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10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria

10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
10 December 2015

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.

With many of the government’s dubious assertions often either repeated or not examined by the media, in addition to the government choosing not to relay inconvenient information, here is a list of ten key facts that are essential to understanding the West’s involvement in Syria.

Fact 1: The West has been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2012

The dominant narrative, repeatedly pushed by the liberal media, is that the West has declined to get involved in the Syrian conflict, its inaction leading to the conflict escalating out of control.

In the real world the US started helping to arm the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government from summer 2012 onwards. By March 2013 the New York Times was quoting experts who said these arms shipments totalled 3,500 tons of military equipment. Citing Jordanian security sources, in the same month the Guardian reported that US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. Later that year the New York Times noted that US and UK intelligence services were secretly working with Saudi Arabia to deliver weapons to the rebels. The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia was covert, the report explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab governments… do not want their support publicly known”. By June 2015 US officials told the Washington Post that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had trained and equipped 10,000 Syrian rebels at a cost of $1bn.

Fact 2: The West has known that extremists were prominent in the Syrian insurgency, and that the arms they sent into Syria have often ended up in the hands of extremists, since 2012

After “extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama Administration” McClatchy’s Hannah Allam recently noted the Obama Administration “was warned early on [in 2012] that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.”

Despite this, from 2012 the US has given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support the Syrian rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists – a  front page New York Times headline stating ‘Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria’.

What is essential to understand here is that the US already knew Qatar had a predilection for arming extremists, following the December 2012 New York Times online headline: ‘US-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands’. Quoting US officials and foreign diplomats, the report summarises: “The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants”. US officials were aware of this “Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011”, the New York Times notes.

Fact 3: The US has encouraged ‘moderate’ rebel groups to work with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and has probably knowingly supported jihadis itself

In May 2015, Charles Lister, a leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, wrote about the US-led operations room in southern Turkey which co-ordinates the lethal support given to opposition groups in Syria, noting the US-led operations room “specifically encouraged a closer co-operation with Islamists commanding frontline operations,” including the Nusra Front. Furthermore, in July 2015 the New York Times reported that although the US-trained Division 30 Syrian rebels were attacked by the Nusra Front when they entered Syria after their training, US officials said “they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.”

In addition, a formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012 noted that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI (al-Qaida in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence of the report is as follows: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition”. US support for “the crazies” in Syria was confirmed by General Michael T Flynn, the Director of the DIA from 2012-14, in an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera in July 2015.

Fact 4: The West has prolonged the fighting and blocked a peaceful solution to the conflict

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria ,“since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”.

In reality, by arming and training the Syrian opposition the West has helped to intensify and prolong the conflict. In May 2013 Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations warned the “Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its… encouragement of escalation and maximalism”. In the same month Dr Christopher Phillips, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, noted that arming the rebels “will likely exacerbate and prolong the civil war”. More than two years later in October 2015 the New York Times noted that increased levels of US support to the rebels (and Russian support to the Syrian government) “have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.”

In addition, Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University, recently explained that Western insistence that Syrian president Bashar Assad must step down sabotaged Kofi Annan’s UN efforts to set up a peace deal and forced Kofi Annan to resign. Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, echoes this analysis: “The Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”, he wrote in the London Review of Books. Roberts concludes that “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

Fact 5: The West has helped to create the conditions in Syria and Iraq that have allowed IS to grow and prosper

The role of the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in the rise of IS is relatively well known. But very few people make the connection between Western intervention in Syria and the growth of IS. In August 2014, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, argued that the “US government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

This is because, as two former NATO Secretary-Generals, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned in June 2013: “Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” [my emphasis added] The Executive Director of the women’s human rights organisation MADRE, Yifat Susskind, agrees, noting in May 2013 that: “Funnelling more arms to the [Syrian] opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.”

Fact 6: The West’s allies in the region have been supporting extremists in Syria, including IS

As mentioned above, the West, as well as working closely with its allies in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to arm the rebels, has also allowed them to support the more extreme Syrian rebel groups. US Vice-President Joe Biden said in October 2014: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem”. Referring to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Biden explained “They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad; except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”.

According to an August 2014 article in the Washington Post, Turkey “rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State and other jihadists fighting the Syrian Government. Wounded jihadists from IS and the Nusra Front were treated at Turkish hospitals while Turkish border towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms into Syria. IS “were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member – Turkey – as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war”, the Washington Post notes. Similarly, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported in November 2015 that “over the past two years several senior ISIS members have told the Guardian that Turkey preferred to stay out of their way and rarely tackled them directly.”

