Saturday 16 December 2017

British PM should know few plans can survive a punch in the mouth

A still image taken from video shows Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons. Reuters
A still image taken from video shows Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addressing the House of Commons. Reuters
A child walks on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's al-Sakhour district. Reuters
A pair of US F-15E Strike Eagle flies over northern Iraq, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. AP Photo
A Kurdish Syrian refugee carries an infant after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
Kurdish Syrian refugees sit with their belongings after crossing the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters
Turkish and Syrian Kurds run as Turkish security forces use tear gas to disperse them near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border, near the southeastern town of Suruc. Reuters
Turkish and Syrian Kurds pull down a part of the Turkish-Syrian border fence, near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Reuters

Patrick Cockburn

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there should be "no rushing to join a conflict without a clear plan", but he should keep in mind the warning of the American boxer Mike Tyson that "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth". Mr Cameron said that lessons had been learned from British military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is telling that he did not mention intervention in Libya, for which he himself was responsible.

In fact, there is a much closer parallel between Britain joining an air war in Libya in 2011 than Mr Blair's earlier misadventures, which Mr Cameron was happy to highlight. In Libya, what was sold to the public as a humanitarian bid by NATO forces to protect the people of Benghazi from Muammar Gaddafi, rapidly escalated into a successful effort to overthrow the Libyan leader.

The result, three years on, is that Libya is in permanent chaos with predatory militias reducing their country to ruins as they fight each other for power. Whatever the original intentions of Britain and the US, their armed intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 has been to produce devastating conflicts that have not ended. It has become common over the years to describe Iraq as a quagmire for foreign powers and it is no less so today than when President Bush and Mr Blair launched their invasion 11 years ago.

Mr Cameron draws comfort from the fact that the UN Security Council has received "a clear request from the Iraqi government to support it in its military action" against Isil. But this is a government which lost five divisions, a third of its army of 350,000 soldiers, when attacked by 1,300 Isil fighters in Mosul in June.

Its three most senior generals jumped into a helicopter and fled to the Iraqi capital Arbil, abandoning their men. It was one of the most disgraceful routs in history.

Mr Cameron blames all this on the mis-government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian and kleptocratic rule has just ended. But it is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties.

Mr Cameron's stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians is a pipe dream.

It is important to stress that there is little sign that US air strikes in Iraq, which Britain is planning to supplement, will be able to turn the tide against Isis. There have been 194 US air strikes in Iraq since August 8, but the militants are still advancing six weeks later.

In a little reported battle at Saqlawiya, 40 miles west of Baghdad, last Sunday, Isil fighters besieged and overran an Iraqi army base and then ambushed the retreating soldiers.

An officer who escaped was quoted as saying that "of an estimated 1,000 soldiers in Saqlawiya, only about 200 managed to flee".

Surviving Iraqi soldiers blame their military leaders for failing to supply them. The message here is that if the US, Britain and their allies intend to prop up a weak Iraqi government and army, it is misleading to pretend that this can be done without a much more significant level of intervention.

(Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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