On Friday 4 March 2016 David McIllwain from Australians for Reconciliation in Syria (AMRIS) reported on 4ZZ FM 102.1 radio program Paradigm Shift that there are about 800 Australians involved in the specifically Iraqi Syrian deployment of Australian military forces. There are 6 Super-Hornet fighter aircraft and a couple of support aircraft, which engage in bombing runs into Iraq and Syria, with the pretext of protecting Iraqi people from Islamic State. And there are about 300 ground troops near Baghdad who are training Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State in Iraq on the ground. But the actual object of the deployment to Iraq was always about the war in Syria, which is the focus of Western attention and the reason that the US went back into Iraq.
New Matilda columnist Michael Brull has exposed how extensive has been Australia's participation in the wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
In the New Matilda article “Left, Right, Labor, Liberal, The Greens: The Elites Who Bayed For War On Libya” Michael Brull wrote:
The primary architect of Australian involvement in the war on Libya was then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. He pushed for war before the UN Security Council or Prime Minister Julia Gillard had even signed on, and media reports (in March 2011) noted the rift his war advocacy caused. In time, Gillard came around, and also supported Australian involvement in the war. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was in favour of considering war when that was Gillard’s position, and quickly supported the war when it had been announced. The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop gave immediate support to the war on Libya, and argued from the start that the war could legitimately be expanded to topple Muammar Qaddafi.
Rudd initially hinted at an awareness that the relevant Security Council Resolution hadn’t authorised the overthrow of Qaddafi. Responding to the question of whether Qaddafi “should be targeted”, Rudd replied that “it does not provide that language”.
Within a month, Rudd proudly announced his rejection of the resolution, and international law, by announcing that Qaddafi “must go”.
The war was a complete disaster for Libya.
The outstanding Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn reported in November 2014 that British Prime Minister David Cameron hadn’t returned to Benghazi since proclaiming victory in 2011, and wasn’t “likely to do so as warring militias reduce Libya to primal anarchy in which nobody is safe. The majority of Libyans are demonstrably worse off today than they were under Gaddafi, notwithstanding his personality cult and authoritarian rule. The slaughter is getting worse by the month and is engulfing the entire country.”
Foreign media wasn’t covering Libya anymore, as it “rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there.” Libya had fallen into an “abyss”, and the result of the intervention was a “disaster”.
Aside from helping the rise of ISIS in Libya, our war on Libya may have contributed to the original rise of ISIS in Syria. According to Seymour Hersh, after the fall of Qaddafi, the CIA created a “rat line”, to funnel weapons from Syria into the hands of the military opposition to Assad. According to Hersh, “Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.” Part of the rat line involved “front companies… set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities.”
To his credit, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has spoken critically about the war on Libya in the Senate. Last year, he gave it as an example of the terrible “consequences of attempting to bomb liberal democracy or otherwise implant Western priorities into the ancient rivalries and allegiances of the modern Middle East”.
Earlier this year, he criticised “those same leaders who brought regime change to Libya but did not stick around to prevent its collapse into a failed state”. He prudently didn’t name the leaders he may have had in mind.
In the New Matilda article “Pokemon And Propaganda: The Way To Help Syrian Kids Is To De-Escalate The War” Michael Brull wrote: (Source: https://newmatilda.com/2016/08/23/pokemon-and-propaganda-the-way-to-help-syria-is-to-stop-meddling-in-it/)
Very few Western journalists have actually spent any time in Syria. Many of them rely on news from social media accounts of Syrian rebels, and supporters of the rebels, who connect them with people in Syria to Skype with.
The result is mostly propaganda, because a lot of the rebel’s social media messaging is propaganda.
In April this year, Catherine Ho reported for the Washington Post that Saudi Arabia was spending millions of dollars on lobby and public relations firms in the United States. In 2014, this included consultants at the PR firm Qorvis running “the Twitter account for the Syrian Opposition Coalition.” Readers can guess what features heavily in their twitter feed.
In May this year, the British government was exposed as running its own propaganda campaign on Syria. It was “funding media operations for some rebel fighting groups”, with the goal of “boost[ing]the reputation of what the government calls the ‘moderate armed opposition’, a complex and shifting alliance of armed factions.”
These allegedly moderate armed groups were a key part of the case for war on Syria laid out by former Prime Minister David Cameron. He claimed that there were 70,000 armed rebels who were moderates, on whose behalf the UK could intervene in the war.
