Avaaz call for a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

Avaaz describe themselves as a ‘global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere’, and are fairly well known within human rights and development circles.

They had previously used their reach and status to drum up support for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya (a call which was ultimately realised, to disasterous effect), and this isn’t the first time they’ve called for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria either.

Their work within Syria itself has attracted controversy, with  Jillian C. York accusing them of being ‘naive’, among other things (lacking transparency, taking credit for work they haven’t carried out, potentially endangering lives, etc).

They’ve now reiterated their call for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria, in response to alleged chlorine gas attacks carried out by Syrian regime forces.

I just want to quickly outline why I think their call is misguided at best.

From their appeal:

‘The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action’.


(Emphasis mine)

What is this if it’s not an open admission that – at least in this case – Avaaz see their role as helping to drum up public support for U.S. foreign policy?

And will they be publicising the fact that U.S. led bombing has already caused at least 100+ civilian deaths in Syria? Will these deadly raids, which themselves have shattered far too many ‘little bodies’, be prohibited under the ‘no-fly zone’ as well?

Realistically of course, they won’t be. Because it’s the people who have caused these deaths that are being entrusted with enforcing the ‘no-fly zone’ by Avaaz.

And that enforcement will almost certainly require a significant escalation in airstrikes, with all the risks to civilians on the ground that this entails.

General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM when the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya was being enforced, has said for example:

‘We should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel’.


While Philip Breedlove, the senior General within NATO, has said:

‘ I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is . . . it’s basically to start a war with that country because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability’.


Indeed, the U.S. themselves have openly said that ‘rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria’, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their ability or willingness to avoid civilian casualties.

Nor does their history of committing, facilitating and supporting almost continuous mass murder and repression around the globe for the last 70 years.

Which is why I for one won’t be joining Avaaz’s campaign to drum up public support for more predatory U.S. led mass murder disguised as ‘humanitarianism’ a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

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At least 103 civilians killed by U.S. led bombing in Syria since September.

That’s according to a count by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. They also claim that Kaya Mueller, a U.S. NGO worker who was being held by ISIS, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. As here:

‘In this report we will document the civilian casualties from December 14th, 2014 until February 17th, 2015. These incidents have caused the deaths of no less than 63 civilians, including 3 children and 5 women, for an overall death toll of 103 individuals including 11 women, once of which is a confirmed American woman as well as 11 children. This information has been documented by the SNHR by name, picture, date, and time’.

And this tally is almost certainly incomplete, because the Network say that they have been unable to:

‘ . . . record or document the deaths toll caused behind ISIS lines, and no one can claim that, except within the media propaganda, and that is because ISIS has never published the names, photos or any videos or any information about them, and there is no information source or reporters behind ISIS lines to deliver such news, photos, and account for the number of victims’.

This is pure supposition, but given that U.S. led airstrikes will have been concentrated ‘behind ISIS lines’, then it’s possible that a substantial number of civilian deaths may have been caused, but gone undocumented, by them.

Will our intrepid free media, so passionately concerned about the suffering of civilians in Syria, be following up on this report?

I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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The Boxing Day Massacre.

At least that’s what it would have been called had the victims been white Europeans rather than nameless, faceless Afghan civilians.

Allow Agence France-Presse to elaborate:

Afghan officials said that a Nato air strike on Friday killed five civilians and wounded six others, just days before the US-led military coalition ends combat operations in the country.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) did not immediately confirm the strike on Logar province, south of the capital Kabul, but always stresses that it tries to avoid civilian casualties.

“At around 3:30 am, US forces conducted an air strike in Aab Josh village of Baraki Barak district,” said the district governor Mohammad Amin.

The air strike hit a residential house killing five and wounding six civilians,” he told AFP.


And now a couple of images to sum up the reaction of the corporate news media, commentariat, Twittersphere and blogosphere in the U.S. and U.K.:

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Massacres that matter.

There was one in Pakistan, in October 2006, which barely registered at the time, and which likely won’t be referenced now, despite the obvious comparisons to be drawn in the wake of today’s terrible atrocity is Peshawar.

There were no raging editorials condemning it in the strongest possible terms; no live blogs in which people could express their disgust and call for ‘wiping this scum off the face of the earth right now'; and no front page headlines bearing witness to atrocity.

