Beware the Game of Shadows in Syria

June 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

I am a signatory to this letter published by the Guardian.

'Hamza Bakour' by Khalil Younes

‘Hamza Bakour’ by Khalil Younes

As supporters of the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy, we are concerned by the British government’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran in response to the crisis in Iraq (Shortcuts, G2, Iran, 18 June).

There is a grave danger that the Iranian government will see this as a licence to extend its already substantial intervention in Syria in support of its client – the Assad regime – which could not have survived this long without Iranian support.

Thousands of troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia are actively fighting in Syria on the regime’s side, as are Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shia militias. To ally with Iran in order to combat Isis is deeply ironic, since there is considerable evidence that the Syrian regime has been colluding with Isis: Assad’s air force bombs civilians, schools, markets and hospitals without mercy but declined to attack Isis’s massive headquarters in Raqqa until the Iraq crisis erupted.

The Syrian regime has been playing a game of shadows in which this covert collusion with the growth of Isis has been used to undermine the democratic opposition and strengthen its own claim to be a bulwark against “terrorism”. To accept Iran – and by implication Bashar al-Assad – as allies in the fight against Isis is to fall for this deception.


Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, Haytham Alhmawi, director of Rethink Rebuild Society, Reem Al-Assil, activist, Adam Barnett, journalist, James Bloodworth, editor of Left Foot Forward, Mark Boothroyd, International Socialist Network, Sasha Crow, founder of Collateral Repair Project for Iraqi and Syrian Refugees, Naomi Foyle, writer and coordinator of British Writers in Support of Palestine, Christine Gilmore, Leeds Friends of Syria, Bronwen Griffiths, writer and activist, Juliette Harkin, associate tutor, University of East Anglia, Robin Yassin Kassab, author and co-editor of Critical Muslim, Tehmina Kazi, human rights activist, Maryam Namazie, Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation and Equal Rights Now – organisation against women’s discrimination in Iran, Fariborz Pooya, Worker-communist party of Iran UK, Mary Rizzo, activist, translator and blogger, Christopher Roche, Bath Solidarity, Naame Shaam campaign group http://www.naameshaam.org, Brian Slocock, political scientist and blogger on Syria, David St Vincent, contributing writer and editor, National Geographic Books, Luke Staunton, Merseyside Syria Solidarity Movement – UK « Read the rest of this entry »

What Realism wrought in Syria

June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Some weeks back, I debated the renowned political scientist Steve Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on Chris Lydon’s excellent Radio Open Source. The debate happened at 3am my time, so I wasn’t as coherent and articulate as I’d have liked to be, and I didn’t get enough time to challenge some of Steve’s statements. I recently wrote the following piece for The National in which I critique what I think is wrong with political Realism, an approach that in most cases I tend to agree with.

Four months after the Syrian regime gassed the neighborhoods of Eastern Ghouta, Ryan Crocker, the blue-eyed scion of the US foreign policy establishment, offered sobering advice. “It is time to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster,” wrote he in an op-ed for the New York Times, “because it is overwhelmingly likely that is what the future will be.”

It is overwhelmingly likely that this is what the future will be, but it is only because there is a readiness in the US foreign policy establishment to consider a future for Syria without Assad’s ouster. The readiness is based on false choices and flawed assumptions. It is undergirded by the intellectual dogmas of realism.

Realism is making a triumphant return after a decade of disasters wrought by neoconservatism. Realists had warned about the folly of invading Iraq and predicted dire consequences. They were proved right. Realism had also served as a useful check on imperial over-reach during the Cold War. As an analytical aid, it is sober, conscious of the limits of power, and leery of what the American sociologist C. Wright Mills called “military metaphysics” – the preference for resolving political problems through military means.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Foreign policy and Fuzzy Maths on the Scott Horton Show

April 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was on the Scott Horton Show yesterday to discuss my recent article on the dubious numbers that have been used to conceal the real scale of Iraq’s tragedy.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, a sociologist and editor of Pulsemedia.org, discusses the highly contested estimated number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion; why Iraq Body Count (the media’s go-to source) vastly under-reports casualties; how “excess death” statistical studies work; and how low-balling the costs of war – in terms of blood and treasure – distorts the public debate.

