Iraq

Nov 282016
 

PART 1: ‘THE BEAUTIFUL GAME’

This autumn has seen a succession of spats between the football associations of the ‘home’ nations and FIFA the international governing body of the game over displays of poppies, which FIFA deems to be a political symbol. These disputes reached something of a fever pitch last week when FIFA laid a number of charges against the Football Association of Wales (FAW) linked to the game against Serbia on November 12 (which I attended).

Press reports suggest that one of the charges was that fans had worn poppies in their coats! Which, if true, is insane. For not only would such a charge infringe personal liberty but also open up a vat of worms for those having to decide what qualifies as a political symbol. (At the game I wore a discreet Glyndŵr flag lapel badge.)

serbia-ticket

Consider Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world, intertwined with Catalan identity and the independence movement. Everywhere at their stadium you will read it spelled out for you – Mes que un club (more than a club). Their big rivals are of course Real Madrid, the club of ruling Castille, the club of the monarchy, and the multi-ethnic – but definitely unified – Spanish state.

Last week Barcelona played in Glasgow against Celtic, an intense, occasionally tetchy, but nevertheless enjoyable game that saw the magnificent Celtic fans waving their Irish tricolours and singing their Irish rebel songs. Across town you’ll find arch-rivals Rangers, whose fans wave union flags and sing ditties such as The Billie Boys (‘Up to our knees in Fenian blood, etc’).

There are hundreds of other clubs in the world with an intensely partisan identity that is overtly and unmistakably political, or even ethnic. Until very recently only Basques were allowed to play for Bilboko Athletic Kluba and even though that rule now appears to have been relaxed Athletic Bilbao and the other Basque clubs retain an intensely nationalistic ethos. (Though Celtic and Rangers may be unique in that the fans are animated by the history and politics of another country.)

Come to that, what about international games, such as the one between Wales and Serbia that caused FIFA’s representative such concern? As with every competitive international game there were national flags, and national anthems – aren’t they ‘political’? Come to that, national teams, the raison d’être for FIFA, are obviously political because they represent nation-states or, in the case of Wales, a nation without a state.

Whereas on the other hand, the Serbs might argue that Serbia is a nation-state but too many Serbs are stranded outside the homeland, in Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo. And yet, Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia, handed over by NATO to Albanian gangsters was, in a blatantly political decision, admitted to both FIFA and the European governing body, UEFA, in May 2016. Too late to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018, which is just as well, because Russia doesn’t recognise Kosovo.

In other words, football at club and international level has always been political. Whether it’s the England team giving a Nazi salute in 1938, the so-called ‘Football War’ between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, or German football fans welcoming refugees (last year). So for FIFA to try to punish Wales for individuals making the personal decision to wear a poppy is absurd. Worse, it could be dangerous; for does FIFA now wish to dictate what people wear to football matches?

Early in the second paragraph I qualified my criticism of FIFA with “if true”, partly because I find it difficult to believe that anyone would try to dictate what football fans wear, and partly because it could be that what FIFA meant by ‘fans in the stand’ was the display organised by the FAW, not far from where I was sitting with my son and grandsons. (Being aware of this stunt in advance I was praying that our section of the crowd wouldn’t be involved. Taid being thrown out could have spoilt the night even more than the late Serbian equaliser.)

This stunt was arranged by placing cards on seats which, when held up, combined to give the image of a big poppy. This was rather naughty of the FAW, and very silly. Naughty because it forced people to be part of something about which they might have had reservations, and silly because it was sticking two fingers up to FIFA, which had already warned the FAW that the players should not wear poppies on their shirts, nor should there be other displays. But then, the Sun, the Daily Mail and other good friends of Wales said it should be done, so that presumably made it OK.

faw-poppy

Now if it is this display of poppies organised by the FAW that FIFA is objecting to, and if it results in points being deducted and Wales not reaching the World Cup Finals, then I believe that the officials of the FAW will have failed us all and should consider their positions.

