For and against Islamism: the West's hypocritical war in Iraq
[This is a comment I made during a recent facebook discussion about the endless war in Iraq.]
After condemning the violently sectarian politics of the Islamist outfit ISIS, John Key has announced that members of the New Zealand army will be sent to Baghdad to help train Iraq's army. It is hard to think of any gesture less likely to lead to the defeat of Islamism in the Middle East.
Iraq's government is controlled, after all, by a collection of parties that practice Islamist politics. Where ISIS presents itself as the representative of Sunni Muslims, and kills or enslaves members of other religious groups, the Dawa Party and its allies in the Iraqi government present themselves as the representatives of Shi'a Muslims, and persecute Sunnis and others. Behind the Iraqi government stands Iran, which has been ruled by Shi'a Islamists for three and a half decades.
Dawa and the other Shi'a parties maintain their own militia, which they use to enforce their primitivist interpretation of Islam. Women who dress immodestly, shopkeepers who sell alcohol, and Christian who take communion have all been victims of the militia. The Iraqi army collapsed in the middle of this year, as ISIS conquered much of the north of the country. As troops deserted, they were replaced by members of the Shi'a militia. It is these men that Kiwis troops will be training.
In the name of fighting Islamism, then, John Key is sending New Zealand troops to support an Islamist government in Baghdad and train the armed thugs of this government. Like its American and Australian allies, New Zealand has made a de facto alliance with Shi'a fundamentalism and with the Iranian government.
Such an alliance is, of course, very ironic, because for decades America and most other Western nations have been enemies of the Iranian regime. America took the side of Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in the 1980s, and in recent years it has imposed a range of sanctions on the country in an effort to stop Tehran developing nuclear weapons.
To understand why America and its allies have now aligned themselves with Iran, we have to consider the disastrous consequences of George Bush's invasion of Iraq.
When he sent troops across the Iraqi border in 2003, Bush talked about replacing Saddam Hussein with a secular government that would have no truck with Islamist politics. He wanted to create an ally of America in the heart of the Middle East, secure cheap access to the country's oil, and put the Islamist government of Iran under pressure.
But Bush's plan quickly failed, as Iraqis refused to support the pro-Western leaders he wanted to foist upon them. Protesters from Iraq's Sunni community took to the streets with guns. Desperate to find an ally against a resistance movement that was taking dozens of American lives every week, Bush turned to the Shi'a Islamists, and allowed them to take control of the Iraqi state. As America's influence in Iraq has declined, the influence of Iran has grown. Today Obama sees Iran and its allies in the Iraqi government as the only force that can stop ISIS.
But it is another force that is doing most of the fighting against ISIS. In both Iraq and neighbouring Syria, the Kurdish militia known as peshmerga have been defending towns and villages against ISIS's attacks. The Kurds live on the mountainous borderlands between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and have been fighting for independence from the governments of all of those countries for decades.
Unlike the gangs of thugs run by the Iraqi government, the Kurdish peshmerga are secularists. They have defended the Yezidi religious minority against ISIS; they have passed a law calling for the equality of men and women in the region of northern Syria they control.
America has given some support to the Kurds fighting ISIS. American airplanes, for instance, have bombed ISIS troops besieging the Kurdish town of Kobane.
But America has helped prevent the most powerful of all the Kurdish armies, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, from joining the fight against ISIS.
The PKK is based in Turkey, and wants to send some of its thousands of fighters into Syria and Iraq, so that they can confront ISIS. But the Turkish government has bombed and shelled PKK to keep them from crossing the border. America and many other Western nations, including New Zealand, classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation. They have refused to speak out against Turkey's recent attacks on the PKK. Western governments oppose the PKK because they fear offending Turkey, which hosts important American military bases and is an important trading partner for Europe.
If John Key opposed violent sectarianism in Iraq, then he would not support the Islamist government in Baghdad. With its persecution of religious minorities and its roving militia, the Baghdad regime is a Shi'a mirror image of the Sunni ISIS. Key would look to the north of Iraq, and offer New Zealand support to the Kurdish peshmerga. Key would send New Zealand troops to work with the peshmerga, and would condemn Turkey for holding back the fight against ISIS by attacking the PKK.
Sadly, though, John Key is, like Helen Clark before him, more interested in keeping New Zealand on good terms with America than in helping deal with the problems of Iraq and the Middle East.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]