Tag Archives: Iraq

Squib: Rude but Necessary Questions for Americans

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
August 2, 2016

Rude and necessary questions for Americans include this: which action by United States leaders is more disrespectful of a nation’s men and women in uniform?

1. Sending thousands of U.S. service members to die invading Iraq for reasons based on lies, leading to at least 251,000 total violent deaths and releasing the furies, including of the Islamic State. (George W. Bush, backed by Hillary Clinton.)

2. Insulting the grieving parents of a soldier killed in that war. (The Orange Man who should not be named)

3. Avoiding or failing to fulfill military service, and later touting its virtues. (Current American Republican leader and former president George W. Bush. Avoidance of military service was and is not an issue in America for Clinton, mostly because she is a woman.)

 

 

 

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Facts, and Opinions, this week

Fishermen use a fire to attract fish on a traditional “sulfuric fire fishing" boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Fishermen use a fire to attract fish on a traditional “sulfuric fire fishing” boat in New Taipei City, Taiwan June 19, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Fishing with Fire: a photo essay, by Tyrone Siu  Report

Under the darkness of the night sky, a small group of Taiwan fishermen set sail off the northeast coast, light a fire on the end of a bamboo stick using chemicals and wait for the fish to come. Like a magnet, hundreds of sardines leap out of the water towards the bright light waved by one fisherman and his colleagues angle their nets and haul in the catch.

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Faced with Trump/Clinton, Americans yearn for third choice, by Chris Kahn

Americans’ demand for an alternative to the two main presidential candidates has surged since the last election, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll shows, underscoring the unpopularity of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Bitcoin “miners” face fight for survival, by Jemima Kelly   Report

On July 9, the reward for bitcoin miners will be slashed in half. Written into bitcoin’s code when it was invented in 2008 was a rule dictating that the prize would be halved every four years, in a step designed to keep a lid on bitcoin inflation.

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs    Analysis

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure, by  Michael Holden and William James  Report

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

American media shares blame for Iraq fiasco, by Tom Regan  Column

Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry report, on Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, provided damning evidence of how the British people were misled by their political leadership. But once again the journalism media, enormously important in providing the false justification for the war, which in turn led to much of the violence and terrorism in the Middle East today, was ignored.

FINDINGS:

A woman weeps as she looks at the Basra memorial wall before its rededication at the National Arboretum in Alrewas, central England, March 2010. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The consequences of the Iraq invasion were underestimated, found the UK Iraq Inquiry. Above, a woman weeps as she looks at the Basra memorial wall before its rededication at the National Arboretum in Alrewas, central England, March 2010. REUTERS/Darren Staples

In 2003 the United Kingdom, alongside the United States, Australia and Poland, and supported by Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdistan), invaded and occupied the sovereign state of Iraq. There are two pieces in F&O this week about the UK inquiry into that disaster: our news story and Tom Regan’s column about the role of media. But the statement by inquiry head Sir John Chilcot is also essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the state of our world, much of it now on fire in the horrific aftermath of the reckless invasion.

Chilcot was asked to consider the UK’s policy on Iraq from 2001 to 2009, and identify lessons for the future, specifically: whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and whether the UK could – and should – have been better prepared for what followed. His report on July 6 concluded:

  • The UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.
  • The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
  • Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
  • The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives. …. go to John Chilcot’s statement

More reading, if you have the appetite, on the Chilcot report:

The Judgement of History, by George Monbiot

Justice is inseperable from democracy. If a prime minister can avoid indictment for waging aggressive war, the entire body politic is corrupted. In the Chilcot report, there is a reckoning, firm and tough and long overdue. But it’s still not justice.

Chilcot Report on Iraq War Offers Devastating Critique of Tony Blair,  New York Times:

“The sense that Britain was led into carnage by a foolish devotion to the United States has had lasting consequences”

Chilcot Report: How Tony Blair Sold the War, opinion, by Carne Ross, New York Times

There is also no recommendation of making reparation to the Iraqi people, let alone an apology. For me, this should be the ultimate significance of a report like this: that it speaks for those whose lives were needlessly wasted. It is their fate, not those of us and our politicians, that should preoccupy us. Only then can we begin to grasp the magnitude of what was done in our name.

Sir John Chilcot did his job, but after Iraq our whole system of government needs a rethink, by Mary Dejevsky, the Independent:

The seven years from the start of the inquiry to publication is unconscionable. In that time very many of those with direct responsibility for the misjudgements and sheer incompetence of the Iraq intervention – those in particular posts in the military, in intelligence, in politics, and Tony Blair – have not only left office, but moved into comfortable and well-paid positions in business, academia and consultancy. They have not had to pay – in any shape or form – for their culpability.

Noteworthy:

The world again watches, again aghast, American gun violence: this time focused on police, now as both suspects and victims. Meantime America flexed its science prowess as  NASA’s Juno Spacecraft reached  Jupiter, and is now in orbit and sending data back to earth. And American creationists opened a controversial Noah’s Ark attraction in Kentucky that teaches that Christian Old Testament stories are true.

Decisions made at North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings will have long-term, global, results — from Afghanistan to Russia, our street to yours. Visit NATO’s newsroom here.

ProPublica’s gripping story The Terror Suspect Who Had Nothing To Give, is a chilling, first-person account of how U.S. officials tortured a man they wrongly believed was a top al-Qaida operative

China’s navy is holding live-fire drills in the South China Sea. (Readers of Jonathan Manthorpe’s International Affairs column know why that matters.)

