Catastrophic Coalition Bombings in Mosul

Stop the War Coalition
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Newsletter – 31 March 2017

Catastrophic Coalition Bombings in Mosul

The news this week of reportedly hundreds of civilians dead in Mosul as a result of US led bombing has further dented the claim that Donald Trump’s presidency will mark an era of retreat and isolation from involvement in wars. In fact, according to some estimates, this recent attack may mark the worst civilian casualties from US bombing for over 25 years – since the notorious attack on a shelter in Amiriyah, Baghdad, during the first Gulf War. In recent weeks, Trump has intensified the air strikes in Mosul, a city still home to hundreds of thousands; has sent ground troops into Syria to fight in Raqaa; and has deployed a new missile defence system in South Korea, along with B52 nuclear bombers, in a move strongly opposed by China.

If these threats are escalating – especially with Trump’s promise to ‘turn up the heat on North Korea’ – we can unfortunately expect nothing from our own government but the sort of abject support which the ‘special relationship’ has long signified. Last week, a parliamentary committee admitted that there was little that could be done in constitutional terms to prevent a British prime minister from behaving exactly like Tony Blair and taking us to war. Given Theresa May’s record so far with Trump, and given her and defence secretary Michael Fallon’s support for upping each Nato member country’s share of spending on the military,  the threat of war world wide is growing again. As an anti-war movement we are asking our supporters to hold meetings and petition up and down the country to oppose our government and the US in its drive to war.

 

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Why We Shouldn’t Feel Too Optimistic If ISIS is Driven From Mosul

 by Patrick  Cockburn
March 3, 2017

After Isis captured Mosul in June 2014, people in Baghdad waited in terror to see if its fighters would go on to storm the capital. There was very little to stop them as the Iraqi army in northern Iraq broke up and fled south. Many government ministers and MPs rushed to the airport and took refuge in Jordan. When an American military delegation arrived to review the defences of Baghdad, they were told by a senior Iraq official “to look to see which ministers had put fresh sandbags around their ministries. Those that have done so like myself will stay and fight; where you see old sandbags it means the minister doesn’t care because he is intending to run.”

Two and a half years later, it is Isis fighters who are battling street-to-street to hold onto west Mosul, their last big stronghold in Iraq, in the face of multiple assaults by a revived Iraqi army backed by US airpower. The last road out of the city to the west was cut by Iraqi government forces on 1 March and they have also captured one of the half-ruined bridges over the Tigris River that bisects Mosul, which they are planning to repair using US-supplied pontoons. Iraqi military units backed by some 50 US airstrikes a day are getting close to the complex of buildings that used to house the government headquarters in the centre of the city.

Iraqi officials and officers announce only advances and victories, reports that often turn out to be premature or untrue. But there is no doubt that the Iraqi security services are winning the struggle for Mosul, though fighting could go on for a long time amid the close-packed buildings and narrow, twisting alleyways. Already shelling and airstrikes are causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses.

The battle will probably continue for a long time, but the capture of Mosul looks inevitable and will be a calamitous defeat for Isis. When its few thousand fighters seized the city and defeated a government garrison of 60,000 in 2014, it portrayed its victory as a sign that God was on its side. But the same logic works in reverse and today all Isis can offer its followers is a series of hard-fought defeats and withdrawals.

The crucial question concerns whether or not the fall of Mosul means the effective end of the caliphate declared by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The caliphate’s significance was that at one time it ruled territory with a population of five or six million people in Iraq and Syria, where it sought to establish a truly Islamic State. It is this dream – or nightmare – that is now being shattered. Isis may still control some territory in Iraq and more in Syria, but it has nothing like the human and material resources it enjoyed at the height of its power when it controlled territory stretching from the Iranian border almost to the Mediterranean coast.

Isis still has some strengths, including experienced and skilful commanders leading a core of fanatical fighters numbering as many as 4,000 in west Mosul alone. They have already killed 500 and wounded 3,000 of the Iraqi security service’s best soldiers in the struggle for east Mosul, which was meant to last a few weeks and instead took three months. There is a no reason the same thing should not happen in the west of the city where the warren of streets gives the defence an advantage. Foreign fighters know they cannot blend into the population and escape, so they have no choice but to fight to the death.

Other factors work in favour of Isis: it is fighting a vast array of enemies forced into an unwilling coalition against Isis because they fear and hate it just a little bit more than they hate and fear each other. As Isis weakens and becomes less of a threat, the edgy détente between different anti-Isis forces, such as the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, will begin to fray. People in Baghdad recall that the Kurds took advantage of the defeat of the Iraqi army in 2014 to grab extensive lands long disputed between themselves and the Arabs. Once freed of the menace of Isis, non-Kurdish Iraqis will want these territories back.

In Syria, there is an even more complicated three-cornered fight between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Kurds and Turkey for the areas from which Isis is retreating. Turkish troops and their local proxies have just taken al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, from Isis after a hard fought siege, and have started attacking the town of Manbij nearby, which was taken from Isis after a long battle late last year by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Mobilisation Units (YPG) and its Arab allies. As Isis is driven out, the YPG and Turkish-backed forces are left facing each other in what might be the beginning of a new Kurdish-Turkish war waged across northern Syria.

Even those familiar with the complexities and shifting alliances of the Syrian civil war are baffled by the likely outcome as the different players in Syria position themselves to take advantage of a likely attack on Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of Isis. Will the US continue to use the devastating firepower of its air force to support a YPG-led ground offensive? Or could the US administration under Trump take a more pro-Turkish stance and, if it did so, would the Syrian Kurds look for an alternative military alliance with Assad and his Russian backers?

