A deeply sad sight: The Great Mosque of al-Nuri was reduced to rubble during the Battle of Mosul in 2017. Here it is today, just a year after the liberation, photographed by NCF member and war artist, George Butler, who is currently in Mosul. The mosque had stood on this site for almost 850 years and its leaning, 45-metre tall minaret, al-Hadba’ (“the hunchback”) had been a famed landmark for many centuries.
It was more recently where Daesh’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood during Friday prayer on 4th July 2014 to declare the formation of a new “caliphate”, after Islamic State (IS) seized the city just weeks previously. Following its demolition in June 2017, Iraqi government forces claimed they had found evidence to suggest that the mosque may have been deliberately blown up by IS, a gesture described as their “declaration of defeat”, by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi.
With Mosul having been wrested from IS control in July 2017, the Mosque is now a symbol for the destruction of the city and its rich heritage both during and in the aftermath of the Daesh occupation.
In April of this year, the United Arab Emirates pledged over $50 million to help rebuild the Mosque and other nearby sites, in conjunction with UNESCO, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), and Iraq’s culture ministry. This will take at least five years, the initial project focused on clearing the rubble on site and surveying for future rebuilding.
In time, the al-Nuri Mosque may be restored to a semblance of its former magnificence. But for now, it seems a long way off.
Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 on the 6th of March 2018, Children in Armed Conflict.
Mr President. The bi-product of armed conflict is often devastation to the lives of innocent children, whether during conflict, or in the aftermath. Whilst travelling in Iraq in late 2017 the Next Century Foundation was given alarming reports of the treatment of the families of ISIS fighters. We have heard similar reports from Northern Syria.
In both locations there are camps in which the families of ISIS fighters are being detained. The families were detained without warning, and given no reason for or information about the duration of their detention at these camps. Many of these families have had their identity documents confiscated meaning a definite inability to leave. Likewise, there have been reports of the destruction of civilian property, and of villages and of the removal of livestock owned by those who are now in these camps. This has been corroborated by satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch. By early 2018, over 200 families had been placed in these camps in Iraq over several weeks with 220 such displaced individuals arriving at the camp near Daquq, South of Kirkuk, Iraq, the most prominent of these camps. Children are of course amongst these numbers and there are young children and infants that are growing up in these camps. The imprisonment of women and children who have committed no offense is illegal and the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern over the situation as there has been no fair reason presented for the holding of these people or for their treatment. Having declared victory against ISIS, Iraq should be investigating these prison camps and rectifying the situation in order to work towards a better future for these Iraqi people and those children who are part of Iraq’s future. The continued use of these ‘prison camps’ and the current treatment of these many families could potentially be regarded as a war crime, in view of the fact that these families could be considered forcibly displaced.
This issue is not exclusive to Iraq. In northern Syria there are four Kurdish-run camps in which around 800 families from approximately 40 different countries are being held because of their alleged association with Islamic State fighters. Whilst there is the possibility that many of these families do indeed have fathers, sons or brothers who have fought or are fighting for ISIS, collective punishment is illegal. There is no reason to punish those who have done nothing wrong. There has also been little assistance given by the home nations of these families to address this problem, thus far only Russia and Indonesia have worked with Kurdish authorities to have their nationals repatriated.
In these circumstances, it really is the innocent women and children who are suffering. Their detention in such camps, and the treatment they endure, is abhorrent. The young children who have been forced out of their homes and are now living in these conditions are experiencing the fallout of a conflict that is not theirs. It is a necessity for both Iraq and the international community to respond and take action.
“Identifying the tipping point for many men and women thinking of joining Daesh remains the holy grail in our fight against radicalisation”.
It emerged a couple weeks ago that one of the Bethnal Green school girls who left Britain for Syria in 2015 had been killed in a Russian airstrike. Kadiza Sultana, along with Amira Abase and Shamima Begum were a part of a surge of young people heading out from Britain to join organisations fighting in Syria and Iraq. The numbers are deeply concerning; a recent report estimates that around 850 have left, with 125 losing their lives (the NCF believes the real figure to be considerably higher). Kadiza Sultana and her friends from East London have become a statistic in a recent Select Committee report that addresses concerns over the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy.