Last but not least, here’s a video to offer some perspective after a rough week in the world. It’s proof that we humans are, indeed, capable of coming together in beauty and grace.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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American media shares blame for Iraq fiasco

An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/Files

An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/Files

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
July 9, 2016

Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry report, on Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, provided damning evidence of how the British people were misled by their political leadership, in particular then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. The report was so damning that it bled beyond Britain to “throw shade” (as they say) on the George W. Bush administration in the United States.

After the report was released July 6, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Bush administration was going to have a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and no one was going to stop it. And that the administration would lie, misleading the public, to make it happen. Blair was, in reality, just an erudite pawn of the Bushies, in particular of the Dark Lord, then-Vice-President Dick Cheney.

But once again one of the main actors in this fiasco – a group enormously important in providing the false justification for the war, which in turn led to much of the violence and terrorism in the Middle East today – was hardly, if ever, mentioned.

That group is the American and British media –  the American media in particular.

There is a saying that in times of war “editors grow epaulettes.” In 2002 and 2003, editors and producers at newspapers, web sites, and cable news channels didn’t just grow epaulettes, they practically signed up for active duty.

As the commentary website Truthout said on the 10th anniversary of the war several years ago:

“In the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, corporate media – and even NPR and PBS – were abuzz with the talking points of the Bush Administration, echoing claims that Iraq had its hands on “yellow cake uranium” and that it had a massive arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Thanks to the media’s repeated claims that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were immediate threats to our nation, in the weeks leading up to the invasion nearly three-quarters of Americans believed the lie promoted by Donald Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the attacks of 9/11.

Most of America’s media forgot how to be journalists and became cheerleaders instead. This continued long after British newspapers like the Guardian were reporting there were no weapons of mass destruction. This refusal to accurately report the facts lasted so long that almost two years after suspicion was first raised about the Bush administration’s claims about “Yellow-cake uranium” and WMDs, almost 40% of the American public still mistakenly believed that Hussein both had weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the planning of 9/11.

This, sadly, was not the first time the American media were played for suckers by a Bush. In February of 1991, when there was still heated debate taking place in Congress about whether or not to go to war in the Gulf, a young Kuwaiti woman appeared in front of a House committee and said she had seen Iraq soldiers take babies out of incubators in Kuwait City in order to send the machines back to Baghdad for use by Iraqis. The comments inflamed lawmakers.

Meanwhile, at that moment, press releases about this incendiary allegation were flooding news rooms throughout the US.  The media, as one, sprang up in indignation. Story after story ran about the babies in the incubators.

There was only one problem. It wasn’t true. No member of the media had bothered to find out who the young girl was, or where she was from. It turned out she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and that she hadn’t actually seen Iraqi soldiers doing this, in fact she wasn’t even in Kuwait when this was supposed to have happened.

And all those press releases? Well, they had come from Hill-Knowlton, the DC PR firm who had been hired by the Kuwaiti government to lead the media down the primrose path to supporting the war. (The CBC show Fifth Estate later won an international Emmy for its work in exposing this manipulation. You can read the details below in a column I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in September of 2002, “When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators.”)

I remember at the time, so soon after 9/11, there was discussion about the role of journalists. And generally the feeling was that journalists were American citizens first and media people second, and that their duty was to support the country and the president.

How wrong they were.

The first duty of any serious journalist is to the country and its citizens, and that means protecting that country from lies and manipulation by those in power, no matter the cost. Since most American journalists, and certainly almost all mainstream journalists, did not do this, the Bush administration, with the help of their lapdog in England, Tony Blair, was able to launch the world on a road to war that we are still on today.

If American journalists had actually done their jobs, had actually been journalists, and not just bought what the Bush administration said hook, line and sinker, think of how things might be different. If journalists had asked the questions that need to be asked, instead of turning into the cheerleaders that they did, the country (and the world) would have been much better served.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. If war was on the horizon again today, I have few doubts that the epaulettes would appear on the shoulders of editors again. For the sad truth is that far too many American journalists are not interested in bringing truth to the public, but in being popular, well-watched or read, making money and being invited to all the right parties in Washington and New York.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Related stories on F&O:

Former British Prime Minister, Tony  Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure, by  Michael Holden and William James

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

Links:

The Iraq Inquiry, by Sir John Chilcot: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/

How the Media Fueled the War in Iraq, Truth Out: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/15234-how-the-media-fueled-the-war-in-iraq

When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators, by Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html

Media’s failure on Iraq still stings, CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/11/opinion/kurtz-iraq-media-failure/

Iraq War Media Reporting, Journalism and Propaganda, Global Issues:
http://www.globalissues.org/article/461/media-reporting-journalism-and-propaganda

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Iraq Inquiry: a catalogue of political failure

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

A British army armoured vehicle convoy rolls into southern Iraq March 22, 2003. REUTERS/Oleg Popov/File Photo

By Michael Holden and William James 
July, 2016

LONDON (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalogue of failures, a seven-year inquiry concluded July 6 in a scathing verdict on Britain’s role in the conflict.

Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told U.S. President George W. Bush “I will be with you, whatever”, eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Pool

 

More than 13 years since the invasion, Iraq remains in chaos, with large areas under the control of Islamic State militants who have claimed responsibility for attacks on Western cities.

Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.

Critics also say it fuelled a deep distrust in politicians and the ruling establishment. The report was issued 13 days after Britons delivered a stunning blow to their political leaders by voting to leave the European Union.