The answers to such questions will decide if we are really getting towards the end of the terrible wars in Iraq and Syria that have ravaged the region since 2003 or if we are only seeing an end to a phase in the conflict. In Iraq, the government has survived the disasters of 2014 and is about to defeat Isis in Mosul, though the Baghdad administration remains spectacularly corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional. Assad in Syria has already won a crucial victory by capturing east Aleppo, the last big urban stronghold of the armed opposition in Syria, and is evidently intending to win back the whole country.

These successes give an exaggerated idea of the real power of the Iraqi army, which owes the reversal in the military tide to the support of foreign powers and, above all, to US airpower. The same is true of the Syrian army in its reliance on Russia and Russian airstrikes. So far, the mix of cooperation and rivalry between the US and Russia in Syria that developed under President Obama has not changed much under Donald Trump.

Yet the war is not quite over. Isis has a tradition of responding to defeats on the battlefield by carrying out terrorist attacks in the region, Europe, Turkey or other parts of the world. Some spectacular atrocities would enable it once again to dominate the news agenda and show it is not beaten.

Isis may want to test the Trump administration and see if it can provoke it into an overreaction by some act of terror, just as al-Qaeda was able to do at the time of 9/11.

Join the debate on Facebook

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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The Harrowing Siege of Mosul

Stop the War Coalition Newsletter – 6 March 2017

Web: http://stopwar.org.uk
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The “war on terror” rages on. Almost 14 years since Bush and Blair proclaimed the end of the Iraq War, that war-torn country remains one of the key Middle Eastern battlegrounds.

The UK and US-assisted Iraqi government assault on Mosul is continuing with savage bombardment of the highly-populated city. Most of the British media are failing to report this, even though around 650,000 civilians – including thousands of children – are trapped in the west of the city and are, according to the UN, “at extreme risk”. The siege has already produced at least 200,000 refugees.

As Patrick Cockburn has pointed out in his article, shelling and airstrikes have been “causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses”. Meanwhile, fuel and food supplies are dwindling and drinking water and electricity are scarce.

In the words of Professor David Keen, “trying to apply the old militaristic model to the problem of terrorism is like trying to destroy a liquid with a sledgehammer”. The bombing and siege of Mosul are adding fuel to the fire of an intractable conflict. By supporting and getting involved in the anti-war movement, you can help break this brutal and senseless cycle of violence.

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The UK and the Terror Threat

Paul Rogers
1 March 2017


Summary
The recent statement from the UK’s new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that the terrorist threat to the country is at its highest level since the 1970s raises at least three crucial questions that this briefing seeks to answer. Why is the apparent threat so high, and apparently rising, after 15 years of high-intensity ‘war’ against international terrorist groups? Why is the specific threat from Islamic State (IS) so substantial at present? Finally, and most overlooked, why is there such a disconnect between the intense war in Iraq and Syria and the perception of threat in the UK? As the Trump administration prepares a new, escalated strategy against IS, these questions matter more than ever for Trump’s closest allies.

Introduction
In the UK, the position of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (IRTL) dates back to parliamentary concern over new legislation in the 1970s in response to the rapid increase in violence in Northern Ireland. A number of reviews from 1978 to 1984 were followed by regular annual reviews and eventually a more permanent role evolved, with the reviewer being appointed for a three-year term which is renewable. In a further development some of the functions were given a statutory basis in the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act,

The incoming Independent Reviewer, Max Hill QC, is an experienced prosecuting counsel who has been involved in a number of terrorism prosecutions. Within days of his appointment on 21 February he gave his assessment of the threat to the UK, principally from Islamic State (IS) supporters, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, expressing the opinion that the threat was its at highest level since the 1970s. The official threat level was last at the highest point (‘Critical’) for a few days in 2007, so Anderson is expressing this view more as a general trend rather than a sudden change which, in a way, means that it deserves particular attention.

This opinion from a highly experienced and knowledgeable figure immediately raises the question of why this should be. At the very least it suggests that more than fifteen years of sustained western military actions against extreme Islamist paramilitary organisations have not been successful, but there is also the question of why there should be a specific threat from IS and why it should be so substantial at the present time. This briefing places the current situation in a longer term context and also questions whether the low profile nature of the intense US-led air war makes it less easy to have open discussions in the UK about the nature and implications of the fifteen years of failure of military action and the reasons for the current enhanced threat level.

Al-Qaida and the Far Enemy
In the wake of the catastrophic 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the United States and a small coalition of mostly western states succeeded in terminating the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and dispersing the al-Qaida movement. The move was broadly popular in western countries but the subsequent decision of the Bush administration to extend the war against al-Qaida into a broader war against an “axis of evil” of rogue states was less widely accepted, especially after the termination of the Saddam Hussein regime and the occupation of Iraq.

During this period in 2002-03 the al-Qaida movement survived and also encouraged attacks on the “far enemy” of the United States and its closest allies. In some cases the encouragement was not specific but in others there was more direct involvement in the planning and execution of attacks, but all in their different ways were seen as promoting al-Qaida’s long-term aim of creating an Islamist caliphate. Between 2002 and 2006 they included attacks, frequently on western targets, in Istanbul, Casablanca, Sinai, Amman, Djerba (Tunisia), Jakarta, Bali, Islamabad, Mumbai, Mombasa, Madrid and London. Then, during the mid-2000s, the focus was more on attacks, often targeting Shi’a Muslims, in Pakistan and especially Iraq, where al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) was intensely active. By 2011, when Osama bin Laden was finally located and killed in Pakistan, al-Qaida had become much more limited as a transnational movement, engaging in few attacks beyond the Middle East and south-west Asia.

