Bombing Syria and Killing Innocence – Now is the Time to Stand Up and Be Counted

Blog pic War

AS Parliament prepares to debate air strikes in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron will assure the Commons that such bombings are unlikely to lead to civilian casualties while he makes the case for immediate military intervention.

Who is he trying to kid?

Over the past few days Tory defence spokesmen have argued that British missiles are now so sophisticated that they don’t cause many civilian casualties as “collateral damage”.

What a sinister phrase that is – it is lawyer’s language for saying where hundreds of innocents would have been killed previously, now it is merely a few dozen.

But we already know the US led air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians up to August this year. An estimated 460 further deaths have occurred since then.

So as a socialist and card carrying member of the Labour Party I ask why our official parliamentary opposition is suddenly not on the side of innocent people and humanity?

Twelve years ago, many Labour MPs disgracefully marched into the lobbies side by side with Iain Duncan Smith’s Tories to vote for an illegal war in Iraq.

Jeremy Corbyn and 138 other Labour MPs stood up for the membership of the Party and voted against them.

The war proved to be an absolute disaster for Iraq, for Britain and for The Labour Party and has forever tainted Tony Blair as a war criminal.

But now it seems some Labour MPs – including many in the Shadow Cabinet – are going to repeat their mistakes and vote with David Cameron to bomb Syria?

Do they have such scant regard for peoples’ lives.

As George Galloway wrote this morning: “The price will now be paid in Syrian blood, and not only their blood.”

And turning on the pro war members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, he added: “No shadow cabinet members position is worth the bones of a single Syrian civilian or the blood of a single British serviceman or woman, or the lives of a single member of the public here in Britain.”

There appears to be something about launching bombs or missiles from afar onto cities and people that appeals to our military and political leaders.

Our leaders are careful to distinguish between the explosives we drop from the sky and “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD), which only the officially-designated enemies are depraved enough to use.

Our government speaks alarmingly of WMD, defining them as nuclear, chemical and biological in nature, and “indiscriminate” (meaning their use can’t be limited to military objectives) which they now spuriously claim ISIS is seeking, as opposed to the likes of US and British “precision” cruise missiles.

This is alarming, given the well-known extensive damage to non-military targets, including numerous residences, schools and hospitals, even from “smart” bombs, in every conflict from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya over the past 12 years.

Moreover, our own warmongers do not apply the term “weapons of mass destruction” to other weapons we have regularly used, such as depleted uranium and cluster bombs, which can be, and often are, highly indiscriminate.

Advocacy groups have now highlighted the thousands of civilian casualties likely to result from airstrikes this year alone as Mr Cameron, prepares to make his case for attacking ISIS in Syria.

Airstrikes in populated areas of Syria and Iraq caused 3,165 civilian deaths and injuries in the year up to August, according to Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

One of the attacks investigated was on Fadhiliya, Iraq, on 4 April where witnesses and local politicians said a family of five had died, including a pregnant woman and an eight-year-old girl.

It follows the widely reported US bombing of a hospital run by NGO Doctors Without Borders, killing 22 people and injuring dozens more.

Increasing scrutiny on civilian casualties may now hopefully impact the debate over whether Britain extends its bombing mission against ISIS from Iraq into Syria.

In 2013, David Cameron was humiliated when 30 Tory rebels joined with Labour and other parties to oppose bombing forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn, suffered a backlash after urging Labour activists to pressure MPs (including Shadow Cabinet members) against supporting airstrikes.

Despite this, Mr Corbyn continues to enjoy strong support among Labour’s grassroots membership with 75% of party members calling for the MPs not to vote for airstrikes in Syria.

This means those who have expressed support for bombings may find themselves at odds with their own constituency membership.

Labour MPs who still plan to support the Tories are courting deselection before the next election, to be replaced by candidates who more accurately reflect party policy (which is to block air strikes, let’s not forget).

But more to the point, our intervention and bombing in Syria is not aimed at alleviating the suffering of Syrians or addressing the root causes of the conflict, and it’s not even about ISIS.

The immense humanitarian crisis wrought by the civil war in Syria, says Middle East expert Samer Abboud, is lost in the discussion around the Syrian conflict.

Humanitarian conditions are getting worse, not better, as the conflict persists.

“There is such an obsession with ISIS and an irrational fear of Syrian refugees in the West that encourages us to ignore the very real suffering of Syrians who have to live while spectacular and exceptional violence surrounds them,” he says.

“While there seems to be international consensus around confronting ISIS and in the utility of military force to do so, the growth of the coalition fighting ISIS to include Russia, France, and potentially Germany and the UK, is not a positive development in the Syrian conflict.

“The expansion in the number of countries bombing Syria further internationalises the conflict and creates more layers to this already complicated and multilayered conflict.

“When France began its bombing campaign against ISIS in retaliation for the Paris attacks, its targets included a medical clinic and an uninhabited forest.

“One wonders why these were chosen as targets.

“There is no institutional or economic heartland that a bombing campaign could destroy that would have an immediate impact on the group’s ability to capture and retain control of territory.

“The aerial campaigns also avoid the heart of the problem, which is the material and ideological structure that sustains ISIL.

“ISIS does not acquire its wealth through large-scale development projects, nor is there a robust productive capacity in ISIS-controlled areas that is connected to regional markets.

“Most of their material resources come from donations and support from regional actors as well as a sophisticated system of predatory economic activity that encourages the group’s fighters to loot and tax the Syrian population to acquire the resources to sustain their activities.

“How can a bombing campaign undermine the material basis of ISIS when so much of it is structured around predatory behaviour?

“Let us not also forget that, for the most part, ISIS’s military strength is based on small arms.

“The reliance on small arms means that ISIS has expanded in Syria with relatively limited resources. Moreover, as we have seen in the attacks of the past two months, including the use of an improvised pop can as a bomb placed on the Russian plane [which crashed] in Sinai, ISIS relies on limited resources that are not susceptible or vulnerable to aerial bombardment,” he adds.

So where to now then Mr Cameron?

Already the most powerful air forces in the world are bombing the Islamic State. Even were it the right thing to do, the RAF could add little to their so-far ineffective efforts.

Everybody agrees that ISIS can only be defeated by a ground army which can secure some support from the people of the region itself.

Not finding one, Mr Cameron has invented a mythical 70,000-strong opposition army – his own version of Tony Blair’s infamous “45 minute warning” over Iraq.

This has rightly drawn widespread disbelief – to the extent that this “army” exists at all, it is largely fighters aligned with either al-Qaeda or the Turkish neo-fascist “Grey Wolves”, who are hardly “moderate” and will never turn against ISIS.

The truth is that there needs to be a peace agreement between the Assad regime and its opponents leading to a transitional administration which could then take on ISIS.

But for years, David Cameron has worked against such an agreement.

Former Tory MP and respected journalist Matthew Parris agrees.

He wrote in The Times: “Jeremy Corbyn is right. Joining the bombing in Syria will do nobody any good. And the funny thing is, I think that in its heart Britain knows that.”

We do, and now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Author: seagullnic

Writer, editor, lecturer and part-time musician. Passions in life: my family, Bob Dylan, music of many genres, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, cooking plus good food and wine.

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