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Please David Cameron, no moral grandstanding over Iraq this time

17 June 2014

5:53 PM

17 June 2014

5:53 PM

A preview of Mary Wakefield’s column in this week’s Spectator…

If there’s a bright spot in the murky mess of Iraq, it’s that finally we have a war that it is impossible to paint in simple terms, as a battle of good against evil. This time, even our PM, the self-appointed heir to Blair, can’t grandstand about defeating ‘terror’ or protecting ‘innocent civilians’ because there’s terror and innocence on every side. He can’t pose as world policeman; stand side by side with Obama and say ‘we must not let this evil happen’, because clearly we already have.

Take ISIS, the Islamist group once affiliated to al-Qa’eda who’ve become the world’s new public enemy number one. ISIS have captured parts of northeast Syria and Iraq, and have begun to eye up Baghdad. They’re into beheading and stoning, even crucifying civilians, and under other circumstances it’d be tempting for both Obama and Cameron to paint them as the very apex of evil and the antithesis of all the West holds dear.

But as both leaders know, ISIS are not the only horror show around. Take a look at the ‘good’ rebel soldiers of the Free Syrian Army, the ones we’ve armed and backed against Assad, and you’ll see they’ve developed quite a taste for darkness too. You can watch them on YouTube, if you like, sawing off body parts from their Shia victims and wearing necklaces made of ears. The brutality has spread as if waterborne down the Euphrates.

Next, consider all the ways in which ISIS owes its success to the West. They’re a tiny outfit, just a few thousand men, but they’ve been able to capture great swaths of Iraq with remarkable ease, because ordinary Iraqis don’t care enough to fight. This is in part our fault. The man we backed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has presided over the collapse and corruption of government and the police. He’s sidelined and bullied Iraq’s Sunnis to the extent that they now don’t much care who’s in charge. The eccentric decision after the Iraq war to exclude Ba’ath Party members from the new government has meant that Ba’athists in particular have been only too happy to help ISIS on their way.

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It’s a dark and twisted business, this new battle for Baghdad. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t act to save the city, but just that any talk of goodies and baddies makes little sense. Here’s how surreal the situation has become: some of the Shia who normally fight in Syria for Assad (against the US-backed FSA) have trooped south to do battle with ISIS in Iraq (on America’s side). As they crossed the border, I suppose, they changed from foe to friend, and they’ll change back again when, if, they return. Cameron’s been telling us for years about the need to depose the tyrant Assad. Now we rely on the tyrant’s troops.

Our other allies are if anything even less reassuring. For some time now Mr Maliki has been under the sheltering wing of Iran. After ISIS took Mosul last week, several Iranian units were deployed to defend the capital and protect the Shia shrines in Samarra to the north. Though Obama may send in his drones, the man really leading the charge against ISIS will be the impressively ruthless-looking Major General Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, who arrived in Baghdad last week to direct operations.

Anyone still tempted to make clear moral distinctions might recall Hillary Clinton’s comments about Iran when she ran for her party’s presidential nomination in 2008. ‘If I’m the president, we will attack Iran’ if it attacks Israel. Then, with a cackle, she spoke of ‘obliterating’ it. Won’t it be curious, come 2016, if Hillary’s presidential dreams come true and she finds herself with Iran as an ally, still fighting shoulder to shoulder in Iraq?

Here’s how interchangeable the words ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ have become. As America prepares to help Iran beat back ISIS, so also this week it meets with Iranian ministers to give them a talking-to about their nuclear programme; to wave more sanctions in their face. It’s like hobbling a horse you’ve backed to win. Meanwhile: America still hands Saudi Arabia billions of dollars a year — and they hand it on to ISIS to buy guns.

I say it’s impossible to paint a black and white picture, but I’m aware there’s another form of Manichaeism waiting in the wings. In the absence of other certainties, it’s become common to say: look what happens when men are driven mad by a medieval religion. Look what animals the Islamists have become without reason to light their way. There’s some truth there — but again no easy them and us. A few thousand miles to the west, Christians hack Muslim children to death with machetes in the Central African Republic. In Mexico, atheistic drug cartels leave the beaches strewn with severed heads. The US colonel Kenneth King, who ran a camp in Iraq for both Sunni and Shia inmates, described the feuding between them in gang terms: ‘It’s the Bloods with the Bloods and the Crips with the Crips, that kind of thing.’

