Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for March 2023

Lesson from Iraq and Syria

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Everybody’s asking what lessons can be learned from Iraq twenty years after the invasion and occupation. But more can be learned by looking back further, to 1991.

I’ve just listened to the two episodes on the The Rest is Politics podcast in which Rory Stewart grills Alastair Campbell on the 2003 invasion. It’s a fascinating discussion which I recommend listening to, but there are some glaring omissions. First, there’s lots of talk about British military casualties and the effects on western politics in the years since (and good they mention the Iraq hangover’s role in the west’s criminal inaction in Syria), but not much talk on the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. Next, and most importantly, there is no mention of the American decision in 1991, after driving Iraqi forces from Kuwait, to not only leave Saddam in office but to give him permission to use helicopter gunships to put down the uprising in the mainly Shia Iraqi south.

That was the time to remove Saddam from power, not as a remotely decided regime change, but in support of a population that was already rising against the tyrant. At that key moment, America (and its allies) decided to NOT protect the Iraqi population. America had soldiers right there in southern Iraq watching as Saddam’s forces massacred civilians and filled mass graves. The reason for this was probably fear that Iran would take advantage – but if this terrified decision makers then into such immoral behaviour, why in 2003 did British and American decision makers not bother even considering how Iran would take advantage of their invasion? Of course the end result of the 2003 invasion was the takeover of Iraqi institutions by Iranian-run militias. This was the key factor in the rise of ISIS and then the consequent war to destroy the so-called ‘caliphate’.

So in 1991, after destroying the Iraqi army and liberating Kuwait, the US chose to allow Saddam to slaughter the southern Shia. Then it imposed ruinous sanctions which destroyed the Iraqi middle class. Sectarianism became much worse as Saddam used loyal Sunni troops to massacre Shia, and as he turned to sectarian rhetoric to shore up his damaged rule. By 2003, when the US and Britain decided to invade for their own reasons, on their own timetable, it wasn’t surprising that the place soon collapsed in civil war.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 22, 2023 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Iraq, Syria

Palestinian Assadists

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There’s nothing more ridiculous than a Palestinian Assadist. For western Assadists, the Arab world is a blank on which to project ideological fantasies. But the Palestinians are part of this world. So what makes some repeat inhuman and absurd Assadist propaganda?

One Revolution, by Abosherkoshamalhawa

How has the Assad regime under father and son won such loyalty? Is it because in 1967 Hafez al-Assad, then defence minister, ordered the Syrian army to retreat from the Golan before any Israeli soldiers had turned up? So the Golan was handed to Israel, which then annexed it. Or is it because in 1973 Hafez al-Assad, now in absolute control, lost another war (not surprising given his endless purges and rabid sectarianization of the army) but spun the defeat as a historic victory and proof of his nationalist genius? Perhaps it’s because early in the Lebanese civil war, the Assad regime, which had loudly proclaimed its support for the Palestinian/Muslim/leftist alliance, intervened, but on the side of the pro-Israel Maronite Falangists to defeat the Palestinian/Muslim/Leftist alliance? Or could it be because throughout the 1980s the Assad regime slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in camps in Lebanon, most notably at Tel Za’atar? Perhaps it’s because the regime under Bashar utterly destroyed Yarmouk camp, until then Syria’s most important centre of Palestinian culture. Or because the regime tortured and starved so many Palestinians to death during the Syrian Revolution. Or maybe Assadist Palestinians love the regime because its reign has seen all of Syria parceled out to foreign powers – Russia, Iran, the United States, Turkey, the Turkish-Kurdish PKK, as well as the part it had already handed to Israel. Perhaps they believe the destruction of Syria’s cities, the murder of a million Syrians, and the expulsion of millions more, will in the end hasten the liberation of Palestine.

I should say that very many, probably most, Palestinians sympathise with the revolutionary Syrian people and not with the regime (and its allies) killing them. The more working class and more religious the Palestinian, the more this is the case (in my experience). And among liberal middle class activists there are many decent people who have shown solidarity with Syrians. Here’s a great statement by some of them from 2016. But some of the signatories were ostracised by other Palestinians for signing. Amongst the West Bank middle classes, including not a few faux-intellectuals, there’s plenty of Assadism. There’s also, for God’s sake, the statue of Saddam Hussein at Bir Zeit.

Why is it that this kind of Palestinian, the very kind who in previous decades we might have considered as being at the forefront of radical politics in the Arab world, has become enmeshed in such backward and inhumane modes of thought? It might be because the Palestinians haven’t experienced the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring. This isn’t really their fault. They are stuck with the old nationalist narratives because they are stuck with a foreign occupation. Whereas their neighbours have moved on to postcolonial struggles. The foreign occupations have gone (or had gone, before Assad brought them back), so the struggle now is against those gangsters who seized control of the weakened countries the colonialists left behind.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 5, 2023 at 8:30 am

Posted in Palestine, Syria