[Midden-Oosten] 2/2 Iraq and Syria: The struggle against the multi-sided counterrevolution

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Vr Jun 27 00:25:46 CEST 2014

Full article at:

Part 2:

However, the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces hit both Sunni and Shia
working class Iraqis, thus massively boosting support for the
anti-occupation Mahdi Army. As US forces imposed a Guernica-style terror
on the Sunni city Falluja, al-Sadr led the Shiite poor of Badr City out on
the streets in anti-sectarian solidarity with the Sunni, a stunningly
opposite approach to the main pro-Iranian faction then backing the
US-imposed regime, the Badr Brigades, and a challenge the occupiers were
least expecting.

But whether these moves were only about crazed and unrealistic
neoconservatives running amock is unclear, though it may be part of the
picture. While the CIA line was theoretically perfect from a class point
of view, there was a major practical problem: the simple size of the Shia
majority (50-60%) compared to the Sunni minority around which the regime
was based (25-30%). Those behind Bremmer’s move may have made a very
logical calculation, despite the risks involved in the massive instability
it would temporarily lead to: capitalist class rule would never be
re-stabilised unless the capitalist class from the majority Shia
population get to rule; the regime and state apparatus left over from
Hussein’s eviction was far too narrow and narrowly Sunni to ever be

Whatever the cause, facing the threat of a non-sectarian joint Sunni-Shia
anti-occupation movement, it now may well have suited US interests to
stoke sectarianism, to ensure Sunni and Shia focused on killing each other
rather than targeting the occupiers. While the idea that the US would have
deliberately encouraged al-Qaida in Iraq for this purpose is most likely a
conspiracy theory as baseless as most, it could be said that, just
temporarily, al-Qaida’s criminal sectarian attacks on Shiite mosques and
holy places played directly into the hands of the US occupation regime and
the most sectarian wing of the Shia elite. The US responded in like
manner, arming the most bloodthirsty sectarian forces among the Shia to go
after the Sunni, massacre them just as al-Qaida was doing to Shia, and
ethnically cleanse them from significant regions, including most of
Baghdad. While doing this, the US cracked down on the Mahdi Army. However,
after some time the sectarian atmosphere also neutralised the Mahdi Army
as a threat as it too got drawn into the mutual slaughter.

Significantly, al-Qaida outside of Iraq could see the disaster that
al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was causing. Al-Qaida head
Ayman al- Zawahiri warned that the focus must be kept on defeating the US,
and argued against targeting Shiite holy places and non-combatants, and
against the grisly hostage killings
(https://www.fas.org/irp/news/2005/10/dni101105.html). Zarqawi rejected
this advice, and this difference, going back to 2005, is important in
understanding the differences today between ISIS, the extremely sectarian
and brutal descendant of al-Qaida in Iraq, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria,
the official wing of al-Qaida. Some might view it as odd that the actual
al-Qaida is significantly more moderate in its behaviour than the
dissident ISIS but the logic is simple: Zarqawi then and ISIS now aim to
build a “state” of Iraq and the Levant; their main enemy are the opposing
sects, mostly Shia, that are necessarily not part of their state-building
project. Al-Qaida (including al-Nusra in Syria) is by contrast still more
focused on the big picture and so has a dimmer view of counterproductive
sectarian bloodletting which plays into the hands of the enemy.

While Assad’s aims in facilitating the entry of Syrian jihadists into Iraq
after 2003 can be explained as a mixture of keeping them off his back in
Syria, and bogging down the US enough to discourage the nuttier wing of
the neo-con fanatics who wanted to take their great “success” of regime
change into Syria, it seems logical that the Syrian regime would have had
the same use of a rise of sectarianism in Iraq at this juncture. After
all, a narrow Alawi regime ruling over a vast disenchanted Sunni majority
might have also seen the prospect of a joint non-sectarian Sunni-Shia
struggle in Iraq as an existential threat at home.

