As the Syrian Arab Army, flanked by the Russian Aerospace Forces and military specialists continue to liberate Dier ez-Zor, one of the most interesting developments is something that hasn’t happened.
Earlier this year when Iraqi forces along with the US retook the city of Mosul from ISIS, what transpired for the innocent civilians of the long besieged Iraqi city was less of a liberation than a process of trading the monster of ISIS for the brutality of Iraqi forces.
During the operations and aftermath of freeing Mosul from ISIS occupation, many Iraqi soldiers stood accused of torturing civilians as well as murdering them in cold blood.
While there can never be any excuse for such behaviour which violates multiple protocols of international law, the reality is that after years of violence between Sunni and Shi’a Iraqis which fomented in the aftermath of the Anglo-American occupation of the country, the divide and conquer strategies of the invaders served to imprint a lasting scar on a country that under Ba’athist rule was peaceful, united and one which saw Shi’as, Sunnis and Christians working in the government and civil service.
Syria’s Ba’athist government operates on the same principle of inclusiveness. In Syria, due to the steadfast leadership of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, people think of themselves as Syrians rather than as part of a politically charged religious sect.
In Iraq this is no longer the case. After years of brutal foreign occupation which saw former Sunni Ba’athists become marginalised and abandoned, Sunni majority regions of Iraq became fertile ground for the Slafist ideology of al-Qaeda which later metamorphosed into ISIS.
As a result of being marginalised after 2003, some Sunnis did turn to al-Qaeda as the only perceived hope of materially improving their extremely poor condition. The majority of Sunni Iraqis however, opposed al-Qaeda as Iraq also had under the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party. Such innocent civilians became men, women and children without a country, in spite of being in their own home.
Such people were caught between the rock of a Shi’a government in Baghdad and extremist Wahhabist ISIS war lords in their cities and regions.
This is not to say that the Iraqi government which does have many noble individuals in it, is at all comparable with ISIS. ISIS is unique in its wickedness, but the marginalisation of Sunnis in ISIS held areas was perversely ‘rewarded’ but overwhelmingly Shi’a Iraqi soldiers who blamed entire Sunni populations on the plague of ISIS.
As a result, Sunnis who suffered first at the hands of the Americans and then ISIS, suffered a third time at the hands of fellow Iraqis.
As I previously wrote in The Duran,
“America and Britain’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was a disaster from which Iraq has not recovered. After the imperialist invaders illegally deposed the legitimate government of Iraq, the occupiers then conspired to totally disenfranchise anyone seen as tied to the government, even when in actual fact such people were often not connected to the government.
This quickly spilled into a divide and conquer technique wherein the imperialists sought to turn Shi’a against Sunni in a country that had always had some lingering tensions, although the Ba’ath Party did wonders in minimising these tensions, as Ba’athism is an explicitly anti-sectarian ideology both in theory and practice.
The inane so-called ‘de-Ba’athification’ process that the occupiers executed was little more than a social genocide of Iraqi Sunnis. At the same time, Shi’a Iraqis were equally enraged at the illegal conquering of their nation, although for different reasons. At the same time, Christian Iraqis were subject to a total genocide. Those who survived fled, often to Ba’athist Syria where they were welcomed without hesitation by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Even in the years of Saddam Hussein’s often fraught Presidency, the government and civil service of Iraq saw Sunnis, Shia’s and Christians of all major denominations in positions of distinction and importance.
Sunni Iraqis were consequently driven to any ideology, any movement and ultimately any group that could give them some sort of agency in the new post-Sunni Iraq. Many such people were for the first time in their previously secular existence, driven to the ideology of al-Qaeda. As foreign al-Qaeda fighters flooded into a country that had under the Ba’ath party been among the most anti-al-Qaeda places on earth, many local Sunnis joined their ranks for the sad reason that their ranks were among the only that would have them.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was born. Eventually al-Qaeda in Iraq would become the Islamic State of Iraq. Shortly thereafter they broadened their horizons and sought to expand becoming the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant. This in turn formally became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and finally today it calls itself The Islamic State, though it is sill generally known in English speaking countries by the acronym ISIS.