I say that because the duty of the FAW is to manage the game in Wales in the best interests of the member clubs, the national team and the fans, not to jeopardise the best interests of Welsh football by falling into line with the cynical and engineered poppy frenzy.

Personal freedom is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, and must be defended. And that’s why FIFA is wrong if it charges the FAW for individual fans choosing to wear a poppy in their lapel. But considerations of personal freedom also put the FAW in the wrong for forcing individuals to be part of that poppy display.

I think we’re entitled to answers, from both FIFA and the FAW.

PART 2: “SQUEAKY BUM TIME”

Demanding that everyone, including footballers, wears a poppy for the weeks leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is quite recent, maybe no more than a decade old. Here’s a photo from a Scotland v England game played on Saturday November 14, 1999, the day before Remembrance Sunday. There are no poppies. There was no one-minute silence before the game.

It’s fitting that the photo comes from 1999, and was taken in the home city of Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, because that year almost certainly marks the start of “squeaky bum time” (a period of nervousness and uncertainty) for those who were soon promoting the poppy and what they wanted it to stand for.

england-v-scotland-1999

Because 1999 was the year of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The SNP got 28.7% of the vote and 35 out the 129 seats in Scotland, while in Wales Plaid Cymru achieved 28.4% of the vote and 17 out of 60 seats. So even though Plaid Cymru did better than expected there was nothing for our masters to get overly concerned about in either country, yet within the establishment there were those who already feared where devolution might lead.

September 11, 2001 saw the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, soon followed by retaliatory US and UK air strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. To be followed by ground troops. January 4 2002 saw the first US soldier killed by enemy fire. The conflict dragged on.

The USA and UK invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein in March 2003. All kinds of reasons were proffered to justify this aggression but none were convincing. It was regime change linked to oil, and another ‘All be home by Christmas’ intervention that dragged on, and on.

Then, in July 2005, London experienced suicide bomb attacks that killed 52 people, and carried out by British-born Islamic terrorists. These bombings were the most extreme expression of the growing anger within Muslim communities in Europe and the USA at the West’s military interventions in the Islamic world.

The May 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament saw the SNP’s share of the vote climb to 32.9% of the vote, giving it the most votes, and with 47 seats (one more than Labour) it was now the largest party. Squeaky bum time was really upon us (or them).

By the end of 2007 it became clear that the Western world was entering a period of economic turmoil. It was equally clear that the recession had been caused by irresponsible lending by banks and mortgage institutions coupled with the imaginative trading of debts and other worthless packages. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the USA and the UK leading the way, with other countries quick to blame ‘the Anglo-Saxon economic model’ of quick-buck trading having no concern for the wider economy, let alone society as a whole.

By 2010 everyone knew that the UK was up shit creek economically, with the public purse bailing out criminally irresponsible banks. The public turned against banks and the City of London. The UK was still bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda had been overtaken by the much more ruthless ISIS, which had support from young British Muslims.

To cap it all, the Monarchy started losing what had been its 90+ per cent approval rating. I suspect this started with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, made worse by divorces and scandals, with the prospect of Charles becoming king viewed with concern in certain quarters.

So our elite consulted that well-thumbed manual, ‘Cunning Plans For When Things Go Pear Shaped”. And there, in among chapters headed, ‘Blame Somebody Else’, ‘Start A War’, ‘Scapegoat A Minority’, ‘Do A Runner With The Loot’ and ‘Pray For Divine Intervention’ they found ‘Whip Up A Frenzy Of Faux Patriotism’.

This explains why, in the mid to late noughties the largely neglected poppy saw the first drops of revivifying water and became the symbol not of sacrifice in war but of British identity and ‘pulling together’. The UK media played its role with an enthusiasm almost unknown in democratic societies.

Could it get any worse for the establishment? Yes it could, for in May 2011 the SNP took 44% (+13%) of the vote and 69 seats, giving it a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament. There would now be a referendum on Scottish independence.