After 2011 and the Arab Awakening some of the groups aligned with al-Qaida succeeded in gaining support by limiting the dominant narrative of the caliphate and adjusting more to local cultures and grievances, al-Nusra Front in Syria being perhaps the best-known example. At the same time, the erstwhile AQI (ex-communicated by bin Laden in 2006) had sufficiently survived the intense US-led shadow war against it and by early 2013 had extended its operations into Syria’s civil war. Reformed as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013, it proclaimed an actual geographical caliphate under its control in northern Syria and Iraq following its spectacular offensive of mid-2014. At its peak, this self-declared caliphate covered a population of some six million people under an often brutal yet technocratically competent regime that gained many thousands of recruits especially but not only  from across  the Middle East and North Africa.

IS and its Aims
Although IS and al-Qaida could both be described as transnational revolutionary movements determined to create an Islamist caliphate and both have an eschatological dimension which looks beyond earthly life, by 2014 they had come to differ in an important respect. For al-Qaida, the creation of a caliphate would best be achieved by the overthrow of existing leaders such as the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia, though this would also involve attacks on the far enemy that supported so many unacceptable states right across the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East. Attacks on the far enemy therefore formed a significant component of their actions, not least in the 2002-06 period.

In contrast, for IS the actual creation of a physical caliphate by mid-2014 was at the centre of its aims, demonstrating in a very powerful and symbolic manner what could be achieved. Thus almost the entire emphasis of the movement was on the expansion and consolidation of the caliphate, with attacks on the far enemy being of secondary significance. It follows that, if this has been the case, why is there the high level of risk to the UK at the present time?

The change on the part of IS towards overseas attacks relates to the start of the air war in August 2014. This was initiated by the United States but with a number of regional and western states joining to form a major coalition operating mainly by employing strike aircraft and drones. Although the sheer intensity of the air war only peaked in 2015, even by the end of 2014 it would have been clear to the IS leadership that it was facing a far greater and more immediate threat to its caliphate than had been anticipated.

Since then it has put far greater effort into encouraging and even facilitating attacks elsewhere, with these serving two main purposes. One is to demonstrate both to its supporters and the wider world that it is still a powerful force with international reach, but the other is that any attack involving civilian loss of life is likely to damage community cohesion in the states of the far enemy, stirring up anti-Muslim rhetoric. Such an aim is aided greatly by the many political changes now evident in the west, not least the Trump presidency with its vigorous anti-Muslim views but also Marine le Pen’s Front National in France, UKIP in the UK, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and many others.

Indeed it is likely that as IS faces even more intense conflict in Iraq and Syria it will present its caliphate as a symbolic gesture that may not survive the short term but will come again in the future. IS itself may go underground while seeking to stage more attacks, not least within the far enemy and confident that in doing so it can further encourage Islamophobia and thereby weaken western societies that are already stressed by many new political tensions and instabilities.

Implications: Trump and the Western Response
How western states conduct the continuing war against IS relates very largely to the posture of the new Trump administration. In his speech to both Houses of Congress on 28 February, President Trump had little to say about foreign affairs but did repeat his intention to crush IS:

“As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”

How this will be reflected in the military posture is not yet clear – he is planning a sizeable increase in military spending directed mainly at expeditionary and interventionist warfare but beyond that the precise changes are still to be announced, especially in relation to IS. There is some evidence that he has already had an impact on the intensity of the war, with a greater involvement of Special Forces in Yemen, closer involvement of the US Army in the use of forward-based artillery around Mosul and more integration of US Special Forces with Iraqi Army units in the direct urban counterinsurgency operations within the western part of the city.

At the same time there are indications of disagreements within the administration. The new National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, is cautious about any general representation of an overall “threat from Islam”, in contrast to some of Trump’s key civilian advisors, but the more significant tension may be between those who favour “more of the same”, such as intensive use of air power and Special Forces, and others who see it as necessary to have more boots on the ground.

The Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, delivered the results of an intense 30-day study on defeating IS to the White House on 28 February and early reports indicate that serious consideration is being given to deploying regular combat units to Syria in the coming operation to take control of the key IS city of Raqqa. This is paralleled by the recent widespread exposure of the view that if IS is suppressed in Iraq, such is the extent of political instability in the country that a substantial US military presence in the country will be necessary for some years to come.

Recalling the experience of western states in Iraq since 2003 this will actually represent a substantial change from the eight years of the Obama administration and such an approach may actually be the most significant development. To put it simply, the United States will be back there for the long term and in all probability the UK government will be the most significant ally involved. That has many implications for the current Conservative government and leaves one key question remaining.

Conclusions
That question is why is there such a disconnect between the intense war in Iraq and Syria and the perception of threat in the UK. People are likely to say – why us?   There is, in other words, no recognition of the relationship between the threat of terror attacks in Britain and that war, even though the UK is an integral and significant part of the war. We in the UK have been part of a thirty-month war that has killed at least 50,000 IS supporters, according to Pentagon estimates. To put it at its most crude – we have killed tens of thousands of them and they want to kill at least hundreds of us.

