Belfast Telegraph

Mayhem in Middle East as Blair plays the Invisible Man

What are you fighting for? It's not my security It's just an old war Not even a cold war

By Eamonn McCann

"What are you fighting for? It's not my security It's just an old war Not even a cold war." Thus Marianne Faithful in her classic 1979 song, Broken English. She might have been singing about the multifaceted hostilities in the Middle East today.

The US, through proxies including the feudal dictatorship Saudi Arabia, is involved in a war against Iranian proxies, the Houthis, in Yemen. But 1,500 miles to the North in Iraq the US and Iran are engaged in joint military actions against Islamic State.

In Syria in September 2013 the residents of a Christian village, Maaloula, which had been overrun by al-Qaida-aligned Islamic extremists, appealed for and were given arms by nearby units of Bashir Assad's army.

They had been horrified by credible threats from the invaders to destroy two of the most ancient Christian sites in the world. They returned to Maaloula and, within days, under the sign of the Cross, had driven the Islamists out.

At the time, under pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia and elements in the US Congress, the Obama administration was contemplating a bombing campaign against Assad in retaliation for a chemical weapons assault on a suburb of Damascus which had killed dozens (at least) of civilians and which was widely attributed to Assad.

On a BBC news programme the villagers voiced fears that having gone into battle with Assad's weapons against Assad's enemies, they might now be targeted by US bombers. In the event the airstrikes were called off after Russia brokered a deal under which Assad agreed to get rid of his chemical weapons.

The relief of the Christian people of Maaloula that they were not about to be punished by the Christian West for defending themselves against the Islamic forces with which the West was at war must have been considerable.

Back to Yemen: the Saudis have claimed that the Houthis are not a genuine Yemeni movement at all, but a creation of Iran under the control of the Quds Force, an elite division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The commander of the Quds Force is Qassem Soleimani, a handsome and apparently charismatic figure. The presumed involvement of troops under his command in the fighting in Yemen has been taken by the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and other Sunni allies of the West as evidence that the Houthis pose a serious Iran-backed threat not only to the fallen minority Sunni government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi - now holed up in Saudi capital Riyadh but hoping to be bombed back to power by a Saudi-assembled coalition - but to Western interests in the region generally.

Soleimani's emergence as a celebrity in Iran has only lately come about. For years a prime target for Israeli agents, his face was virtually unknown. These days, however, he is regularly pictured in Iranian newspapers and on television. The reason has to do with his role not in Yemen, but in Iraq.

Iran makes no secret of its involvement in Iraq. It lost an estimated three-quarters of a million people in Saddam Hussein's Western-backed invasion and war in the 1980s. It has been a key supporter of the Shia-led governments that emerged following Hussein's downfall in 2003.

So there is a logic to the fact that, frequently over the past 18 months, Soleimani has been pictured in Iraq alongside Iraqi government and Shia militias.

In March Soleimani was shown outside Tikrit, Hussein's home city, inspecting troops attempting to wrest control of the city from Islamic State. Agency reports have also placed the Quds Force commander near the front line of a number battles in Iraq against Islamic extremists.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran's involvement in Iraq could be "a positive thing".

Thus, Iran and the US are effectively conducting joint operations in Iraq even as they battle it out in Yemen. Meanwhile in Syria, Iran helps finance and arm supporters of Bashar Assad who, at least when it suits them, help defend Christians against attack by Islamic State, the Christians, as a result, fearing that they have earned the wrath of the United States.

Nobody anywhere need feel embarrassed if they develop desperate headaches trying to get a grip on what's going on. Nobody you know understands it, either. Except that, in the midst of all, thousands of women, men and children are being killed every month.

No party with a chance of being in government in the UK after tomorrow has any plan to change any of this.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair, joint-begetter of the invasion of Iraq, which can fairly be seen as having fired the starting gun for the latest deadly imbroglio to engulf the unfortunate region, unlike Qassem Soleimani, is nowhere to be seen.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph