[Marxism] Tariq Ali: Iraq's destiny still rests between God, blood and oil

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 16 15:56:05 MST 2006

Guardian, Monday January 16, 2006
Iraq's destiny still rests between God, blood and oil
Had the Shia parties decided to give up their own struggles to resist the 
occupation, it would have been over long ago

Tariq Ali

By year three of Iraq's occupation, for most western citizens the fact that 
they live in a world subjugated by lies, half-truths and suppressed facts 
has become part of everyday life. In Iraq, a preoccupation for many of the 
country's citizens, including some who initially supported the war, is 
whether their country will survive or whether the result of western 
recolonisation will soon be disintegration. A Hobbesian landscape today 
could lead to a tripartite division tomorrow.

In the last half of the preceding century, the great Iraqi poet, Muhammad 
Mahdi al-Jawahiri, himself the son of a Shia cleric and born in the holy 
city of Najaf, could express his detachment from religious sectarianism and 
affirm his faith in an Iraqi nationalism: ana al-Iraqu, lisani qalbuhu, wa 
dami furatuhu, wa kiyani minhu ashtaru (I am Iraq, her heart is my tongue, 
my blood her Euphrates, my very being from her branches formed). It seems a 
very long time ago.

What lies ahead? The US occupation is heavily dependent on the de facto 
support of the Shia political parties, especially Sciri (the Supreme 
Council for the Revolution in Iraq), Tehran's instrument in Iraq. Ayatollah 
Sistani, who, soon after the fall of Baghdad, told Iraqis of every hue that 
he favoured an independent and united Iraq, may have meant it at the time, 
but events have moved on. When Sistani prevented Shia groups from waging 
their own struggle and persuaded Moqtada al-Sadr to cease resistance, he 
also dented the unity of the country. A unified resistance fighting on two 
fronts could have led to a unified government later. Unsurprisingly, Thomas 
Friedman, of the New York Times, has demanded that Sistani be awarded the 
Nobel peace prize.

Had the Shia parties decided to resist the occupation, it would have been 
over a long time ago, if indeed it had taken place at all. The clerics in 
power in Iran made clear to Washington that they would not oppose the 
overthrow of the Taliban or of Saddam Hussein. They did so for their own 
motives and in their own interests, but theirs was a dangerous game. Had 
the Ba'athists and military nationalists not resisted, instead denying Bush 
and Blair the glory of which they dreamed and creating a crisis of 
confidence in Washington and London, regime change in Tehran might have 
remained on the agenda, despite Iranian support for the US.

Ironically enough, it is the resistance in Iraq that has made any such 
adventure impossible in the medium term. The US army high command, 
overstretched in Iraq, is seriously divided on the war and there is little 
doubt that some senior figures in the Pentagon favour a rapid withdrawal 
for purely military reasons. Could the empire, stalemated militarily, pull 
off a political triumph? A break-up of Iraq, which besides its cousin Syria 
was the only state resisting US domination, would mean a victory of sorts. 
There should be no doubt on this score.

The Iraqi group that has benefited the most from the occupation is the 
Kurdish tribal leadership. The Kurds received a great deal of funding for 
12 years prior to the war, and US intelligence agencies utilised the region 
as a base to penetrate the rest of the country. The Kurds dominate the 
puppet army and police; they have determined the ultra-federal character of 
the constitution and make no secret of the fact that they favour an ethnic 
cleansing of Arabs and other non-Kurds in Kirkuk, including those born in 
the city. Oppressed minorities in one epoch can rapidly become oppressors 
in another as Israel continues to demonstrate to the world. The Kurdish 
leaders, with Kirkuk in their bag, are happy to become a western protectorate.

If the clerically enforced unity of the Shia groups collapses, and it could 
if denied the luxury of American troops and air support, a new deal might 
be possible to prevent the Balkanisation of Iraq. The same could happen if 
Tehran decides that a genuinely independent Iraq is in the best interests 
of the region, but rational calculation has not always been the mullahs' 
strongest suite. A happy ending is not in sight.

And the oil? The model being prepared at the moment will cost Iraq billions 
in lost revenues while global corporations reap the harvest. The contracts 
being prepared would provide them with returns of 42% to 162% in an 
industry where the minimum returns are in the region of 12%. While the oil 
will remain the legal property of the state, the production-sharing 
agreements (PSAs) will give the concessions to private companies. This too 
would be seen as a victory by Halliburton and its political patrons. As 
long as an Iraqi government backs the PSAs, the US and Britain could 
withdraw their troops and claim a victory. The triumph of freedom would be 
reflected in the oil agreement. After all, little else counts. But could 
such a deal be maintained indefinitely without the presence of imperial 
troops? Unlikely. Oil has, in the past, revitalised nationalist movements 
and transformed politics in Iran and Iraq. Times are different today, but 
the basic problems remain, and the struggle for the oil could be a 
protracted one.

· Tariq Ali's latest book is Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, Terror, London

tariq.ali3 at btinternet.com

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