Tag Archives: Paul Rogers

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

ISIS: just a murderous death cult?

ISIS: just a murderous death cult?
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
14 January 2016

The language and framing we use to speak about an issue can either illuminate and help to explain or it can obfuscate and limit our understanding, and thus keep possible solutions out of reach.

Driven by the media’s McCarthy-style witch hunt of anyone who does not publicly denounce ISIS in the strongest terms humanly possible, politicians and commentators have fallen into the dangerous habit of simplistically defining and dismissing ISIS. They are an “evil death cult”, the Prime Minister told parliament in December 2015. Following her leader’s example, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called them a “murderous death cult” on BBC Question Time. Not to be outdone the neutral BBC’s Andrew Neil named them “A bunch of loser jihadists” and “Islamist scumbags” carrying out “Beheading, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor… a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages”. The Left has scarcely been better. Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics left-wing writer Owen Jones stated ISIS “is a murderous death cult… that attracts these pathetic, murdering losers”. Challenged on how we should deal with the group, Jones explained “Obviously there is no prospect, ever, of negotiating with this murderous death cult. They don’t want to negotiate, they have an apocalyptic vision of the world which they wish to satisfy.”

These statements certainly describe one, very public, side of ISIS. However, as the retired American General Stanley McChrystal told The Guardian, “If the west see ISIS as an almost stereotypical band of psychopathic killers, we risk dramatically underestimating them.” Charlie Winter, a senior researcher focussing on ISIS at Georgia State University concurs, explaining “Far from being an army of irrational, bloodthirsty fanatics, IS is a deeply calculating political organisation with an extremely complex, well-planned infrastructure.”

Writing about ISIS’s attempted state-building, Charles Lister, author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, notes ISIS’s “standard governance practice” includes “establishing public welfare programs, offering countless forms of social service, commercial good quality inspections, tax offices, transport companies and much more.” In a 2014 article titled ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has a Consumer Protection Office’ Aaron Zelin, a Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, comments the group’s “sophisticated bureaucracy” includes a court system and a roving police force, along with services such as an electricity department, a post office, road repairs, religious schools and healthcare. “ISIS helps run bread factories and provides fruit and vegetables to many families”, Zelin notes. “In Raqqa, ISIS has established a food kitchen to feed the needy and an Office for Orphans to help pair them with families” aswell as conducting polio-vaccination campaigns. Apparently ISIS have set up a Complaints Office (complete with a suggestions boxes) in an attempt to weed out corruption. And last week The Guardian reported on the organisation’s Research and Development Centre run by technicians and scientists and its Communications team, which is staffed by up to 100 people and has “a schedule and workload that could rival a television network.”

Rather than wilfully play into the media’s seedy little game of feigned moral outrage, politicians and commentators need to face up to some very inconvenient facts. According to the EU Commissioner for Justice over 5,000 Europeans have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Numerous reports have noted that many Sunnis have chosen to live under ISIS control rather than the Iraqi Government. According to Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, there is evidence of refugee flows into ISIS controlled territory. Though far from easy, there are positive steps that could be taken in response. To stop ISIS recruiting in the West we need to stop publicly labelling the people who join them “pathetic, murdering losers” and engage and deal with the complex personal, social, economic and political factors that lead them to turn to ISIS in the first place. To reduce ISIS’s power and control in Iraq we need to consider why much of the Sunni population is so wary of the Iraqi Government forces. And to reduce ISIS’s authority in Syria we need to reduce the violence and chaos that the group exploits and push for an end to the war as soon as possible.

The problem is this: all these possible solutions involve coming to terms with our own reprehensible role in the crisis. The West’s military interventions in the Middle East have has undoubtedly played a key role in radicalising Muslims residing in the West. The West has supported the Iraqi Government while it gunned down unarmed Sunni demonstrators, barrel bombed Sunni-dominated areas and let Shia militias run wild, carrying out widespread war crimes. And in Syria the West has helped to escalate the conflict and wrecked attempts at negotiation a peaceful solution to the conflict. So aswell as being deeply unhelpful when it comes to defeating ISIS, calling them “a murderous death cult” also has an important political role – of moving the spotlight away from own destructive actions.

