A month after Iraq’s elections, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strengthened their grip on several cities in Iraq. While imperialist powers could use ISIS as an excuse to intervene, it is crucial to not dismiss the destruction caused by the group that has committed what appears to be war crimes.
The sectarian myth
While several commentators, writers and Western politicians are referring to the current conflicts in Iraq as a “civil war,” sectarianism is a myth caused and fuelled by imperialist powers to distract from imperialism. The Iraq War killed a million people, and the West tried to justify its occupation by pointing to sectarianism that the occupation itselft was trying to incite--by imposing a Parliament along ethnic lines, and arming sectarian death squads.
But although ISIS is a Sunni militant group, its fundamentalist members kill Sunnis, Shias, Christians and other groups with no discrimination. The cities they have controlled are areas with Sunni majority. If the battle is between Shias and Sunnis, ISIS would not have killed Sunnis, looted their shops, burnt their homes and raped women. A well-known moderate Sunni cleric with high followers, Ahmed AlKubaysi, issued a verdict obliging people to resist ISIS. Another Sunni cleric Khalid Al-Mulla called on Iraqis from other cities and religious backgrounds to help people in resisting and fighting ISIS. “Sunnis (in conflict zones) are held captives by ISIS,” said Khalid Al-Mulla. Similar statements were issued by Shia clerics who following the attacks of ISIS. Following those statements, it is clear that clerics from different sects and religious groups formed a united front against extremism.
On the other hand, inciting sectarianism has been coming from different countries in the region, mainly Western-backed Saudi Arabia. For instance a pro Saudi government cleric and professor at King Saud University, Ibrahim Al Fares, labeled people who support the Iraqi army as “infidels.” He also urged fighters to demolish shrines. A fundamentalist Saudi television station, Al-Wesal, urged ISIS fighters to commit crimes and kill people and hide the photos and videos in order to avoid exposure by other media outlets.
Resistance versus ISIS
Kidnappings, killings and rape incidents have become the norm in places where ISIS members exist in Iraq. The conflicts have claimed lives of thousands. There have been brutal individual stories shared by eyewitnesses. For instance, Imams of several Sunni mosques in Mosul were killed because they refused to pay allegiance to ISIS leaders. Four women reportedly committed suicide after being raped by ISIS fighters. Eyewitness reports say that some women in Mosul have been forced to marry foreign fighters.
Legitimate opposition to the government should not be confused with ISIS fighters. There have been several pro-democracy, anti-austerity and anti-poverty protests that have nothing to do with ISIS and its agenda. Choosing to side with ISIS militants and referring to their allies as “resistance” will counter the real progressive revolutionary movements and the working class in Iraq and the region in general.
ISIS: regional threat
ISIS fighters do not only cause a threat to Iraq and Syria, but they aspire to establish their caliphate ruling other neighbouring countries too. For instance, pro ISIS men marched in Jordan threatening the diversity of the secular Jordanian society with their hateful chants. On the other hand, foreign fighters appeared on camera burning their passports and claiming that they would spread their radicalism in the region. Those threats should be taken seriously.
Begging for foreign imperialist intervention is not the solution to the problem. Decades of war, sanctions, another war and occupation have brought nothing but death and destruction to Iraq. However, being silent towards the crimes of the ISIS means ignoring the struggles of people in Iraq. Solidarity with people in Iraq means standing with the working class against ISIS in addition to saying no to war and intervention.