1/3 of Iraq and 1/3 of Syria is under control of a radical Sunni-Islamic group known as the Islamic State. The IS was known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL ) but changed its official name to Islamic State after capturing large parts of Iraq and Syria. On 4 September 2014, IS is the main Islamic group fighting both the Iraqi Shia-Islamic government and the Shia Muslim led Ba’ath regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
The fight of IS against these governments is of sectarian nature. In the Arab world, Islam is the main religion. Yet in Iraq the Islamic faith is divided into two sects. Shia-Muslims who rule the government and Sunni-Muslims who ruled under Saddam Hussein and who make up the majority of Iraqi’s. After the 2003 invasion, the Americans gave political power to the Shia-Muslims because the were oppressed by Saddam Hussein. Sunni-Muslims were removed from politics which led to many insurgents and sectarian violence. Now the biggest Sunni-Islamic group is the IS which has conquered 1/3 of the Republic of Iraq!
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the absolute leader of the Islamic State. His rule is supreme and although a Islamic Caliphate is to be democratic ( Muslims elected their Caliph ) the Islamic State is a absolute theocracy. Al-Baghdadi is a 42/43 year old male, who was once captured by American forces in 2003 in Iraq. As the Americans put Shia-Muslims ( who are a religious minority ) into leading government functions, the Sunni-Muslims started to rebel. Al-Baghdadi created the Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah, a militant Sunni-Islamic group who took up arms against the Maliki government and the American occupation troops!
The Jamaat Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaah became the Islamic State in Iraq and played a large role in the fighting. They were part of the international Sunni-Islamic network, Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became Emir of the Islamic State in Iraq in 2010, after Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi was killed in a joint American-Iraqi attack. Al-Baghdadi ordered his Iraqi militants to intervene in the Syrian civil war. However the Syrian wing of Al-Qaeda was not happy about this. The Al-Nusra Front is the wing of Al-Qaeda in Syria and rejected the Iraqi militants of Al-Baghdadi. The Al-Nusra Front asked Al-Qaeda to keep the Islamic State in Iraq inside the borders of Iraq. Emir of Al-Qaeda; Ayman al-Zawahiri told Al-Baghdadi to remain in Iraq and stay out of Syria. But Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi refused and renamed his group; Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ( or Syria )!
Al-Qaeda was not happy after the ISIL drove the Al-Nusra Front out of many Syrian towns. They also disapproved of Al-Baghdadi’s sectarian violence against Sunni-Muslims. Al-Qaeda opposes internal sectarian conflicts between Sunni-Muslims. However the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, called itself the only genuine Islamic force in Iraq and Syria. In the summer of 2014, militants of the ISIL captured Mosul a big Iraqi city with 1,8 million people. This was the first major city captured by the radical group. Baghdad was shocked by the weakness of their own army. Although superior in weapons, the soldiers of the Iraqi Army abandoned their posts and fled the city. This allowed the ISIL to capture a lot of military cars, tanks, uniforms and American made weapons!
Many Christians fled Mosul after it was taken by the ISIL. Under the new Islamic rulers, Christians were told to pay a special tax or be killed. At the same time; woman were told to cover themselves completely. Alcohol was banned, pornography was also banned. Still many Sunni-Muslims supports the new rulers, this is because Mosul is a Sunni-Muslim city and many Sunni’s reject the Shia-Muslim led government in Baghdad. After the fall of Mosul, the ISIL renamed itself into Islamic State and claims to be a true Caliphate for Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda renounced the new Islamic State and called on Sunni-Muslims to oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. However Al-Qaeda is losing popular support as many young Sunni-Muslims join up with the Islamic State!
Why is the western world responsible for the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Islamic State? The United States of America, the United Kingdom and others joined up to remove Saddam Hussein from power in March 2003. Hussein was the totalitarian Iraqi president since 1978. He led the Iraqi; Arab-Socialist Ba’ath Party, which split in 1966 between a Iraqi party and a Syrian party. After removing the Ba’ath from power, the Americans established the Coalition Provisional Authority led by Lewis Paul Bremer, who was de facto head of state of Iraq for almost a year. Many Sunni-Muslims rejected this American Christian!
