Tag Archives: Air Wars

Ignoring Western bombing in the Middle East endangers us all

Ignoring Western bombing in the Middle East endangers us all
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
29 June 2017

The terrible consequences of the West’s air campaign in Iraq and Syria have dropped off the news agenda. No doubt the media would argue they have been preoccupied with the era-shaking general election and the Grenfell Tower disaster but the unpalatable truth is our so-called fiercely independent and critical fourth estate have rarely shown much concern with the human cost of Western military intervention in the Middle East.

For example, the Guardian did report United Nations (UN) war crimes investigators recently saying the US-backed assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the defacto capital of Islamic State (ISIS), had caused a “staggering loss of civilian life” – in a tiny article hidden on page 22 of the paper. According to the UN inquiry at least 300 civilians have died in recent weeks, with over 160,000 people fleeing the intensifying air campaign. The local activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently stated the US-led coalition bombing has destroyed “almost every important building in Raqqa,” including schools and mosques. On top of this the New York Times reported local residents as saying the coalition were using munitions loaded with white phosphorus in eastern Raqqa (the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is prohibited under international law).

The coalition has also intensified its bombing campaign in Mosul, in an attempt to dislodge ISIS’s grip on the northern Iraqi city, including a March 2017 airstrike that is estimated to have killed around 200 civilians. In the same month the Washington Post noted “A sharp rise in the number of civilians reported killed in US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is spreading panic” with families describing “cowering in basements for weeks as bombs rained down around them and the Islamic State battled from their rooftops.”

In total, the independent monitoring group Air Wars estimates a minimum of nearly 4,000 civilians have died in the 22,600 air strikes the coalition has carried out in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

As well as killing thousands, like with the US bombing of Afghanistan and Pakistan the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria likely increase support for those they are targeting. “Its strongest recruiting tactic is to present itself as the one true guardian of Islam under attack from ‘crusader’ forces”, Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, argues about ISIS. Rogers’ analysis is borne out by the fact many of those who carry out terrorist attacks in the West cite Western military action in the Middle East as a justification for their actions. For example, the Wall Street Journal noted that “In the series of phone calls with the negotiator during the Orlando massacre” in June 2016 the perpetrator Omar Mateen “railed against US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, saying they were killing women and children”.

So if Western military action isn’t the answer, what is?

First, we should work to close the external funding channels to ISIS and other extremist groups – the topic of a UK Home Office inquiry that has apparently been shelved by the government because it points the finger at Saudi Arabia, the UK’s closest partner in the Middle East.

In addition, it is well known that some of the “extraordinary amount of arms” that ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry says US has helped to send into Syria have ended up in extremists’ hands. In 2015 the Guardian reported ISIS captured 2,300 US-made Humvee armoured vehicles and huge amounts of weapons when it overran Mosul.

More broadly, it is important to understand the conditions that give rise to groups like ISIS – the extreme violence, chaos and sectarianism created by conflict. “There undeniably would be no ISIS if we had not invaded Iraq,” David Kilcullen, a top counter-insurgency advisor to the US military, argued in 2016. A similar relationship applies to Libya circa 2011 and also Syria – in both countries the West helped to escalate and extend the conflict by sending in arms and blocking peace initiatives.

So one of the most effective things the West could do to reduce ISIS’s power is work to deescalate the conflicts. In Iraq the West should be pressuring the Iraqi government to implement a political settlement that is fully inclusive of the Sunni community that has been alienated and marginalised since 2003 – conditions ISIS has exploited. And if military action is required Dr David Wearing, a Lecturer at SOAS, University of London, argues it is essential the fighting is left “to local forces that have popular legitimacy in those areas” – not Western forces.

That there is a connection between Western bombs killing people in the Middle East and terrorist attacks killing people on Western streets is obvious to all but the most blinkered. Stopping the former, which is likely to reduce the latter, is the pressing task facing concerned citizens in the West.

 

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Brimstone missiles target the British public, not Islamic State

Brimstone missiles target the British public, not Islamic State
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
27 January 2016

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) press office must have been popping the corks in celebration of the prominent role the Brimstone missile played in the debate about whether the UK should start bombing ISIS in Syria.

Opening the parliamentary session before the vote to go to war, the prime minister explained that “Britain conducting strikes in Syria will really make a difference” because “our Brimstone missiles” provide a “high-precision strike capability”. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon went one further, stating the Brimstone missiles “eliminates… civilian casualties because it is so precise”.

Proving George Orwell’s dictum that “Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip,” significant sections of our free press and many so-called independent experts faithfully echoed the government’s official line.

