Spartacist Canada No. 191
Imperialist Bloodbath in Mosul
All U.S., Canadian Forces Out of the Near East Now!
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 1107 (10 March), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
In October, Iraqi government troops, assisted by hundreds of U.S., Canadian and other imperialist military “advisors,” launched an assault to “liberate” Mosul, the largest city in the north of the country, from the reactionary Sunni fundamentalist Islamic State (ISIS). While American forces engaged in artillery and aerial bombardment, Iranian-backed Shia militias as well as Kurdish pesh merga forces also besieged the city. They were met with stiff resistance, and only depopulated villages and the eastern part of Mosul had been taken by January.
Last year, the bourgeois media ran lurid, daily headlines denouncing the siege of Aleppo by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, which were fighting the largely Islamist opposition forces that then controlled that city. In contrast, the barbarity of the U.S.-led siege of Mosul has been systematically covered up. By early January, at least 130,000 civilians had been displaced from Mosul to nearby refugee camps. In that month alone, U.S.-led forces killed at least 200 civilians. But these figures are merely the tip of the iceberg.
The UN mission in Iraq has stopped releasing even heavily doctored casualty reports and those issued by the Pentagon are pure fiction, but some of the truth about ongoing imperialist atrocities has nonetheless filtered through. On December 7, an American airstrike hit the Al Salem hospital complex in east Mosul. Three weeks later, an imperialist warplane struck the Ibn al-Athir hospital compound, killing up to 16 civilians. Another 22 civilians were killed in a January 3 airstrike, while up to 30 more were slaughtered on January 12.
The U.S. has since greatly stepped up its military support to the Shia regime in Baghdad, with some 50 airstrikes a day. The Iraqi government’s armed forces are now moving in on densely populated west Mosul with its 750,000 overwhelmingly Sunni inhabitants, setting the stage for a massive bloodbath. Some 45,000 people had already been driven out of the city in the first two weeks of an offensive that began on February 19. This was one day before U.S. secretary of defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis arrived in Iraq to meet with the prime minister and defense minister. In 2004, Mattis, then a Marine Corps general, commanded the U.S. assault on Falluja, which led to the slaughter of at least 600 civilians and reduced much of the city to rubble. During that attack, U.S. soldiers shot down civilians holding white flags of surrender and targeted ambulances trying to carry the wounded and dying to the few medical facilities not destroyed by U.S. bombs.
U.S. forces in Falluja also used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon that burns deep into muscle and bone. Last fall, the Washington Post (23 September 2016) reported that the U.S. was again using white phosphorus during military operations east of Mosul. The depravity of the American imperialists, who rail against ISIS (and the Syrian regime) for the purported use of chemical weapons, is matched only by their hypocrisy.
Iraq has been turned into a killing field under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. The UN sanctions introduced under the first Bush administration in 1990 continued throughout Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party administration, which also carried out numerous airstrikes against the country. The sanctions led to the deaths of some 1.5 million Iraqis through preventable disease and starvation. The 2003 U.S. invasion was launched by another Republican president, Bush Jr., and the occupation continued apace under the Democrat Barack Obama. Now Donald Trump’s viscerally anti-Muslim regime is further pulverizing Iraq. The two capitalist parties in the U.S. share a common interest in maintaining American supremacy in this strategic, oil-rich region.
The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq and at least another 500 special forces operating in neighbouring Syria. They are backed by thousands of private military contractors while other armed forces units rotate in and out. As journalist Patrick Cockburn noted in the London Independent (28 February): “Aside from closer involvement of US troops in the fighting, the Trump administration has so far changed very little in operations against Isis initiated under President Obama.”
For its part, the Trudeau government has tripled the number of Canadian special operations troops embedded with the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Additional Canadian military personnel have been sent to Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait to spot targets and render other forms of deadly assistance, while Canadian military aircraft continue to assist with refuelling and reconnaissance for the U.S. and allied forces. Under Liberal and Tory regimes alike, Canada has played a full part in a stream of U.S. wars and occupations from Iraq in the 1990s to Afghanistan in the early 2000s to Iraq again today. This is the reality behind the Liberals’ con game about Canada being a “progressive” force around the globe.
Beyond Iraq, U.S. forces are now besieging Raqqa, an ISIS-held city in Syria. They have also stepped up their attacks in Yemen. American fighter jets pounded alleged Al Qaeda targets in the country in early March. These attacks came several weeks after a widely publicized Navy SEAL raid that killed some 30 civilians, including nine children. At the same time, the U.S. is militarily backing Saudi Arabia—a theocratic monarchy whose social strictures are similar to those of ISIS—in its murderous war against the Houthis in Yemen. U.S., Canada, all imperialist troops: Out of the Near East now!