The inquiry, which was given unprecedented access to confidential government documents and took longer to complete than British military involvement in the conflict itself, said Blair had relied on flawed intelligence and determined the way the war was legally authorised was unsatisfactory.

The threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction – the original justification for war – had been over-hyped and the planning for the aftermath of war had been inadequate, it found.

“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the inquiry chairman, former civil servant John Chilcot.

In a lengthy and passionate defence lasting almost two hours, Blair explained his decision to back Bush and go to war alongside the United States in March 2003, at a time when the inquiry said Saddam posed no imminent threat.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq December 17, 2006. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

“I did not mislead this country. There were no lies, there was no deceit, there was no deception,” the former prime minister told reporters, looking gaunt and strained but growing animated as he responded to questions.

“But there was a decision, and it was a controversial decision … to remove Saddam and to be with America. I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it.”

The only Labour prime minister to win three general elections, Blair was in office for 10 years until 2007 and was hugely popular in his heyday, but Iraq has severely tarnished his reputation and legacy.

A statement issued by Bush’s spokesman Freddy Ford said the former president had not had a chance to read the report but defended the war’s goal of ousting Saddam.

“Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” the statement said.

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President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast April 8, 2003. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“I WILL BE WITH YOU”

The inquiry report, running to 2.6 million words, or more than four times the length of “War and Peace”, shed light on the interaction between Blair and Bush in the months leading up to the invasion, which has long been the subject of speculation about secret deals and pledges.

In a memo dated July 28, 2002, eight months before the invasion, Blair told Bush: “I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties.”

Outside the building where Chilcot delivered his findings, protesters chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal”. But the report itself stopped short of saying the war was illegal.

“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” Chilcot said.

Reg Keys, whose son, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, was killed in Iraq, said: “We all know who the key players are … who took part in this most shambolic episode in British politics. We would like to see all those key players face some form of accountability.”

He added: “If that’s through the legal channels, then we will look at that and see what’s viable and appropriate. It has been passed over to lawyers.”

Former British Prime Minister, Tony  Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016.    REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, delivers a speech following the publication of The Iraq Inquiry Report by John Chilcot, in London, Britain July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

BLAIR’S SORROW

Blair said he would take the same decisions again, and that he did not see the action as the cause of terrorism today, blaming outside forces for continuing sectarian violence in Iraq and the legacy of the Arab Spring for the emergence of Islamic State militants.

However, he acknowledged mistakes had been made.

“The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined,” he said.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”

Chilcot said there was no imminent threat from Saddam at the time of the invasion and the chaos in Iraq and the region which followed should have been foreseen.

Britain had joined the invasion without exhausting peaceful options, and thereby undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council.

“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged and they should have been,” Chilcot said.

He also said that Blair’s government’s judgements about the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “presented with unjustified certainty”.

No such weapons were discovered after the war.

Throughout its report, the inquiry, which cost 10 million pounds, criticised Blair’s leadership, saying he over-estimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq and took major decisions without consulting his cabinet.

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

Youths hurls rock at British Army Warrior armoured vehicles during a violent protest by job seekers, who say they were promised employment in the security services, in the southern Iraq city of Basra March 22, 2004. REUTERS/Atef Hassan/File Photo

NO STRATEGIC SUCCESS

The report listed a catalogue of mistakes, saying the war was poorly-resourced, badly-planned and in the turmoil that followed the invasion, there was a total failure to conduct a reappraisal of policies with the only strategic objective to cut troop deployment numbers.

“It fell far short of strategic success,” the report said.

Chilcot said Britain did not have the capacity to engage in campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and said it was humiliating that the military in 2007 had had to make a deal with a militia that had become dominant in the southern Iraqi city of Basra which Britain was supposed to control.

Iraq is still struggling with the widespread violence unleashed by the war. On Saturday, 250 people were killed in Baghdad’s worst car bombing since the U.S.-led invasion.

“I wish Saddam would return; he executed many of my family but he is still better than these politicians and clerics who got Iraq to the way it is,” said Kadhim Hassan al-Jabouri, an Iraqi who was filmed attacking Saddam’s statue with a sledgehammer after the invasion.

Others said they were grateful to Washington and London for ending his dictatorship.

The purpose of the inquiry was not to point fingers but for the British government to learn lessons from the invasion and occupation that followed.

“We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on,” Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.

“It is crucial to good decision-making that a prime minister establishes a climate in which it’s safe for officials and other experts to challenge existing policy and question the views of ministers and the prime minister without fear or favour.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Blair’s Labour Party and a fervent pacifist, told parliament that the war was an act of aggression based on a false pretext that had fuelled and spread terrorism across the Middle East.

“I now apologise sincerely on behalf of my party for the disastrous decision to go to war,” he said in a later speech.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Alistair Smout and Stephen Addison, and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Estelle Shirbon and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Mark Trevelyan, Philippa Fletcher, Toni Reinhold)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Ahmed Chalabi: Death of a Salesman

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
November 6, 2015

ChalabiAhmed Chalabi is lucky he died this week. Had he lived even a few months longer he would have had to face yet more charges that he is personally responsible for the death and destruction that has wrenched the Middle East for nearly 15 years.

It is already well established that false information fed by Chalabi to the neo-conservative triumphalists around President George W. Bush about Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction provided the excuse for the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the run-up to the March 18 assault on Iraq it was not just the justification for the invasion that the urbane and by all accounts charming and stimulating Chalabi, exiled head of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress (INC), gave the Bush administration. The fantasists around President Bush imagined that after Saddam was deposed, Chalabi would be “the George Washington of Iraq.” The notion that the country would speed seamlessly from Saddam’s dictatorship to a Chalabi-led stellar Middle Eastern democracy was one reason why the post-invasion period received so little attention and went so disastrously wrong.