Lewis Paul Bremer ordered the privatization of the Iraqi economy. Until 2003, most means of production in Iraq were state owned. American president; George W. Bush however wanted a capitalist market economy for the new Republic of Iraq. Unregulated capitalism was introduced, causing massive poverty and economic instability. A new ruling class replaced the state bureaucrats of the Saddam era, as economic masters over the Iraqi working class. Many unemployed youth turned towards Islamic extremism, fuelled with hatred against America and those who collaborated with them. Still the Americans believed that capitalism was the way out for Iraq, it was not!
After three years of unstable governments, the Americans promoted Nouri al-Maliki to be fourth prime minister of Iraq. As a Shia-Muslim; Maliki was not loved by the majority of Iraqi’s. Still his Shia-Islamic Dawa Party won the 2014 elections and formed a government with other Shia-Muslim parties. The political ideology of the Islamic Dawa Party is heavily influenced by work done by Baqr al-Sadr who laid out four mandatory principles of governance in his 1975 work, Islamic Political System. These were:
- Absolute sovereignty belongs to God.
- Islamic injunctions are the basis of legislation. The legislative authority may enact any law not repugnant to Islam.
- The people, as vice-regents of Allah, are entrusted with legislative and executive powers.
- The jurist holding religious authority represents Islam. By confirming legislative and executive actions, he gives them legality”
The party of Nouri al-Maliki is supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a political enemy of the USA. Still Nouri al-Maliki was able to keep both the USA and Iran as his allies. In the western provinces of Iraq, many Sunni-Muslims became extremist and anti-Maliki. Poverty, economic mismanagement, capitalist exploitation and massive anger over corruption turned many into the arms of the Islamic State in Iraq of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In 2014, with supporters in Syria, Baghdadi made his move against the Shia-Islamic government and was able to drive the Iraqi Army out of many western provinces. The prime battle was fought in the city of Mosul. 28.000 Iraqi soldiers, supported by 40.000 police officers fought against 10.000 ISIL soldiers in a battle which lasted two weeks and six days. Thanks to the low moral among Iraqi soldiers and massive corruption, the militants of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked over the superior armed soldiers, taking Mosul with few casualties!
In Syria, the Islamic State is now the biggest opponent of Bashar Al-Assad. This is ironic because remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party are fighting with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, against the Shia-Islamic government in Baghdad. Bashar Al-Assad is leading the Syrian; Arab-Socialist Ba’ath Party and is a Shia-Muslim. This is why the Islamic State is able to recruit many. The conflict with the Islamic State is a sectarian war between two Islamic ideologies. Syria is led by Shia-Muslims, Iran is led by Shia-Muslims and Baghdad is governed by Shia-Muslims. This while the majority of all Muslims in both Syria and Iraq are Sunni, not Shia!
Western imperialist nations are about to take part in this sectarian conflict. Obama plans to destroy the IS, but will do this in three stages. Meanwhile 1/3 of Iraq and 1/3 of Syria is under control of the Islamic State. The old borders between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Iraq have been removed. For the militants of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there is no border between Syria and Iraq!
What makes the IS also strong is their use of social media. Unlike Al-Qaeda and other Islamic forces, the IS knows how to reach young Sunni-Muslims over the internet. They have Facebook, Twitter and You-Tube accounts, in which they spread their reactionary theocratic message. Their militants have also no problem with showing massive executions on the internet. This is why many western people fear the IS!
What is the response of revolutionary socialists to the rise of the IS? We reject western imperialism in Syria and Iraq. The 2003 invasion is the reason why the IS was able to grow. Also people must understand that Iraq is not a unified nation. Iraqi’s are split in three groups. Kurds in the north, Shia-Muslims in the east-south and Sunni-Muslims in the western provinces. Iraqi Kurdistan is governed by Kurdish political parties, while the western part of Iraq is now part of the IS. We revolutionary socialists call on workers to put aside religious sectarianism. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is no alternative to the rulers in Baghdad, he is a brutal dictator who abused the anger of many Sunni-Muslims. His militants may enjoy the support of many, but this will change sooner or later.
The Committee for a Workers International wrote:
The working people and poor of Iraq can only rely on self-organisation to end war and social misery. An independent, united working class movement is needed to organise self defence of all communities. With a socialist programme, such a movement could find many regional and international working class allies in its struggle to overthrow the rotten Baghdad government, to expel imperialism and to sweep away all the sectarian, reactionary politicians and militias.