If we are serious about helping to reduce ISIS’s power and territory, what we desperately need is a grown-up, nuanced, evidenced-based debate about the organisation and the reasons behind its growth and continued existence. To take one example, a rational approach would dismiss Owen Jones’s crude assertion that “there is no prospect, ever, of negotiating” with ISIS and ask questions about ISIS’s internal divisions and factions and its external support. Is there a more moderate or pragmatic wing of the group? How might groups or fighters that our currently fighting with or allied to ISIS be persuaded to break away? Could we negotiate with the state and non-state actors currently supporting ISIS? Would it be possible to persuade – that is negotiate with – those who plan on joining ISIS in the future?

And finally we need to remember the simplistic and often hysterical public statements and positions the media demands politicians and commentators robotically parrot are not necessarily good for the wider world and are not helpful if we wish to reduce the terror threat to the UK and other countries.

Pouring more fuel on the fire: the case against UK airstrikes on Syria

Pouring more fuel on the fire: the case against UK airstrikes on Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
August-September 2015

On 26 June, Seifeddine Rezgui, a 23-year-old student, murdered 38 people at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia. 30 of the dead were British nationals. Subsequent news reports have noted Rezgui received training at an Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS) base in western Libya.

Speaking to the BBC a few days later, David Cameron argued IS was an ‘existential threat’ to the United Kingdom which required a ‘full spectrum response.’ Building on the prime minister’s inflammatory language, on 1 July, defence secretary Michael Fallon announced the government would likely seek parliamentary support to extend the current UK bombing of IS in Iraq to Syria.

The discussion in the mainstream media about the proposed intervention has been predictably narrow, focusing on questions of tactics and strategy. Will airstrikes be effective? Who will the UK airstrikes help on the ground? Is the Syrian conflict too complex to intervene? These concerns – what could be called the ‘fight the war better’ school of criticism – certainly deserve serious consideration. However, there are a number of important arguments and facts that are conspicuously absent from the ongoing debate taking place within the media and political elite.

No to war

Considering the horrifying record of UK military interventions in the Middle East since 2001, it’s extraordinary that further military action is now being seriously considered in Syria. The UK – fighting alongside the US and other allies – has decimated Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of people and leaving whole swathes of the Muslim world seething with hatred at the actions of the West.

It is widely acknowledged that the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent occupation, played a central role in the creation of IS.

‘We definitely put fuel on a fire. Absolutely’, retired US army general Mike Flynn, head of the defence intelligence agency until August 2014, told Al-Jazeera when asked about the invasion of Iraq and IS.

In August 2014, the New York Times reported that the leader of IS spent five years in a US prison in Iraq ‘where, like many ISIS fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalised’. General Flynn agrees that the US prison system in Iraq ‘absolutely’ helped to radicalise Iraqis who later joined al-Qa’eda in Iraq and the group that became Islamic State.

Asked by Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan if drone strikes tend to create more terrorists than they kill, Flynn, who had a key role in secret US drone operations, replied: ‘I don’t disagree with that’.

Moreover, an expansion of UK airstrikes on IS would be playing into IS’s overall strategy.

With the Sousse attack likely targeting British nationals (the hotel attacked was well known as a British holiday destination, and the gunman ignored local people), Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, argues that the attack was an attempt by IS to provoke a response. ‘Its strongest recruiting tactic is to present itself as the one true guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces’, Rogers notes.

The Western attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – and the airstrikes on IS since September 2014 – fit this narrative perfectly. Turning to possible responses to IS, Rogers contends ‘the best advice, as with al-Qaida over more than a decade, is not to do what it wants you to do.’

