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Wahhabism and ISIS — The Curse of the Middle East

This is a guest post by Niall Kiernan

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Muhammad ibn Abu Wahhab
In 1703, in the central wilderness of the Arabian Desert, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab arrived into this world.

The son of a cleric, he was tutored by his father in the Qur’an and the many other philosophical books of Islam.  Of course, being brought up in the Empty Quarter, where your world-view is shaped by the harsh, inhospitable lands of Najd (central Arabia), all he had in his early life were the teachings in the holy books. He had no exposure to the diverse milieu that resided in the streets of Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad or Istanbul.

Muhammad was sent by his father to Mecca to study under the tutelage of the Hanbali mufti. However, the mufti regarded him as a poor student, both arrogant and defiant, and so Muhammad consequently dropped out. His father was most displeased and even his own brother would later disown him when his teachings became known and understood for what they were.

Muhammad gained an introduction to the chief justice of Medina to see he if he could be educated in jurisprudence, as was his family tradition and the two men quickly became friends, since  al Sindhi, a ‘reformist’ saw the overlay of culture and tradition on Islam as a corruption.  After a number of years with Al Sindhi, Muhammad moved to the city of Basra in present-day Iraq where he formulated his ideology until he was happy that his new flavour of Islam was ripe for dissemination.

What Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab had produced was a cultureless, joyless and traditionless ideology where every word of the Qur’an was interpreted literally but essentially in an à la carte and DIY fashion. For him, the concept, of visiting people you are grieving for in a graveyard, enjoying music, theatre or anything cultural or traditional was anathema because this particular Muhammad believed it all to be a form of polytheism.

The worshipping of dead ancestor gods, musical or dancing gods, theatre and sculpture gods, was heresy.  This ideology demanded that all culture and tradition be destroyed and erased entirely as the world saw in 2001 with the Taliban’s destruction of the magnificent Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Upon returning to Najd Muhammad began to preach and attract some followers but after a spate of destructive acts in villages of the region such as destroying gravestones and cutting down ‘sacred’ trees, the local tribal bosses had enough of the upstart and expelled him.

The Grand Alliance

When Muhammad was exiled from his area of Najd, he was either invited or perhaps inveigled his way into Diriyah (the big smoke of Najd, so to speak) to stay with a clan leader going by the name of Muhammad ibn Saud.  Does the name sound familiar to you? It should, because this guy’s successors ‘own’ a very rich country, the only one in the world named after a family.

Both of these men had ambitions well beyond their status. Both wanted to control the Arabian Peninsula, one of them politically, the other religiously, so they formed a pact in 1744 that still survives to this day.

ISIS 1.0  The Birth of The Management of Savagery

From that date onward, the two amigos set about conquering, first the Najd region and then the eastern coastline of the Arabian Peninsula from Kuwait to Oman. The tactic was simple. Their jihadists did not follow Arab custom and tradition in warfare. They were zealots who were trained to kill anyone who didn’t suit their mindset. Christians, Shia, captured prisoners, women and children.  You name it, they’d murder it…
Fast-forward to 1801 and we see the successor of the Saud dynasty invading Iraq and sacking the Shia holy city of Karbala where the Imam Ali Hussein (the murdered grandson of the Prophet) had been laid to rest.

The Wahhabist jihadists slaughtered approximately 5,000 people (including women and children) in less than half a day, whilst plundering the city’s great wealth. Stories abounded about their special kind of cruelty towards pregnant Shia women. They where sliced open and their dead babies thrown into the disembowelled and dying women’s arms. Having destroyed all around them (including Hussein’s mausoleum along with his skeletal remains) they left the city with 4,000 camels laden down with their booty of gold and jewels.

Thus far, these jihadist have demonstrated quite a shocking appetite for murder and destruction of any and all that opposed them, coupled with a simple choice for the enemy, “convert or die” and also indeed, a voracious appetite for wealth.