The British propaganda campaign involves contractors, under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence, producing “videos, photos, military reports, radio broadcasts, print products and social media posts branded with the logos of fighting groups, and effectively running a press office for opposition fighters.”
According to the Guardian, this propaganda campaign began after Cameron “failed to persuade parliament to support military action against the Assad regime. In autumn 2013, the UK embarked on behind-the-scenes work to influence the course of the war by shaping perceptions of opposition fighters.”
Presumably, the hope was that if enough Brits were convinced there were secular liberals fighting for feminist democracy in Syria, they would be willing to back another war in the Middle East.
A section of the essay deals with the rebranding of al-Qaeda:
This attempt to rebrand jihadis fighting in Syria has reached an insane peak in the attempts to rebrand al Qaeda in Syria. Al Qaeda in Syria, formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, was founded by Abu Mohammed al-Joulani and Fawzi al-Dulaimi.
They were sent to Syria by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader at the time of Al Qaeda in Iraq, then known as Islamic State of Iraq.
Joulani had fought with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then afterwards served Baghdadi. Though JAN originally tried to hide its links to Al Qaeda, Baghdadi publicly exposed them in 2013. Joulani responded by publicly swearing loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, and successor to Osama Bin Laden.
In his terrific book on ISIS, leading academic specialist Fawaz Gerges explained that “Al Nusra has a Salafi-jihadist worldview that is similar to that of ISIS, with the two only differing tactically and operationally.”
Gerges observed that Turkey and Qatar have lobbied for JAN to split from al Qaeda central, in the hope that this could unite the anti-Assad opposition, and increase its chances of garnering Western recognition and support. Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, a Jordanian theoretician of Al Qaeda, reportedly said that Zawahiri was fine with JAN splitting from Al Qaeda, other than his concern that ISIS would be the primary beneficiary.
JAN took the plunge in July, renaming itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Earlier that day, “Zawahri, gave the Nusra Front his blessing to break away. In his message, Golani thanked Zawahri for putting the interests of Syrians ahead of organizational concerns.”
Despite the obvious coordination involved, and the fact that the new organisation has not claimed any kind of ideological change, Joulani said the change was made “to remove the excuse used by the international community – spearheaded by America and Russia – to bombard and displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting the Nusra Front which is associated with al Qaeda”.
The US State Department hasn’t yet removed JFS from its terrorist list. But that may be on the way. Its spokesperson said, “We’re gonna have to wait and see… We judge a group by what they do, not by what they call themselves.”
Since the JFS’s momentous announcement, they have reportedly promised once again to exterminate Alawites. The excellent Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn observed that the new organisation “does not bother to conceal its extreme Sunni sectarian agenda.” For example, its offensive in Aleppo “was called the ‘Ibrahim al-Yousef’ offensive. Yousef was the name of an officer in the Syrian army in 1979, who was secretly a member of a Sunni insurgent group and orchestrated the killing of 32 Alawites and the wounding of a further 54 in a notorious massacre in the Aleppo Artillery School”.
Despite basically only changing its name, the new Syrian al Qaeda has already received sympathetic Western coverage. Last week, Murdoch’s Sky News gave a sympathetic interview to a reportedly senior figure within JFS, warmly reviewing JFS’s fight against the Assad government.
Michael Brull advises the Western invaders that the humane way forward is to end the war by ending our involvement in it and stop arming the rebels:
It is hard to tell where intentional propaganda campaigns about the Syrian war end, and where lousy media coverage begins. Reporters without Borders rates Syria as 177 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. That is, reporting on Syria is extremely difficult and unsafe. In the West, much of the information we get simply reflects the interests of our governments and allies in the region.
There is nothing wrong with being horrified at the suffering of children in Syria. It is the way that that sympathy is manipulated by parties to the conflict that is troubling.
Syrian rebel groups hope to manipulate that sympathy to induce greater Western involvement in the war. They want the West to increase its support for the rebels, and to escalate our bombing campaign to target the government of Assad, and for the West to force Russia and Assad to stop bombing the rebels. Yet to escalate the conflict between the West and Russia could lead to utter catastrophe.
The war has already gone on for over five years. It has continued so long because so many external powers back their favoured proxies, with little regard to the suffering this has entailed.
Iran, Russia and Hezbollah back Assad, whilst Western countries, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey back the rebels.
Many in the West think we do so because we support democracy. This is naïve, at best.