Television companies responded by going into overdrive in promoting British unity. In the final year of the Labour – Lib Dem coalition in the Scottish Parliament (to May 3, 2007) there were just 25 television programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title. Between January 2013 and January 2014, with the SNP in power and the independence referendum looming, the number of ‘Britain’ / ‘British’ programmes had risen to 516!

Which brings us to where we are today. To the point where the now regular autumn hysteria has reached absurd proportions. Here are a couple of examples.

On the evening of Friday November 18 I watched a televised football game (Brighton & Hove Albion v Aston Villa) and I couldn’t understand why the players had poppies on their shirts a week after Armistice Day and five days after Remembrance Sunday. Then the commentator told us it was to commemorate the last day of the Battle of the Somme!

So are we now compelled to remember every date that someone, somewhere, deems significant? And if so, where does this end? Can anyone remember any other instance of poppies being worn after Remembrance Sunday?

Nowhere is the poppy cult more slavishly followed than at the BBC. It is now obvious that from mid or late October no one is allowed to appear on any BBC programme without a poppy. (Though Evan Davis on Newsnight held out longer than most.) So terrified is the Beeb of falling foul of the Sun and the other directors of the national mood that anything that moves is liable to have a poppy pinned to it.

But this fear of manufactured British patriotism can bring its own problems, such as when someone at The One Show pinned a poppy on the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. This outraged some for “trivialising the sacrifice of millions”, but as Dara Ó Briain suggested, it might have been satire, somebody having a pop at the poppy fascists. Here’s how the story was covered in Heatstreet, MailOnline, The Express, and the Huffington Post.

cookie-monster

As the BBC discovered with the Cookie Monster, when you’re dealing with poppy fascists it’s difficult to do the right thing. Perhaps the rule for broadcasters should be to pin a poppy on everything that breathes irrespective of whether it wants to wear one or not. Which might result in an apologist for ISIS appearing on Newsnight  or Channel 4 News wearing a poppy.

PART 3: CUNNING PLANS GANG AFT AGLEY

What I hope I’ve explained is that the past decade has seen a poppy cult engineered to engender a sense of Britishness, patriotism and unity, in order to counter threats from within and without; also to divert attention away from military blunders and other cracks in the façade of the British system that had led people to question the roles of the armed forces, the Monarchy, the City of London and other institutions.

To some extent this has worked. For example, the first referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 was ‘won’. Then, the prince who many would like to see accede to the throne instead of his father has knocked out a few sprogs, and the ‘Ah!’ factor always works for the House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.

Yet the success of this strategy is now causing problems that the Elite had not foreseen. You’ll note that I’m talking now of an ‘Elite’, so let me explain myself. Perhaps the best way is to refer back to my post EU Referendum: Why I Want OUT! where I wrote of an Elite that opposes “nation-states, national identities, local governments, languages other than English, regional tastes and peculiarities. In fact, many of the things you and I cherish.”

Those behind the relentless promotion of the poppy are linked to that global Elite. They opposed Scottish independence and they were against Brexit, for they believe in the Elite’s agenda of globalisation and mass migration as these drive down wages and help destroy the national identities that are viewed as an obstacle to globalisation.

The problem is that for most English people ‘Britishness’ and ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, are synonyms, and the English make up almost 80% of the UK’s population. Which has meant that by clumsily promoting the poppy and British nationalism as a short-term fix for assorted problems the Elite unleashed insurgent English populism that resulted in UKIP and Brexit, and may now take us on a journey no one foresaw.

This revolt against the Elite is not confined to the UK. Donald Trump is President-elect of the USA. François Fillon is the Centre-right’s candidate against Marine le Pen, and he will fight that election on a platform that Donald Trump would approve: making friends with Putin, cracking down hard on Islamic extremists, opposing same-sex couples adopting children, etc.

When the French go to the polls in April to elect a new president it will be a choice between a weak and demoralised Left on the one side, while the alternatives are the Hard Right and the Very Hard Right. Then, between Fillon and le Pen, attitudes to the EU could be the main and defining difference.

