The speed with which large swathes of Iraqi territory have fallen to a relatively small force of armed militias begs the question as to how this was possible. The Iraqi armed forces were numerically much superior to the groups who took over towns such as Mosul in the north. The army actually melted away. This cannot be explained simply by referring to armed Islamic groups. Something deeper is going on.
The present situation in Iraq has its roots in the 2003 imperialist intervention, which was presented as a just war by Bush and Blair as its purported aim was to remove the “hated dictator Saddam Hussein”. At the time we explained that the task of overthrowing Saddam Hussein belonged to the Iraqi people and to no one else. Instead of establishing a stable, bourgeois democratic regime, which they stated was their aim, we have seen the risk of disintegration of Iraq along religious/ethnic lines, with the spectre of bloody civil war raising its head.
The most ironic aspect of all this is that prior to the war in Iraq there was no al-Qaeda or other Islamic fundamentalist armed groups in the country. It was only after the devastation unleashed on the country by imperialism that these groups found a way into the country. So rather than being a war to defend so-called “western values”, it became the very cause of the further extension of the operations of such groups as al-Qaeda.
Maliki government based on sectarianism
In the case of Iraq, the imperialists left behind a civilian administration headed by Maliki, who became prime minister in 2006, with US approval. Some of the achievements of the Maliki-led administration are that in 2012 Iraq was classed as the 8th most corrupt country in the world, and that its human rights record is classed as “poor”, with people arbitrarily arrested and even tortured. In fact even the pro-Washington website of the the Human Rights Watch on Iraq paints a grim picture of the situation.
This is very far from the bourgeois democratic regime that Bush and Blair promised everyone when they decided to invade the country back in 2003. The truth is that the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein was not about upholding democracy. The fact that the “western democracies”, i.e. the American and European imperialists, have no problems in doing business with such despotic regimes as the one in Saudi Arabia together with all the other despotic regimes, proves the point that promoting so-called “western style democracies” is not at the top of their agenda. Their real aim is to establish regimes which can be used to defend their interests, and nothing else.
On the socio-economic front things are no better. The imperialists spent huge sums in bombing and occupying Iraq, but they are somewhat less concerned about the social conditions of the mass of ordinary working people. Mass unemployment and widespread poverty affect large parts of the population. The official estimated unemployment rate was 16% in 2012, but the real figure is most likely much higher. According to Iraq Business news:
“Iraq’s poverty and unemployment is increasing every year despite the Government’s efforts to implement programs to lower it. The United Nations and other International Organizations have published that more than 23% of Iraq’s population lives below the poverty line. While 23% is the official figure, the real number exceeds 35% (12 million). The Iraqi people have endured a lot of hardship and suffering during the last four decades of war, in addition to crippling sanctions.” (March 5, 2014)
In these conditions one can see how it is not possible to establish a stable bourgeois democratic regime, for capitalism in the country cannot solve any of these basic problems. In the context of this economic situation, the ethnic/religious divisions within the country add to the extreme instability, and become a source of conflict as the ruling elites on all sides use them to whip up chauvinism and pit one ethnic group against another to divert the attention of the masses away from the real culprits, the people at the top, and try and put the blame on those who practice a different version of Islam or speak a different language.
The ethnic make-up of the country is roughly the following: Arab 75%-80%, Kurdish 15%-20%, Turkmen, Assyrian and others 5%. Further divisions are due to religious differences, where although more than 95% of the population is classed as Muslim, these are divided into Shi’ites (around 62%) and Sunni (around 35%) and a small Christian population. The Sunnis are also almost evenly divided between Arab Sunnis and Kurdish Sunnis.
Heritage of colonial past
The source of these divisions lies in the past colonial times, when the collapsing Ottoman Empire was carved up between the British and French imperialists. If one looks at a map of the Middle East one will see borders that are straight lines that run for hundreds of miles. This is because the borders were decided by the imperialists – sitting at a desk with a pencil and ruler – without any concern for the people living in these territories.
In fact, the new “countries” that emerged after the redivision of the world after the First World War were designed in such a way as to have a permanent ethnic divide, either along religious or linguistic lines, such that the internal conflicts would allow the imperialists to continue dominating even after they were forced to end the physical, military occupation. This method has been the source of endless conflicts from Pakistan and India, to Nigeria, to Cyprus and the North of Ireland.
