Nouri al-Maliki

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Daily Texan recently published a piece by fellow UT student Dolph Briscoe IV which argued that the U.S. must “avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East.” This mentality is pervasive in the liberal corporate media, with the New York Times editorial board praising Obama for his cautious “balancing act on Iraq.” There are three major problems with this conception.

The first is that the liberals completely misunderstand the roots of Iraq’s current crisis, which is the past 10 years of U.S. imperialism in Iraq (under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama). It is now widely acknowledged that every single argument the Bush administration made for invading Iraq was false: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq and Iraqis did not greet the U.S. military as a liberator but instead resisted it as an occupying force. However, Briscoe is wrong in stating that the Bush administration’s goal was “establishing a democracy in Iraq.” The leaked 2002 Downing Street Memo, a UK intelligence document, stated that “military action [in Iraq] was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." So the Bush administration intentionally lied to Americans and the world, an undemocratic action whose end goal certainly was not democracy. In fact, it was control over oil.

Following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. set up the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern the country, and within a few months privatized the Iraqi economy with Order 39. This allowed foreign investors and international financial institutions to buy out Iraqi enterprises, including its massive oil reserves and keep 100 percent of the profit. Strategic control over Iraqi oil had been a goal of the U.S. foreign policy establishment for over a decade even before Bush - the Clinton administration kept Hussein’s regime in check with deadly sanctions against Iraq. The neoconservatives had been pushing for regime change since the late ‘90s and got their chance during the Bush administration after 9/11. So U.S. imperialism in Iraq has been and continues to be a bipartisan project.

However, the neoconservatives underestimated the will of Iraqis to fight back against this wrecking of their economy and the U.S. military’s brutal violence during the occupation. The U.S. invasion precipitated a massive Iraqi resistance across Sunni and Shia lines. As Iraqi journalist Sami Ramadani explains, there is a “powerful secular tradition in Iraq that transcends all religions and sects,” and this led to “millions of Iraqis - of all sects and none - [marching] in the streets, denouncing the occupation.” In response to this, the U.S. (and its later client-state under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) implemented sectarian policies that led to today’s divided Iraq.

This leads to the second problem, which is that rather than acknowledge the sectarian legacy of imperialism, the liberals (and neoconservatives) instead substitute Islamophobic logic. According to Briscoe, yet another “crisis plagues the Middle East” with no offered cause or context – according to the New York Times, the crisis is due to “Islam’s ancient sectarian rift.” In reality, the sectarian rift’s origins can be concretely located in the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, in which occupation authorities forced provisions that split Iraq’s governing structure along ethnic and religious lines, as part of the U.S.’s divide-and-rule strategy to control the flow of oil. As journalist Phyllis Bennis explained at that time, the lack of oil in Sunni areas “[insured] a future of impoverishment for the Sunni, secular and inter-mixed populations of Baghdad and Iraq’s center, and [set] the stage for a future of ethnic and religious strife.”

Briscoe correctly notes that these sectarian policies continued under Maliki, but its crimes are far greater than simply “[refusing] to bring Sunni Muslims into [the] government.” Before the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there were mass Sunni petitions and protests against this sectarianism - Maliki’s response was to escalate to violence, ultimately attacking protest camps and killing protesters. More importantly, Briscoe fails to mention that Maliki was supported by the U.S. from the beginning as a client-state. Even with the supposedly liberal President Obama, this relationship continued for reasons that Maliki himself explained: Iraq has the “world’s fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves,” and in 2012, it “surpassed Iran to become OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil.” Thus, as with the “Arab Spring” in Bahrain and Egypt, the Obama administration was allied with the oppressive state and against the calls for democracy. To understand Iraq’s current crisis, this history must be acknowledged: ISIS and its violent methods only became relevant after the U.S. implemented sectarian policies and its client-state militarized the conflict.

Failure to acknowledge the backdrop of U.S. imperialism leads to the third problem, which is that the liberals’ misconceptions are deadly – this can be seen in the current Israeli siege of Gaza. First, the imperial context: In 1967, Israel proved its worth to U.S. geopolitical strategy by, in Noam Chomsky’s words, “[destroying] the source of secular Arab nationalism – Nasser’s Egypt,” considered a major threat because “it might seek to take control of the immense resources of the region and use them for regional interest, rather than allow them to be centrally controlled and exploited by the United States.” Since then, Israel has been a key stronghold for U.S. geopolitics.

