Iraq: Baghdad bombing kills more than 200

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More than 200 people have been killed in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, in a suicide bombing attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

The bomb early on Sunday struck a crowded shopping area in the Karada district in central Baghdad, as people were gathering on one of the last evenings of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hundreds were also wounded in the powerful blast, and there were fears the death toll could rise even further as the bodies of some of the victims were still being pulled from the rubble of devastated buildings.

The massive bombing attack in Karada was the deadliest in Iraq so far this year.

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People light candles in Karada where more than 100 died on Sunday in a car bombing for which Isis claimed responsibility. Photograph: Hadi Mizban/AP

Join the vigil for Baghdad – 3pm Sunday 17th July 2016 – outside York Minster.
There’s a Facebook page for this event here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/547112218822304/

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Chilcot Report: key points from the Iraq inquiry

Guardian staff
Wednesday 6 July 2016

The Chilcot inquiry has delivered a damning verdict on the former prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to commit British troops to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It says:

The UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options had been exhausted
Chilcot is withering about Blair’s choice to join the US invasion. He says: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein
Chilcot finds that Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime as he sought to make the case for military action to MPs and the public in the build-up to the invasion in 2002 and 2003. The then prime minister disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgments of the intelligence services. “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the report says.

George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
The inquiry found that the Bush administration repeatedly over-rode advice from the UK on how to oversee Iraq after the invasion, including the involvement of the United Nations, the control of Iraqi oil money and the extent to which better security should be put at the heart of the military operation. The inquiry specifically criticises the way in which the US dismantled the security apparatus of the Saddam Hussein army and describes the whole invasion as a strategic failure.

There was no imminent threat from Saddam
Iran, North Korea and Libya were considered greater threats in terms of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation, and the UK Joint Intelligence Committee believed it would take Iraq five years, after the lifting of sanctions, to produce enough fissile material for a weapon, Chilcot finds. Britain’s previous strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time.

Britain’s intelligence agencies produced ‘flawed information’
The Chilcot report identifies a series of major blunders by the British intelligence services that produced “flawed” information about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the basis for going to war. Chilcot says the intelligence community worked from the start on the misguided assumption that Saddam had WMDs and made no attempt to consider the possibility that he had got rid of them, which he had.

The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
The UK’s military involvement in Iraq ended with the “humiliating” decision to strike deals with enemy militias because British forces were seriously ill-equipped and there was “wholly inadequate” planning and preparation for life after Saddam Hussein, the Chilcot report finds. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) planned the invasion in a rush and was slow to react to the security threats on the ground, particularly the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed so many troops, the report says.

UK-US relations would not have been harmed if UK stayed out of war
Chilcot rejected the view that the UK would have lost diplomatic influence if it had refused to join the war. “Blair was right to weigh the possible consequences for the wider alliance with the US very carefully,” the report says. But it adds: “If the UK had refused to join the US in the war it would not have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK’s relationship with the US.”

Blair ignored warnings on what would happen in Iraq after invasion
The report says that between early 2002 and March 2003 Blair was told that post-invasion Iraq could degenerate into civil war. In September 2002, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, predicted “a terrible bloodletting of revenge after Saddam goes”, adding: “Traditional in Iraq after conflict.” Sir Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to the US, added: “It will probably make pacifying Afghanistan look like child’s play.” Chilcot rejects Blair’s claim that the subsequent chaos and sectarian conflict could not have been predicted.

The government had no post-invasion strategy
According to Chilcot, Blair did not identify which ministers were responsible for postwar planning and strategy. The prime minister also failed to press Bush for “definitive assurances” about the US’s post-conflict plans. Nor did he envisage anything other than the best-case scenario once the invasion was over: that a US-led and UN-authorised force would find itself operating in a “relatively benign security environment”. All of this contributed to Britain’s ultimate strategic failure.

The UK had no influence on Iraq’s postwar US-run administration
The Bush administration appointed ambassador Paul Bremer to head a new coalition provisional authority in Baghdad. The UK had practically no input into subsequent decisions taken by Bremer, including the dissolving of Saddam Hussein’s army and security structures. This decision alienated the Sunni community and fed the insurgency. Blair continued to talk to Bush, but Britain had little influence on the ground over “day-to-day policymaking”.