The fact that Sunni Iraqis are still being tortured, still being associated with terrorists even when they are not associated with terrorism, still being treated with suspicion, means that the divide and conquer attitude which the imperialist powers instilled on a once united Iraqi nation, are still omnipresent in today’s Iraq.
So long as the conditions which allowed ISIS to foment are present in Iraq, so long will the threat of ISIS, irrespective of what it might call itself in the future, continue to haunt Iraq.
The reason that the Syrian situation is vastly more hopeful is that the situation in Syria was very different. In Syria, the Ba’ath Party has remained in power and continues to unite the vast majority of the nation against sectarianism of all kinds. In Syria, the majority of ISIS fighters and other Salafist terrorists are foreign fighters. In Iraq this is also largely thought to be the case, but the difference is that in Iraq ISIS seized an opportunity which many locals, at least for a time, thought was the only way to escape oppression from both militarised Shi’a forces as well as from the omnipresent and barbaric forces of western imperialism.
In Iraq, Sunni citizens had many enemies, they were surrounded on all fronts. ISIS flamed these tensions to their own perverse advantage. By contrast, in Syria, the Syrian identity of all citizens was never taken away and as a result, Salafism was never given the chance to foment organically as it partly did in Iraq.
In Iraq, ISIS took advantage of broken hearts and broken dreams–broken bones and broken lives. In Syria, they merely took advantage of a pours border.
The situation in Iraq is not promising. It is not just Iraqi Kurds who will almost certainly separate from the rest of the country in a formal sense in September of this year, but the Sunni/Shi’a divide in the country is still very real as it has been since the time of the 2003 invasion. This does not bode well for Iraqi unity. By contrast, real Syrians have never been and are not now divided on such lines.
Iraqi Sunnis are once again left with nothing, Iraqi Shi’as now see Iran as their only salvation as their only real chance to throw off the poisonous influence of the imperialist west.
Iraq is hardly a nation any more and it hasn’t been since 2003. I doubt it ever will be again. While Iran remains a stabilising factor in the region and Syria now looks set to weather the storm, Iraq has started to win the war against ISIS in the short term. However, Iraq has lost the war to ISIS in the longer term, a war which is part of the same conflict started by America and Britain”.
In Deir ez-Zor, a majority Sunni city which for three years has been besieged by ISIS, the story could not be more different. Fellow Syrians have embraced soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army and the Syria along with Russia has been providing much needed food and medicine to the citizens of Deir ez-Zor.
The following photos of civilians in Deir ez-Zor welcoming a return to normalcy could not be more different than the images from Iraq’s ‘liberation’ of Mosul.
What this indicates is that while western occupation allowed Iraq to sink into a swamp of sectarianism, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party of Syria has maintained a government and armed forces that are multi-religious and even multi-ethnic. The emphasis on national unity, on Arab nationalism as opposed to religious extremism or neo-colonialism and a constitutional definition of equality between all men and women, has allowed all peoples of Syria to be Syrian first and foremost.
In Iraq, this is no longer the case and while some progress is being made, the torture that Sunni civilians received at the hands of Iraqi’s army personnel, is demonstrative of the fact that there is a great deal of work still to do to bring Iraq back from the oblivion it has faced since 2003.
In 2003, the Iraqi Army did not resist the invasion from the US and UK, but the Syrian Arab Army has resisted the multi-front invasion from proxies loyal to countries as diverse as the United States, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, as well as local Kurdish militants and local Sunni extremists.
Syria has resisted all of this with a unified front, guided by the ideas implicit in Ba’athism.
Ba’athism has won because Syria has won and inversely, Syria has won because Ba’athism has remained the guiding force of modern Syria’s political system and civic philosophy.
It is for this reason why Syria’s recover from the conflict will be materially difficult, but in many other ways, Syria has already avoided the pitfalls that continue to plague post-2003 Iraq.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.