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Corporate Media Grooming Nation to “Intervene” on Syria. Time to Spread Freedom.

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Exploiting the Tragedy of Aleppo
Official Washington’s dominant neocons have pushed emotional propaganda about Syria as a way to justify a “regime change” project there and are now furious with its apparent failure, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Among large-scale tragedies involving human suffering and the many examples of man’s inhumanity toward man, only a few capture our imaginations and sway our collective emotions. The question of which specific episodes achieve this special salience does not seem to depend on the scale of the suffering or even on the degree of immorality involved.

The salience instead arises through accidents and vagaries of history. The villains in particular episodes may have been primed to play such a role because of previous affinities and alignments and how we had already come to see them as villains. Some episodes get more Western press coverage than many other episodes because of where reporters happen to be, what competition there is for headlines, or other random influences. All of this makes for much inconsistency in what grabs our heartstrings as well as our attention.

Once a situation achieves the special status of being the focus of elevated indignation and emoting, the phenomenon of concentrated attention and moralizing becomes self-reinforcing. Repeated references to the situation as inhumane and a moral litmus test stimulate further similar references.

Once this process is under way, it discourages sound discussion of policy options, including options of the past, present, and future. One reason is the oversimplification involved in treating a complex situation as a litmus test that supposedly has clear right and wrong answers. Another reason is the precedence that emotion comes to take over dispassionate reasoning.

This process is now being applied to the battle within the Syrian civil war in the city of Aleppo, with government forces having recently concluded the battle by achieving surrender of the remaining portion of the city that rebel forces had held. This front of the war came to get disproportionate attention partly because Aleppo had been the largest city in Syria and partly because the battle there saw intense combat over an extended period.

The length of the battle was in turn an artifact of how front lines of the war had evolved in that part of Syria. Both government and rebel forces each came to hold an enclave in the central part of Aleppo that was nearly surrounded by territory held by the other side — a prescription for prolonged siege warfare. Social media also have played more of a role than in some earlier situations, with much attention to tweets that may or may not have come from a 7-year-old girl in Aleppo. And as is common in such situations, other political and policy axes are being ground.

Selective Outrage

What has come to be a common form of public discussion in the West of this situation is exemplified by the New York Times giving its architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, space for a front-page piece that laments how pictures from elsewhere “of war and suffering have pricked the public conscience and provoked action before” but that with Aleppo, “all we do is watch.” Kimmelman’s own piece disproves his contention that conscience-pricking is not occurring with Aleppo as it has elsewhere. So do many other pieces.

The lead editorial and cover story of the current issue of The Economist charges that the West, with “particular blame” aimed at Barack Obama, has failed to carry out a “duty to constrain brute force” that it recognized it had after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Leon Wieseltier, writing in the Washington Post, begins with a reference to “the extermination [sic] of Aleppo and its people” and teachings of Eli Wiesel. The rest of the piece is in a comparably black-and-white and overwrought vein, with disparagement of President Obama mixed in with mentions of Auschwitz as well as Rwanda.

If one were to search for dispassionate and objective reasons to have more despair over Aleppo than over countless other instances of wartime suffering or of man’s inhumanity to man, such reasons would be hard to find. As important as possession of Aleppo is, it has still been only one piece of one front in one war out of the complex of wars that have constituted the violence in Syria over the past six years. There are many instances of brutality, at the hand of different perpetrators, to be found in the Syrian violence.

Outside Syria it is easy to find current or recent situations that are also heartstring-worthy. This is true even if limiting one’s purview to the Middle East and to instances of government forces assaulting populated areas and inflicting many civilian casualties and other civilian suffering.

Two instances that come readily to mind are the repeated armed assaults on the Gaza Strip and aerial bombardment in the current war in Yemen. The situation in Aleppo has in one respect been milder than those cases; rather than being an instance of “extermination,” in Aleppo even fighters, let alone civilians, have been given a chance to evacuate. There have been no convoys of green buses to take the people of Gaza or Yemen to safer places.