But after a couple of years of sectarian slaughter had caused enough
damage, the imperative to win a section of the Sunni away from al-Qaida in
order to re-stabilise an Iraqi capitalist regime returned. In 2007, the US
and Saudi Arabia, exploiting the exasperation increasingly felt by the
Sunni with al-Qaida’s excessive violence, armed Sunni tribes in Anbar
province into the “Sawha” (Awakening) movement, which helped defeat
al-Qaida throughout most of the region, and brought a new section of Sunni
leadership into supporting the Shiite-led regime. It probably helped that
around this time, the Syrian regime also returned to the policy of
“renditioning” jihadists for the US “war on terror.”

As has been widely reported, the current Sunni uprising, and the fact that
the bulk of the Sunni population is currently in league with al-Qaida’s
successor, ISIS, is due to the Maliki regime’s betrayal of the promises
made to the Sawha Sunnis, their intensified exclusion from power, and the
brutal repression unleashed against those who attempted to protest this
situation. As such, one might say that Maliki has also let down the US
master in this regard. Certainly, there have been rumblings from US
leaders and media about the need for Maliki to be more “inclusive” and so

Ultimately, however, imperialism has what exists on the ground. In Iraq,
the Shia are the majority. Therefore, it will be the Shia bourgeoisie that
will rule. And capitalist politics is sectarian, nationalist, exclusivist,
chauvinist – anything other than “non-exclusive” – a proletarian concept –
almost by definition. And therefore, whatever complaints the US might
make, if the US launches air strikes “against ISIS,” in the *current
context* – before the rest of the Sunni coalition turns against ISIS of
its own accord – these will be strikes against the Iraqi Sunni uprising as
a whole, that will bolster Maliki’s sectarian regime and its entire
sectarian dynamic – if only because the US does not have an alternative
ruling class regime to work through.

If US were to take “war on ISIS” into Syria …

But is this likely to be different in Syria, where there is no Iraq-style
coalition with ISIS, but on the contrary, a magnificent resistance of all
anti-Assad resistance forces against ISIS? In other words, with the US
threatening possible intervention to stop ISIS, are we likely to see the
US finally, after 3.5 years, come through with some serious military aid
to the FSA to help it fight ISIS in Syria?

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the US has refused to
provide arms to the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA), using the excuse that
such arms might find their way to various Islamists or jihadists,
especially the al-Qaida-linked forces such as ISIS.

Yet the irony is that while the US has still to provide a bullet to the
FSA (other than a few weapons to one single, small, newly formed militia
earlier this year), it is precisely the FSA and their Islamist rebel
allies that have been the only force in the region actually fighting ISIS.
The FSA and ISIS declared war on each other in August last year, and have
been constantly at war since; then beginning in January this year, the
rebel alliance of FSA/Mujahideen Army/ Islamic Front/Jabhat al-Nusra have
been waging a sustained war to drive ISIS out of as much of the liberated
territory as they can.

To understand why this is not likely to lead to any change in US policy
towards the FSA, we need to look at a bit of background on US policy
towards the FSA and the Syrian jihadists.

For the last year and a half, the major US aim of US policy has been to
try to bludgeon a small section of “vetted” FSA into turning themselves
into a “Sawha” (Awakening) movement to fight al-Qaida in Syria (named
after the movement the US and Saudi Arabia armed to defeat al-Qaida in
Iraq in 2007-8), mainly Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN, now the official wing of
al-Qaida, since a-Qaida disowned ISIS); overwhelmingly, the main condition
on which the US has offered to perhaps send a few guns to some select FSA
units has always been that whoever receives them must be willing to launch
a full frontal war on the jihadist forces.

>From the first time FSA fighters were told by US agents that if they
wanted arms they would need to turn them against Jabhat al-Nusra, back in
late 2012, it was clear the US wanted the FSA to take on al-Nusra now,
before defeating Assad – regardless of the blood-drenched division that
would cause between two opponents of such a powerful and bloody
dictatorship (and of course confusion, blood and division among the
mainstream Islamist elements in between). When the FSA members said that
unity against Assad’s more powerful forces was paramount at present, the
US officer replied “We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight
Assad’s army.”

