THE BLOG
21/11/2013 06:50 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Looking Back in Anger: The Plight of the Syrian Refugees

Last week I visited the Domiz refugee camp for the third time in six months and saw many children at school and play. Once again, I was struck by their cheeriness and resilience. I wanted to find some of the children I met in June but the camp has mushroomed since then from 50,000 to 75,000 so it would have been difficult.

These children will probably be there for years to come and possibly forever. They don't yet realise it.

Even if Assad were overthrown tomorrow, many refugees probably wouldn't return. They would calculate that Al Qaeda is growing and could target them. Maybe they wouldn't wish to be governed by what some say is increasing authoritarianism in Syrian Kurdish areas. Maybe they can be successfully absorbed into Iraqi Kurdistan whose booming economy can use their talents.

I am angry because their plight could have been avoided. It is now utterly unprovable but it is entirely probable that prompt action against Assad when he decided to brutally repress initially peaceful protests against his police state would have toppled him or at least cut his killing machine to size.

We all know that over 100,000 people have now died, over 700,000 have been injured and that chemical weapons have been used for the first time since Halabja and other attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.

International inaction has allowed extremism to grow to the point where practical measures such as no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors and safe havens are much more difficult. They may yet be necessary.

Nearly three years ago it seemed possible that Assad would be overwhelmed. Senior figures in neighbouring countries gave him a few months. Assad had learnt, however, a very basic lesson from the revolts of the Arab Spring elsewhere: complete brutality is the only way to keep power.

Assad used chemical weapons because he reckoned that a war-weary west would not take action. Yes, it is true that they have insisted on a process of decommissioning, which seems to be going well, but what this actually means is that he is guaranteed power for at least a year.

We failed to understand Assad and have, through our omissions, condemned the children and their families at Domiz and elsewhere to years or decades of temporary shelter and wasted opportunities.

But most of all, I am angry because the lethal Syrian imbroglio is the result of a catastrophic failure of political imagination and will in the west, which has resulted from too many people learning the wrong lessons from Iraq.

Time and time again throughout active involvement with Irish and then Iraqi issues I have been reminded of the powerful words in WB Yeats' often quoted poem, the Second Coming which was written in the wake of what became known as the First World War.

The most immediate extract is:

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity."

Those who are moved by Domiz should have more coherence and conviction. I am angry that those who should know don't seem to understand that the presence of 250,000 refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan is a massive strain on its resources.

Assistance is growing but needs to be boosted much more. Efforts to build more and better classrooms and health facilities are urgent.

A lesser point is to call the Kurdistan Region by its correct name rather than inaccurately referring to "northern Iraq." Kurds have died for their right to a federal region. It is disrespectful to use the wrong name.

As for anti-war forces full of passionate intensity, why they haven't organised demonstrations against Assad? Why do some see Assad as an anti-imperialist check on American power? Why do they ignore the support to Assad from Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and some in Baghdad?

Why do they ignore the Syrians in favour of a futile search for proof that Tony Blair conned us into Iraq? Blair can defend himself but I wonder what they would make of the Syrian Kurdish leader who promises to build a statue of Blair when his country is liberated.

Liberation may take some time. But learning how we got things so wrong over Syria is urgent so that we can take action when it becomes necessary, even in much more difficult circumstances. The children of Domiz deserve to be at the front of political passions in Westminster and more widely.