The Ottoman Caliphate began taking notice when both Medina and Mecca were captured by ibn Saud. The Ottomans went on the offensive and ordered the Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha to use his Egyptian army to root these psychopaths out. The jahidists were eventually routed and the Ottomans took revenge on the Saudis by destroying every last building in their capital, Diriyah in 1818, which wasn’t rebuilt until the 1970s.

The Saudi/Wahhabi alliance was put back into its box in the wastelands of Najd for nearly 100 years. However, the alliance remained – welded together through marriage, beginning with al Wahhab’s two sons and ibn Saud’s daughters.  The family, for it was, by now, one family and their army of jihadists simply bided their time.

The Saud Family and the British ‘Godfather’

After nearly 100 years the jihadists were back in business. The (so-called) Great War began. However, the Saudis held back when the Hashemites of the western peninsula began the Arab Revolt in 1916  while the Ottomans had their hands full with the Brits in Sinai and Palestine.

The House of Saud had other ideas and decided it would supplant the Hashemites.

Then, early in 1917, Harry St John Philby was dispatched by the British Army in Mesopotamia to meet a representative from a new generation of Wahhabist Sauds by the name of Abd-al-Aziz.  Philby’s mission was to find out whether the Sauds would assist the Hashemites in western part of Arabia in the Arab Revolt. Britain had long had a pact with the Hashemite Sharif Hussein that he would control an empire stretching from Egypt to Persia.  (Incidentally, Philby’s son, Kim,  went on to become a famous KGB double-agent).

The Hashemites were mortal enemies of the Saud clan and Abd-al-Aziz waited to choose his moment.

It seems Philby was hand picked by MI-6.  According to Wikipedia…

Gertrude Bell of the British Military Intelligence Department was his first controller and taught him the finer arts of espionage. In 1916 he became Revenue Commissioner for Occupied Territories.”

Philby was an ambitious, self-serving opportunist as well as a committed Zionist and when he arrived in Najd in early 1917 and it seems he liked what he saw.  When he arrived in Najd he was well received and immediately began immersing himself in the Arabian culture. At some remove from the powers that be in London, he went native and before long was wearing the full-length white thobe,  the tagia, gutra and igal on his head, the beard and all of the other paraphernalia.

Philby became a senior and trusted advisor to Abd-al-Aziz, even sitting at council meetings all the while urging Abd-al-Aziz to annex territories to the north (even when London forbade it).  His influence only waned in Saudi Arabia after the death of Adb-al-Aziz.  By the early thirties Philby had himself converted to Wahhabism and in 1945, at the age of 60, married a 16 year-old girl purchased at a slave market in the town of Taif, near Mecca.  Oddly enough, this MI-6 agent who had been ‘turned’ by his subject and would normally be regarded as treasonous, had a son who also rose, years later, to a high-ranking position in the very same organisation to, yet again betray them. All very strange indeed.

ISIS 2.0 – Ikhwan (Brethren)

Already, by 1913 groups of nomadic Bedouin who were classed as ‘kafir’ by the Wahhabis (because of their nomadic lifestyle) were drafted into the Saudi army and indoctrinated in Wahhabism and thereafter allowed to become nomadic jihadists by instruction from Abd-al-Aziz.  The new Wahhabist zealots set about their conquest with the same vigour as they had done 100 years beforehand. They murdered all and sundry in their attacks (male captives had the pleasure of having their throat cut). Forceful conversion of Shias in the north was tolerated and (more importantly) Ikhwan ultimately prevailed against the Hashemites in 1926.

However, the Saudis were beginning to lose control of the creature that they created and by the time Saudi Arabia came into being the new al-Saud regime were firmly in Ikhwan’s sites (plus ça change).

Abd-al-Aziz was advised by Philby that the time that he had come to ‘appear’ to be civilized to the British and the Americans who came courting due to their reserves of oil.  Ikhwan had to be put into cold storage.  For their part, the Ikhwan believed the House of Saud to be far too lax in their religious standards, what with the schooling their children in the infidel western lands and by drinking and whoring their way around Europe.