The liberal, globalist, ‘do your own thing’ consensus we’ve lived with since the 1960s is almost dead. Accidentally killed by an Elite that over-reached itself, assisted by a Left that had been allowed to dictate the social agenda (because it complemented the ambitions of the Elite) but so detached itself from the concerns of most people that ‘liberal elite’ is now a term of abuse.

For me, it’s one of the great political ironies that an annual propaganda exercise to defend established interests favouring the EU, centrist politics, globalisation and unrestricted immigration has breathed life into forces representing their very antithesis. But so fitting.

♦ end 

Jul 082016
 

Having read the full Chilcot Report on the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the UK – in the original Latin – I have decided to spare my readers that ordeal by giving a succinct summary of what lies behind that disaster and why we are where we are.

However, for the masochists among you, here’s a link to the Executive Summary. This runs to 150 pages, but the full Report is 2.6 million words long, or over four times the size of War and Peace, so don’t even think about reading it.

For all you need to know, read on . . .

1/ The best place to start is with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. From the perspective of the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department at that time, anyone who fought against communism was a ‘freedom-fighter’, be he a drug-trafficking fascist, a mass-murdering psychopath or, as in Afghanistan, a religious fanatic wanting to turn the clock back a few centuries.

And so it came to pass that Uncle Sam ended up funding, arming and in other ways supporting the Bearded Ones in their fight against the Russians. (No, these were not hipsters.)

Beards

In the same year, the major US ally in the region, the Shah of Iran, was forced into exile by another bunch of Bearded Ones. There was further humiliation for the USA when its Tehran embassy was overrun and 66 US citizens taken hostage.

2/ Next, in September 1980, hostilities commenced between Iran and Iraq. Despite Iraq being ruled by a ruthless tyrant named Saddam Hussein, who began his career as an assassin for the Ba’ath Party, the USA decided – on the ‘enemy of my enemy’ principle – to back (the beardless) Saddam.

After massive losses on both sides the inconclusive war came to its end with the ceasefire of August 20th 1988.

3/ Saddam Hussein decided to flex his military muscles again by invading Kuwait in August 1990 – using weaponry supplied by Western powers during the war with Iran. This invasion was widely condemned, and a UN-supported coalition force was organised under US leadership to liberate Kuwait.

A brief military campaign at the start of 1991 saw the Iraqi army expelled and Kuwait restored to its former condition of Western-friendly despotism. However, the coalition stopped short of toppling Saddam, who then took revenge on his Kurdish and Shia subjects, who had been encouraged to rise against him by the USA and its partners with the promise of protection and / or Saddam’s removal.

The US president at the time of the ‘liberation’ of Kuwait was George H W Bush.

4/ With the Russians gone Afghanistan descended into civil war, from which emerged victorious, in 1996, the fundamentalist (and well bearded) Taliban, but nobody paid them too much attention because they were the good guys who’d fought against Ronald Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire‘.

The Taliban takeover allowed Saudi national Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation to return from its four-year exile in Sudan. (Bin Laden was never seen without his beard.) Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim terrorist organisation that views the West as a corrupting influence on the Islamic world, and it announced its war on the West with attacks on US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August 1998.

5/ Unpleasant though these incidents were they were both a long way away, but everything changed with al-Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11th, 2001.

In response, Afghanistan was invaded, and it was soon realised that 9/11, as it became known, could also be used as an excuse to remove Saddam Hussein. For by now the US president was George W Bush, son of the president Bush who had lost face by leaving Saddam in power.

Attacking Iraq was a curious decision for many reasons. As I’ve said, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, many of his funders and supporters were Saudis, most of the hijackers on the planes that caused such devastation were Saudis. So if any country should have been attacked in response to 9/11 it was surely Saudi Arabia! But no, for the Saudis and the Americans were friends.

6/ But this time there was to be no UN support, and no grand coalition. Russia, Germany, France and most other countries opposed US action against Iraq. So to give himself a fig leaf / partner George W Bush turned to the UK, and its prime minister Tony Blair. At a meeting on his Texas ranch in April 2002 Bush got Blair to commit the UK to joining with the USA in invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein. (Bush and Blair have never been seen bearded.)

