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The Internationalist
June 2014

Get the Hell Out of Afghanistan and Iraq – And Stay Out!

From Ukraine to Middle East:
U.S. Imperialism Strikes Out

Civilians in industrial city of Kramatorsk surround armored personnel carriers of Ukraine Army sent to put down rebellion by Russian-speaking population, April 16. To the consternation of the Kiev junta, troops refused to fire on the people and instead turned weapons and APCs over to rebels.  (Photo: Anatoliy Stepanov/AFP)

Instigating Ethnic/Religious War in the Name of “Democracy”

JUNE 20 – When a right-wing cabal of pro-European Union capitalists, Ukrainian nationalists and fascists seized power in Kiev in a coup d’état at the end of February, their backers in Western capitals hailed this supposed victory for “democracy” and setback for Russia. But the Kremlin’s swift and bloodless takeover of Crimea just days later threw the U.S. and European imperialists for a loop. When pro-Russian rebels rose up in eastern Ukraine a month later, quickly gaining popular support, Washington called on its Ukrainian puppets to crack down. But instead of stifling unrest, the military offensive provoked massive opposition in the east.

Map showing areas where Ukraine army attacked in eastern Ukraine in “Anti-Terrorist Operation” targeting the civilian population.  (Map: RT)

A May 2 massacre of dozens of anti-Kiev demonstrators by fascists and Ukrainian ethnic nationalists in Odessa (see article) sealed the division of the country in blood. On May 11, hundreds of thousands turned out in the Russian-speaking eastern oblasts (districts) of Donetsk, Luhansk and Mariupol to vote in a referendum for home rule. The May 25 presidential election (boycotted in the east) solved nothing, and when the new president, Petro Poroshenko, stepped up the “Anti-Terrorist Operation,” indiscriminately shelling residential areas, it only intensified the overwhelming hatred of the Ukrainian nationalist Kiev regime.

On top of this disastrous situation in Ukraine, with the country coming apart at the seams, suddenly Iraq appears to be disintegrating as well. After eight years of war and occupation, the U.S.-installed government of Nuri Karmal al-Maliki is a sectarian Shiite Muslim regime, systematically persecuting the Sunni Arab minority which used to be dominant under the rule of strongman Saddam Hussein. Since Sunnis are in the majority in the areas to the west and north of the capital, Baghdad, it was only a matter of time until a Sunni uprising occurred. When it did on June 10, the Iraqi army collapsed, with whole units running away.

Now Republicans and Democrats in Washington are at each others’ throats, squabbling over “who lost Iraq,” while policy planners in the White House and Pentagon are tearing their hair out over how, or whether, to intervene. The role of the murderous jihadis (holy warriors) of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spearheading the attack has raised the spectre of a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate in the Sunni areas of the two Middle Eastern countries. Behind the scenes, Washington is seeking the aid of the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran in dumping al-Maliki and preserving the fiction of a unified Iraqi state.

The policies of both parties of U.S. imperialism are jointly responsible for creating the quagmire in which they now find themselves. Ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians were able to coexist in the same state until the NATO imperialists, with Washington in the lead, demanded that Ukraine align itself with the West. This emboldened Russia-hating western Ukrainian nationalists and fascists, while spelling disaster for the eastern industrial regions which are deeply integrated into the Russian economy.

Likewise, in Iraq since before launching the 2003 invasion, the United States was bent on installing a Shiite regime. The neoconservatives in the Bush regime were enamored of Ahmad Chalabi, who although a secular politician was a ferocious Shiite communalist. Liberals argued that since Shiites were a majority, they should rule. Saddam Hussein was a bloody dictator, who executed communists and with his Sunni-dominated officer corps waged war against Shiites, Kurds and Iran. But in order to keep a lid on things he did not promote communal feuding and did include token members of Iraq’s various ethnic and religious groups in his one-man regime.

