On Friday, the Conservatives announced their plan to send six CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to join the United States and other Western powers in a new bombing campaign in Iraq. While Canada participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the so-called “War on Terror”, it did not join the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Canadians have now been dragged into the colossal mess in Iraq that was caused by Western military intervention in the first place, and which seems to have no end in sight.
During the past month, Canada has sent 25 flights carrying more than 680,000 kilograms of allied military equipment to Northern Iraq, offering 69 military advisors, as well as logistical support. But now along with the proposed fighter jets, there will be surveillance aircraft, refuelling tanks, and a prolonged increase in logistical support. The latest Conservative motion in front of Parliament also looks to send an additional 600 Canadian troops to participate in a bombing campaign over Iraq for the next six months. Moreover, the motion states that Canada would get involved in bombing ISIS targets in Syria if invited to by the Syrian government.
Harper’s announcement of Canadian involvement in new military operations in Iraq didn’t even come in front of Parliament or a Canadian audience. Instead, his pronouncement came about during a question-and-answer session in front of a Goldman Sachs business audience in New York. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Harper boasted, “We do our part, that’s always been how this country has handled its international responsibilities. And as long as I’m prime minister, that’s what we’ll continue to do.” The responsibilities that Harper talked of is surely the ones he owes to his Wall Street audience, who continue to impose their interests on the long-suffering people of the Middle East.
While taking great efforts to respond to corporate interests, Harper and the federal Conservative government have done everything possible to keep the Canadian public in the dark over Canada’s role in the military mission. For two weeks, Harper failed to show up in the House of Commons for Question Period. Instead, we witnessed Conservative MP Paul Calandra respond to questions about Iraq with a nonsensical defence of Israeli imperialism.
The Conservatives’ defence of intervention in Iraq (and, potentially in Syria) comes on the heels of atrocities being committed by the Islamic State group (ISIS), including the beheadings of several Western journalists and aid workers. However, for the Conservatives (and Western imperialism, in general) there are more important massacres and less important ones. For instance, there has been nary a mention of the state-sanctioned beheadings that occur on a regular basis in Saudi Arabia, a loyal ally of the United States. Nor did Canada or any other Western power threaten to attack Israel when over 2,000 Palestinians were killed earlier this summer, including nearly 700 women and children. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the hypocritical justifications for going to war with Iraq.
“Humanitarian intervention” and “terrorist threats”
The prime minister has justified military intervention by asserting the need to “do our part” in the fight against terrorism, and to take “humanitarian measures” to assist the Iraqi people and the thousands of refugees in the Middle East. This is simply a repetition of the phrases used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Bush administration argued that intervention in Iraq was necessary to bring about democracy and to combat terrorism. None of this has been achieved. Rather, things have become far worse in all these respects. The plundering of Iraq has literally torn the country apart, and allowed for the rise of fundamentalist groups such as ISIS. Furthermore, we were told that the purpose of war was to eliminate “weapons of mass destruction”. This was proven to be a complete lie.
The political representatives of Western imperialism reek with hypocrisy as they begin to, once again, carry out bombing runs in Iraq and now also in Syria. Combatting the terrorist threat represented by ISIS is the narrative we are being fed. However, ISIS did not drop out of the sky. It was precisely the Western intervention and occupations in the Middle-East that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS.
The enormous destruction caused by British, American, Canadian, and other NATO forces during the bombings and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. This doesn’t include the collapse of basic water, electric, health, and other infrastructure that has thrown these countries into anarchy. Out of conditions of desperation and destruction, there has arisen desperate political reactions to poverty and imperialism. The ruling elite hypocritically speaks about humanitarian aims after spending a decade creating the very humanitarian crisis that exists today in the Middle East.
Just as the humanitarian and refugee disaster finds its origins in Western imperialism’s intervention, the same can be said of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamist groups, from which the ISIS originates, were carrying out a civil war against the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad since late 2011. These opposition groups received direct and indirect support from the US, as well as the Gulf states and other allies of the US. The reasons for supporting these groups was two-fold — to create a more pliant and Western-allied regime in Syria, and to destroy what had started as a genuine revolutionary movement against Assad’s dictatorship.
