"Taliban mini-states" in Iraq

Submitted by Anon on 4 June, 2006 - 11:18

by Martin Thomas

Now, so say the US and British governments, the USA can hand over to Iraqi troops in Najaf, and the British can step back in Maysan province, in Iraq’s south.

Except that the USA announced that it had handed over in Najaf as long ago as August 2005, and the British have not had much choice about stepping back in Maysan since the provincial governor — a supporter of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Shia ultra-Islamists — broke off cooperation in February 2006.

The US “handover” in Najaf did not mean that US troops kept out of the city, but only that they now intervened (fairly frequently) in support of Iraqi government troops (who do not have the logistics or technology to operate on their own, without US backup or guidance, in any serious conflict).

Just as historians of centuries past often find the clearest documentary proof of the continuation of social practices in repeated (thus, obviously, ineffectual) legislation against those practices, so today it is strong evidence of the continued deterioration in Iraq that the same, or the same sort, of apparent evidence of progress is repeatedly cited by US, British, and Iraqi governments.

On 22 May a new Iraqi government, under Nuri al-Maliki, finally took office in Baghdad, albeit with the defence and interior ministries still vacant.

Visibly the new government comes more out of five months of haggling — under not-at-all hidden pressure from the USA to make the Shia Islamists include Sunni Arab ministers and seek “neutral” figures for the interior, defence, and oil ministries — than out of the elections on which it is nominally based, in December 2005.

As the new government was presented to the assembly, assembly members from both the soft Sunni-Islamist Iraq Accord Front and from the Virtue Party (part of the Shia-Islamist United Iraqi Alliance, “Sadrist” but distinct from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army) walked out in protest. That spells trouble. The Sunni-Islamist members which are in the new government have limited credibility even with the most cooperative Sunni Arab elements; and new oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a non-party Shia Islamist, faces conflict with the Virtue Party (which holds the governorship of Basra) and with the Kurds in his efforts to gain Baghdad control over Iraq’s crucial oil revenues.

Already the Virtue Party has threatened to engineer a go-slow in the southern oil industry to halt exports if it does not win the concessions it wants.

The new government, so far, has not even as much popular credibility and real effectiveness as the previous elected government of Ibrahim Jaafari (formed after the January 2005 elections) or indeed the interim coalition administration of 2004-5 under Iyad Allawi (which, like al-Maliki’s new team, but unlike the Jaafari regime, included people from the softer Sunni-Islamist spectrum, around the Iraq Islamic Party, Iraqi offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Shia Islamists and Kurds).

The simmering Shia-Sunni civil war continues to increase, and the problems of high unemployment and lack of reliable electricity or water supplies remain.

According to Anthony Cordesman, a former senior US Defense Department official now working for a Washington think-tank (Financial Times, 2 May): “The US up to March 2006 had already programmed $28.9 billion in aid for Iraq: $17.6 billion (62 per cent) went for economic and political reconstruction assistance and $10.9 billion (38 per cent) for Iraqi security. That amount was equivalent to total aid provided to Germany in 1946-52 — and almost double that provided to Japan — even measured in today’s terms. But much of this was wasted... Even if victory is realistically defined as ‘muddling through’ over half a decade more — the ‘2010 solution’ — the odds are, at best, even”.

US academic Juan Cole explains further:

“The Bush administration reconstruction project in Iraq has largely failed. In part, it was foiled by sophisticated guerrilla sabotage, so that billions have had to be diverted from actual reconstruction to security. And nor has security been achieved. In part, it was foiled by a degree of corruption, cupidity, embezzlement, lawlessness and fraud that is unparalleled in US history since the Gilded Age. And in part is has been foiled by a US insistence on making most often unqualified US corporations the immediate recipient and major beneficiary of funds...”

The Beirut-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat reports that the sort of ultra-Islamist local rule previously typical of Fallujah, Ramadi, and some Sadrist or SCIRI strongholds is spreading across Baghdad.

“The Salafi [ultra-Sunni] Jihadis have established a Taliban-like mini-state in West Baghdad, paralleled by a Shiite militia-ruled region of East Baghdad. The Sunni Arab extremists assassinate young men who walk around clean-shaven, and they pass around leaflets declaring that they will enforce Islamic canon law (sharia) in that neighborhood. They have established the Emirate of Baghdad in Dora and Amiriyah districts... Radical Sunnis fleeing other areas of the Sunni Arab heartland have come to those districts of Baghdad in large numbers.

“An eyewitness told al-Hayat that in one of these Salafi-Jihadi neighborhoods, an unveiled girl was kidnapped on the street, then later returned to her home with her head shaven. A broadsheet then circulating saying that it was necessary to deal with unveiled girls in this way on the first offense, but later on they should be killed. Men have also been shot down for being clean-shaven or wearing the wrong clothing”.

Solidarity with the Iraqi workers’ and women’s movements — against both the US/UK occupation and the sectarian militias!

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