This should come as no surprise and yet it does, not least because the war against IS is primarily a war by remote control which hardly figures in the media. There are no longer thousands of boots on the ground and no longer are there coffins being flown back to Britain every other week. Compared to the average of 207 and 112 British service personnel killed or wounded in action every year in the Afghan (2002-14) and Iraq (2003-09) campaigns, respectively, not one member of the British armed forces has yet been a casualty of the current air war. It is a hidden war and there is therefore scarcely any debate either in parliament, the media or in the country as a whole. This lack of discussion about the merits of current UK policy in the Middle East is one of the most worrying aspects of war by remote control. It is one reason why ORG hosts the Network for Social Change’s Remote Control Project, one of the very few endeavours that works to open up what is happening to wider consideration.

Where this links with the incoming Trump administration is that as the war expands the UK’s involvement in Iraq, and most likely in Syria as well, is likely to increase, given that Theresa May’s government appears intent on being Trump’s closest ally. As the involvement increases it may well become much more visible. If so, then a public debate on the merits or otherwise of the policy is far more likely, in marked contrast to the current situation.

Image (cropped) credit: Elliot Brown/Flickr

About the Author


Paul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His ‘Monthly Global Security Briefings’ are available from our website. His new book Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threats from the Margins will be published by I B Tauris in June 2016. 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 2017.

 

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Anti Racism and Anti Trump Summit on Saturday 18 February at Quaker Centre, Euston Road London

Main speakers
Opening session included Paul Kenny from NUT noted Trump messages were a massive shift to sell US citizens a ‘Dream ticket’ to get elected as President but what happens when he fails to deliver?
Trump told Palestine and Israel to ‘Just sort it out yourselves’
In schools black and Muslim schoolchildren are scared after Trumps election.
Trumps travel ban targets travellers from 7 Middle East counties, who happen to be muslim travellers.
Trump is anti-abortion, sexist, anti- women (except as sex objects), anti- migrant/refugees homophobia and denies climate change. He is also a war monger with his finger on the nuclear weapon button so extremely dangerous.
The backlash was 3 huge demos in London and all major cities. A spontaneous women’s march, stand up to Trump march and the anti Trumps demo outside the American Embassy for ‘No state visit for Trump’. Also massive petitions on line with comments and views posted on facebook and Twitter networks. The US struggle is our struggle.
In the US women organised marches of over 100,00 in many cities against Trumps Inauguration but 45% of US population and 33% of UK population support Trump and his views.

Suzanne Jeffries:
Trump is a climate change denier, no doubt a disaster for the planet. He is encouraging mining,, fracking and undermines previous plans to contain pollution. There are moves to withdraw scientific funding for climate research. Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change sceptic.

Mya from Egypt Revolutionary Council. Announced solidarity with the anti trump campaign,
against Fascism, ways to stifle freedom of speech, and a return to torture, rendition and Guantanamo bay detention for ‘bad dudes’

Video link with Portland USA. ‘Trade Unions Against Trump’
Good news, Andy Posner withdrew his nomination as he would not protect workers as Secretary of Labour. Bad news, Trump is responsible for a nominee to the department of Education with zero experience of education and charged with privatising schools from the public sector schools. The message from US is ‘fight together with us, the UK is a beacon of light.’

Tariq Ali, Muslim council of Britain
Trump has made himself into the ‘anti-establishment’ figure of hope for the American people despite Trump being a billionnaire and most of his cabinet multi-millionaires. Trump is wrong to link his success with Brexit, wrong and it is wrong to invite him to the UK.

Jewish Socialist Group
This year is the 50th anniversary of Isaac Deucher who supported Internationalism. Jews in US showed solidarity recently by signing a register of Moslems and when a Mosque was burned down gave the Iman the keys to the Synagogue as a place for Moslem prayer.
Get Trump out of UK visit, out of US Presidency and May out of office. Bannen did not want his children going to school with Muslim and Jewish children.
Trump has had some positive effects, he has created unity in opposition , SUTR is stronger thanks to the opposition of his travel bans. Bernie Saunders achieved 13 million supporters of ‘Socialism’ a word commonly associated in US psyche as ‘Communist’ an unprecedented achievement so there is hope for the future. Very noisy parties of gays have been held outside Pence’s house in US.

Afternoon session
May is just as racist as Trump, she extended the PREVENT programme and has reneged on the Alf Dubs amendment by refusing entry of any more child refugees. (10,000 refugees promised but only 350 arrived). The cost of Trump’s visit to UK estimated at £10 million pounds, money that could be better spent on supporting child refugees. Trumps visit may sift to Birmingham as the Government suspects protesters won’t travel to Birmingham, calling it a no-go area.
Trump is not a fascist but his view encourages and gives hope to right wing extremist groups

Turkish Representative.
Theresa May has a racist and anti-working class agenda against public services and the welfare state Her policies persuade the population to blame migrants and refugees instead of the rich corporations. In Turkey gender violence and rape evident and hate crime increasing. Turkey government has been silent over the travel ban against Muslims and has banned proactive groups and freedom of speech.

Statement from UNISON
Walk outs at 1pm Monday 20 classes rescheduled to support EU workers in UK.

Nursery School teacher
Travelled around France and saw first hand the prejudice against both Jews and Muslim. Danger is Marie Le Pen as she wants to ban any religious symbols or clothing such as the wearing of burkas for Muslim women and caps for Jewish men and boys, her view gained her 10% of vote in preliminaries before the 2017 elections.

Stuart Richardson TUC and Stop the War group
No left wing MPs in Birmingham. MPs do not want more refugees so concentrate on mending divisions within the multicultural city. Word of caution- do not canonise Obama as he was also a war monger and dropped bombs on communities.

