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Western powers “doing nothing” in Syria? If only

Here we are again. A decade on from the American-British war of aggression against Iraq, the cruise-missile liberals are demanding that “something must be done” about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Something” inevitably amounts to bombing.

What would it take for them to shut up for once? I wish TV producers and newspaper editors would stop considering Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair, Lord Goldsmith and the rest of the Iraq-war-instigating usual suspects as remotely credible voices on anything.


The British public is not fooled. Polls show that only 9 percent of the public would support troops invading Syria, with those in favour of a bombing campaign outnumbered two to one.

But the government cares little for public opinion, except when they can successfully manipulate it.

The Assad regime stands accused of killing 322 people in a 21 August attack, apparently with chemical weapons. This is the pretext for a new bombing campaign against Syria. As I write this, David Cameron is in parliament trying to convince MPs to vote in favour of bombing. He is putting emphasis on the horror of chemical weapons, imploring that “we” should not allow their use to stand.

He claims that if the rebels had done the same thing, he would have been making exactly the same speech targeted at them. But this is a laughable notion.

In May, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry said there was “strong, concrete suspicions” rebel groups in Syria had used chemical weapons.

Also in May, the Turkish press reported Jabhat al-Nusra members had been caught with two kilograms of sarin gas. The al-Qaida-linked group is one of the main rebel factions fighting in Syria – and is widely despised by both pro- and anti-Assad Syrians for its twisted fundamentalist vision of “Islam”.

After more than two years of conflict, rebels control substantial areas of Syria, including former military bases. They could have seized chemical weapons from captured regime facilities, as they have certainly done with other arms. If this happened, the Assad regime would not admit it. Former spokesman Jihad Makdisi last year claimed Syrian chemical weapons “if they exist” would never be used domestically.

In June the Syrian government, with the aid of its Hizballah allies, recaptured the town of Qusair from the fanatical armed groups who had “cleansed” the town of its religious minorities (most of the Christians had to flee). Since then, the regime has gained a new momentum in its war, and has been slowly rolling back rebel gains across the country.

Could one of these brutal rebel factions have carried out last week’s attack, attacking civilians and fighters in a rebel-held area? If so, their motive would likely have been to give Western powers a pretext to join the fight against Assad, just as his forces are gaining the upper hand.

The UN weapons inspectors currently on the ground are unlikely to tell us which side carried out the attack, even if they do confirm the use of chemical weapons. If the regime was behind the attack if would be – as many have pointed out – bizarre timing, exactly when UN weapons inspectors were in the country looking into chemical weapons.

While atrocities are certainly being carried out by all sides in this conflict – and one could convincingly argue that things would have not reached this grizzly stage if Assad had made genuine reforms in the early March 2011 days of protest – Western “intervention” will only kill more Syrians and make this already-protracted war last even longer.

Whoever carried out this particular crime, the US, UK and France have no right to act as “self-appointed global policemen”, as former head UN weapons inspector Hans Blix put it this week.

More to the point, Western governments’ concern for dead Arabs only manifests itself when they have an agenda to push. There is no dispute whatsoever that the Egyptian military dictatorship has murdered over a thousand unarmed protesters since it seized power in its counter-revolutionary coup last month.

What was the American response? Talk of bombing campaigns? Threats of invasion? Of course not: they arm and fund the Egyptian junta with a level of military aid dwarfed only by that which goes to Israel (a state whose very existence is predicated on the killing and expulsion of Arabs).

The history of Western powers’ imperial “interventions” throughout the Middle East have spelled nothing but disaster for the peoples of the region.

Ten years ago, another British prime minister played a leading role in convincing sceptical people on both sides of the Atlantic to go along with American plans for war on the people of Iraq. The result was a brutal military invasion and occupation which instigated a sectarian conflict and over a million dead Iraqis.

This conflict continues to this very day, with regular bombings throughout Iraq. They get mentioned in passing on the news sometimes, but are too quickly forgotten. A series of car bombings across Baghdad on Wednesday killed 86 people and wounded 263, Reuters reported.

But who cares about that? This will be different. This time our “humanitarian” bombs will do good in Syria!

Believe that and you’ll believe anything.

The West has a long history of deliberately creating, instigating and stoking sectarian conflicts. Their number one regional ally Israel has perfected this dirty tactic, as I previously wrote about in this column.

Almost immediately after they occupied Iraq, the Americans set about creating sectarian death squads to imprison, kill and torture suspected fighters. The Pentagon sent Colonel James Steele, a veteran of its dirty wars in Latin America, to oversee the programme.

One Iraqi general told the journalists working on the Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation that broke the story in March that Steele “knew everything that was going on there…the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture”.

These “special police commandos” were mostly draw from Shi’ite armed groups such as the Badr brigades. This American tactic was a major factor that led to the civil war. As in Iraq, so in the region: if the Arabs are busy fighting each other, goes the American and Israeli logic, they will be less busy objecting to our occupations.

So for the West to start “doing nothing” in Syria would actually be a good idea.

Unfortunately, Western spooks have been on the ground in Syria since at least 2011 – and probably Israeli spies too. American, British and French personnel based in Jordan have been training armed groups to fight in Syria. Israel has already bombed Syria several times.

A desperate sectarian conflict involving brutal armed groups is going on in Syria. The West has already been fanning the flames. Further Western attacks would only lead to more suffering for the Syrian people.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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