“ISIL, at first manipulated by Saudi Arabia, with the capacity to unify a wide swath of Arab territory under its authority and eliminate Iranian influence in the region, became increasingly autonomous, and eventually adopted the ideals of al-Qaeda. … For the sake of its obsessively anti-Iranian stance, Washington permitted the growth of Wahhabi fundamentalism (the most radical branch of Sunni Islam), and the formation of a large army, to which it gave a territorial basis for dominating regions of Syria and Iraq – something that al-Qaeda never succeeded in doing. In all, the United States acted like Harry Potter upon obtaining his first magic wand: it liberated forces it didn’t understand or control.”
By Francisco Carlos Teixeira
Translated By Brandi Miller
July 28, 2014
Brazil – Carta Maior – Original Article (Portuguese)
The Western press, and given its habitual addiction to mimicry, the Brazilian media, have chosen to adopt a narrative that looks at the current Middle East situation in terms of intra-Islamic conflict, highlighting the confrontation between different conceptions of Islam, in particular, between Sunnis and Shiites. In the face of these two radicalized interpretations of the Prophet Mohammed’s message, Islam definitively split, and the formation of viable state units eventually became impossible. In fact, the two sides have confronted one another since the death of the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, Caliph Ali. There were those who defended maintaining the “Caliphate” in the hands of the wealthy merchants of the Quraysh clan [Sunnis], and the rest, who defended the line of succession remaining within the family of the Prophet, with the descendants of his daughter Fatima who was married to Ali [Shiites]. This become a strong point of division. The caliphate – a form of religious and secular government – was formally abolished between 1923 and 1924, when the Turks consolidated their country as a republic, and the Turkish monarch, the sultan, who was also caliph, lost his titles. Since then, Islam has lacked a caliph in either the Sunni or Shiite tradition.
This division between Sunnis (traditionalists) and Shiites (supporters of Fatima and Ali) has only deepened since their 8th century schism. Shiite contacts with Persian Zoroastrianism, Byzantine Christianity, and the Nestorian heresy, assumed quite a different form from traditional Sunnism, observing festivals, flagellation ceremonies, the worship of saints, relics and shrines (tombs of saints, such as those in Karbala and Najaf, for example), in addition to a total rejection of the caliph (where “caliph” is the title of the “successor” sent by God, and who guards within himself all civil and religious power).
Turkish mastery over the Arabs from the 15th century up to 1918, and after that French and British dominance, only deepened these divisions further, with the colonial powers selecting the Sunnis, more inclined to accept demands and recognize the authority of their colonial rulers, to form the core of pro-Western ruling elites. Thus in Iraq after 1918, a small minority of Sunnis was organized by Great Britain to govern the majority Shiite population. In this way, Sunnis united with Western imperialist interests in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, always resulting in cruel and highly repressive dictatorships.
In the Baath Party regime under Saddam Hussein, there was a precarious arrangement with Christians and a certain tolerance of Shiites, but in the final years of Saddam’s regime, the Shiites, many times supported and encouraged by the United States, revolted against Saddam (a Sunni), and were brutally repressed, with the widespread use of torture and thousands killed.
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Thus the narrative that there is an incapacity to form a viable state due to religious differences conceals the West’s long and continuous intervention in the Arab world and Western responsibility for pitting religious and ethnic groups against each other, all for the purpose of facilitating foreign domination (as it was, for example, in India under British rule, Rwanda under Belgian colonialism, or Nigeria, again, under British rule). Thus the role of imperialism and colonialism, its responsibility for local divisions, including U.S. policy in the region, and before that the continuous colonial interventions of Great Britain and France, which the Americans inherited, are precluded from factual and moral responsibility for the current situation in the region.
The main “cause” pointed at by the media, echoing statements and press releases from the authorities in Washington, is the “incapacity” of Nouri al-Maliki’s government, a Shiite, to “unite” and lead a government with Sunnis and Kurds.
Since it regained its autonomy in the post-Saddam Hussein era, a coalition government has functioned in Iraq – with Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. This mixed parliamentary government, based on a broad ethnic and religious coalition, sought to give voice and rights to the majority of the Iraqi population, which consists of Shiites, and offer controlled autonomy to the Kurds, who were persecuted and killed in large numbers during the years of the Saddam dictatorship.
One of the Shiite militias of the post-Saddam era was the “Dawa,” a group that in addition to confronting al-Qaeda, faced the remnants of Saddam’s Republican Guard and the Americans themselves, who wanted a quick exit from Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Since 2006, the “Dawa” has transformed itself into a political party under al-Maliki’s leadership, which now governs Baghdad with a parliamentary majority. It is in fact a broad but fragile coalition. Opposition to al-Maliki is not centered in the Sunnis because of their exclusion, but in other Shiite groups, including the Mahdi Army and its leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who favors the creation of an Islamic regime in the country.