The UK did not achieve its objectives in Iraq
Chilcot says that by 2009 when UK forces were pulled out of Iraq, Downing Street was facing strategic failure. Iraq was gripped by “deep sectarian divisions”. There was a fragile situation in Basra, rows over oil revenues, and rampant corruption inside Iraqi government ministries. No evidence had been found that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. During this period the government did not reappraise the situation, Chilcot says. He describes the results of Britain’s costly six-year occupation as “meagre”.

The government did not try hard enough to keep a tally of Iraqi civilian casualties
Before the war, Blair had said that the US-led invasion coalition would try to minimise civilian casualties. As the war and occupation unfolded, however, the MoD made only a “broad estimate” of how many Iraqis were being killed. The report says that more time was devoted to which department should have responsibility for the issue than was spent on finding out the number. The government’s main interest was to “rebut accusations that coalition forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers”.

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The Guardian view on the Orlando shootings: a time for calm, and for sorrow

Gary Younge
The Guardian Weekly
17 June 2016

The first reaction to the dreadful crime in Florida – the worst mass shooting in US history – must be one of sympathy and solidarity for the victims and those who loved them, and for the city of Orlando. It is dreadful that people who had come out for an evening of joyful dancing, and of celebration of their freedom to love whom they will, should have their lives ended or shattered in gunfire. This is true, and overwhelmingly important, whatever the motives of the gunman turn out to be. Whether it is an act of organised terrorism remains to be discovered. We do not know whether the victims were murdered for being American, or gay, or for both reasons: Isis, after all, has a record of monstrous crimes and cruelties against gay people.

But while the police and the FBI go about their work of unpicking the background to the atrocity, responsible politicians need to show calm and resolution. The damage done to the victims and their families is dreadful enough. It is one of the tasks of leadership to minimise the damage that the attacks can do to wider society. This is a task in which – predictably – Donald Trump is failing. “When will we get tough, smart, and vigilent?” he tweeted to his followers: but there is no evidence that anyone in Orlando was anything less than tough, smart, or vigilant as the attack unfolded.

The awful truth is that American society is vulnerable to these attacks in a way that others are not because of its belief that freedom requires easy, widespread access to lethal weapons. While it is true that guns don’t kill people, as the slogan has it, people with guns do kill people, and they do so much more quickly and effectively than people without guns can manage.

The problem here is that the US, a country that valorises freedom above almost everything else, is damaging its real freedoms in pursuit of illusory ones. The freedom that was enjoyed – in both senses of the word – by the dancers at the Pulse nightclub is upheld by tolerance as well as by firm and unbiased enforcement of the laws. It is a general freedom for every kind of American: LGBT as well as straight, Muslim, atheist and Christian. This is what serves as a real beacon to the rest of the world. But this kind of freedom is also what the attack, and the possible reaction to it, must tend to damage.

Whateve the motives of the attacker turn out to be, no gay person in the US can feel as secure today as they did last Saturday – a rejection compouded by the existing refusal of the authorities to accept blood donations from sexually active gay men. This is an additional tragedy on top of the deaths. The country must not compound it by lurching from fear into fantasies of omnipotence, in which everything gets better if only the strong man lashes out at his enemies. That would damage exactly the freedoms it purports to defend.

 

 

 

 

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Conflict and terror cost world trillions, says peace index

Sam Jones
The Guardian Weekly
17 June 2016

The world’s expensive  slide into violence and unrest continued last year, with conflict, terrorism and political instability costing the global economy $13.6 trillion, according to the annual global peace index.

The 2016 index, which analysed 163 countries and territories, rates Syria the least peaceful country, followed by South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The world’s most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal.

While levels of peace improved in 81 countries, the gains were undermined by larger deteriorations in another 79, meaning that peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year. Among the greatest destabilising factors were terrorism, political turmoil and the intensification and persistence of wars in Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic and Libya.

The Middle East and North Africa is once again the least peaceful region. Three of the five biggest declines in peace were in the region – Yemen, Libya and Bahrain. Violence and conflict in the region are so fierce that, when considered separately, peace in the rest of the world improved. The report says terrorism is at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict at a 25-year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in 60 years.

Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which produces the index, said in Middle Eastern and north African countries “external parties are increasingly becoming more involved and the potential for indirect or ‘war by proxy’ between nation states is rising”.

By the beginning of 2015, a record 59.5 million people – one in every 122 humans – were either refugees, internally displaced or seeking asylum.