The reality is that in Washington’s playbook for maintaining world domination – whether at gunpoint or by the dictates of Wall Street bankers – U.S. rulers have pursued a bipartisan policy of promoting national, ethnic and religious sectors which were suppressed or saw themselves as dominated by the previous rulers. Once in power, they turned the tables and put down the former dominant groups. Thus the U.S. imperialist crusade to export “democracy” has led to horrific sectarian slaughter from Iraq to Libya to Syria and Ukraine. Since this was entirely predictable, it cannot be brushed off as “unintended consequences” – the communal bloodletting is intentional.

The arrogant Yankee imperialists sowed the wind, and now they are reaping the whirlwind.

For now, U.S. and European Union rulers are having trouble figuring out how to bomb their way out of their current predicament: their Ukrainian and Iraqi pawns have not proven up to the task. But that is little comfort to the targeted populations. In Ukraine, internationalist communists must fight against the fascists and oppose both Ukrainian and Russian nationalism in the struggle for workers revolution. At the same time, Marxists recognize that the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions have a right to autonomy or self-determination and we defend the anti-Kiev rebellion. Military occupation by the Ukrainian nationalist regime will lead to more massacres.

In Iraq, in fighting for socialist revolution the immediate threat is imperialist attack, particularly now that Obama has announced the dispatch of U.S. troops. Between the Shiite and Sunni communalists, working people have no side: they are all vicious enemies. In Syria, we oppose both the authoritarian Damascus regime and the Islamist opposition. But while giving no political support to any of the feuding bourgeois bands, communists defend those fighting against the U.S. imperialists, who unleashed a horrific bloodbath in conquering and occupying Iraq that far exceeds the crimes of a small-time bourgeois strongman like Saddam Hussein (or the Assads).

Defend the Uprising in Eastern Ukraine

People greet “pro-Russian” activists who commandeered armored vehicle in steel city of Mariupol after failed attack by fascist-led National Guard, May 9.  (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The NATO imperialists have been deeply shaken by events in Ukraine. Their image of the Russian army as a run-down, ill-equipped, undisciplined force was blown apart by its rapid-fire professional takeover of the Crimean peninsula. For all the talk of a Russian “invasion,” there was none – the troops were there already. But beyond the usual recriminations over conflicting assessments by the “intelligence community” and how the U.S. fell for Moscow’s misdirection maneuver along the Russia-Ukraine border, most worrisome to the Pentagon and CIA is that they had no electronic intelligence about the Crimea takeover – none! – until it was well underway.

“U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month. But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn’t intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade.
“America’s vaunted global surveillance is a vital tool for U.S. intelligence services, especially as an early-warning system and as a way to corroborate other evidence. In Crimea, though, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping….
“‘We have gone into crisis-response mode,’ a senior official says.”
–“Without Warning: U.S. Scurries to Shore Up Spying on Russia,” Wall Street Journal, 24 March

We have spelled out in previous articles that as proletarian internationalists we support the self-determination of Crimea’s people, who voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, and how this was facilitated by Russian military action. It is also gratifying to note that for all the National Security Agency spying on millions of ordinary people’s communications – on your e-mails, phone calls and social media – as well as tapping German and Brazilian presidents’ cell phones, Moscow has evidently developed a communications system that the U.S. couldn’t crack, and didn’t even know about! Finally, the American spymasters got their comeuppance.

In early April, as the coup regime in Kiev tried to gain control of eastern and southern Ukraine by naming leading capitalists (“oligarchs”) as governors, revolts broke out in this predominantly Russian-speaking region against the junta of Ukrainian nationalists and fascists. As protesters stormed government buildings in the major eastern cities, a “Donetsk People’s Republic” was proclaimed. This was followed by the takeover of the city of Slovyansk with the support of local officials, and the occupation of police installations in a dozen cities. Western governments and media accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of orchestrating it all.