General Jonathan Shaw, a former commander of British forces in Basra, writing for The Telegraph (12 June 2014), admits the following:
“Iraq is the creation of lines on a map imposed by the French and British after the First World War. The challenge ever since has been to bring together the varied interests and loyalties of a people divided by religion, ethnicity and locality. This is a people who are further subdivided by tribes, few of which are in any way constrained by lines on maps.”
Unresolved national question
This unresolved national question in Iraq is a central element in understanding recent developments. The Maliki administration, unable to provide solutions to the burning economic questions facing all of the Iraqi population, has preferred to use the ethnic card, leaning on the Shi’ite majority and playing the old and tested game of “Divide and Rule”. This has provoked the resentment of the Sunni Arab minority, who have now backed the revolt in the Sunni territories. The Kurds have already de facto been running their own region, short of declaring an independent state.
In the recent period there had been a growing protest movement, mainly in the Sunni areas, but also in other parts of the country. The protests that began in December 2012 were over a series of issues, from corruption to unemployment, from low wages to lack of services. Some were over the bad treatment of prisoners, many of whom had been arbitrarily arrested by the Iraqi security forces, while others were over low wages or the discrimination against Sunnis. There were protests from Fallujah to Mosul, in Kirkuk, Baiji, Tikrit, al-Daur, Ishaqi, Samarra, Jalawla, Dhuluiyah, Baquba, Ramadi, in parts of Baghdad, Albu Ajil, Nasiriyah and other towns and villages.
The Maliki government response to what were mainly peaceful demonstrations was violent clampdowns, where the protestors were treated as if they were terrorists. Protestors were killed and many arrested. In the case of Fallujah he even bombed the local population. The people in the Sunni areas have become accustomed to viewing the Iraqi armed forces and police as an occupying force, not as the keepers of “law and order”, let alone the upholders of “justice”. They see the present government as a continuation of the US-led occupation, against which many fought. To quote General Jonathan Shaw again, “Maliki’s rule has been characterised by paranoia and sectarianism, alienating both the Sunnis and the Kurds.”
Collapse of Iraqi army
It is in this context that one has to look at the recent developments. The Iraqi army collapsed in the face of far weaker fighting forces. The reason for this is that many of the soldiers and police are Shi’ites. In fact Maliki consciously promoted a Shi’ite based armed forces who have been used to terrorise the local population. Thus, in the face of advancing armed groups who claimed to be coming to liberate the Sunnis, the Iraqi army and police could sense that the forces coming in would be received with sympathy by much of the population who would want to take revenge on the official armed forces for all the injustices they have suffered under the Maliki regime.
Initially the media highlighted the fact that “500,000” had fled from Mosul as the insurgents came into the city. Subsequently, news started coming out that a significant number of these had begun to return to Mosul. An interesting report by AP on this phenomenon appeared on June 15 in their website. It quotes an 80-year old man as saying, “"I hope God supports them and makes them victorious over the oppression of al-Maliki.”
The article reports local residents who explain that after Mosul was taken by the insurgents, the water and electricity supplies improved and prices were brought down. It reports that, “Returning residents said relatives told them the insurgents slashed the prices of key staples: A litre of gasoline for vehicles or diesel for generators, a necessity because of frequent power cuts, dropped from 42 cents to 30 cents, said taxi driver Abu Mohammed. A canister of cooking gas dropped from $6.85 to $3.40. The fighters forced traders to offer vegetables and key foods at half price, he said.”
The returning population explained that the reason why they had fled was not so much out of fear of what the Islamic fighters would do, but more out of fear of what the Maliki government would unleash on the town. In the past period in fact the government has bombed areas it has lost control of, killing indiscriminately fighters and local inhabitants.
Brewing revolt among the Sunni population
What we had was a brewing revolt among the Sunni population against what they saw as an oppressive regime. It was ordinary working people in these areas that had reached the limits of what could be humanly tolerated. A vacuum of power was emerging, where the state was not strong enough to hold the situation but the people had no ready-made alternative. Into this vacuum stepped the various fighting groups.
Had there been mass working class organisations, capable of galvanising the working class as a force, this could have been the beginning of a revolutionary upheaval. And if this had been based on class issues, a movement among the Sunnis could have been the beginning of a movement of the working class and poor Shi’ites, which in turn would have meant the end of Maliki. But no significant organisation of this kind existed. In politics a vacuum cannot last for long, and something will fill it. In this case it is ISIS and the other organised fighting groups. Because they are Sunni based, mainly Islamic groups the revolt has easily been turned into an ethnic based conflict, with all the reactionary consequences that this has.
