On 5 September US president Barack Obama announced a “game plan” to wear down the “Islamic State” movement (ISIS), which has seized a large swathe of Syria and Iraq and imposed Sunni-sectarian ultra-Islamist rule.
On 8 September US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the formation of a new Iraqi government in Baghdad.
The US will bomb more. (Obama ruled out ground troops). There is much less “breakthrough” than claimed.
Although every government in the region fears and dislikes ISIS, so far the USA has only been able to sign up Turkey to its “core coalition”. US bombing may help the armed forces of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government hold their own or make slight advances, but it has no prospect of pushing back ISIS in a large way. (Remember what 13 years of US bombing have done in Afghanistan—rebuilt a political base for the once-shattered Taliban, not defeated it).
The new government in Baghdad is, as the Iraq Oil Report website says, “nominally inclusive”. But then so has been every recent Iraqi government. Nominally. So far this one is shakier than its predecessors, not stronger.
It has no Interior Minister or Defence Minister. The allies of Hussain al-Shahristani, former deputy prime minister, oil minister, and acting foreign minister, have threatened to boycott the administration. Kurdish politicians have set a slew of demands and threatened to withdraw if they are not met within three months.
On the ground, the resistance to ISIS is a sectarian mosaic. Its biggest triumph has been the reconquest of the northern-Iraq town of Amerli on 31 August. That was surely a relief to the Turkmen townspeople.
But Greg Jaffe reports:
“As the Kurdish peshmerga fighters approached the city to greet the residents they helped save... ‘peshmerga forces are not allowed to enter this city!’ yelled a Shiite militiaman with Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi group. He waved his rifle at them and the peshmerga retreated...
“After being turned away from Amerli, the peshmerga fighters returned to their base, just three miles away, passing through a half-dozen other Shiite militia checkpoints. Some belonged to the Badr Brigades, others to Saraya al-Salam and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Each flew their own militia flag; the Iraqi flag was nowhere to be seen...
“On the side of the road near Amerli, lined up in a row, were the bodies of about a dozen Shiite men killed in June during the first wave of assaults by Islamic State insurgents in the area... With the Islamic State fighters gone, it was finally safe for the local residents to exhume the mass graves...
“A few hundred yards away was the Sunni village of Suleiman Beg, once home to about 10,000 people and now completely abandoned... No one had any idea what would happen to the empty city. The peshmerga and Shiite militia fighters agreed that Sunni Arabs couldn’t be trusted to return”. (Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, 5/9/14).
Qasem Sulaimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite “Jerusalem Brigade”, was at the Amerli front coordinating with Shiite forces. So in fact the US was bombing to help the Iranian Revolutionary Guards ...
ISIS can be efficiently defeated only by a secular and democratic Iraq, and a secular and democratic Syria. It will be a long struggle to win those.
In the meantime, we must work to defend Iraqi and Kurdish socialists against both the ISIS threat, and the sectarianism and war fever mobilised against ISIS.