Fact 7: Western airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed hundreds of civilians

Speaking to the House of Commons, the prime minister said there has been “no reports of civilian casualties” from the more than 300 UK airstrikes in Iraq on IS. The government’s claim was helpfully repeated by Labour MP Dan Jarvis and the media, with Iain Dale arguing the French airstrikes immediately after the attacks in Paris “targeted the training camps. So they are not targeting civilians. If you look at the number of civilian deaths from American and French airstrikes they are very, very small.”

Contrast Jarvis’s and Dale’s wishful thinking with the recent Mirror report that noted “Anti-ISIS activists in Syria claim a stadium, a museum, medical clinics and a political building have been hit after France launched airstrikes in retaliation for the Paris terror attack”. More broadly, in August 2015 Air Wars, an organisation run by a team of independent journalists, estimated that the 5,700 airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq has killed more than 450 civilians, including more than 100 children.

Fact 8: Western bombing of IS is counterproductive and has likely boosted recruitment to the group

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister stated: “I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL into Syria, as an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us.”

The problem with this argument is that Western bombing, as Professor of Peace Studies Paul Rogers explains, plays into IS’s narrative that it is the guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces. Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author who spent ten days with IS in 2014, argues that Western airstrikes “will fill ISIS fighters with joy”, with the inevitable civilian casualties that come from bombing drawing in fresh recruits for their cause. James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), concurs, telling Congress in September 2014 that US bombing of IS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

This helps to explain why although “the US-led bombing campaign has killed an estimated 20,000 Islamic State fighters”, according to senior US military official quoted in an October 2015 USA Today report, IS’s “overall force… remains about where it was when the bombing started: 20,000 to 30,000 fighters.”

Fact 9: Western airstrikes will likely contribute to the refugee crisis

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister expressed concern that “Half the population of Syria have been forced to flee their homes” with “over 4 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries” and “a further 6.5 million people are displaced inside the country”.

However, in November 2015 a group of Middle East specialists from the University of Oxford and the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) urged the government to reflect on whether the UK joining the air campaign in Syria will “impact on the refugee crisis.” Neil Quilliam, the acting head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, was blunter in his warning, noting that “there is a significant risk that, by increasing the violence through airstrikes, the UK will further contribute to the flow of refugees from Syria”. As was Melanie Ward, the Associate Director at the International Rescue Committee, who said an upsurge in air strikes in Syria “inevitably risks” an increase in people fleeing the conflict.

Fact 10: The Government’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West is completely bogus

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria “there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”

The Guardian reported that this claim “prompted an awkward stand-off” in the Commons Defence Committee, with the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff refusing to provide a breakdown of which groups made up the 70,000 figure. Pressed by committee chair Julian Lewis MP to identify the groups, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP replied feebly: “We will certainly reflect on that.” With pressure mounting The Times revealed the Ministry of Defence had warned the prime minister against claiming there were 70,000 moderate rebels ready to fight IS, fearing it would echo Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.

After travelling to Cairo, Amman and Beirut as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi argued that the government figure of 70,000 “must be treated with caution.” According to the military experts she met while on the official trip, there would be a struggle to find 20,000, she said.

Cockburn believes the existence of 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West in fighting IS “is very debatable”. David Wearing, a Lecturer and Researcher on the Middle East at SOAS agrees, calling it “a completely nonsense number”. Professor Joshua Landis, the Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is also dismissive, as is Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum and specialist on the Syrian insurgency. Tamimi, according to Cockburn, warns that rebel groups “commonly exaggerate their numbers, are very fragmented and have failed to unite, despite years of war.” Furthermore he notes that the rebel groups often pretend to the outside world to be more moderate than they actually are.

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 June 2015

Reading radical alternative news and commentary about Western foreign policy often leads to intense self-doubt and to questions like “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?” Or “Am I reading this right?” And even “Perhaps I am losing my mind?”

Two recent news reports about the US involvement in Syria have triggered these exact questions for me.

Last month a formerly classified August 2012 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report was published by the right-wing watchdog Judicial Watch. In the heavily redacted document the DIA – the intelligence arm of the US Department of Defense – notes “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence in the report is this: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the [Assad] regime.” Later, the DIA makes another extraordinary statement: “There is the possibility of [the opposition] establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and arguably the leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, provided the second jaw-dropping reading experience in May 2015. “The US-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups… specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations”, including official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra, Lister explained in Foreign Policy.