The West has no problem with the war continuing. The effect of Hezbollah, jihadi rebels, Iran, Assad and Russia being bogged down in the war for another five years would be the weakening of our adversaries. Holding out hope to the rebels that they may yet win Western support and total victory simply prolongs the war. As they think they can still emerge triumphant, they have little reason to compromise.
The truth is, the West does not want the rebels to win. It does not want Assad to win. It wants them all to continue losing.
Those of us who want the suffering in Syria to end should not let our sympathy for the most heart-rending videos on social media cloud our judgment.
The way to end the war is to de-escalate it. The first step to letting Syrians reclaim their own destiny is to wind down foreign involvement.
If we want the war to end, we should end our involvement in it, and we should pressure our allies to end the war and flow of arms as well.
In the New Matilda article “Why Australia Should Stop Supporting The War On Yemen” Michael Brull wrote:
There are good reasons why we should pay more attention to the war in Yemen.
Firstly, it is a major atrocity, and leaving a nation utterly devastated. Secondly, the war depends crucially on Western support. Thirdly, the Australian government has helped propagate the war, by publicly legitimising it, and then maintaining a prolonged silence. Fourthly, Australian mercenaries have been deeply involved in one of the armies that has invaded Yemen.
Whilst Australia punishes foreign fighters in Syria, we have barely applied any scrutiny to the mercenaries helping the Saudi-led coalition devastate Yemen.
The US-Saudi war on Yemen is destroying it
In March, Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee observed the destruction caused by the war, with “particular damage to infrastructure — including reservoirs, airports, electric power stations, bridges and roads, markets, factories, stadiums, and hospitals. The education sector has been hitespecially hard, with 39 universities damaged, 810 primary and secondary schools damaged, and another 3,809 closed. About 85 percent of the population of 27 million is in dire need of food, water, medicine, and fuel. Over 2.5 million Yemenis are displaced, and the attacks have killed or injured more than 23,000 civilians”.
Patrick Cockburn reported in April that, “Since the UN says that 14.1 million Yemenis, 54 per cent of the population, have no access to health care, this is likely to be an underestimate. Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest Arab nation and its people are now starving or malnourished. OXFAM estimates that 82 per cent of Yemen’s 21 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance.”
The war on Yemen has been primarily fought by a coalition of Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia. The UN’s latest estimate is that at least 10 000 people have been killed in Yemen.
The UN previously estimated that the war has killed some 3,799 people. It estimates that Saudi coalition air-strikes are responsible for some 60 percent of deaths.
A New York Times editorial observed in August the war has “pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation”.
Importantly, this war could not be fought without crucial US backing. As the NYT explained, “Obama agreed to support the Yemen intervention — without formal authorization from Congress — and sell the Saudis even more weapons in part to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran nuclear deal. All told, since taking office, Mr Obama has sold the Saudis $110 billion in arms, including Apache helicopters and missiles. Mr Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refuelling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support.”
That support continued in August: “The State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war.”
Michael Brull gives a brief guide to the war:
For decades, the ruler of Yemen was a dictator called Ali Abdullah Saleh. Like other Arab countries, there was an uprising against Saleh in 2011 by the people of Yemen.
Like many other dictators in the region, Saleh was a favourite of the West. Saleh supported the US drone assassination program, and pretended “the bombs are ours, not yours.” He also collaborated in the imprisonment of a journalist called Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who exposed a US drone strike that killed dozens of innocent people.
As it didn’t look like the Yemeni uprising could be suppressed, the regime found a Plan B. Dan Murphy at the Christian Science Monitor explained: “The Saudis, with America’s blessing, concocted a transition plan that saw his vice president, Mr [‘Abd Rabbu Mansour] Hadi, elevated to the big seat. The 2012 deal gave Saleh immunity from prosecution for corruption and abuses of state power”. That Saudi plan came under the rubric of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a coalition of six wealthy Arab countries.
The US-Saudi-GCC plan included an election, where Hadi was the only candidate allowed. After winning 99.6 percent of the vote, “Saudi and the US insist that only Hadi is the legitimate ruler of Yemen”. This was acclaimed as a democratic transition by the West, which proceeded to denounce opponents of this process as opposed to the democratic process.