In fact in the above quoted AP report on the returning population to Mosul we find that “only Sunni Arabs appear to be returning, suggesting a fundamental change to the city’s demography.” Thus we see how, although the Islamic fundamentalists are applying a concrete policy of “winning the hearts and minds” of the local people by making life better for them, this only applies to Sunni Arabs.
It appears that ISIS is not immediately applying in a strict manner its extreme Islamic fundamentalist rules everywhere, as it does not the forces to do so. As AP points out that, “It appeared that the Islamic State had so far held off on imposing their extreme version of Islamic law because they needed to appease other Sunni and tribal based fighting groups and more secular former Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein, who all claimed a stake in seizing the city, returning residents said.”
However, it is not only Arab Shi’ites who fear groups like ISIS, but also smaller minorities, such as the Turkomen who are themselves divided into Shi’ites and Sunnis. The AP report continues, quoting Nazar Ali, a Shi’ite Turkomen: "It's sectarian. We are Turkoman, and we fear they will harm us.”
Already, ethnic Turkmen Shiites have been killed in clashes with Sunni militants. A group of of villages in the Kirkuk region, came under attack from Sunni fighters and the local people fled to areas held by Kurdish Peshmerga.
As a result of this situation some Turkomen nationalists are also arming themselves, creating their own militia. The Kurds are hoping to use a future referendum to annex Kirkuk to the rest of Kurdish territory. But the Turkomen are calling for a federal administration jointly run by Turkomen, Kurds and Arabs. Others are calling for an autonomous Turkomen authority.
According to the Al-Monitor website, there have even been conflicts between Shi’ite and Sunni Turkomen, with the Shi’ites leaning towards the Iraqi army and the Sunni leaning, for now, on the Kurds.
They also feel betrayed by Turkey, who they would naturally look to for protection. Turkey for its own material and strategic interests has come closer to the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.
The plight of the Turkomen highlights the complexities of the national question in today’s world. Iraq is breaking up into its regional component parts, mainly the Shi’ite areas, the Sunni Arab areas and the Kurdish region. But within these areas there are further divisions, such as the Turkomen, who although for now look to protection against ISIS from the Peshmerga, do not feel comfortable about a future where they would become a minority within an independent Iraqi Kurdish state.
On a capitalist basis, there is no end to this dilemma, and only on a socialist basis can this be solved with a socialist federal republic, with rights of autonomy for all the peoples of Iraq, within a wider socialist federation of the Middle East. This is the task of the working class.
The forces doing the fighting
All the TV reports use the term “ISIS” to cover all the fighting groups that have taken over large parts of Iraq, but several reports indicate that ISIS fighters are one of several groups, albeit the largest, that make up the forces that took Mosul. Even the BBC admits that, “Much of the attention from the current insurgency has focused on ISIS - the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but it is only one of a number of militia groups fighting.” (14 June 2014) The same report quotes former General Muzhir al Qaisi ,a spokesman for the “General Military Council of the Iraqi Revolutionaries”, which “entered Mosul alongside ISIS”. He explains, “that Mosul was too big a city for ISIS to have taken alone” and describes ISIS as “barbarians”.
According to different sources the extreme jihadist ISIS group has no more than around 10-12,000 fighting men on the ground. Such a force alone could not take such large areas. The fact is that, as we have seen, among the Sunni Arab population a revolt had been brewing for some time. And it was not just a general people’s revolt that was being prepared, but various organised and armed groups were involved.
Let us not forget that under Saddam Hussein it was the Sunni Arabs – at least the elite within this population – that were placed in a position of domination, and the majority Shi’ites as well as the Kurds and other minorities were oppressed. The Sunnis were side-lined with the fall of Saddam. This explains why the Sunni tribal leaders – who by no stretch of the imagination can be classed as “progressive” – in the areas that have fallen were also organising against Maliki, for their own reasons. There are tribal leaders such as Sheikh Harith al Dari, chairman of the Ulama (Muslim legal scholars considered the arbiters of sharia law), who is in total opposition to Shi’ite Maliki regime.
Informed commentators on the situation that was developing could already see this. Already in March The Washington Post published an article, Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders say fight for Fallujah is part of a revolution, which explains what Iraqi tribal and religious leaders were preparing. According to the article, they were preparing a “revolution”, i.e. the violent overthrow of the Maliki administration.