So, to summarise, the West – the US and likely the UK too – were supporting the Syrian armed insurgency in 2012 in the full knowledge it was dominated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three years later the US is encouraging rebel groups to cooperate with al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

What happened, you might well ask, to the epic, generational struggle against al-Qaeda and radical jihadists that we have been fighting since 2001 to save Western civilisation? A war and evil enemy, least we forget, that has been repeatedly hyped by a pliant media and supported by all the main political parties in the US and UK.

Except for Seumas Milne in the Guardian, the mainstream media have ignored the extraordinary revelations of the DIA and Lister. The BBC has, as far as I’m aware, not mentioned either on any of its many news platforms. Incredibly the highly respected Middle East specialist Shadi Hamid describes the Obama Administration as “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”.

In addition to this explosive new evidence of Western support for jihadists, the West’s key allies in the region have also been supporting the more extreme elements of the resistance to the Syrian government.

In August 2014 the Washington Post reported that before their blitz in Iraq “Turkey rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State, eager to aid any enemy of the Assad government. “Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front… were treated at Turkish hospitals”, the Post noted. “Most important, the Turks winked as… Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.”

The Wall Street Journal carried a similar report in March this year, except this time it concerned Israel and how some of the al-Nusra Front’s “severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

Unsurprisingly, on this issue the Western media invariably report the official US Government line – that the US is opposed to these actions and is pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting jihadists in Syria.

However, a close reading of mainstream news reports suggests that far from being opposed, the US is deeply involved in these nefarious networks. For example, earlier this year the Wall Street Journal published a story titled ‘Saudis Agree to Provide Syrian Rebels With Mobile Antiaircraft Missiles’. According to the report “Rebel leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30… That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [snit-aircraft missiles].”

Writing about the increased coordinated support to the Syrian rebels provided by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently noted the Saudi king told allies “the US would not stand in the way.” And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted the arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the Americans.”

Public denials at odds with covert actions are, of course, meat and potatoes when it comes to outsourcing foreign policy to regional proxies. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” the US-supported Yemeni President told US General David Petraeus in January 2010 about the US drone strikes in his country. According to the Washington Post, a similar deception has long been in effect between the US and Pakistan with the Pakistani Government publicly condemning US drone strikes, while at the same time secretly cooperating with the US.

And of course, if the US really felt as strongly about the destructive policies of their Middle East allies as they publicly claim to, then a simple way to pressure them to stop supporting jihadis in Syria would be for the US to threaten to stop selling their allies arms. In reality, the US continues to arm countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia despite – or perhaps because of – their support for the Syrian insurgency. In March 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the GCC states and Turkey are “scheduled to receive further large order of major arms in the coming years” – mainly from the US and Europe.

It’s certainly possible I’m not reading the evidence correctly. I may be taking it out of context. There may well be good reasons the media has chosen not to cover the story. And I could well have lost my mind. But what if the reports point to a far more frightening conclusion – it’s not me that is mad and delusion but the entire media and political elite in the West?

Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks

Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
28 January 2015

Is it safe to come out yet? Can we begin the rational, reasoned debate about the Paris terrorist attacks that is so desperately needed?

The media coverage and discussion over the recent shocking events in France has been predictably hysterical and evidence-free. For Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow the attack was a “brutal clash of civilisations. Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs.” The normally sensible Will Self labelled the perpetrators “evil”. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen tweeted “I am shaking with rage at the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It’s an attack on the free world.” His frightening solution? “The entire free world should respond, ruthlessly.” Seeking to go beyond the bile, some have made the very sensible suggestion that the ongoing Western military attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan etc. may well have contributed to the radicalisation of the attackers.

Missing from the endless mainstream media coverage is any mention of the awkward fact that, as Noam Chomsky has stated, “traditionally the United States and Britain have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism.” The historian Mark Curtis details the link in his 2010 book ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’. Citing British support for the “crazies” in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their BFF, the ruthless Saudi regime, Curtis notes “British Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have, in pursuing the so-called ‘national interest’ abroad, colluded for decades with radical Islamic forces, including terrorist organisations.”

It’s important to remember all this is not ancient history. Just as the Western-backed jihad in Afghanistan gave birth to Al-Qaeda, by supporting those who wish to violently overthrow President Assad in Syria, the West has helped to create the jihadi blowback of which Paris may well be only the beginning.

