Full Circle: MANPADS, Mi-8s and Muslim fundamentalists

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan the CIA helped fund and train Islamist guerillas. Despite the fact they were totalitarian religious fanatics and terrorists to boot, the US gave them money and material, including personal, portable, surface-to-air rockets known as Stingers, enabling them to take down Russian helicopters like the Mi-8.

Islamists down Mi-8 in Afghanistan, 1988.

Islamists down Russian Mi-8 in Afghanistan with US rockets, 1988.

It didn’t turn out too well.

During the Syrian Civil War, the CIA are helping to fund and train Islamist guerillas. Despite the fact they are totalitarian religious fanatics and terrorists to boot, the US are giving them money and material, including personal, portable, surface-to-air rockets known as MANPADS, enabling them to take down Russian helicopters like the Mi-8.

Islamists down Russian MI-8 in Syria with US rockets, 2016

Islamists down Russian Mi-8 in Syria with US rockets, 2016

There is no reason at all to think this will work out any better than it did last time.

Sadly the policy is supported by not just the current US President, but by his likely Democrat successor Hillary Clinton, the UK government and – at the time of blogging – most of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, as Talleyrand said.

The British Government At War, 2015

Before our aircrew conducted their attacks, as is normal they used the aircraft’s advanced sensors to confirm that no civilians were in the proximity of the targets, who might be placed at risk.

Civilian proximity detectors. Yeah, sure.

I wonder if the Syrian government will ever get its oilfields back. I doubt it. The Iraqi government lost the oilfields of Kurdistan a couple of years ago. The former Shell CEO, the disgraced Tony Hayward, was entrusted to steal all of that. No doubt he has been briefed about Syria.

There will be British banks handling the financing.

Turning the airspace over the Syrian oil fields into a permanent bombing zone is obviously how the West hopes to lever Assad out. According to one MP the aerial campaign is expected to run for three years. Presumably that’s how long the Asfari Foundation has to groom some plausible-looking puppets.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Iraq survived having its oil exports commandeered by the UN. It took a ground invasion to bring down Saddam. In another five to ten years I suppose Damascus will be weak enough for Operation Syrian Freedom. Sometime after the 2020 election, say. It will be justified by a humanitarian catastrophe or a terrible terrorist incident, neither of which can actually be attributed to the Assad government. As usual, Western fatalities will mostly consist of friendly fire incidents and traffic accidents. The same suspects you saw braying for war yesterday will deliver the traditional rhetoric (Benn is obviously counting on still being around). It will prove just as disastrous as the invasions of Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan.

I can’t see how it can stopped. I suppose Syria might decide to abandon its sovereignty and prostate itself before wholly predatory forces, but countries can’t really do that any more than pigs can fly. They have to be crushed first, and only an escalation into global war or the complete collapse of the financial markets can now prevent this from happening. While both are ultimately inevitable at some point, they hardly constitute a preferable alternative.

Britain could perhaps delay things (and salvage some of its own conscience) if it developed a truly responsible government. This would require the widespread rejection of the mainstream media, and for enlarged party memberships to effectively control the political class. How likely do you think that is?

There Are No Cleanskins: running agents in the age of social media

For as long as humint as existed, agents have supplied it. Defectors and refugees provide human intelligence, sometimes for very long periods of time prior to their actual departure from theatre. Other human intelligence comes from what you might call infiltration, through men and women who are enticed to join target organisations, or occupy other designated areas, using real or assumed identities.

That used to be the model, anyway. Problematically, assumed identities in an age of social media are impossible. You will be found out. Somebody will see you, and remember you. State-level intelligence agencies already have some capability to run automated facial recognition programmes on all popular social media. Indeed, this is one of the key reasons why employees of MI5, SIS and GCHQ are specifically forbidden to post or update social media profiles. Direct infiltration under cover, like the Metropolitan Police were doing with protest groups in the nineties, is no longer a viable technique. You cannot live long under alias if you are on the internet.

With that in mind, let us consider the sheer volume of agents which the British intelligence community is likely to be handling. MI5 used to state in its own recruitment literature that its handling officers are expected to run between twenty and thirty agents a head (remember the vast majority of these will be using their real identities). That sort of workload is probably similar to that found in SIS. Budgets for running agents have increased dramatically since 9/11, so it is reasonable to assume that networks have been growing since then. MI5 employ around 4,000 people. Assuming it can task one thousand operational intelligence officers with Islamic extremism, the Security Service’s biggest concern, they could very easily be expected to be running somewhere between two and three thousand agents. Almost every one of these will be people using their own identities, pretending to be committed jihadis.