South Asia remains the second least peaceful region, with deteriorations in Afghanistan,
Nepal, Bangladesh and India, but modest improvements in Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In sub-Saharan Africa, Islamist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and violence in South Sudan have damaged efforts to bring peace and stability.

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The UK and UN Peace Operations: A Case for Greater Engagement

David Curran & Paul D Williams
26 May 2016

Oxford Research Group has published a new report, written by David Curran and Paul D. Williams, on why the UK needs to take on a greater role in UN peace operations. Whilst the UK makes significant political and financial contributions to such operations, it has not deployed many of its own uniformed personnel as peacekeepers since the mid-1990s. Today, Cyprus is the only mission with British ‘blue helmet’ contingents deployed. The UK also maintains a small number of staff officers and military experts scattered across a few other UN missions, mainly in Africa.

The report discusses recent signs that the UK may give UN peace operations a more significant role in British foreign policy and argues that it is in the UK’s interests to do more and enhance its participation in UN peace operations. Enhanced participation would bring political, security, and institutional benefits, not least by strengthening the UN system, as an important stated objective of UK foreign policy. For the British military, meanwhile, greater participation in peace operations would boost skills retention, facilitate relevant retraining, and further refine specialist capabilities developed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read the full report

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Replacing Trident will cost at least £205bn, campaigners say

Research from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament also suggests cost will be much higher than previously estimated

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HMS Victorious is seen berthed at the Clyde naval base. Photograph: Reuters

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian Thursday 12 May 2016 00.01 BST

The total cost of replacing the Trident nuclear missile system will come to at least £205bn, far more than previously estimated, according to figures drawn up by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

It has calculated the total on the basis of official figures, answers to parliamentary questions and previous costs of items including nuclear warheads and decommissioning nuclear reactors. It says it has not taken into account that past Ministry of Defence projects have frequently gone well over budget.

The government is expected soon to ask MPs to vote to replace the existing Trident fleet with four new nuclear submarines. The MoD has already spent nearly £4bn on the replacement programme. Last month, it declined to say how much it thought it would cost to replace Trident, and the ministry said the situation has not changed.

“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options for delivering the deterrent in the most cost-effective way, unfettered from public comment about the affordability of particular policy options,” it said in response to a freedom of information request from Reuters.

In its strategic defence and security review at the end of last year, the government announced an increase from £25bn in the estimated cost of four new Trident submarines to £31bn, with an additional £10bn to cover overspends.

The Blair government’s 2006 white paper on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent said leasing the Trident missiles from the US until the early 2040s would cost £250m – or £350m in today’s prices, according to CND.

The white paper said Britain’s nuclear warheads would last into the 2020s but added that £3bn would be set aside to refurbish or replace the existing stockpile. That is equivalent to £4bn in today’s prices, says CND. A further £3bn (equivalent to £4bn) has been allocated for new infrastructure work at Faslane and Coulport bases.

The most expensive item would be the cumulative running costs, estimated by the government to be about 6% of the total defence budget. Crispin Blunt, Tory chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, has calculated, on the basis of parliamentary answers, that a new Trident system would cost £167bn over a 30-year lifespan.

The cost of conventional naval forces tasked with supporting Trident was estimated in 2007 by the then government to be about £30m a year. That would total more than £1bn over the lifetime of the new Trident fleet, according to CND.

It says that while it is difficult to know how much decommissioning existing nuclear-powered Trident submarines would cost, judging by the government’s estimated spending on decommissioning Polaris, Britain’s previous nuclear weapons system, the cost of disposing the existing Trident fleet would be at least £13bn in today’s prices.

About £20bn is also being spent on the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, where the warheads are manufactured and maintained, between 2000 and 2025.

Kate Hudson, CND general secretary, said: “These new calculations, drawn from actual government figures, show that the bill has spiralled beyond all expectations.”

She added: “£205 billion of public money is a huge amount. Pouring it into a nuclear weapons system that experts say could be rendered obsolete by new technology is hardly a wise choice. Far better to spend it on industrial regeneration, building homes, tackling climate change or meeting our defence needs in usable ways.”

 

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The World as Seen from Raqqa

ISIS raqqa_0.jpg

ISIS raqqa_0.jpg

Paul Rogers
19 February 2016

Summary
In an attempt to understand the psychology of the West’s adversaries in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, this briefing asks the question, what does the wider world look like when seen from within the Islamic State group? Setting to one side the enormous political and economic deficiencies of the ‘host’ countries of the Middle East, it examines some of the contemporary and historic perceptions of the West’s relations with the Islamic and Arab worlds, and how these may have influenced IS strategy, particularly its 2015 shift from territorial expansion to attacks on and within Western states.

