Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Shi'ite militias'

There is an interesting report in today's Observer about the convergence of former enemies in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq.  However, there is one aspect of it of which I am dubious.    The problem is roughly as follows:

1) The report claims that previously anti-US Shi’ite militias are now tacitly siding with the US against ISIS.  This is to be expected.  When 'Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers' or whatever the fuck it called itself was despoiling the anti-occupation fight, it was resistance groups that undertook efforts to police them.  ISIS is a 

2) It says nothing to identify these militias, other than that they were directed by Qassem Suleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards: 

"Suleimani was well-known to the US officials who arrived in Baghdad's green zone earlier in the week for meetings with Maliki. For more than five years, between 2005 and 2011, he had been their chief antagonist in Iraq, with militias he directed responsible, according to Washington, for more than a quarter of all US battle casualties. This time though, the foes paid each other no heed."

3) Iran’s closest allies in Iraq, with direct ties to the Revolutionary Guards and the state in Tehran, were the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).  It was originally formed in Tehran in 1982, considering its mission to be the export of the Islamic Revolution.  Its leaders spoke Farsi, had families in Tehran, and was generally firmly ensconced in the Iranian political class.   They, and particularly their Badr Corps militias, were not fighting the US but were fully incorporated into the patrimonial state they built.  The pro-occupation death squads, known as Special Police Commandos - and particularly the notorious 'Wolves Brigade' - trained up and deployed by General Petraeus, were filled with SIIC cadres.  Presumably, the report does not mean to identify these as the 'militias' in question.  The other major pro-Iranian force in Iraqi politics, of course, is the Dawa party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  

4) The major Shi’ite militias fighting US troops in the period mentioned, 2005-11, were the Sadrists. Presumably these are the militias referred to in the piece.  It is quite believable that the Sadrists inflicted above 25% of all US battle casualties.  However, the claim that Suleimani 'directed' them, or that he was America's 'chief antagonist in Iraq' is at best a huge inflation of the known facts.  The Sadrists, it should be noted, constantly belaboured the ‘Iranians’ (meaning SIIC etc) and attempted to align themselves with Iraqi nationalism. One of Sadr’s first public gestures was to demand that the ‘Iranians’ leave the country. The US certainly tried to depict Sadr as an 'Iranian puppet' from his first appearance as a major opponent in 2003.  This puppet story has no credibility.  At most, there are plausible reports that from 2005 Iranian intelligence began to infiltrate the Sadrists, who notoriously lacked coherence or centralised control.  But frankly, whatever Iranian intelligence did, it didn't show in any greater military sophistication, or in any of the reasonably advanced weaponry that, for example, Hezbollah used to smash the IDF in 2006.  Iran's closest allies, who were quite well accoutred, were used to break the Sadrists in Najaf, Basra and Baghdad.  Iran's ambassador to Iraq publicly praised the Iraqi government's big incursion into Basra in 2008 to eliminate the Sadrists.  In fact, the major role played by Suleimani during the occupation was a very public one, and that was to mediate between the Sadrists and the Iraqi government which they supported.

5) It certainly makes sense for the US to perpetuate the idea that militant opposition to their occupation of Iraq was really the work of external powers.  It is not just good propaganda, but enjoys a neat fit with the state-centric discourses of international relations in which the empire's elites are trained.  However, this is merely to underline a point which should occur to journalists far more often than it does: since when was 'according to Washington' not the fastest way to undermine the integrity of any sentence in print?