We are, it would seem, being misled about Iraq once again.
On 12 August 2014 the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said the UK was only providing humanitarian support and would not join the US in launching military strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. Within six days the Government's position had changed, with the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, stating on 18 August 2014 that the UK's involvement in Iraq was expanding beyond the initial humanitarian mission.
So far the UK has helped transport weapons to the Kurdish armed forces, and has said it is open to arming the Kurds directly. However, as of today the Government has not ordered British forces into battle (there are, apparently, UK special forces in Iraq but politicians refuse to give any information about this and journalists seem happy to not pry further).
With events changing rapidly - both in Iraq and Western capitals - and the UK seemingly sliding into war once again in Iraq, now is the time for the anti-war movement, and anyone interested in keeping the US and UK out of Iraq, to apply pressure and make their arguments as forcefully as possible.
It is this critical window of opportunity that leads me to James Bloodworth's latest blast of pro-war hot air - 'Today ISIS is attacking the Middle East. Tomorrow it'll be the West'. Having previously critiqued Bloodworth's warmongering on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I'm not particularly keen to get down in the dirt again. However, his positions as Editor of the popular Left Foot Forward website and as an Independent columnist means he has a relatively wide audience, and therefore I think it's important his simplistic, illogical and fact-free assertions are exposed for what they are.
Like much of the media and political commentary on the Iraq crisis, Bloodworth seems to have an aversion to expert testimony, instead preferring to base his argument on his own unsubstantiated claims. With this in mind, I'm going to do something really revolutionary for a journalist - cite people who have spent their professional lives visiting, researching and writing about Iraq, the Middle East and conflict more generally. Crazy, I know, but bear with me.
Bloodworth starts by arguing 'now is the time for anyone of a remotely progressive temperament to call for an intensification of the military campaign against ISIS. Indeed, let more bombs fall on those who behead journalists'. Sceptics among you may wonder if it's really such a good idea for the US and UK, whose 2003 invasion cost the lives of around 500,000 Iraqis and led to 4 million refugees, to start bombing Iraq again. Indeed, if you did have these kind of outlandish reservations, you'd be in agreement with such ignorant asses as the Deputy Head of Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Programme, the Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University Paul Rogers and Obama's own Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs from 2011-12.
Bloodworth goes onto to say 'It bears repeating: the existence of ISIS (as opposed to the group's growth) is in no sense "our" fault.' Now, we can get in to the semantics of what constitutes 'fault' but there seems to be broad agreement among Iraq observers like Professor George Joffe that the US-UK invasion of 2003 and occupation had something to do with the rise of ISIS - both in the deadly chaos and sectarianism the US-UK occupation (often deliberately) engendered, along with the repression US and UK forces directly meted out. For example, the New York Times recently reported the following about the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: 'At every turn, Mr Baghdadi's rise has been shaped by the United States's involvement in Iraq.' The article goes on to note Baghdadi had spent five years in a US prison 'where, like many Isis fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalised' (my emphasis added). Call me old-fashioned but this suggests the US and UK bear some responsibility for the current crisis.
Echoing Hillary Clinton's criticism of Obama's supposed lack of action in Syria, Bloodworth further argues 'Isis have germinated so rapidly not because of George Bush and Tony Blair, but because Western governments decided at some point that it would be acceptable for Bashar al-Assad to drop explosives on the Syrian people in order to keep power'. Unfortunately for Bloodworth and the neo-con Clinton, Professor Marc Lynch, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, has comprehensively debunked this argument. As has the Independent's own veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. As did two former NATO Secretary-Generals in June 2013.
Forget Brutus's speech in Julius Caesar, a student of rhetoric would have a field day analysing Bloodworth's work. He ends here by presenting a false binary opposition, with the pro-war pundits like himself on one side calling for action, and on the other side 'those that are inclined to bury their heads in the sand'. In the real world, those opposed to, or at least sceptical of, US military strikes in Iraq - including Middle East scholar David Wearing, Diane Abbott MP, a former Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations at MI6 and Guardian columnist Seamus Milne - have suggested a number of actions that could be taken that may reduce the threat from ISIS.
A few quick Google searches would have uncovered all this inconvenient expert testimony. But why complicate matters when your argument is as dangerously uninformed as Bloodworth's is?Suggest a correction