Introduction
Al-Qaida has now been largely superseded by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the new movement is proving to be uncomfortably resilient. In such circumstances it is a useful analytical tool to visualise how the world might appear from an IS perspective. This can all too easily prove controversial because it appears to give more credibility to a brutal and uncompromising movement than it even remotely deserves. Even so, it has a value and is an approach that should not be dismissed if one wants to try and understand the reasons for the resilience and use such reasoning to aid in developing policies that are more likely to ensure its decline.

This briefing seeks to do just that, and takes as an example the view of the world as it might be seen through the eyes of an utterly convinced supporter of the movement in Raqqa, the movement’s de facto capital in northern Syria, who might be engaged in the planning of its operations.

Context
In the past eighteen months IS has come under sustained air attack from coalition forces in many thousands of air strikes that are claimed to have killed well over 20,000 of its supporters. Given that most reports of the paramilitary strength of the movement suggest active forces of around 30,000 at any one time, one would expect the movement to be near collapse by this stage. In practice it certainly has suffered some reversals in Iraq but far fewer in Syria, and is making clear progress in Libya while attracting the support of movements across North and West Africa and South Asia.

There is little evidence of much decline in the recruitment of supporters from outside the immediate Middle East, although their movement into Syria and Iraq appears to have become more difficult in the last year, and the conclusion of most analysists is that IS is nowhere near facing defeat. Given these circumstances the attitudes within IS may be assessed in terms of internal organisation, historical perspectives and more immediate circumstances.

Organisation
The movement as it exists in Syria and Iraq has three components with considerable overlap. Central is the religious dimension, especially within the leadership ranks, and this is based on a very narrow and rigid interpretation of the Wahhabi-orientated purist tradition within Sunni Islam. This is eschatological in looking beyond this life and believing that individual lives are merely part of a much greater divine purpose. This religious outlook permeates the other two components, albeit variably.

The first of these is the considerable paramilitary expertise born of years of fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as Libya, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Most significant are those Iraqis who fought and survived the shadow or dirty war with the elite Special Forces of the coalition’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), especially over the period 2004-2007.

The second is the cohort of technocrats who organise the economy in the areas under IS control. Many of these are ex-Baathists from the Saddam Hussein era in Iraq, including some who remain bitter at their exclusion from employment from the time of Paul Bremer’s leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. Many of these paramilitaries and technocrats may be deeply religious, with some of the former developing that outlook when imprisoned in Iraq, but others are more secular if mostly imbued with a hatred of the foreign occupiers in Iraq and, more recently, of the pro-Shia policies of post-Saddam Iraqi governments, especially that of Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014).

Historical Perspective
A broad historical perception of Western control extends far beyond the Middle East and South Asia and persists even more than half a century after the end of the colonial era. This builds on a sense that the colonial period was one of outright exploitation which still has a major power legacy, even if that is seen as being shared with local elites. This is poles apart from a common outlook in Western states that they represent more advanced forms of organisation and are, put simply, “the good guys” in an unstable world.

The old West African quip that “the sun never set on the British Empire because God didn’t trust the British in the dark” may raise a smile now but represents a view that would have been entirely foreign to British society during the colonial era. Moreover, this world-wide perception of Western control extends markedly to the United States to a degree that would have been entirely unrecognised by the supporters of the Project for the New American Century a couple of decades ago, just as it no doubt is by Trump, Cruz and others in the current presidential contest.

Across much of the Middle East the belief in the insidious nature of external influence is aided by the artificial division of the region a century ago during the Sykes-Picot era, and the later failure of Arab Nationalism and the subsequent rise of autocracies, often with their excessively close links with Western states, particularly among the oil-rich western Gulf States. Furthermore, Israel is seen as a Western construct which persistently acts with impunity against its Arab neighbours and the millions of Palestinians under occupation.

Beyond this is a much broader historical perspective which sees the current condition in the Middle East in the context of Islam in relative decline when compared with the regional caliphates of times past. Some will look back just to the Ottoman Caliphate (1362-1924 CE) but others will recall the first two centuries of the remarkable Abbasid Caliphate (broadly 750-1250 CE) which really was the centre of civilisation in the wake of the collapse of Rome and before the rise of Europe. The fact that the capital of that Caliphate was Baghdad, so recently occupied by “Crusader” forces, does not go unnoticed.