Jeremy Corbyn video message
Trump is abusing so many people including Mexicans. Trump is closing down pregnancy advice centres and repealing Abortion laws. Our PM rushed over there to meet Trump to create relationship for a trade deal that could threaten our public services including the NHS. Trump has threatened the 1951 convention on refugees and 2001 ruling on torture as he knows it ’gets results’ undermining peace, justice and democracy. Attack on media and communication workers no surprise as the media in US has gone from colluding with the oppressors and the demonising of the Muslim population to being shocked at Trump’s win and his extreme views and now on the side of the oppressed.

Roger Lewis DEPAC.
Solidarity with SUTR which has emerged from a civil rights movement to fight for inclusion and equality. Governments have tried to separate and divide us by identifying the disabled as people who did not want to work and prefer to exist on benefits. We need to be unified in our efforts because of being ‘different’ and stop discrimination and unfairness.
Other speakers included Lindsay German ‘Stop the War’, Andrew Murray ‘UNITE the Union’, Sam Fairburn ‘People’s Assembly’, and Weyman Bennett ‘Unite Against Fascism’

Key Messages and Action Plan
*All descend on Birmingham, Scotland, London wherever Trump is expected, block the roads, rail, airport runways. Ake some noise!
*Devise a motion to get your Councils to deny any money and support for Trumps UK visit. (eg Gateshead Council.)
*Continue trade union support, demos should include all unions and their banners
*Get the model motion to Trades Councils and all union branches.
*Use the opportunity to build unity with disparate groups (remember PRIDE and the Welsh miners!), LGTB, Autism groups, DEPAC, anti-frackers. (Many other unions joining us such as haulage drivers). Broaden the movement to include climate change as potential for mass evacuation of refugees from areas of the world affected by severe climate change.
*Avoid/stop sectarianism. No arguments between brexiteers and remainers , irrelevant as we have more in common and are stronger together. Ignore Blair’s rantings.
*Campaign to close refugee detention centres.
*Support refugees, many still drowning in the Mediterranean sea, fleeing the terror of wars.
*Allow refugees into UK, many are dying of hypothermia or of carbon monoxide poisoning as refugees use stoves to keep warm in poorly ventilated tents.
*Reverse the ‘no entry for child refugees’ ruling.
*The Junior Doctors and BMA are backing refugees and condemn the burning of the camps and blockades.
*Protest against PREVENT Strategy in all public sector industries and the checking of passports prior to care in the NHS. Nurses and teachers are not border guards. Nurses and Doctors are not accountants presenting medical bills and collecting payments.
*Support ‘One day without us’ action. Show solidarity with migrants, refugees, EU workers and Muslim groups locally.
*Oppose damaging Trade deals.
*Focus on SUTR, wear a SUTR badge and be prepared to say why in conversations and to dispel the lies and myths of racism and Islamaphobia.
*Support the Mass protest and Demo on March 18, remember such action wake up the public to the big issues through media coverage.
*Should Trumps visit go ahead and you cannot get there to protest the walk out of work, stop classes in schools, colleges and universities. Make the UK ungovernable for the short time of Trumps visit.
*STAY ANGRY, STAY HOPEFUL AND STAY TOGETHER IN SOLIDARITY!

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York International Women’s Festival – Special Film Event

This year, the York City Screen is marking International Women’s Day in York with the screening of the acclaimed film
3000 Nights
Director: Mai Masri [18]
Starring: Maisa Abd Elhadi, Nadira Omran, Raida Adon, Rakeen Saad.
The film will be followed by a Question and Answer session with the Director.

Monday March 6th, 6pm (103mins).

This is a special screening presented in  association with  York International Women’s Festival, Northern Women for Palestine and York Palestine Solidarity Campaign. After the film we will be joined via Skype with the director Mai Masri for a question and answer session facilitated by Dr Anandi Ramamurthy- Reader in Post Colonial Studies at Sheffield Hallam University.

Dr Ramamurthy is currently involved in an AHRC funded research project called Creative Interruptions which aims to explore the way disenfranchised groups use the arts to have their voice heard. She is looking at the production and reception of Palestinian Cinema‫.‬

The screening is now on sale, here is the booking link: http://bit.ly/2jsDlxZ

Synopsis
Layal, a young newlywed Palestinian schoolteacher is arrested after being falsely accused and sentenced to 8 years of prison. She is transferred to a high security Israeli women’s prison. Shortly after, Layal discovers she is pregnant.

Through her struggle to raise her son behind bars, and her relationship with the other prisoners, she manages to find a sense of hope and meaning to her life. As prison conditions deteriorate and the Palestinian prisoners decide to strike, Layal is forced to make a choice that will change her life forever. Inspired by a true story, Mai Masri’s directorial debut is a poetic and raw allegory of freedom under occupation.

 Posted by: Monica Wusteman <mcwusteman@hotmail.com>

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Kabul Diary by Maya Evans February 12, 2017

Time has zipped by, and it’s nearly time for me to step off the APV roller coaster of community dynamics, border free center issues, the threat of bombs and the daily encounters with poverty and a general poor standard of living.

Highlights from this trip  include sharing a room with Zarghuna’s mother Farzana, allowing me to hear a Bamiyan woman’s life story.  She talked about spending 6 months in Kabul when she was around 12 and the Russians occupied the city with violence and torture. She recalls that women wore short skirts and no scarves. She also remembers a time when she sought shelter in Bamiyan caves to escape fighting in her village. At age 13, she married a “kind and handsome” man. They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. During that flight, the Taliban killed her husband. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups. 

They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups.