In a New York Times article from last year, Syrian opposition leaders and US officials explained how the CIA was helping the governments in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey arm Syrian jihadist groups:
“With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders…
“American officials have confirmed that senior White House officials were regularly briefed on the shipments. ‘These countries were going to do it one way or another,’ the former official said. ‘They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’ from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they’d appreciate that.’”— New York Times (24 Mar. 2013)
More broadly, the US contributes to the current situation by greatly antagonizing and reinforcing religious and national divisions within Iraq and the broader Middle-East. The occupation of Iraq rested on the traditional tactic of British colonialism of “divide and rule”, by pitching Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, and other groups against one another. The US-backed Maliki government, which based itself on the Shia population, enflamed the Sunni population in particular with its brutality and oppression of that section.
Massive destruction and suffering from war and occupation, the inflaming of national and religious divisions through a strategy of “divide and conquer”, and the supporting and financing of various Islamists groupings created the conditions for the birth and growth of ISIS. Therefore, ISIS can be seen as a monster created by Western Imperialism.
Behind the mask
Behind the rhetoric of Harper there lies the imperialist interests of Canada and the USA. This re-eruption of war with Iraq and Syria is about maintaining the Middle East as a sphere of control for the West. It is to protect the profit interests of the big corporations, and particularly their hold of oil and gas reserves in the region.
Canadian corporations are heavily invested in the Middle East. In Iraq, Canadian oil and gas companies have gained a strong foothold, particularly in the Northern Kurdish regions. Canadian weapons manufacturers have had lucrative contracts with the Maliki puppet government in Iraq. Canadian firms, such as SNC-Lavalin, have made billions from construction contracts to build power stations and pipelines in the country.
Another strong pressure for intervention is from Canada’s allies, particularly the Gulf state countries who have also been involved in the bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria. There are over $1.5-trillion worth of construction and infrastructure projects in progress in the Gulf region, with over 70 Canadian oil and gas companies involved with a further 30 Canadian infrastructure and construction firms established there.
It is the plunder of the capitalists that are being protected with this intervention. This is exactly what has been witnessed over the last 13 years of intervention in the Middle East, where lucrative construction, oil, gas, and military contracts and privatization deals have made a handful enormously rich, while the people of the region have lived in conditions of abject poverty and hunger.
It isn’t surprising then that Harper announced his participation in the war in a conference of bankers, while initially refusing to answer questions in Parliament. Regardless of the desire of ordinary Canadians, any intervention that is carried by a capitalist government will be to protect the interests of a tiny minority.
Both the Liberals and NDP are opposing the Conservative motion for bombing Iraq, although for very different reasons. After initially coming out in favour of bombing Iraq and Syria, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau very hastily changed tact once he realized that by supporting military action, he was leaving the Liberals’ “left flank” completely exposed to the NDP. The Liberals’ crass electoral opportunism has been even noted by the corporate media; not only is the Liberals’ opposition largely limited to the “lack of process” displayed by the Tories, but the party is significantly divided over the question of Canadian involvement in the Middle East. Many prominent Liberals, including ex-leader Bob Rae, ex-MP Ujjal Dosanjh, and ex-Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, have all publicly rebuked Trudeau for changing his party’s position on the bombing of Iraq, simply to curry votes in next year’s federal election.
On the other hand, federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair came out with a surprisingly strong condemnation of military action in Iraq, correctly linking it to the US invasion of 2003. The NDP’s stance has even been strong by international standards; the Conservatives, for example, have attacked Mulcair’s position as being at odds with most other social democratic and labour parties who have all come out in favour of war in Iraq. Mulcair pointed out that the rise of ISIS came about from the corruption of the puppet government put in place by US imperialism, and that the original war in Iraq had only succeeded in tearing the country apart at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. In the House of Commons, Mulcair stated that “there was not a shadow of a doubt” that Harper’s new war plans “would lead us exactly where we are today.” Mulcair further said, “The defeat of the insurgency in Iraq is a goal that the United States has been trying, without success, to achieve since the wrong-headed invasion of 2003. All of the horrors unfolding before our eyes are as a result of that failed mission.”