The report, published on 25th August 2016, has highlighted a number of problems with the Prevent Strategy, and offers options to make the strategy more accessible to those that need it most. The report centred on the issue of combatting radicalisation and extremism amongst vulnerable people, and draws on how The Home Office, schools, health organisations, social media companies, security services and the press all have a responsibility to enhance their resources with the aim of engaging communities, instead of alienating them. The committee felt that the current system used for Prevent was causing more harm than good. Security Minister Ben Wallace argued that the strategy had been reviewed numerous times to “ensure it works,” and that “for Prevent to work, we all need to get behind it, not stand on the side lines undermining it”. However, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow has called for a proper assessment of Prevent, to “really understand what works and what doesn’t”.
The Select Committee have called for a review, and have encouraged a community led approach. As of this moment, the strategy is viewed by many in local communities as a “big brother” security operation. Harun Khan, deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed his concern, claiming that many young people feel they are being viewed as “suspects” rather than feeling welcomed and encouraged to speak out. The real focus of the strategy should be around building a relationship between various influential community groups and the state.
The most promising set of options to improve Prevent was the strategy suggested for dealing with families and the rehabilitation of those affected by extremism. In order to bridge the silence that characterises the relationship between the state and the communities, the committee highlighted the need for an easily accessible advice and counselling service, particularly for parents, but also for other loved ones and friends who may have concerns about people being radicalised. If this were to be put in place, perhaps with community organisation members acting as part of the team of advisers, we could identify the tipping point where individuals start to embrace extremism. The issue is a complex one, but engaging with families, would build up an extensive array of counter-narrative case studies.
Finally, with regards to the committee’s stance on rehabilitation, empowering young people to have a voice and use it with confidence seems to be the most commanding way to combat extremism at a grass roots level in the UK. The committee advocated a programme that helps young people from vulnerable communities in acquiring critical reasoning skills and a sense of belonging and purpose, so that they could be aware of any manipulation or grooming. Sara Khan, co-founder of the anti-terror organisation ‘Inspire’, has looked at girls like Kadiza as victims, who “lack the critical thinking skills” which “is what makes them vulnerable to Islamist extremist propaganda”.
It is important to note the success of the UK’s security services in preventing tragedies on the scale which have been seen elsewhere, and that should be highly commended. However, the approach used by previous governments to counter extremism has so far not achieved the success that we have desired. The Select Committee recognised that local communities, community leaders and young people are willing to cooperate and tackle the problem if the correct strategies were put in place to enable positive changes. That being said, the report urged the Government to not squander this opportunity to harness the powerful force of community engagement.
Iraq’s next provincial elections will be held in April 2017. With the expansion and contraction of ISIS since the last held elections in 2013, many important factors will need to be discussed. Due to the difficult political and security situation in Iraq, the guidelines and exact dates for the elections have not been released.
This lack of information is somewhat distressing as these elections come a time where there is general public discontent that has been further exacerbated by the 3rd July bombings in Baghdad. This, coupled with governmental corruption, has left many people dissatisfied and there is a call for change.
This change will especially be marked in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq. These regions have had the highest presence of ISIS. Due to this, there has been growing discontent, criticism and anger directed at the governorates. Areas that are still dominated by ISIS will not be having provincial elections (though refugees may be able to vote in the provinces to which they have been displaced), however, newly liberated areas such Fallujah will most likely have these elections.
Similarly, the three Kurdish dominated parts of Iraq are unlikely to take part in the elections, as in 2013. Reasons for this are due to the inherent problems in the Iraqi election process. The law that determines the outcomes of the results favours bigger parties. It states that if a certain party does not win enough votes, their seats are effectively given up. The Independent High Electoral Commission, IHEC, has called for changes to be made to this system but nothing has been legally promulgated.
