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Free market fundamentalism and the rise of ISIL

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The neoliberal agenda of the countries that led the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 has directly contributed to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), writes Tim Robertson.

THE AMERICAN-LED WARS in Iraq and Afghanistan are testament to the problems associated with privatising war. Yet, despite proving disastrous for the Coalition, these same principles ‒ of elevating profit over efficiency ‒ were forced upon the Iraqi army, with farcical results. 

The American’s insistence that whatever could be outsourced was outsourced meant that Iraqi colonels were provided with enormous sums of money to pay not only their soldiers’ wages, but also all the other costs necessary to maintain an army.

The men charged with allocating these funds became hugely powerful and influential and, rather than spending it on things like fuel and ammunition, siphoned much of it off into their own coffers.

Western leaders and much of the media have been quick to make the corrupt and authoritarian former president Nouri al-Maliki the convenient scapegoat.

A parade of former leaders responsible for the destruction of Iraq and, thus, the rise of ISIL – John Howard, Tony Blair and the perennial warmonger Dick Cheney – have come forward in recent months to try and expunge their culpability from the historical record.

But it was, in fact, their penchant for violence and devotion to the tenets of neoliberalism that has spawned what is, today, essentially a failed State.

ISIL is the embodiment of this violence and the capitulation of the Iraqi army is one of the most significant manifestation of this free market fundamentalism.

The rise of ISIL has taken many by surprise, not least because the Iraqi army is (or was) a considerable fighting force. Backed by their previous occupier, the US, the national army had around 350,000 men in its ranks and had been bolstered by US$41.6 billion in the past three years alone. No band of jihadists anywhere in the world should have been, on paper, any match for them.

The rot – as they say – started at the head.

According to Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, corruption filtered down through the ranks.

Soldiers would join the army, receive their pay-check, kick-back half of it to his officer – who’d then distribute it amongst all the other officers – and then go and work a second job somewhere else. When Mosul fell, it’s estimated that only one in three soldiers who were meant to be there actually were. And once IS were advancing, it was the leaders who were the first to flee.

A year prior to IS taking Mosul, a high-ranking Iraqi official warned Mr Cockburn that, if challenged, the army would collapse:

“…the officers are not soldiers, they’re investors. They have no interest in fighting anybody, they have interest in making money out of their investments.”

Knowing this makes the capitulation of the Iraqi army at Mosul seem less extraordinary.

As predicted by the Iraqi official, the some 30,000 troops stationed there left their posts, shed their uniforms and fled the few thousand (or less) advancing ISIL fighters.

Now, with the Iraqi army having all but completely dissolved, the U.S. and its allies have committed to air strikes to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIL.

However, they’re proving ineffective – not only are they not containing ISIL, the jihadists have taken more territory in Anbar province and the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani – and still the Coalition refuse to commit ground troops.

The 2003 invasion brought with it sectarian and jihadi violence, the like of which Iraq had not previously known. Poignantly, The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill revealed earlier this month that a top-ranking Ba’athist from Saddam Hussein’s army, Izzat Ibrahim – who once appeared on the U.S.’s infamous most wanted terrorist ‘deck of cards’ – is now one of top military commanders of ISIL.

Regardless of what one thinks of the neoconservative experiment, what seems unarguable is that the Western powers that brought so much death and destruction to bear on Iraq now have a responsibility to assist her in this current crisis.

But the response to date has been motivated by the same self-interest and disregard for the welfare of ordinary Iraqi’s that characterised the Bush-Blair-Howard era.

President Obama, Tony Abbott and a host of other world leaders that claim to be committed to fighting ISIL have become fond of saying that this is primarily Iraq’s fight, not theirs.

What they fail to say is that their commitment to profit maximisation at the expense of proficiency is responsible for destroying the very institution they’ve charged with taking the fight to ISIL.

Tim Robertson in an independent journalist and writer. He divides his time between Melbourne and Beijing. You can follow him on twitter @timrobertson12.

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