For several weeks, Kiev authorities tried repeatedly to send the military against Slovyansk, to no avail. Civilians surrounded the troops asking why they were attacking the people – and giving the soldiers food. Sometimes armored columns turned around; sometimes they removed the firing pins for their weapons; on one occasion the troops handed over their guns and armored personnel carriers to the rebel fighters. With an army that had no stomach for firing on the population, the military leaders in Kiev (themselves fascists) decided to organize a National Guard out of the fascist (Svoboda) and Nazi (Pravy Sektor) fighting squads from the Maidan occupation.1

Western imperialists, and the United States in particular, at the very least have encouraged the murderous assault by Kiev on the population of eastern Ukraine. Beyond disputed reports of Western mercenaries, there is the fact that the army offensive came on the heels of the secret visit to Kiev in early April by Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan. A few weeks later U.S. vice president Joe Biden showed up, also advocating a hard line. Note that his son, Hunter Biden, last month joined the board of Ukraine’s largest gas producer, Burisma Holdings, along with Devon Archer, a fundraiser for Secretary of State John Kerry.

And throughout, the point woman for U.S. intervention has been Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, former top aide of Hillary Clinton and ex-vice president Dick Cheney and wife of neo-con “historian” Robert Kagan, who recently wrote an essay titled “In Defense of Empire” (The Atlantic, April 2014) . Nuland, who handed out cake to anti-government protesters in the Maidan (shades of Marie Antoinette) and met with fascist leaders, handpicked “Yats” (Arseniy Yatsenuk) as the junta’s “prime minister” (in her “fuck the EU” leaked phone call). Her influence is so pervasive in Kiev these days that some now refer to Ukraine as “Nulandia,” or alternatively the “Khaganate of Nulands.”

Following the May 25 election, oligarch-president Petrochenko vowed to finish off the eastern rebellion in “hours.” But giving the locals “a whiff of grapeshot” hasn’t exactly worked. Ukrainian forces have suffered setbacks at the hands of the rebels, most recently when a troop and ammunition transport plane was shot down, killing all 49 aboard. Although Kiev’s military push is billed as an “Anti-Terrorist Operation,” in fact its main purpose has been to terrorize the local population. For weeks the army has been parked outside Sovyansk, cutting off water, electricity and gas and shelling residential buildings, a kindergarten and a hospital.

Leader of paramilitary “Donbass Battalion” (center) made up of mercenaries, fascists and other former members of the Maidan “hundreds,” here shown at  Dnipropetrovsk children's camp given to it for training by its sponsor, the oligarch Oleh Kolomoisky, appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk by the Kiev junta.  (Photo: Christopher Miller/Kiev Post)

In addition, leading oligarchs have their own private armies led by fascists, ex-Maidan fighters and mercenaries. One such unit is the Donbass Battalion based in Dnipropetrovsk, which is reportedly “comprised of ex-military men with experience operating in hot spots around the world and civilian volunteers” (Kyiv Post, 14 May). Although the leader of the black-uniformed paramilitaries in balaclavas (ski masks) claimed disingenuously that they were “crowd-funded” from a Facebook page on the Internet, the battalion is sponsored by Oleh Kolomoisky, the appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk and one of the richest men in Ukraine.

Another politician, right-wing presidential candidate Oleh Liashko, formed a unit named after himself which is a veritable death squad, killing unarmed rebels “gangland style” in their offices (Kyiv Post, 23 May). An article in the London Guardian (15 May) recounted how the National Guard and paramilitaries drove into the steel city of Mariupol to attack “separatists” in police headquarters and on the way out of town fired on civilians, leaving at least eight dead. Another outfit, the Dnipro Battalion, also sponsored by Kolomoisky, attacked voters lines during the May 11 home-rule referendum in the city of Krasnoarmeisk:

“The volley of bullets did nothing to placate the crowd, and the men kept shooting, a look of panic on their faces. The incident ended with two civilians dead….”
Member of Donbass battalion as it took over hamlet of Velyka Novosilka, terrorizing residents. (Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/AP)