These elections are more likely to divide, rather than unite the country. On top of the problems that are unresolved from the 2013 elections, there are the problems of the Sunni and Kurdish areas boycotting them for differing reasons, and then ISIS creates a new problem. The seeming lack of preparation and information makes things even more difficult and I am not very hopeful that the elections will bring about either democratic representation, nor real change in Iraq.
Up until 3rd July 2016, the political and security situation with the current Shia government looked to have been stabilising. But the bombings in the Baghdad district of Karrada shook up any illusion of this stability and seems to have destabilised the whole political system. These bombings were the second worst suicide bombings ever carried out in Iraq and at a time where security had seemed to be getting better it came as a shock to both the general population and the government. Despite this, it seems more likely that these are short term implications to Iraqi security stability. The events of 3rd July were undoubtedly tragic but it seems that long-term impacts on the political system will be minimal.
Predisposed concerns regarding stability have of course been accentuated in the wake of the 3rd July Baghdad bombings. The death toll that exceeds 308 seems to paint a bleak picture of the both Iraq’s security and the government. But there is something to be said beyond this bleakness.
The attacks were claimed to have been carried out by Daesh (ISIS). Looking at their motives for this specific attack illuminates why there is cause to remain hopeful. The attacks were carried out following the loss of Fallujah as IS territory. This is symptomatic of continuing trend of a weakening Daesh presence in Iraq. The move towards Mosul continues on.
Premier Haider Al-Abadi had previously rallied support from both Sunni and Kurdish minorities, something which the Maliki administration lacked. The attacks, however, damaged both Al-Abadi’s political and public opinion. These are the most visible damaging effects, politically. Al-Abadi visited the scene of the bombings and was crowded by angry Iraqis who felt the government had let them down.
Since then, the government has attempted to regain some form of trust, security-wise, at least. There have since been attempts to clamp down on use of the fake bomb detectors, the ADE 651. Though it has proven to be a fraudulent item since before this, it shows a step towards a progressively more safe Iraq.
Iraq’s government, politics and security is far from perfect. Corruption remains rampant and there is a deep distrust and divide between the government and public. However, many lessons will have been learnt from this attack. Haider Al-Abadi’s administration are determined not to see a repeat of this kind of attack and steps against countering this threat have already been taken. The event was undeniably tragic, but, despite this, there is reason to believe that the situation is getting better.
While reading through the Chilcot report and pondering the Iraq question, my personal recollections of the war started coming back to me. A few days after my 8th birthday, I vividly remember being woken up by my father’s celebrations. I went downstairs and on the TV were scenes of Firdos Square and the statue of Saddam being toppled. He excitedly explained to me how the most brutal and terrible regime of our generation was over. I had never seen him so animated. Although my London upbringing left me with somewhat a confused sense of my own identity, I felt a similar joy and I sensed hope – my country’s, and in a sense my own, liberation. Sadly, the situation in Iraq (and my father) never quite had that same joy since. As I returned to reality (and the Chilcot report) I was convinced by the clear faults in the way the invasion and resulting occupation was handled. However, the report’s main problem is that much of the criticisms for justification of the war are only clear through hindsight. On balance, the dethroning of Saddam was a necessity and this in my mind legitimises and justifies the military invasion of Iraq.
Perhaps the biggest problem for the British public, and something that the Chilcot report clearly suggests, is that Iraq was an “illegal” war. The report explicitly states that the “circumstances in which it was decided there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory”. The report has not clarified the ongoing debate as to whether UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1441 had given a legal dimension for military intervention. Ultimately, the legality of the war could only be fully resolved through an international court but there was clear evidence for jusification at the time on humanitarian and other security grounds.
My personal problem with the war is the planning and process under which it was done. My country has been in a state of chaos ever since and I feel that this, at least in part, is due to the poor planning and arrangements by the Blair and Bush administrations. The Chilcot findings similarly agree that “the consequences of the invasion were underestimated” and that the planning and preparations following the downfall of Saddam were “wholly inadequate”. While the Blair administration must concede some blame for the following crises, much of this is also down to corruption in the, democratically elected, Iraqi politicians. Chilcot disagrees with Blair’s claims that these instabilities “could not have been known”, but, such a statement is easy to make in retrospect.
