The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

ISIS:
The Legacy of Imperialist Interventions

Sep 15, 2014

This article is from the September 12th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The militias of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) attacked Dhoulouiya, a town located on the banks of the Tigris River on September 8, bringing their fight closer to the capital Baghdad. The offensive began in January with attacks by these fundamentalist militias in the west of Iraq. In early June, they captured Iraq’s second largest city Mosul.

Their violence has made headlines around the world, with the barbarous execution of two U.S. journalists. But ISIS had already been spreading terror in conquered towns, pushing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee elsewhere for refuge.

The media argues these fighters are especially barbaric thanks to their religious fanaticism. But this conceals the truth: ISIS is above all a product of imperialist interventions.

ISIS first appeared in Iraq after the war the U.S. began waging in 2003, which was followed by years of military occupation. ISIS was created from various militias connected to Al Qaida, which gained adherents by claiming to defend the Sunni minority against the Shia majority.

Iraq is composed of 54% Shia Muslims, 22% Sunni Muslims, and 24% mostly Sunni Kurds. These various groups had lived and worked together before the U.S. war on Iraq, but the policy of the occupying armies was to divide and rule. The U.S. and their imperialist allies created a confrontation, relying on certain militias and then on others, in order to rebuild a state apparatus in place of Saddam Hussein’s.

ISIS developed because of the vacuum created by the destruction of the state apparatus of Saddam Hussein and the struggle for power it ignited. Like similar militias created on a religious or ethnic basis, this militia played on the hatred aroused by the violence of imperialist armies, in particular the U.S. bombings such as those that killed thousands in Fallujah in 2004.

The flight of Iraqi Sunni fundamentalist groups to Syria as early as July 2011, that is, three months after the beginning of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad, played an important part in the development of this tendency in Syria. The war there provided Syrian and Iraqi fundamentalist militias an opportunity for recruitment and training. In April 2013, some members formed ISIS, independent of Al Qaida in Syria.

U.S. imperialism wanted to weaken the Syrian regime so as to make it more malleable, without provoking a collapse that would have been dangerous in the powder keg of the Middle East. It did not intend direct intervention, so it let its local allies act. The Western allies gave the nod to the Persian Gulf countries, Qatar in particular, for them to provide money and weapons to the fundamentalist militias.

ISIS fighters came back to Iraq after gaining experience in the war against Assad in Syria. They were able to destabilize an Iraqi region, Al Anbar, near the Syrian border. Then they launched an offensive on Nineveh, with the aim of moving against the national power in Baghdad.

ISIS is still gaining ground, taxing people in the areas they conquer, smuggling oil, collecting weapons and equipment abandoned by the defeated Iraqi army. In June, their chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed a “caliphate” on both sides of the border that separates Iraq and Syria. ISIS wants to evict all the other communities from its Sunni “state.” It wants to impose its rule with beheadings, lynching women accused of adultery, and the enslavement of women.

ISIS developed in part thanks to the weapons that U.S. allies supplied it and in part because 10 years of imperialist occupation drove part of the population into its arms.

Imperialism, determined to preserve its domination of the Middle East, is responsible for the growing barbarity of society.