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Sectrarian Violence in Iraq: who assumes responsibility?

Western silence about its own responsibility for having invaded Iraq makes it doubtful that political consequences are drawn in time to prevent further waves of hatred sweeping Muslim masses. After the bombs ripped apart the golden roof of the Samarra shrine, Western media focus again solely on Iraq and indicated that the responsibility lies with Iraq. As if wishing to say, we have nothing to do with what goes on there, but see: they cannot get their act together!

The bombing of the holy shrine took place Wednesday, by Sunday the Western newspapers had identified two important trends: American foreign policy is without stating so reaching a climax of crisis and will culminate in an absolute failure in Iraq; and the religious war in Iraq itself shows a country trying to go beyond the era of Saddam Hussein but which is driven towards sectarian violence. Two examples can be given as to how the media perceives it:

  1. The New York Times writes as follows:

“After a bomb exploded in Samarra at one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrines on Wednesday, many young Shiites ignored his pleas for calm, instead heeding more extreme calls and attacking Sunni mosques and killing Sunni civilians, even imams, in a crisis that has threatened to provoke open civil war.”

– ROBERT F. WORTH and EDWARD WONG, Younger Clerics Showing Power in Iraq's Unrest New York Times, Published: February 26, 2006




2. In WASHINGTON Reuters conveyed the news:

“U.S. President George W. Bush made a round of phone calls on Saturday to Iraqi leaders of all sects, urging them to work together to calm violence that has raised fears of an all-out civil war. Bush commended Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Sunni political leader Tareq al-Hashimi and others for showing restraint, the White House said.”

In this query about the most recent events in Iraq, crucial for understanding the situation are reactions by the Western world. One indication is given already by the media preferring much to by-pass rather than face the need to name reality. Consequently a declaration is cited that the destruction on Wednesday of a major Shiite mosque may be “a suspected al Qaeda bombing.” Whenever something like this happens, blame is immediately given to those terrorists, and more concretely to the al Qaeda network (this was as well the case when most recently an attempt was made to attack oil rigs in Saudia Arabia). Such news casts help to distract from Western powers' own responsibilities for this continual violence in Iraq.

Clearly the Western media points out only what consequences the destruction of the shrine has for Iraq itself, since it “triggered waves of reprisal attacks against Sunni Muslims.” The main fact is emphasized, namely that “more than 100 people have been killed in the gravest crisis since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the strife threatens the Bush administration's hopes of withdrawing its forces from the country.”

If anything, the Bush administration has to take the full responsibility for having invaded Iraq. There is no other way to rationalize away such a grave political mistake. The many people who have been killed, misplaced, mistreated, frightened, sent into exile etc. by now in Iraq ever since the invasion started in March 2003, they are usually not mentioned or if at all, then briefly. Nothing compares with wounded or even dead US soldiers.

To recall once the decision was made to invade Iraq and to take over control in Baghdad, a huge tragic dimension unfolded. While there was a large anti war demonstration in London before the invasion, afterwards London and the entire West fell silent. Rather politicians like Tony Blair justified the decision to stand on the side of the USA. Clearly this silence along with false justifications is becoming a clear cut burden not only in terms of ensuring a self critical analysis could be heard from Western politicians. For it prevents ever more so in finding solutions not merely in Iraq, but as well at international level in terms of world governance.

Once Bolton was installed in the United Nations by President Bush despite Congress opposing his appointment (Bush used the artificial possibility to make the appointment while Congress was in recess) a most aggressive approach set the tone. That makes the extraordinary decision by the President all the more doubtful. Even if he has such power and possibility to side step Congress, it is not advisable to ignore certain objections. Otherwise American foreign policy will go astray by being wrong footed and just clumsy right away. Yet the Republican Party has always been keen to make the United Nations into a scape goat for all kinds of international failures while Bush in his debate with Kerry won the day by claiming he would never let the sovereignty be limited by the United Nations.

Still, it is an indication that the recent debate in the United States about whether a company in Dubai should be allowed or not to take over the ownership of certain American ports, let one common American voice speak out, namely that “the USA is an empire and as such it has not the need to outsource its port.” Such open admission to be an empire means political thinking is shaped by other than just national interests in the narrow sense. Nor would security concerns suffice to explain the position Congress wants to take in opposition to President Bush who favours such foreign ownership. Rather the repeated question is whether American politics is entering such a critical phase that all classical mistakes are aggravated by no self critical voice being heard. Hence all the negative developments both at home and abroad go not only unchecked, but reach another dimension by going way beyond the simple interpretation of US foreign policy beng about merely exporting violence.