It is difficult to conceive of this as anything other than a plan for
mutual destruction; as usual, it is a question of class: whether the media
claims US and Syrian “like” each other or not, there is nothing worse from
the imperialist point of view than a revolution led by workers and
peasants overthrowing an entrenched capitalist regime. The US would like a
face-saving modification and rearrangement of the regime (the ‘Yemeni
solution’, similar to the CIA’s original plan for Iraq), but that is an
entirely different thing. In fact the aim of that is precisely to calm
down the revolutionary fever. Short of that, the US wants it extinguished,
and mutual suicide appears a good method.

Likewise, the communique from the G8 meeting last June called for a
transitional authority (consisting of elements of regime and opposition)
which would “preserve or restore” the Syrian state apparatus, stressing
that “this includes the military forces and security services”, and called
on both the regime and opposition forces to “destroy and expel from Syria
all organisations and individuals affiliated to al Qaida and any other
non-state actors linked to terrorism.” And on June 23, French president
Francois Hollande demanded Syrian rebels expel “extremist” groups from
areas they control as a condition for getting any French arms

The FSA has always rejected this imperialist “advice.” According to FSA
Colonel Akaidi, a military defector then heading the Aleppo military
council, the US wants to turn the FSA “into the Sahwa,” but “if they [the
US] help us so that we kill each other, then we don’t want their help”

However, for its own reasons, the FSA spent much of the first half of 2013
clashing with JaN, as it took up the fight to defend the Syrian masses
against JaN’s sporadic attempts to impose a new “Islamist” dictatorship,
or to defend itself from JaN attacks. As such, the FSA was simply
defending its own agenda, not that of the US. The FSA fought with its own
aims, when it chose, the way it chose. And once it had imposed several
defeats on JaN; and JaN even went so far as to offer some apologies; and
once all the most violently reactionary elements, and nearly all the
foreign, non-Syrian, elements of JaN split and formed ISIS mid-2013, there
were no further clashes between JaN and the FSA that I am aware of; both
focused on fighting the regime, alongside other Islamist fighters in
And while still undoubtedly a sectarian organisation that the FSA and
other Syrian revolutionaries will have to deal with in the future, JaN
markedly moderated its behaviour, feeling the pressure of its own Syrian
base; indeed, JaN includes a significant base of former secular FSA
fighters who only switched to JaN because it had better weapons.

In contrast, the whole of the second half of 2013 was an open war between
the FSA and ISIS, as the FSA, representing the Syrian masses, took up the
fight to defend the masses in liberated zones as ISIS tried to replace
Assad’s secular-sectarian-fascist state with an Islamo-fascist state. And
in January 2014, the Islamic Front and even JaN itself joined the FSA in
this full-frontal war on ISIS.

While western imperialist observers, and most leftists, tend to put JaN
and ISIS together into the same “al-Qaida” box, it is very important to
understand the very crucial distinction that all Syrian revolutionaries
make between the two. One may find it distasteful, but in the context of
fight to the death against the sensational brutality of both the Assad and
ISIS regimes, few Syrian revolutionaries will be in the mood to pay much
attention to western sensibilities.

Yet despite this war on ISIS, the US has still refused to arm the FSA. One
might assume that the FSA was doing what US imperialism had been telling
them to do since late 2012, ie, fight al-Qaida. Even though the FSA is
fighting with their own agenda and not that of the US, one might assume
that imperialism should have been happy that it just happened to coincide
with their interests, regardless of intent.

However, this was not good enough for the US.

