Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 3rd, 2012

Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair

 wrote in The Observer on Sept.2, 2012: “I couldn’t sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie…”

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

    • Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu: pulled out of a seminar which Tony Blair was scheduled to attend. Photograph: Str/REUTERS

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart.

They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand, and with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?

Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world.

Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the President would not postpone any longer.

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bBn Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself.

Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

But even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.

Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair.

I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.

How Syria uprising got Militarized?

The illicit mountain journey undertaken by the Free Syrian Army from Lebanon is grueling, treacherous and fraught with danger. (The new cable TV Al Mayadeen showed a documentary of how the Syrian rebels whisk arms and ammunition from Lebanon through the mountainous side trails on donkeys during the night…)

As the revolt against the Assad regime becomes more militarized, fighting in the town of Zabadani has given way to daily, indiscriminate shelling.

Emad Khareeta says he had no choice but to defect. The 23-year-old member of the Free Syrian Army stands outside his family home in a deserted section of town. Shards of concrete and glass litter the ground, the result of nearby shelling. The street is dark and quiet, Emad’s face only discernible in the glow of his cigarette. He tells his story slowly.
  • Life in a Syrian Town Under Siege
  • Damage from shelling in Syria
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, an independent journalist based in Cairo, is a correspondent for Democracy Now!  He posted on August 23, 2012:

In April 2010, Emad was called up for his mandatory army service. When the revolution broke out in March 2011, he was deployed to various parts of the country. As he was dispatched to Homs on December 31, 2011, Emad felt compelled him to leave his unit.

The city of Homs is called the ‘capital of the revolution.’  This restive city in western Syria had been under siege by the Syrian regime of since May and was the site of some of its bloodiest crackdowns.

Emad describes indiscriminate killing and widespread looting by fellow soldiers, as well as an incident that deeply affected him:  an unarmed truck driver shot in the arm and legs was left to bleed to death in front of him. Ordered to fire on protesters at demonstrations, Emad aimed away.

Emad said: “I was ready to die after what I had seen and been through. I don’t want to oppress anyone.” He eventually bribed an officer 20,000 Syrian pounds (approximately $300) for a three-day vacation leave. On January 26, Emad left and never returned, making his way back home to Zabadani.

Emad is just one of thousands of army defectors who are switching sides in a conflict that began as a nonviolent popular uprising in the city of Dar3a.  This lengthy uprising has since spiraled into an increasingly bitter and polarizing civil war, one that has become a theater for geopolitical interests.

The armed opposition to the Assad regime first began to take form in the late summer of 2011, following months of mass demonstrations that were overwhelmingly nonviolent. Facing repeated crackdowns and mass detentions by security forces, protesters began to arm themselves, many by purchasing smuggled weapons from border countries like Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

The revolt was further militarized by increasing numbers of army soldiers defecting to their local communities and bringing their weapons with them.

Malek al-Tinnawi, a 25-year-old FSA volunteer, says: “They dragged us into arming ourselves”.  He limps badly as he goes to retrieve a newly acquired assault rifle. Two months ago, he was shot through the ankle in clashes with the army. The local doctor inserted a metal rod in Malek’s leg to replace the shattered bone. “It’s a good one, isn’t it?” he smiles, brandishing the German-made H&K Model G3 rifle. “Not too used, almost like new.”

The rifle was brought to him on foot, through a mountainous smuggling route from Lebanon. Malek received it as a gift, along with two extra magazines and a chain of bullets, compliments of his fellow opposition fighters who gave it to him, in acknowledgment of his role in being one of the first to demonstrate in Zabadani, and one of the first in the town to take up arms against the regime.

Still, Malek would have preferred for the revolution to have remained nonviolent. “When we were peaceful, we were stronger than when we had weapons. This revolution started with two sides: the regime and the people. The regime made it so we talk about Alawi/Sunni. They made it sectarian.”” he says, patting the gun in his lap.

As the revolt plunged deeper into a military confrontation this spring, countries in the Persian Gulf—primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar—began to channel funds to the FSA on a sustained basis. More sophisticated arms and heavy weaponry has been funneled to the rebels through southern Turkey with assistance from the CIA.