This grim history and Chalabi’s part in it is likely to be chewed over again early next year. That’s when the long-delayed publication is due of the British parliamentary inquiry into the so-called “dodgy dossier” of Chalabi’s fabricated “intelligence” that led Prime Minister Tony Blair to send British troops to join the invasion and occupation.

Ahmed Chalabi in discussion with Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld. Photo by MSgt. James Bowman

Ahmed Chalabi in discussion with Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld. Photo by MSgt. James Bowman

 

Even before publication of that much anticipated report, however, Chalabi has been back under the microscope. The program he administered after the invasion to remove all senior and middle-rank members of Saddam’s Baath Party from the Iraqi military, government and judiciary is widely blamed for the administrative collapse of the country and the unsuccessful efforts to rebuild a functioning state.

The charges go further. Chalabi’s duping of the Bush clique and his post-invasion cleansing of all functioning administration in Iraq are being widely portrayed as causes for the rise of the Islamic State group and its successful occupation of northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria. Indeed, there is evidence that the Islamic State has attracted recruits from among former Baathists ousted in Chalabi’s purges of the old Baghdad regime.

So what Chalabi did 10 years ago is even being stretched to blaming him for the U.S. and allies having to mount an air war against the consummately brutal Islamic State jihadists. (New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to swiftly withdraw Canada’s six CF18 fighter-bombers from this campaign.) Chalabi’s actions are also held ultimately responsible for Russia’s military intervention in Syria to protect Moscow’s ally, besieged President Bashar al-Assad. Washington is responding to Moscow’s air attacks, which are mostly aimed at what is dubbed the moderate opposition to Assad of the Free Syrian Army, by putting its own military boots on the ground. U.S. special forces soldiers are being sent to “advise” Free Syrian Army fighters.

President Barack Obama has made this decision through gritted teeth. A central theme of Obama’s nearly completed eight-year administration has been to get the U.S. out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan he inherited from George W. Bush.

That’s heaping far more guilt on Chalabi’s shoulders than can be justified. But if even half the allegations against him are true, the relatives of many hundreds of thousands of people who have died or suffered dislocated lives in the last 15 years could wish him dead. But so far as is now known, Chalabi died on Tuesday of a heart attack at his home in Baghdad, aged 71.

There is no doubt that Chalabi was a world-class con artist and a man supremely adept at manipulating other people’s fixations and weaknesses. But as one follows his story, what stands out is that he was without a clear philosophical or ideological purpose. He undoubtedly hated Saddam and the Baath Party, who he blamed for robbing his aristocratic family of its historic rights and stature. But there is no sense of a large objective behind his duplicity and chicanery. It often seems as though it was the confidence trick itself, not its repercussions, that gave him the most pleasure and sense of accomplishment.

That has also made him the perfect scapegoat for those in the administrations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair on whom the full blame for what has happened in the Middle East since 2003 should fall.

Only Blair, with the Chilcot report looming, has made a qualified apology for the Iraq debacle. He said in an interview with CNN recently that he was sorry for not appreciating that the intelligence on which the reason for the invasion was based was false, and that insufficient thought was given to how to reconstruct Iraq after the invasion.

Chalabi spent most of his life in exile. His family left Iraq when he was 12 years old and his early years were spent in the U.S. and Britain. After gaining a bachelor of science degree in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he went on to win a Ph.D in mathematics at the University of Chicago, and then took up a teaching position at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Notoriety began to gather around Chalabi after he founded the Petra Bank in Jordan in 1977. In 1989 he had a falling out with the Central Bank of Jordan, which accused him of embezzlement and false accounting. Chalabi fled the country, but was tried in absentia and convicted.

After the First Gulf War, when the U.S. and its allies liberated Kuwait from Saddam’s occupation, but did not follow through to depose the Baghdadi dictator, the Iraqi National Congress was founded in 1992. Chalabi became head of the INC’s executive council and quickly worked at getting funding from the U.S. to pursue the overthrow of Saddam. For a while in the mid-1990s Chalabi was in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, fomenting an uprising against Saddam, but when that was crushed he fled back to the U.S.

During this period Chalabi came to the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and for a while was on the Langley payroll. But they had a very acrimonious falling out in the mid-1990s with the CIA suspecting Chalabi of compromising the agency’s covert action program in Iraq. All the CIA’s agents were exposed and a lucky few escaped. The CIA never trusted Chalabi again.

One of Chalabi’s first coups was to successfully lobby the U.S. Congress to pass the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act. This allocated $97 million to support Iraqi opposition groups, of which the INC got a large chunk, including $33 million between March 2000 and September 2003.

Chalabi’s stock in Washington rose even higher in 2000 with the coming to power of George W. Bush and his coterie. Chalabi had already ingratiated himself with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, especially Richard Perle, chairman of Bush’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee. But most importantly for Chalabi was his association with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary, who was consumed by personal guilt at the failure to overthrow Saddam in the First Gulf War. After the September, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, Wolfowitz was one of the first members of the administration intent on making the link between Saddam and al-Qaida. He persistently complained that the CIA was not looking diligently enough for this link.