Down With U.S. and Canadian Imperialism!
The escalation of imperialist intervention in the Near East underscores the need for class-conscious workers in the U.S. and Canada to oppose the wars, occupations and depredations carried out by their “own” imperialist rulers. As we noted in “Syria Quagmire” (Workers Vanguard No. 1091, 3 June 2016): “It is not ISIS or some other Islamist force that has taken income inequality in the U.S. to virtually unprecedented heights. The same U.S. capitalist ruling class that wreaks death and destruction abroad gorges itself on profits while the workers it exploits have their jobs axed and their health and pension benefits torn up. This same ruling class unleashes its cops to kill black youth on the streets, holds nearly one-quarter of the world’s prison population in its dungeons and rounds up desperate immigrants for deportation.”
ISIS is itself the imperialists’ creation. Its precursors include those who cut their teeth as mujahedin (“holy warriors”) in the CIA-backed war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In Iraq, it emerged out of the intercommunal slaughter triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion, which ripped the country’s social fabric to shreds, killing hundreds of thousands. Having overthrown the regime of Saddam Hussein, whose bonapartist rule was based on the Sunni minority, the U.S. put in place a government based on the Shia majority. From unleashing Shia death squads to rounding up Sunnis associated with the previous regime, the Baghdad government poured gas on the exploding sectarian powder keg. Al Qaeda in Iraq, parts of which later morphed into ISIS, gained support from many aggrieved Sunnis amid the communal warfare. ISIS expanded its operations into Syria and captured Mosul in 2014 as Iraqi army troops fled.
Since then, predominantly Sunni cities and towns up and down the country have been razed to the ground by government counteroffensives. As Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent (15 February): “Some 70 per cent of the houses in Ramadi, the capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province are in ruins or are badly damaged. Even where many houses are still standing, as in Fallujah 40 miles west of Baghdad, the people who come back to them have to live without electricity, water, jobs or medical care. In practice, the Shia-dominated Iraqi government wants to break the back of Sunni resistance to its rule so it will never be capable of rising again.”
Marxists are hostile to all forces in the intercommunal conflict in Iraq, and in Syria’s squalid civil war between the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad and various Islamist-dominated rebels. But we do have a side against the U.S. and the other imperialist powers involved in the region, including Canada, Britain and France. A military setback for the imperialists in the Near East could also stimulate domestic opposition to the capitalist rulers among a populace that has been ground down by years of frontal attacks on wages, jobs and working conditions. We aim to turn disillusionment and anger among working people in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere into class struggle against the capitalist rulers.
Marxists are implacable opponents of everything the ISIS cutthroats stand for, including their slaughter and forcible expulsion of Shias, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians and others. But we recognize that when they carry out military strikes against the U.S. and other imperialist occupiers and their proxies—the Iraqi army, Shia militias and Kurdish armed forces in Iraq and Syria—such acts coincide with the interests of the international working class, including in the U.S. and Canada. At the same time, we do not imbue these repugnant forces with “anti-imperialist” credentials.
It is in the nature of imperialism to subjugate, oppress and exploit the world’s toiling masses, and the U.S. imperialists are the greatest enemy of the workers and oppressed worldwide. While our main opposition is to the American imperialists and their Canadian junior partners, we also oppose the other capitalist regional powers (Russia, Iran, Turkey) that have become involved in the conflict and demand that they, too, get out.
For a United, Independent Kurdistan!
The machinations of U.S. imperialism have set the stage for a bloody unraveling of the region, in particular by sharply intensifying the conflict between Shia Iran and the Sunni Persian Gulf states (especially Saudi Arabia) as well as Turkey. Iranian-funded militias are operating to the west of Mosul, while Turkey has 2,000 military personnel on a base to the northeast, where it has been training Iraqi Kurdish pesh merga and Sunni opponents of ISIS. After the Iraqi prime minister protested the presence of Turkish troops, Turkey’s strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned him to “know your place!” In early March, Turkish-allied Kurdish forces engaged in armed clashes with ethnically Kurdish Yazidi militias linked to the nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party, which Turkey, the U.S. and Canada label a “terrorist” organization.
