Let’s not forget that Iraq is still the issue

Patrick Cockburn, veteran foreign correspondent for the Independent newspaper and analyst of Middle Eastern politics, has written a stinging article about the current deplorable state of political and economic affairs in Iraq. Ten years after the 2003 American invasion, Iraq remains a deeply fractured state, with the Shias in power but not in control of a country wracked by poverty, the breakdown of social services and mired in corruption. Cockburn rightly emphasizes that the international community, preoccupied with the Syrian civil war, has forgotten that Iraq is still facing a humanitarian tragedy. Cockburn’s article was reprinted in the political online magazine, Counterpunch.

Cockburn begins his article with a stark assessment:

Iraq is disintegrating as a  country under the pressure of a mounting political, social and economic crisis, say Iraqi leaders.

They add that 10 years after the US invasion and occupation the conflict between the three main communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – is deepening to a point just short of civil war. “There is zero trust between Iraqi leaders,” says an Iraqi politician in daily contact with them. But like many of those interviewed by The Independent for this article, he did not want to be identified by name.

While the new ‘liberated’ Iraq technically acquires 100 billion dollars in oil revenue, most of that money disappears into the pockets of a corrupt political-military bureaucracy, financial contractors and speculators. There is construction going on in Baghdad – of military outposts and police stations. However, in the working class district of Sadr City, Cockburn found frequent flooding and untreated sewage, with all the health consequences that this state of affairs entails.

This kind of corruption – Cockburn calls it ‘institutionalized kleptocracy’ in another of his articles –  means that all Iraqi ‘governments’ installed by American military forces have failed to provide electricity, clean water or sanitation to its residents, something that was unthinkable under the Saddam Hussein regime. The autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, while presented as an economic model, is also riven with corruption and theft of public funds. The privatisation of the oil sector, legislated by the American-backed Kurdish political parties, has provided wealth to a minority, while the facade of progress is maintained by the rise of skyscrapers and visits by foreign delegations from the UAE, Turkey, Germany and France. As one Kurdish critic of the regime put it to Cockburn:

“We are making the same mistake with the Turks today as we did with the Americans and the Shah in 1975. We are once again becoming over-reliant on foreign powers.”

For all their professions of independence, let us not forget that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) still depends heavily on obtaining a share of Iraqi oil revenues proportionate to its population. While Kurdish influence in Baghdad has fallen, the KRG has built economic and political links with the old enemy, Turkey – a counterweight to Baghdad, but successive Turkish governments have had no hesitation in using their armed might to kill and suppress the autonomous Kurds in the north of Iraq. The Kurds have pursued deals with foreign oil corporations, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stated that if the KRG follows through with their plans, they will face the Iraqi army.

Prime Minister Maliki rules the country as an autocrat, relying on the Shia-dominated, heavily sectarian police and army to brutally crack down on protests and dissent. The use of secret prisons, torture chambers and widespread police presence is well documented in Maliki’s Iraq. It should come as no surprise that ‘democracy’ is just a catchphrase in Iraq today, because the Maliki regime has had training and support from the experts in police repression and torture – the United States. The Guardian reported earlier this month that high-level Pentagon officials were responsible for arming and training the Iraqi units responsible for the torture and repression of dissidents throughout the 2006-07 stages of the Iraq war. General David Petraeus in particular is a veteran of counterinsurgency wars, having learned his craft in Latin America, and implementing the same death-squad techniques in Iraq in the 2000s. As Cockburn goes on to explain, Prime Minister Maliki:

He (Maliki) has sought to monopolise control over the army, intelligence service, government apparatus and budget, making sure that his supporters get the lion’s share of jobs and contracts. His State of Law Coalition won only 24 per cent of the votes in the 2010 election – 2.8 million  votes out of 19 million registered voters – but he has ruled as if he had received an overwhelming mandate.

The current Iraqi regime, boxed inside the Green Zone, makes no secret of its sectarian allegiances. Shia slogans and pictures dominate the landscape, and the Sadrist movement, headed by cleric and nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr, maintains a fractious alliance with Maliki. While the Sadrists are driven by nationalistic and populist considerations, they are wary of instigating an intra-Shia civil war. The Sadrists combine social activism with an intense religious piety, and are seeking to transform themselves from an insurgent army (they did the heavy fighting back in the 2004-08, inflicting serious defeats on the Americans) into a respectable political and social force in the country. The Sadrists and their social base strongly oppose the Maliki regime’s monopolisation of power in the army and police, but against attempts to bring down the current power arrangement. The Shias are in power, but they are divided and not necessarily in control in today’s Iraq.

The blame for the current parlous nature of the Iraqi nation must be placed firmly on the shoulders of the United States ruling class. The 1990s witnessed an eruption of American militarism, part of which was the 1991 attack on Iraq. Through the use of its weaponry and subsequent economic sanctions, the US wanted to reduce a reasonably industrialised and educated Arab society to a pre-industrial level. The invasion of 2003 brought untold misery and suffering for the Iraqi people, with the reduction of health care, education, and interestingly a sharp reversal of the position of women in Iraqi society. The Iraqi people have paid a terrible price for the depredations and attacks of US imperialism. Since December 2012 however, there have been ongoing protests by Iraqis against the precarious situation, demanding their rights in a non-sectarian, democratic way.

Go read Patrick Cockburn’s entire article in Counterpunch here.

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