Unfortunately, the lack of a socialist outlook for the Middle East (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter) has led to the NDP’s parliamentary caucus trying to play parliamentary tricks with the Conservative motion authorizing Canadian military action, which only diminished the party’s original stance against war in the Middle East. Yesterday (Monday) in the House of Commons, the NDP put forward a series of amendments that significantly weakened Mulcair’s original statement. The NDP’s amendments reiterated the party’s opposition to Canadian troops playing a “combat role” in Iraq, but did allow for Canadian forces to provide “weapons transportation” and “logistical support” for other armies. As well, the NDP’s amendment would shorten the Canadian mission to three months, instead of six, with any further extension subject to another debate in the House of Commons. Whereas previously Mulcair had been adamantly opposed to the idea of extending the bombing campaign into Syria, a new amendment simply stated that any extension into Syria would also have to be up for debate in Parliament. This is not nearly strong enough of a stance and the NDP should be firmly standing up against Canadian imperialist interests in the Middle East, not allowing them through the side door.
Against imperialism and against fundamentalism
Imperialist intervention will only reinforce the hatred of the masses in the Middle East towards US, British, and now Canadian imperialism. A prolonged air campaign will never be able to defeat ISIS, and will at best weaken it. However, the likely outcome of intervention will be to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. After over a decade of war and suffering, renewed civilian casualties will only drive more people into the ranks of Islamist groups.
The only force that could defeat Islamic fundamentalism and solve the misery and poverty of the people of the Middle East is the masses themselves. The power of workers, youth, and the poor was shown during the 2011 Arab spring. Millions entered the streets across the Arab world, often culminating in general strike action, with the result that one authoritarian regime toppled after another.
If these movement were to abolish the rotten ruling class in the various countries in the Middle East by nationalizing the industries, banking, and natural wealth of the region, that wealth could be used to eliminate poverty, hunger, and unemployment. In the place of nationalist and religious divisions, which are fostered by the local and foreign elite, a socialist movement could build unity through common struggle and by eliminating the economic desperation that gives rise to these artificial divisions.
Unfortunately, because of a lack of revolutionary leadership, these movements have been unable to successfully dislodge the ruling elite. For example, in Egypt there have been a series of advances followed by retreats, however the struggle is far from finished. In Syria, western and regional powers were able to successfully co-opt and destroy the revolution.
Workers and youth in the Middle-East and in the West have begun to realize that the military interventions carried out by the US, Canada, Britain, or France are only carried out to further the interests of a narrow corporate elite. These profit-interests are directly antagonistic to our own. In the West, workers pay the cost of military intervention through cuts to services and layoffs — or even with their lives. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, these interventions only result in the privatization of natural resources, the installation of puppet regimes, and suffering from war.
Our primary task in the West is to show our solidarity by opposing our imperialist ruling class. We must oppose all imperialist intervention in Iraq and Syria, which includes assisting the aims of the other imperialist powers. For its part, the NDP, as the parliamentary voice of the Canadian labour movement, must take a firm stand against any military intervention in the Middle East, including so-called “non-combat” intervention to support the war efforts of allies. Furthermore, the NDP and the labour movement must expose and stand against the financial aid and support that has been going towards various religious and nationalist armed groups in the region. This aid has only contributed to the dire situation today.
The crisis of world capitalism is perhaps most apparent in the Middle East. Sectarian conflict, war, and suffering is all that capitalism and imperialism have been able to offer. The only real solution is to overthrow this rotten system and to build a socialist society.
No war with Iraq and Syria!