Tomorrow Zarghuna will graduate from University and it looks like I’ll be able to attend the ceremony – another Afghan treat! Her graduation robes are proudly hanging in our room. She’s the first person in her family and her village to graduate With Barath Khan, she is the first of the APVs to graduate. I can tell Farzana is brimming with pride for her daughter. I learnt that she was only able to attend school for a month before the Russians invaded and they fled to the caves.

Yesterday we visited Abdul Ghafoor who supports Afghans deported back to Kabul. As you can imagine he’s currently super busy with interviews and greeting deportees. His office is on the 6th floor of a dilapidated building with a spectacular view of snowy mountains and the sprawling metropolis of Kabul; from such a high vantage point the city looks exciting and relatively attractive. The UNAMA report which came out a few days ago highlighted the annual increase of casualties as the war drags on with 3,498 civilians killed and 7,920 wounded in 2016. Ghafoor explained how Afghanistan has become even more dangerous since the rise of ISIS and the increase of Taliban control in  Afghanistan. I looked out his window and imagined Kabul (a city originally inhabited by 1.5 million in 2001 but now accommodating 5 million) becoming an independent state within Afghanistan. In many ways, it’s already become that, though it’s far from being a safe oasis with daily attacks in the city, only yesterday there was an attack on the Kabul Supreme Court where 21 were killed and 41 injured. There are still many who find it impossible to scratch a living in the highly competitive city and they instead return to their incredibly unsafe villages in the provinces. Afghans continue to find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

A few days ago, we visited APVs Raz Mohammed, Khalida and their gorgeous son Osmon who was practicing his first steps. Khalida, pregnant again, looks happy and radiant. It’s heartening to see a young family finding joy and hope in such harsh conditions. Again, I reflect and think of Raz when I first met him, a meek and nervous teen with hardly any English, how he has lapped me in learning a new language and taking on big life responsibilities; my western pace is glacial compared to his.

It’s also looking like Barath Khan’s new wife Razia is also pregnant, maybe 3 months. We went to dinner at his house last week where we shared food with his Pashtun family. It was certainly a ‘border free’ gathering as it consisted of a dozen Pashtun men from Paktia (a very harsh and insecure area bordering Pakistan) and us – a group of Hazara men and women, a Singaporean, an English man and a super smiley English woman; I really cannot imagine what Barath’s family thought. Anyway, after dinner the women in our group were ushered away to meet the other women where we had a mini party in Barath Khan’s room. His new bride Razia is gorgeous, very smiley and giggly, I can imagine her and Barath are madly in love, though you wouldn’t know it, as when he entered the room she immediately adopted a coquettish persona where she turned away from him, occasionally glancing at me with a coy smile – apparently it’s a cultural thing. All the women were incredibly beautiful with their glittery clothing and plastic bling jewellry. The gathering turned into a henna party with me, Zarghuna and Farzana having decorative patterns drawn on our hands. We then got a phone call from the men saying they wanted to leave. I immediately tried to imagine the logistics of descending the mountain perch of Barath’s house. We had already struggled to climb up the steep muddy path 2 hours ago, now it had started to rain and both my hands were disabled by the wet henna designs. It was going to be like executing a ski jump in a long floor length dress with no hands…. Ali took one of my arms and Zekerullah the other, and by some miracle I made it to the bottom of the slippery muddy hill in the dark and rain, through open sewers and icy puddles, reaching the waiting taxi with freezing hands, mud encrusted shoes, but henna designs still perfect!!! Deffo one for the VCNV newsletter!!

This is my 8th trip to Kabul and still I’m learning more and more about the ‘Afghan way’ and the fierce collectivism which exists amongst Afghans, the importance of a family or tribe sticking together no matter what, walking through fire for a member of your family. Afghans automatically put ‘the group’ before themselves. I’m guessing that under such extreme insecure conditions the best chance of survival is to stay together. It’s very different to my circle of friends in the UK where it’s a given that you put yourself first, you do what’s best for yourself while (trying) to be conscious of others. This makes the APV even more interesting as they are a kind of synthesis between Afghan culture and many western conflict resolution styles. I can see how this blend has allowed the APV to become strong as they’re adopting the best of both worlds, but it also regularly creates challenges and conflict as their mindsets are constantly challenged, or at least my mindset is constantly challenged.

Added note for Henrietta who asked me about the water situation in Kabul:  Kabul water wells which were originally 26m deep but are now 50m, 7 months ago the well which provided water to the APV dried up so the landlord had to drill a deeper one. Much of the water isn’t ‘sweet’ because of the poor sewage system, 70-80% of water in Afghanistan is from snow melt which has drastically declined over the last decade (possibly global warming), and Hakim adds that a Chinese company have won a contract to extract copper from mines just outside of Kabul, when this goes ahead it will reduce water supply into Kabul by 50% – at the moment it looks like the Afghan Government has approved the contract but work has yet to start.

Zarghuna has just come back frozen to the core after 2 hours outside coordinating the duvet project. She says it’s hard as every day 10 or 12 women come and ask for duvets, and it’s extremely difficult  to say no when they are crying and desperate.

Ellis and I should be leaving in 2 days (if the airport has reopened post snow). As always, I’m sad to leave my friends, yet I know I’ll quickly adjust to my world of relatively abundant privilege.