The Donbass Battalion leader justified shooting pro-Russian civilians, calling them “pigs.” But when the squad aided a pro-Kiev ex-cop to take over the rural hamlet of Velyka Novosilka in Donetsk oblast, a reporter noted that the masked gunmen had alarmed the residents and one could see “outright loathing in their faces” for the new ruler. A couple of days later, when the battalion was chewed up in a firefight with rebels in Korlovka, the macho commander “posted increasingly desperate messages to his Facebook page…. It was a disastrous and bloody day for the Donbass Battalion in their first showing in real combat” (New Yorker, 23 May).

So there is no doubt that ultra-rightist and fascist Ukrainian ethnic nationalists are at the forefront of the assault on the eastern region. On the other hand, Western media (and some fake leftists) have claimed that the “separatist” revolt is just a small number of Russian fascists and nationalists, many of them infiltrated from Russia itself. It is true that several of the leaders are members of reactionary Russian nationalist groups, and both the “prime minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the military leader at Slovyansk are Russian. But the vast majority of the fighters are local residents outraged by the murderous Kiev regime.

Mass support for the rebellion is shown by several things. First, the fact that even Ukrainian army units brought in from the west have made no headway in two months of clashes in which civilians have repeatedly confronted the troops. Second, even anti-Russian Western journalists who have spent time with the insurgents confirm this. An article in the New York Times (4 May) co-authored by its “weapons expert,” C.J. Chivers, who is about as close as you can get to being an asset of the U.S. military and still maintain journalistic cover, after a week with a unit of the People’s Republic’s militia found no Russian armament and reported:

“The rebels of the 12th Company appear to be Ukrainians but, like many in the region, have deep ties to and affinity for Russia. They are veterans of the Soviet, Ukrainian or Russian Armies, and some have families on the other side of the border. Theirs is a tangled mix of identities and loyalties.”

The drive to “untangle” the mixed and interpenetrated “identities and loyalties” that to a considerable degree are a legacy of the multinational foundations of the former USSR is also known as ethnic cleansing and nationalist fratricide, along the lines of what was “accomplished” by the Western-backed nationalist dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

Most of all there was the turnout for the May 11 referendum. Ukraine and Western officials insist on labeling the eastern rebels “separatists,” then cite opinion polls showing most people in the east don’t want to join Russia. Yet their actual demand has been for “самостоятельность” (samostoyatel’nost) or “self-rule,” which like the call for “home rule is an elastic term that means autonomy but could be a stepping stone to separation or independence. The indisputable fact is that the large majority of the population of eastern Ukraine is demanding at the very minimum autonomy from Kiev.

Massive turnout in May 11 vote for autonomy for eastern Ukraine. Over 2 million voted for “self-rule.” Kiev junta and imperialist media reported “chaos” and suppressed photos of huge numbers of voters in Donetsk and Lugansk regions.  (Photo: AP)

On the eve of the vote the New York Times (9 May) opined that “a chaotic voting process might discredit insurgent leaders” but “a polling station or two with a line of voters could provide the backdrop needed to make the vote appear legitimate on television.” So of course its article (12 May) on the referendum was titled “Ukraine Vote on Separation Held in Chaos” – the “chaos” being attacks by pro-Kiev fascist bands – and it carefully avoided any pictures of long lines of voters. Yet 2.3 million reportedly voted (a turnout of 70%) with 89-96% favoring self-rule and scores of photos showed huge throngs of voters in every major city in the region.

Several other things indicate that the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is not just a creation of the Kremlin, to be turned on or off like a water faucet. For one, the April 17 statement agreed to by Russia stipulating that “all illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners” and calling on rebels to surrender weapons was categorically rejected by the People’s Republic leaders. Putin’s call to postpone the May 11 self-rule referendum was likewise rejected by the insurgents. And a good thing, too, since the turnout demonstrated conclusively the mass support in the east for autonomy/self-rule.