In 1927, an open revolt by the Ikhwan began with raids into Iraq, Kuwait and Trans-Jordan. The British bombed Najd and although the instigators of the revolt were captured and executed by Abd-al-Aziz, in order to appease the British, the attacks by Ikhwan continued. The Brits joined with Abd-al-Aziz and by 1930 Ikhwan had surrendered and their leaders in the field were executed by machine gun fire (a humiliation in jihadist terms).

The ‘Civilising’ of Wahhabism 1930 – 1979

Once Abd-al-Aziz regained full control by 1930 he decided that Wahhabism would be forcibly changed from a jihadist movement of proselytizers to a conservative social, theological and political movement that would be used to justify the institutions that uphold the Saudi royal family and al-Aziz’s right to absolute power.

By 1938 the sheer extent of Saudi oil reserves had become known and the Saudis readily sold the oil to the Allies during World War Two but it was not until after the  Yalta Conference in February 1945, when Abu-al-Aziz met Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy, that the alliance with the west was fully cemented.

Aziz and Roosevelt aboard Quincy

As part of the deal, the Saudis would use their growing oil wealth to project their version of Islam throughout the Middle East. The Saudis argued that western interests would be best served in the region by having one dominant strain of Sunni Islam that would bow to Saudi demands, rather than the myriad of versions that could not be controlled.  Additionally, The spreading of Wahhabism in the region would serve as a counterweight to Pan-Arabism, socialism, Ba’athism as well as Soviet and Iranian influence.

But the Ikhwan approach to Islam did not die in the 1930s. It simply retreated.

Two major events occurred in 1979 that changed the entire politics of the region.

They were the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The former caused a massive shockwave especially as the Iranian revolutionaries were calling for the overthrow of the “corrupt” Gulf State monarchies and began supporting Shia groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.  The latter caused the revival of the spirit of Ikhwan in the guise of the Arab Mujahideen who helped fight the Soviets to a standstill within 10 years.  As these fighters began to drift back to their countries of origin in the early 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal, a whole series of nasty events ensued.  Algeria was plunged into a vicious civil war; Egypt suffered a wave of attacks on the tourism industry and in Yemen, the mujahideen were recruited by the then President in order to unite the country. Look where that got him!

Later on came 9/11 and all that followed from it.

ISIS Max: The Revival of the Management of Savagery

How anyone in the West thought that getting the Saudis and Qataris to assist ‘moderate’ Sunnis in the Syrian civil war could work is symptomatic of a failure to understand the ideology of Wahhabist jihad along with its history.  What transpired was a cynical attempt by the Gulf States to export their more troublesome citizens into a war zone and hope that they never returned. To that end, the Saudis turned a blind eye to the financing of the new mujahideen by Saudi business interests.

Qatar went one step further and directly funded the group that became the al-Nusra Front.

All this raises the question – Is the western body politic really that unaware of Arab and Muslim history?

If history tells us one thing in this whole saga, it is that, even  after the deliberate unchaining of these rabid homicidal zealots, once the tap of financial support is turned off, this phenomenon can be easily put back in its box.  However, by allowing Saudi that soft power that enabled them to export Wahhabism around the globe, the West has also become deeply infected by the Wahhabi virus. The thousands of European-born Muslims flowing across the porous Turkish borders into the combat zone are evidence enough of this.

The Saudis’ adopted ideology was derived from one very many small sect from one of the four schools of Sunni Islam but they decided that their version of Islam is true and that ALL others are ‘kafir’, apostate or infidel. They have grown and expanded their belief system using vast amounts of cash from various Gulf benefactors.

The current reign of ISIS is beginning to resemble that of Pol Pot but is also eager to both publicise and promote its savagery, mainly in order to recruit new members.

This is the ISIS  manifesto.  It’s well worth a read.