 

 

Posted in General | Comments Off on Kabul Diary by Maya Evans February 12, 2017

Britain’s Seven Covert Wars

October 14, 2016
Published in the Huffington Post, 18 October 2016
by Mark Curtis

Britain is fighting at least seven covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa, outside of any democratic oversight or control. Whitehall has in effect gone underground, with neither parliament nor the public being allowed to debate, scrutinise or even know about these wars. To cover themselves, Ministers are now often resorting to lying about what they are authorising. While Britain has identified Islamic State (among others) as the enemy abroad, it is clear that it sees the British public and parliament as the enemy at home.

Syria
Britain began training Syrian rebel forces from bases in Jordan in 2012. This was also when the SAS was reported to be ‘slipping into Syria on missions’ against Islamic State. Now, British special forces are ‘mounting hit and run raids against IS deep inside eastern Syria dressed as insurgent fighters’ and ‘frequently cross into Syria to assist the New Syrian Army’ from their base in Jordan. British special forces also provide training, weapons and other equipment to the New Syrian Army.

British aircraft began covert strikes against IS targets in Syria in 2015, months before Parliament voted in favour of overt action in December 2015. These strikes were conducted by British pilots embedded with US and Canadian forces.

Britain has also been operating a secret drone warfare programme in Syria. Last year Reaper drones killed British IS fighters in Syria, again before parliament approved military action. As I have previously argued, British covert action and support of the Syrian rebels is, along with horrific Syrian government/Russian violence, helping to prolong a terrible conflict.

Iraq
Hundreds of British troops are officially in Iraq to train local security forces. But they are also engaged in covert combat operations against IS. One recent report suggests that Britain has more than 200 special force soldiers in the country, operating out of a fortified base within a Kurdish Peshmerga camp south of Mosul.

British Reaper drones were first deployed over Iraq in 2014 and are now flown remotely by satellite from an RAF base in Lincolnshire. Britain has conducted over 200 drones strikes in Iraq since November 2014.

Libya
SAS forces have been secretly deployed to Libya since the beginning of this year, working with Jordanian special forces embedded in the British contingent. This follows a mission by MI6 and the RAF in January to gather intelligence on IS and draw up potential targets for air strikes. British commandos are now reportedly fighting and directing assaults on Libyan frontlines and running intelligence, surveillance and logistical support operations from a base in the western city of Misrata.

But a team of 15 British forces are also reported to be based in a French-led multinational military operations centre in Benghazi, eastern Libya, supporting renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. In July 2016, Middle East Eye reported that this British involvement was helping to coordinate air strikes in support of Haftar, whose forces are opposed to the Tripoli-based government that Britain is supposed to be supporting.

Yemen
The government says it has no military personnel based in Yemen. Yet a report by Vice News in April, based on numerous interviews with officials, revealed that British special forces in Yemen, who were seconded to MI6, were training Yemeni troops fighting Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and also had forces infiltrated in AQAP. The same report also found that British military personnel were helping with drone strikes against AQAP. Britain was playing ‘a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program’. In addition, the UK spybase at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire facilitates US drone strikes in Yemen.

Britain has been widely reported (outside the mainstream media) as supporting the brutal Saudi war in Yemen, which has caused thousands of civilian deaths, most of them due to Saudi air strikes. Indeed, Britain is party to the war. The government says there are around 100 UK military personnel based in Saudi Arabia including a ‘small number’ at ‘Saudi MOD and Operational Centres’. One such Centre, in Riyadh, coordinates the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen and includes British military personnel who are in the command room as air strikes are carried out and who have access to the bombing targets.

The UK is of course arming the Saudi campaign: The British government disclosed on 13 October that the Saudis have used five types of British bombs and missiles in Yemen. On the same day, it lied to Parliament that Britain was ‘not a party’ to the war in Yemen.

A secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ that Britain signed with Saudi Arabia in 2014 has not been made public since it ‘would damage the UK’s bilateral relationship’ with the Kingdom, the government states. It is likely that this pact includes reference to the secret British training of Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia, which has taken place since mid-2015. Operating from a desert base in the north of the country, British forces have been teaching Syrian forces infantry skills as part of a US-led training programme.

Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, the public was told that British forces withdrew at the end of 2014. However, British forces stayed behind to help create and train an Afghan special forces unit. Despite officially only having ‘advisors’ in Afghanistan, in August 2015 it was reported that British covert forces were fighting IS and Taliban fighters. The SAS and SBS, along with US special forces, were ‘taking part in military operations almost every night’ as the insurgents closed in on the capital Kabul.

In 2014, the government stated that it had ended its drone air strikes programme in Afghanistan, which had begun in 2008 and covered much of the country. Yet last year it was reported that British special forces were calling in air strikes using US drones.

Pakistan and Somalia
Pakistan and Somalia are two other countries where Britain is conducting covert wars. Menwith Hill facilitates US drone strikes against jihadists in both countries, with Britain’s GCHQ providing ‘locational intelligence’ to US forces for use in these attacks.

The government has said that it has 27 military personnel in Somalia who are developing the national army and supporting the African Union Mission. Yet in 2012 it was reported that the SAS was covertly fighting against al-Shabab Islamist terrorists in Somalia, working with Kenyan forces in order to target leaders. This involved up to 60 SAS soldiers, close to a full squadron, including Forward Air Controllers who called in air strikes against al-Shabab targets by the Kenyan air force. In early 2016, it was further reported that Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose troops operate with UK special forces, was saying that his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go ‘over the border’ to attack al-Shabaab.

Drones
The RAF’s secret drone war, which involves a fleet of 10 Reaper drones, has been in permanent operation in Afghanistan since October 2007, but covertly began operating outside Afghanistan in 2014. The NGO Reprieve notes that Britain provides communications networks to the CIA ‘without which the US would not be able to operate this programme’. It says that this is a particular matter of concern as the US covert drone programme is illegal.

