Black Banners and Economic Warfare in Iraq
Claude Salhani of UPI reports that the recent kidnappings of truck drivers in a bid to force the companies that employ them out of the Iraq market are being claimed by a shadowy group called “the Black Banners.” He speculates that this phrase has a Shiite ring to it, but quotes one observer who doubts that. Salhani writes:
The “war” in Iraq is suddenly taking a very different turn, and regrettably, not one for the better. After first targeting the military, then changing tactics by kidnapping hostages and holding them in exchange for the withdrawal of Coalition troops — and one may add with some success — the “insurgents” are now going after the soft underbelly of Iraq, its fragile economy.
A new rebel group, hitherto unknown, calling themselves the “Black Banners” is the latest to surface. They join the plethora of armed groups opposed to the presence of foreign forces, particularly American soldiers, in Iraq. The Black Banners have detained six hostages: three Indians, two Kenyans and an Egyptian, all nationals from “neutral” nations.
The tactic of attacking the civilian employees of companies doing work in Iraq is actually not new, and is only one of a number of current guerrilla tactics. Another is to assassinate municipal, provincial and federal officials. A significant percentage of municipal council members has been assassinated, though only The Guardian has reported on this deadly campaign at the local level.
As for the trucker kidnappings, the Black Banners are a symbol of revolution in Islamic history, and not only among Shiites. The corrupt Umayyad kingdom was overthrown by the Abbasids around 750 CE when revolutionaries raised black banners in the East. The Abbasid dynasty, which created Baghdad and ruled for centuries, is seen by Iraqis generally and by Muslims generally, including Sunnis, to have created a Golden Age when the Muslim world was more glorious than Europe. So the term “Black Banners” could have a Shiite implication, but does not necessarily do so. Even secularists or Marxists could adopt black banners as a revolutionary symbol, with reference to the Abbasid revolution.
The tactic of economic warfare aimed at multinationals and at their workers, drawn from the global market, is working at an official level. The Philippines has withdrawn from Iraq and has called for Filipinos not to work there (it is a major source of guest workers throughout the world, several million, and they are a political force, which helps explain the government’s solicitude for them). Now Kenya has asked it citizens not to work in Iraq. But every indication is that both in the US and elsewhere, workers eager to participate in the Iraq bonanza and make a lot of money are still heading for Iraq. Certainly, Filipinos are. Unfortunately, some of these guestworkers are likely to fall victim to the spiral of violence in Iraq.
What does seem clear is that Donald Rumsfeld’s peculiar idea that Iraq is “calming down” is ridiculous on the face of it.
Two US soldiers were killed in Samarra on Thursday by a roadside bomb, and there was more fighting in Fallujah on Friday, and sundry other violence.