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Postscript

Here in Ireland, we had Dr Ali Selim’s remarks about primary schooling. He called for changes (a “revolution” was what he termed it) to the curriculum in relation to PE, whereby boys would be separated from girls and where music would be restricted to beating an “un-tunable drum”, as reported in the Irish Times in August of this year.  This is again symptomatic of the spread of this virus that has infected large swaths of the (mainly) younger Sunni Muslims’ consciousness. However, I’m glad to read that those responsible leaders of the Islamic society here have lined up to condemn his views via the same organ.

I went to Marseille last April for Munster’s clash with Toulon and saw for myself, in areas just 500 metres north of the port, a ghetto comprising largely North Africans who seemed to be dirt poor, to the point of destitution, either living in squats or the vast banlieues throughout the northern part of the city. To all intents and purposes, northern Marseille looks like some South American shantytown.

Therein lies a perfect cesspit, ripe for such an extreme ideology to breed in.

Libya is now a basket case along with Yemen and Somalia, Aleppo in Syria now resembles Stalingrad in early 1943 without the snow, Boko Haram in Nigeria …

Need I continue…?

The genie is out of the bottle and my belief is that this is no accident. The dogs of war were unleashed in Libya and Syria in 2011 and they rage on to this day because of what I would call “The Great Fraud of the Arab Spring” the ‘fruits’ of which, failed to be delivered as promised by the Gulf States to Obama.

The result has been irony in motion; a new jihadist-controlled Caliphate in Syria/Iraq with its sights set on Mecca, Medina and beyond – to those that brought them into existence in the first place.

Yes, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.  There is no compromise to be had with Wahhabist jihad. As an ideology, it is well beyond reason, but can it be destroyed, or put back in its bottle?

Perhaps.

However, the US might do well to have a long, hard, cold look at what it amusingly calls its “foreign policy” in light of all of this.

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Media

Time to Relax

Today, I thought I might relax and take a break from all the extreme stuff in the world news, because it gets very tiring.  It’s hard to keep talking about this stuff, which reminds me of a favourite rhyme from years ago.

On Nevski Bridge a Russian stood
Chewing his beard for lack of food.
He said “It’s tough, this stuff, to eat
But a damn sight better than shredded wheat.

And it is tough.   It’s damn tough to be constantly thinking about ISIS / ISIL, about the bombardment of Gaza and about the war in Ukraine.  No normal man would stay sane if he didn’t take a little break, so I brewed up a coffee, sat back and opened the paper, but the first thing I read was Obama says Islamist militant siege of Mount Sinjar has broken.

Oh, right.  So everything is ok then, and the Yazidi are saved from starvation, they’re living in frugal comfort, with decent sanitation and with enough to eat?

Well, actually, no.  That’s not what Obama is saying.  His point is that they’re not stuck on the top of a mountain any more.   They’re down at sea level, still starving, still living in shit, in rags and without shelter, but that’s fine, since the media don’t care about them any more.  They’re no longer a threat to his image.  Barack even invited the United States to give itself a little clap on the back for breaking the siege by the ISIL crazies whose existence came about thanks to his predecessor’s invasion of Iraq.

Yeazidis refugees

In echoes of Lyndon B Johnson’s infamous outburst in relation to Biafra, Just get those nigger babies off my TV, Obama seems comfortable enough now that the Yazidi people no longer occupy the heights of Mount Sinjar where the media can see them.

The situation is so good, according to Obama, that there won’t even be need for any further humanitarian supplies.  No need for luxuries like tents, food, medicine, clothing, sanitation or heating.

That’s fine.   All fixed.

Jesus, I thought this was supposed to be a day off.

Scanning further down, I see that Cliff Richard has been accused of child abuse and I just think things might be — wait!  What?  What exactly did that say?

Police have raided Cliff Richard’s home in Berkshire, investigating complaints that he abused a boy under sixteen back in the Eighties.

Ah come on, now.  Sir Cliff?  I don’t believe it, and I won’t believe it until a jury says it’s true.

This newspaper business is getting more and more depressing.

Let’s see now.  Robin Williams had Parkinsons?  Right.  Ok.