The Gulf
Even this may not be the sum total of British covert operations in the region. The government stated in 2015 that it had 177 military personnel embedded in other countries’ forces, with 30 personnel working with the US military. It is possible that these forces are also engaged in combat in the region. For example, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, has said that in the Gulf, British pilots fly US F18s from the decks of US aircraft carriers. This means that ‘US’ air strikes might well be carried out by British pilots.

Britain has many other military and intelligence assets in the region. Files leaked by Edward Snowden show that Britain has a network of three GCHQ spy bases in Oman – codenamed ‘Timpani’, ‘Guitar’ and ‘Clarinet’ – which tap in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf. These bases intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, which information is then shared with the National Security Agency in the US.

The state of Qatar houses the anti-IS coalition’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid airbase. The government says it has seven military personnel ‘permanently assigned to Qatar’ and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ working at the airbase. These are likely to be covert forces; the government says that ‘we do not discuss specific numbers for reasons of safeguarding operational security’.

Similarly, the government says it has six military personnel ‘permanently assigned’ to the United Arab Emirates and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ at the UAE’s Al Minhad airbase. Britain also has military assets at Manama harbour, Bahrain, whose repressive armed forces are also being secretly trained by British commandos.

Kenya and Turkey
Kenya hosts Britain’s Kahawa Garrishon barracks and Laikipia Air Base, from where thousands of troops who carry out military exercises in Kenya’s harsh terrain can be deployed on active operations in the Middle East. Turkey has also offered a base for British military training. In 2015, for example, Britain deployed several military trainers to Turkey as part of the US-led training programme in Syria, providing small arms, infantry tactics and medical training to rebel forces.

The web of deceit
When questioned about these covert activities, Ministers have two responses. One is to not to comment on special forces’ operations. The other is to lie, which has become so routine as to be official government policy. The reasoning is simple – the government believes the public simply has no right to know of these operations, let alone to influence them.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told parliament in July that the government is ‘committed to the convention that before troops are committed to combat the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter’. This is plainly not true, as the extent of British covert operations show.

Similarly, it was first reported in May that British troops were secretly engaged in combat in Libya. This news came two days after Fallon told MPs that Britain was not planning ‘any kind of combat role’ to fight IS in Libya.

There are many other examples of this straightforward web of deceit. In July 2016, the government issued six separate corrections to previous ministerial statements in which they claimed that Saudi Arabia is not targeting civilians or committing war crimes in Yemen. However, little noticed was that these corrections also claimed that ‘the UK is not a party’ to the conflict in Yemen. This claim is defied by various news reports in the public domain.

British foreign policy is in extreme mode, whereby Ministers do not believe they should be accountable to the public. This is the very definition of dictatorship. Although in some of these wars, Britain is combatting terrorist forces that are little short of evil, it is no minor matter that several UK interventions have encouraged these very same forces and prolonged wars, all the while being regularly disastrous for the people of the region. Britain’s absence of democracy needs serious and urgent challenging.

www.markcurtis.info
twitter – @markcurtis30

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After an inspiring meeting, what next?

Last night’s meeting and rally – “York Stands Up To Racism” was very large (around 175 attendees) and inspiring. We hope those of you who attended felt the same way. But the meeting was a beginning rather than a culmination. What comes next is the important thing as we look to build the anti-racist counter offensive against the Trump / Hard Brexit agenda locally, nationally and internationally.

Last night was about building for the March 18th national demonstration “Refugees and Migrants Welcome – Stand Up To Racism” in London. You can still buy your coach tickets from York or Scarborough here nyorksantiracismcoach.eventbrite.co.uk

Whether you can get to London or not, there are plenty of activities over the next few weeks in which you can get involved:

Monday 20th Feb: One day without us: Defend EU workers protest.

St Helens Sq., 12.30 to 1.30

Monday 20th Feb: Stop Trump’s state visit.

St Helens Sq. 17.00 to 18.00

Saturday 25th Feb: SUTR campaign stall

10.00 pm to 12.00 Bishopthorpe Road shops

Saturday 11th March: SUTR campaign stall

1.0 pm to 3.00 pm Parliament Street Fountain

We hope to see you on the coach to London and on the events above.

Solidarity

York Stand Up To Racism


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Stop the War national conference

Stop the War national conference

Stop the War’s AGM for members and delegates
9.30am – 5pm Saturday 22nd April 2017
Arlington Conference Centre
220 Arlington Road
NW1 7HE

This year’s national conference, which is Stop the War’s annual general meeting for members and delegates, is taking place against the background of a 16-year long war in the Middle East and a dangerous and bigoted new US President.

• US President Trump’s aggressive, belligerent and bigoted policies, including the travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, are galvanising millions of people to stand up against him.

• Britain continues to be militarily involved in at least seven countries both through bombing campaigns authorised by parliament and through covert military actions.

• The refugee crisis, largely a result of Western military interventions, is continuing to afflict millions of people.

• New threats are developing, including a bellicose stance of the Trump administration towards Iran and China.

The conference will discuss how the anti-war movement should respond in the next 18 months. If you want to be part of this important planning and action conference, please make sure you book early to secure your place.

All individual members with up-to-date subscriptions can register for the conference. The date for the new members to join and attend the conference is 1 March 2017. Join now so you can attend the conference.

Details about proposing motions and nominations for the steering committee meeting are available here.

Register on Eventbrite.

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