Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the Sunni extremist state that’s now emerging in Iraq/Syria

June 12th, 2014

Back when they were trying to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration conjured up an entirely fictitious link between al-Qaeda and the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Well, the Americans are now seeing that fantasy come true. The forces of al-Qaeda are over-running northern Iraq for real. In recent days, the Sunni extremists who have stormed into key cities and towns in northern Iraq have sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing south, and with good reason; the Iraqi population knows full well just how hideous the rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has been across the border, in northern Syria.

More clearly than ever before, the war being waged in Syria against the Assad regime is now the same war that is being fought in Iraq. The national borders are illusory. The best way of seeing how events are unfolding is from this map, borrowed from Juan Cole’s site on Middle East analysis, via the New York Times.

Click for big version.

As the map shows, Iraq is now only a rump (Baghdad/Najaf/Basra) attached to Iran. The humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq is the most pressing need. Yet the twin policies that have brought it about have been (a) the 2003 invasion of Iraq to take out the Saddam Hussein regime and (b) the related attempt to isolate and encircle Iran by taking out its ally, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. These two adventures have both been led and cheered on by the US, the conservative Arab states and Israel. The karmic backlash has been immediate, and extreme. The first consequence of getting rid of Saddam was – ironically – to put in power a Shia-led government that quickly became hugely dependent on the main US target, Iran.

How on earth did that happen? And could things conceivably get worse for Washington? Yes, they could, and have now done so. Successive Shia-led governments in Baghdad have deepened a sectarian divide which to be fair, had initially been exploited by Saddam. The Shia have wreaked vengeance on their former oppressors. They drove the Sunni population as refugees (and as fighters) into the north of the country, and over the border into Syria. Well, now the Sunni fighters are back. Some of them used to be the backbone of the Iraqi army, and they’re likely to meet little opposition from army forces loyal to the al-Maliki government, but the Shia militias will be a different story. In short, the civil war of 2006/07 is on again. So far, the Sunni fighters have already over-run the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh, and they’re headed for Baghdad.

This can only be a temporary stage in the downward spiral of events. As they have conclusively proved in the towns and cities of northern Syria, ISIS can only rule by terror, intimidation and via their own ghastly version of sharia law. In fact, the extreme brutality of ISIS in Syria has been a useful recruiting tool for their Sunni extremist rival, Jabhat al-Nusra. Once the Iraqi population feels the lash of ISIS governance, they will rebel against it. Yet for now, a half a million of them are fleeing to escape it.

One final irony: the current best hope for containing ISIS is the Assad regime. Indeed, one reason why ISIS has turned around and is directing its energies back into Iraq is because it was being turfed out of cities like Aleppo and other towns in northern Syria by the Syrian army still loyal to Assad. For now…the Obama administration has stood by impotently while its anti-Iranian policies in Syria have came unstuck. It is now watching just as futilely as its chickens come home to roost in Iraq as well.

Rain, Rain
What with the weather of late and all, it may be time to bring out this great version of “Didn’t It Rain” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as recorded at a concert held in an railway station outside Manchester, England in 1964. Interesting looking crowd, too. Wonder how many of them went on to form gospel groups of their own.

As a bonus, here is Sister Rosetta doing the definitively soulful version of the great “Precious Memories.” BTW, this version was used as the theme for the Charles Burnett film To Sleep With Anger which is well worth checking out on DVD. Burnett’s masterpiece was Killer of Sheep, screened at the Film Festival four or five years ago. Yet in To Sleep With Anger, Danny Glover is unforgettable as the smiling trickster uncle who comes spinning in out of the Southern past like a whirlwind, to sow discord among a good middle-class black family.


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    1. 20 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the Sunni extremist state that’s now emerging in Iraq/Syria”

    2. By Cam McLeod on Jun 12, 2014 | Reply

      The United States left Iraq prematurely. The ugly truth that the anti-Iraq war faction now must live with is that the occupation was the only means of generating a lasting end to brutality in Mesopotamia. And the notion that the region is not capable of lasting peace and democratic rule is absolutely flawed and there is no justification for allowing totalitarianism to re-emerge.

      Iraq has always had the potential be be a progressive and liberal secular state because the vast majority of Iraqis want such to happen. Saddam was a major barrier to that and was deposed accordingly. Iraq and its people crave external intervention, followed by Western-led reform – because they do not have the means to do it themselves (just the will).

