Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Iraq 2014: Relight the Fire

Yes I know it's been a while. Maybe it's nostalgia that brought me back here. Seeing Iraq on the news again, hearing people talking about “cutting and running”, lots of people talking about scary jihadis, armchair theologians who probably don't know a single Muslim talking about what they imagine are the intricacies of Islamic doctrine. That sort of stuff gives someone a twinge of longing - “hey”, you think, “I used to write about shit like that.”

So you go switch on the news and do a bit of research. Though I have to say, one thing that's changed is I've totally given up on the BBC for my coverage of these sorts of events. Someone showed me a video the other day of a nightly news report in 2003 with the BBC's Chief Sycophant (they call it “Politics Editor” over there) Andrew Marr reporting on the fall of Baghdad. It's a glorious victory, he proclaims in the video. Ministers are walking around with smiles like “split watermelons”. Blair's critics need to shutup – they've been proven wrong and he's been proven right! Yeah, you idiots – who cares about terrorist attacks? They might happen, but everyone in Number 10 is having a good time right now, so don't harsh their buzz.

Hindsight can make you feel sick to the stomach watching that video. If that genuinely was the view in Downing Street at the time then no wonder everything went so tits up. They're like the British commanders at the turn of the 20th century, so self-assured and full of imperial swagger that they didn't countenance that a bunch of Boer tribesmen with spears could possibly present a threat to the might of the British army. Fast forward 100 or so years and the mood seems eerily similar. Baghdad fell! The army did its job! Mission Accomplished! Who cares about terrorist attacks right now?

As everyone should really have worked out by now, “terrorist attacks” is just another name for guerilla warfare with crude weapons, except we think the guys with the crude weapons are mean because they don't have the same geopolitical interests as us. The tactics can be very sophisticated and they can even be directed primarily against military targets, like the African National Congress' attacks. They don't even have to be tactically crude - ISIS managed to break into Abu Ghraib, for crying out loud – think they haven't read a few of those military tactics manuals before? None of this matters in who gets labelled a terrorist and who gets labelled a freedom fighter. All that matters is who's fighting, who's labelling and whose side they're each respectively on.

The thing about terrorism is that it's never your guys that are committing terrorism, it's always the other team that does it. Remember the Sunni Awakening in which a bunch of Iraqi warlords briefly decided to take up arms against al-Qaeda? Nobody called them terrorists then. You didn't get John McCain come onto MSNBC and declare how great it was that we've finally got some terrorists of our own. Petraeus didn't boast to the Senate about how important it was to foster goodwill amongst the terrorists. Even the word “awakening” implies some kind of slumber period beforehand from which these post-terrorists awoke. It implies renewal, a break with the old, starting afresh. No, they just changed tactics briefly, the exact same way the US changed tactics briefly at that time and decided to arm and train a bunch of people (“terrorists”) who had previously been firing rifles at US soldiers. The moment a Shia partisan like al-Maliki refuses to bring them on board they all go join ISIS and the news is back to calling them extremists. Half a decade or on, we're in the embarrassing position of having armed and trained an “al-Qaeda offshoot” yet again. As if the 1980s hadn't taught us anything.

Don't get me wrong. These guys are brutal as they come and unless you're essentially as fanatical and devoted to the very specific brand of Sunni Islam to which they adhere they'll only go easy on you if they're worried about an even meaner set of bastards getting some kind of popular support as a result. Otherwise, they'll just as sooner kick around your head as a football so people hear lots of scary stories about how they shouldn't be fucked with. These kind of guys know exactly what Bush and Cheney meant by “shock and awe” and they know how important it is to establish dominance in guerilla warfare.

As others have pointed out, though, the chances of a group like ISIS actually exhibiting any kind of serious control over the whole of Iraq is minimal. They wouldn't stand a chance against the Kurdish army to the north, they've only moved into areas in which the Iraqi army presence was a) minimal and b) disloyal. The thing you have to remember about murderous religious fanatics is that if they're successful in organising, they probably don't really believe much of what they say. Groups like ISIS that actually believe what they say tend to get fraught by sectarian division, some guy will form an offshoot, there'll be a factional war, some guys will get killed, others will go into hiding. One group will probably play 'moderate' and side with the US for a bit.

For an imperialist power like the US that kind of stuff is exactly what you want. As Chairman Mao said, “everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” And for an imperial power worried about a group like ISIS taking control of the region – that could not be truer! If I was one of those highly educated sociopaths they have at the Pentagon, I'd be thrilled to bits that they're all killing each other – saves our guys having to go and do it. We already know that “al-Qaeda Central” is already angry at ISIS hijacking the jihadi movement. Think they're gunna let this whole thing slide? Those guys have killed more jihadists than we have! Look forward to lots more of those depressing car bombings, beheadings and calls for Four Lions-style bonehead jihadists from Europe to come to Iraq in the months and years to come. We, or more accurately - the people of Iraq - are in for a long, depressing, blood-soaked ride. 

And that's what happens when you invade a country for humanitarian reasons.

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