Three months later Blair wrote his now infamous memo to Bush in which he promised, “I will be with you, whatever”.

My view has always been that Blair was seduced by the opportunity to play a world role in partnership with the USA, and so he allowed himself to be talked into invading Iraq. A country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and led by a man who was as hostile to the Bearded Ones as Western leaders. (And who understood far better what he was dealing with.)

Fundamentally, the problem may have been that Blair allowed it all to go to his head, he seemed to think that he too was a president, rather than a prime minister answerable to parliament. That he was able to get away with it exposed weaknesses in the UK system that seem to have been overlooked. What steps have been taken to ensure that no future prime minister can behave like a one-man government?

Bush Blair

7/ The planned invasion then had to be justified. Which saw a year or more in which we heard one ludicrous claim after another telling us how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and what a threat he was to the West. Why! he had missiles that could target British bathers on Cyprus beaches.

This is when we became familiar with the term Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which it was claimed – by the US and UK – Saddam possessed, and was preparing to use. The problem with this assertion was that United Nations weapons inspectors that were in the country, and free to go wherever they wished, could find absolutely nothing to substantiate these claims. That was because the claims were bullshit, and those making the claims knew they were bullshit.

Bush, Blair and their underlings knew that Iraq had no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons but the pretence had to be maintained. In his State of the Union address on January 28th 2003 George Bush said, “If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Saddam Hussein was being told to get rid of weapons he didn’t possess otherwise his country would be invaded! Clearly the USA was going to invade Iraq, and sure enough, Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 19th 2003.

8/ The invasion itself went swimmingly, the Iraqi army was soon rolled up and the media showed us grateful Iraqis dancing in the streets and showering their liberators with gifts. British forces were given territory in the Shia heartlands of the south east to control, in and around the city of Basra, not far from Iran. Then it all started to go wrong.

The sudden and complete removal of Saddam’s army and police, coupled with the reluctance of the US and UK military to antagonise the locals, resulted in looting and more general criminality becoming widespread. The political situation deteriorated by the day as the Iranians encouraged the Shia majority to exercise its new-found power through its militias. While Saddam’s now dis-empowered and jobless Sunni supporters grew ever more bitter as they envisioned a Shia-run Iraq.

In the north, the Kurds effectively withdrew from the crumbling state and set up their own institutions.

The truth was that no one in the US-UK alliance really had a clue what might happen after Saddam was toppled. It was all wishful thinking premised on the aftermath of D-Day: Go in, kick out the bad guys, be welcomed as liberators, drink some booze and lay a few chicks, set out the rules for a pro-Western system of government, go home to ticker-tape welcome . . . more booze and chicks.

If only!

9/ What actually happened after the initial welcome was years of fighting between coalition forces and Shia militias or Sunni insurgents. The country fell apart. A major contribution to the upsurge in hostility to the occupying forces was the decline in public amenities, health care and other facilities, this being the inevitable result of the gratuitous destruction of infrastructure by the coalition at the start of the campaign, largely done for the entertainment of the television audience in the West.

Saddam Hussein was unquestionably a bastard, but he wasn’t particularly ideological, and he certainly wasn’t driven by religious zeal, nor was he especially greedy. He certainly liked power and used it as he thought necessary to hold together an artificial and fissiparous country bequeathed by the Sykes-Picot carve-up during WWI.

But as Iraqis were soon to lament, under Saddam they at least had electricity, and a working sewage system, the hospitals had drugs and doctors, there was public transport, kids went to school and on to university. Compared to the ‘liberation’ Iraq under Saddam Hussein began to look like a lost golden age.

10/ Democracy (of a sort) was installed . . . or another way of putting it would be that Shia sectarianism was empowered. For the Shia majority, with its (lavishly bearded) leaders controlled by Iran, now ruled the roost and were determined to make the Sunni – of whom Saddam was nominally one – pay for the years in which they, the Sunni, had ruled that same roost at the expense of Shia and Kurds.