We often paint our enemies as deranged, especially by Islam, as if it’s comforting to see ourselves as uniquely sane. So before we write off ISIS as madmen, let’s be clear: they saw a chance in the chaos we helped create and they seized it. Now they control the beginnings of a caliphate from northeast Syria down into Iraq. What’s so crazy about that?

Even the ultra-violence has its logic. It’s evil, yes, but not insane. ISIS relies on its reputation. Such a tiny brigade could never have made such headway otherwise. They’ve taken towns in Iraq, from Mosul to Baiji, by simply calling ahead and saying: you know what we’re like, so flee or face the consequences.

Just in case, in coming weeks, Cameron’s still tempted to pose as saviour, let’s remember that this new Iraq war plays out against the backdrop of his last one, ongoing in Libya. In we flew in 2011, short on planning, high on talk of protecting innocents. Liberated Libya is now a lawless drug-infested hell; a playground for ISIS and its like. The free men of Benghazi quite openly now rue the day we arrived to ‘save’ them.


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Show comments
  • zanzamander

    Telegraph reports “Cameron: Isis plans to attack Britain.”

    This suspiciously sounds very familiar to when another British PM warned us that we were mere 45 Minutes from attack from another foe also from Iraq.

    Sexing things up yet again, I see.

    • Joe Connolly

      I would not be too sure about that. Lots of jihadis carry British passports but see themselves as members of the Islamic Umma and nothing else.

  • Joe Connolly

    I would have thought the battle against ISIS was very much a struggle between good and evil. The fact that there are other (in my opinion somewhat lesser) evils around doesn’t alter that fact. And the underlying message is that the West, the Turks, and all the other interfering outside powers have made a right royal mess of the situation because they didn’t understand it properly. The latest of the errors of the USA in dealing with Islamic countries — precisely because they did not see the danger in fanning Islamic militancy and so encouraged it against the Russians and others.

  • Gabba, Gabba.

    “Take ISIS, the Islamist group ONCE AFFILIATED to al-Qa’eda who’ve become the world’s new public enemy number one.” Is that the same Al-Queda Funded by the American tax payer via the CIA to the tune of $3billion. This is conquer and divide the real war an insurgents war as with the School of Americas regarding S.America widespread terror, assassination and displacement on behalf of Western interests. Mary Wakefield where is your evidence to make the claim “once affiliated,” don’t tell me excellent intelligence work easily regurgitated corporate spew.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Bl00dy Fatctcha n whoremonger Bush eh? Bet they knew about ISIS all along.

      • Kennybhoy

        lol

    • Kennybhoy

      It’s “divide and conquer” old chap.

  • Augustus

    According to one of the ISIS terrorists, Abu Mujahid, a large number of his comrades are North African immigrants from France and Belgium, originally from Morocco and Tunisia. He says they don’t even speak Arabic but French, and often take on leadership roles. So, yet another way ‘in which ISIS owes its success to the West’?

  • AlexanderGalt

    The culpable ignorance of Cameron and Hague is astounding and probably based on their multiculturalism which blinds them to the most prosaic realities of the region.

    There’s a great post about the those realities of Iraqi history before we were
    involved called “Don’t Blame Blair” at:

    http://john-moloney.blogspot.com/2014/06/not-blairs-fault.html

  • William_Brown

    Dare I mention border controls?

  • artemis in france

    Journalists like thèse foreign troubles. Much more exciting than tackling the appalling lack of commitment by their own government to ensure than no more unnecessary flooding takes place in England the next time a lot of rain falls. Instead of spending all this money trying to solve a problem partly of their own making, the West should stand back and let thèse people decide for themselves what they want in their own lands. Further intervention by us won’t help at all. Come on, Speccie, don’t you care that those rivers aren’t going to be dredged? Why is British taxpayers’ money going to help people in lands very far away while British taxpayers suffer through no faut of their own? So many things still wrong in Britain and Europe, which is at least closer and has a direct impact on Britain, and yet so much time is spent telling British people what should be done in their name in lands which have no relation whatsoever to Britain.

  • jesseventura2

    Start dropping girlie magazines on these vermin and see how that halts their advance?
    Anyone who has worked in a muslim country will know there is huge demand for Playboy,Hustler,Penthouse etc.etc.
    What these head bangers gonna get off on a fat black hay stack or a western beauty?

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

    What do you know about it, honey? Next!

