A Reply to Kyle Orton in the New York Times
by Sam Charles Hamad
December 23. The Kyle Orton piece in the New York Times linking Daesh to Saddam is simply an extremely cynical-but-factually-correct attempt to justify the Iraq war. It's quite unbelievable that these people are still so obsessed with justifying this criminality. This criminality is part of the reason that the Syrian revolution has been met with such hostility and why solidarity with Syrians is deemed controversial - the Iraq criminals have muddied the waters and allowed forces like RT to be made credible. It's a kind of epistemological crisis. People don't trust western governments (rightfully), particularly the US and UK, because they committed a crime (several crimes) justified by lies, but unfortunately Syrians and the Syrian revolution have been caught up in this. The consequences have been very concretely detrimental.
The guy seems young, (though he's working for the extremist, fanatically Islamophobic Henry Jackson Society), so it's unfortunate but unsurprising that that he's using his decent analysis of the facts of the link between the Hussein regime and Daesh to the end of justifying the Iraq war and absolving the criminals in the Bush regime of any complicity in allowing the forces that would coalesce under the 'Islamic State of Iraq' title to gain a foothold in Iraq.
The point was never among progressives opponents of the Iraq war to say that getting rid of the fascist Saddam Hussein was a crime in itself, but rather that the criminality centred on the manner of the invasion and occupation - allowing the security apparatuses of the country to be destroyed, which then created this notorious vacuum in which regional and foreign jihadis were able to cross into the country and rally around Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq. Along with the 'vacuum', due to the reckless dismantling of the security apparatuses, the US then relied on using Shia sectarian militias to take up the mantle of fighting the al-Qaeda insurgents, which triggered a sectarian war, which managed to eclipse the non-sectarian resistance to the occupation.
Orton is absolutely right to say that there is no ideological continuity between Baathism and Daesh, this is beyond doubt. Jaish Rijal at-Tariqa an-Naqshabandiya (JRTN) is the ideological heir of the Baathist regime, incorporating mostly Saddamists (ex-Fedayeen Saddam and Republican Guard, most notably the leader and cousin of Saddam Field Marshal Izzat Ibrahim ad-Duri) but also old school Baathists. He's absolutely right to root out the phenomenon of some -- a fairly small amount contrary to the sensationalism -- of Daeshites being former officers in the army and security apparatuses of the Hussein regime to 'al-Hamlah al-Imaniyah' - Saddam's 'Return to Faith Campaign', which basically amounted to the secular Baathist regime Islamising its rhetoric and allowing non-Baathist Islamists to be allowed to work within the Baathist state, including in the army and security forces. It only went so far, 'Wahhabis' and 'Salafis' were still being executed by the regime in 2003. These were never ideological Baathists. Most of those who defected to al-Qaeda are of this ilk, but the majority of al-Qaeda are comprised of Iraqi and other Arab Salafi jihadis who have no links to the Assad regime. Orton is right about all this. One could have a very interesting debate about the prominence of all this and the exact nature of this phenomenon, but Orton's agenda here is to absolve the Bush regime of any criminal responsibility whatsoever.
Nowhere does he talk about how former Iraqi Army militants also comprised a significant section of Harakat as-Sahwah, the Sunni movement that eventually defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq. Nowhere does he mention that the United States not only set the precedent for sectarianism in the post-Hussein regime not just by its stoking of sectarian war, but by commencing the notorious 'de-Baathification' that became an excuse for the US-supported Islamic Dawa Party and associated sectarian militias to discriminate against Sunnis, ranging from ethnic cleansing to employment discrimination. This fed Daesh. All of this was initiated and sponsored by the US under Bush. Barack Obama took over, arming and sponsoring the Islamic Dawa Party as it continued to dismantle order within Sunni communities, allowing the much-needed Sahwat to disband (some of them joining AQI), as well as when it subverted Iraq's flimsy democracy by locking the non-sectarian Iraqiya political movement, which had won the 2010 election, out of power, despite the overwhelming majority of the Sunni and a significant part of the Shia communities voting for it. The two states in the world that happily supported Nouri al-Maliki remaining as PM despite a majority of Iraqis voting against him was the USA and Iran. The US continued to sponsor the Islamic Dawa Party government as it arrested Sunni politicians, crushed the non-sectarian Iraqi spring leading to the Hawija massacres, which basically restarted the sectarian war of 2006, leading to Daesh being able, in combination with its material gains in Syria, to launch its offensive in 2014, along with other temporarily allied Sunni militias.
You will hear none of this from Orton. His article is unfortunately absurd. I say unfortunately, as the actual analysis of the Hussein regime-Daesh connection is relatively nuanced, but the conclusion and the will to absolve the US for its criminal responsibility relating to Daesh renders the whole thing absurd. Even more so when he associates with a genuinely extremist entity like the Henry Jackson Society, which is associated with EDL-esque Islamophobia given a pseudo-academic 'think tank' veneer.
Supporters of a non-sectarian united Iraq and the revolution in Syria ought to understand that the US are really not the friends of Iraqis and Syrians. Neither are its most extreme cheerleaders like the HJS It's the opposite, in fact. As we're seeing now in all its brutal glory.
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