The Fall of Fallujah

They came, they plundered and they left a country in ruins. Not that this narrative impressed itself upon the architects of the invasion of Iraq who cooked up and implemented a ghastly recipe of power that opened up new fronts for radical Islam. Iraq is now descending into something less than peace and more than civil strife. The term civil war, initially one as popular as leprosy, is now being used. Ever since the despotic Saddam was deposed, the country has been part of a song and dance with its occupiers and molesters.

Even the tepid editorial board of Bloomberg had to come out with observations about the next war in Iraq, which will be brimming with sectarian purpose. Unfortunately, traditional formulas abound in their assessment. “The [Obama] administration’s task is to re-establish a robust counterterrorism partnership with the Iraqi government before the country fragments under the persistent hammer strokes of an ascendant al-Qaeda” (Bloomberg, Jan 13).

The editorial board falls into the analytical trap typical of assessments of what is occurring in the region. Al-Qaeda is considered the main threat, a uniform body with common goals across the Middle East. The board sees the “peril that confronts the US” as composite – one of the civil war in Syria and the sectarian conflict in Iraq.

The Obama administration’s advice to a country that is descending into civil war is simple. Bomb al-Qaeda to another age but seek reconciliation with the Sunnis, whose grievances have been capitalised upon by militants. Secretary of State John Kerry has advised his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari “to increase political inclusiveness… as the only path to long term stability” (Wall Street Journal, Jan 8). When blood is spilled, the chatterers get busy.

It is true that one of the groups engaging the Iraqi authorities on the one hand, and the Syrian government on the other, is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But such designations are neither here nor there. Alliances shift, and jihadi groups are as flexible about alliances as corporations are about mergers. The Sunni forces vary in composition, some of which are from ISIS. The troubling issue for the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the ease with which the Sunni militants expelled his forces, notably from Fallujah.

The foundry that produced such hammers came from the working shop of Washington and its allies. Prior to the invasion in 2003, a weakened Iraq was keeping an air-tight lid on various al-Qaeda operations – after all, they were mortal enemies. The voodoo interpretations of the Bush administration decided to compress al-Qaeda and Saddam into the same, crowded bed of Middle Eastern alliances. Ergo, fanciful assumptions of WMDs, invasion, chest-thumping and a ruined state followed.

Now, in the first month of another year, the Shiite-led government in Iraq has found itself battling furiously with al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militants with heavy casualties over Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Anbar province. Fallujah itself is a name that haunts the American military consciousness. It is also located deep in Sunni territory.

In addition to regular military engagements come the explosions, many going off with lethal ferocity. On January 15 alone, 73 died in a series of bombings in central Iraq. The United Nations claims that 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces died in 2013 (BBC, Jan 15). The month of December saw the deaths of 759 people.

The Iraqi authorities have approached sectarian problems with a certain clay-footedness – there is little room for compromise, and the Sunnis fear the revenge that will be exacted. Maliki has called upon the Sunni tribes in Anbar province to do the clearing of Fallujah, rather than the predominantly Shiite forces of the Iraq army. In short, a vast mess has unfolded, with residents untrusting of a government they find as reprehensible in some respects, if not more so, than the opportunistic fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The pro-imperial lobbies in Washington and London have reverted to type. They lament the withdrawal of American and British forces. In the US, those voices have come from Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, both testy about Obama’s decision not to retain a residual force to back the Iraqi government’s policies.

Con Coughlin, the British Telegraph’s Defence Editor, sees the fall of such places as Fallujah and Ramadi as strategic disasters for the Obama administration. “Such was Mr. Obama’s distaste for maintaining America’s involvement in a conflict associated with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, that he, in effect, ordered the unilateral withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before the country had been fully stabilised” (Telegraph, Jan 6).

Such shallow, and even specious commentary ignores the simple fact that the presence of such forces was as much a cause of instability as their absence is proving to be. Imperialists tend to struggle with logic – orderly force and threat are deemed indispensable to the harmony of others. Not that anyone is asking.

British and American pundits are seeing gloom everywhere in the absence of imperially guided control, and can only resort to the tired slogans of “stabilisation” that claim a false sense of ownership over territory and problems. It is with some irony that the very forces of stabilisation were the ones the Coalition of the delusional willing were happy to remove. The situation has become so dire that the Iranians have offered their assistance to Maliki. Now few in Washington saw that coming.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: Read other articles by Binoy.