Iraq’s sectarian strife: mayhem made in the USA

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The U.S. invasion of Iraq was trumpeted as bringing democracy and security. Instead, it increasingly delivers terror and death, want and sectarian strife — all this in a country that had maintained a strong tradition of secularism and significant national unity among its vast mosaic of peoples. Now that sense of solidarity is being deliberately shattered by U.S. war strategies that instigate civil war.

David Wurmser, one of the war’s architects and Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, wrote in 1997 that Iraq after Hussein would be “ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects and key families.” He urged the U.S. to “expedite” such a cataclysmic collapse.

Yanar Mohammed, the president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, confirms that Wurmser’s policy is being carried out. She writes, “The U.S. occupation has planted the seeds of ethno-sectarian division, preparing Iraq for civil war, and has blessed religious supremacy over and against human and women’s rights.”

Who benefits from civil war in Iraq? Why would the U.S. deliberately foment ethnic antagonisms and civil war? The answer is that a balkanized Iraq, divided into small competing fiefdoms, would contain Arab and Islamist anti-imperialist revolt. Such divisions would also guarantee U.S. corporate control over the most oil-rich regions of the country — the Shi’a-dominated south and the Kurdish-ruled north.

The very structure of the Iraqi government put in place by the occupation emphasizes sectarian and ethnic divisions: Shi’a vs. Sunni Muslims and Kurds vs. Arabs.

Current U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad is practiced in creating such divisions. He helped drive the Carter administration’s backing of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan that put the Taliban in power. This policy aimed to oust the country’s pro-Soviet and progressive government, and did.

Chillingly, there is more and more talk in U.S. ruling circles of partitioning the country — an imperialist strategy that has been around since Britain separated India and Pakistan. That split claimed up to a million lives. Advocates of partitioning Iraq include former ambassador Peter W. Galbraith and conservative Democratic Senator Joseph Biden.

An added “benefit” to the White House of internecine hostilities is that U.S. troops suffer fewer casualties as Iraqis endure more. In the first half of July, with sectarian killings at a peak, there were only 11 U.S. casualties. The only other month with a rate this low was February 2004.

Many Arab writers and leaders believe that the February bombing of the Shi’a Golden Mosque in Samarra was instigated by occupation forces in order to break up the resistance movement. Even Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi blamed the U.S. for the bombing. Solidarity and anti-U.S. demonstrations by Sunnis and Shi’as were held all over Iraq — in Baghdad, Basra, Samarra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah al-Din.

While it is true the bombing has sparked ongoing sectarian retaliation, it has also raised many questions about the U.S. role in encouraging turmoil across Iraq.

U.S. takes “divide and conquer” to a new level. In January 2005, the Pentagon publicly discussed what it called the “Salvador option”: sending Special Forces teams to train Iraqis in assassination and kidnapping.

At the time, John Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to Iraq. During the Vietnam War, Negroponte worked on the CIA’s Phoenix program, which assassinated 40,000 Vietnamese “subversives.” Between 1981 and 1985, he was U.S. ambassador to Honduras. There he approved the use of CIA-trained death squads to torture, kidnap, rape, and murder thousands of Salvadorans who had fled the civil war at home. Negroponte also arranged for U.S.-backed contra guerrillas to use Honduras as their base for attacks on the leftist government of Nicaragua.

John Pace, former human rights chief for the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, has confirmed the existence of Iraqi death squads that he called “uncannily similar” to those in El Salvador.

Widespread reports attribute the killings to agents of the Interior Ministry. This ministry is controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shi’a fundamentalist party that is the largest in the U.S.-installed government. And who pays ministry salaries? The occupation.

The targets of the death squads. Who are the death squads killing? Those who speak out against the occupation.

Educators and scientists have been special targets. Over 80 Baghdad University professors alone have been murdered since the war started, and the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers has documented the killings of 193 academics. Groups of students have been slaughtered as well.

Journalists and doctors are also in the crosshairs. The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, reports that 74 journalists have been killed on duty since the war began. The Iraqi Journalists Association has counted 210 deaths of Iraqi media workers. In contrast, 71 journalists were killed during the 14-year Vietnam War.

The Association of Muslim Scholars says that more than 300 medical professionals have been assassinated and that only 2,000 doctors are left in this country of nearly 27 million.

Women’s organizations have reported similar killings and mass detentions. In the south, where Iranian-backed Shi’a fundamentalist militias hold sway, many professional women have been kidnapped and murdered for continuing to work.

In addition, police units known as Punishment Committees target those who do not abide by Islamic law or the authority of militia leaders. Women have had their heads shaved for not wearing head scarves and been stoned for wearing makeup.

Even the UN has documented hundreds of Sunni deaths at the hands of U.S.-trained government assassins.

Recently, attacks have become more generalized, with victims of the “wrong” religion or ethnicity murdered based on the names on their identity cards or the mosques they attend.

All of these facts speak for themselves: the U.S. is fomenting civil war.

For a secular, democratic Iraq. In an attempt to discredit opponents of the occupation, the Bush administration tries to sell the idea that the resistance is composed of foreign al-Qaeda sympathizers. Yet the U.S. military admits that the vast majority of fighters are Iraqi and that opposition to the occupation is rising among the people of this tortured land.

Though the specter of civil war is present, there are forces within the Iraqi resistance who are organizing across ethnic and religious lines to continue the fight to expel the U.S. The fastest way to end this war is to support the resistance movement of trade unionists, women’s organizations, intellectuals, students and elders who want a secular and democratic Iraq.

People who want peace must demand that the troops be brought home now! Each day of U.S. occupation increases the threat of full-blown civil war and causes more Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers to die for oil.

For an immediate, unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces and all foreign occupiers!

Cancel Iraq’s national debt and provide reparations for Iraqi-controlled reconstruction!

This article is based on a Freedom Socialist Party statement released on the third anniversary of the Iraq occupation, updated and expanded by Megan Cornish.

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