According to the US military, their air campaign against IS has so far struck over 7,000 targets, killing 1,000 IS fighters every month. However, Rogers notes, IS ‘has not only survived these attacks but in many places is thriving, attracting up to a thousand new recruits from across the region and beyond’. This is because, as Rogers intimates above, the Western airstrikes themselves – which no doubt kill civilians – act as a recruiting sergeant for IS. This was confirmed by James Comey, the director of FBI, who told congress in September 2014 that the US bombing of ISIS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

In a joint bulletin issued that same month to local, state and federal law enforcement, the department of homeland security and the FBI warned that while ‘single events generally do not provoke an immediate response’ from homegrown extremists, ‘we believe these [US air]strikes will contribute to homegrown violent extremists’… broader grievances about U.S. military intervention in predominantly Muslim lands, possibly motivating Homeland attacks’.

In terms of self-interest, broadening the UK war on IS to Syria will increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on British people – something the government claims it wants to reduce.

Finally, though Cameron’s spokeswoman was quoted by the Guardian as saying that military strikes in Syria would be legal under international law due to the threat posed by IS to the British people, this is almost certainly incorrect.

Marc Weller, professor of international law at the University of Cambridge, dismisses this argument, noting that although the UK ‘might argue that IS represents a manifest threat to their own security’ this is contradicted by Article 51 of the UN Charter which says ‘self-defence only applies to actual or imminent armed attacks, rather than potential or possible attacks.’

What could work?

There are many actions the UK government could take, short of military action, that would significantly reduce the power of Islamic State, the suffering their rise has caused, and the terrorist threat to the UK.

With the conflict causing a massive humanitarian crisis, the UK should massively increase its support for aid to the region. ‘Quite apart from the humanitarian imperative, there is the risk of greatly increased bitterness on the part of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people displaced from their homes’, Rogers says.

Britain could reverse its policies in relation to Syria. In addition to providing support to the armed rebellion in Syria, Hugh Roberts, the former head of the North African section at the International Crisis Group, recently explained, the US and UK have ‘sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys… to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting’.

Rather than helping to escalate and lengthen the conflict in Syria, the UK should pressure the key actors to agree a negotiated end to the fighting, which would reduce the chaotic and violent conditions that IS thrives in.

In Iraq, the UK should apply pressure on the Iraqi government to end the sectarian policies it has been pursuing, which have been pushing large numbers of Sunni Iraqis to support IS as a defence against the Iraqi state.

With Rezgui reportedly attending an IS training camp in Libya, the UK should fully support international efforts to stabilise Libya – a chaotic mess allowing jihadis to freely operate, in large part, because of the NATO intervention in 2011.

Dr Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, notes that Turkey has turned a blind eye to IS freely moving fighters and materials across the Turkish border into Iraq and Syria. As a NATO member largely armed by the West, diplomatic pressure should be applied to Turkey to immediately close the border to IS.

Diplomatic pressure should also be applied to the Gulf states to push them to clamp down on their citizens funding and supporting IS.

Finally, if any external military action is needed to combat IS or to keep the peace, then the UK should push for this to be done under the authority of the United Nations – an organisation that seems to have been forgotten by everyone discussing how to respond to IS. And if UN troops are deployed there should be minimal involvement from the Western nations who have done so much to destablise the Middle East in recent years and create the conditions for IS to grow so quickly.

Of course, the UK government’s geopolitical interests and alliances in the region and beyond mean they are likely to continue to follow their current counterproductive militaristic actions and are unlikely to sincerely implement these alternative non-military policies. And with the Labour Party having signaled they are sympathetic to the government’s proposal there is unlikely to be strong opposition in parliament (though Labour have said they will make their final decision after their new leader is elected in September 2015).

Therefore, it is up to the anti-war movement and peace activists to apply pressure on both the government and the Labour Party to force their hand. In the immediate future there needs to be strong opposition to the proposed UK bombing of Syria, while in the longer-term there needs to be a push for non-military solutions to the wider conflict.