The US has begun bombing raids on northern Iraq after President Barack Obama declared the US had to intervene against the Sunni Islamist group, the Islamic State.

The group, formerly known as ISIS, has continued to gain territory in Iraq after its dramatic seizure of the city of Mosul in June.

Obama campaigned for the presidency as an opponent of the Iraq war. Now he declares this intervention is driven by humanitarian motives. Tony Abbott, too, claimed “There is a world of difference between getting involved to prevent genocide and the kind of involvement we have seen in recent years by Western countries in the Middle East.”

Obama has used the horrific situation of the Yazidi religious minority, trapped in hiding from the Islamic State on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar, as his justification.

The Islamic State’s tactics are brutal and sectarian. It has massacred prisoners and sent thousands of refugees fleeing its advance. It has taken Iraq’s biggest Christian town Qaraqosh.

But the threat of a massacre of religious minorities is not what is driving Western intervention.

It is the prospect of losing control of the swathes of Iraq and surrounding region that terrifies and motivates the Western powers. Washington has bases and military advisers based in the Kurdish city of Irbil that it wants to protect.

Before this intervention, Kurdish forces, backed by the US, concentrated their troops not on stopping the Islamic State’s abuses but on seizing oil fields in Kirkuk from the Iraqi government—a move that may well promote further sectarian strife between Iraqis and Kurds. The Islamic State’s spread into Iraq from Syria has a forged new alliances among old enemies. Iran has already sent drones to support the Iraqi government.

Occupation’s legacy

The rise of the Islamic State is a product of the imperialist occupation of Iraq that followed the US-led invasion in 2003.

The “democratic” model imposed by the occupation gave different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups representation in government according to their size. This divide-and-rule strategy encouraged sectarian politics and competition for power and money. This helped lay the groundwork for the sectarian disintegration we are now witnessing.

Bassem Chit, a socialist in Lebanon, said, “The US bombing will do nothing but contribute in the further destabilisation of Iraq. It will create further grounds for the escalation and development of extremism. It will also enforce the sectarian policies of the Iraqi state.”

The Shia-dominated Iraqi regime led by Nouri al-Maliki has consistently pursued a sectarian agenda. The US now wants to disown Maliki and install a new government it can work with under the guise of calling for unity. The US has supported Iraqi president Fuad Masum in appointing a new prime minister from within the ruling coalition. Al-Maliki’s bid to hold onto power by deploying troops onto the streets of Baghdad has quickly collapsed.

US military intervention will only fuel the rise of the Islamic State by allowing it to portray itself as anti-imperialist, distracting from its sectarian and reactionary politics.

Foreign intervention cannot put out the fire it started. Showing solidarity with the people of Iraq means opposing the West’s bombs and war-mongering.

Adapted from Socialist Worker UK

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