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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Are Iraqi & Iranian Shia split on the role of the US in Iraq?

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei | PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Commons

Some news outlets have reported on the fact that what they call “Sunni militants” have taken control of another town in Iraq. That was the fourth town they had taken control of in only 48 hours. Historically speaking, it’s worth bearing in mind here that from 2003 onwards Sunni jihadists (or “Islamists”) have often taken and lost towns. So, in that sense, what’s happening is not entirely new.

Some of these Sunni provinces (in which the towns are situated) were never completely subdued by the Iraqi Shia government anyway. Or at least they were and then they weren’t and they were….

What should also be stressed here is that the Shia government is not only fighting ISIS. Apart from the fact that many ex-soldiers who fought in Saddam Hussein’s army are fighting alongside ISIS, that is also true of Military Councils, another Sunni group fighting with ISIS.

This new victory for ISIS involves the town of Rutba, which is 90 miles from the Iraq’s border with Jordan.

Before that, ISIS had taken control of a border crossing between Syria and Iraq, as well as two other towns in western Iraq.

Iran’s Traditional Anti-US Rhetoric

A montage of the Iran-Iraq War|IMAGE CREDIT: Wiki Commons

There has been much ambivalence (or hypocrisy) in Iran’s position towards the US during this current crisis in Iraq. That ambivalent position amounts to the fact that Iran knows full well that Shia Iraq does indeed require US military power in order to destroy ISIS. Nonetheless, Iran certainly doesn’t want US political power in Iraq.

In other words, Iran wants to keep Iraq’s Shia hegemony intact. That also means that all the US talk of reigning in Iraqi sectarianism isn’t what Iran wants to hear. After all, the US defeated the Sunni hegemony in Iraq and installed a Shia leadership which in some cases was led by Shia who had never even lived in Iraq. Nevertheless, the US, at times, attempted to reverse that Shia hegemony by, for example, a process of de-deBa’athication; in which Baathists regained their jobs and even some of their previously disbanded institutions.

Thus there was a back and forth (between 2003 and 2006) between de-Ba’athication and de-deBa’athication.

On the same theme, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has called on Iraq’s leaders
“to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people”.
A negative Iranian response to that statement was inevitable.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenie, for example, has made a couple of ridiculous and generalised statements about it. Firstly he said that the US’s main aim is to keep Iraq US-friendly and within its “sphere of influence” (which is true) But then, despite ISIS, dozens of other Iraqi Sunni jihadist groups over the years, the sectarian nature of Shia government, the 1300 year civil war between Shia and Sunni, he said:
“The main dispute in Iraq is between those who want Iraq to join the US camp and those who seek an independent Iraq.”
In a certain perverse sense, though, there’s an element of truth in what he said in that Shia have indeed cooperated with Sunnis in order to get US troops out of Iraq. Sunni and Shia have also mutually criticised the West. However, once the troops were out, then Shia and Sunni got back to their traditional fighting. (This is very much like the UK’s Shia media-Muslim, Mehdi Hasan, who will stick up for Sunni groups and individuals when they’re criticising the West or fighting against kuffar. Nonetheless, when Hasan is speaking to exclusively Shia audiences, he’s often a virulent critic of Sunni Islam, Sunni Muslims and Sunni states such as Pakistan.)

I think another word for this Shia hypocrisy and obfuscation is Realpolitik.

The Iranian Ayatollah has also predictably rejected American and Sunni calls to get rid of the Shia Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki. He said that he’s against “the intervention of the US and others in the domestic affairs of Iraq” and that the US “is seeking an Iraq under its hegemony and ruled by its stooges”.

All this, of course, will work against any future cooperation between the US and Iran in fighting ISIS and other jihadist groups in Iraq. In fact Ayatollah Khomenie has said that he only wants the cooperation of the “Iraqi people, government and Shia clerics”. Perhaps, more cynically, the Ayatollah should have really said that he only wants the cooperation of an Iraqi people and government that are under the tutelage of Iran-controlled Shia clerics.

Yet despite all the anti-American words from the Iranian Ayatollah, the mainly Shia Iraqi government itself has demanded that the United States take action against ISIS – and that includes military action.

The Shia Government has Killed Civilians Too

Not only ISIS has killed civilians in this recent conflict. In wars, including civil wars, civilians are going to be killed. No participant in such a war will come out of it unblemished. Just as the US has killed civilians in its “drone attacks” on parts of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, so the Shia government has also killed civilians during an air-strike against ISIS-controlled Tikrit. (That air-strike accidentally hit a petrol station.) Nonetheless, the Iraq government also killed 40 ISIS fighters in the process.

(On the subject of US drone attacks, from 2005 to 2013, between 258 and 307 civilians were killed as a result of drone attacks in Pakistan. Those same drone attacks, on the other hand, managed to kill between 1,623 and 2,787 Islamic militants. (Details found here.) And the other question one should ask critics of drone attacks is: Would you prefer on-the-ground American intervention in Pakistan or manned air strikes? (Of course, Leftists and anti-war activists are against everything the US does. So that’s effectively a rhetorical question.)

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