In 2007 Jonathan Evans, then Director General of MI5, publicly announced that his officers were monitoring two thousand potential Islamic terrorists (“potential”, nota bene). In February of this year, “highly placed MI5 sources” told the Financial Times there were now 3,000 on the “watchlist”. You will notice that both these figures bracket exactly the likely range of MI5’s Islamist agent population. And I do not think this is a coincidence.

Ponder the history of Northern Ireland, a field in which MI5 applied far less resources than it currently does to combating Islamic extremism. By the time of the Good Friday Agreement, British intelligence was collectively running not hundreds, but thousands, of agents and informers in Ulster. Military personnel I knew often complained to me that “we know who all the bad guys are, we could take them all out in one weekend” but politics made it impossible. This was partly true. We didn’t just know who all the bad guys were, we were paying them. They were agents, also known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS).

In Northern Ireland, collusion between paramilitaries and the intelligence community was rife. British intelligence officers bloodied their hands. They protected informants even when they killed innocent civilians, and they continue to protect them today. As astonishing as it may seem, there are many cases where operational officers knew innocents would be killed, and they did nothing to stop it. They even actively helped facilitate it. According the De Silva Report, 85%  of UDA targeting was done by the British intelligence community. Although the BBC’s Panorama programme is often hyperbolic, asinine and biased, Darragh Macintyre’s Britain’s Secret Terror Deals was a superb recap of what we know.

Information about agent handling in Northern Ireland continues to drip into the public domain. The three reports of Lord Stevens are all still classified, but he has let slip some incredible revelations. During his investigations into collusion between terrorists and the British intelligence community, the former Met commissioner arrested 210 former paramilitaries.

“Of the 210 people we arrested,” Stevens told the press, “only three weren’t agents.”

Please, please ponder that statistic. Stevens’ sample shows an infiltration rate of 98.6%. At least half of the IRA were actually British informants. Now apply that ratio to the number of potential Islamist terrorist suspects mentioned above, bearing in mind that we are dedicating far more resources to this newer threat. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of jihadi suspects and jihadi agents, I suspect you would have two circles that almost exactly overlap.

The profile of Islamist terrorists supports this conclusion. There are no cleanskins. Every attempted act of terrorism, every terrorist sympathiser, everyone is already known and on file. But, we are told, the Security Services somehow overlooked them. Do you believe this? Do you believe the argument made by Evans and others, that “we simply don’t have the resources to follow everyone all of the time”? I believe the reverse is more likely. Our intelligence community is more than adequately resourced, and the vast majority of so-called jihadis have existing operational relationships with the police and/or the Security Service and/or some other branch of the intelligence community. Given the sheer scale of Britain’s agent network, mistakes in handling will be made, which explain instances like the murder of Lee Rigby (the Intelligence and Security Committee has yet to deliver its promised report on the mishandling of Michael Adebolajo).

Agents know their job requires that they break the law, and agents expect they will be protected from the consequences. This is the essence of the deal. In the words of one former Belfast agent, they “walked on water”. Some were effectively state-sponsored serial killers. Their successors exist today, paid recruits of SIS and MI5, in Iraq and Syria. I cannot and will not pretend I know that Jihadi John is a British agent, but he is the son of a former agent, and if I was a non-cleanskin Islamist agent in place I would behave exactly as he has done. Indeed, such behaviour may have been expected of me by my target, as a kind of test or induction. You could speculate on any number of reasons why Mohammed Emwazi became “radicalised”, but the most likely is surely that some intelligence agency was paying him. There is even a 2009 audio recording in circulation in which Emwazi claims he isn’t an extremist, and that MI5 are harassing him.

It is absolutely par for the course that Emwazi’s family is protected by the UK government. They have been given safe houses in Britain and Kuwait, where his father is voluntarily talking to Kuwaiti intelligence.

I think I know what will happen to the majority of UK Islamists who left to join ISIS. They will disappear, like all the Iraqi WMD scientists did. They will just vanish. They will be exfiltrated and offered new lives. It won’t be hard to get them out: the SAS are already driving around ISIS territory in fancy dress. Emwazi may already have left. Similarly, I am confident the bodies of Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin will never be found. Undoubtedly, their families have been or will be offered settlements by the government.