To remind, Bush justified the invasion of Iraq among other things by taking the war against terrorism out of the US and into what he made Iraq into, namely the territory of the terrorists. War as exporter of violence means to produce more violence to justify the means as the process unfolds. It is an absurd hypothesis but it has been accepted by the American mainstream and its politicians. The United States have not experienced a similar attack since 9/11 on its own territory. That is used as viable proof that the current strategy is working. Nothing is said about its ideological premise or the value orientation of  US foreign policy.

No where does that become clearer than in the sophisticated doctrine which Rumsfeld advocates all the time. He promotes the 'permanent war' as keeping everyone busy, i.e. in fear of still further violence not only now this war in Iraq must be waged, but also preparations must be started for future wars since this one against terrorists is going to be a permanent one. The schizophrenia when clinging to this doctrine becomes explicit when saying at the same time that everyone can feel safe at home thanks to this permanent war being waged abroad.

It explains the blindness to the very fact as pointed out by critics that Iraq is not absorbing terrorist violence and thereby distracts them from attacking directly the United States, insofar as Europe has to bear on the one hand the brunt (Madrid bombing, London bombing), while Iraq has become in reality a training ground for more terrorists. Naturally the blame is shifted to countries like Syria and even Iran for providing crucial support but the key turning point of Iraq is this elongation of violence. That critical aspect has never been refuted.

It should be recalled that the Bush administration linked via media speculations 9/11 to Saddam Hussein although it was known then and has become a widely accepted fact that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda had nothing to do with one another. Again the critics say now Iraq is much closer to this fact than it was the case before Saddam Hussein was toppled.

This then touches upon the crucial justification to topple Saddam Hussein as he was a brutal dictator and thereby his removal by violence, but a violence of war brought onto Iraq from the outside, is still justified even though it violates all Western values. The invasion left the country not merely stranded but without own protection against any form of violence whether from the inside or from outside. Since the West never questioned the method deployed, namely regime change by violent means and moreover by not internal forces but external ones, it has never been understood that this went against a democracy based on free elections. The latter are the best expressions for equally non violent changes in power. Consequently the victim has not been merely Iraq, but Western democracy itself.

All this seems to indicate that Western politicians do not perceive the violence inherent in a foreign policy once diplomacy is reduced to just digs its own grave so to speak, and the very failure as best way to justify war. That was already the case with the bombardment of Kosovo in 1999.

There is an even more serious problem in the West, namely the lack of understanding Islamic movements. Louis Baeck states the main reason for this is a lack of an open discourse at international level :

"From the point of view of western neoconservative or fundamentalist commentators who are influential theorists of the prevailing discourse, these multiple ways of asserting identities will inevitably lead to a clash of civilizations. From a hegemonic perspective, Western publicists judge the policies and practices of other civilizations on the basis of principles and ideals prevailing in the western world. According to this method, the non Western cultures are judged according to criteria which are not theirs."

(Louis Baeck, “Islamic views on globalization”, ed. Jean Tardiff for www.planetagora.org 2005).

Some had warned the United States from entering Iraq with force; this place houses the cultural heritage of the oldest civilisations on earth, and hence should have been treated with respect for its people. Rather than military cultural means should have been used to further mutual understanding and trust. It would have meant to give Iraqis time to make their own experiences when seeking to emancipate themselves from dictatorship. If they could achieve that under own terms, they would mature in knowledge of all the pitfalls, including religious ones, which are entailed when taking over power. By entering Iraq with tanks and soldiers, the West not only ignored this precious cultural heritage, but smashed into the very historical fibres of human understanding which had been upheld until now under quite other conditions. Since the invasion in March 2003, the human self understanding has been twisted into coils of misunderstanding. It is something which does lead only to still more fear and violence. Without the United States taking full responsibility for the grave error made when allowing Bush to invade Iraq, no lesson shall be drawn either now or for the future. After Viet Nam, there had been some hope that some lessons have been learned in the USA. Unfortunately there exists now only the proof that this was a hope in vain.


Hatto Fischer


First published in heritageradio


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