Policy Misdirection

The oversimplification and emotion that have come to characterize the dominant narrative about Aleppo are generating serious misunderstanding about that situation and about the wider war in Syria, and are laying groundwork for policy misdirection about other civil wars in the future.

There have been multiple parties in the fight at Aleppo, and brutality and infliction of wholesale suffering on civilians have not been limited to any one side. Rebel forces in eastern Aleppo, which have included the local Al Qaeda affiliate, have been guilty of execution-style killings of civilians in the area under their control as well as indiscriminate shelling of the portion of the city that had always been under government control.

Moreover, the agonies of siege warfare have not been in only one direction. The reported reason that one agreement, arranged by Russia and Turkey, for a cease-fire and evacuation was not immediately implemented was that Iran insisted that the same sort of arrangements be made for the residents of two Shia-inhabited villages besieged by rebels. And why shouldn’t such succor be extended to civilians of all faiths, rather than just to those on one side of a sectarian divide?

The simplistic, black-and-white treatment of a clash such as the battle for Aleppo brings about a loss of context and perspective, such as exhibited by the pro-intervention James Jeffrey, who accuses the Obama administration and anyone else not willing to dive into the Syrian civil war of over-reacting to the experience with Iraq. Intervening in the Syrian war, Jeffrey says, would be “containing a threat to the global system,” akin to Berlin, Korea, Kuwait, and the Cuban missile crisis. Iraq and “arguably Vietnam” were something different: efforts to “expand that system.”

But how can he say that when the Assad regime, under first the father and then the son, has been in power for 46 years, as well as having its alliances with Moscow and Tehran for most of that time? The war against Assad is all about regime change, just as much as in Iraq, and can hardly be called “containing” rather than ”expanding” anything global.

Also encouraged by the moralistic absolutism applied to Aleppo and the Syrian civil war as a whole is misconception about U.S. policy options available now and earlier, and what any such options could have or would have brought about.

The Washington Post editorial page, which has tirelessly beaten a drum about Syria, is an example. Its latest take on the subject is as moralistically vituperative as anyone else’s, speaking of “a meltdown of the West’s moral and political will — and in particular, a collapse of U.S. leadership.” As usual, there is an absence not only of attention to costs and risks to the United States but also of any convincing analysis that further escalation of the war by outside players would bring Syria any closer to a semblance of peace and stability, rather than moving it farther away. The editorial writers seem to be saying that this is all a matter of whether the Assad regime is up or down, and pushing it down is the only way to go.

What the Post editorialists and many others argue is that if only more had been done earlier, the options and the results would have been better. This is a cheap and easy argument to make for anyone beating the drum for intervention (and perhaps also wanting to beat President Obama with a stick), without having to come up with a workable alternative.

There is little or nothing in the history of this war, the state of Syrian political culture, or previous efforts to recruit and train opposition forces to suggest that the mirage of a “moderate” element strong and cohesive enough to topple Assad and form the basis of a stable follow-on regime was ever anything but a mirage. Although it is true that some movement toward radical groups has been partly a matter of those groups being where guns and salaries were, the much bigger radicalizing element, in Syria as in other places with internal warfare, has been the war itself, engagement in which is an inherently immoderate act.

Debt to Obama

We owe President Obama a debt of gratitude for bearing the burden of formulating and implementing policies that do reflect adequate attention to costs and risks to the United States and to what realistically would make things no worse for Syria. The rest of us get to moralize and express anguish over the suffering people of Aleppo; the President has to go beyond moralizing, and in so doing he has to put up with being mentioned in the same paragraphs as Auschwitz.

Looking beyond Mr. Obama, the prevailing treatment of the Aleppo episode threatens to inculcate damaging “lessons” to be applied to future civil wars. It is interesting that several of the critics of current policy mention Rwanda as such a lesson, because Rwanda was cited (including by the self-described “genocide chick” who is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) as a reason to intervene in Libya sufficiently to topple the incumbent regime there in 2011.