Most recently, rebels dismissed out of hand a “ceasefire” announced by Porochenko on June 18 and agreed to by Putin, on the grounds that they didn’t trust the Kiev authorities for a second. Sure enough, the next day the Ukrainian army demanded that defenders of the eastern town of Krasny Liman surrender, and a few hours later launched a heavy artillery barrage. A Porochenko aide argued, “As they didn’t fulfill the conditions of the ultimatum, the decision was made to destroy them.” Putin surely wants to use the insurgents as pawns in maneuvering for influence in Kiev, but the inhabitants of eastern Ukraine have to live with the consequences.

Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International at May 26 protest against U.S. war drive, Times Square, New York. (Internationalist photo)

While defending the right to self-determination for eastern and southern Ukraine and calling for military defense of the anti-Kiev uprising, Trotskyists would not make a political bloc with the rebel leadership, which whatever the strength of the right-wing Russian nationalists, is bourgeois politically. As one militia leader told the New York Times (5 June), “We’re not trying to make a socialist revolution here.” But that is precisely what any class-conscious worker and Marxist must be fighting for. And in fact many rebels are workers whose interests are counterposed to those of the “oligarchs.” The key is to fight for class political independence.

Earlier, we have written:

“In the face of the squads of fascist thugs who have been dispatched from Maidan to Odessa, and have popped up in eastern Ukraine, it is necessary to form anti-fascist workers militias rooted in the factories, mines and unions. The militias that have appeared in places like Luhansk and elsewhere do not have a class character, which is vital to mobilizing workers’ power and ensuring internationalist defense of all ethnic, religious and national groups.”
–“Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!” (12 March)

While individual fighters may be workers, the working class as an organized force has only been marginally present in the uprising in eastern Ukraine – but that could be changing. The Western press made much of the appearance of squads of steel workers and miners on the streets of Mariupol in opposition to the pro-Russian “separatists” after the May 11 referendum. All of a sudden the hired pens of capital were in favor of workers mobilization? Not hardly. In fact, this was the private army of oligarch Rimat Akhmetov, who employs 285,000 people in his steel and coal empire, and many of the “workers” were actually supervisors.

At a lunchtime “ministrike” called by Akhmetov, workers sat around listening to the factory director complaining about falling production. According to a report in the London Guardian (20 May), “Most of them, when questioned, said they actually supported the Donetsk People’s Republic, though they also expressed worry that the current situation could impact jobs and regional stability.” Whatever their opinion about joining Russia, said the head of the factory union, “everyone is against the current Kiev government.” On April 20, coal miners in Luhansk struck against the Akhmetov-owned company, refusing a 20% pay cut to pay to restore Kiev.

1,000 miners turned out in Donetsk on May 28 to march under red-blue-black flag of Donetsk People's Republic in protest against Ukraine army invasion. Sign says “Fascism will not pass” and shows worker smashing Nazi swastika in blue-and-yellow Ukraine national colors.   (Photo: Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

More recently, on May 28 some 1,000 miners of the Independent Union of Donbass Miners marched in Donetsk under the banner of the Donetsk People’s Republic in a “march for peace” opposing the Kiev military offensive against the region. They carried signs saying, “Fascism will not pass” showing a worker smashing a swastika in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine. Again on June 19, the miners struck and marched in Donetsk demanding withdrawal of the Ukrainian troops from the Donbas (Donetsk Basin). But while opposed to the Kiev regime, the miners have not put forward a revolutionary working-class perspective, let alone called for expropriating the oligarchs such as Akhmetov.2

There is broad awareness in eastern Ukraine that the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union was a body blow to the working people, whose standard of living plummeted. Some of the “pro-Soviet” sentiment that has been reported in the region as in Crimea is no doubt Russian nationalist yearning for status as a great power. But by no means all. In fact, there are numerous mixed marriages, local residents with relatives in Russia, and quite a few Russian speakers in the region who are non-Russian ethnically as they were drawn here from other Soviet republics by the high wages in the mines and steelworks.