Stacey Philbrick Yadav and Sheila Carapico, two academic specialists on Yemen, discuss the Houthi rebellion at MERIP. They explain that, “The Houthis and other dissidents maintained that the GCC initiative sought to demobilize the mass 2011 revolutionary uprising by sanctifying an elite pact between members of the Saleh regime and its formal, multi-party, cross-ideological ‘loyal’ parliamentary opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties alliance, or Mushtarak. The Mushtarak, in turn, was dominated by a conservative northern alliance”.
Meanwhile, the transitional governing coalition excluded “both the Houthis and the Southern Movement”.
The Houthis proceeded to take up arms against the Saudi-backed order imposed on Yemen. In September 2014, the Houthis captured Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, in coalition with the previously deposed dictator of Yemen, Saleh.
Yadav and Carapico argue that, “the Houthis walked into Sanaa largely unopposed, mainly because people were fed up with the GCC’s repackaging of the ancient regime, and secondarily for primordial reasons (because Sanaa remains a largely Zaydi city where historically prominent local families are – like the Houthis – sayyids, or direct descendants of the Prophet).”
As the Houthi-Saleh alliance advanced in March 2015, the Hadi government fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis proceeded to lead the bombing campaign against Yemen. The Hadigovernment in exile and the Saudis claim that the Houthis are a proxy for Iran. Thus, Iran is the real aggressor in Yemen, whilst the GCC is merely protecting its legitimate government.
Whilst Iran does provide some support for the Houthis, the nature of this relationship is often overstated. A 2009 Wikileaks cable comments that “Contrary to [Yemeni government] claims that Iran is arming the Houthis, most analysts report that the Houthis obtain their weapons from the Yemeni black market and even from the ROYG military itself.”
The Saudi war has also been backed by the Security Council, in particular by the US, France and the United Kingdom. The Security Council has imposed sanctions on the Houthis, whilst recognising the “legitimate government” as that imposed by the GCC initiative. That is, the process that installed Hadi through an election with him as the only candidate, where he won over 99 percent of the vote.
Sanctions against “those threatening stability in Yemen” were expanded by the Security Councilthis year. They did not include the Saudi-led coalition, or their crucial Western backers.
Aside from the devastating effect on the people of Yemen, there has been another ominous by-product of the war. That is, the rise of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Bill Hess noted that “the past year of excessive bombing has benefitted AQAP by crippling or distracting its enemies and weakening the Yemeni state”. This is because of “the Saudi-led campaign’s almost exclusive focus on the Houthi-Saleh alliance.”
In April 2015, AQAP “occupied Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest city and the capital of Yemen’s largest province, freeing prisoners and seizing cash and weapons. In December it captured Zinzibar, the capital of Abyan province, and in late January, the capital of Lahj province, Houta, also fell to the group. In February AQAP occupied several more towns as it is now quickly re-establishing control over the territory it held at its prior peak in 2011 and 2012. As busy as AQAP has been, it still took the time to reaffirm in August 2015 that the United States remains its top target.”
Patrick Cockburn similarly reported that AQAP has created its “own mini-state. This now stretches for 340 miles – longer than the distance from London to Edinburgh – along the south coast of Yemen. AQAP, which the CIA once described as the most dangerous protagonist of ‘global jihad’ in the world, today has an organised administration with its own tax revenues.”
Australia supports Saudi hegemony over Yemen
In short, the war on Yemen is an utter disaster. Though Australia traditionally has had a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, our Foreign Minister has hardly commented on the war.
In February 2015, Julie Bishop issued her first media release on the conflict, expressing concern about the “Houthi Shia militia” conquering Sanaa. She did not explain the significance of the sectarian identification of the Houthis.
Bishop welcomed the adoption of Security Council Resolution which condemned the Houthis, and praised the GCC and the GCC initiative. She urged “all parties to cease armed hostilities and to continue the political transition process”. That is, the Saudi-GCC-US imposed government of the former dictator’s vice-president.
On April 12, 2015 Bishop issued her second and last media release on the war in Yemen. Not entirely coherent, it praises the “important role the GCC has played in assisting Yemen in recent years”, whilst also urging “all combatants” to “establish a cease-fire”.
Signalling support for the Saudi position, Bishop wrote that “Australia recognises the legitimacy of the government of President Hadi and calls upon the Houthis to return to the negotiating table.” She also “recognises the legitimate interests of Yemen’s neighbours in maintaining regional security”.
As for the Saudi-led invasion, Bishop commented: “We note President Hadi’s request for protection and the military action taken in response by Saudi Arabia.”