  • ButcombeMan

    How did Mary write this rather pathetic anti Cameron piece, without reference to Blair and Blair’s behaviour? In 2003 and since.

    This is a quality issue. Fraser and Isabel, you are devaluing the platform by the day.

  • Augustus

    “Now they control the beginnings of a caliphate from northeast Syria down into Iraq.”

    ISIS wants to unite the Muslim world and to do away with the old British and French colonial borders of the Middle East. And this caliphate would become a fertile base for jihadists from anywhere in the world to plan the execution of terrorist attacks throughout Europe.

  • HookesLaw

    The free men of bengazi nwould have been murdered just as ISIS are murdering their enemies. A silly confused article but as the comments show The Spectator is not the place to come for reasoned argument

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, lad, the “free men of bengazi ” and the Syria-spawned “ISIS” are both murderous islamofascist gangs, and good friends of you Camerluvvies, as you’ve financially and militarily and diplomatically helped them both. How many people is it you want your murderous islamofascist buddies to slaughter, laddie?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Oh, and why is it you suddenly want to flop over and help the mullahs?

        What bizarre calculus are you socialist nutters on to now?

  • alabenn

    The US could sort out these animals once and for all, bomb Saudi Arabia back to the century they belong in.
    They are financing almost all this Islamic terrorism, it would give the rest of the world pause for thought.
    Then with Europe stop exporting food to all Muslim countries, that will cull their populations, almost all are incapable of feeding themselves

    • William_Brown

      The only problem with that is that the top 5% will survive – they’re the one’s doing the financing. It’ll be the women & kids who starve to death using your methods.

      • alabenn

        Where do you think adult male terrorists come from.

  • Aethelflaed

    But it isn’t a general Christian occupation is it, to hack people’s head’s off in the name of a religion – where as ……………………………………….

  • anyfool

    Let them get on with it, the more they kill each other the less we will have to deal with later, when the battleground moves west to Europe.

    • Joe Connolly

      Unfortunately history proves that idea false. Their internal feuds will make them stronger not weaker.

      • anyfool

        The optimum words there are, internal feuds, they will only become stronger in their own lands, relative to the West they will go backwards, after all you would be hard pressed to think of anything a Muslim has discovered or invented in the 1600 or so years they have been in existence.

  • Kitty MLB

    No Mr Cameron. When that deluded serpent with his ‘Messiah
    complex’ named Blair went upon his grandstanding being the
    worlds police crusade. We never knew how things would turn out
    because of that war the, middle east hate us, they are not
    grateful for our help and not sorry for the loss of our brave
    soldiers
    Truth of the matter is they have no respect for humanity and
    will probably murder each other forever more.
    We must not lose any more lives and our military equipment
    on this.And also with all the Muslims living here are we
    safe in our own country?

    • telemachus

      Ladybird
      Your last sentence could have been lifted from the mouth of Farage

      • girondas

        Still, pretty accurate though charlatan.
        It isn’t Kitty’s fault, or Farage’s, that your chickens are coming home to roost.
        Heffer has made an amusing and persuasive case for Blair’s impeachment. I only disagree in so far as I can’t see why impeachment should be restricted to Blair – maybe you should go into hiding.
        By the way, Kitty’s name is not Ladybird. Patronising your moral and intellectual superiors is a dangerous game.

  • Pier66

    All I have to ask to great DC is please NO MORE WAR
    NO MORE BRITAIN SOLDIERS INVOLVED NO MORE
    Let nato and international organisation thinking about
    We are peaceful country and we want stay this way
    Ynwa and Tory all the way

  • the viceroy’s gin

    So Field Marshal Dave is climbing back into the saddle, is it?

    I’m certain it’ll all go swimmingly. He really is a brilliant military strategist, this one.

    • telemachus

      For all the non caring of his acolytes I sense folks in general trust Cameron in the foreign arena
      *
      He has it right on Europe and in the Middle East he is not in the pocket of Obama. It is a shame that we still do not have Sarkozy
      *
      Sarkozy and Cameron made a formidable foreign policy team

      • Kitty MLB

        So you would like Sarkozy to still be around and
        hope he and Cameron would go on warmongering
        crusade like Labour did, little wasp!
        And think it would wash the blood from the
        hands of that party .

      • girondas

        “Sarkozy and Cameron made a formidable foreign policy team”

        Mad as a hatter

      • William_Brown

        Funniest comment of the month award! – Most excellent Telemachus, most excellent…..