“We’re confident [Khan is] dead but not absolutely categoric,” tweeted Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. Of course you can’t be categoric. Very few agents can be accommodated on re-entry as comfortably as Majiid Nawaz or Tommy Robinson.

 

FOOTNOTE Agents who were recruited in the late nineties, before the dawn of social media, and who are still in place, will have been compelled to continue under their assumed identities. There are probably still a couple in the trade union movement. Indeed I can think of one very likely candidate, who is currently demonstrating a puzzling solidarity with Ukrainian nationalists. I doubt any of his communist/anarchist colleagues have ever met a single member of his family.

 

 

On The Bombing Of Markets

Forget about the brokers in Shanghai.

On Sunday the 16th of August the market in Douma, an outer suburb of Damascus, was bombed. The news was first reported by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in a series of escalating bulletins until it finally arrived at the headline “more than 330 civilians killed and wounded in the genocide committed by the regime warplanes in Duma”.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

The “international community”, as the West and its satellites are fond of calling themselves, was quick to voice its outrage, as it has been throughout its five year campaign for Syrian regime change.

The UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien (ex-Cambridge, ex-Conservative MP), said he was “particularly appalled” at this “unlawful, unacceptable” targeting of non-combatants. The US State Department formally “condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent deadly airstrikes… on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds, including innocent women and children.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said: “This latest tragedy is just another reminder of the inhumane acts perpetrated daily by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.  The regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Syrian civilians and destroying entire towns and cities, historical sites, schools, mosques, markets, and hospitals.  These abhorrent actions underscore that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, the “airstrikes, following its other recent market bombings and attacks on medical facilities, demonstrate the regime’s disregard for human life. As we have said, Assad has no legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. The United States is working with our partners toward a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Assad that brings an end to such attacks and leads to a future that fulfils Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, inevitably chipped in. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ex-Harrow, ex-Cambridge, son of Jock Colville, undisclosed relationship with the Foreign Office, wink wink), whose office has maintained since 2012 that they have “enough evidence of war crimes to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court”, was equally keen to voice his concern over “the outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace.”

And so on, and so on.

Then the Douma Co-ordinating Committee, one of a network of committees set up on or before 2011, and funded by the US State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released a list of the dead (although it requires translation). It has 102 names on it. Ninety nine of them are men. Does that sound like a normal gender spread for an Arabic market? The Syrian government maintain they actually targeted a rebel HQ near the market. Given the fatalities, and Douma’s long-standing status as a rebel bastion, doesn’t that sound more plausible than the idea Assad’s air force are targeting Sunday markets?

For those keen to pore over pictures of this and other bombed markets, and ponder the damage and corpses therein, or lack therof, Eric Draitser has a compendium of links in this very relevant article. Draitser is of the opinion that the extant footage from Douma is far less gruesome than might be expected. What makes things murkier still is that soon afterwards all the bodies were buried in mass graves, so no identification or inquest is possible.What footage we do have reveals no sign at all of how the men were killed. They’re wrapped in blankets, and most do seem to be of fighting age. Draitser even speculates they might just as easily have been brought in from fighting elsewhere. Unsurprisingly it turns out that at least one of the Douma market victims miraculously survived.

Get into character Mohammad: you've just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

Mohammad has just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

In 2013 Douma was also the scene of another alleged war crime: a chemical weapons attack, one of several such attacks across Syria, attacks which were extensively recorded and reported. However, as with the market bombing, I’m not quite sure the evidence for these stacks up either (the UN feels the same way, so does Stratfor, and so does Gareth Porter, to name but a very few, while Mossad, the JIC and The Sun thought otherwise).

The story reminded me that despite the fact markets have no military value, they’re bombed all the time. Sometimes we presume it is simply an accident, like when the RAF bombed the market at Fallujah, killing between 50 people (the MoD’s figure, when they eventually admitted responsibility) and 200.  But in almost every case, with the exception of four or five relatively minor incidents in Israel, whenever markets have been bombed over the last twenty years or so, the victims have been Muslim (I have started to compile a spreadsheet). These bombings occur with incredible frequency, and an astonishing number of them are never claimed by any terrorist group. Isn’t that bizarre? It suggests a strategy of tension, or perhaps several of them. Certainly it warrants further study.