Nouri al-Maliki was long in exile in Syria (he was sentenced to death by Saddam), and was strongly opposed to the United States. Al-Maliki opposes, in particular, America’s policy of reintegrating large numbers of cadres from the banned Baath Party, the only party in power under Saddam, including the readmission of soldiers loyal to Saddam, police accused of torture, and judges and civil servants from the Baath Party who were involved in the brutal repression of the Saddam era. In the American version, al-Maliki’s refusal is due to his “Shiite” sectarianism. In fact, the United States is proposing that the Iraq government, which was reelected on January 30, 2014, accept and forgive members of Saddam’s government who actively participated in the brutal attacks against the Shiite majority of their own people.
In the name of “national unity,” the United States, once again and in yet another country, just as it did in Latin America, demands that criminals and violators of human rights be brought to power and for the recent past to be forgotten. Washington would much rather see in power men like Ahmed Chalabi, prime minister between 2005 and 2006, a “client” of the CIA, and a U.S. government pensioner. Chalabi, America’s central informant and so-called “man who prepared the invasion of Iraq,” lost his seat in parliament in the last election. Another name defended by the U.S. is Ayad Allawi, a secular leader, former member of the Baath Party, and member of the transitional government after the U.S. occupation administration and before the new free Iraqi government. It so happens that neither has the votes to legitimize their hopes of forming a government. However, just as it was in South Vietnam during the 1960s (with Cao Ky and Van Thieu), the U.S. insists on “naming” the rulers of client states – despite the election results.
Al-Maliki, accused in the past of organizing terrorist attacks against the United States and France, also poses other “inconveniences” for Washington. First, American demands of extraterritoriality for all of its personnel in Iraq, including soldiers, police, and American “contractors” (in other words, mercenaries), was refused by al-Maliki’s cabinet. Thus, under pressure from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2009 and 2013), the United States opted to improve and adorn Obama’s “pacifist” foreign policy by completely withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. This was clearly an act of blackmail: either the U.S. largely controlled Iraq’s armed forces and police, with the dominant inclusion of former Baath Party members, or they would leave.
Al-Maliki opted to take the risk and maintain Iraq’s shaky national sovereignty. In addition to this, Baghdad contradicted the U.S. on two fundamental points of Obama’s Middle East policy. On the one hand, it tightened relations with Iran, the largest Shiite-Muslim country ruled by a regime hostile to both Washington and Israel, and on the other, it approached Russia, from which it purchased high performance weapons (the former USSR was an Iraqi ally). Obama-Clinton largely tried to prevent friendly relations among Baghdad, Tehran, and Moscow (al-Maliki’s Dawa Party also possessed strong ties with Iran’s Shiite clergy), which clearly sabotaged American attempts to isolate Iran.
Likewise, Baghdad charted a foreign policy independent of the so-called Arab Spring revoltions, especially in Syria. For Baghdad and Tehran, the situation in Syria was and is completely different from the other “Springs.” Early on, they denounced the extensive foreign intervention from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the support of the United States, Turkey and France, to overthrow the Assad regime, comprised of a coalition of Shiites (Alawite) and Christians, which is nationalist in character, as well as pan-Arab and anti-Israel. Tehran and Baghdad denounced from the outset foreign intervention and the presence of mercenaries and volunteers from the Persian Gulf, financed by Saudi Arabia and armed by England and France, aimed at overthrowing the Damascus regime.
In Syria, a broad Sunni fundamentalist coalition formed that was extremely intolerant and conservative in character: al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, called ISIL in English.
This coalition, in the beginning manipulated by Saudi Arabia, with the capacity to unify a wide swath of Arab territory under its authority and eliminate Iranian influence in the region, became increasingly autonomous, and eventually adopted the ideals of al-Qaeda, which was in the end overcome by the harshness and cruelty of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”
Meanwhile, Al-Maliki caused great discomfort in Washington and Paris by supporting pan-Arab and Shiite groups in Lebanon, where the “Dawa Party,” a Lebanese cousin of Iraq’s Dawa and also very close to Tehran, confronted American and French troops in Lebanon.
Thus in recent years, the Obama-Clinton Administration (2009-2013), drawing ever closer to the American center-right and right, and to Saudi interests in America, has adopted a clear anti-Iran, anti-Dawa, anti-Shiite stance, based on a strategic triangle capable of ruling the Arab world centered in Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. For the sake of this obsessively anti-Iranian stance, Washington permitted the growth of Wahhabi fundamentalism (the most radical branch of Sunni Islam, which executes Shiite clergymen and destroys Shiism’s holy places), and the formation of a large army to which it gave a territorial basis for dominating regions of Syria and Iraq – something that al-Qaeda never succeeded in doing.
Strangest of all, to sum up this immense list of strategic, political, and anthropological mistakes made by Washington, is that the death of Osama bin Laden strengthened and accelerated the fight against the Baghdad government established by the American invasion in 2003. The elimination of the charismatic leadership of bin Laden among his followers and sympathizers allowed for the emergence of dissident forces such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its proclamation of the “caliphate,” opening up a new and explosive reality in the Middle East.
In all, the United States acted like Harry Potter upon obtaining his first magic wand: it liberated forces it didn’t understand or control. The crucial difference is that in this case, there is clear risk of general chaos and a bitter end for the local peoples.
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