In short, this kind or perspective, with Islam seen as under threat by the West, is a mirror image of the common Western perception of Islam as the threat, but to IS supporters they will point to other recent evidence. Central are the Western occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the military interventions in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere, as well as the arming of repressive autocracies. All these actions provide proof of the real intentions of the ‘far enemy’ of the Western states, especially the US.

It all adds up to a radically different world view which is so at variance with that of most Western governments – not easy to accept but necessary to recognise in understanding IS resilience, bearing in mind that from a religious perspective this is a war that could take a century and is one in which the lives of individuals, even leaders, are of little consequence.

Current Environment
Against this background and in the wake of the intensity of the coalition air assault, these very attacks can readily be seen as confirming all the underlying beliefs that IS is the true guardian of Islam, the preparer for a new Caliphate and perhaps even engaging in a potentially apocalyptic conflict with unbelievers.

Yet this is reinforced in very specific ways by current circumstances. At the centre of these is the very impact of those assaults. If one particular air raid kills twenty people in a town in Iraq or Syria, the impact of that extends way beyond the event and has little if anything to do with whether those killed are paramilitaries or civilians.

Any one person killed will have immediate family – husband or wife, mother, father, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins – all grieving and bitter at what has been done by the ‘crusaders’. This is not different from the experience of families of Westerners killed, but is scarcely recognised in the West. Moreover, the death may well be seen as part of a noble war, and will be felt by scores of more distant relatives and friends and publicised and celebrated through the ubiquitous social media. It may well lead to dismay and depression but may also lead to a determination for revenge and retaliation.

Moreover, this feeds into a far more embedded narrative stemming from the more than two hundred thousand people killed, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, in wars initiated by the West, albeit partly in response to the 9/11 atrocities. Even 9/11, though, was seen by many as an acceptable response to decades if not centuries of being on the defensive. Furthermore, the ability of IS to recruit from many countries beyond Iraq and Syria, and especially from among diasporas in the West, is seen as proof of an endeavour that stretches across the world and gives hope for a global process of radical change.

Implications
To repeat the point made at the start, looking at the world through IS eyes does not mean in any way accepting it as a valid movement. Instead it may help understand the behaviour of the movement, especially how it responds to reversals. It has been suggested, for example, that there is a specific reason for the recent change in IS strategy from an emphasis on extending the geographical area of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria to encouraging and even directly planning attacks overseas. This, it is thought, might be a valid motive for the attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the killing of foreign tourists in the Sousse resort of northeast Tunisia, the multiple attacks in Paris, the destruction of the Russian Metrojet and the attacks last month in Turkey and Indonesia.

That is one explanation but another, seen from an IS perspective, is that this is merely part of a longer term plan that may have been brought forward but was intended at some stage. Such attacks affecting countries such as France and Russia would have, as their major aim the stirring up of greater Islamophobia, ensuring the marginalisation of Muslim minorities and those affecting the likes of Tunisia and Egypt would also damage their Western-oriented tourist industries causing greater unemployment and consequent marginalisation. In both cases, the intended outcome is, in this rationale, making more young people willing to rally to the cause.

More generally, if we see IS and its world view in the way described here, we have to consider how it might affect our responses. The fundamental point here is the IS view that it is engaged in the historic awakening of what it considers to be true Islam. As such, and as the guardian of that true Islam, the more it comes under attack the more this “guardian” role becomes important. At the very least this suggests that seeing the control and eventual elimination of IS as an operation primarily dependent on military action is gravely misplaced.

The war against IS is barely two years old but it is part of a continuum, beginning with al-Qaida’s 1998 East African embassy bombings and US retaliation in Afghanistan and Sudan, that is heading towards its third decade. As such, it would be wise to be singularly cautious in relying on military action. A far more fundamental rethinking of approaches is necessary even if there is little sign of that at present.


Image by YouTube


About the Author
Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group (ORG) and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His Monthly Briefings are available from our website, where visitors can sign up to receive them via our newsletter each month. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.


Copyright Oxford Research Group 2016.

Some rights reserved. This briefing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Licence. For more information please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.

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The Legal Case Against the Saudi-Led Intervention in Yemen

April 7, 2016 by Andrew Smith · in Militarisation.