Most of all, the reports from Douma reminded me of the market bombings in Sarajevo, or the Markale massacres, as they are sometimes known. The market in Sarajevo was bombed three times: once in 1992, once in 1994, and again in 1995. Or perhaps more accurately, it was hit by 120mm mortar shells. On each occasion there was ambiguity about whether the Serbs were actually responsible. General Michael Rose believed the shells actually came from the Bosnian side. Multiple sources (such as Michael Rose, David Owen, Boutros Boutros Ghali, President Mitterand, and Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Envoy for Bosnia) refer to a secret UN investigation which found exactly that. A second, non-secret UN report (the one intended for publication) confined itself to saying the attack could not be confidently attributed to any particular faction.

I have visited the market in Sarajevo. An arc of attack was not apparent. Sightlines were few and very narrow. It would take exceptional skill, I think, to accurately and reliably hit it with the groupings and timings we are asked to believe in. I do not seek to exonerate the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to have sniped and shelled Sarajevo at will, but the mortar attacks in question reveal what you might call a tradition of unattributed, misreported, propagandistic attacks on Muslim markets. And the CIA and the Saudi-funded Islamists were present then just as they are today.

Sarajevo market bombed. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

The bombing of Sarajevo market. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

In memoriam.

 

 

The Syrian Civil War and the UN five years in

It’s been a while since we heard anything about the evils of the Syrian government. There is only so much media bandwidth for moral condemnation, and much of that has been taken up by Russia and ISIS (and in America, Iran). Although a lot of money has been spent vilifying Syria, usually in very discreet ways, it has slipped from the limelight as Washington becomes increasingly persuaded that the way to break-up Syria is to drop Assad as a casus belli and adopt ISIS instead.

The most official body charged with investigating Syrian war crimes is the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. That the UN feels the need to include the words ‘independent’ and ‘international’ in the Commissions’s formal title shows how sensitive it is to accusations of Western influence, but these fears cannot be allayed by nomenclature. It doesn’t help that of the five founding Commissioners one was a Turk who had completed a PhD in America (and who even spun her resignation into anti-Assad propaganda), another is an American whose employment history prior to joining the UN is unknown, while a third commissioner and the chairman have both held positions at American universities. Turkey and America, of course, are two long-standing belligerents in Syria’s proxy war.

The Commission itself was born out of a UN resolution, but not one derived from the Security Council or the General Assembly. It was a consequence of S-17/1, passed by the UN Human Rights Council, which currently counts amongst its rotating members Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two notorious systematic human rights abusers who also happen to be the two key backers of the Islamist paramilitaries inside Syria (and also Iraq, and also Yemen). This was not an auspicious start.

The resolution, and by obligation the Commission, took as read that there were “continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, [and the] torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including of children.” This followed on from an earlier fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, a man who was previously Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States (Jordan being yet another opponent of the Syrian government). It’s worth pointing out the Human Rights Council could have made the same condemnation, almost word-for-word, as regards the US inside Iraq, or Saudi Arabia generally, of Qatar, or of Bahrain, of Israel, or any number of Western proxies. That it didn’t is another suggestion of institutional bias.

The Syrian Civil War is now in its fifth year, and the Commission has grown quiet. Its communications have been few. Nevertheless, its chair continues to present the crimes of the insurgents as lesser in scale, intent, and effect than that of the government, even going so far as to refute the idea that anti-government forces have any strategy to indiscriminately shell or bomb civilian areas. At the same time, the Commission has highlighted the use of “barrel bombs” by the Syrian Air Force. Barrel bombs are a crude aerial munition “increasingly employed… to reduce the cost of the protracted aerial campaigns while increasing its ability to extend them over more restive areas. It also allowed them to expand the fleet of aircraft used in assault operations to include transport helicopters.”

After Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was officially destroyed (as well as the architecture which housed them) barrel bombs were adopted by the opponents of the Syrian government as a new and media-friendly way to emphasise Assad’s immorality. All news outlets have carried the story (here’s the BBC). Yet while the Commission’s report accepts these weapons are the consequence of a shortage of materiel, its Chairman continues to maintain that Damascus retains a “proven ability to conduct information led and precise attacks on military objectives.” How, exactly? If Paulo Pinheiro is referring to ground operations, I would dearly like to know how keen he’d be to see his son pick up an assault rifle and storm an apartment block.