The fight against the murderous Ukrainian nationalist Kiev regime and its fascist shock troops is thoroughly justified and must be defended by internationalist communists. Support to the “anti-terrorist” onslaught is counterrevolutionary and should be smashed. But there can be no support to Putin and the Russian nationalists, who will soon enough sacrifice the Donbas workers. Class-conscious workers must fight above all to mobilize the Ukrainian proletariat, east and west, to seize the plants of all the oligarchs, who looted the remains of the USSR, and to impose workers control in the fight for international socialist revolution.

To lead that fight it is necessary to forge an authentically communist, Bolshevik and Leninist, Trotskyist vanguard party of the working class.

The Dismembering of Iraq

Iraq coming apart along sectarian religious lines. (Left) Fighters of Sunni jihadi Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marcha in Raqqa, January 2014. (Right) Members of Shiite Mahdi army march in Baghdad, 21 June 2014.  (Photos: ISIS; Tyler Hicks/New York Times)

Washington was stunned as Sunni insurgents led by the jihadists of the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” seized Mosul in the north in a matter of hours. Barack Obama thought he had put the Iraq war behind him. Speaking at the West Point military academy on May 28, the U.S. president declared that “we have removed our troops from Iraq, we are winding down our war in Afghanistan,” the Al Qaeda leadership is “decimated,” and on Syria he had decided that the U.S. “should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war.” Yet three weeks later Obama was sending hundreds of U.S. troops into a sectarian civil war in Iraq.

Even though the sudden collapse of the Maliki puppet government’s control in northern Iraq blindsided the Iraqi premier and his imperialist puppet masters, it was the outcome of policies going back to the beginning of the U.S. occupation, and before. For all the laments in Washington about “failed states,” “age-old religious hatreds” and similar colonialist claptrap, this latest war in Iraq is “made in the U.S.A.” The Yankee imperialists are determined to keep their hand on the Middle East oil tap, while following the watchword of the Roman Empire, “divide et impera” (divide and rule).

The elements that came together to produce the rout of the Iraqi army on June 10 have been evident for some time. ISIS has been active along the Syrian border since being pushed out of central Iraq by the U.S. military’s “surge” of 2007-08. Since 2012 it has become the strongest force in the Islamist insurgency against the Assad government in Damascus. But how could a force numbering at most a few thousand fighters defeat Iraqi military forces of 130,000? Answer: it didn’t. First of all, the army wasn’t defeated in battle – the soldiers fled, possibly on orders. Second, it wasn’t just ISIS but several remnants of the Baathist military machine.

Among those leftovers are the 1920 Revolution Brigade, the Army of Muhammad and the Men of the Naqshbandiya, linked to the Naqshbandi Sufi Muslim sect and led by a former top lieutenant of Saddam. These groups waged guerrilla resistance against the U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi puppet army in the Sunni areas. They reflect a mixture of secular nationalist and religious outlooks, though unlike the ISIS they are not Salafist Islamists. But even in coalition they couldn’t occupy Mosul and put the army to flight. That occurred because the Sunni Arab population was fed up with the Shiite government, and Sunni components of the army deserted in mass.

U.S. 2003 occupation from the outset promoted Shiite and Kurdish opposition to the predominantly Sunni nationalist Baath regime. The result: fragmentation of the country along ethnic and religious lines.

As the insurgents raced south, there were panicked reports that Baghdad could fall. At the chief ayatollah’s call, thousands enrolled in Shiite militias. In fact, the rebels would be foolish to try to take the Iraqi capital with its large Shiite majority. Instead, Iraq is being dismembered, with a Kurdish quasi-state in the northeast, a Sunni quasi-state in formation in the northwest, and a Shiite rump state in the center and south. Accompanying this is an orgy of communal slaughter. ISIS started off, claiming to have executed 1,700 captured Shiite soldiers. This was followed by reports of police executing 44 Sunni prisoners. Soon there will be more victims on both sides.

