The recent conquest by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of large chunks of Iraq, starting with the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi some six months ago, and then since 10 June, the successive taking of Mosul, the second city of Iraq, Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, Tel Afar, where a large Turkmen population lives, and of the whole area stretching west of Baghdad towards the frontier with Jordan and Saudi Arabia is the result of a series of crimes committed by US and EU imperialisms, the reactionary Gulf states and the Tayyip Erdogan government in Turkey in their quest to consolidate their domination over the Middle East. It is thanks to the environment created by the misdeeds of these governments and the reactionary regime of the mullahs in Iran that the ISIL now controls, albeit tenuously, a population (6 million) and an area the full size of Jordan that stretches from Raqqa in Northeast Syria to the governerate of Diyala northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border. It also has the potential of entering Jordan any moment and makes its threat felt in Lebanon, where it has been exploding highly destructive bombs in Hezbollah territory.
That such a barbaric movement should gain such power at the heart of the Middle East is the result of all that has been happening in the Middle East due to the criminal role of imperialism and of its strategic allies, Zionist Israel and the reactionary regimes of the region, since the time of colonialism to the Gulf War of 1991 and from 9/11 to the occupation of Iraq.
The entire legacy of imperialism in the Middle East, culminating in the terrorist “war on terror” has now been shaken at its base. This is an outward expression of the historic decline of world capitalism now entangled in its Third Great Depression.
Whatever the probability of the ISIL holding on to power in what it has now named the “Islamic State”, its project is a challenge to the borders in the Middle East since World War I under the imperialistic Sykes-Picot agreement signed between the British and the French, with the tacit approval of Tsarist Russia, only to be revealed within a year and a half to the gaze of the Arab masses by the Bolshevik government immediately after the October Revolution in its struggle against imperialist secret diplomacy. This kind of challenge is extremely unsettling for the imperialistic order that was established in the region at the end of World War I. Hence the imperialist states and the reactionary regimes and governments of the region (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) that have brought the ISIL phenomenon into being find themselves in the position of the apprentice sorcerer who, having let the jinnee out of the lamp, is now overwhelmed by its deeds!
The ISIL is also the cutting edge of a dynamic of sectarian war in the Middle East, between the majority Sunnis, on the one hand, and the minority Shia allied with the Alawi, on the other. The threat of an all-out sectarian war in the Middle East has been present since the civil war between the Sunni and the Shia that erupted under the American occupation in Iraq reaching its peak in 2006-2007. But the current wave is really the result of the panoply of counter-revolutionary measures against the revolutions in the Arab world that exploded in 2011, measures developed by the reactionary Gulf states in collusion with imperialism and Turkey. Having applied the strategy of “orderly transition” in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, at once bribing and terrorising the masses in Saudi Arabia, the fanning of tribal warfare and its articulation with imperialist war in Libya, governmental reshuffling in Jordan, constitutional reform in Morocco, and outright military occupation by the armed forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrein, the counter-revolutionary alliance resorted to the strategy of converting a people’s uprising into a sectarian war in Syria. Whereas the Syrian explosion started on 15 March 2011 as still another revolution by the destitute and the downtrodden against the despotic regime of the Alawi Assad family supported by the Sunni bourgeoisie of Damascus and Aleppo, from September of the same year the reactionary coalition of the Gulf states and neighbouring Turkey turned it, step by step, into a sectarian war of Sunni armies against what they alleged was Alawi oppression of their faith.
Having started in Syria, this sectarian war has its ramification for the whole region known as the Shia Crescent, the region of the Middle East where the Shia (and their allies the Alawi) are the dominant population, a region that extends from Lebanon and Syria in the west through Iraq and Iran to the east bending south to include Bahrain and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. The real objective of the reactionary regimes of the Gulf, with the Saudis at their head, is to destroy the web of alliances between Iran, on the one hand, and the Assad regime in Syria, the powerful Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the newly Shia-dominated regime in Iraq, on the other, in order to isolate and weaken, if not bring down, the Shia mullah regime in Iran.
This much has to be understood very well: the ISIL is not simply a fundamentalist Islamic movement. It is an instrument of civil war at the scale of the Islamic populations of the Middle East. It is not trying to gain control of what is known as Dar al-Harb (“the house of war”) in Islamic parlance, i.e. lands controlled by what is considered an “infidel” regime, but supremacy over Shia Islam within Dar al-Islam (“the house of Islam”). Even the name is emblematic: the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), or the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) in its more comprehensible English rendition, implies that the state coveted by this organisation really covers all the lands where Shia or Alawi Islam is dominant! This is civil war within the Islamic world and not a war against imperialism. Such a war could only benefit imperialism. This civil war threatens to transform the Middle East into a slaughterhouse, bombs exploding in market places, suicides bombers killing hundreds of civilians, holy places and mosques being destroyed and burnt down, tens or even hundreds of thousands being massacred as a result of outright war. That is why the ISIL must be stopped before the boiling over of the conflict into an open civil war of sectarian nature at the scale of the Middle East. The competition over the ground rent from oil and gas between the reactionary Sunni states of the Gulf and the reactionary regime of the mullahs in Iran is threatening to become a reciprocal massacre of the workers and the fellaheen (poor peasants) of the Middle East!
We should also understand that the ISIL is not an instrument for a patriotic war of the Arab population against imperialist control of their country. The ISIL is estimated to command some 15 thousand militants, but reports indicate that 2.500 militants come from Saudi Arabia alone! There are thousands of other foreigners, war-tempered militants from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, from neighbouring Turkey, and from as far away as the Maghreb. This is an army that takes as its point of reference the umma (the whole Islamic world) and one that fights for the supremacy of reaction and counter-revolution in the Islamic world.