The article explains that, “In recent months, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, led by a group of Sunni clerics, has forged close links to a military command that emerged after Iraqi security forces moved in January to try to reclaim the western city of Fallujah from Islamist fighters, who had captured it in December.”
The same article describes the new command, the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, that had been formed, as a unified leadership of regional military councils: “The councils include tribal leaders and former insurgent leaders but are headed by former senior army officers — among the thousands of Sunni generals cast aside when the United States disbanded the Iraqi army after the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Muslim scholars association said it is not a wing of the military council. But it says it coordinates closely with the council, and some of its officials acknowledge that they are in a temporary alliance with al-Qaeda, which disowned ISIS in February.”
The same article explains that, “After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, several tribes in Anbar formed alliances with al-Qaeda. The group’s brutality alienated many Iraqis, and al-Qaeda retains little popular support, but long-held Sunni grievances against the Shiite-led government — including mass arrests, executions without fair trial, and a lack of jobs and government services — are helping to fuel the current fighting in Anbar.”
The strengthening of the Jihadist ISIS group is a by-product of the conflict in Syria and the militarisation of the Sunni nationalist movement in Iraq. The US initially backed the Islamic groups fighting the Assad regime. The same groups have been receiving arms and funding from reactionary Gulf States. This allowed ISIS to move from Iraq to Syria and now back again. It has provided a hard core of fanatical elements who have the high morale and conviction to fight. But there are also other forces, among them other more moderate Sunni groups, Salafists as well as remnants of Saddam’s old army officer caste, which was removed in part by the imperialist invasion.
Inevitable opposition to jihadists
The Maliki regime in fact has an interest in exaggerating the strength and influence of ISIS. He cannot admit that he is responsible for the present situation with his oppression of the Sunni Arabs. He prefers to present the picture as one of a conspiracy hatched by Islamic fundamentalists. And he is using the extreme nature of ISIS to present it as a threat to the Shi’ites in order to build up a force of volunteers who are lining up “to fight ISIS”. In this he is preparing the ground for a bloody civil war, which risks the very break up of Iraq.
However, the truth is that the Sunni Arabs have only supported ISIS inasmuch as it is fighting Maliki, the perceived common enemy. ISIS imposed its strict regulations also in places like Raqqa in northern Syria, which eventually provoked a backlash of the local population. Something similar is bound to take place at some stage also in Iraq where these extremists attempt to impose their strict Sharia principles.
This means that inevitably at some point, if and when these groups consolidate their grip on the Sunni Arab areas, fighting will break out between the more extreme elements and the others. There have already been reports of conflicts between them. According to The Washington Post, “…some Sunni tribal leaders appear to have entered a marriage of convenience with al-Qaeda, deeming it a lesser evil than the Iraqi government — for now.
Sheik Mohammad Bashar Faidhi, a leading figure in the Muslim scholars association is quoted as saying, “Sometimes [al-Qaeda] joins in the fight, and sometimes it doesn’t fight — it just watches. We expect there will come a day when we will have to fight with this group.”
The truth is that ordinary Iraqis are not jihadist inclined. Like all ordinary working people they want to get on with their lives, have a decent living and live in peace. It is the concrete situation created first by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later by the Maliki government that has pushed the people into supporting such groups.
Kurds seize the opportunity
The Kurdish area in Northern Iraq was already a de facto independent statelet, formally part of Iraq, but with its own armed forces, the Peshmerga, and running its own affairs. The present crisis has given them the opportunity to seize contested areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which they claim as their capital, although in reality it lies in a region of mixed Kurdish and Arab peoples, and also with a significant Turkoman minority. With the collapse of the Iraqi army in the area, the Peshmerga are the only force that can hold the situation and therefore the regional Kurdish government has no intention of relinquishing it.
Kirkuk is important as some of Iraq’s largest oilfields are to be found within the province. And controlling these important oilfields is seen as a means to achieving a viable independent Kurdish state. Big oil multinational corporations, among them ExxonMobil and Total have already signed deals with the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities about future oil exploration.
Kurdish political leaders have already been in negotiations with Sunni commanders in the neighbouring province of Ninevah, of which Mosul is the capital, to discuss the de facto fragmentation of Iraq, presenting it as the “federalisation” of the country.
