The advance of ISIL in Iraq—final act of the 2003 invasion?

These days the criminal nature of the 2003 Iraq invasion is again being highlighted by the advance of the fanatics of ‘the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL, sometimes also ‘and Syria’, ISIS—‘the Levant’ also includes the Lebanon). The summary executions of military of the Syrian army, however gruesome they may be, nevertheless should not distract from those chiefly responsible for what is happening here—George W. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney in the US, Tony Blair and Jack Straw in England, and so on to the accomplices in Europe, from Berlusconi and Aznar to our own Balkenende and De Hoop Scheffer. 

Nobody of course is as brazen in this respect as Blair, who chose to underline that what is happening now has nothing to do with the invasion. Certainly his statements infuriated the British Conservatives, but their anger, articulated by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, does not arise from a belated condemnation of that invasion. It is motivated by fear that Blair by his shameless statements will elicit renewed anti-intervention sentiment. 

For what Washington and London want, is… to intervene again. Let’s not forget that ISIL/ISIS is also the backdoor into Syria, and the Anglo-American policy aims at neutralising the jihadists to the point where the ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria can be resurrected and become a military factor against Assad again. Hence Obama and Cameron do not so much seek a rectification of the Iraq policy. They are after a stabilisation of the regime change there (among other things by demanding from the Maliki government that it broadens its base in the country) and are seeking to reinvigorate the stalled regime change in Syria. 

As far as the invasion of Iraq is concerned, what has been achieved so far, and most fundamentally, is the destruction of the state in that country. By dissolving the army and the police, the dismissal of the civil service, the engineers of the state oil company etc., the country was knocked back to the condition that precedes the formation of a modern state—a situation in which authority resides with tribal chiefs and other local power holders, who in turn are arrayed along ethnic and religious dividing lines. Kurds and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, and so on. 

In the English Civil War of the 17th century Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan (of 1651) described how the modern state does just that—transcending primordial dividing lines.

The famous cover of the book shows (and here a magnifying glass may come in handy) the inhabitants of the British Isles fleeing the turmoil of the civil war and streaming towards the towering figure of the all-powerful state. There they turn into iron links of his coat of mail. In the Leviathan state all inhabitants are citizens first, and all the other particularities they may represent (their religion, regional affiliation, language, clan ties, you name it) are relegated to the private sphere. ‘You can do that in your own time’. It is a beautiful allegory: from being the source of popular strife, the citizenry turns into the ‘body armour’ of the state. 

Hobbes thought that a strong state that imposes its will on the population is the only way to prevent an otherwise never-ending civil war. Who in fact institutes this state power, is not the main issue. Hobbes was a monarchist; he hoped that the king would assume the task. In practice it was Oliver Cromwell and his fanatical Calvinists, whom we would call fundamentalists today, who carried the greater burden. 

A compromise was only found (and the civil war concluded) in the aftermath of a regime change by the Dutch Stadtholder, William III of Orange, who crossed over to England in 1688 and assumed kingship—after he had agreed that his descendants would not inherit his throne, because the parliament in Westminster, the bastion of the ascendant merchant class, did not want a strong monarch who would commit the country to expensive wars.

Thus, hundreds of years prior to the event, and hundreds of years afterwards, a state took shape which wields real power—apparently a liberal state seeking social consensus, but if threatened, relying on the coat of mail the Leviathan wears under his civilian clothes. 

It would take too far to dissect how, after the Ottoman (Turkish) empire disintegrated in 1918, the attempt has been made to establish such states in the Middle East too. First as quasi-colonies of France (Lebanon and Syria) and Britain (Palestine including Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait). By the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the expulsion of the Palestinians, the process of state formation was accelerated; ‘nationalist’ military seized power in Egypt (Nasser), Syria, and Iraq. 

In 2014 practically everything that has been achieved in those countries in terms of state formation, by a central authority that rules with iron determination (as once by Cromwell in England), has been undone. By its endless wars Israel hardened into a militarist, racist bastion; Egypt is once again a military dictatorship, propped up, like Israel and Jordan, by American subsidies. Syria and Iraq, the last two countries in the region on the road to modern statehood (but still stuck in the phase in which that state remains confiscated by one particular group, which exercises dictatorial powers) have been pushed into the abyss by the West, like Libya. They are dissolving into what they had been before the process started—quilts of distinct religious and ethnic groups, tribes and clans—this time armed with Kalashnikovs and with unlimited funds provided by foreign sponsors. 

Bush, Blair and their friends, including our own Balkenende, must be brought to justice to account for these unspeakable misdeeds, which are crimes against the peace (including war crimes and crimes against humanity) but also crimes against history. Crimes committed out of an arrogance and ignorance almost beyond belief.

Kees van der Pijl

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