  • Hexhamgeezer

    No western politician is responsible for animals who will saw fellow countrymen or religionists’ heads off.

    Also, fighting as we do under the BBC and Guardian’s rules of combat, there are no circumstances by which we should get involved.

    • Tom M

      You could harbour that point of view but it still appea

      • Hexhamgeezer

        Don’t forget that Saddam wasn’t content with keeping the domestics in check. He was addicted to attacking other states as well.

        • Kennybhoy

          Good man!

        • Bill_der_Berg

          Blair clocked up five wars in six years, which is something of a record for a British prime minister.

      • Kennybhoy

        Wot Hex said above. Plus. Back in 2001-3 the prospect of Sadam coming to some sort of arrangement with Al Quaeda or other jihadis on a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” basis was very real. FFS the Iranians hid his aircraft from us during the Gulf War! And that was only a couple of years after the Iran-Iraq War!

        • the viceroy’s gin

          That wasn’t collaborative. The mullahs allowed the remaining few of his aircraft to land in Iran, because if they had stayed in Iraq they would have been destroyed alongside all the rest. He thought it better if he at least attempted to trade them for favor with the mullahs, since they were useless to him anyway. .

          • Kennybhoy

            The second and third sentences of this comment effectively contradict the first…

            • the viceroy’s gin

              No, it’s not at all contradictory. You’re quite mistaken.

        • Joe Connolly

          Oh no it wasn’t.

      • Augustus

        Did the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein lead to the present civil war?
        Anybody who claims that tends to forget what Saddam actually did. He killed tens of thousands of civilians: opposition members, Shiites, Kurds etc. He used chemical weapons on two occasions. His regime committed genocide with a poison gas attack on over 5,000 Kurds in 1988. He unleashed a bloody and pointless regional war which lasted for eight years. And then he occupied Kuwait. In all these pointless conflicts hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others lost their lives. Saddam’s regime was evil through and through.

        • Tom M

          Of course it was evil through and through. Who’s saying it wasn’t? The point I made was that, as well as doing all of the things you quote he was actively engaged in he was keeping the other lot in check at the same time.
          Do you really think some small fledgling dissident group (it could not have been bigger without him hearing about it) could have grown into an organisation capable of carrying out attacks on those major cities in Iraq whilst Saddam was in charge?
          To seek a parallel read the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and learn of the difficulties Al Zawahiri et al experienced there in trying to form dissident groups in a totalitarian regime. And having done that remember Egypt was nothing like as oppressive as Iraq.

          • Augustus

            The cruel oppression of minorities is one of the primary causes of the on-going violence in Iraq. The Kurds don’t trust the Sunni Arabs, nor the Shiites. The Sunnis long back to the period in which they exercised their tyrannical power as sole rulers. Kurdish and Shiite populations will no longer accept the tyranny of the Sunni Arabs. Iraq as a state has just become a meaningless word. There should really be a break-up into three autonomous separate states. Then there wouldn’t be any need for tyrannical despots to force others against their will. It would also make fighting Islamic terrorism easier. Iraq itself is the main cause of the civil strife and tragedy in that country.

            Thanks for your response btw.

        • Bill_der_Berg

          ” He unleashed a bloody and pointless regional war which lasted for eight years”.

          And who was it who gave him a helping hand. That’s right, the US and UK. Could it be that Saddam was seen as the good guy at the time, and Iran was the evildoer?

      • Kennybhoy

        Hindsight.

        • Tom M

          Nope. I said it at the time and even took the trouble to point it out to my MP (another waste of time).
          Just look at the history and tell me at what point were the various factions of Islam living comfortably with each other in their own enclaves?
          They have been actively engaged in mutual anihilation or if not it has been because they were in the firm grip of some other regime totalitarian or not this since the 7th C.
          That is unless the various groups found common cause against somebody else they all disliked more than each other.
          They might grow out of it but as long as they hold rigidly to what the Koran says then they are stuck exactly in the situation they now find themselves.

    • Kennybhoy

      “Also, fighting as we do under the BBC and Guardian’s rules of combat, there are no circumstances by which we should get involved.”

      Sound.

      As a society we have not got the legs, the guts or the will to act effectively.,..

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in High Wedgies

        Kenny: please don’t spread that around!

        • Kennybhoy

          That particular horse has already bolted Puss…

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