We now have five years of results. Those results include a still-chaotic situation and continuing civil war in which the human suffering, including deaths well into the thousands, is far more than the genocide-in-the-making that supposedly was going to occur in Benghazi.

By all means sympathize with the people of Aleppo. We should feel anguish over their suffering. But don’t confuse anguish with policy analysis.

Exploiting the Tragedy of Aleppo

Rania Khalek On Aleppo And Western Media’s Whitewashing Of Rebels
Rania Khalek breaks down media coverage, especially how Western media outlets no longer report the rebel groups in Aleppo are al Qaida-style groups the West has backed.

The following is from this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast. One of the show’s hosts, Rania Khalek, recently returned from a trip to Lebanon. She traveled to Syria twice and spent time producing journalism on the crisis and war in Syria. In response to events in Aleppo over the past days, Khalek breaks down media coverage, especially how Western media outlets no longer report the rebel groups in Aleppo are al Qaida-style groups the West has backed.

I know there’s a lot of people, who—if they haven’t necessarily been following everything that’s been happening in Syria—don’t really understand what’s happening in Aleppo. They just see these horrifying stories, like the Daily Beast posted something about all these women committed suicide because they’d rather kill themselves than be raped. There’s these crazy claims going around, and I’m not saying anything and everything the Syrian government has done is fabricated. They’ve obviously committed atrocities. But the kinds of things that have floated around and become news headlines, there’s no evidence.

There’s no evidence for these things except for the claims of rebel media people, like rebel activists on Twitter and other places. It’s utterly shocking that a handful of tweets about Hezbollah burning children in Aleppo can suddenly turn into headlines. It’s really disturbing, especially in light of all this controversy about fake news. When you see major media outlets pushing and disseminating claims that have yet to be a little clarified—like there’s literally zero evidence to prove this happening. And it really has been shocking. You could probably tweet out anything, like Russia just nuked Aleppo, and the New York Times might run the headline. Who knows. The point is what’s happening in Aleppo is actually similar to what’s happening in Mosul at the moment, which is that you’ve got rebels.

And here’s another thing I do want to point out. This week, with all the media around Aleppo, the one thing I’ve noticed is major media outlets are failing over and over. They’re not providing any context or any details about who the rebels are in Aleppo. They’re just saying the Syrian rebels. They used to specify what that meant, and this week they haven’t. And I think that’s very, very deliberate, and I think the reason is the Syrian rebels are al Nusra, which is basically al Qaida’s branch in Syria. They’re Ahrar al Sham, which is a Syrian rebel group that is armed and funded by Qatar and is really, really hardlined jihadist. It has killed minorities, has used caged minorities as human shields proudly on video. It’s not just me making that up. These are the two dominant fighting forces among the Syrian rebels.

In Aleppo, Jaysh al-Islam or the Army of Islam, which is another group of rebels. I think it’s a bunch of rebel groups under one name that has committed atrocities that would give chills to people. All of these groups have al Qaida-style ideologies and have been running Aleppo. We see reports out about the behavior of these groups. They run Sharia courts, where they sentence people to die for minor things. They’ve summarily executed people. They’ve looted. These rebels under the banner of the FSA [Free Syrian Army], which later turned became al Qaida, Ahrar al Sham and all these other groups—They invaded Aleppo in 2012.

When you hear about rebels in Aleppo, it’s important to understand that, yes, there was an uprising in Syria of different kinds and different parts of Syria; some of them calling for democracy, some of them calling for not-so-democratic ideals. Regardless, there was an uprising. Aleppo didn’t really experience an uprising. There were a few university protests but nothing major. The vast majority of Aleppo has always been pro-government from the beginning. And so, Aleppo was actually pretty secure through 2011. Then, come 2012, the rebels that were armed through Turkey and had a lot of foreign fighters among them as well—But also a lot of them were Syrians from the countryside, from rural areas. They basically invaded the city of Aleppo and forcibly with arms took over neighborhoods.