Omar Dahi, a Syrian scholar at Hampshire College, says: “This doesn’t mean that the role of activist groups and the local coordinating committees diminished.  The military power is so disproportionate, there was no way the revolt could have sustained itself and re-emerged time and again, despite the regime’s brutality, if it wasn’t for a vast network of support inside the country.”

Indeed, foreign assistance has not trickled into towns like Zabadani, where FSA fighters have had to rely primarily on local resources. Numerous rebels describe selling family jewelry to buy weapons. They remain poorly equipped, armed mostly with assault rifles and some RPGs with limited stocks of ammunition.

Those who have taken up arms against the regime are overwhelmingly Sunni. (An estimated 75 percent of Syrians are Sunnis.) Bashar al-Assad is part of Syria’s Alawite minority, a sect that dominates the higher ranks of government and the regime’s brutal security forces.

According to Dahi, heightening sectarian conflict is the result of tactics pursued by both the government and the opposition, which have appealed to religious differences in order to mobilize people. There are also reports of radical Islamist groups and foreigners linked to Al Qaeda taking up the FSA banner. “The obvious thing that we know is that it is a revolution of the countryside, which is mainly pious,” Traboulsi says. “But it’s not a revolution where the (extrtemist Sunni) jihadis command dominant positions.”

While the armed rebels generally started out as local groups scattered in countryside towns, the coordination between different opposition groups across the country is increasing. Fighters in Zabadani say they are in contact with FSA units across Syria.  

Abu Adnan, a FSA battalion commander in Zabadani, says: “We had no coordination in the beginning but now it’s more central, more organized. I am connected with the Free Syrian Army in all of Syria.”

Yet, this appears to have had little effect on the ground. As battles rage in Damascus and Aleppo, the conflict in Zababani has reached a stalemate. The regime has set up isolated checkpoints in town, though soldiers rarely leave their posts, with the rest of town in the hands of locals and the FSA. Instead of engaging the rebels, the army shells Zabadani with daily, indiscriminate fire from tanks and artillery stationed in the mountains above.

On a particularly heavy night of shelling, the rebels gather in a makeshift bunker and argue over how to respond.  One rebels said: “We can’t just sit here and have shells falling on us and having people die every few days. If we attack a tank, it will take so many resources to take it out—then what? They just replace the tank and shell us harder and arrest anyone in the area.”

After a rare two-day lull in the shelling, 25-year-old Kenaan al-Tinnawi decides to return to his home in Hara with his parents and younger brother, after having taken refuge at his uncle’s apartment in a safer part of town. That night, they sit sipping tea in the third-floor family living room after finishing “iftar”, the sunset meal that marks the breaking of the fast during Ramadan.

Kenaan recalls his imprisonment a year earlier, when he was held for thirty-three days in a suffocating, overcrowded cell after being detained by security forces in a random sweep of the neighborhood.

Kenaan story is interrupted in mid-sentence by the deafening blast of a shell landing nearby. The lights go out, leaving the room in utter darkness. Seconds later, another shell lands, this time on an adjacent rooftop no more than fifteen yards away. The house shakes with the ferocity of the blast. Shrapnel punctures the outer walls and shatters the balcony windows. The family rushes downstairs in a panic, guided by the dim glow of cellphone screens. They huddle on the ground floor. The shock of the attack quickly gives away to anger. “May God break their hands,” Kenaan’s mother says, tilting her head back and looking upwards at the ceiling.

About 17 months after the Syrian revolt began, the violence shows no signs of abating and a political solution appears further out of reach.

Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Beirut-based historian and columnist, says: “This revolt started out with very modest demands concerning the state of emergency, and it has been dealt with since then as a war of the security state against its people. What should be understood is that this militarization of the response to a vast popular movement ended up by getting militarized. We don’t say enough that the Syrian revolution is first of all of the rural poor people”.

Over the past decade, under the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria entered into a “mitigated neoliberal experience which weakened the production and agricultural sectors and created a mafia-style new bourgeoisie that is very monopolistic and very rentier and services-based,” Traboulsi resumes: “People have this habit of saying that this revolution, if you don’t like it, then it’s not a revolution. But it’s important to give the Syrian people their right in starting a vast popular movement for radical change of the existing regime.”

This is the third article in a three-part series on Syria. Go here to read the first part and here to read the second.

Note: More on the author Under Siege in Syria (War and Peace,World)




September 2012

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