US warplanes have been launching airstrikes in northern Iraq since August 8. The stated goal of the bombing is to save innocent civilians from massacre by ISIS, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that has taken over large portions of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Canada did not support the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. We are, however, backing current US military action, including providing planes to transport US weapons to northern Iraq to be used by Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. In the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Canada will not stand idly by while ISIL continues its murder of innocent civilians and religious minorities.”
War is carnage and calamity. It inflicts suffering on soldiers and civilians alike. Peace can prevail. We need to foster it.
WHAT IS ISIS?
ISIS is the creation of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. It developed out of an al-Qaida affiliate that came into existence in reaction to the American invasion. It includes former military leaders from Saddam’s army who lost their positions under the US military occupation.
Under Saddam, Sunnis held all key positions in the Iraqi government and military. After toppling Saddam, the US removed all Saddam appointees from power and replaced them with Shia politicians and military leaders. Then, after the 2006 elections, the US threw its support behind the Shia dominated government of Nouri al Malaki and its policy of Sunni marginalization. Owing to this policy, ISIS grew significantly.
Thanks also to the US, ISIS has very sophisticated weaponry. It captured hundreds of millions of dollars of US military equipment from the Iraqi Security Forces. It also has weapons supplied by the US to rebels in Syria trying to overthrow the Assad regime.
WHY IS THE WEST TAKING MILITARY ACTION?
Obama and Harper justify dropping bombs in northern Iraq by claiming humanitarian ends: saving “innocent civilians.” There are problems with this justification:
- In modern warfare, there are always many more civilian deaths than military deaths.
- Often we do “stand idly by” when civilians are being killed. South Sudan is a current example. Even worse, we sometimes lend support to those who are most endangering civilian lives. For example, the US has given Israel $3.1 billion in military aid so far this year; and Canada protests at the UN every time Israel is criticized.
What, then, are the real reasons for making more war in Iraq?
OIL: For months, ISIS has been taking over parts of Iraq. It wasn’t until it threatened to take control of the oil fields in northern Iraq that Obama ordered military action.
INSTABILITY: The outcome of US policy in Iraq over the past 11 years is instability. Instability is a way of maintaining control.
ENDLESS WAR: WHO BENEFITS?
Obama is the fourth consecutive US president to authorize military action in Iraq. Who benefits from this never-ending war?
War is big business. It is very profitable for US and Canadian armaments industries.
There is an all-too-cozy mutually beneficial relationship between governments and armaments industries, a relationship that includes donations to political parties, on one hand, and approval of military spending on the other.
Ordinary citizens everywhere.
There is no military solution in Iraq. Indeed, military action is a major part of the problem.
What can Canada do to stop the killing and foster peace?
- Call for and support an immediate arms embargo on all sides. That means not transporting US arms to Iraq. It also means not selling any arms destined for the Middle East to the US.
- Engage with the US to put pressure on the Iraqi government to end its discrimination against Sunnis and to be inclusive of all.
- Call on the United Nations to organize international negotia-tions for a political solution to the crisis in both Iraq and Syria.
- Provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees created by the wars in Iraq and Syria.
(These points are adapted from Phyllis Bennis’s “Don’t Go Back to Iraq! Five Steps the US Can Take in Iraq Without Going Back to War.”
Last week, ISIS killed James Foley, an American journalist, by beheading him. It was a brutal and barbarous act. But is it any worse than dropping bombs on people? The 2003 US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq killed 7,500 Iraqi civilians.
When simplistic notions of good and evil drive policy decisions, war is inevitable.
“The world could use more diplomacy.” ‒ Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare, the general in charge of all Canadian military operations
“You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb the world to peace.” ‒ Michael Franti