You don’t believe me? Let me explain. The West has been helping to arm the rebels in Syria since before May 2012. With its involvement initially covert and limited, the US gave a wink and a nod to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to support the rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists. How clear, you ask? Well, as clear as a New York Times headline stating “Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria”.

The US, the UK and, yes, France, have continued to provide arms and training to the rebels despite experts repeatedly warning of the danger of such a strategy. In September 2012 the Head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria said Western support for the opposition risked prolonging the conflict. Writing in the New York Times in June 2013 two former NATO Secretary-Generals noted “Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” Experts from Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations all warned that weapons sent in to Syria would likely end up in the hands of jihadists. William Hague, of course, told the BBC Today Programme there was no risk of arms falling into the wrong hands. Who do you think has been proved right? Unsurprisingly, and somewhat ironically, CIA-supplied weapons have been spotted being used by Islamic State to target armoured vehicles the US had supplied to the US-backed Iraqi Government.

You don’t need to be a counter-terrorism expert to realise an increasingly militarised conflict, awash with weapons and populated by a burgeoning number of extremists, with no peaceful end in sight, is exactly the kind of conditions that encourage violent jihadists to travel to Syria. Terrorism analyst Aaron Zelin’s February 2013 warning that “the Syrian conflict is going to be as big, if not bigger, than Afghanistan was in the 1980s in terms of mobilizing jihadi fighters” seems very prescient today. However, it is veteran correspondent Patrick Cockburn who makes the key point about Western responsibility: “The West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

All of this information about our own responsibility for engendering radical, sometimes violent, Islamists is on the public record, having been published in widely read, highly respected newspapers over the last few years. And yet it has effectively been excluded from the on-going debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the terrorist threat to the West. No overt censorship or terrorist intimidation was needed – just professional, career-minded journalists and well-educated commentators arguing feverishly within the narrow bounds of acceptable debate.

8 facts everyone should know about the Iraq crisis

8 facts everyone should know about the Iraq crisis
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News blog
8 September 2014

Just over ten years since it failed the public so completely over the 2003 Iraq War, the mainstream media’s coverage of the current Iraq crisis has been predictably awful.

“Stop droning on Mr Cameron… SEND IN THE DRONES” was The Sun’s considered front page on 4 September 2014. At the opposite end of the British press spectrum The Independent’s front page read “Your move, Mr President”. Egging the US and UK on, The Independent noted “The leader of the free world has begun to look alarmingly impotent.” The other liberal outpost of the British media, The Guardian, supports the US air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS or Islamic State).

As always, the BBC has been working hard to amplify the British elite’s concerns. On 4 September 2014 the BBC Today Programme invited on Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary who played a central role in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, to speak in the prime interview slot about why he supports the bombing of ISIS. Interviewing former Chief of the Defence Staff David Richards the next morning, Today Programme presenter John Humphrys made the following biased statement: “We have this bunch of mad men rampaging across the Middle East and they have to be stopped. They have to be not only contained but – I don’t know whether you’ll agree with this – but destroyed.”

Then there was the 30 August 2014 BBC Newsnight special on the fallout from the August 2013 parliamentary vote against UK military action in Syria. The diverse range of studio guests invited to discuss the topic were former Defence Secretary Liam Fox MP, Paddy Ashdown, former First Sea Lord Lord West, former Head of the British Army Lord Dannatt, Neo-Conservative Francis Fukuyama and Professor Mary Kaldor (Kaldor was able to squeeze in a couple of sentences pushing for a more measured response to ISIS before she was cut off).

Reading, watching and listening to this “babbling brook of bullshit”, like many people I’m sure, I’ve become increasingly angry at the narrowness of the debate and just how closely the media’s framing of the issue follows that of the US and UK governments. Therefore, I’ve decided to pull together some of the pertinent facts and arguments that the media refuses to mention and discuss.

Fact 1: Many experts argue Western airstrikes are counterproductive and will likely energise ISIS

Institute for Policy Studies fellow Phyllis Bennis told the New York Times on 7 August 2014: “It should be eminently clear that we cannot bomb Islamist extremists into submission or disappearance. Every bomb recruits more supporters.”

Robert Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, argued on 7 June 2014: “Far from hurting the terrorists, re-engaging Iraq (and/or engaging Syria) would put us back on the path of a rising terrorist threat that has taken us over a decade to escape,” He concludes: “US military involvement can only hurt, not help.”