Whatever the aims of the Syrian Air Force, in the hands of the UN HRC (as with Amnesty International and countless other organisations) the barrel bomb was another attempt at a “red line” triggering Western intervention. Its opinion that “area bombardment is prohibited by international humanitarian law” is a gross simplification (see Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, added 1977), but even if it were not, it’s hopelessly one-sided to indict Syria while ignoring the historical and ongoing bombardments committed by other countries.

The only other comment recently offered by the Commission has been to welcome the release of three “human rights defenders”, Hussein Ghrer, Maen Darwish, and Hani Al-Zaytani, who worked for the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus. They were arrested in February 2012 on charges of “publicizing terrorist attacks” and “promoting terrorist activities”. They were released this summer. I have no knowledge of the facts of the case, or of the provenance of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus, but it is worth pointing out the law in our own country (and many others) is even more draconian, as the number of putative jihadis inside HMP Belmarsh testifies. Again, this has not met with any interest from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission’s most significant communication this year was the 64-page report it delivered this February. The report was originally expected to deal with allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, allegations which Western media had reported as fact for a number of years, in broadcasts which sometimes resembled blatant propaganda. As regards these alleged CW attacks, most notably the attacks at Al Ghouta and Khan Al Assan, the Commission confined itself to two paragraphs and the following conclusion:

“The Commission’s evidentiary threshold was not met with regard to the perpetrator for these incidents.”

That was it. All those news reports, all those column inches, those hours of tv reportage and political debate, the rise from anonymity of bloggers like Brown Moses, have been swept under the carpet by a single sentence. Events, dear boy, events.

For those, like me, who believed the CW attacks were never anything more than anti-Syrian propaganda, the report is as close to vindication as we are ever likely to get, at least until the victims turn up in later life as unscathed survivors. I haven’t seen a UN chemical weapons report as deliberately equivocal since the Iran-Iraq War. If the Commission cannot bring itself to account for these incidents, at least its most neutral Commissioner has gone off-message to hint at the truth.  For now, the villain de jour is ISIS, and ironically it is ISIS which the West has seized on to justify its long-awaited bombing of the Syrian army – which in turn is the chief opponent of the Islamic State. I haven’t seen foreign policy as perverse as this since the Cold War.

Cameron “Steps Up” To What? Britain is Anti-Syria, not Anti-Islamic State

Ignore the rhetoric, the propaganda, and spin. Washington means to take down Assad, not ISIS, and we’re going to help them. ISIS has long been part of the plan. The US and the UK have effectively backed ISIS for years. Consider a few bullet points:

  • There are no sanctions on ISIS or their Gulf funders. There are sanctions against Syria and its allies Iran and Russia.
  • British citizens are, for the most part, free to leave and join ISIS if they wish.
  • A vociferous propaganda campaign has been waged against the Syrian government in its fight against ISIS, whilst the government (and thus most of the media) has been silent about Saudi and Qatar, which whom ISIS originates.
  • Repeated allegations of CW use by the Syrian government has resulted in comprehensive CW disarmament under international auspices; during this time ISIS has obtained CW shells and the capability to use them.
  • Despite repeated advice, and abandoning all logic, Britain and the US refuse to co-operate with the elected Syrian government, pretending (as they have from the start of the Syrian Civil War) that Syria has something called “a moderate opposition” (whose media figureheads they bankroll).
  • The West are so set against the Syrian government that not only do they refuse to ally with them, they have pooled intelligence with Israel, which assassinates Syria’s senior leaders at will, as they fight against ISIS.
  • No measures have been taken against Turkey, which has been acting as ISIS’ land bridge for men and materiel. At the same time, Turkey has been an open and vocal enemy of the Syrian government.
  • Much of the materiel in use by ISIS in Iraq is of American origin, commandeered from camps and stores left, quite deliberately, in the heart of the Sunni triangle under Sunni command after America’s withdrawal.
  • Western military action against ISIS has confined itself to protecting the Kurdish client statelet.

Lord Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff, has said that Britain’s plan to take down ISIS won’t work. Of course it won’t. It’s not supposed to. A man of his experience is being disingenuous if he cannot express that, on its current course, Western policy plainly seeks to fragment the Middle East into something that will, under one name or another, recognise the Sunni triangle as a distinct political entity. Lord Richards is allowed to reason why. After all, he’s retired now. But instead it appears he would much prefer to carry on pretending he has a commission, and do what officers have always done, which is to ask for more soldiers.