It has been over a year since the Saudi bombardment of Yemen began. In that time a humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding, killing over 6000 people and leaving millions without access to vital infrastructure, clean water or electricity, leaving the country on “the precipice of disaster.” The destruction on the ground has exacerbated the ongoing civil war between Yemeni forces and Houthi rebels, helping to create a power vacuum that has allowed the expansion of Al-Qaeda and ISIS with reports describing the latter making serious territorial gains, such as around the port city of Mukalla.

The price has also been felt in Saudi Arabia, where mortars and rockets being fired by Houthi groups in Yemen are also killing civilians. Saudi sources claim 375 civilians have been killed since hostilities began. The Saudi regime has said that the conflict is being downscaled, but the death toll is increasing. It claims that it is only striking legitimate military targets, and that much of its work is to spread humanitarian aid, but many of the sites being hit are civilian. A recent air strike on a busy market place killed over 100 people, with witnesses reporting two missiles being fired from the air. According to UN officials 22 children were killed in the strike. The violence has been rightfully condemned by a range of campaign groups and NGOs, with a growing number of voices suggesting the intervention has not just been immoral, it has also been illegal.

In July 2015 the European Parliament passed a motion to “Condemn the air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition and the naval blockade it has imposed on Yemen.” The motion went on to state that “air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law, which requires all possible steps to be taken to prevent or minimise civilian casualties.” One month later, Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief at the United Nations, reported to the UN Security Council, that the “scale of human suffering [in Yemen] is almost incomprehensible.” Condemning “attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure” he asserted that the Saudi attacks are “in clear contravention of international humanitarian law.”

These condemnations have been supported by a growing number of NGOs. Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have all accused Saudi Arabia of breaking international humanitarian law. Amnesty International and Saferworld also recently commissioned a legal opinion from Philip Sands QC, which accused Saudi forces of breaking international humanitarian law. Since then, both the European Parliament and the UN have taken their concerns further. This January, a UN panel accused Saudi Arabia of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets. Its 51 page report “documented 119 sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law” and reported starvation being used as a war tactic. The report concluded by stating that “not a single humanitarian pause to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people has been fully observed by any Yemeni party or by the coalition.”

Last month, despite a concentrated lobbying operation from Saudi Arabia, parliamentarians in Brussels went further, voting overwhelmingly to support an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. The vote was not legally binding, but it sent a strong political statement and set an important precedent. Commenting on the destruction of the first of three hospital facilities it has lost in the last year, Hassan Boucenine, Country Director of MSF, said “the fact of the matter is it’s a war crime. There’s no reason to target a hospital. We provided [the Coalition] with all of our GPS coordinates.” Since then MSF has announced the closure of its fourth and final hospital in the country, following air strikes in the area. Despite all of these widespread and credible criticisms and allegations, there is no solid evidence of Saudi forces taking any meaningful action to minimize harm to civilians, or making any serious attempts to investigate the deadly consequences of the bombing.

To this backdrop you would hope that the international community would be applying pressure to the Saudi government and calling for meaningful peace negotiations. Unfortunately the exact opposite has happened, with governments like the UK fuelling the devastation by providing political support and selling large quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, made the UK’s position very clear from the outset, when he pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” Unfortunately he has stayed true to his word.

The UK government has licensed over £2.8 billion of arms to Saudi since air strikes began last March. UK fighter jets and bombs have been central to the bombing campaign, with Eurofighter aircraft taking part in air strikes and UK-supplied Paveway IV bombs being dropped from the skies. Last year the UK sent bombs that were originally earmarked for the RAF to Saudi forces to be used against Yemen. UK arms export law is very clear. It says that licences for military equipment should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that it “might” be used in violation of international humanitarian law. By any reasonable interpretation these criteria should surely prohibit all arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen. The support has gone beyond arming Saudi forces. Earlier this year, the Saudi Foreign Minister confirmed that UK military personnel have been in Saudi control rooms assisting with the bombing and helping to train Saudi forces.

Air strike in Sana'a. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Air strike in Sana’a. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In response to growing concerns, the House of Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls has called an investigation into the use of UK arms in the conflict. The first sessions have taken place and the Committee is expected to report later this year. The government’s response has been to discard the growing body of evidence and argue that it has not seen any sufficient evidence to conclude that Saudi is breaching international law. It argues that the UK is in constant dialogue with the Saudis while parroting the tired old line that it has some of the most ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ arms export controls in the world. One of the arguments for this approach is that the UK can use a positive influence over Saudi forces and ensure that they are following international law. This is an implicit theme when government spokespeople use lines such as “We regularly raise with Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthi the need to comply with International Humanitarian Law in Yemen.” However there is no evidence that the UK has ever reined in Saudi aggression. When it comes to arms sales the power in the relationship lies almost entirely with the buyer.

