Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Defending Australian profit interests in Iraq

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In mid September Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that 600 military personnel would be deployed to Iraq to fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

The task force, which will include SAS forces and eight Super Hornet assault jets, will be stationed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and support a US-led operation. Abbott’s decision was preceded by a formal request for help by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as well as US President Barack Obama.

Abbott claims this intervention is a “humanitarian operation” aimed at stopping terrorism associated with IS but the truth is he has sent these forces in primarily to defend the interests of Australian capitalism.

On September 10, Obama authorised airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and the deployment of a further 475 military ‘advisers’ to the UAE, pushing the total figure to 1700. The force being formed against IS is “not simply something that is an American-Australian operation”, Abbott said, stressing that the Australian military would be acting as part of an international coalition comprising of “the US, UK, France, Canada, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE, as well as Australia”.

Abbott has warned that the operation, which the Lowy Institute estimates will cost $400 million per year, may last “months rather than weeks”. Not surprisingly the second party of Australian capitalism, Labor, also fully supports Australia’s intervention.

Iraq has been wracked with crisis since the aftermath of World War I, however the more immediate problems in the region can be traced back to 2003. In March of that year, under the banner, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom, the US-led ‘coalition of the willing’, which also included the UK and Australia, invaded Iraq.

Then US President George W. Bush justified the invasion by accusing the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, of attempting to enrich uranium to develop weapons of mass destruction and collaborating with Al Qaeda. Between 2003 and 2011, 500,000 people were to be killed.

Far from having anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, the aim of the invasion, as bluntly revealed in former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan’s 2007 memoir, was ‘largely about oil’. The Bush administration aimed to smash the OPEC cartel, privatise the region’s nationalised oil industry and open up the sector to multinational oil companies, thus making billions for the administration’s big business backers.

To accomplish these goals, Bush needed to overthrow Hussein, facilitate the installation of a compliant regime in Iraq, and then pursue regime changes in Iran and Syria.

Hussein was overthrown and initially replaced by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Under the leadership of Paul Bremer, the CPA opted for a neoliberal shock doctrine that tore the country apart. State benefits were slashed, industries closed or sold off to global companies and tens of thousands of former soldiers were demobilised without pay or job prospects. Social services collapsed and power cuts became routine.

As a result of these counter-reforms, the United Nations estimates that 23% of Iraqis, some 9 million people, now live below the poverty line. In the city of Basra 1 in 3 people have been reduced to begging. This is so-called ‘freedom’ according to US imperialism.

A US-imposed ‘constitution’ institutionalised sectarian and ethnic divisions. Elections in 2005 led to Shia-based parties winning a majority in parliament. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of the US, continued many of these policies.

The Islamic State did not develop in a vacuum. They were initially funded by wealthy backers in Saudi Arabia but now the group is earning about $3 million a day from selling Iraqi oil at discount prices in Turkey. They are also involved in smuggling, theft and extortion.

Washington acknowledged the seriousness of the IS advance in early June when it quickly captured Mosul, a city of 665,000 people. IS routed four divisions of the Iraqi army, capturing huge quantities of US weapons and vehicles, emptying the banks and murdering military and civilian prisoners. IS then captured Tikrit, the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein.

It was clear by then that a relatively large portion of the disaffected Sunni population of Iraq was giving support to IS. The Iraqi government installed by the US has been unable to firmly establish itself, even with huge US assistance. The lack of social support of this regime was clearly reflected in the absence of any will to fight among the Iraqi army. IS was able to take huge chunks of land, with the Iraqi military melting away before them.

The growth of IS is a direct result of the bloody history of US intervention in Iraq. In attempting to create regimes that facilitate the profit interests of US imperialism they have conjured up a nightmare for the people of the region and created a new monster that they can’t control. The work they did securing economic gains for big business is now in jeopardy. This is the real reason for the renewed offensive.

Imperialism set this catastrophe in motion. The idea that yet another military intervention will be of any assistance to the Iraqi people is fanciful. Far from being a humanitarian operation the main reason the Australian government is involved in Iraq is to secure economic gains for its Australian big business backers.

It should be remembered that it was not just US oil companies that profited hugely from the Iraq war and subsequent occupation. Australian companies like BHP and Woodside were also able to win a number of contracts. ANZ Bank as well as Australian construction companies and aid firms also made profits from the occupation. Australian officials also ensured that wheat and dairy exports to Iraq were secured for agribusiness.

The majority of Iraqis do not want to be dragged back to the horrors of war. But to stop more conflicts, to end imperialist interference, and to kick out the corrupt ruling elites, working people need a genuine political alternative. They should not have to choose between the twin horrors of US imperialism and IS.

The most important lesson from the last decade in Iraq is that ordinary people need to build an independent political movement to fight for their interests. Iraqi people need a movement that fights against the theft of their resources and against the US imposed policies that are entrenching them in poverty.

If the wealth and resources of Iraq were democratically owned and controlled by the majority of people, they could be used to quickly raise the living standards of everybody. This would be the best way to cut across the growth of reactionary groups like IS.

Far from supporting Australian involvement in Iraq these are the types of political solutions that ordinary people should support.

By Conor Flynn



1980 to 1988: Iran-Iraq war. U.S. government backs Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, turning a blind eye to his use of chemical weapons.

January, 1991: Beginning of Gulf War. U.S. and coalition forces attack Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Thousands of retreating Iraqi soldiers slaughtered on the “Highway of Death.”

1991 to 2003: U.S. establishes no-fly zone in the north of Iraq to provide security for Kurdish population, applies sanctions to the Iraqi economy.

1998: Clinton orders the bombing of Iraq, aimed at “military targets.”

September 11, 2001: Bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon building by Al-Qaeda results in U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

March, 2003: Invasion of Iraq by George Bush on pretence that Iraq possesses “weapons of mass destruction,” which later proves to be false. Subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq which lasts until 2013.

2006 to 2007: Iraqi Civil War erupts in opposition to U.S. occupation. This is fuelled by the shutting out of the Sunni population from power and creating an Iraqi government that is dominated by Shia forces. Although this is the height of the civil war, insurgent movements have been continuous since 2003.

January, 2011: Arab Spring begins with mass protests and the overthrow of the government of Tunisia. Mass protests begin in Egypt and result in the resignation of the dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Protests break out in a number of Arab countries, including Syria.

2011 to Present: Mass revolts in Syria result in brutal repression by Assad regime. This develops into an ongoing civil war.

2013 to Present: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) begin to emerge as a strong radical Islamic group in the civil war in Syria. In 2014 it expands, fighting into Sunni areas of northern Iraq and taking control of the major city of Mosul.


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