The Maliki government has set the stage for this by systematically excluding Sunnis from government posts, high and low; by making sure Sunni parties could never win a vote in parliament; and by arresting thousands of Sunnis and keeping them in jail for years on trumped-up “terrorism”  charges. Also, Shiite militias drove tens of thousands of Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. Now the U.S. wants to do a back-door deal with Iran to oust Maliki in favor of a more “inclusive” government, but by this point it’s dubious that Sunnis would trust any Shiite-dominated regime.

Moreover, if the end of Iraq is near, it’s not solely due to the policies of one puppet prime minister. As liberal academic Juan Cole noted:

“The US overthrew Saddam Hussein of the Baath Party in 2003 in alliance with Shiite groups primarily. Those Shiite groups wanted revenge on the disproportionately Sunni Baath Party. They carried out a program of ‘de-Baathification,’ in which they fired tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs from their government jobs as bureaucrats and even teachers. They hired Shiite clients instead.”
–“ Who Are Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?” Informed Comment (18 June)

A few years later, in 2006-07, “When Gen. Petraeus conducted his troop escalation (‘surge’), he disarmed the Sunni militias first, inadvertently leaving Sunnis in the capital vulnerable to threats and night raids.” The fall of Mosul was a personal humiliation for Petraeus, the relentlessly self-promoting future CIA director who made the city the model of his counterinsurgency strategy. For all the media ballyhoo, it turns out that not so many “hearts and minds” were won after all.

“Democracy through ethnic cleansing”: U.S. Imperialist and Zionist geostrategists draw imaginary Middle East map.

Various policy wonks are proclaiming the end of the Sykes-Picot Treaty which carved up the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in World War I. The various pieces were turned into British and French colonies (disguised as League of Nations “mandates”) while ensuring that the Kurds, divided among seven countries, had no state at all. It was Leon Trotsky as commissar of foreign affairs of Soviet Russia who in early 1918 made public this secret imperialist treaty, carrying out the Bolsheviks’ pledge to end secret diplomacy. But although the result of the infamous treaty was a handful of artificial countries, state boundaries have changed little over the last century.

Now the told-you-so pundits are republishing maps they drew up following the U.S. invasion of Iraq showing a reordering of the region along ethnic/religious lines. They are claiming that more homogeneous states would lessen hostilities. In fact what has happened as a result of the latest round of imperialist intervention is the opposite: a massive escalation of inter-communal and sectarian slaughter, as minority populations are driven out everywhere. The multi-ethnic states resulting from artificial boundaries are being homogenized with a vengeance, with the U.S. pushing the process in the name of “democracy.”

In Iraq it was the Republican government of George Bush II that unleashed the butchery by its alliance with the Shiites. But the neo-cons just took over the scheme from Democrat Bill Clinton, who first used it in Central Africa and the Balkans. In Rwanda, the Clintonites backed the minority Tutsi, historically the dominant caste, against the ruling majority Hutu. Led by a U.S.-trained military officer, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi exile army invaded the country setting off a horrendous slaughter by both sides, although the Hutu genocidalists killed many more. Now Rwanda is a U.S. neocolony, and English has replaced French as the second official language.

In the Balkans, Clinton set about ripping apart Yugoslavia, formerly a multi-ethnic, bureaucratically deformed workers state, by encouraging the Croatian and Bosnian Muslim leaders to throw out the Serbs. The result was all-sided communal massacres, although the imperialist “human rights” warmongers (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc.) reported – and misreported – only Serb atrocities. This set the stage for the U.S. to intervene. Like Obama, Clinton was wary of putting “boots on the ground” so in 1995 and again in 1999 he unleashed NATO terror bombing of Serb areas of the ethnically mixed republics.