      It is deeply depressing that the progressive left will stand idly by and watch Iraq evaporate and at the same time, blame the problem on earlier Western-led intervention. I can’t begin to imagine the horrors that are being committed in Northern Iraq that are preventable and that do warrant intervention.

      Genocide, waging aggressive unprovoked war, the use of chemical weapons, the murder of children and women, rape, destruction of art and culture, the ongoing proliferation of senseless jihad, violation of state sovereignty and territorial integrity. Committed not by a state but by a gang of criminal thugs that consider themselves beyond the control of any state of force.

    3. By Cam McLeod on Jun 12, 2014 | Reply

      It is a shame that the ‘rebel’ forces do not have embassies where us Anti-war leftists could vent our anger and demonstrate out outrage. I’s sure that if such embassies did exist, there’d be a thirty thousand person-strong march down Lambton Quay co-led by the Green Party and the Aotearoa/Palestine Solidarity movement!

      “Don’t invade Iraq” we could chant.

      “one, two, three four – stop the abhorrent war”

      “five, six, seven, eight – it’s not to late to retaliate”

      [wishful thinking]

    4. By Jason on Jun 12, 2014 | Reply

      Nice missive from a parallel universe there Cam. :S.

      cf. Thomas Friedman sums up the Iraq War

    5. By Joe Blow on Jun 12, 2014 | Reply

      @ Cam

      So there wasn’t abhorrent rape, murder, destruction of art and culture; and senseless jihad when the US invaded and occupied Iraq in the name of finding WMDs?

    6. By dan on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      Great stuff. Just one thing: wish Juan Cole/ NYT would include some geography in their maps. Their map looks like arbitrarily drawn lines. Quick look at google maps sez: Kurdish region = mountains, Iraq = confluence of Tigris and Euphrates, Allawi = Coast, “Sunni state” = desert, desert, desert. This has implications.

    7. By Cam McLeod on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply


      The liberation or Iraq was poorly handled and there were some dreadful results, but overall it was effective in deposing something far worse (i.e. Baathism).

      Regarding WMD, as it happened 2003 turned out to be the best time to launch the liberation – because Saddam did not YET have WMD. If the world had stood idly by for any longer, Iraq would’ve almost certainly progressed into a North Korea-like state – where it would’ve become impossible to intervene without causing unthinkable loss of life and suffering and environmental degradation.

      A question for you Joe – are you really happy to see Iraq go to waste? Or would you prefer it to become a self-governing, stable and democratic state that observes the rule of law?

      If the former, maybe you should actually talk to an Iraqi. If you don’t believe the latter is possible, maybe you should actually talk to an Iraqi.

    8. By fdx on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      I always said and continue to say that it was Saddams country, he ran a tight ship and Iraq was better off with a tyrant leader than what has been imposed. Good one Bush and Bushier!

    9. By Cam McLeod on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      It was NEVER Saddam’s country. Saddam was a relentlessly brutal dictator and a criminal and was despised by the vast majority of the Iraqi people. The primary reason Iraq has not already recovered is because Saddam systematically and deliberately destroyed Iraq’s industry, murdered its dissenting human capital and created discontent between the tribes of Iraq.

      If you consider Saddam to have been the best option for Iraq then you are woefully misguided. If you think brutality and oppression are the only means of keeping Iraq calm then you are an absolute idiot! Perhaps you should talk to some people who have experienced Saddamism. They’ll probably have family members still being exhumed from mass-graves of daughters and wives with chemical scarring that still burns after 25 years!!!

      Iraq is on a strong road to unification and democratic rule.

    10. By Paul on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      @ Cam

      “Iraq is on a strong road to unification and democratic rule”

      On what planet? it certainly isn’t this one. Iraq is on a strong road to a sectarian bloodbath and civil war.

      Great article, ridiculous comments

    11. By Roy on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      Some links for you Cam

    12. By f dx on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      It is in worse shape now than it was before it was amBushed. WMDs anyone?

    13. By Andrew Nichols on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      Cam sounds like an earnest Young Nat like I was in my youth before I realised how much I was lied to in forming my then black and white worldview.

    14. By Cam McLeod on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply


      Quoted from your Independent reference: “Iraq, it seems, is about to descend once more into anarchy and chaos, but it wasn’t like that when I worked there in 1983 and ’84, and again in ’86.”

      Fact: First Persian-Gulf War (1980 – 88) – 25k Iraqi forces killed, 282k civilians killed.

