al Sadr who are willing to negotiate and strengthen those seeking revenge on any and all sunnis. Al Sadr’s hands are hardly clean but whose in Iraq are? Not the Pentagon’s or the Bush administration’s. Al Sadr can be persuaded to give up violence in return for remaining part of the Iraqi government.
Al Sadr has consistently demanded US and British forces leave Iraq. That would mean no more contracts for Halliburton, KBR or Bechtel. This is probably why they are being demonised – not because of torture and killings by some of the Madhi army (crimes committed as often by some of their enemies – including some coalition forces).
After having initially decided to turn a blind eye to or even aid Shia militias against Sunni insurgents Cheney and the Pentagon have now decided the Shias and Iran are getting too strong so they’re now backing Sunni extremists against Shias in the hope of either dividing and ruling Iraq or inciting Iran to attack US forces or step up its support to Shia forces in Iraq – and using this to justify war on Iran. Even if neither plan works the continued war allows Cheney to justify keeping troops in Iraq with all the lucrative contracts that provides. Sunni extremists were the sole villains in Cheney’s play – now Shia extremists backed by Iran (and previously trained by coalition forces) are supposedly the only murderers. In fact there are killers on both sides and the occupation is strengthening them.
Technically Cheney is only indirectly channelling money (and possibly training and weapons) to groups which share Al Qa’ida’s extremist version of sunni ideology. However Al Qa’ida is more a global movement of extremist organisations united by ideology than a single organisation – so in practice Cheney is backing Al Qa’ida. The theory is that this time these groups are in control and can be directed only against Iranian backed armed groups. In practice controlling these types of groups after they’ve been armed and trained is not so easy – as the US embassy bombings and September 11th showed.
The Iranian government has probably armed Shia sectarian militias (though probably more so the pro-Iranian Badr brigade than the Madhi army) but this is partly a result of the Bush administration’s hostility to Iran. Before Bush’s “axis of evil” speech which labelled Iran an enemy of the US the Iranian government were co-operating and sharing intelligence with the US against the (sunni extremist) Taliban (see chapter 12 of Kenneth Pollack’s ‘The Persian Puzzle’ published by Random House in 2005).
The governments of Iran, the US, Syria , Israel and Saudi are all backing brutal and violent groups in Iraq and Lebanon to protect or increase their own power. None of them are particularly justified in doing so.
copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007
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