Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

If the West is serious about defeating Isil, a deal with Assad is unavoidable

19/08/2014, 11:30:16 AM

by Atul Hatwal

I recall speaking to Syrian friend last summer about the impending parliamentary vote on military intervention.

He had been one of his country’s leading surgeons, and a classical musician, appearing regularly on national TV. Until his dissent against President Assad had become a little too public. Imprisonment and torture by Assad’s secret police were followed by a lucky escape, both from Assad’s jail and a country degenerating into civil war, to seek asylum in Britain.

I’d expected him to be supportive of action against the regime. After all, it had taken everything from him and his family.

But all I found was despondency and, on balance, opposition to military action.

By this time last year, the primary threat to Syria was no longer President Assad. It was the rise of the Islamist militias and the collapse of secular centre in the opposition. We could bomb Assad. We could send him a bouquet of flowers. Both would have been equally relevant to the suffering of the Syrian people.

In summer 2013, the reality of life in Syria was that it was more dangerous to live in territory controlled by the Islamist militias than Assad.

The discussion that my friend saw unfolding in this country was facile and pointless. The knee-jerk opposition of much of the left to any intervention that involved the Americans – who, by coincidence are also the only country that can mount any meaningful humanitarian or military intervention – was borderline offensive.

Yet the position of the interventionists, although motivated by good intentions, was barely better informed.

Targeting President Assad’s military infrastructure with some limited bombing might have made the hawks in London and Washington feel happier, but it wouldn’t have helped Syrians living under Isil, the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front or any one of the other dozen or so, hardcore jihadi groups.

And if this potential action had materially degraded the Syrian regime’s military capability, the threat of advances by the Islamist militias would have been all the greater.

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A decade has passed and the world is in chaos. For all our sakes, can we all move on from 2003, please?

18/06/2014, 10:26:15 AM

by Rob Marchant

If recent events in Ukraine were not disturbing enough for those who might occasionally worry about the future for their children and grandchildren, one need only now look towards the Middle East, and a little further.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring. Egypt. Syria. An isolated Israel that seems to have lost all hope of establishing a meaningful alliance against a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, and has now ended up forming stranger ones. A pernicious and persistent strain of Islamism remaining in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan and Nigeria, to name but a few.

And finally, the coup de grâce: the overspill of ISIS Islamists from Syria into large parts of Iraq, threatening, in a symbolic poke in the eye for the West, to realise a long-held goal. A fanatical and oppressive religious autocracy; a Caliphate.

It is difficult to recall a moment since the 1960s when the world has been in such an unstable geopolitical position. The bipolar certainties of the Cold War are now replaced with the unpredictability of a multi-polar world. And all the while, we have Western countries and their governments seemingly stuck as powerless onlookers, rabbits caught in the headlights of their own recent history in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nowhere is this more the case than the British Labour party. We cannot look at the current situation in Iraq without reflexively referring back to 2003. For those who disagreed with it, it is a perfect chance to say, ah well, that’s because of what we did. Never again. We still cannot forgive and forget, eleven years after the invasion and seven since its chief architect left office. We cannot help but re-fight old battles.

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Ukraine: at some point, Labour will need more than warm words

16/04/2014, 09:06:43 AM

by Rob Marchant

To date on this blog, we have not spoken much about the events in Ukraine: reflecting, perhaps appropriately, the priority it currently has in the agenda of both the British public and its politicians. After all, foreign policy does not win elections in peacetime.

But given that we are surely living through the most tense moment of East-West relations since the height of the Cold War, it behoves us to take a moment to see how Labour might be affected.

Britain, like much of the West, is clearly living through a period of reluctance, even quasi-isolationism, with regard to foreign conflicts. Interventionism may not be dead, but it is most certainly having a nap. A perception that fingers were burned in Iraq and Afghanistan pervades almost all foreign policy thinking, to a greater or lesser extent. And nowhere is this to be seen more clearly than on the fringes of British politics.

On the left fringe, Stop the War Coalition and their fellow-travellers within Labour’s hard left have decided that the West is so fundamentally evil, that they must oppose it so strongly as to apologise for some deeply unpleasant regimes who oppose it (in this case, the borderline-despotic Russian regime). Exhibit A: the Stoppers’ Putin apology pieces, or their frankly bonkers assertion that NATO is “itching for war”, when in fact its constituent nations are going to great pains to avoid the merest hint of military involvement.

On the right fringe, there a few odd backbench Tories along with UKIP; owners of a “little Englander” mentality all, seasoned with an instinctive mistrust of the Establishment and a longing for the smack of firm government. This strange combination ends up with their views converging on, paradoxically – as we saw recently with the Putin-admiring Nigel Farage – the same lines as the left.

Then there is the mainstream of both parties; as we saw on the Syria vote, many of these on both sides are happy to opt for happy isolationism and call it statesmanship.

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Chilcot will wag a long bony finger at Labour, but his report may miss the general election

14/04/2014, 03:50:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like scorpions, official inquiries are unpredictable, require careful handling and invariably come with a sting in the tail.