If you look back at Western media reports during that time, they’re pretty honest about that because at that time there were still journalists able to be on the ground in east Aleppo. So they took over all these neighborhoods in east Aleppo, and in fact, many of the people who lived in those neighborhoods fled when armed groups took over. They didn’t want any part of it. It was like a nightmare, and they surrounded Aleppo and placed it under siege. So the government-held area of Aleppo was under siege. They were cut off from food and water. Nobody gave a crap because it was U.S.-backed rebels doing it..

But that’s what happened in Aleppo. These rebels were never popular in Aleppo. Anybody who tells you that this is a free or liberated area of Aleppo is lying. That’s just not true, especially if you talk to the people from those neighborhoods. So the point is this context is missing from the mainstream media.

It’s really shocking. We’ve just spent the last 15 years with our government invoking al Qaida to go to war around the globe endlessly, and now, all of the sudden, al Qaida are the good guys in Aleppo and the U.S. has basically outsourced it’s war on Syria to al Qaida. The U.S. media is not only whitewashing and sanitizing them, but they are romanticizing them as some sort of liberation force. It’s really, really shocking.

Beyond that, what’s happening now in Aleppo and why I say it’s like Mosul is because al Qaida is not that different from ISIS. They’ve behaved in similar ways, where they’ve come and taken over areas. People flee. Some people, who stayed, get stuck there. Or maybe they wanted to stay, but for the most, they get stuck there. They’re held hostage. They don’t want people to leave, and basically, they’re used as human shields for their own agenda.

What you have now in Mosul, where you have Iraqi forces on the ground backed up by U.S. airstrikes that are basically taking back neighborhoods from ISIS in Mosul, east Mosul, and east Aleppo was the same thing. You have Syrian armed forces on the ground backed up by Russian airstrikes that are taking back parts of east Aleppo.

Now, you can argue. I would agree with you, if you want to call the way that the U.S. and Russia have gone about doing this. They’ve both destroyed these cities, whether it’s been taken over by ISIS or al Qaida. They’ve destroyed cities as they’ve gone to take them back from these groups. But regardless, you can talk about how they’ve done that and the atrocities they’ve committed to do that. Regardless of that, it really is striking to see the U.S. media losing its shit over east Aleppo being taken back by al Qaida groups versus their celebration of areas of Mosul being taken back by ISIS. The double standard is so jarring.

That’s why you see people panicking and freaking out. People who are very pro-opposition, who want to pretend the opposition is some democratic force—it’s not—who support the Syrian rebels, which is most of the U.S. media. They’re losing their shit and freaking the fuck out and just throwing anything they can during a moment when the side that they’ve supported and romanticized is losing. And the reason they’re losing is because their benefactors have stopped supporting them. That means Turkey has stopped giving them whatever they want through the border. And so that’s why these Syrian rebel al Qaida groups have collapsed so quickly.

Whenever this kind of stuff happens, the rebel media that the U.S. and U.K, have largely helped train and fun goes ape shit and starts throwing any sort of accusations against the Syrian army that it can; anything to try and provoke Western intervention or even Gulf state intervention to help save them. They’re desperate. They’re losing very, very badly. And so that’s why you hear these unverified stories about massacres of children and women in Aleppo, burning people and raping women, that haven’t been verified.

Right now, in west Aleppo and even people who’ve left east Aleppo and managed to get out of east Aleppo, these are people, many of them who are pissed off at the government. Some think the government did not do enough to save them from al Qaida. They really do. That’s the sentiment I got from people when I was there is they were pissed off. They wanted the government to crush the rebels harder. And then, there were other people who had families on the other side and they hadn’t seen them for three years or four years. So there’s been a lot of celebration in west Aleppo and some of the areas that have been taken back despite all of the horrors that have taken place.

The government has committed atrocities. The rebels have committed atrocities. A lot of people are dead. People are just exhausted, and they’re happy it’s over. That’s the sentiment I’ve been seeing and getting. That to me makes sense. Just like when ISIS is removed from an area people celebrate, despite the horrors.