The decision that was taken was primarily based on an “ingrained belief” in intelligence communities that Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapon capabilities. These judgements were “presented with a certainty that was not justified”. Chilcot suggests that these reports “were not challenged, and they should have been”. This is, again, an absurdly easy statement to make in retrospect. After Iraq was given a “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” set out in UNSC Resolution 1441, the Prime Minister made a decision with the belief Iraq’s weapon capabilities were true and accordingly acted in the interests of the nation’s security.
Critics of Blair and the war, as Hayder Al-Khoei has rightly pointed out, have “forgotten the horrors” of Ba’athist Iraq – they have idealized pre-2003 picture of Iraq in their minds. Ironically, the very same chemical weapons that the West feared, were the ones that the Iraqi people felt the most. Documented (and undoubtedly undocumented) human right violations under Saddam’s rule are extraordinary and in their own right can serve as justification for the invasion of Iraq.
Being brought up in London, I was told that it was too dangerous for me to go back to my homeland, that there was nothing but suffering there. I was constantly reminded of Saddam’s fanaticism and despite years of the regime’s violations on all spectrums, nothing was done. Despite opportunities to dethrone Saddam such as in the 1991 uprisings, it seems likely that by 2003 military intervention was the only possible solution.
Alex Krasodomski Jones of the Centre for Social Media at the British think tank Demos talks about ISIS, about how ISIS uses social media, and about what we can do to combat it. Worth watching if you have the time. There has to be a non violent ideological alternative to this terror group.
Isis in Crisis says Paul Wood in the Spectator. One can only hope that this is true.
I should not assign too much importance to their withdrawal from Ramadi. This appears to be their tactic — to fight up to the eleventh hour and then beat feet, leaving behind a mess of IEDs.
I still think that these assaults on cities are the wrong approach. They are time-consuming, and win or lose the city gets destroyed. Better to carve up bandit country with mobile patrols, isolating ISIS-controlled cities, cutting off their supplies of fuel and the flow of recruits, first raiding their outposts and then driving them in, reducing the territory they control, and waiting for the isolation to make their command structure come unglued.
Two weapons that are hallmarks of ISIS are suicide bombers and IEDs. The IEDs work, though, because we are ponderous and predictable. We need to move faster to keep them from emplacing them.
ISIS being on the retreat in Iraq/Syria, though, does not make Europe safer. I should expect them to respond to weakness in their caliphate by increasing terrorist attacks in Europe, in fact the Paris attacks may already have been an example of that.
On Thursday 26th November, David Cameron set out his arguments in favour of extending RAF air strikes to Syria. The primary reasons for this extension were the defence of British citizens and the need to stand with our allies in the wake of the Paris attacks.
However, bombing already-bombed cities and supply routes will not defeat Islamic State or make British citizens safer. Similarly, killing more Syrians is not meaningful support for France. Rather Britain should invest its energies in working towards a new strategy in the so-called War on Terror. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are surely testament to the fact that the current strategy of military intervention has not worked.
A decision to “not bomb” Syria does not mean we are ‘sub-contracting our defence to our allies’. It should symbolise that we are actively seeking new paradigms with which to protect ourselves, our allies, and the innocent people all-too-often caught up in terrorist attacks.
In the first instance, extending air strikes into Syria will not ‘work’. Mr Cameron made clear that his objective to is to ‘degrade ISIL and to disrupt the threat it poses to UK’. These are two distinct aims, and military intervention in Syria would achieve neither.
Islamic State militants in Iraq have withstood British and Coalition bombing for over a year. They have been curiously resilient. Part of the reason for this seems to be that Islamic State fighters have dug a network of tunnels underneath their strongholds. These tunnels protect fighters from bombing raids, and yet are not open to civilians. There is a real risk of collateral damage for limited military gain.
