The bombing of Iraq must stop, says SACC

SACC Press Release, Saturday 27 September

The Westminster Parliament voted yesterday for the third Iraq War. SACC is dismayed by the decision of the UK's three main political parties to support this reckless action. We will campaign for the cessation of British military action in Iraq and we will continue to oppose any British military action in Syria.

SACC Chair Richard Haley said:

"The Islamic State has undoubtedly acted with criminal ruthlessness and poses a threat to peace in the Middle East. But it's much less serious than the threat posed to the region by the continuing rapacity of the British and US governments and their corporate friends.

It's time for Britain to draw a line beneath its history of imperial gamesmanship and focus instead on humanitarian and diplomatic measures that could provide real assistance to the people of Iraq without exacerbating their problems.

Steps like that would not by themselves solve Iraq's problems. But they would be a small contribution towards creating the conditions for peace.

Those who claim to believe that bombs will help say that the benefits will be slow to arrive and uncertain. So why not try another way?"

Just 43 MPs voted against military action. Their constituents should be proud of them. The cringing deference shown by the rest of the House of Commons is shameful.

The murderous, divisive and reactionary policies adopted by the Islamic State are a direct result of divide-and-rule strategies followed by the US and British governments after their 2003 invasion of Iraq. The ethnic and sectarian cleansing being carried out today by the Islamic State repeats a pattern set by the sectarian fighting and population displacement that occurred in Baghdad under US occupation.

US-British policy at that time was driven by their immediate need to secure the position of their forces and by their geopolitical and economic ambitions in the region. These facts of life apply today with as much force as they did then. It is simply impossible for British armed forces to contribute constructively to the situation in Iraq.

The only purpose that British military action can plausibly serve is to provide the British Government with leverage in the pursuit of its own narrow interests in the region. The leverage will be brought with blood, most of it Iraqi.

The resolution agreed by Parliament endorsed military action "in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity." Yet the Government relied more on hope than on reason to show that its intended action could indeed assist in restoring the territorial integrity of Iraq.

No one contributing to the debate, on either side, addressed the risk that military action might lead to the break-up of Iraq.

Many contributors referred to the supposed need to destroy the Islamic State, as if this rather than the protection of Iraq were Britain's real war aim.

A number of MPs referred to the situation in Syria, some of them in order to commend the extension of Britain's military action to that country. No one mentioned that US bombing in Syria is reported to have already led to an exodus of civilians from locations controlled by the Islamic State.

No one mentioned oil, except with reference to the revenue that the Islamic State obtains from oil exports.

In other words, the debate was largely a sham. SACC has a number of specific concerns over the process leading up to it.

  • Parliament was recalled from its conference-season recess to debate military action in Iraq. Yet there is no military or humanitarian need for urgency. British armed forces will merely be making a modest contribution to an ongoing programme of US airstrikes that is not expected to have decisive results in the near future. This raises the suspicion that the Government's haste was intended to forestall opposition and capitalise on public outrage over the murder of hostages by the Islamic State. Possibly the Government would have liked to join the US offensive when it began in August, but instead waited until after Scotland's independence referendum for fear of strengthening support for independence. The Parliamentary debate was fitted neatly between the Labour Party Conference (where discussion of the issue was avoided) and the Tory Party Conference (where war is likely to be a crowd-pleaser). In any event, the timetable reeks of anti-democratic manipulation.
  • Much of the debate in Parliament and elsewhere has relied on a hyperbolic and irrational characterisation of the Islamic State that presents its actions as entirely the result of ideology and not at all the product of political circumstance. This has been accompanied by calls for the Islamic State to be "destroyed" (the word was used in Parliament a number of times) or "eradicated" or "exterminated." This kind of language makes Britain part of the problem, not part of the solution. It disregards the wide support – or at least acceptance – that the Islamic State has gained in Iraq outside the ranks of its own cadres. Worst of all, it sets the stage for the commission of human rights abuses by enemies of the Islamic State, including Britain's own armed forces. It may set the stage for genocidal acts.
  • The parliamentary debate was preceded by the creation of British social movements opposed to the Islamic State, such as the "Not in My Name" movement and the "Making a Stand" movement. These movements at best perpetuate the anti-political characterisation of the Islamic State referred to above, and at worst conflate opposition to the Islamic State with flag-waving British patriotism. The ability of campaigns like this to dissuade young British Muslims from giving support to the Islamic State is extremely doubtful. On the other hand, these campaigns have already, disastrously, inhibited British Muslims from taking a firm stance against military intervention. This amounts to an effort by the Government and its friends to muddy the waters of the debate, to diminish the democratic capacity of the Muslim community and to use it as a tool to influence the wider community.

Notes

  1. SACC was founded shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We campaigned against the occupation of Iraq and for civil liberties that were being eroded in Britain and elsewhere in the name of the "war on terror." SACC is affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition.
  2. The motion agreed by Parliament on 26 September states: "That this House condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognises the clear threat ISIL poses to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support; further recognises the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces."
  3. For the text of the debate in Parliament, see They Work For You.
  4. The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties supported the Government motion to bomb Iraq. The Scottish National Party opposed the motion, as did the Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, Respect and the SDLP (none of whom hold seats in Scotland). All 6 SNP MPs voted against the motion, along with five rebel Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies. Another 18 Labour rebels representing constituencies elsewhere in the UK also voted against the bombing.
  5. Displacement of people in Syria in anticipation of US airstrikes was reported by the Associated Press on 26 September.