I was really disappointed to see a lot of people pointing to those celebrations and making the people who were doing it, painting them as Assadist shills who all hate their own people. Or like they’re Israelis who celebrate when Gaza gets bombed. People weren’t celebrating east Aleppo being bombed. They were celebrating the end of what has been a nightmare for them.

Rania Khalek On Aleppo And Western Media’s Whitewashing Of Rebels

Turkey shooting: The brutal violence of Syria's war has shocking repercussions
Andrey Karlov was shot five times in the back by 22-year-old gunman Mevlut Mert Aydintas

The violence of Syria’s bloody civil war has had a shocking repercussion beyond its borders with the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in Ankara in what appeared to be revenge for his country’s part in the assault on Aleppo.

Andrey Karlov was killed at an art gallery in Ankara by a gunman who shot him eight times at close range. Standing over the 62-year-old diplomat’s body the assassin, wearing a black suit and tie, was heard shouting “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Everyone who is involved in this will pay a price. Only death can take me from here.”

Firing more shots into the fallen ambassador’s body he declared: “We are the ones who pledged allegiance to Mohammed, to wage jihad.”

Film footage taken at the scene showed the killer repeatedly gesticulating with a pistol in his hand. There had been heavy security around Mr Karlov’s presence at the art gallery, but, according to one of the guards, the gunman had entered by showing a police ID card and saying that he was an officer in the public order department.

The killer was identified as Mevlut Mert Aydintas, 22, by Turkey’s interior minister – and it was suggested he was a member of the Ankara riot police.

Turkish special forces, it was reported, had shot the gunman dead. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that those behind the murder will be found and punished. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin held an emergency meeting with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the heads of intelligence agencies.

"A crime has been committed and it was without doubt a provocation aimed at spoiling the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations and spoiling the Syrian peace process which is being actively pushed by Russia, Turkey, Iran and others," said Mr Putin.

"There can only be one response – stepping up the fight against terrorism. The bandits will feel this happening."

Mr Putin, who said he personally knew the murdered envoy, said he had agreed in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart that Russian investigators would soon fly to Ankara to help the Turks with the investigation.

"We must know who directed the killer's hand," Mr Putin told Mr Lavrov, Sergei Naryshkin, the head of his SVR foreign intelligence service, and Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the domestic FSB security service.

Mr Putin ordered security at Turkish diplomatic facilities in Russia to be stepped up and said he wanted guarantees from Turkey about the safety of Russian diplomatic facilities.

"I also ask you to implement the agreed proposals on strengthening security at Russian diplomatic facilities abroad," Mr Putin told the meeting.

The killing came a day before the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was due in Moscow to meet Russian and Iranian ministers to discuss the war in Syria.

There was trepidation over what may now follow the killing. Fatih Oke, a senior Turkish diplomat in Washington wrote on twitter “The bullet to Ambassador Karlov is not only aimed at him, it aims also at Turkey’s relations with Russia”.

Speaking outside the hospital where Mr Karlov was taken after the attack, Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara, echoed this, saying “this was done to ruin what is between us and Russia”.

A Turkish security official told Reuters that Ankara saw "very strong signs" the gunman who killed Russia's ambassador there on Monday was a follower of a US-based Muslim cleric blamed for orchestrating a failed coup by sections of the military in July.

A representative of cleric Fethullah Gulen, Alp Aslandogan, denied any link and said the exiled cleric condemned the murder as a "heinous act".

The Turkish official, who declined to be identified, said the current investigation was focused on the gunman's links to the network of Gulen's followers, which the government calls the "Gulenist Terrorist Organisation" or "FETO".

There was swift condemnation of the murder from the West. US State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.” In London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “shocked to hear of the despicable murder of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. I condemn this cowardly attack".

Mr Karlov may not have been just a target of opportunity for those trying to lash out at Moscow over its role in the Syrian conflict. He had been extensively involved in Syrian affairs, playing a key role in the negotiations between Turkey and Russia which led to the evacuation of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo after the opposition held part of the city was overrun by the forces of Bashar al-Assad. The ambassador had also, it was said, played a part in convincing the Iranians, supporters of the regime with militia fighters present on the ground in Aleppo, to accept the deal.