Writing for Foreign Affairs magazine, on 8 August 2014 Steven Simon, senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the White House from 2011-12, argued US air strikes “will almost certainly unite Sunnis against other sects and boost support for Isis while fuelling disdain for the United States.”

Speaking to Democracy Now! on 29 August 2014, Jonathan Steele, the Guardian’s former Chief Foreign Policy correspondent and author of ‘Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq’, argued “Military strikes by the West are not likely to be effective in the long term, and again as we’ve seen in many places – Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – they tend to be counterproductive and only create more recruits for the enemy you are trying to deal with.”

Fact 2: The US and UK’s 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq played an important role in the rise of ISIS

Despite Tony Blair’s comically desperate attempts to duck responsibility, there is broad agreement among Iraq observers like Professor George Joffe, a Middle East expert at the University of Cambridge, that the US-UK invasion and occupation played an important role in the rise of ISIS – both in the chaos and sectarianism the US-UK occupation (often deliberately) caused, and the violence US and UK forces visited on the local population. For example, the New York Times recently reported the following about the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “At every turn, Mr Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’s involvement in Iraq.” The article goes on to note Baghdadi had spent five years in a US prison “where, like many Isis fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalised”. [my emphasis added].

Fact 3: The US and UK enabled the growth of ISIS by supporting the rebels in Syria

The media quickly leapt on and amplified Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that it was President Obama’s inaction in Syria that created space for ISIS to grow. However, what the media failed to mention was the far more important connection between the West, Syria and ISIS – that the West’s ongoing intervention in Syria is a key reason behind ISIS’s growth.

The US, often with the help of the UK and France, has been supporting the rebels in Syria since at least early 2012. The CIA has played a key role, coordinating large arm shipments to the insurgents, training rebels in Jordan and providing significant amounts of non-lethal and financial support.

This support has likely escalated and prolonged the fighting, and created the conditions in which ISIS flourish. As Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent and author of ‘The jihadis return: ISIS and the failures of the Global War on Terror’, explained: the “U.S. government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

This is not the benefit of hindsight. Writing in June 2013, two former NATO Secretary-Generals warned about the consequences of Western military engagement in Syria, such as directly arming the rebels:

“Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” [emphasis added]

Fact 4: US-supplied arms to Syrian rebels have ended up in the hands of ISIS

It is well known that ISIS captured large amounts of US-supplied arms when the Iraqi Army fled in the face of the initial ISIS advance in June 2014. What has not been reported widely is the fact ISIS have been seen using weapons the CIA helped send to rebels in Syria.

In April 2013 the New York Times reported the “CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters”. Starting in early 2012 this had “grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights”. The report went on to explain “American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia”. A year later Brown Moses, a blogger who tracks weapons use in Syria, discovered ISIS were deploying Croatian arms against US-made Armoured Personnel Carriers used by government forces in Iraq. A new investigation by Conflict Armament Research confirms that ISIS has stocks of Yugoslav anti-tank weapons originally sent to rebels in Syria.

More broadly, almost certainly ISIS have received US supplied-weapons as members of the US-supported Free Syrian Army have switched allegiances and joined ISIS. “In the East of Syria, there is no Free Syrian Army any longer. All Free Syrian Army people [there] have joined the Islamic State”, a high level security commander of Islamic State told the Washington Post.

This transfer of arms into the hands of extremists such as ISIS has been repeatedly predicted by many establishment experts including the Royal United Service Institute’s Shashank Joshi and Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy from the European Council on Foreign Relations. The latter noted “it is unrealistic to expect that weapons can be guaranteed to end up in the hands of pro-Western actors. The US and its allies were unable to achieve the micromanagement of weapons control in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a massive physical presence there, so it is unlikely that they will fare better doing this with a light footprint.” Indeed as early as October 2012 US officials said they were concerned that arms being supplied to rebels with the help of the CIA were going to “hard-line Islamic jihiadists”.

The US continues to arm Syrian rebels.

Fact 5: Turkey, a NATO member, has supported ISIS

On 5 September 2014 President Obama hailed the creation of a “core coalition” that would focus on destroying ISIS. The coalition is made up of ten countries, including Turkey.

According to the Washington Post, NATO member Turkey “rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State and other jihadists fighting the Syrian Government. Wounded jihadists from Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front were treated at Turkish hospitals while Turkish border towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms into Syria. Islamic State “were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member – Turkey – as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war”, the Washington Post notes.