General David Petraeus (left) and his Iraqi Shiite death squads (right, in 2005) contributed mightily to the sectarian division of Iraq.   (Photos: National Defense University; Gilles Perress/Magnum)

The bloody U.S. policy of “democracy through ethnic cleansing” has taken such a heavy toll on southeastern Europe and the Middle East because of the existence of all kinds of ethnic and religious enclaves and mixed populations, which was the heritage of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sway extended over such a broad area, from North Africa and southern Arabia to the borders of Persia and Russia and “the gates of Vienna” in the West, that the Sultans didn’t much care about the religious affiliation or ethnic identity of their subjects so long as they paid taxes and tribute and recognized the suzerainty of Constantinople (Istanbul).

So in the Balkans, Christian Serbs and Croatians and Bosnian Muslims lived side-by-side speaking essentially the same language (although with different alphabets) while in the Levant along with a Sunni Arab Muslim majority there were enclaves of Druzes, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Greek Catholics, Maronite Christians, Assyrians, and dozens of other minorities. Such intermixing existed in medieval Western Europe, but capitalism is organized on national lines. So the centralizing monarchies and the bourgeois republics achieved national “unity” by suppressing and sometimes wiping out minorities, such as Occitan speakers, Huguenots, etc.

In the Middle East and North Africa, following World War II bourgeois regimes that presided over countries with ethnically and religiously mixed populations often did so by erecting semi-secular dictatorships that while victimizing minorities, and sometimes majorities, suppressed tendencies toward communal feuding. When those brutal regimes are brought down, whether by imperialist invasion or through popular uprisings in the so-called “Arab Spring,” the result is not a flowering of “democracy” but frequently mass murder. As Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution explained, capitalism can no longer produce a “democratic revolution.”

Karl Marx noted of the birth pangs of capitalism, the period of primitive accumulation, of colonial conquest, of the extirpation and enslavement of native populations, that “capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” If that was the case of the “rosy dawn of capitalist production,” today in this era of putrifying capitalism as the U.S. seeks to impose a “new world order,” feeding off the remains of former degenerated/deformed workers states and looting the resources of the semi-colonial countries in order to ensure its imperial hegemony, the process is just as bloody.

While recognizing the right of national self-determination, Trotskyists insist that the only equitable solution to the myriad national, ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts of the region is through a struggle for socialist revolution. In the case of a large oppressed nation like the Kurds, we call for a united socialist Kurdistan. With interpenetrated peoples, such as the Hebrew-speaking and Palestinian Arab population, we fight for an Arab/Hebrew workers republic. And with all mutually dependent on vital resources such as water and energy, the key is to build a socialist federation of the Middle East and to extend the revolution to the imperialist centers.

From Ukraine to Iraq, the League for the Fourth International upholds the heritage of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 which was able to unite the oppressed peoples of the tsarist empire and served as a beacon to fighters for the liberation of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Yet a parasitic, nationalist bureaucracy under Stalin and his heirs sacrificed that heritage on the altar of the anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country.” As the counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union proved, and struggles from Kiev and Donetsk to Mosul and Baghdad show, the urgent need is to return to the path of Lenin and Trotsky. ■

  1. 1. See “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!” (12 March) on page 13 of this issue.
  2. 2. There is a second miners union, the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine (NGPU), which supports the Kiev regime. This is the same union that in the waning days of the Soviet Union carried out strikes in support of Boris Yeltsin, the leader of the counterrevolution. Comrades of the then-revolutionary International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) were at the October 1990 miners congress where a minority of pro-capitalist leaders staged a coup to found the NGP. The Trotskyists argued with delegates against the program of embracing counterrevolution in opposition to the AFL-CIO which in the person of the secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America was pushing for capitalist restoration (see “Soviet Miners Strike Amid Perestroika Turmoil,” Workers Vanguard No. 522, 15 March 1991). Then and now, the NGPU leaders are enemies of Donbas miners!