The resentment felt by the Sunni resulted in attacks on the US military, and on Shia shrines and other targets. To cut a long story short, it was the treatment meted out to the Sunni by the USA and the Shia – who were backed, bizarrely, by both the USA and Iran – that created the conditions in which Sunni ISIS could establish itself and flourish.

And that’s where we are today, boys and girls.

CONCLUSION

With no clear plan beyond settling a family score by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and grabbing Iraq’s oilfields and other assets for vice president Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and other US companies, George W Bush didn’t really know what he was doing. His ally, or perhaps his dupe, Tony Blair, deluded himself that this was some noble crusade against evil. Even today Blair argues that he did the right thing. One’s a duplicitous and devious idiot, the other’s a self-deluding zealot who, like so many who have done great wrong, now finds solace in religion.

Halliburton

They blundered in, blundered about for a few years, wrecking an entire country, strengthening Iran, causing the rise of ISIS, before blundering out, little wiser about the country they’d destroyed than when they invaded.

Add disastrous military escapades like Iraq and Afghanistan to globalisation and immigration and you explain the increasing alienation of the white working class in the USA and in post-industrial regions across Europe. Which in turn explains the popularity of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders), Brexit, Marine le Pen and a host of other examples showing growing public contempt for what had been the established political order.

President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair told us that by invading Iraq they were making the world a safer place. The world is now infinitely more dangerous, both from external foes and also from internal divisions due to the discrediting of the Anglo-Saxon, transatlantic political and economic model (the latter following the Crash of 2008).

When millions of voters are prepared to put their faith in Nigel Farage you know just how badly Bush and Blair fucked up. That is their legacy.

 

Aug 182014
 

It’s not often that I write about events outside of Wales, but I feel moved to say something about the current crisis in Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan. While the situation in the region is not entirely the fault of the West, we cannot escape blame, and it goes back a lot further than George Bush and Tony Blair.Ottoman Empire 1914 The Middle East today serves as a stark reminder of what can go wrong when greed and short-sightedness combine with military might.

A century ago this region was all that remained of the Turkish Ottoman empire, stripped of its European territories but still covering a considerable area. (Click on map to enlarge.) When Turkey joined with Austria-Hungary and Germany to fight against France, Britain, Russia and Serbia in World War One, then a German victory became the only hope for saving the Ottoman empire, and perhaps even that wouldn’t have been enough.

Turkey’s involvement in the war was largely restricted to defending Turkey proper, most notably at the battle of Gallipoli, but there was activity further afield, with military engagements involving regular forces of the Allies and also guerrilla actions by Turkey’s Arab subjects. The examples of the latter with which most people are familiar are those covered in  T. E. Lawrence‘s autobiographical Seven Pillars of Wisdom and later, in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.

Long before Turkey was actually defeated the vultures – in the forms of Britain and France – were circling, and debating who was to have which part of the soon to be dismembered corpse. The negotiators were Mark Sykes and Georges Picot who, in 1916, set about dividing up the Arab and Kurdish lands of the Ottoman empire with straight-edge rulers and little or no regard for ethnic, religious or other distinctions. Summed up in a phrase used by Sykes: “I should like to draw a line from the ‘e’ in Acre (on the Mediterranean coast) to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk (in Kurdistan)”. Of course neither Arabs nor Kurds were consulted in the drawing up of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the whole exercise was done in the interests of France and England. Which betrayed those Arabs who had fought with Lawrence believing they were to be rewarded with independence, and also cheated the Kurds, who had been led to believe they were to gain independence from the collapse of the empire wherein most of them lived.

As the twentieth century progressed Turkey became a (nominally) secular and (ostensibly) Western state and is now hoping to join the EU; the Arabs gradually gained their independence, which then saw a succession of kings and ‘strongmen’ come and go; Israel was established and grew in strength; while 20 million or more Kurds suffered discrimination and oppression at the hands of Turks, Arabs and – to a lesser extent – Iranians. But perhaps the most important political and economic development was that oil was discovered in vast quantities beneath the deserts of the region, and it was this discovery that influenced more recent developments.