So despite the lopsided destruction that Israel has unleashed on Palestinians, the Obama administration continues to support Israel’s military operations and falsely equates the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls. When the UN Human Rights Council voted on July 23 to open inquiry into war crimes in Gaza, the U.S. was the only country to vote “no.” In lockstep, the New York Times squarely blames Hamas’s comparatively minimal violence for Israel’s brutality and also falsely equates the violence against civilians “on both sides of the border.” Similarly, Briscoe states that Israel is simply responding “in kind” to Hamas rockets.

However, Israel’s relentless destruction of Gaza and the lopsided death toll are becoming increasingly hard for reporters to deny, even in the liberal corporate media. NBC News pulled veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza after he reported on the murder of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach by Israeli gunboats. Mohyeldin was returned to Gaza only after public uproar. MSNBC fired contributor Rula Jebreal after her on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage, such as having “90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians.” The facts in Gaza clearly support Mohyeldin’s and Jebreal’s outrage: Israel’s bombing and invasion have overwhelmingly killed children and other civilians, with likely war crimes including the bombing of hospitals, other medical facilities, mosques, schools, and Gaza’s sole power plant. Despite rhetorical flourishes by the New York Times about “bombardments … of Israeli population centers,” Hamas, a democratically elected governing organization of Gaza, has committed violence with comparatively minimal civilian casualties and damage. This says less about the atrocities that Hamas has committed and more about the scale of Israeli brutality. In either case, Obama’s defense of Israel is rhetorically on the grounds that “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders” – if the liberals actually agree with this on principle, they should fully support the Palestinians’ right to resistance.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, seen in the posters, chant anti-Saudi and Bahraini governments slogans while waving Bahrain flags during a demonstration in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 09, 2012. Iraqi Shiite Muslims have demonstrated against the king of Bahrain. They are demanding that he be banned from attending this month’s Arab League summit meeting in Baghdad.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Now that U.S. forces are gone, Iraq’s ruling Shiites are moving quickly to keep the two Muslim sects separate — and unequal.

Sunnis are locked out of key jobs at universities and in government, their leaders banned from Cabinet meetings or even marked as fugitives. Sunnis cannot get help finding the body of loved ones killed in the war. And Shiite banners are everywhere in Baghdad.

With the Americans no longer here to play peacemakers and Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab nations moving to isolate Iraq, it’s a development that could lead to an effective breakup of the country.

“The sectarian war has moved away from violence to a soft conflict fought in the state institutions, government ministries and on the street,” said political

analyst Hadi Jalo. “What was once an armed conflict has turned into territorial, institutionalized and psychological segregation.”

Despite occasional large-scale bombings, March recorded the lowest monthly toll for violent deaths since the 2003 U.S.-invasion.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite hard-liner in office for nearly six years, does not tire from telling anyone who cares to listen that it was he who defeated “terrorism,” the word he uses to refer to the Sunni insurgency.

Critics charge that al-Maliki is suspicious of all Sunnis, even those who never joined the insurgency or later abandoned it, and is punishing a community that lost its protectors when the Americans left Iraq in December, ending eight years of occupation.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called al-Maliki to express Washington’s “firm commitment to a unified, democratic Iraq as defined by Iraq’s constitution.” A White House statement also said that Obama stated his support for the prime minister’s participation in a national dialogue hosted by President Jalal Talabani to reconcile Iraqi political blocs. The dialogue formally opens Thursday.

Al-Maliki has denied allegations that his government is harassing or discriminating against Sunnis. He even bragged to Arab leaders gathered for a summit meeting in Baghdad last week that “it is not an exaggeration to say that our success in national reconciliation can be an example to follow in Arab nations suffering from acts of violence and conflict.”

But Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the administration’s top Sunni official, is a fugitive wanted by prosecutors on terror charges. He fled to the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq to escape what he said would certainly be a politically motivated trial and left this week for Qatar, which has publicly criticized the marginalization of Sunnis.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni, has been banned from attending Cabinet meetings because he called al-Maliki a dictator.

Ordinary Sunnis complain of discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, education, employment and security. Formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as Hurriyah, are now predominantly Shiite and protected by concrete barrier walls and checkpoints; with Shiite militias effectively policing many areas, hardly any Sunnis dare to return.