Man drowned in West Cork after yacht overturned by freak wave.  Great.  Cheerful as hell.   This is really suiting my day off.

MBNA call centre closing in Carrick-on-Shannon.  Not such a surprise.

Ryanair jet takes off with severe damage to control surfaces.  Hmmm.   Not so great.   What happened?  It seems that a microburst battered the plane while it was parked at Faro, shearing several vital bolts holding the rudder onto the tail.  After taking off, the pilots, in fairness to them, noticed that the plane didn’t feel right and returned safely to Faro but still, there in one little report is confirmation of every paranoid traveller’s fears.  Every clunking, knocking random bang and bump that scares the shit out of us all.  It’s not always in your mind.

Great news.

What else is there?

Eurozone growth grinds to a halt.

Losing a testicle.

Oh bollocks.  I think I’ll wait till tomorrow for my day off.

 

 

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war

Confronting Intolerance

When I was  just a callow youth, it seemed to me that the only thing we can legitimately be intolerant about is intolerance itself.

isis

I was young and idealistic, so don’t be too hard on me.  After all, which of us in our teens has not been all taken up with the things we  read, by the ideas flooding in on top of us from all directions, by the notions we’re soaking up by the million from the books we’re reading and the  conversations we’re having with our peers and by whatever interesting, educated mentors we can manage to corner and interrogate, like Pepe le Peu amorously grasping a cat?

It’s ok.  That’s the way teenagers are, or at least those teenagers who care about ideas, and I’m delighted to see that thinking kids still give a shit about the things that matter.

But as the years have passed, that countless flood of years piling wrinkle upon wrinkle and disaster upon disaster, can I still stand over the assertion I made with pride to nobody in particular, since nobody, quite rightly, gave a flying toss what I was trying to say?

Was my intense nineteen-year-old long-haired nerdy self correct in suggesting that the only thing we can legitimately be intolerant about is intolerance itself?

Maybe.  And then again maybe not.  Nineteen-year-olds don’t do nuance, but I suspect I might have stumbled onto something by accident, the notion that extremism is not amenable to debate, and as time passed, I became more and more convinced that some people are simply not receptive to openness, tolerance, debatingness and general touch-feely come-on-in-and-we’ll-have-a-chatness.

Why?  Because some people don’t give a flying fuck how tolerant you are.   Some people are out to kill you or rob you no matter how many organic ethnic kaftans you’ve woven using the braided knee-hair of naturally-deceased bees from  the  Dalai Lama’s personal hive.

Some people are unthinking, murderous violent bastards who do not give one flying shit about you or anyone else.

Debate?  They don’t care.

Discussion?  They don’t care.

Reconciliation?   Here.  Have a bullet in the head.

We’ve seen these movements throughout history.   We saw it in Cambodia.  We saw it in Europe during the Forties.  We saw it in Yugoslavia only twenty years ago.  We saw it in Rwanda.

If you were a Palestinian, you might, with good reason, think that the Israeli government was such a movement and yet you’d be wrong.  For all their faults and for all their violence, for all the murders they have inflicted on Gaza, they don’t come anywhere close to the demented, ideological, religiously-driven Islamic State, a movement that has attracted every maniac in the Middle East and from further afield.

These people represent the embodiment of intolerance, in my view.  They don’t respect the right of anyone else to have an existence.  They will never negotiate, they will never debate, they will never compromise, because these people are driven by an insanity deriving from religion and nationalism, the two worst infections that ever afflicted humanity.

They’ll kill you if you let them, and this brings me back to my teenaged assertion.

Should we tolerate people who don’t care what we think?

Yes, we should.

Should we tolerate people who have utter contempt for our beliefs, or our lack of belief?

Yes.

Should we tolerate those who think we should be dead?

We should.

Should we tolerate people who set up an army, who try to exterminate everyone they feel contempt for and who have no interest in debate?

No.

What we should do with such people is precisely what Colonel Kurtz, who led the same sort of group,  recommended at the end of Apocalypse Now.

Drop the bomb.   Kill them all.