After being repeatedly rebuffed by the CIA, Wolfowitz and his immediate colleagues set up their own special intelligence unit called the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group. This group turned increasingly to Chalabi and the INC for its information as did the Pentagon under their guidance. The CIA warned repeatedly that Chalabi was unreliable and not to be trusted, but this only reinforced Wolfowitz and his team in their conviction that the information they were receiving from Chalabi and the INC was pure intelligence gold. In the end, the Bush White House came down on Wolfowitz’ side and instructed the CIA to back off, which it did.

The result was that Chalabi was given an unobstructed channel to feed his stories into the White House decision-making system. All this information was aimed at propelling the U.S. into an invasion of Iraq.

Key to achieving that aim, of course, was for Chalabi and the INC to provide the evidence of links between Saddam and al-Qaida and Saddam’s development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Wolfowitz and his team were avid to discover. Information fabricated by Chalabi and the INC became central to the public justifications for the invasion, made famously by Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, a month before the invasion, and by Blair in the British Parliament as the invasion began.

It was only after the invasion, the ouster of Saddam and destruction of the country’s administration that Washington and London discovered there were no WMD and no links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. The conviction, especially in the Bush White House, that Chalabi would be welcomed by Iraqis as the savour and founding father of a democratic Iraq was equally fanciful. Chalabi was appointed to the Coalition Provisional Authority and briefly served as president of the body. He was also put in charge of the “de-Baathification” program under which all senior officials of the Saddam regime in the government, military and judiciary were removed. This purge left Iraq without any effective administration. That in turn ignited sectarianism and the decade of chaos that followed.

A few months after the invasion, Chalabi fell out with the Americans over their democratization plans, which didn’t, as he had hoped, amount to simply putting him in charge. Washingotn soured on Chalabi equally swiftly as his pre-invasion duplicity became more and more evident. The parting of the ways took concrete form in May, 2004, when the U.S. government announced it was ending the $330,000 a month it had being paying Chalabi since 1998, ostensibly to fund the INC.

Since then Chalabi has been an on-again, off-again presence in Iraqi politics. He briefly held a few senior posts, Deputy Prime Minister and interim Oil Minister among them. But the Iraqi voting public remained resolutely opposed to giving him its support for any major job in his own right.

In recent years Chalabi became a marginal, but divisive figure, recasting himself as an intemperate champion of the Shi’ia Muslim majority in opposition to the minority Sunnis. He has even been accused to reviving the “de-Baathification” program to eliminate his Sunni political enemies.

When he died this week, Chalabi was still a member of the Iraqi parliament and chairman of its finance committee. But George Washington he wasn’t and never could be.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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ISIS destruction of ancient artefacts a message of intent

By Peter Edwell
March, 2015

Distressing scenes of the destruction of ancient artefacts by ISIS in the Archaeological Museum in Mosul in northern Iraq have been widely reported in recent days.

Nimrud Lamassu's at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Nimrud Lamassu’s at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Video footage (see below) showed individuals wielding sledgehammers at ancient statues which the perpetrators claimed were images of gods. The exact identification of the destroyed artefacts is speculative, but most of the destruction appears to have been wrought on statuary of the Assyrian period (1365 BCE–609 BCE) and from the ancient trading principality of Hatra.

These items would be too difficult to smuggle out to the international black market for antiquities, a practice which ISIS appears to have been employing for smaller looted items from museums and archaeological sites across Iraq and Syria.

A number of rich archaeological sites lie in the immediate vicinity of Mosul and some of these rank among the most significant yet discovered in the Middle East.

Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) and Niniveh were successive capitals of the neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BCE-609 BCE) the latter thought to have been the largest city in the world in the seventh century BCE.

The remains of Nimrud lie approximately 30km to the south-east of Mosul while those of Niniveh are located on east bank of the Tigris in the immediate vicinity of the city. Foreign excavations of both sites began in the 1840s and many impressive items of statuary, architecture and other sculptures were transported to museums including the British Museum and the Louvre.

Some of this material stayed in Iraq where it is still held at museums in Baghdad and Mosul.

Mosul’s occupation of a strategic crossing point of the Tigris River for many centuries means that the city has a rich history, reflected in the museum’s holdings and the, until recently, diverse population of the city.

Mosul was a key crossing point for invading Parthian, Persian and Roman armies from the first century BCE to the seventh century CE and it formed an important trade connection between northern Mesopotamia and Syria, especially with the wealthy trading principality of Hatra (first century BCE – third century CE), some 90km south-west of Mosul, and the more distant trading emporium of Palmyra in central Syria.

Mosul was also an important trading centre during various Islamic Caliphates and in the Ottoman period. Today it is the second largest city in Iraq and its bridge across the Tigris is an important part of connecting the whole region of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which ISIS controls.

While the destruction of ancient artefacts in Mosul is without question cultural vandalism at its worst, ancient cultures in Iraq and elsewhere were equally capable of cultural vandalism, often on grand scales.

When the Assyrian empire disintegrated towards the end of the seventh century BCE, Nimrud was sacked and levelled by an alliance of enemies including Babylonians and Persians. In 330 BCE Alexander the Great looted the ancient city of Persepolis in Iran and burnt its palace to the ground in a drunken rampage.

Roman Emperors and Persian Kings besieged Hatra on five occasions in the second and third centuries before it was finally captured and mostly destroyed while the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE resonates to this day.

There is a clear distinction, however, between the devastation of priceless cultural items by ancient powers and the targeted destructive activities of ISIS.

