News Release

Getting Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia Wrong


BBC reports: “U.S. aircraft have launched fresh strikes against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, despite threats from the group to kill a second American captive in retribution for continued attacks.”

PATRICK COCKBURN, via Marianna Reis, marianna.reis at
Mideast correrspondent for the Independent, Cockburn is author of the new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. He recently wrote “How the U.S. Policy on Syria is Backfiring: Fear of ISIS,” published by CounterPunch. An excerpt of his book, “Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed: The Underrated Saudi Connection,” was just published by TomDispatch: “There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

“But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. … The key decisions that enabled al-Qa‘ida to survive, and later to expand, were made in the hours immediately after 9/11. Almost every significant element in the project to crash planes into the Twin Towers and other iconic American buildings led back to Saudi Arabia.”

RAED JARRAR, [in D.C.] rjarrar at
Policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, Jarrar recently wrote to the Daily News: “President Obama took to national TV to announce military action ‘to prevent a potential act of genocide’ in Iraq. But after U.S. military personnel landed on the mountain to assess the situation, according to a Pentagon statement, they found ‘far fewer’ refugees than expected and they were in ‘better condition than previously believed.’ … Using genocide as a buzzword to justify political and military agendas is a slap in the face to victims of such atrocities, and it will make it harder for the international community to respond when there are real threats.”

He also recently wrote the piece “U.S. military back to Iraq? That’s a terrible mistake,” for the Chicago Tribune. He writes: “No one can deny that Iraq is in crisis. There is a political, humanitarian and military catastrophe taking place in the country, and it is only getting worse. The Sunni extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State has been involved in massive violations of human rights, including murder, ethnic cleansing and torture. But the Iraqi government forces, government-backed Shiite militias and other ethnic and sectarian militias have also been committing gross human rights abuses.

“In the last decade or so, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, and almost 5 million have been displaced — one of the largest ethnic and sectarian cleansing campaigns in the history of the Middle East. Serious crimes have been committed by almost every political faction in Iraq. While focusing on the actions of one terrorist group might be good for an easy narrative where the United States and its allies step in to save the day, the other participants in Iraq’s civil war are literally getting away with murder. A new U.S. military intervention in such a complex conflict is not sustainable and will not help Iraqis build their nation or fight extremism.

“Humanitarian assistance is much needed and welcomed, but it should go through legitimate UN and other international agencies. As it stands, it is being used as a pretext to sneak in military strikes and more arms to some of Iraq’s fighting factions. …

“The United States, for its part, is not a charity organization, nor is it a neutral bystander. Washington is an active participant in the conflict. In addition to authorizing direct strikes, the Obama administration continues to arm the Iraqi government forces and ethnic Iraqi militias and paramilitary groups. Even since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, Washington has continued its intervention in Iraq by selectively arming and training some sides of the civil conflict. The practical implications of this policy are devastating for the future of Iraq because it increases divisions and makes it harder for Iraqis to unite. Arming Iraqi factions is also a path of dubious legality, and it is illegal under U.S. and international law to arm and train groups implicated in gross human rights violations.

“The crisis in today’s Iraq is not a result of a natural disaster — it is a direct consequence of earlier U.S. military interventions. Much of the destruction in Iraq’s infrastructure, state legitimacy and national identity was either caused directly by the United States or happened under its watch. The United States also played a lead role in installing the current ethno-sectarian political system that continues to be one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world.”

Also see the recent Washington Times piece “U.S. Yazidis wary of arming Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.”