Of course the relationship is nothing new. For decades now successive UK governments, of all political colours, have given an uncritical level of support to the Saudi regime. One outcome of this partnership has been the high level of integration between UK and Saudi military programmes. Around 240 UK Ministry of Defence civil servants and military personnel work to support the contracts through the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Programme (MODSAP) and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project (SANGCOM).

The last time the UK relationship with Saudi was put under the microscope as much as it is today was in 2006, when the Serious Fraud office began looking into corruption relating to arms sales to Riyadh. The investigation threatened to unearth a litany of embarrassing details, but, after a concerted lobbying effort, including interventions by Tony Blair and the Attorney General, it was dropped. Shortly after the investigation was stopped a major deal on fighter jets was agreed, one that would be worth over £4.4 billion. This pattern of trading arms deals and political favours has only continued. In the last few months serious allegations have emerged that the UK helped to lobby behind the scenes to secure Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council; a membership which would be laughable if the on-going consequences weren’t so serious. Furthermore, it is perhaps no surprise that Saudi was the only major state with the death penalty to be omitted from the UK’s anti-death penalty strategy.

Earlier this month, CAAT and our lawyers at Leigh Day submitted a claim for a Judicial Review into the arms sales. We are calling on the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia while it holds a full review into whether the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. It is likely to be a long process, but it is also a very important one. The action is specific to Yemen, but it will expose the hypocrisies at the heart of UK foreign policy, particularly concerning human rights. The longer that this hypocrisy goes on the more victims there will be. If UK arms export law is worth anything then the government must finally stop arming Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT on Twitter at @CAATuk.

 

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Arms Fair Protesters Win Court Battle

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A YORK man is speaking out against the arms trade, days after he was cleared of obstructing a public highway in a protest.

Tom Franklin, a Green party activist from Clifton, was among eight defendants acquitted by a district judge at Stratford Magistrate’s Court in London last week.

The group had been arrested at the Excel Centre – the site of the DSEI arms fair last September. Facing charges of “obstructing a public highway” – for lying down in a path of a lorry taking a tank into the centre – they argued they were preventing much more serious crimes like the sale of illegal weapons, or legal arms being sold to regimes known for human rights abuses.

It was an argument District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted, before he acquitted and freed all eight defendants.

Mr Franklin said: “I think this shows the seriousness of the offences [of arms dealing], and the complete lack of anything that the government has been doing to prevent the sales of torture equipment and legal weapons which are then used for human rights abuses.”

In the days before the fair was due to open, Mr Franklin had been at protests on the site when he and other campaigners spotted a low loader delivering a tank to the centre.

“I thought ‘if I believe in this stuff I can’t just stand by, I have to do something’ – so I went and lay in front of the tank.”

The protesters were arrested and carried away by police – the first time 57 year old Mr Franklin had ever been arrested.

In his judgement, the district judge said: “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant, which in each case was expressed with great sincerity, as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI.

“These defendants decisions were not irrational, impulsive decisions taken on the spur of the moment but decisions that were reached after the consideration of and attempts at other methods of bringing the issues to the attention of the government and the relevant UK law enforcement agencies.”

The case was heard at a magistrate’s court, meaning the ruling cannot set a precedent for future cases, but Parliament is now planning an enquiry into what happens at the arms fair.

Mr Franklin added: “What it really needs to be is an enquiry the authorities’ lack of enforcement into what happens at the arms fair.”

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Day 5 – the day of Judgement

Friday April 15 2016

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We had been required to attend at 10:30 for 11:00, but did not go into court until 11:45 when the judge had finished drafting his judgement.

Prior to that we had a merry time being photographed, hanging out, working out what we might do afterwards and all that type of thing.

The judge made clear that what he would be reading today was an outline of his judgement and that some of the arguments needed to be written out in more detail before he finished, but that it had the main conclusions and meant that we could finish the case today.