Defence Committee Chair Julian Lewis has accused Cameron of making up policy “on the hoof”, but there are two very good reasons for that. A) The ultimate goal is so manifestly imperial and exploitative the public isn’t yet ready to hear it. B) Cam has to follow Washington’s lead, and he can’t know exactly what that is. Compared to Blair, whose secret and obsequious promises of blind support for any possible American military action granted him a certain foreknowledge, Cameron is in the dark. But if Lewis or anyone else really wants to know what the plan is, don’t ask the Cabinet. Ask the Washington think tanks.

This June the Brookings Institute published “Deconstructing Syria“. The plan is simple. Use US military power, and the justification of fighting ISIS, to create “safe zones” inside Syria. Inside these zones train a new force (that mythical “moderate opposition” again) to unseat Assad. It’s a stupid plan that didn’t work with Iraq and won’t work with Syria. A nation state generally resists the political will of openly hostile foreign forces, it’s how nation states work. What it could achieve, over ten or twenty years (which is exactly how long the fight against ISIS is supposed to take) is the destruction of Syria, consigning it to the same fate as Libya. That would be perfectly fine for Washington and London and all the Gulf monarchies they protect. But it should be considered yet another war crime by everyone else.

Dark days. During the Iran-Iraq War, at least we contented ourselves simply with selling arms to both sides. As regards ISIS and Assad, we are now planning to fight on both sides: police actions in Kurdistan and guerilla warfare over the border. The scheme’s only saving grace may be that it’s impossible.

Syria: Chemical Weapons Finger Points Yet Again At The Islamists

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one-man London-based outfit which has made and conveyed allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses against the Syrian government since the outset of the Syrian Civil War. In a conflict that has seen the Saudi and Qatar spend a fortune in anti-Assad propaganda (just as they did during Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait), it can be safely assumed that the SOHR is on somebody’s payroll. I have long suspected that SIS was funding it, because it clearly doesn’t have very much money (the Observatory is run out of a two-bed terrace in Coventry) and our spooks have nowhere near the budgets the Emiratis do. I feel encouraged in this suspicion by the fact that now we are taking military action against the Syrian opposition (albeit in a dodgy, illicit, non-parliamentary way), the SOHR has finally started to report incidents in which non-government forces have done something wrong.

Towards the end of June Islamic State troops used chemical shells against Kurdish YPG fighters south of Tal Brak, and also against a residential neighbourhood in the nearby city of Al Hasakah. The SOHR also tell us the claims are backed up by doctors’ testimony and laboratory analysis, although such claims have proved almost worthless in the past. We don’t have any casualty figures either, but simply to shift the allegations of chemical weapons use from Assad to the Islamists constitutes a remarkable roll-back.

It would be nice to think that SIS have suddenly decided to do something in Syria that actually benefits both Britain and Syria, but in reality our foreign policy now calls for twice as much propaganda. No, three times. Vauxhall now has to vilify both sides in the Syrian Civil War while marketing a non-existent moderate opposition at the same time. Jesus, can’t we just back Assad and stop helping Gulf monarchies to destroy a soverign country? The Syrians have voted him in, he’s promised reform, and he’s the best hope peace has. Anyone in the Foreign Office who can’t see that is a bloody zealot. The collective denial of that institution never ceases to amaze me. It’s like Iraqi WMD all over again.

NB Lebanese television first reported that anti-government forces were using CW against the Kurds in 2013.

 

Miliband and Syria: No UN resolution needed

I was suprised to hear Ed Miliband, during the five leaders debate, claim that he represented a break from Blairist Atlanticism because he had privately told Cameron that he would refuse to bomb Syria without a UN resolution. Has Labour finally learnt the lessons of the past? Labour apologists like Owen Jones think so, describing Milliband as “a dramatic rupture with the bomb-happy leadership of Tony Blair.”

The truth, sadly, suggests otherwise, as Gabriel Carlyle’s letter in the Guardian makes clear:

“[Virtually all] of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action in 2013 ‘appear[ed] in the government’s own motion’ (Malcolm Rifkind), and Miliband himself explained that he was prepared to back military action without a UN resolution. As Jonathan Steele observed, ‘Cameron and Miliband used dubious legal grounds to try to justify bypassing a veto in the UN security council by saying western military strikes were needed to protect Syrians’.”

Quite. When, during the same debate, Miliband went on to outline the importance of resisting Russian military aggression (or some such formulation), I realised that Labour’s US-flavoured militarism – and dishonesty – is still firmly in place.