Role of Iran
The regime in Tehran has also not lost the opportunity to increase its presence in the country. According to the BBC, “Qasem Suleimani, the commander of an elite unit of Iran's revolutionary guards, is reported to be in Baghdad, helping military leaders and Shi’ite militias to co-ordinate their campaign against the rebels.” Iran has also sent advisors and weaponry to help Maliki. Tehran already had a big influence in Iraqi affairs with the Shia based Maliki government. It is now preparing to “support” his government. In reality it is to further strengthen its grip on the country.
Iran in fact is being strengthened by the whole situation. The irony is that the war wanted so much by George W Bush and Blair instead of strengthening the position of US imperialism in the region has benefitted mainly Iran, which will get an even stronger grip over Baghdad as a result of the conflicts that have now erupted. But the Americans now need Iran to stabilise Iraq, as they did in Afghanistan previously.
This has consequences for international relations, as the former “enemy” now is in negotiations with the Obama administration on how the two countries can collaborate in trying to stem the instability emanating from Iraq. Relations between the US and Iran had already thawed somewhat in the recent period, as Obama realised that holding Iraq could not be achieved without Iranian cooperation, while the Iran regime is seeking to break the sanctions imposed on it and get urgently required investment to rebuild its infrastructure and boost its flagging economy.
It is also comical to see how suddenly the British government has announced the reopening of its embassy in Tehran just three years after diplomatic relations between the two countries were suspended back in 2011. Now they have a “shared interest” in fighting back ISIS and attempting to bolster the weak Maliki regime.
What this means is that they will collaborate in backing a regime which is responsible for the present mess. This will not convince the Sunni Arabs of Iraq of the good intentions of Iran, but will reveal the real relationship between US imperialism, the Europeans and the regime in Iran. When it comes to fundamental class interests, when the instability of the region is threatened, then the bourgeois robbers on both sides come together. Iran is no longer a monstrous regime, but a “responsible” force. Iran’s intervention, however, will only exacerbate the already intense ethnic tension in the country.
Turkey has always had ambitions in Iraq, in particular in the oil-rich northern region. With the weakening of central authority in Baghdad it has been developing closer ties with the Kurds of Iraq. It has forged a de facto alliance with the Iraqi Kurdish regional government by allowing it to export oil via Turkish ports.
In line with this “softening” of their position towards the Iraqi Kurds, the Turkish authorities have zig-zagged from making concessions to the Kurds inside Turkey, entering into talks with the PKK, and then clamping down again according to the needs of the moment.
However, Turkey's “support” for the Kurds is not disinterested. Its aim is not the defence of Kurdish interests. Its own history with the Turkish Kurds has been one of brutal oppression, and the last thing the Turkish ruling class wanted was any move towards an independent Kurdistan, which would inevitably mean destabilising Turkey itself.
The interests of Turkey are in exploiting northern Iraq's oil reserves, not to enhance Kurdish nationalism. But like all cynical imperialists, they will make deals with the Kurdish authority in the north so long as this serves their material interests. At the moment, a strengthening of the Kurdish autonomous region in the North of Iraq serves as a counterbalance to Iran, which is seen as a main competitor of Turkey in the region. For some time around 1500 Turkish troops have been stationed in Iraqi Kurdish territory and this may well increase in the coming period as the “ISIS offensive” provides them with the required excuse to do so.
Rather than a “defence of the Kurds”, their recent position is a means whereby they feel they can extend their influence into the oil-rich Kurdish areas of both Iraq and Syria. Turkey has no intention of changing borders and thus encourage Kurdish claims, nor will the Turkish government oppose the US whose main concern at the moment is to stabilise Iraq and stop the further advance of ISIS and the other groups.
The Gulf states have also been pushing their own agenda in the region, funnelling funds to the Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting in Syria and now Iraq. This is because the Assad regime is an ally of Iran, with which the Saudis are waging proxy wars in the region, not only in Syria, but also in Baluchistan (Pakistan) and now in Iraq.
No to imperialist intervention
Without massive foreign intervention Maliki will not be able to win back the Sunni territories. He has now called for US military aid as the Iraqi army cannot be counted on to push back the Sunni insurgents. Obama, however, has no intention of returning to Iraq with troops on the ground and recommence a war which they had already lost in the past. Obama has stated that Washington can provide aerial support, and even this only in the form of drone attacks.
Drone attacks have not been renowned for winning the “hearts and minds” of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan where they have killed mainly civilians. Such attacks on Sunni areas rather than strengthening the position of the Baghdad government, would only serve to harden even more the resolve of the Sunni population.