Before the judgement he made some comments and the very poor case management, some of which lay with the court for not providing the correct papers on time, not dealing properly with the case witness requirements etc.  There should have been a pre-trial review 4-6 weeks before the hearing to ensure that everything was in place, and what was not already in place would be.  The prosecution was at fault for failing to provide what was requested at discovery, for providing a skeleton argument for a defence that was not being put instead of the defences that were being put, for not telling the court that they needed to play CCTV so the hearing could be scheduled in the correct court and for not ensuring that they could play the videos in the court (one of the defence team had to use their computer to play the prosecution videos – but then they were helpful to us).  He also said Ms Daly commendable but not as detailed or coherent as he would wish in her arguments.  He was annoyed with the defence for failing to return to court when the prosecution did not hand over items in discovery, for late delivery of exhibits and skeleton arguments and producing evidence during the trial.  In particular, he mentioned the map showing the road is a private road without having shared it with the court or prosecution in advance and then the prosecution for introducing photos conceding the point the following day, with the result that the question of whether it is a private road was not properly explored.

Finally, he criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for not providing Ms Daly with any support when she was against four briefs and a defendant in person and there was so much later material.

In short it was only by luck that we finished in accordance with the timetable, not good case management.

Next he turned to the question of whether he should consider our other defences even if he were to acquit us on the grounds of prevention of crime, and ruled that he did not have to; in part as it would probably make little difference as to whether there was an appeal.

He pointed out there were four defences that were being offered, and the prosecution would have to show that they all failed, that is the prosecution would have to show that we were:
1.     Not acting to prevent a crime;
2.     Unreasonable – that is the nature of alleged obstruction was not reasonable in terms of our rights under articles (9), 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights;
3.     In the cases of Lisa Butler and Susannah Mengesha whether they were on a highway, as the prosecution agreed that it was a private road;
4.     Causing an obstruction or as we claimed vehicles were able to move around us.

His judgement only addresses the first question, of prevention of crime.

Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states a person may use such force as is reasonable and that a person’s belief must be accepted subjectively, and it must be assumed that the crime would happen without a successful intervention so long as the defendant honestly believes that the crime would occur and that the force used was reasonable.

It is important to take into account the degree of the evil to be prevented and what other possible action might be used to prevent it.  Section 76 of the Criminal Justice Act 2008 is only directly concerned with force against the person.  Ms Daly claimed we were not using force and therefore the section is not applicable; and therefore would need to rely self-help which only available in most limited circumstances, as these activities are normally reserved to the police, armed forces etc.  One is normally expected to call in the police and not take law into one’s own hands.  The Law takes deepest suspicion of self-help.

The prosecutor also referred to failure of the action, which was foreseeable and therefore to illegitimate and might open the floodgates to any action against anything.

Mr Payter dealt with the point commendably – force need not be against the person. If it is lawful to use force, then it would be very peculiar if one was not allowed to use less.  The law is a partial codification, not a complete codification.  The judge prefers Mr Payter’s analysis and therefore it does not preclude a section 3 or common law defence.

When it came to self-help the judge said that there was clear evidence of unlawful action which was not challenged by prosecution. As a result, there was a compelling inference that similar crimes were occurring at DSEI 2015. Further, there was clear and compelling evidence that the authorities were taking no action, and those who complained were not taken seriously.

As to inconvenience. He could not accept that collateral inconvenience renders it illegitimate and no sources were cited by Ms Daly to suggest other.  The judge argued that failure cannot make it illegitimate or a frail elderly person who ineffectually grabs a thief’s arm could be prosecuted for assault whilst someone who punched the thief could not.

Finally, he accepted Mr Payter’s three stage test, and that it applies to all eight defendants.  That is the prosecution need to show that:
1.     We did not intend to prevent a crime;
2.     We did not believe the force we used was necessary;
3.     The force that we used was not reasonable.

He was not sure on any of these questions and therefore he had to decide for defendants.  We were free to go.

He also made an award of costs on our behalf.

There was cheering in court, and much celebration outside.

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 And finally, just some of the coverage elsewhere:

• The Guardian: Court dismisses charges against London arms fair protesters
• The Independent: Protesters who blockaded London arms trade fair acquitted after judge sees evidence of illegal weapons on sale
• Hampstead and Highate Express: Eight acquitted including former Chairman of Camden Greens as Judge accepts they were trying to prevent illegal arms dealing at DSEI fair
• Campaigners Cleared Over Arms Fair Protest Against Sales To Authoritarian Regimes
and to sign up to stop the next DSEI arms fair in 2017

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