The news that Sir John Chilcot’s much-anticipated Iraq inquiry will not now report until at least next year causes Labour some obvious difficulties. Clearly, reminiscing about why the country went to war at the start of the general election campaign wouldn’t be much fun.

Then there’s the question of how all those fickle Lib Dem switchers Labour is relying on will react when the report finds fault – as surely it will – in the case made for war and its subsequent prosecution.

Before the last election, the timing of Lord Justice Saville’s inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings was a cause of similar consternation after officials in the Northern Ireland Office realised that his mammoth report would have to be stored while Parliament was prorogued during the election campaign.

The families of the victims were not happy at the thought of ministers or officials having access to it during the interregnum, preparing their defences or leaking extracts to the newspapers.

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Kurdistan is an Iraqi success story. But it needs our support to stay that way

15/01/2014, 07:00:13 AM

by Gary Kent

News and images from the Middle East are dominated by doom and gloom: from the horrific slaughter in Syria to the dangerous deepening of the Sunni-Shia schism. Yet there is one place where tragedy is being overcome and which is keen to connect to Britain and the wider world, as part of an ambitious reform programme – the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Yes, I know that the very mention of the word “Iraq” usually gives people the wobbles, summoning up the bitterness about the decision to invade in 2003 and accompanied by almost daily scenes of gore and mayhem from Baghdad and Anbar.

But I fear we are missing out on a very positive story. The Kurdistan Region is different and far, far safer than the rest of the country but, of course, not perfect and a work in progress.

Its history of oppression at the hands of successive Baghdad regimes and Saddam Hussein used to be meat and drink for the international left. A previous generation was very aware of Halabja in 1988, when Saddam’s forces used chemical weapons and killed thousands in seconds. Many of us remember Saddam’s goons in Britain beating up opponents in the NUS and universities.

Much of that awareness has been lost or overtaken by the divisions over the war. I supported intervention but most comrades didn’t. This is a divide that will last forever but one that shouldn’t stop us working together in solidarity with those who are seeking peace, pluralism and prosperity.

Today, the Commons will debate UK relations with the Kurdistan Region in a fairly unusual debate which is accompanied by the launch of a report on the latest fact-finding and cross-party parliamentary delegation to the Kurdistan Region. The delegation included Labour MPs Meg Munn and Mike Gapes as well as Conservatives Nadhim Zahawi and Robert Halfon. I drafted the report which can be found in full here.

My focus here is on political capacity. For decades, the revolutionary struggle of the Kurds demanded military skills and making do with whatever was to hand to satisfy the daily needs of the people. This persisted after Saddam quit Kurdistan in the wake of his defeat in Kuwait in 1991 and was added to by a bitter internal civil war whose shadow is long.

The liberation of Iraq in 2003, as it is usually described there, started a new phase which is only now picking up the pace with some remarkable success.

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Labour has a foreign policy vacuum. It needs to be filled.

10/01/2014, 12:39:13 PM

by Nathan Jones

Ed Miliband and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander have given little away of their plan for Britain on the international stage. While it is not traditionally at the centre of election debate, foreign policy holds a special significance for Labour today because, despite Ed Miliband’s professed belief that it was ‘wrong to take Britain to war’ in 2003, public trust in Labour remains inextricably bound to Iraq. It is perhaps for this reason that Mr. Miliband has chosen to remain largely silent on what Labour’s foreign policy priorities would be in 2015.

Despite the many achievements of the last Labour government, Iraq still defines its legacy in many ways. Leaving the debate over legitimacy aside for now, it is clear that a lack of transparency on the road to war generated a huge deficit of trust. Blair’s popularity waned in the ensuing scandal, and was further eroded by a series of gradual, incremental revelations and inquiries which undermined New Labour’s new-found legitimacy.

Therefore it was not Sure Start, the minimum wage or a New Deal for Young People that became the party’s new epithet, but Iraq. If Labour is to win in 2015, a clear statement of international intent would go a long way to restoring public trust in a Miliband government’s ability to take the country forward.

Although policy remains patchy, there are some clues as to what Labour’s international intentions after 2015 will be. The vote on Syria stands out, when Labour forced an almost unprecedented change in government foreign policy from opposition. The decision to oppose what seemed like the inevitable move to intervention drew plaudits from the party’s leftist, anti-war support, but led others to question whether political concerns had taken precedence over the fate of the Syrian people.

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Only Miliband can now lead Britain on Syria

30/08/2013, 12:00:35 PM

by Jonathan Todd

All changed, changed utterly. If politics is trench warfare, advancement by inch, especially now with our major parties seemingly so entrenched in their political and socio-economic citadels, with their safe seats and ideological comfort zones, then last night was a moment when the terrain dramatically shifted.

Ed Miliband led the Labour party out from behind the ghosts of Iraq. What emerges, however, is not a pacifist party. At the same time, the prime minister lost control of his most fundamental responsibility. “The people have spoken, the bastards,” he might lament.