Baghdad now has the appearance of an exclusively Shiite city, with streets and bridges renamed after Shiite saints, Shiite green, black and red banners flying almost everywhere and giant posters of Shiite saints towering over all else on major squares.

Flaunting Shiite strength in Baghdad, a city of some seven million, is apparently a priority for the sect’s clerical leadership.

“I always say that one Shiite from Baghdad is worth five Shiites like me from Najaf,” Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation’s most revered Shiite cleric, was quoted as telling Shiites who visited him at his home in Najaf, a city south of Baghdad.

“You are the majority and your enemies are trying to reduce your numbers,” al-Sistani said, according to one of the 30 men who attended the seven-minute meeting last November. “Go out and perform your rituals.”

The men took al-Sistani’s words to heart and swung into action when the next religious occasion arrived in January — the Arbaeen, which marks the passing of 40 days after the seventh century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a much revered saint.

The district known for its well-to-do professionals and businessmen took on a religious ambiance of the kind found in Baghdad’s poor Shiite areas or those hosting religious shrines.

Residents practiced the ritual of self-flagellation on the streets, hoisted hundreds of Shiite banners on trees and lamp posts and served meat and rice from tents pitched on street corners.

In the Baghdad district of Azamiyah, for years a bastion of Sunni resistance to Shiite domination, the government is ignoring repeated demands by Sunni residents to remove Ali al-Saadi, a Shiite who heads the local council. They also want to replace Hadi al-Jubouri, another Shiite who is the district’s mayor. Both men were appointed by the U.S. military authorities in July 2003, when the Sunni insurgency against the American occupation was starting.

Among other perceived injustices, the Sunnis say Health Ministry officials stonewall them when they seek help locating the remains of loved ones killed during the sectarian violence of the last decade and that, unlike Shiites living in the district, they are not allowed to keep a firearm at home for self-defense.

Sunnis who apply for government jobs also complain of stalling tactics.

A young university graduate from Azamiyah who wanted to be identified as Umm Omar, or the mother of Omar, said she was among 150 candidates selected last year for jobs in the public affairs departments in Cabinet ministries. When she goes to the ministry to find out when she can start work, she is told to come back another time for an update.

“All the Shiites I know who applied with me started work,” said Umm Omar, who did not want to identify herself or the ministry because she feared reprisals. “I think it is because I am a Sunni from Azamiyah, but I will not give up. Jobs must never be given based on sect.”

Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb, a close al-Maliki ally, is accused of implementing sectarian policies thinly concealed behind his goal of purging members of Saddam Hussein’s now-outlawed Baath Party from academic institutions.

He has ordered candidates for senior positions in universities and the ministry to submit declarations on their possible links with the Baath Party or security agencies.

Those found out to have withheld such information are banned from assuming the positions for which they applied, according to an aide to the minister who agreed to talk about the subject only on condition of anonymity.

Sunnis have long maintained that Shiite authorities use Baath ties as an excuse to purge the civil service and academic institutions of members of their community.

Al-Adeeb has fired nearly 200 academic and administrative staff from the state university in the mainly Sunni Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, according to local tribal leaders and officials. The campus is in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown.

Most if not all university directors in Baghdad are Shiites, according to staff members.

“Sectarian discrimination has become more manifest since al-Adeeb took over the ministry. Several deans and heads of departments have been removed because they belong to the other sect,” said university lecturer Ali Abu-Zeid, himself a Shiite. “Even enrollment for postgraduate studies is subtly decided on sectarian basis. We all know that,” said Abu-Zeid, who declined to name the university that employs him because he feared reprisals.

Fed up with Shiite domination, the mainly Sunni provinces of Diyala, Salaheddin and al-Anbar have recently announced their intention to become semiautonomous regions, a move provided for by the constitution. Their plans have been stymied by al-Maliki, who argues that granting them autonomy would break up Iraq.

In Diyala, the provincial council voted Dec. 12 to establish a self-ruled region, with 18 members in favor and five against. The next day, protesters widely suspected to be Shiite militiamen loyal to al-Maliki attacked the offices of the provincial government as well as the home of Sunni governor Abdul-Naser al-Mahdawi, as police and army troops stood by and watched.

Fearing for their lives, al-Mahdawi and several council members fled the provincial capital, Baqouba, and found sanctuary in the mainly Kurdish town of Khanaqin to the north.

Last month, al-Maliki gave al-Mahdawi 72 hours to return to Baqouba or resign. He resigned.