Say no to Abbott's new war

[Green Left Weekly, #1026, September 24, 2014]

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has committed Australia to join Washington's latest military intervention in the Middle East. Some 600 Australian military personnel and aircraft operating from a base in the United Arab Emirates will join US forces in bombing 'Islamic State' forces in Iraq and assisting the Kurdistan Regional Government with weapons and training.

'Humanitarian' warmaking

These days all imperialist military interventions have to be carefully packaged ideologically for popular consumption. The IS's public beheading of three Western captives has provided Abbott and Obama with a useful handle.

According to Abbott: 'This is essentially a humanitarian operation, to protect millions of people in Iraq from the murderous rage of the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) movement — What we have seen is an exaltation in atrocity unparalleled since the Middle Ages.' And: '[The IS] death cult is uniquely evil in that it does not simply do evil, it exults in evil.'

Consistency is not a strong point here. The US wars on Iraq, in which Australia was an enthusiastic partner, led to the deaths, directly and indirectly, of hundreds of thousands on Iraqis. (One estimate put the death toll at around one million by 2007.) This completely dwarfs anything the Islamic State has done or is ever likely to do.

Perhaps it's not the evil that is the problem but the exulting in it. The West just does it and relies on the corporate media to obscure the carnage that is really going on.

The focus on beheadings also raises a few thorny problems. Close US ally Saudi Arabia executes people publicly, usually by beheading. In the 2007-12 period it executed 423 people. On August 21 Al Jazeera reported that at least 19 people had been beheaded in that month to date. Perhaps the PM can look into this while he is visiting our forces in the UAE.

A recent Leunig cartoon in the Melbourne Age raised the burning question: 'Should heads be cut off or blown off?' Obviously, beheading is mediaeval and barbaric; Western bombing is the modern and civilised way to do it.

Washington's bombing campaign won't work

The US bombing campaign is unlikely to defeat the IS forces.

Firstly, the fundamental reason for the IS successes in Iraq is the intense alienation of the Sunni community from the sectarian, Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has now been forced out and a new figure from the same party installed. But the Iraqi government depends on a number of sectarian Shia militias which appear to be just as murderous as the Islamic State forces they are fighting. The Sunni Arab tribes will not rally to such a regime.

Secondly, a cornerstone of the US effort involves shoring up the peshmerga forces of the KRG. However the peshmerga are not a unified national army but are divided between the Kurdistan Democratic Party of KRG president Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Even if the peshmerga increase their military capabilities and are able to defend the Kurdish areas more effectively this won't deal with the wider issue of the Islamic State.

Thirdly, Turkey has refused to join the US coalition. But Turkish support is absolutely vital to the Islamic State. It provides vital transit facilities to IS fighters coming and going to Syria; it treats IS wounded in Turkish hospitals; it allows IS to buy utilities and trucks in Turkey; and the Turkish blackmarket takes oil from IS-controlled fields in northern Syria thus providing vital funds.

US avoids dealings with Kurdish liberation forces

Washington's plan to defeat IS carefully avoids dealing with most effective forces actually fighting the Islamic State. These are the revolutionary wing of the Kurdish liberation struggle — the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) which has waged a long struggle for Kurdish rights against the Turkish government, and the YPG (Peoples Protection Units) in Rojava (the liberated Kurdish-majority area of northern Syria).

The PKK has played a decisive role in fighting IS in a number of battles on the borders of the KRG. But, out of deference to NATO member Turkey which oppresses its large Kurdish minority, the PKK remains classified as a 'terrorist' organisation by Australia, the US and the European Union.

The YPG has been fighting IS for two years in northern Syria and has inflicted heavy defeats on the fundamentalist gangs. When the Yezidi Kurdish population at Sinjar in Iraq was threatened with annihilation in August, it was the YPG and PKK forces which rescued them and escorted the refugees to safety in Rojava.

Turkey must stop supporting IS

Last week's Green Left Weekly carried a statement by the Socialist Alliance opposing any US-Australian military involvement in Iraq. Two key demands it raises are to take the PKK of the list of declared 'terrorist' organisations and that Turkey stop supporting the IS gangs.

Appendix: No Australian military involvement in Iraq

[Resolution adopted September 4 by the Socialist Alliance National Executive]

1. The US wars on Iraq (1991 and 2003) killed hundreds of thousands and completely wrecked the country. The US promoted sectarian divisions in order to retain control. It created the conditions for the rise of the 'Islamic State' and is thus responsible for the current crisis.

2. Australia was an enthusiastic junior partner in both US wars on Iraq and thus shares responsibility for the terrible suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people as well as the current situation.

3. There is a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria due to the Islamic State's ethnic cleansing and general terror campaign. Approximately 1.5 million refugees are living in camps in Rojava (the Kurdish liberated zone in northern Syria), Turkey and the Federal Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

  1. Australia should give large-scale assistance to these refugees. This should be delivered by non-military means.
  2. Australia should massively increase its refugee intake from Iraq and Syria.
  3. No asylum seekers already here should be forcibly returned to Iraq or Syria.

4. We are opposed to any US or Australian military involvement in Iraq or Syria.

5. The task of defeating the IS gangs is a task for the Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian peoples. They have every right to accept weapons from anyone who will give them (even from the imperialists).

6. Australia should press to have the US and the EU remove the PKK from their list of 'terrorist' organisations.

7. Australia should exert pressure on Turkey to cease its support for the IS (deny any transit to IS fighters coming or going etc.).