That explains why Obama has stated that Maliki must go and is calling for a government of “national unity” of Shi’ites, Arab Sunnis and Kurds! The US imperialists understand that on the present basis, with the Shi’ite based Maliki government in place, Iraq cannot be held together. But this is too little too late. The US were instrumental in getting Maliki elected Prime Minister and let him get on with his Shi’ite chauvinist oppression of the Sunni minority.
The problem is that Maliki has the backing of Iran, who is a much stronger player in the region than US imperialism. It is this strong Iranian involvement, which is pushing the Arab Sunni regimes led by the Saudis to back the insurgents, as they have backed the extreme Islamic fundamentalist groups in Syria.
What is taking place is the de facto break up of Iraq. ISIS and the other Sunni groups will not be able to move into the South which is heavily populated by Shi’ites. Samarra, with its important Shia shrine, will remain on the front line. In Baghdad and the South we see the building up a Shi’ite volunteer force, and although Maliki may be removed, the sectarian political system on which he has based himself will remain.
In the Shi’ite areas a sectarian mobilisation is taking place which will inevitably lead open civil war and terrible massacres, with ethnic cleansing. This will also affect Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shi’ites have already been living segregated from one another after the 2006-07 civil war.
This is the final end result of the imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003. Far from stabilising the situation, they have enormously exacerbated the contradictions in the region. People who had lived peacefully together for decades are now in a state of civil war.
Even from their own greedy class point of view, they have made one blunder after another. In the past they supported the Saddam regime, and used it as a counterweight to Iran. Then under the crazed George W Bush they opted for a policy of showing the nations of the world that there was one boss, the United States, who could dictate at will what every other power should do. With the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan they wanted to send a warning to any regime that’s stepped out of line that they would have to deal with the might of US imperialism’s powerful war machine. Now US imperialism stands naked and impotent before the world. They threatened to bomb Syria and then pulled back. In Ukraine they have made a lot of noise, but have had to accept Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
Instead of a powerful US imperialism what we have now is a giant with feet of clay. In this context Iran has emerged stronger, and whatever the US imperialists do will be wrong. If they bomb the Sunni areas of Iraq, they will only further exacerbate the divisions within the country. If they do nothing, they leave Iran in a much stronger position.
In all this, those who pay a heavy price are the ordinary working people of Iraq, whether Shi’ites, Arab Sunnis or Kurds. The situation is tobogganing towards bloody civil war, with ethnic cleansing on all sides, and people fleeing to what they see as safe areas. The break-up of Iraq is taking place before our very eyes, and it will have repercussions throughout the whole region, in Syria and Lebanon, in Turkey, and even in Jordan.
But what is the solution to this mess? The first thing we have to understand that no solution is possible on a capitalist basis. Imperialism backs the various rotten regimes in the region, as this is in their material and strategic interest.
The solution to the present crisis lies in finding a way of developing the economy in such a way that it benefits the people who live there. But that means taking the huge profits made in the region out of the hands of the multinational corporations and the corrupt elites that govern these countries and using them to develop a modern infrastructure, build decent housing for all, provide good healthcare and education, and provide well paid jobs for all.
The national question is fundamentally a material question, a question of bread. The Kurdish workers have no reason to oppress the Turkomen, the Shi’ite workers have no interest in oppressing Sunnis, the workers in Iran have no interest in backing the greedy aspirations of the rulers in Tehran. The workers of the whole region have every interest in overthrowing all these rotten regimes.
The so-called Arab Spring in 2011, and before that the revolutionary movement in Iran in 2009, indicated the way out, an all-Middle East revolution. That still remains the task facing the working masses of these countries.
In Iraq today that may seem a distant perspective, but Iraq has a modern working class concentrated in large urban areas. This working class is the force that can provide a solution. All honest socialists in the country must come together and take up the banner of Marxism and explain to the workers on all sides that only socialist revolution is the answer to their problems.
They must become the historical memory of the workers in Iraq. They must remind the Shi’ites that imperialism is not their friend. Back in 1991 when the Shi’ites rose up in Basra against the Saddam, the Americans watched while their revolutionary uprising was crushed by Saddam’s Republican Guard. The imperialist preferred Saddam to a revolution!
None of the powers vying for positions in Iraq have at heart the interest of ordinary working people. What is required is a general people’s uprising, not just for genuine democracy and rights of the various national groups, but for socialist revolution that would place in the hands of the workers the resources with which they could begin to rebuild society, and put an end once and for all to the national conflicts which capitalism inevitably produces.