Of course, Mr Cameron accepts that airstrikes alone are not enough to defeat Islamic State, and his plan rests on the presence of so-called ‘moderate’ ground forces. In Mr Cameron’s view, there are 70,000 Free Syrian Army fighters still ready to pounce on any weakness shown by IS. Let us be clear. There is no independent Free Syrian Army; the former UK Ambassador to Syria has labelled the plan ‘laughable’. There is no ‘moderate’ force on the ground, so we must ask, where will the ground troops required come from? The Kurds, remarkably successful in defending their own land, have shown no signs that they are prepared to go on the offensive outside of their own lands and are themselves divided by political rivalries. Assad’s forces remain a significant military adversary to Islamic State, yet Britain should resist covert alliances with the embattled premier. Such hypocrisy would undermine Britain’s place in the world far more than taking the time to consider the effect of bombing Syria.
There is No Plan for the Future of Syria in the Current Proposals
On a related note, Mr Cameron has not advanced a suitable plan for the future of Syria. Rather, he vaguely asserted that he would work with the ‘international community’ – a community with significantly different objectives for the outcome of the Syrian war – to rebuild the country.
Cameron has hinted that the Kurds have an important role to play in the future of Syria. Alarmingly, this suggests that Britain understands this conflict in ethnic and sectarian terms – much as we did in Iraq in 2003. In the absence of a detailed outline of his idea of a post-conflict Syria, we might therefore assume that Cameron would work towards giving the Kurds significant autonomy (a move sure to impact Turkey). Syria under this model could see a similar ‘federal’ model to that already in place (and failing) in Iraq.
If Britain engage in bombing runs against Islamic State Mr Cameron must then fully accept a key role in the future of Syria. Our allies in Iraq (much of the Shi’i dominated government) and tribal leaders from Afghanistan have complained that Britain left these countries when it was no longer politically convenient for Britain to stay. In a recent talk at Chatham House, the former Qatari Prime Minister raised similar concerns regarding a US withdrawal. The reconstruction of Syria is the challenge of this generation, and it needs a generation’s commitment.
Of course, Britain has a role to play in this reconstruction. As it stands though, there is no coherent plan for what this role would be, what the level of our long-term involvement would be, and what a post-Assad Syria would look like. The tactic of ‘bomb first, ask questions later’ has led to disaster to Afghanistan, Iraq and, most pertinently, Libya. Let us consider these examples before we rush to bomb more Middle Eastern countries.
Protecting British Citizens
It should be clear then, that on a practical note the ‘plan’ for going to war in Syria is worryingly incomplete. More to the point, the inevitable link between the Paris attacks and the renewed vigour for war (let us not forget that MPs voted against intervention in Syria in 2013) is dangerous. The mistake in linking them together too closely primarily lies in a misunderstanding of transnational terror.
Islamic State should be conceptualised as a network. Recent research has shown that 75% of its members were recruited by friends. As a transnational network with constantly evolving power structures, it is far too flexible to be ‘degraded’ by simply bombing Syrian cities. Islamic State members are independent actors who have varying levels of connection to a central power structure. With the little we know about the hierarchy of power in Islamic State, we can accurately conclude that bombing high value targets in Syria would not stop a home-made bomb being smuggled onto a Russian airliner, or a group of brothers targeting a European capital.
What this means, then, is that we need to look closer to home to ‘make Britain safer’. There are two avenues here. The first is simple; the as-yet-undisclosed amount of money being spent to bomb people safe underground could be better spent on improving cyber-security (the fact that the British Security Minister thanked Anonymous for taking down Islamic State Twitter accounts, despite this action being labelled as counter-productive by intelligence analysts is worrying) and protecting police forces from budget cuts. Indeed, the fact that the Foreign Office has seen significant cuts in the past few years and has frozen hiring except through the Fast Stream suggests that the government is not concerned with improving our relationships with the Arab world. Rather, the primary aim is bomb hostile forces. Such a limited conception of Britain’s relationship with the Middle East not only risks accusations of Orientalism (in which we see only a threatening ‘other’ in the Middle East to be subjugated) but also reveals our inability to develop longer-term plans for the future.