He also served as ambassador to both North and South Korea for a prolonged period before arriving in Ankara and was widely respected in the international diplomatic circuit.

Russia and Turkey had been locked in a confrontation after the shooting down of a Russian warplane by the Turks last year. But relations thawed after an apology from President Erdogan, and the two countries have been cooperating on Syria, something Mr Karlov had also helped engineer.

There has, however, been anger in Turkey over the actions of the Assad regime and Russia in the war which had been heightened by the Aleppo assault with regular protests in Istanbul with liberals as well as Islamists taking part. In response, the Turkish authorities have put in additional security measures for Russian diplomatic staff and private businesses in the country.

It is unlikely that the murder would jeopardise the newly strengthened relationship between the two countries. But Mr Putin may well press Mr Erdogan to take more action against Islamist groups in Turkey and cut links with some of the hardline Sunni rebels Ankara had backed in Syria.

As for Mr Erdogan, he put out a very similar message to Mr Putin, saying that he had agreed in his telephone call with Mr Putin that their cooperation and solidarity in fighting terrorism should be even stronger after the killing of the Russian ambassador in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan called the killing a clear provocation aimed at damaging relations between Turkey and Russia at a time of normalisation.

Turkey shooting: The brutal violence of Syria's war has shocking repercussions

Saddam Hussein Was Not 'Worth Removing From Power': Ex-CIA Agent
New memoir details institutional failings that led to catastrophic invasion of Iraq and rise of Islamic State

A former CIA analyst who personally interrogated Saddam Hussein said the U.S. "got it so wrong" on the invasion of Iraq and should have left the now-deceased leader in power.

In an excerpt from a memoir about his time with the agency, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, former analyst John Nixon—who was the first officer to question Hussein after his capture in December 2003—writes that the Ba'athist president was not "worth removing from power," and that the decision to do so needs to be viewed in the context of what came next: the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Nixon writes:

Today, a decade following Saddam's execution, with ISIS's black flags still unfurled over sections of Iraq, we need to ask ourselves some provocative questions. One of them is: What would have happened if we had just kept Saddam in his box or if the successor Iraqi government had shown mercy and commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment?

Hussein was known for his cruel and tyrannical leadership. However, Nixon says, "it is improbable that a group like ISIS would have been able to enjoy the kind of success under his repressive regime that they have had under the Shia-led Baghdad government."

The memoir comes as the U.S. prepares to transition to a Donald Trump administration, with a president-elect known for his unpredictable temperament, lack of government experience, and little understanding of foreign relations. Shaping a new order in the Middle East "will require making tough decisions and, ultimately, recognizing that we may have to deal with people and leaders that we abhor if we want to help bring stability back to the region," Nixon writes.

And while it's long been known that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, the memoir still details an illuminating exchange between Hussein and his CIA interrogators, who asked him whether his regime had considered using WMDs preemptively against American troops. The Iraqi president answered, "We never thought about using weapons of mass destruction. It was not discussed."

Nixon writes, "This was not what we had expected to hear. How, then, had America got it so wrong?"

Nixon also criticizes the CIA for what he paints as a sycophantic work culture, with agents being more interested in pandering to the president than in gathering accurate information. In a review of the upcoming book, New York Times reporter James Risen details how the analyst describes the CIA as "a haven for yes-men excessively eager to please the White House," where expertise "is not valued, indeed not trusted.”

That atmosphere led to an institutional misunderstanding of Hussein's character. Nixon writes:

The CIA profile of Saddam suggested he was a chronic liar, yet he could be quite candid. Our perception that he ruled with an iron grip was also mistaken. It became clear from our interrogations that in his final years, Saddam seemed clueless about what had been happening inside Iraq. He was inattentive to what his government was doing, had no real plan for the defense of Iraq and could not comprehend the immensity of the approaching storm.