Whilst Bishop didn’t quite praise the invasion, she recognised the “legitimate interests” of “Yemen’s neighbours” in “maintaining regional security”. Whatever that means, Yemen’s neighbours are Saudi Arabia and Oman. As Bishop also recognises the “legitimacy” of the Hadi government, living in exile in Saudi Arabia, Bishop supports both the Saudi right to intervene, and the cause for which it is intervening. Though if anyone wonders about her humanity, Bishop “is particularly concerned about the welfare of civilians caught up in the fighting and calls upon armed groups to show restraint”. I’m sure Yemenis are deeply moved by her heartfelt concern.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has also imposed sanctions, in line with Security Council Resolution 2216. Criteria for having sanctions applied include Obstructing or undermining the successful completion of the political transition, as outlined in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative”. That is, they are targeted at the Houthi-Saleh alliance, not the Saudi-led invaders.
The Australian mercenaries in Yemen
What has mostly passed without controversy is that Australian fighters have gone to fight for the Saudi’s in their war on Yemen. An Australian mercenary, reportedly Philip Stitman, died in the war in December last year. He was part of a group of mercenaries, formerly known as Blackwater, employed and sent by the United Arab Emirates to wage war on Yemen.
Later in December, Middle East Eye revealed that the leader of the UAE force of mercenaries was a former Australian major-general called Mike Hindmarsh. He created the military formation, known as the Presidential Guard, in 2010, earning perhaps $500,000 a year for his work. Rori Donaghy estimated that Hindmarsh commands some 5,000 soldiers, including 1,500 currently fighting in Yemen.
He also reported that “one Gulf official told Middle East Eye on condition of anonymity that the external ground forces were in reality being steered by the UAE”. That is, by the forces commanded by Hindmarsh.
It is not just Hindmarsh involved in the war. Donaghy found “numerous results of experienced soldiers – mainly from Australia – who occupy senior roles in the elite force. Among those working in Abu Dhabi is Peter Butson, a former Australian soldier and intelligence corps officer who since February 2014 has been an adviser to the Presidential Guard. Scott Corrigan, a former special operations commander in the Australian army, has been a specialist adviser to the Presidential Guard since January 2013. Kevin Dolan is an evaluator for the guard and was previously a warrant officer in both the Australian and British armies. Steve Nichols is another former senior commander in the Australian army who is now in his fifth year as a senior adviser to the guards.”
The Herald Sun reported in 2009 that, “Dozens of ex-Australian soldiers work for the UAE military in leadership, training and mentoring roles, developing links between the two armed forces”.
In February, Sophie McNeill offered an important report on Hindmarsh’s role in Yemen. Otherwise, there has been vanishingly little scrutiny of Australia’s foreign fighters in Yemen.
A few weeks ago, Hamdi Alqudsi was sentenced to six years in prison without parole for helping Australians fight for extremist terrorist groups in Syria. In her sentencing remarks, Justice Christine Adamson observed that, “it does not matter who they were fighting for or against”. This is because the “purpose” of the legislation “is to deter and prevent foreign fighters from engaging in armed hostilities in foreign States and to punish those who go, and those who assist them”.
Why shouldn’t we deter and prevent people from fighting in Yemen? Why shouldn’t we punish those who do? If it’s not okay to fight in a foreign war for ideological reasons, why is it okay to fight in ad war for money?
It’s true that groups like Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and ISIS have committed terrible atrocities. Yet if our concern is preventing Australians from committing atrocities overseas, then why is it okay for Australians to fight in the war that is currently destroying Yemen?
The wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen has caused untold death and destruction. The reasons Michael Brull gives for ending our involvement in each of these wars also applies for all of them: The wars are major atrocities, leaving whole nations utterly devastated. The war depends crucially on Western support and could not continue without being financed and armed by the West and their proxies in the Arabian Gulf. The Australian government has helped propagate these wars, by publicly legitimising them. Australian mercenaries have been deeply involved in one of the armies that has invaded Yemen, and in the aerial bombings over Iraq and Syria.
These wars has gone on for so long because so many external powers back their favoured proxies, with little regard to the suffering this has entailed. Parties to the conflict who manipulate the sympathy of the public to induce greater Western involvement in the wars, to increase Western support for NATO-supported terrorist groups, and to escalate the conflict to a stage where NATO starts a war with Russia and China that would lead to utter catastrophe for the whole world.