The second point is that Cameron’s narrative that ‘ISIL targets our young people’ completely absolves Britain, and the others, of any role in the evolution of Islamist terrorism. While it is not helpful to simply assert that “Britain brought this upon herself”, in responding to Paris the Prime Minister would do well to examine Britain’s violent relationship with the Middle East in the last century. Indeed, to borrow some lessons from conflict resolution, a key first step in developing new paradigms for negotiation and understanding is self-examination. To develop new ways of combatting terrorist narratives, we need to properly examine our own role in the evolution of the narrative. Acknowledging the mistakes our past is the crucial first step in re-building and improving our relationships not only with Arab leaders but also with the Arab street, and engaging the Arab street is the key to sustainable peace. Importantly, this self-evaluation undermines, rather than feeds into, IS’s narrative of a ‘war on Islam’.
Britain certainly needs to stand by our allies, both in the West and the Middle East. However, Mr Cameron has not made a convincing case that bombing is a successful way to secure peace and keep Britain safe, in either the short or the long-term. The self-examination proposed here is of course not a fully-fledged plan of action. What it could represent is the acceptance that what we have tried since 2001 has not worked and has been counter-productive. Discovering and implementing that alternative is how we help France, secure Britain, and develop sustainable peace. Ultimately, Mr Cameron’s war-cry that not bombing Syria is equivalent to “doing nothing” should be inverted. Bombing Syria will do nothing to support Britain’s own goals, our allies, or the Middle East.
Not bombing does not constitute inaction. It is a demand for something better from the Prime Minister.
About 20,000 Kurdistan forces are engaged in capturing and holding Shingal (Sinjar) Town and surrounding areas.
Reports indicate Operation Free Shingal has effectively severed a strategic ISIS supply route between Raqqa (Syria) and Mosul. A road segment between Shingal and Tal Afar is reportedly under Kurdistan control. Indications are that Kurdistan forces are moving on Tal Afar, a major town between Shingal and Mosul.
Due to anticipated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and booby traps, fully capturing Shingal Town calls for caution and will take time.
ISIS continues to target the Yazidi community in their campaign to “purify” Iraq.
Yazidis are an Iraqi religious minority that originate in Northern Iraq, predominately in the autonomous Kurdistan region as well as in the Nineveh Plane and Sinjar region of Ninevah Provence. Although some Yazidis speak Arabic, many speak Kurdish; and all Yazidis consider themselves a distinct minority.
Thousands of Yazidi men have been killed by ISIS in an attempt to diminish their population, and thousands of women and children have been abducted and forced into slavery. The Yazidi community says that ISIS is still holding more than 3,500 of their women and girls captive.
ISIS has implemented a program of systematic sex trafficking for abducted Yazidi girls. The organisation’s theology of rape has become deeply enshrined in their radical belief system. They first began kidnapping Yazidi women in August 2014, in Sinjar, Iraq. While the group at first tried to deny that they were sexually exploiting women from the Yazidi community, they finally acknowledged their sexual enslavement of Yazidi women in the October 2014 issue of their magazine Dabiq. ISIS ideologues offered justification for the enslavement of Yazidis by explaining how they consider slavery permissible under Islamic Law. The jihadists argue that capturing and raping Yazidi women is justified and not a sin because Yazidis do not believe in Islam. These ideologues further argue that it is their religious duty to kill or enslave members of the Yazidi community as a part of their jihad against their enemies.
Many survivors and escapees have recalled their traumatic experiences and the brutal nature of ISIS. Yazidis have spoken about being systematically raped, imprisoned and physically and emotionally abused by ISIS. However some women who have escaped after enduring sexual violence believe that their “honour” will be tarnished if they speak about what they have been through. Survivors face social stigma from within their own community when they return home. Many others in captivity have turned to suicide as a response to the constant sexual abuse by ISIS.
ISIS considers the continued existence of Yazidis incompatible with their goal of establishing an Islamic State and therefore have deliberately targeted Yazidis and used strategies that aim to erase the Yazidi culture, religion and bloodline. ISIS is aiming for the systemic destruction of the entire Yazidi population.
ISIS’s attacks on the Yazidi community amount to a genocide, however apart from UN expressions of “extreme concern,” very little has been done to protect and assist the Yazidi community.