First, US imperialism has made it clear all along that fighting ISIS is
not enough – the US sees JaN as just as bad,* if not worse, than ISIS* in
terms of US interests, precisely because JaN actually seems to be
interested, in its own regressive way, in fighting the Assad regime,
Israel and US imperialism, whereas ISIS’ rhetoric about all this means
little more than capturing already liberated zones and imposing theocratic
repression against Syrians – both Assad and the US can live with that as
long as it is restricted to the far north and east of Syria (and, until
recently, remote northern regions of Iraq). But as JaN is currently on
side, the FSA and all the rest of the Syrian rebel alliance are resolutely
opposed to this US diktat and to splitting the anti-Assad (and anti-ISIS)

The US attitude to this joint rebel war on ISIS was summarised by Ben
Hubbard in the New York Times, who wrote in in January that “neither of
the two sides in the rebel fighting presents a particularly attractive
face to Western policy makers … Further complicating the rebel landscape
is the Nusra Front, one of Syria’s most powerful rebel groups, which has
also declared allegiance to Al Qaeda but whose fighters have fought
alongside other rebel groups against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
in recent days”

Clarifying the US stand further, in late January, James Clapper, the US
director of national intelligence, told the Senate intelligence committee
that Jabhat al-Nusra “does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland
(ie, on the US),” and claimed that some 26,000 of Syria’s rebels were
jihadist extremists
Similarly, CIA director John Brennan claimed that JaN aimed “to recruit
individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out
attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad.” Around
the same time, an Israeli intelligence official put the number at 30,000
and claimed that after toppling Assad “or strengthening their foothold in
Syria they are going to move and deflect their effort and attack Israel”
Quoting such absurd numbers revealed that the US and Israel were not only
talking about ISIS; in fact they were not even only talking about ISIS and
JaN, but other non-al-Qaida groups as well.

The second reason that fighting ISIS is not good enough for the US is that
it is all very well if the FSA fights ISIS, but the US has apparently
offered to give some fighters some guns as long as they *only* use them to
fight ISIS and *do not use them to fight Assad,* according to some rebels
to whom this offer was made (who apparently are a split-off from the
northwestern FSA coalition, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, SRF):

It appears that the SRF itself may also have been offered arms if it took
up the fight against JaN as well as ISIS, because here is their commander
rejecting this US diktat: “I am not fighting against al-Qa’ida… it’s not
our problem”
By “al-Qaida” he clearly means JaN, because it was precisely the SRF that
has led the attack on ISIS since January. Clearly, this was not good
enough for the US. Incidentally, this is a totally secular commander and
totally secular coalition – rejecting an imperialist diktat to fight
al-Nusra jihadists, but who has led the war on the worse ISIS jihadists.
Yet the kind of “leftist” who believes facts are irrelevant to analysis
will no doubt call him a “US-backed jihadist.”

Even US hawks who advocate US intervention in Syria, such as John McCain,
reveal their real aims often enough. Last year, McCain called for an
“international force” to enter Syria to secure stocks of chemical weapons
because “these chemical weapons … cannot fall into the hands of the
(http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/article11595592.ece). His
colleague in advocacy of hawkish intervention, Lindsey Graham, favours
direct US drone strikes into Syria targeting the jihadists
not surprisingly, Graham has also come out in favour of drone strikes in
Iraq in the current crisis.

What all this means seems clear enough: if the US were to launch strikes
“against ISIS,” and if such strikes spread from Iraq into Syria, it is
highly likely that the US would also attack JaN, despite the JaN’s
prominent role in the war on ISIS, especially in Deir-Azor in the east.
And whatever one may think of JaN, at the present conjuncture, an attack
on JaN would be a massive attack on the strength of the anti-Assad *and
anti-ISIS* resistance in Syria and would be a tremendous boost to the

Furious Syrian rebel assault on ISIS does not gain US support

In recent weeks leading up to the seizure of Mosul, the Syrian rebel
alliance has been engaged in furious battle attempting to keep hold of the
east Syrian city Deir-Azour against a sustained ISIS siege. While they
fought ISIS, Assad helped ISIS by terror bombing the city
in effect, a joint siege; and after ISIS murdered 3 FSA commanders in
Deir-Azour last week, regime warplanes bombed the mourning tent on June
21, killing 16 people
And in comparison with the fight put up by the Syrian rebels, Maliki’s
troops in Iraq just ran away from ISIS.