The vandalism perpetrated in the Mosul Museum is part of a targeted program of desecration and devastation undertaken in Mosul by ISIS since it overran the city in June 2014. Reports of the demolition of six Shi’ite mosques and four shrines to Sunni and Sufi figures emerged in early July last year and later that month the 14th-century Prophet Younis (Jonah) shrine and associated mosque were blown up.

The obliteration of other Islamic monuments and places of worship has continued while the Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox Cathedrals were occupied after the vast proportion of Christian residents fled the city. Reports emerged in late February that the Mosul Public Library had been ransacked with approximately 100,000 books and manuscripts burned.

These actions are directly linked with the adherence by ISIS members to the Salafi movement, an extreme branch of Islam which views the centuries of development in Islamic theology and thinking after Mohammed as accretions which have polluted the faith.

The veneration of saints’ tombs and images is a particular problem for Salafists, which explains the destruction wrought on Islamic monuments in Mosul. It mirrors the destruction of saints’ tombs in Mecca and Medina in the early 1800s when Salafists captured the holy cities in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The destruction of artefacts depicting what are claimed to be gods in the Mosul Museum is part of making a broader statement to the Islamic world while enforcing an extreme doctrinal position in the city. It is also part of a message aimed more broadly at Iraq and the West.

On the same day that the video was released, the National Museum in Baghdad reopened after 12 years of painstaking effort to rebuild it following the looting which took place during the US-led invasion in 2003. The reopening of the museum is a moment of national pride for a country whose very existence is under threat.

The destruction of artefacts in Mosul sends a clear message, reflective of the intent of ISIS, which is to destroy whatever stands in the way of its ideology. The release of video footage of this vandalism has other purposes as well, especially with regard to the West, where museums and the precious artefacts they hold are treasured and sacred.

The infinitely more gruesome video footage of defenceless hostages being murdered has a similar purpose, partly to terrorise all who see it but also to entice the West back into a high-stakes war which will be difficult to prosecute and far more difficult to win. ​

Creative Commons

Peter Edwell is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Macquarie University,  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading and viewing:

UNESCO chief condemns destruction of Nimrud heritage site in northern Iraq, UN press release

6 March 2015 – The United Nations agency mandated with protecting cultural heritage around the world today strongly condemned the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, deploring such “criminal chaos” as yet another attack against the Iraqi people.

 “Nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” Irina Bokova, Director-General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a statement.

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

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The first casualty of war…

Leftover from the Kuwait-Iraq war, by Christopher Michel of San Francisco, U.S. Creative Commons via Wikimedia

Leftover from the Kuwait-Iraq war. Photo by Christopher Michel of San Francisco, U.S. Creative Commons via Wikimedia

TOM REGAN  
February 13, 2015 

We all lie. 

It doesn’t have to be about big things. We lied to our teachers when we were young about why homework wasn’t done. We lied to our parents about why we got home late. These days we lie to our bosses about why we were sick yesterday. We lie about our taxes. Telling a lie is probably one of the most human things that we do.

But when you’re a major TV network news anchor, and you tell a lie, it’s a big deal. NBC-TV anchor Brian Williams is learning that right now as he embarks on his six-month suspension from the nightly newscast. But when you come right down to it, the lie Williams probably told about what happened to him on that helicopter in Iraq is really only a minor one when compared to the BIG LIE of the entire second Gulf War and why we were there in the first place. 

Many Americans continue to believe (or consciously ignore) the lies about Iraq that were used to convince them that going there again was a good idea. You can see this to a degree in the public’s response to the film American Sniper. On the one hand the movie is a rather good depiction about what happens to soldiers when they come home from war and many struggle with PTSD. But director Clint Eastwood has so glossed over the truth about the war itself, and the role that America has played in the creation of that failed state today, that it basically undermines what might have been a reasonably good movie.

Those of you who are students of media will recognize my title of this column. It’s the title of Philip Knightley’s great book on war correspondents and misinformation and lying about war, “The first casualty...(of war is the truth).” Governments have been lying to the public about reasons for war for longer than I care to speculate. The British certainly did it in World War I, the Americans with the sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin incident that precipitated the U.S. build up in the Vietnam War. And one that I have some familiarity with, the Kuwait hospital “babies in incubators” story that was a creation of the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton and the Kuwaiti government, that pushed many American congressmen and senators to support the first Gulf War at a time when that support was not so solid.

In September 2002 I wrote a column for the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “When contemplating war beware of babies and incubators” that basically reviewed a lot of the reporting that had exposed this deliberate deception that in many ways led to the First Gulf War. Little did I know then that yellow uranium cake would be the babies in incubators of the Second Gulf War.

So why are we so easily deceived? Why is it that after being lied to about one of the main reasons to go to war in Iraq during the first Gulf War, we then completely forgot that lesson and fell hook. line, and sinker for another lie that put us in a wreck once again? And those lies continue to mount up the longer we stayed in Iraq: Rumsfeld told us going there a few months, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials said it wouldn’t cost much, we were also told that we would be welcomed with open arms. We were winning – mission accomplished. Well, we weren’t, and it wasn’t. 

I think there are number of factors at play here. One is the old notion of the bigger the lie the more people will believe it. Another factor is that even when that lie is exposed Americans don’t like to believe they’ve been deceived. It makes them look bad. So rather than, as Pres. Obama recently said “looking at ourselves clearly in the mirror” we prefer to insist that the lie was in fact true long after it had been proven false. In the case of something like weapons of mass destruction, even after the Bush administration admitted that none existed, polls showed that something like 40 per cent of the American public continued to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction..