      Fact: Iraq Liberstion (2003 – 2011) – 25k Iraqi forces killed, 103k civilians killed (largely by jihadists but also American bombing).

      Check your facts Roy. Iraq was in turmoil under Saddam when Mr Maume was living there because it was engaged in what became the longest conventional war of the 20th century! NOT to mention the ethnic cleansing that was going on and the ongoing political assassinations.

      Not to mention the casualties Mr Insane was inflicting on his neighbours Iran through the waging of aggressive warfare and through the blatant sponsorship of terrorist groups.


      You still say that Iraq would’ve been better off under Saddam. Bullshit.

      I, unlike you, have remaining hope that Iraq will continue on a road of unification and democratic rule in the absence of fascism and religiously motivated hatred. It is me that shares solidarity with the good people of Iraq and not you.

      It is apologists like yourself who will oppose external intervention on the premise that Iraq deserves self-determination. But the unfortunate truth is that non-intervention and hood-winking will only lessen the ability of that nation to determine it’s path into peace.

      All I can hope for is that any coalition is well managed so that any bloodshed is minimised.

      The thing about Iraq and Mesopotamia at the moment is that it is an easy and obvious target for criminals. Literally criminals who do not respect the most fundamental concepts of humanism.

      What is it Rob, that you propose should be done for the Iraqi people? Nothing?

    15. By Joe Blow on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      @ Cam

      Talk to a Kurdish Iraqi, a Sunni Iraqi or a Shia Iraqi – not to mention a Baathist Iraqi?

      The problem with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that it had absolutely no legitimacy. You can’t assist the development of democracy when your reasons for intervention are bullshit and born out of self interest. (Bush senior should have invaded in 1991).

      Stop trying to put lipstick on a pig… it’s still a pig…

    16. By Joe Blow on Jun 13, 2014 | Reply

      @ fdx and Roy

      Stop trying to put lipstick on Saddam… he’s still a pig…

    17. By Michael on Jun 14, 2014 | Reply

      @ Joe you can’t “assist with the development of “democracy” by announcing a declaration of war( based on a lie) and invading a country (without a democratic vote).

      If you arm and train your created enemies (“al-Qaeda’) to play war its a no brainer that this would happen?

      For when your own people are discontent, (the idea of democracy has turned into the big money placement of foul leaders) what place have you to wage wars just to tell others how to make their people happy?

    18. By f dx on Jun 14, 2014 | Reply

      @ joe and cam.

      Libya was better under Gaddafi too. Plus his body guards were hot!!

    19. By Joe Blow on Jun 15, 2014 | Reply

      @ f dx

      Yip, Gaddafi really needs hot body guards because no amount of lipstick is going to turn him into anything but a pig either…

      You and Cam are as deluded as each other…

    20. By Daz on Jun 18, 2014 | Reply


      This is blow back Cam. How many times has Ron Paul warned of this. The US can not control what happens in the middle east. Every action they take creates more carnage.

      As to the WMD’s in Iraq, you stated they would have definitely had them if they left Saddam in power. That’s an opinion with NO credible evidence whatsoever…

      Because of the US government’s foolish policy of foreign interventionism, the US is faced with two equally stupid choices:

      – either pour in resources to prop up an Iraqi government that is a close ally with Iran


      – throw our support in with al-Qaida in Iraq (as we have done in Syria).

      Of course those weapons that we ship to Iraq to prop up their military, will most definitely end up in the hands of America’s enemies…

      The consequences of Washington’s destruction of the secular government of Saddam Hussein, a government that managed to hold Iraq together without the American-induced violence that has made the country a permanent war zone, has been ongoing years of violence on a level equal to, or in excess of, the violence associated with the US occupation of Iraq.

      Washington is devoid of humanitarian concerns. Hegemony is Washington’s only concern. As in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan,Yemen, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq, Washington brings only death, and death is ongoing in Iraq.

      Even as Iraq falls to al Qaeda , Washington is supplying the al Qaeda forces attacking Syria with heavy weapons. It is demonized Iran that has sent troops to defend the Washington-installed regime in Baghdad! Is it possible for a country to look more foolish than Washington looks?

    21. By Splooge on Jun 19, 2014 | Reply

      So then Cam, Have you booked you holiday in Iraq?
      I hear the markets are booming, you should enjoy yourself, though I hear public transport is murder.

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