*

A rumour that refuses to die is that Saddam Hussein was toppled from power in 2003 by the USA – aided by a coalition of the star-struck and the wilfully stupid – because he was threatening to trade Iraqi oil in Euros, rather than dollars. To explain, briefly; the USA makes countless billions of dollars every year from doing nothing, Mossadeghsimply because crude oil is traded in US dollars. If Saddam had carried out his threat, then other countries would almost certainly have followed suit, Russia (the world’s biggest oil producer in 2013), Iran (No 4), China (No 5), Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela (No 9), with others having to fall into line. This may of course be nothing but a conspiracy theory . . . but it’s a lot more credible than the nonsense we heard about weapons of mass destruction, or the idea that an absolute tyrant who tolerated no challengers was supporting and nurturing Al-Qaeda.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was about oil, oil for the USA. (As was the earlier Gulf War to ‘liberate’ Kuwait.) This unquenchable thirst for oil explains the toleration of slavery and other forms of barbarism in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. In fact, oil explains just about everything the West has done in the region, particularly since World War Two, beginning with the removal of the democratically elected Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran in 1953, engineered by MI6 and the CIA. His crime? He wanted to use Iranian oil for the benefit of the Iranian people. (Be warned, Alex Salmond!)

As this noble and honest nationalist put it at his trial: “Yes, my sin – my greater sin . . . and even my greatest sin is that I nationalised Iran’s oil industry and discarded the system of political and economic exploitation by the world’s greatest empire . . . This at the cost to myself, my family: and at the risk of losing my life, my honour and my property . . . With God’s blessing and the will of the people, I fought this savage and dreadful system of international espionage and colonialism . . . I am well aware that my fate must serve as an example in the future throughout the Middle East in breaking the chains of slavery and servitude to colonial interests”.

And so it continued, anyone who challenged Western interests was undermined and removed, any butcher with billions in foreign bank accounts who was perceived to be serving Western interests was supported. The collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged the Americans to act even more recklessly; with what passed for US foreign policy being determined by old CIA dictums such as, ‘The enemy of my enemy must be my friend’ and ‘He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Which, inevitably, and among other successes, resulted in arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, and supporting Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran. Short-termism in the diplomatic and military spheres to complement that in the economic sphere that resulted in the Crash of 2008.

*

Of course, the problem with undermining or removing strongmen is that once they’re gone things start falling apart, and all manner of undesirables emerge. That’s what happened in Afghanistan, and that’s what’s happening now in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Making recent US foreign policy the classic definition of madness – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Finally realising this may explain why the US refused to help the more moderate opponents of Bashir al-Assad in Syria which, as we now know, has led to the emergence of something infinitely more dangerous – the jihadist butchers of IS. So that even by doing the right thing for once the USA has cocked up, again.

Everyone expresses surprise at the speed of the IS advance, almost a case of, ‘Where did they come from?’, which is strange, for the USA has satellites that can read car number plates; they have known about IS for months, the CIA has known its strength, its movements . . . but seemed unconcerned. Why the change of heart? There are, I suspect, two PKKreasons. First, it may be significant that IS began to make news at a time when the US and its allies needed a distraction from other deeds being perpetrated in Gaza. Second, IS was now threatening the Kurdish oilfields, where there are many US citizens, military and civilian. Yes, there is a real humanitarian tragedy, but this has simply been used to disguise the true reasons for the sudden concern about IS. Just ask yourself, ‘What exactly has the US done to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Yazidis and Christians?’ Well, they dropped a few bottles of water, and that seems to have been about it.