There were so many lies it’s hard to count them all. But perhaps that last one I mentioned above is the worst. In fact we were not welcomed with open arms and we made this worse through a series of blunders that basically turned a significant portion of the Iraqi populace against the United States. Daesh (the Islamic State) may be the most brutal enemy we have faced in the Middle East to date, and we all look forward to its ultimate destruction, but we cannot ignore the role that we played in its creation. Through our incompetence and lies we basically turned Iraq into a training ground for terrorists and we (and to a much much greater extent the Iraqi and also Syrian people) are now reaping what we have sown.

So what Brian Williams did was certainly wrong. Journalists are supposed to tell people the truth, not make stories up. And when they do they must pay the consequences.

But isn’t it time we hold a few more people responsible for telling lies about the Iraq war, other than television anchor people with an inflated sense of self-importance? And maybe it’s time that we Americans stop deceiving ourselves about Iraq and clearly face the truth of what we did there, and why we didn’t succeed.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Notes:

“When contemplating war beware of babies and incubators,” Christian Science Monitor 

 

Tom Regan

Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Siege of Kobane a battle for a stable Middle East

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by  Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Karthick Manoharan, University of Essex
November 15, 2014

The battle against the Islamic State fighters draws in viewers across the world, there has been some attention given to the men and women resisting them in northern Syria. The Syrian part of Kurdistan, or Rojava, as the Kurds would like to call it, has been fighting Islamists for well over two years now but only recently has the battle for the border town of Kobane bought them to light.

And while it’s easy to portray the Kurdish people as pitted against this new terrorist threat, they are actually involved in something far more profound. Kobane is symbolic and the conflict there carries a universal significance. Not only are the Kurds battling the Islamists, but they are also attempting to create a model of democracy that might actually bring stability to a war-torn region.

The Kurdish political vision is not founded on any particular racial, ethnic, regional or religious belief but rather on an idea, or a set of ideas, that should resonate with people everywhere.

Fighters in Kobane claim to be standing up for the freedom of everyone in the region, be they Kurds, Turks, Arabs or anyone else. The way the fighters in Kobane have challenged stereotypical gender roles is just one example.

As far as religious difference goes, Kobane disproves both Islamophobes who believe the Middle East to be incapable of progress and politically correct Islamophiles who push the patronizing idea that religious identity is a top priority for Muslims the world over. In their readiness to defend the Yazidi minority against persecution from IS, the Kurds have essentially been promoting a radical secularism and a vision of tolerance in a region torn by religious strife.

What is novel about the Kurdish struggle for self-determination is its very definition of self-determination. The concept, when applied to nations, is generally taken to mean the right of nations to secede and form states of their own, but the Kurds see it differently. Many believe an experiment in democratic confederalism is what the region really needs.

This is an idea espoused by PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who is a central intellectual and moral figure for Kurds. The PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has been fighting Turkey for greater autonomy since 1978 and has also trained Kurdish fighters in Kobane. Ocalan’s writing, compiled from within the confines of a Turkish prison where he has languished for about 15 years, has provided a solid ideological plank for the Kurdish struggle. He believes nation states are inherently oppressive. While oppressed groups might have a legitimate desire to form states of their own, even such newly formed states only serve to replace one form of domination with another. For him, the nation state is linked to xenophobic nationalism, sexism and religious fundamentalism.

Democratic confederalism is a system of governance that would be based on greater collective consensus and voluntary participation. Ecology and feminism are seen as central pillars for local self-governance. It calls for an economic system that should be based neither on exploiting human labour nor the unsound use of natural resources.

Kobane has essentially implemented this theory in practice. The ideas might seem utopian and realists may, quite legitimately, question the sustainability of autonomous communes that do not have the political or military backing of a centralised state. But as Oscar Wilde said, progress is the realisation of Utopia. Maybe Kobane’s progress is just that.

The struggle for Kobane is an event of global significance on a par with the Declaration of Independence, the Storming of the Bastille, the Paris Commune, or the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu. Success for the Kurds would challenge established intellectual, ethical and political horizons.

At a time when right-wing parties are growing in Europe and elsewhere, and minority fundamentalism is growing in parallel, the Kurds are offering something different and it should not be ignored. In that sense, they are fighting for everyone.

Creative Commons

Karthick Manoharan is a PhD student and graduate teaching assistant in politics at University of Essex, England. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Further reading on Facts and Opinions:

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan  By Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now. … read more (paywall)

Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison

In 1918, the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain received an ultimatum from Ottoman forces – to hand over their weaponry and the Christian refugees they were sheltering, or face the consequences. They tore it up and sent the messengers back naked. The Sinjaris are the “Highlanders” of the Iraqi Yazidis – tough and proud. After suffering terrible casualties and appealing to the allied forces for help they were able to survive the subsequent attack and live out the war in their mountain homeland. … read more

Further information:
Twitter’s #kobane hash tag offers images and updates in real time.

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique of slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. We appreciate and rely on your support: a day pass is $1 and subscriptions start at $2.95 per month

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Kurdistan could be a silver lining in Middle East quagmire

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

Refugees from the war in Syria continue to arrive to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, children created a mural that reads, “hope gives wings to humanity.” Photo by Samantha Robinson, European Commission, public domain

The siege of Kobani has pushed to the surface some of the internal and external pressures working against the creation of a complete Kurdistan homeland, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. But if any good can come of the latest ill-conceived bombing of the Middle East, it would be furthering the cause of Kurdistan. Excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan:

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.

Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now.