Turkey continues to be a major recipient of US arms.

Fact 6: Western allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia have played an important role in the rise of ISIS

Quoting US and Arab officials, in June 2012 Wall Street Journal reported “The US in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”. The New York Times noted “relying on surrogates allows the United States to keep its fingerprints off operations but also means they may play out in ways that conflict with American interests.” In May 2013 The Financial Times estimated Qatari support for Syrian rebels at $3 billion.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia deny they have funded ISIS and other jihadis. However, many disagree. Patrick Cockburn argued “the foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey… Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence from 2012 to February 2014, was doing everything he could to back the jihadi opposition [in Syria] until his dismissal.” The Atlantic notes ISIS’s success in Iraq “is in part due to the support they have received from two Persian Gulf countries: Qatar and Saudi Arabia.” Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, believes that the rise of ISIS was the consequence of “sustained funding” from Saudi Arabia.

There has been a lot of debate about whether this support is from the Qatari and Saudi governments or from private individuals from these countries. However, Christopher Davidson, Reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University and the author of ‘After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies’, argues the claim private individuals in the Gulf are the source of the trouble “is problematic at best, and bogus at worst.” This is because nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia “are not really ‘states’ that conform to international definitions, as powerful, wealthy figures (whether princes, sheikhs, or members of the merchant elite) usually wear multiple hats, often slipping in and out of governmental positions”.

The New York Times reported the US knew as early as spring 2011 that Qatari support for rebels in Libya meant, in part, sending arms to jihadis. The article explained that “the weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilising force since the fall of the Qaddafi government”.

So, to be clear, the US, aware that that Qatar armed jihadists in Libya, chose to continue using Qatar as a proxy to arm the rebels in Syria.

Fact 7: Supported and armed by the US, the Iraqi Government perpetrates serious human rights abuses – which likely increases support for ISIS

In May 2014 Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the Iraqi Government has been dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighbourhoods in Fallujah. HRW also noted the Iraqi Government has “repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions”. These indiscriminate attacks “have caused civilian casualties and forced thousands of residents to flee”, according to the report. Summarising findings by the United Nations Human Rights Council the Telegraph noted Iraqi Government soldiers “have indiscriminately shelled and carried out airstrikes on civilian districts of Kirkuk, Falluja, and Salahuddin, killing and injuring many dozens of residents”.

Unsurprisingly, this targeting of civilians has increased support for ISIS. Speaking to Democracy Now! about ISIS recruitment, Mohammed al Dulaimy, an Iraqi journalist with McClatchy Newspapers, said there was “a long list of reasons and a buildup of years… But I can tell you one thing that I know for sure, that the indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians by the Iraqi government is the number one.”

The US plans to strengthen the Iraqi Army.

Fact 8: The US and UK are not interested in democracy and human rights in the Middle East

In his 2003 book ‘Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World’ the historian Mark Curtis argued “The ideological system promotes one key concept… the idea of Britain’s basic benevolence… criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence.”

Just how accurate Curtis’s rule continues to be is frankly frightening. Thus Guardian columnist (and former Editor of The Times) Simon Jenkins recently argued “10 years ago the west went to war for the sake of a better Iraq… to replace authority with democracy”. Ditto the Guardian leader column, which similarly noted in passing “western nations… had once aspired to democratically reshape the region [the Middle East]”. Writing in the Eastern Daily Press, the biggest selling regional daily newspaper in England, columnist Mark Nicholls lamented “the ultimate sacrifice of the 179 UK soldiers, and the thousands of US personnel, who gave their lives in trying to restore peace and democracy to Iraq”.

Of course, anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of Western actions in the Middle East understands there is something else going on. The US and UK directed coup that overthrew of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953, the West’s support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the US’s arming of Turkey in its war against the Kurds in the 1990s, on-going Western support for the Gulf autocracies – all strongly suggest the US and UK have little interest in democracy and human rights in the Middle East.

As Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, argued in the recent Radio 4 documentary ‘Sandhurst and the Sheikhs’: “I don’t think that the UK has a desire to see democracy in the Gulf. I think that they would probably like better functioning parliaments, higher turnouts in elections and things like this but there is certainly no desire to see the ruling families be replaced by opposition movements. I think the British Government interest is trying to make the rule of the existing monarchs more sustainable and more palatable.”

Ian Sinclair is the author of ‘The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003’, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.