Just a handful of articles, even in the best British newspapers.

Firstly blaming the wrong people entirely and smearing the victims as ‘militants’ (i.e. amplifying U.S. and Pakistani propaganda).

Secondly lamenting that the attack was ‘great propaganda for the Taliban’, although still no mention of the dead kids (and imagine today’s attack being described as ‘great propaganda for the Pakistani government and United States’).

And thirdly a story about people who actually matter being inconvenienced by the bombing.

But here’s what actually happened:

It is one of the worst incidents of the entire drone campaign, yet one of the least reported. A CIA strike on a madrassa or religious school in 2006 killed up to 69 children, among 80 civilians.

The attack was on a religious seminary in Chenegai, in Bajaur Agency.

CIA drones attacked on October 30, flattening much of the school. Their target was reportedly the headmaster, a known militant. According to some reports, there was also a token late contribution to the assault by Pakistani military helicopters. But dozens of children were also killed, the youngest aged seven.

Veteran BBC Urdu journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai, speaking from Peshawr, recalls visiting the village just after the strike: ‘People were devastated. I met with a father who had lost two children. He was very patient, talking of how God must have willed this, but he was clearly traumatised.’

Initially the Pakistan Army claimed that it had carried out the bombardment, even as shops and offices closed across the region and protests spread. But as the scale of the attack unfolded, the story changed. The Sunday Times carried a report from a key aide to Pakistan’s then-President Musharraf stating:

‘We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US. But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again’.

A week after the attack, The News published the names and home villages of 80 victims. 69 were reported as children aged 17 or under.

According to the paper’s sources:

‘It was claimed that one of the deceased was only seven-year old, three were eight, three nine, one was 10, four were 11, four were 12, eight were 13, six were 14, nine were 15, 19 were 16, 12 were 17, three were 18, three were 19 and only two were 21-years-old‘.

Yousufzai is adamant that the attack was the work of the CIA: ‘I am absolutely confident, 100 per cent, that this was carried out by US drones, based on witnesses at the time and the subsequent comments of [Pakistani] government officials.’


I was reluctant to post this, even here. Because you leave yourself wide open to accusations of politicising the issue before the blood is even dry / crass insensitivity.

That said, some of the people who would accuse you of that will no doubt be politicising the issue themselves e.g. arguing that it demonstrates why the war against ‘the Taliban’ (which is shorthand for ‘Any Afghan or Pakistani who resists us, and plenty who don’t’ in propaganda usage) in Afghanistan and Pakistan is both vital and just.

And part of the reason why they can argue that the war is both vital and just – a battle for civilisation and modernity against ‘Taliban’ monsters, basically – is because the massacres that have been perpetrated by the U.S. et al as part of it, and that help fuel a lot of the insurgency, are given scant attention and then quickly forgotten about.

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Ian Black, The Guardian’s middle east editor, on U.S. and Iranian aims in Iraq.

The article was written in the wake of recent reports that the Iranian Air Force have been carrying air strikes against ISIS in Diyala province, Iraq.

This is a state of affairs that might, in other circumstances, be causing howls of outrage among the professional punditocracy, of which Black is a part.

‘What about Iraqi sovereignty? What about potential civilian casualties? What about international law? And what could possibly justify such brutal aggression?’, would be the thrust of it.

But the U.S. is also bombing ISIS in Iraq, and said punditocracy are by and large supporting them in doing so. The transparent double standard of cheering on one state as they bomb ISIS, while deriding another, would surely be too audacious for even them.

Black’s commentary, however, demonstrates how it’s still possible to frame such reports in a way that suggests not all bombing of ISIS is in fact equal.

He tells the reader, for example, that the U.S.’s aim in Iraq is:

‘in principle at least . . . to see an inclusive democracy take root’.

He then writes, by contrast, that Iran’s aim is:

‘ . . . protecting Iraq’s Shia majority and religious shrines while bolstering its position vis-a-vis the nervous Saudis and the other western-backed Sunni monarchies of the Gulf’.

In a similar vein, Black concludes his article by quoting Toby Dodge, an academic from the London School of Economics, who says that Iranian policy in Iraq is to:

‘sectarianise the conflict and back Shia chauvinism’.

And that this is:

‘ . . . the exact opposite of the outcome the Americans want – citizenship and equality for all before the Iraqi state’.