The Kurdish people are the largest nation in the Near East without a state. We have long raised the call for a socialist re-public of united Kurdistan. But in the past we also coupled this correct call with the argument that Kurdish self-determination could only be realized by the revolutionary overthrow of the four capitalist regimes among which the Kurds are divided: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. After a clarifying internal discussion, we now call for a united, independent Kurdistan, without having as a precondition the overthrow of capitalist property relations in the region. We also support Kurdish independence from individual capitalist states—e.g., the right of Kurds in Turkey to secede. At the same time, our goal remains the fight for a socialist republic of united Kurdistan in a socialist federation of the Near East. As we wrote last year: “The Kurds have clearly demonstrated their desire for independence. By championing Kurdish self-determination, the working classes of the Near East would undercut U.S. imperialism’s capacity to manipulate the Kurds’ grievances in order to further dominate the region” (WV No. 1091, 3 June 2016).
However, in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish nationalists have currently subordinated the just fight for self-determination to their alliance with U.S. imperialism. Such betrayals by Kurdish nationalist leaders are not new. During the 2003 invasion, Iraqi Kurdish forces actively collaborated with U.S. forces and then provided military auxiliaries for the occupation. A year later, Kurdish pesh merga were mobilized alongside the U.S. troops in the assault on Falluja. More recently, Kurdish forces acting in concert with Washington and the Baghdad government have ethnically cleansed Arab villages, including near Mosul. Kurdish militias also played a major role in the initial offensive, but have agreed not to enter the city of Mosul itself at the behest of the Iraqi government forces, who are determined to take control over the city through even more systematic sectarian atrocities.
By selling their souls to the imperialists and various regional bourgeois regimes, the Kurdish leaders have helped to perpetuate the divide-and-rule stratagems that inflame communal, national and religious tensions and reinforce the oppression of the Kurdish masses. Their crimes will redound against the long-oppressed Kurdish people.
Imperialist Atrocities Shatter Near East
“I think west Mosul will be destroyed,” Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish leader and Iraq’s former foreign and finance minister, told the Independent in a February 15 interview. An article by Turkey-based reporter Adnan R. Khan described the grim situation:
“Liberating Mosul now has little to do with reclaiming Iraqi territory from a brutal interloper; it is a matter of revenge.
“The grotesque signs of payback are rapidly emerging in east Mosul: mutilated bodies left to rot on the rubble heaps of the city, men with hands bound behind their backs, legs lashed together, faces half blown off....
“Mixed in with the incoming soldiers, according to reports gleaned from Iraqi officials, are members of the Popular Mobilisation Units, a paramilitary force made up of Shia militias, some of whom harbour apocalyptic visions of an imminent, world-ending battle between Shia and Sunnis. In their eyes, everyone in Mosul is an ISIS sympathizer.”
—“What Went Wrong in Mosul,” macleans.ca, 23 February
The historical backdrop to the current communal carnage is the carve-up of the Near East by the British and French imperialists, who seized the region from the collapsing Ottoman Empire following World War I. The imperialists amalgamated different peoples in artificial colonial or semicolonial states, forcing together those who wished to live apart while dividing those who sought to be united. This fragile system of capitalist rule could only be maintained through naked brutality, whether under direct imperialist control or through a local strongman such as Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad.
Given the all-sided devastation of Iraq as well as Syria today, the future of the masses there hinges on working-class struggle in nearby countries with strategic concentrations of proletarian power—centrally Egypt, Turkey and Iran. What is vital is the forging of Marxist workers parties committed to the struggle for a socialist federation of the Near East. We have no illusions that it will be an easy task to win the workers of the region, ground down by their capitalist rulers and imperial overlords and under all manner of reactionary ideology, to the program of proletarian revolution. But there will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no freedom from imperialist subjugation, no emancipation of women and no end to the exploitation of working people short of overthrowing the capitalist order. This perspective must be linked to the fight for working-class revolutions in the imperialist centres.
The cycle of imperialist wars and occupations underscores the barbarity of the global capitalist order. The task of Marxists here at home is to instill in the working class the understanding that it has the social power and historic interest to destroy capitalist-imperialist rule from within, through socialist revolution. To realize this task requires forging revolutionary workers parties, sections of a reforged Fourth International committed to the fight for workers rule over the entire planet. As we wrote in “Down With Colonial Occupation of Iraq!” (SC No. 137, Summer 2003):
“Mass slaughter is the concentrated expression and ultimate logic of the ‘normal’ brutal workings of the capitalist system, which daily condemns countless numbers around the world to death by malnutrition, lack of medical care and industrial murder. The only way to put an end to imperialist war is to tear up this whole system by its roots through socialist revolution and the creation of a rational, planned economy internationally.”