It is not from the US that one can or should expect a solution to this problem. The US is the power that is primarily responsible for the present situation in the Middle East. The meteoric rise of the ISIL is in fact but a result of the subordination to which the Sunni community of Iraq was subjected under US occupation. The current Shia dominated government of Maliki made life even more unbearable for the Sunni population. Having ruled the country for two terms Maliki came out as the first political force in the 30 March elections. This is what triggered the present events. The ISIL was embraced by the subjugated Sunni community as the finally found force that could save it from its servile position within the new Iraq. The fact that a series of other Sunni organisations, including the remnants of Saddam’s Baath (the Naqshabandiyya with Saddam’s man Izzeddin al-Duri at its head), but also a host of Islamist and tribal forces (the Majlis Thuwar Anbar, the Jaish al Mujahideen, the Jaish Ansar al-Ahlu Sunni, and even defectors from the 100 thousand-strong Sahwa, the force the US recruited in order to put down the Sunni revolt) have joined hands with the ISIL is testimony to how warmly the ISIL has been welcomed by the Sunni community. This could even be called the revenge of Saddam, were it not for the fact that Saddam was a completely secular politician when judged by Arab standards.
It is not from Saudi Arabia or Qatar that one can or should expect a solution. It is true that Al Qaeda is not exactly the kind of movement that these states would stomach easily. But it was they who trained, armed and financed these reactionary armies, including the ISIL. It is still they who harbour friendly relations with both the Sunni tribal forces and Islamist armies that have set up an alliance with the ISIL. And they are the ones behind the strategy of sectarian war in the Middle East.
It is not from the Turkey of Erdogan and the AKP that one can or should expect a solution. The AKP government has turned the Turkish-Syrian border into Swiss cheese! Since beginning 2012 the combatants of Islamist armies have set up camp in Turkey, recruited Turkish militants, trained their troops there, made forays into Syria for daytime fighting returning into Turkey at night, found refuge for their injured and received abundant healthcare for them in Turkish hospitals. Turkey has also acted as the go-between for the Saudi and Qatari financial and arms assistance. Erdogan is still not opposing the ISIL, despite the fact that Turkey’s chief consul and a host of others were taken prisoners the day Mosul was taken by the organisation and are still being kept. The reason is that his whole strategy was built on the basis of fanning the flames of sectarian war in Syria and even the Middle East at large. Erdogan has grandiose dreams of becoming the internationally acclaimed leader of the Sunnis the world over. So it is very difficult for him to fight against the ISIL as long as the whole Sunni world does not turn against the organisation.
Erdogan has also looked to the ISIL to fight the threat of the ascendancy and consolidation of the Kurdish autonomous entity in northern Syria, called Rojava, something the Turkish state abhors simply because the dominant political force there is pro-PKK. Furthermore, given Erdogan’s alliance with Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and a resolute friend of the US, the AKP government does not hide its plans to transform Southern Kurdistan into a protectorate, benefiting from its ample oil reserves, and a trap set up against the Kurdish liberation movement in Turkey and as a whole. It is no accident that Netanyahu has come out hypocritically as a defender of an “independent moderate Kurdistan” ... in Iraq, of course! However, it is not at all clear that a Kurdistan declaring its independence from Iraq would necessarily be appealing for Turkey, as it may encourage separatism especially among the radicalised youth of the Kurdish movement inside Turkey and in Syria. These would then act as a boomerang deepening the already sharp crisis in Turkey, maturing the conditions of a revolutionary confrontation.
The dynamics of war and internecine strife in the Middle East are embedded in the power struggles between the competing ruling classes of the various countries of the region, finding ideological expression in age-old religious feuds. The interests of imperialism, both US and EU imperialisms, the rapacious appetite for oil rent on the part of the regional powers, and the strategic calculations of the ever-present Zionist vulture in the background all interlace to create an explosive situation in the near future.
Israel has already stepped up its oppression of the Palestinian population as a retribution for the anonymous killing of three Israeli adolescents. The killing of a Palestinian boy of the same age has followed. Gaza has become again the target of military aggression. This will surely add to the maelstrom already created in the Middle East. We should try our best to stop the oppression of the Palestinian population inside Israel, in the West Bank and in Gaza.
It is the working class, the poor peasants and the destitute urban poor of the region whose interests counter these dynamics. It is only the labouring classes that can put a halt to this slide into barbarism. The oppressed nations and faiths of the Middle East, first and foremost the Palestinians and the Kurds, promise to be the major allies of the working masses in this struggle. The proletariat, as elsewhere, also has to gather around it all the oppressed sectors of society, starting with women in dire need of emancipation and the youth suffering from immense unemployment and poverty.
We call on all the socialist movements and the labour movement in the Middle Eastern countries, irrespective of faith, nation and race, Arabs and Farsi and Turks and Kurds, to start preparing an internationalist movement to counter this race to make the Middle East a slaughterhouse. Internationalism, for which our revolutionary Marxist movement has fought for decades and is still fighting relentlessly, will be needed now more than ever by large masses as the nightmare descends more and more on our part of the world.
The only real alternative to the prospect of sectarian civil war on the scale of the Middle East is the Socialist Federation of the Middle East. In this difficult struggle, the international working class and in particular the proletariat of Southern Europe struggling against the inhuman austerity imposed on the masses by EU imperialism will be the main international ally of the peoples of the Middle East.
The final objective of this struggle is to create the Socialist Federation of the Middle East across nation and faith. This could only be the result of the socialist fight of the proletarians of the region. Let us stop this descent into barbarism through socialism.
For the RedMed Editorial Board
Sungur Savran (DIP, Turkey)
Savas Michael-Matsas (EEK, Greece)