Even so, the Kurdish Peshmerga should have been able to defend both Yazidis and Christians by holding off IS . . . if they’d had the weapons. One of the more revealing facts to come out of the region recently was that in one engagement the Peshmerga had to retreat because a) IS had superior weapons and b) the Peshmerga ran out of ammunition! The Kurds are the West’s most reliable ally in the region; Kurdistan is as close as you’ll get locally to a democratic and secular society (that’s why the Christians and Yazidi fled to Kurdistan); so why the hell are they not properly armed? Well, you see, that would upset the Turks, who worry about weapons getting into the hands of their own Kurds or, more specifically, the PKK guerrillas. Which means that the USA, in order to pander to an increasingly Islamist government in Ankara – that oppresses its own Kurds – leaves its only real ally in the region almost undefended. What sort of a foreign policy is this that can’t even work out who the good guys are?

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Properly equipped the Peshmerga can secure Kurdistan and the contested areas (from many of which they were ‘cleansed’ by Saddam Hussein) but they are unlikely to venture far into Sunni Arab areas for any lengthy campaign because that would be interpreted by the Sunni Arab tribes as an act of aggression, and likely to drive them towards IS. That said, the Kurds would probably engage in a short campaign to defeat IS (which the West should support on purely humanitarian grounds), but it is not the long-term answer, nor must the West use and then abandon the Kurds as it has done in the recent past. When the alternatives are considered it becomes clear that this is the best option, for those alternatives would appear to be: giving aid and support to the almost exclusively Shia military of Iraq (i.e. the regime that has already alienated the Sunnis); encourage Bashir al-Assad to go on the offensive; urge the Turks to intervene; turn a blind eye while the Iranians send in the Revolutionary Guards; or put US military boots on the ground again.

kurdistan landscap

Click to enlarge

The reason there isn’t a more inclusive regime in Baghdad is all the fault of a cack-handed implementation of ‘democracy’. Because when outsiders insist that a divided country like Iraq starts using a political process with which its people are entirely unfamiliar then the people will vote along sectarian lines and the largest group will inevitably dominate at the expense of the other two. Trying to balance things out by giving Sunni Arabs and Kurds a share of power greater than their numbers merit will only antagonise the Shia Arab majority. Given that the Baghdad regime and its military have no support outside Shia areas means that unless the Kurds can be persuaded (and equipped) to intervene against IS then this tragedy will have to play out to whatever conclusion awaits the long-suffering inhabitants of the region.

Once IS is defeated there must be an acceptance that Iraq is no longer a viable country; and that cohesive political and social entities are not created by straight lines drawn on maps by people who don’t have to live with the consequences. The same might apply to Syria and Lebanon, and perhaps other countries in the region. The Kurds must be given a secure and defensible homeland guaranteed by international treaty. Partly because it is their inalienable right, partly because the Kurds may be the only hope for a democratic and pluralist society in the region (and a refuge for minorities), and partly because it is in the long-term best interests of the West. And it should go without saying that once IS is defeated there will inevitably have to be trials for the crimes committed, whether the suspects come from Grangetown or Grozny.

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Let no one be in any doubt that I have the best interests of the West at heart; it’s just that I happen to believe that those interests will be better served from now on by being true to what we have always preached – democracy, religious freedom, protection for minorities, equality for women, freedom from arbitrary arrest, altruism, open and honest business transactions, etc., etc., and insisting that we will not deal with countries that cannot support these same values. (In fact, the ‘ethical’ foreign policy promised by one of Blair’s henchmen.) Because if Russia can be punished with sanctions for the heinous crime of seeking to defend fellow Russians, then why should Saudi Arabia and Kuwait escape sanctions for funding IS?

Finally, while I wish the Scots every success on September 18th – and I’ll be there myself – I also look forward to a world that is much less reliant on oil. Not because I have anything in common with environmentalists and the like (God forbid!), but because I am sick and tired of slimy, two-faced bastards claiming to represent me and the wider ‘Western community’ lying through their highly polished teeth as they suck up to despots who may have fleets of private jets but still live in the Middle Ages; moral degenerates who have emerged from of the cesspit of ‘the political centre ground’, with their fixed smiles and their talent for ignoring or explaining away all manner of brutality, corruption and evil just to keep the oil pumping.

Footnote: As I was about to publish this piece I came across this post in the New York Times, which is correct up to a point but obviously cannot be too critical of the USA.