True costs of Iraq War whitewashed by fuzzy maths

April 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

This article appears in The National. (Also see my earlier article on the causes of the war)

‘So many’, wrote TS Eliot, reflecting on the waste land left by the First World War. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”

This notion is unlikely to cross the minds of those surveying the devastation left by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The most frequently quoted fatality figure – about 115,000 Iraqis killed – is shocking. But compared to major conflicts of the past century, it is a relatively modest toll. The Battle of the Somme alone killed three times as many. More were killed by a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.

Former British prime minster Tony Blair, and then-US vice president Dick Cheney, were perhaps conscious of this when they expressed “no regrets” on the 10th anniversary of the war last month.

That the perpetrators of an aggressive war should accept the lowest costs for their folly is unsurprising. What is less explicable is why so many supposed critics of the war are crediting the same estimate. Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Centre for American Progress’s Iraq War Ledger use it as their main source.

You can read the rest here.

Why did the US invade Iraq?

March 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

An edited version of following article about the causes of the Iraq war appears in The National as “A parade of characters and causes led the US to war in Iraq“.

Ten years since ‘shock and awe’, the reasons behind the invasion of Iraq have yet to be satisfactorily explained. Journalists, scholars, statesmen, soldiers, spies, and ideologues have all toiled for answers. Oil, imperialism, militarism, democracy, Israel and free markets have each been offered as explanations. Mono-causal and mutually exclusive: they seem to enlighten less than they satisfy the innate human need for simplification. In the hands of academics, on the other hand, explanations inevitably turn ‘complex’ – a ubiquitous marker that separates man from mandarin.

To say that the causes of the Iraq war are easy to explain is not to say that they are simple. But the lack of simplicity also does not imply indeterminacy. The reality may be complex but is decidedly explicable.

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The Archbishop, Oedipus, and the Golden Ass

September 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The British Labour Party is in the process of rehabilitating Tony Blair. In my latest for Al Jazeera, I follow Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s shot across the bow with one of my own, presenting irrefutable evidence of exactly what Blair knew before he joined Bush’s war against Iraq.

It is a fact that by early 2003, British intelligence had established that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or a weapons programme. In several secret meetings in Amman with Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil al-Habbush, the head of MI6 for the Middle East Michael Shipster had already received detailed reports on the absence of Iraq’s weapons.

This story was confirmed by former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove to Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ron Suskind who recounts it in considerable detail in his book The Way of the World. According to Dearlove, the meetings happened with the full knowledge of Bush, Cheney, George Tenet and Tony Blair. After the war, Suskind reveals, Habbush was resettled by the CIA and paid $5 million in hush-money to prevent him from undermining the official narrative.

The second claim – that Saddam had to be removed because he was a murderous dictator – would be less incredible if the person making it were not Tony Blair. Blair’s affinity for tyrants is well-documented. His cozy relations with Muammar Gaddafi are well-known; and it has now emerged that at the time Blair was contemplating war on Iraq, he was also considering a knighthood for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

You can read the rest here.

Iraq: After the Americans

August 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Second part of an excellent documentary on post-occupation Iraq from Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines (Also see Part 1)

In keeping with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign promise, the US has withdrawn its troops from Iraq and by the end of 2012 US spending in Iraq will be just five per cent of what it was at its peak in 2008.

In a special two-part series, Fault Lines travels across Iraq to take the pulse of a country and its people after nine years of foreign occupation and nation-building.

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Iraq: After the Americans

July 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is the first part of a two part documentary, part of Al Jazeera’s Front Lines. (Also see Part 2)

Stephen Walt: Iraq, Iran and the Israel Lobby

May 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Harvard Professor Stephen Walt giving his recent Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture, titled Deja Vu All Over Again?: Iraq, Iran and the Israel Lobby.

Humanitarian Intervention and Neo-Orientalism

May 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

A panel discussion featuring Tariq Ramadan, Glenn Greenwald, M. Cherif Bassiouni, and Jennifer Pitts, hosted by Muslim Students Association at the University of Chicago and produced by the Chicago Multimedia Initiatives Group (CMIG).

The uprisings of the Arab Spring, and the prolonged nature of the internal conflicts in Libya and Syria, have once again sparked debate over the status of international law and the use of military intervention to enforce human rights. However, the discourse over humanitarian intervention has often overlooked the more unsavory aspects of liberal thought and Western power politics. This panel will explore the fundamental problems concerning Neo-Liberalism and its connections to the development of Neo-Orientalist thought.

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