So then, the U.S. simply want to promote an ‘inclusive democracy’ and ‘citizenship and equality for all’ in Iraq – presumably out of the goodness of their hearts.

While Iran is instead looking to defend and promote its own narrow sectarian and strategic interests, is causing no end of worry to those poor, ‘nervous’ Saudis and the other Gulf autocracies (or ‘monarchies’, as Black puts it), and no good can surely come of it.

That the U.S. themselves have long promoted sectarian tyranny in the middle-east, and continue to promote tyranny in general to this day, is beyond any reasonable dispute. That they do this in large part because they consider middle eastern oil ‘a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ – that is, far too important an asset to be trusted to the masses of people who just happen to live on top of it – is again fairly well established.

But that history and context is completely ignored by Black, and the reader is clearly supposed to come away from this article in no doubt as to just who it is that’s causing mischief in Iraq, and just who it is that’s trying to help.

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Tony Blair wins Save The Children’s ‘Global Legacy’ award.

As reported in today’s Independent:

 Tony Blair was last night recognised for his humanitarian work at a glamorous gala to raise funds for a global children’s charity – in front of guests including Lassie the dog.

The controversial former Prime Minister received the Global Legacy Award at the Save the Children Illumination Gala 2014, which was held at The Plaza in New York City.


And this isn’t some sick, satirical joke. The man who was to a huge extent responsible for killing, injuring, displacing and immiserating several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (among his many other crimes and misdemeanours) has been recognised ‘for his humanitarian work’ by one the ‘Western’ world’s foremost child welfare NGOs.

And me saying that he ‘is to huge extent responsible for the killing, injuring, displacement and immiseration of several hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq’ is not just rhetoric.

To that end, it’s worth looking in a bit more depth at the scale of the catastrophe inflicted on Iraq’s children by the war that Tony Blair launched and continues to defend.

In March 2013, the charity War Child released a report entitled ‘Mission Unaccomplished’. This report documented how:

  • ’51% of 12-17 year olds do not attend secondary school’
  • ‘One in four children has stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition’.
  • ‘In 2011 a survey found up to 1 million children have lost one or both parents in the conflict’.
  • ‘In 2010, 7 years after the conflict began, it was estimated that over a quarter of Iraqi children, or 3 million, suffered varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
  • ‘Between December 2012 and April 2013, ‘An estimated 692 children and young people have been killed’ in conflict related violence, and more ‘than 1,976 children and young people have been injured’. These figures are almost certainly underestimates’.


The report also points out that the numbers presented above  ‘come to life when you realise the pain, trauma and suffering behind them.  Every number in the statistics above has a story to tell and a life attached to it’.

Going back further, the Iraqi Red Crescent had documented in 2008 how ‘children under 12 made up 58.7 percent of’ Internally Displaced Persons in the country.

The U.N. had documented how only 40% of Iraqi children had access to clean drinking water due to the effects of the war, and how they in general lacked ‘access to the most basic services and manifest a wide range of psychological symptoms from the violence in their everyday lives’.

While in 2003, The Guardian reported on how:

British and American forces were accused yesterday of breaking international rules of war after admitting that they were using cluster bombs against targets in Iraq.

The report went to explain how:

Alex Renton, overseeing Oxfam’s aid work from Jordan, said the cluster shells could cause “unnecessary harm”. The UN children’s fund, Unicef, expressed concern that Iraqi children might confuse the yellow food packets being handed out by American forces with the bomblets, which had identical colouring.


That Tony Blair’s policies helped to inflict immense and ongoing hardship on the children of Iraq is beyond question. While he may not have personally been firing the cannons and dropping the bombs, as one of the architects of the aggression against Iraq he is ultimately responsible for the ‘accumulated evil of the whole’, as per the Nuremberg judgements.

What, then, could possibly explain Save The Children’s decision to give a man who is widely reviled as an amoral war criminal, and rightly so, such an award?

Personally, I think one reason could be that their Chief Executive is a fellow named Justin Forsyth. According to his biography on the Save The Children website, Forsyth was in 2004:

  . . . recruited to Number 10 by Tony Blair where he led efforts on poverty and climate change . . . He was to stay on under Gordon Brown, becoming his Strategic Communications and Campaigns Director.