I don’t say it with any sense of satisfaction or superiority.  I don’t say it because I think religious ideologues need to be killed.  I don’t say it because intolerant people need to be killed.  I don’t say it because extreme people need to be killed.

I say it because killers need to be killed.

I say it because if these killers are not killed, they’ll go on killing.

………………

Here’s the problem, of course, the overwhelming question.  How can we possibly ask the Americans to do this after all we said about them?

………………

The answer is easy.  The answer is printed there on every display in every kitchen shop and every craft outlet:

If you break it, you own it.

 

It’s that simple.

 

Britain and the US broke Iraq.   Their misguided invasion created ISIS and now they need to put down the wretched creature that their actions spawned.  There’s no way out of this for the self-named Coalition of the Willing.  Having stormed into Iraq and having awoken this monster, it falls to them to return it to its crypt, by extreme, overwhelming violence.

This time, there will be no free oil-fields for them to plunder.  This time, they simply have to face the thing they created and put it down.

Sometimes, the only answer to intolerance is intolerance.

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Previously:

 

ISIS, a direct result of ignoring history

 

 

 

 

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ISIS / ISIL / Islamic State a Direct Consequence of Failure to Learn From History

Who could fail to be baffled by the dramatic military successes of the Islamic group, known variously as ISIS, ISIL the Islamic Republic and Daesh?  How, you might ask, is a lunatic rabble of religious extremists able to win formal set-piece battles against well-constructed armies?

It’s simple.  They might be lunatics, they might be religious extremists, but they are most certainly not a rabble.

And if you want to know how they came into existence, the man to thank is Paul Bremer, the US Presidential Envoy to Iraq who ascended to his throne in May 2003.  Bremer might not quite have worn a toga or laurel wreath on his head.   He might not have had oiled Nubians fanning him with palm fronds.  He might not have arrived in an imperial trireme.  He might not quite have had slave-girls peeling his grapes, but in his own mind, Paulus Maximus was every inch the Proconsul, with absolute power to make whatever decision he thought fit in this new province of Pax Americana.

And what a singularly ignorant clod the idiot Emperor Georgius the Dense chose as his first Proconsul.

nineveh

When Bremer made his disastrous decision in 2003 to disband the Iraqi Republican Guards and to sack any public servant with the remotest connection to the Ba’ath Party, he turned his back on the lessons of history.  He failed to remember that at the end of WW2, the Allies promptly enlisted their former enemies as allies.

Having flattened Germany, the Allies immediately began rebuilding it.  The defeated Germany was dealt with badly under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, but not crushed completely, so that within 20 years Europe was at war yet again.  After 1945, when much of Germany was in ruins, the Western powers chose a path of reconstruction.  They helped rebuild West Germany and co-opted it as  an ally in NATO.  Likewise in the Pacific war, after a savage conflict, the allies chose the expedient path of engaging with the Japanese, assisting in their economic recovery and ultimately consolidating a relatively permanent peace.  They accepted the surrender of the Japanese in Indo-China, and immediately re-armed them to act as a military police force, thus saving the cost of occupation.

Of course there were occasional ugly incidents such as in Greece where the Allies turned on the Partisans who had supported them throughout, and annihilated their former friends, but most of the time we don’t like to talk about such things.

Bremer, who in his hubris once compared himself to Douglas MacArthur, also failed to study the writings of the master political adviser, Niccolo Macchiavelli who said that there are only two ways to deal with opponents: men should be either treated generously or destroyed.

Why?  Because if you merely hurt them, they can eventually get back up and kill you, whereas if you show them kindness, you might win an ally.

Bremer, on the other hand, chose neither the path of utter destruction nor the path of reconciliation.  Instead, the civil-servant-turned-viceroy, the man given complete executive power in Iraq, decided to sack every public servant with even the most tenuous links to the Ba’ath Party, thereby demonstrating a profound failure to understand the nature of totalitarian states, where it is necessary to have at least one family member in the Party, or else face exclusion.

Not only did Bremer sack the civil service and lose the services of the very people who could have managed the State apparatus for him, but he also disbanded the Republican Guard, a highly professional and battle-hardened branch of the Iraqi armed forces.  Furthermore, by sacking so many civil servants and soldiers, Bremer removed the weekly wage from millions of people, thus ensuring that Iraq became even more unstable.   Instead of recruiting the backbone of a new Iraqi army, he lost the services of the most professional soldiers and at one stroke he provided the insurgency with its best fighters.

History showed that Bremer and his masters were wrong.  By demonising the Ba’ath party, Bremer revealed that he was just as much a victim of populist conditioning as everyone else.  He demonstrated little understanding of the subtleties, instead relying on a good guy / bad guy John Wayne analysis.  Someone should have taken him aside and reminded him that his own country co-opted the worst of the worst Nazis to work on their rocket programme because it made sense.   If the US could work with Nazis, they could certainly work with Ba’athists, but unfortunately a comic-book level of political analysis won the day.

Bremer had defeated Captain Extreme.  But even then, he wasn’t finished.

To compound all his other mistakes, Bremer insisted on immediately privatising the 200 or so companies that manufactured everything in Iraq, from paper to cement, from televisions to toilets, and this is where ideology creeps in.  After all, why would an occupying power be so concerned about getting what they considered to be inefficient state enterprises into private hands, rather than stabilising a chaotic post-war economy?

In what sort of world-view is such a thing the priority, rather than restoring public services such as health, transport, water-supply, electricity or education?  The answer is simple.  It’s a priority among the small number of ideologues who surrounded the bumbling figure of GW Bush, including Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, to whom Bremer reported directly.  The so-called neocons, whose unswerving belief in The Market cared nothing for culture or history, or for anything enduring in the world apart from profit.  The neo-philistines.

From 1995 to 2000, Cheney was Chairman and CEO of Halliburton the vast energy conglomerate.  He resigned from his position as Vice-President of Halliburton in 2000 when he ran successfully in the US Vice-Presidential election, and in compensation, received a severance payment of €36 million.  Small surprise then that Halliburton should have received such a huge share of the spoils as Iraq was systematically asset-stripped following Bremer’s decrees.  And what a shock that Halliburton, the company with which Cheney no longer had any connection, should be awarded the contracts to supply everything the US military needed as it bedded into the cradle of civilisation.  Everything from porn to popcorn.

When Bremer decided to privatise Iraq, with a complete removal of all controls and all taxes, he might as well have put up a sign saying Vultures Welcome, because the carrion birds descended in flocks and they stripped bare the bones of the ancient country, old Mesopotamia, where the Euphrates meets the Tigris, where the Garden of Eden now bore the scars of tank tracks.  A country, incidentally, that had never done a single thing to the United States.

Not only that, but Cheney’s former company took control of the oil industry and, out of the profits, they forced Iraqis to pay the USA for invading and destroying their country as well as taking a healthy slice for themselves and their ex CEO who of course had absolutely nothing to do with any of it, having resigned in 2000.  Interestingly, Cheney is now a board member of Genie, the energy company exploring in Israel and Palestine, just as news filters through of a massive gas discovery off the coast of Gaza.

All of this gives a clue to the nature of this apparently-new thing called ISIL or ISIS or simply the Islamic State, an extreme Sunni movement with strong links to the vile intolerant Wahhabi sect that rules Saudi Arabia.

Saddam Hussein was not a religious Muslim.  Indeed, he wasn’t religious at all, but he was still a Sunni, in the same way that many Irish people call themselves Catholic or Protestant even though they believe nothing and never step inside the door of a church.  It’s a cultural thing.

Saddam’s power-base was the Sunni people of Iraq, only 20% of the population, and his domination of the majority Shia caused vast resentment, especially with his war against the Shia-dominated Iran, egged on by his US handlers.  Let’s not forget that in those days, he was the Americans’ favourite dictator, though that was to change when he made a fatal mistake.