And here is the crowning irony of the US line that “arms to the Syrian
rebels might end up in al-Qaida hands” – somehow the same logic was not
applied to the sectarian Iraqi regime, which was loaded with US arms, and
so as the Iraqi army ran away from Mosul, a whole lot of heavy weaponry
actually did fall into the hands of ISIS! And now ISIS is taking that
weaponry back into Syria to continue its war against the Syrian revolution

Even more sensationally, precisely now that this heroic resistance to ISIS
in Deir-Azour might be expected to be utilised by the US for its own
reasons, the US has moved even further away from taking such a course. On
June 22, while visiting Assad’s fellow recently-“elected” dictator
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, US Secretary of State John Kerry,
announced he was “discouraging Arab nations from sending financial support
to even moderate opposition Sunni groups in Syria” because such aid “could
be used to help the growing insurgency in Iraq.” Kerry said he planned to
deliver the same message to leaders of other Arab states in the following

Very difficult for the FSA to win. If it fights together with al-Nusra
against the Assad regime, any arms it receives might reach al-Nusra
jihadists. If it fights against ISIS, any arms it receives might reach
ISIS jihadists. It would require an extraordinary imagination to not see
that US imperialism would prefer the FSA and the Syrian uprising to
disappear from the face of the Earth.

Obama clarifies: No to revolution led by farmers and workers

And the reasons for this were given by none other than the chief executive
officer of US imperialism on almost the same day Kerry made his remarks.
Replying to a question from Norah O’Donnell on ‘CBS This Morning’, about
whether arming the “moderate forces” (presumably meaning the secular FSA
revolutionaries) would have prevented the rise of ISIS, Obama claimed that
despite having allegedly “spent a lot of time trying to work with a
moderate opposition in Syria,” there was no chance that sending them arms
would have helped, because “when you get farmers, dentists and folks who
have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad,
the notion that they were in a position to suddenly overturn not only
Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few
arms is a fantasy.”

Now, we can note that the “lot of time” never included a bullet; and the
fact that the FSA were not up against the jihadists until long after the
revolution had started and after Assad had already slaughtered tens of
thousands; and the fact that the farmers and “dentists” were joined by
lots of other workers and above all by tens of thousands of deserters from
the Syrian Arab Army who did indeed have military experience; some good
refutations of Obama’s logic here
http://ammarabdulhamid.com/2014/06/21/the-lies-obama-tells-about-syria and

But aside from all this, I just want to note that Obama has done us a
great favour.

Here we see, in plain black and white, the hostility of the head of US
imperialism to the very idea of a revolution led by mere farmers and
workers against a regime of mega-capitalists. Imagine if arming workers
and peasants did help them overthrow an oligarchy. Imagine how the example
might spread. Imagine the horror of the US ruling class at the very
thought. Obama just told us in plain English.

The rise of ISIS is of course an enormous threat to this workers’ and
farmers’ uprising in Syria, and the just struggle in Iraq which it is
temporarily attached to, due to the intense sectarian division it fosters
between Arab working people of differing religious sect. Much has been
said about ISIS abolishing the borders established by imperialism at
Sykes-Pilot. This of course is a good thing, but only if done on the basis
of unity of the Arabic working peoples as they abolish these imposed
borders. ISIS by contrast abolishes those borders while setting up new
ones, across sect lines. This indicates the fact that ISIS’s anti-Shia
“radicalism” is in fact a fundamentally conservative state-building
project which is less threatening to imperialism and local ruling classes
than the mainstream al-Qaida’s continuing focus on imperialism and the
local reactionary regimes, and certainly less than genuine popular

For the popular revolutionary wave to progress it will need to decisively
defeat ISIS and its project for sectarian division. While sectarianism has
grown as a negative factor in the Syrian struggle as a whole, the momentum
of the united rebel fight against ISIS’ extreme theocratism and
sectarianism is a positive on in this regard; while in Iraq the Sunni will
need to feel secure enough from Maliki’s repression before throwing off
the yolk of ISIS.

However, if ISIS brutality provides the cover for imperialism to
intervene, the effect will only be counterrevolutionary – by also hitting
at JaN in Syria and thereby weakening the Syrian revolutionary forces, and
by solidifying Iraqi Sunni behind ISIS and entrenching the sectarian

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