So Forsyth was actaully an underling of Tony Blair (and then Gordon Brown) at precisely the time they were ravaging Iraq.

I’d hazard that he shares broadly the same pro-Establishment values and ideological assumptions as Blair, and has taken those pro-Establishment values and assumptions with him to Save The Children. And when you think of just how rotten the British Establishment is, that can’t be a good thing.

This isn’t the first time that Save The Children have demonstrated that they are unhealthily close to the British and U.S. Establishments, either.

In 2013, for example, they appointed Samantha Cameron, the partner of British Prime Minister David Cameron, as their ambassador to Syria.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron’s government were (and still are) arming and training elements within the rebel opposition, and thus constituted one side in the conflict, at the very time Samantha Cameron was appointed.

And as a little thought experiment, what might the reaction have been had they instead appointed Lyudmila Putin, the partner of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as their ambassador to Syria? I very much doubt that it would have gone almost totally unremarked upon, as Samantha Cameron’s appointment did.

To take another example, The Guardian had reported in 2003 on how Save The Children had been:

ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors

And then how:

Senior figures at Save the Children US . . . demanded the withdrawal of the criticism and an effective veto on any future statements blaming the invasion for the plight of Iraqi civilians suffering malnourishment and shortages of medical supplies.


A affair which surely needs no further commentary.

I’ve often thought that the bigger and more established humanitarian and human rights NGOs don’t come in for anywhere near as much scrutiny from the liberal-left as they should. They kop an awful lot of criticism from the right, but it seems to me that for a section of the liberal-left,  their research carries an air of unimpeachable neutrality and unquestionable moral probity.

And i’m not saying they don’t do some good work. But at the very least, their output helps to shape popular attitudes towards matters of war, peace and governance in general, and should be engaged with more critically for that reason.

I’ve also often thought that an analytical model similar to – if distinct from in some important respects – the one Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman applied to corporate media performance might be useful in assessing NGO performance. What role, if any, does funding, ideology, sourcing, management/ownership and flak play in shaping their output?

For a start, it might help to explain why former officials of the U.S. and U.K. government keep on ending up in positions of power in these organisations.

It would take a bigger brain than mine to undertake such a project – although activists like Keane Bhatt are doing great work in this area – but last night’s utter travesty shows why it would be useful.

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CNN: Obama administration reportedly ‘shifting their strategy’ on Syria to go after Assad.

From an article published by CNN on 13/11/3014:

‘President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN.

(Emphasis mine)

The article then quotes Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, as saying that:

‘Assad has been the biggest magnet for extremism in Syria, and the President has made clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern. Alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, we are working with our allies to strengthen the moderate opposition’.

It quotes an anonymous ‘senior official’ as saying:

‘What really tipped this into a more vigorous reassessment was hearing from our coalition partners that they are not convinced by the Syria part and this strategy only works if there is a more coherent Syria piece’.

And then reports that Secretary of State John Kerry has:

‘ . . .in recent months intensified discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Russia about the possibility of a diplomatic tract to transition al-Assad and his inner circle out of power, while maintaining large parts of the regime and institutions of the state’.

(Emphasis mine)

So then, we are to believe that after months of dallying and half-measures, the Obama regime are finally waking up to the fact that, to defeat ISIS, you have to get rid of Assad, who is the ‘magnet for extremism’.

But what if, as some of us have long suspected, the Assad regime was the target all along? That ISIS are only seen as a problem in Syria to the extent that they present a major threat to a settlement that is favourable to U.S. interests emerging when Assad falls?

(And let’s not pretend that U.S. policy towards Syria is driven by anything other than a desire to further their economic and strategic interests. All that stuff about democracy and human rights is patent nonsense, given their track record)

If that is the case, then articles like this one – full of off-the-record briefings from Obama regime officials – shouldn’t be seen as signalling any kind of sea change in strategy.

They should instead be seen as the first, tentative steps towards preparing state-corporate media and public opinion to accept the long planned move against Assad (to the point where eventually, it’ll just be forgotten that Assad being the target was ever in doubt).

The idea that ISIS are uniquely and supremely evil and need to be vanquished is now well established in state-corporate media and (to a lesser extent) popular discourse.

And if it takes getting rid of Assad to defeat ISIS, then who could possibly object?

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