Suddenly we had talk of weapons of mass destruction, and we had the embarrassing spectacle of Colin Powell showing the UN little cartoon pictures of trucks for which, to his credit, he subsequently confessed his shame.  Colin Powell WMD presentation United NationsEven at the time, before the slick graphics we have these days, it was a patently silly attempt to pin the blame on Saddam for something he did not do, despite all his other domestic crimes.

He was a vile dictator.  We can all agree on that, but the world is full of vile dictators, and none more vile than the ones who run Saudi Arabia, yet nobody ever spoke of invading them, for some reason.  At the time of the invasion, there was another dictator, Kim Jong-Il, who was threatening to fire genuine, verified weapons of mass destruction at an American ally, Japan, but nobody suggested invading North Korea.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, whose official role as Vice President consisted of nothing at all apart from staying alive in case the President croaked, launched an unconstitutional campaign to drag America into a war of aggression on behalf of Halliburton.  Every speech he made mentioned Saddam and 9/11 in the same breath, and his campaign was so successful that, to this day, a sizeable proportion of Americans believe Iraq was behind the attack on New York, even though Saddam and Osama Bin Laden were sworn enemies.

For all his faults, Saddam was not an ideological Muslim.  In his Iraq, women could do whatever they wanted including rising to the tops of their professions, dressing as they wished, acquiring a full education, marrying whoever they wanted to and all the other things that Bin Laden detested, as a religious ideologue.  Alcohol was freely available.  There were no religious police.

And yet, bafflingly, Saddam was the one targeted as the extreme Islamic terrorist, whatever that word means.

There could be only one explanation: oil, which was Saddam’s fatal mistake.  He thought he could he could trade oil in Euros instead of dollars and that was the line he crossed, the line that Cheney’s people simply would not tolerate.  Saddam had to go.

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Let us return to the Republican Guards, an elite force composed mainly of Arab Sunnis.  There were no Sunni Kurds, though there were a few Arab Shia and a few Christians, but of course, that’s no surprise.  After all, even Saddam’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was himself a Christian.  It wasn’t so much about belief as about identity, in much the same way that Northern Ireland loyalists identify as Protestant without having the slightest understanding of what the term means.

In a blink, Bremer threw all these people out of a job.  The best, most highly-trained soldiers in Iraq, from General to Private, were kicked out at the side of the road without a penny in their pockets which in itself was a gigantic affront to the traditional Arab notion of dignity.  Furthermore, old tribal enmities began to reassert themselves, now that the Sunni hegemony was so unceremoniously deposed, and thus, with nowhere else to go, the professional soldiers of the old Republican Guard, people trained to the highest standard by Britain and the US, expert in strategy, engineering, logistics, artillery, special operations, armour, mechanised infantry and everything else, were suddenly at the disposal of the extreme Islamist movements who saw the opportunity to move into Iraq and fill the power vacuum.

At the same time, the US supported an Iraqi government which was completely dominated by Shia, thus guaranteeing that the disenchanted insurgents would be forever excluded and continually militant.  Who wouldn’t be?

Bremer, by his utter stupidity, won no friends.  Even the arch-conservative Newt Gingrich called him  the largest single disaster in American foreign policy in modern times.

It’s no surprise that the ISIL crowd have taken so much land in Iraq.  This is not a disorganised rabble.  This is the former military elite in Iraq, a force trained in Harvard Business School, the LSE, Sandhurst and West Point.

Make no mistake.  We’re not dealing with religious lunatics.  This is the old Saddam elite seeking to re-establish itself in Iraq, and if they have to put up with a few nutcases for the moment, that’s an inconvenience they’re prepared to tolerate.  But let’s not make the other mistake of thinking that this is a bunch of desert tribesmen riding camels and waving antique rifles.

Never mind what ranting fool of a mullah is put forward as their supposed leader.  There are real brains behind this movement.  This is a formidable, highly-trained professional force, created and drilled to the most exacting standards by the West.

It would make sense to do a deal with them because they won’t simply go away.

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