Sadly this latest international escapade to try to neuter the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq does not appear to have any clearer line of march or long-term strategic purpose than the Libyan adventure.

But there is a worthwhile objective that could raise this campaign above the bombing of psychopaths in stolen trucks. It is to use this conflict to propel the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan. Log in to read War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan  (paywall*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription.

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

 

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Verbatim: Bombing to lose; air attacks bolster insurgents –review

Mission completed, but not necessarily accomplished. two United States Air Force fighter jets, on September 23, fly 
over northern Iraq after attacking ISIL targets, actual or suspected, in Syria. U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, Creative Commons

Mission completed, but not necessarily accomplished. two United States Air Force fighter jets, on September 23, fly 
over northern Iraq after attacking ISIL targets, actual or suspected, in Syria. Photo by Matthew Bruch/U.S. Air Force, Creative Commons

October 14, 2014

After reviewing almost 23,000 United States Air Force sorties over Afghanistan, an American academic has concluded that aerial attacks and shows of force are a poor counter-insurgency tool.

“Evidence consistently indicates that airstrikes markedly increase insurgent attacks relative to non-bombed locations for at least 90 days after a strike,” Jason Lyall of Yale University writes in the introduction to Bombing to Lose? Airpower and the dynamics of violence in counterinsurgency wars.

“Civilian casualties play little role in explaining post-strike insurgent responses, however. Instead, these attacks appear driven by reputational concerns, as insurgent organizations step up their violence after air operations to maintain their reputations for resolve in the eyes of local populations.”

“Bombing to Lose” is a historic document for at least two reasons:

It is the latest contribution to a discussion that started 90 years ago, as the Italians, in North Africa, and the British, in the Middle East, inaugurated aerial attacks on restive and rebellious colonial and protectorate populations.

And it enriches the discussion of the decision of Western governments to battle the Islamic State (Also known as IS/ISIL/ISIS) insurgency in Syria and Iraq solely, or mostly, from the air.

— Michael Sasges

Here’s an excerpt from “Bombing to Lose:”

Airpower poses a particular challenge for rebel governance since its unique capacity for rapidly and suddenly degrading insurgent capabilities can erode their ability to control a given population. Insurgent losses may embolden locals to defect to the counterinsurgent’s side, for example. This may take the form of withholding material assistance such as food and shelter or the imposition of restrictions on operations as local leaders organize to limit the damage from airstrikes. Local informants may also provide tips to the counterinsurgent about insurgent identities and behavior. At the extreme, civilians may even counter-mobilize against insurgents by forming their own militia or siding openly with counterinsurgent forces.

Violence therefore becomes a means by which insurgent organizations can blunt the counterinsurgent’s efforts to drive a wedge between rebels and locals. Failure to respond may in fact invite whispers that control is slipping away. The Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan, for example, “came to realize that the increasingly effective drone strikes made them look weak,” and they began taking precautions (including cordoning off attack sites) to discourage rumors of weakness from spreading. Revealing the capacity to “hit back” at the counterinsurgent after an airstrike thus carries the implicit message that these coercive abilities could also be turned against would-be civilian defectors and wavering insurgents.

Defection can also take the form of locals throwing their weight behind another insurgent organization that appears to be more effective against the counterinsurgent. The potential emergence of a rival organization and the corresponding loss of “market share” will further reinforce the value of a reputation for resolve against counterinsurgent forces. By imposing costs on the counterinsurgent, an insurgent organization could satisfy popular demands while forestalling the entry (or creation) of rival organizations in an area. Indeed, local civilians may even shrug off casualties inflicted by insurgents while striking back, particularly if those individuals have been victimized by the counterinsurgent.

While we are not privy to internal Taliban deliberations, the notion that they value their reputations for resolve at the local level finds initial support from interviews and survey data. Taliban commanders and foot soldiers alike have routinely singled out airstrikes as especially problematic for Taliban strategy, for example. These accounts stress both the fact that airstrikes are far more destructive than comparable [NATO] operations and they are asymmetric in nature, with the Taliban lacking an equivalent response in the absence of their own airpower. Worse from the Taliban standpoint is the highly visible nature of air power, which removes the ability to discount or ignore their effects, placing additional pressure on insurgents to match these actions with their own.

Taliban strategy has also evolved over time to reflect the importance of cultivating a positive image among local populations, though there are limits to such efforts. The Taliban have resorted to an extensive assassination campaign against government officials, along with those suspected of assisting the Karzai government, since 2007. Above all, there is an awareness that populations could curtail their support — or even push the Taliban from a village— if cracks developed in the facade of local Taliban control. As one villager berated a local Taliban commander after an airstrike . . . . : “Don’t be a coward and hide among civilians. . . if you want to fight Americans, go down south and leave us alone.” Territorial control may therefore hinge on establishing and maintaining a reputation for resolve, particularly if this reputation forestalls defection while helping local units garner a greater share of overall insurgent resources.

This reputational mechanism suggests two behavioral indicators. First, if reputational dynamics are driving insurgent violence, then we should witness insurgent “push-back” even after non-lethal shows of force — simulated bomb runs where no ordinance is actually dropped — since these are also highly visible signals that could drive a wedge between rebels and locals. Second, this mechanism suggests that insurgent responses should be localized. That is, the causal effect of an airstrike should dissipate sharply as distance from the bombed location increases since insurgents emphasize their local standing.

The full report is on the Social Science Research Network
papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2422170

References and further reading:
Jason Lyall’s web page at Yale
Compiled news reports about coalition air strikes against Islamic State at Janes.com

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