Meanwhile, then-President George W. Bush himself heard "only what he wanted to hear" on the topic. In late 2007, Nixon recalls giving a presentation on Hussein to Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney, where he described the Iraqi leader as disarming and self-deprecating. "The president looked as if he was going to lose his cool. I quickly explained that the real Saddam was sarcastic, arrogant, and sadistic, which seemed to calm Bush down," Nixon says.

"As I was leaving, he joked: 'You sure Saddam didn't say where he put those vials of anthrax?'" Nixon writes. "Everyone laughed, but I thought his crack inappropriate. America had lost more than 4,000 troops."

Saddam Hussein Was Not 'Worth Removing From Power': Ex-CIA Agent

Saudi Arabia admits it used UK-made cluster bombs in Yemen
Confirmation by Saudi-led coalition raises pressure on UK government which has refused to curb arms sales to Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has finally admitted that it used UK-manufactured cluster bombs against Houthi rebels in Yemen, increasing pressure on the British government which has repeatedly refused to curb arms sales to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia said it would cease to use UK-manufactured cluster bombs and that it had informed the UK government of this decision.

Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said: “It has become apparent that there was limited use by the coalition of the UK-manufactured BL755 cluster munition in Yemen.”

The decision to stop using the cluster bombs follows an internal Saudi investigation conducted in discussion with the UK. Saudi officials said it had only been completed last week.

The admission came in advance of a statement by Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, admitting that UK-supplied cluster bombs had been used by Saudi Arabian-led forces. Fallon told the House of Commons that a “limited number” of BL755 cluster munitions exported from the UK in the 1980s had been dropped by the Arab coalition.

He said he welcomed Saudi Arabia’s confirmation it would not use further BL755 cluster munitions and that Britain’s sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would be kept under review.

The UK and US are supporting the Saudis against the Houthi militia, which is aligned with Iran. The Saudi-led air campaign has devastated huge swaths of rebel-controlled areas, with high civilian casualties. Last week the US suspended arms sales planned for Saudi Arabia but the UK, has refused to follow suit.

The UK government has been prevaricating for months on the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, its biggest market for weapons sales. Adding to the embarrassment, the UK is a signatory to an international treaty banning cluster bombs.

The prime minister, Theresa May, refused to answer when pressed by the Scottish National party in the House of Commons about when she first became aware that UK-made cluster bombs were used by Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

The UK government’s line is that there had been no confirmation about the cluster bombs until the Saudis completed their inquiry last week.

Asiri, in a press release published in Al Arabiya newspaper, defended the use of the bombs. “This munition was used against legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages against continuous attacks by Houthi militia, which resulted in Saudi civilian casualties,” he said.

The UK has a military team in place at Saudi headquarters giving advice on the air campaign but the Ministry of Defence insists they do not help with targeting, simply advising on whether targets are not in breach of international law.

Asiri said the cluster bombs had been used only against “legitimate military targets” to protect civilian casualties in Saudi Arabia, but did not specify whether any Yemeni civilians had been killed.

The cluster bombs, the use of which was first raised by Amnesty International, had been used between December 2015 and January 2016 near al-Khadra in Yemen.

While the UK had stopped manufacturing cluster bombs in 1989 and signed up to a convention in 2008 not to use them, neither Saudi Arabia nor the US has signed the convention. Since the UK is an ally of both, and the convention says signatories should not aid or abet countries using them, the legal position is unclear.

Andrew Smith, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The use of UK cluster bombs by Saudi Arabia is characteristic of a brutal war and a brutal regime. If Saudi forces are prepared to use cluster bombs, then why is the UK continuing to arm and support the regime?

“Once a weapon has left these shores, there’s little if any control over where and when it will be used and who it will be used against. The UK must act now to stop the arms sales and to end its complicity in the humanitarian catastrophe that has been unleashed on the Yemeni people.”

Saudi Arabia admits it used UK-made cluster bombs in Yemen

Source: ONTD_Political

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