In a 2011 interview with Associated Press, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki stated, “The killing or removal of President Bashar in any way will explode into an internal struggle between two groups and this will have an impact on the region.”
The Iraqi Government was one of only three states in the 22 strong Arab League not to back Syria’s suspension in 2011, when the revolt in Syria began, then as a broad mass movement for democracy against Assad’s police state. Maliki had spent his time in exile from Saddam Hussein not in the US or Britain, as many other exiles did, but in Iran and Syria.
Iraq’s support for Assad, though lower-key than Iran’s and Russia’s, has helped to maintain his access to weapons, intelligence and supplies during an incredibly destructive and bloody conflict.
Iraq has remained in close collaboration with the Syrian regime since the beginning of the rebellion against Assad in 2011. Assad and al Maliki and the Iranian Government have combined to form a strong Shia dominated sectarian bloc in the Middle East.
The Shia-sectarian nature of the Iraqi Government, and Maliki’s consequent conflicts with Sunni, Kurdish and secular elements from Iraqi politics, have given him a vested interest in the continuing domination in Syria of the Alawi Shia sect, of which Assad is part.
On 30 June, the Sunni-Islamist group ISIS declared its leader the “caliph” — the religious-political supreme ruler — of all Muslims worldwide.
The “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, promised to “trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature”.
He also called on Muslims worldwide to migrate to the territory which ISIS now rules, stretching through Syria and Iraq from the borders of Turkey almost to the borders of Iran.
All the neighbouring states, and world powers like the USA and Russia and China, have a vital interest in quelling ISIS’s pretensions.
They will surely be able to limit further expansion by ISIS. ISIS has reportedly been more cautious in the Iraqi cities which it has seized than in areas of Syria where it has gained control and recklessly imposed sectarian terror and clerical-fascist regimentation. However, its proclamations are ostentatiously designed to scare and antagonise Iraq’s Shia majority.
It is doubtful, however, whether the de-facto grand alliance against ISIS can retake the cities it has seized any time soon.
Twice during the US occupation of Iraq, the US retook Fallujah from ISIS-predecessor forces that had seized it. Even then, with the US military having almost unlimited resources and freedom of action in the area, the US had difficulty and was unable to stabilise anti-ISIS rule in Fallujah after retaking it.
The US government and others are pressing for the replacement of Iraqi prime minister Maliki, and it has been reported that the Iranian government is secretly willing to see him go; but finding a successor is difficult too.
When Maliki is replaced, or maybe earlier, the US is likely to send bombers to help the fight against ISIS. Socialists should not support or endorse this. With any likely replacement for Maliki, the US’s bombing will serve politically to prop up a sectarian regime unable to reunify Iraq. Twelve years of US bombing in Afghanistan have rebuilt a political base for the Taliban, which was shattered in 2001, rather than clearing it away.
However, to make opposition to US bombing our chief slogan is wrong. Even if ISIS “fights imperialism” in the sense of clashing with the US, it is ultra-reactionary, a mortal enemy for all working-class and democratic forces.
We should campaign for a secular government in Iraq; for independence for Iraqi Kurdistan; and to defend the Iraqi labour movement from both ISIS terror and Shia-sectarian war fever on the other side.
Direct military collaboration between Assad and Maliki, with the bombing of Raqqa by the Syrian airforce against ISIS, is a sign of a growing and open alliance between the two regimes who now see a large swathe of their countries falling under the ISIS rule.
Iraq has allowed free passage of Iranian arms, fighters and supplies to the Syrian army and Shia militias. The Iraqi government says that its own inspections of Iranian planes has found them only to be carrying civilian aid but that relates to just two planes searched. It is almost impossible for the arms that continue to flow from Iran to the Syrian Government to come through any other route. Thousands of Iraqi Shia militia have crossed into Syria since 2011 in order to fight the Sunni majority rebels.
The pressure from US Secretary of State John Kerry for a “more inclusive” Iraqi Government cuts across the USA’s current temporary de facto alliance with Iran against ISIS. The Iranian regime has backed Maliki since he first came to power and wants him to continue.