“The missile uses a low-powered but highly focused explosive warhead to reduce shrapnel hitting civilians,” noted the Telegraph. “The Brimstone is capable of hitting moving targets travelling at speeds of up to 70mph” and “can be launched from an aircraft up to seven miles away from as high as 20,000 feet.” The Daily Mail transformed from a newspaper into a sales brochure: “The missile that never misses: watch the incredible moment a drone launched Brimstone hits a car moving at 70mph from seven MILES away’. The Sun was equally enthusiastic just a week before the parliamentary vote: “Raining hell on IS: RAF missile will pinpoint jihadists SEVEN miles away.” The online media watchdog Media Lens accurately dubs this kind of overexcited narrow focus on the technical aspects of weaponry as “war porn”, with the BBC a big culprit.

Though their identity is based on notions of objectivity and critical thinking, academics can be just as susceptible to repeating government propaganda narrative as anyone else. For example, Dr James Strong, a Fellow in foreign policy analysis and international relations at the London School of Economics, was happy to sing Brimstone’s praises on both CNBC and Al Jazeera.

Those of independent mind with a basic knowledge of recent history will be far more sceptical of the claims made about, and the emphasis being put on, the Brimstone missile.

In the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War, the general public was repeatedly told about the precision weapons that would be targeting Iraqi forces. In reality 70 percent of all US bombs missed their targets, with precision-guided bombs making up just 7 percent of the US tonnage dropped on Iraqi targets. In his 2011 book The Death of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars, John Tirman explained that US bombing is estimated to have killed 20,000–30,000 Iraqi civilians.

On the day after the start of the illegal, unprovoked and deeply unpopular US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Sun published a double page proclaiming ‘THE FIRST “CLEAN” WAR’, with the sub-headline “Civilian deaths could be zero, MoD claims”. In actual fact “thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed or injured during the three weeks of fighting”, according to a December 2003 report from Human Rights Watch. Ten years later a peer-reviewed study published in the PLOS Medicine journal estimated the war and occupation directly and indirectly claimed the lives of approximately half a million Iraqis from 2003 to 2011.

Just as the government emphasised precision bombing in 1991 and 2003, in making the case for war in December 2015 the Prime Minister claimed there “had been no reports of civilian casualties” in the over 300 UK airstrikes in Iraq since September 2014. And, just like 1991 and 2003, independent analysis suggests a very different reality.

Air Wars, a not-for-profit transparency project staffed by journalists, estimates that between 72 and 81 civilian deaths in Iraq could be linked to British air strikes. Unfortunately, confirmation will be all but impossible because the MoD apparently only investigates reports of civilian deaths that come from UK military personnel and “local forces” deemed friendly.

Air Wars’s findings raises awkward questions for the Brimstone believers: either Brimstone missiles were used during these strikes that likely caused civilian deaths or they were not used, which suggests the extreme focus on the Brimstone missile by the government, military and media is unwarranted. Indeed, Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, argues the Brimstone’s role is “far more important symbolically” than militarily because it will account for a “tiny proportion” of the total air strikes carried out on ISIS.

More broadly, the skilful public relations campaign pushing Brimstone probably has larger objectives other than simply defeating ISIS. First, as always, we need to follow the money. “MBDA, the manufacturer of the British Brimstone missile, is set to be the main economic beneficiary of” the decision to launch air strikes in Syria, notes the Sunday Herald. MBDA’s current order book of £7.8bn “is now set to increase significantly as missiles used in Syria and Iraq are eventually replaced.” With Brimstone missiles also used by the Saudi Arabian Air Force (which we don’t like to talk about because Saudi Arabia has probably used them in its UK-backed slaughter in Yemen), the Guardian recently reported the British Ambassador in Washington has been trying to get the US armed forces to adopt the missile.

Second, it is important to remember there was and continues to be considerable resistance to the British bombing in Syria, with a majority of Labour MPs and the Labour shadow cabinet opposed, along with the SNP, Plaid Cmyru, the Green Party, and a number of national newspapers.

The celebration of Brimstone, along with repeated references to “precision bombing”, was very obviously an attempt to gain public support for the military attack by neutering people’s concern about civilian casualties. Indeed, this propaganda play has likely had an additional worrying influence. “Politicians and public opinion in the West seem to be convinced that air power is less ‘messy’ than the use of ground forces,” according to Captain Steinar Sanderød of the Norwegian Air Force. “Such a perception of air power has greatly contributed to lowering the threshold for using force among Western politicians.”

All of which leads to a worrying realisation: the primary target of Britain’s Brimstone missiles so far has not been ISIS, but the British public.

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/brimstone-missiles-target-british-public-not-islamic-state-1698303657#sthash.kqI1HWkj.dpuf