The awful truth is that UKIP remain the party with a position closest to most of these people. Which is that we should stay completely out of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. There may be some who mistakenly think that this is Labour’s position.

The party’s position was, however, clearly set out in the 5 points that Miliband emailed to party members last night:

1.) We must let the UN weapons inspectors do their work and report to the UN Secretary Council;

2.) There must be compelling and internationally-recognised evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks;

3.) The UN Security Council should debate and vote on the weapons inspectors’ findings and other evidence. This is the highest forum of the world’s most important multilateral body and we must take it seriously;

4.) There must be a clear legal basis in international law for taking military action to protect the Syrian people;

5.) Any military action must be time limited, it must have precise and achievable objectives and it must have regard for the consequences of the future impact on the region.

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A response to Labour’s military interventionists

23/07/2013, 06:51:04 PM

by Lee Butcher

Kirsty McNeill and Andrew Small’s contribution to Progress Online on “the interventionist dilemma” reopens an important but neglected debate within the party. The pre-eminence of the ‘interventionists’ (as they term it) within the Blair and Brown governments were key to how the last government acted out in the world, and the consequences that had for those on the receiving end and for the party’s popularity at home.

The silence on this matter of the party since returning to opposition has seen discussions about the future, or otherwise, of interventionism within the party largely neglected. This is partly due to the convention of opposition parties sticking close by the government on such matters, and partly to avoid reopening the barely healed wounds of Iraq. Such a debate ought to be had before returning government. On this I would agree with McNeill and Small, there however is where my agreement with their analysis ends.

There is an assumption that runs throughout their article that British intervention overseas is not just desirable, but is of critical value to ourselves and to the rest of the world. They make a rather curious assertion that because of American withdrawal from foreign commitments a future Labour government will need to immediately budget for doing so ourselves. Though they do not explicitly say so, one would ask if this would be done on a unilateral basis. This view would seem to be contradicted by an example they cite, Libya, which was done with close co-operation with France. The evidence would strongly suggest that if it is not the Americans we accompany into such pursuits it is our European partners. To believe that the United Kingdom can aspire to going it alone does not take into account the size and strength of our armed forces and what they are capable of achieving. This has been made plainly clear by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

If McNeill and Small get their way and Prime Minister Miliband instructs Chancellor Balls to budget for increased military spending while critical spending at home is being squeezed, they will quickly find they lack the support of their Labour colleagues in Parliament and vast swathes of the electorate. For all the recent support for the military, spending on wars abroad remains unpopular when schools and hospitals are falling to pieces.

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Archbishop Tutu is wrong, Tony Blair showed true moral leadership over Iraq

13/09/2012, 07:00:37 AM

by Peter Watt

There has been an awful lot of noise again recently about Iraq.  This followed on from an article that Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Observer about his decision to publicly “spurn” Tony Blair by not appearing at an event that they were both due at in South Africa.  Archbishop Tutu said:

“The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?”

This then spawned a wave of articles from clever and eminent people who explained exactly why international law made it clear that Tony Blair was guilty of war crimes and should be dragged to the Hague.

Others wrote articles saying why this was nonsense and that international law said no such thing.

I read many of these articles with interest and increasing disquiet; but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

And then I realised what was bothering me.  In all of this very clever argument and counter-argument there was one thing missing.

Those who wrote saying “Bliar” was a war criminal did so because they passionately felt that the war was wrong.  They felt a sense of moral outrage that shone through their demands that international law is invoked.

Conversely, those arguing that international laws were not an issue tended to argue in purely legal terms.  Their arguments somehow lacked the passion or moral outrage of Archbishop Tutu for instance in his Observer article.

The overall sense was that in deciding to commit British forces in the second Iraq war Tony Blair had unquestionably committed a grossly immoral act that might or might not be illegal.

And that was it, the thing that bothered me: the absence of the moral case for freeing Iraq.

I passionately believe that the decision made by Tony Blair was the right and moral response to the circumstances we faced.  It must have been an incredibly difficult decision and one that took huge amounts of leadership – and I respect him hugely for it.

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Free trade unions are vital to Iraqi democracy and we should support them, argues Gary Kent

20/07/2010, 09:51:33 AM

Iraqi trade union leaders who leave the country to attend international events could be arrested when they return if a new Diktat from part of the Iraqi government is enforced. It’s not in the same league as the murderous crimes of Saddam Hussein, but it’s still a monstrous attack on free trade unionism.

The Iraqi labour movement used to be the biggest between Europe and Australia and mobilised maybe half a million people at the May Day march in Baghdad in 1959. The population of Iraq was then about ten million which illustrates the tremendous social and political weight of the movement and its contemporary potential.

Saddam crushed the unions and civil society as a whole. In 1987 public sector unions were banned in a country dominated by the state. Only a few hundred exiled and clandestine activists were left when he was overthrown in 2003.

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