ISIS has seized control of about one-third of Iraqi territory in the predominantly Sunni Arab west. In June ISIS combatants captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, as the Iraqi army disintegrated.
The Peshmerga, the army of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, responded by expanding Kurdish-controlled territory by 30 percent, including taking control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Peshmerga, with some 200,000 men and women under arms, is the most experienced and best organized military force in the country.
Following the April 2003 overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Kurds, an oppressed nationality of some 30 million people, carved out an autonomous region in the northeast and have been advancing their fight for national rights in Turkey, Syria and Iran.
The Kurds were denied a homeland by the post-World War II carving up of the Middle East by the imperialist powers of Britain and France.
Kurdish officials in July requested that the Barack Obama administration provide ammunition, machine guns and other equipment, but for weeks U.S. officials have said they are “assessing” the request.
On Aug. 3, ISIS forces seized control of several towns in Kurdistan, including Sinjar. Tens of thousands of members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group who live there sought refuge on Mount Sinjar, as ISIS threatened to kill those who did not convert to Sunni Islam.
Peshmerga units were forced to retreat from battling ISIS in Sinjar after running out of ammunition.
Four days later Obama announced airstrikes to “protect our American personnel” stationed at a consulate and joint military center operated with the Kurds in Erbil, the province’s capital city, along with airdrops of food and water to Yazidis stranded on the mountain.
Kurdish fighters from Iraq, Syria and Turkey mobilized to lead thousands of Yazidis into Syria and then to refugee camps in Iraq or Syria.
The Peshmerga retook the towns of Mahmour and Gwer from ISIS Aug. 10. Among those joining the effort are civilian volunteers from throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. “We have guns, but we need heavy weapons,” Abdul Aziz Ibrahim, 52, told the Washington Post as he joined the fight with an aged AK-47 borrowed from a relative.
Military dictatorships led by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez and Bashar al-Assad in Syria took power after a series of struggles overthrew colonial rule following World War II.
Hussein’s power rested on a Sunni Arab ruling class and oppression of the Kurds and Shia Arab majority.
The rise of both Assad and Hussein and their rival Baathist parties was facilitated by the Stalinist movement, which betrayed struggles of toilers to suit Moscow’s diplomatic needs.
Unintended consequences for U.S. rulersThe U.S. war in Iraq that brought down the Hussein regime in 2003 led to a series of unintended consequences for U.S. imperialism.
It opened space for the Kurds to advance their fight for an independent homeland.
At the same time Sunnis in Iraq were marginalized for the first time since the overthrow of colonial rule, as sectarian conflicts intensified under a government dominated by Shiite capitalist rulers, led since 2006 by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The fall of Hussein helped inspire the mass uprisings that overthrew U.S.-backed dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, as well as in Libya.
In March 2011, mass protests erupted across Syria for political rights and an end to Assad’s rule. Facing brutal repression, opposition forces took control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and growing parts of the country. But Assad’s relentless war, based on air power and artillery the opposition has no means to counter, and carried out with backing from Moscow and Tehran, has taken a massive toll on rebel fighters and quelled popular rebellion.
These developments created openings for anti-working-class Islamist groups. ISIS — born out of factional divisions within al-Qaeda — has established control over most of Raqqa province in Syria, where about 1 million people live. This was accomplished by ISIS directing its fire not at Assad, but against anti-Assad forces fighting the regime and at the Kurds.
Assad’s troops are now preparing to lay siege to Aleppo. While the al-Qaedist forces and the Assad regime remain bitter rivals, ISIS units in the area have consciously aided the regime’s offensive.
The Obama administration’s approach to the Assad regime’s targeting of civilians — 180,000 Syrians have been killed over the past two years and millions have been driven from their homes — has been to let it bleed. “The idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards,” Obama told the New York Times Aug. 8.
The administration’s foreign policy has met increasing criticism from figures in the U.S. ruling class, who are concerned that U.S. imperialist interests around the world require greater use of military intervention.
In Syria, “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state, told the Atlantic Aug. 10, in her first public break with administration foreign policy.
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