Just over a week back allegations were made that MI5 had co-operated with the Assad regime in the torture and rendition of Libyan dissidents (also, that British authorities refused an offer by an experienced hostage negotiator to arrange a deal to free aid worker Alan Henning, who subsequently was brutally murdered by his ISIS captors). But the alleged British Intelligence link to Assad was no one off…
Moaazzam Begg was about to be tried in a British court after being detained for seven months on charges of supporting terrorists in Syria but was suddenly informed that the trial would not proceed after his solicitor, Gareth Pierce, had forced MI5 to admit that her client had been given the ‘green light’ to go to Syria by them. Later, in a Channel 4 News briefing, Begg hinted that during his time in Syria he had obtained information on Britain’s intelligence-gathering interests in Syria and that he had been prepared to release details of these at his trial. Begg, who had successfully organised the release of hostages held in Syria, stated how Muslim friends of Henning had asked if he would negotiate directly with ISIS for his release. Subsequently, Begg approached British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt to ask if this could be arranged, but this request was denied.
Begg’s allegations about MI5 are particularly pertinent given that some 18 months back information emerged about how Finmeccanica, a security and military communications company and whose UK operations were led by former head of GCQH Sir Kevin Tebbit, had supplied equipment to the Assad regime. Was this a case of ‘supping with the devil’ s so as to gain intelligence on Assad? Or was it more about gaining intelligence on those who oppose him?
Wikileaks’ ‘Syria Files’ revealed how Finmeccanica, an Italian multinational defense equipment company, provided Assad with communication equipment and expertise on military helicopters. Selex Elsag, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, sold the communications equipment to Syria in May 2011 even though the EU had imposed an arms embargo on the regime. The equipment included Tetra, which was intended for the Syrian police and military. In February 2012 Selex Elsag engineers visited Syria to provide training. (Another Finmeccanica senior administrator (non-executive) and former director of the GCHQ was Sir David Omand who, incidentally, was the co-author of the DEMOS report on the computer espionage strategy for the UK Government and which advocated mass snooping of Twitter and Facebook.)
The Finnecannica/Selex deal may have been a matter of commercial opportunism, though it clearly would also have provided the company with direct access to the regime at a time when it was unclear how the then nascent insurgency in Syria would develop. At the time of the deal ISIS was not yet formed, or was at least in its infancy. What games, if any, that Finmeccanica was up to is not known, but this matter and related ones will hopefully be examined in more detail in due course. Whatever, it is patently clear that ISIS is but an unforeseen product of the destabilisation of the brutal Assad regime, the sectarian conflicts still rife in Iraq, and bungling by US and UK forces in particular in the region. (Here, by the way, is investigative journalist Duncan Campbell’s post-Snowden take on The Register’s expose of GCHQ’s Middle East cable tap mapping.)
ISIS has never laid claim to moral legitimacy, as evidenced by its cruelty to all those who stand in its way; instead its aim is simple: global war and Armageddon. The trick by its opponents is to avoid both while ensuring that further innocent casualties – collateral damage – are minimised.
Meanwhile two interesting articles – commentaries – were published on this third Iraq War: one in The Observer by Nick Cohen’, the other in The Guardian by Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. In the Cohen article we are presented with another euphemism that is a most worthy candidate of newspeak – namely, ‘collateral benefit’ (i.e. unintended benefits – in this case applied to the Assad regime). In the Manning article – several ‘solutions’ for dealing with this war are proposed by (Manning is currently serving 35 years imprisonment for his part in the Wikileaks revelations of war crimes in the second Iraq War).
There can surely be only one side to back in this war: that of the hundreds of thousands of innocents who have neither sought the conflict or who are forced into it against their wishes. Take the ISIS controlled city of Mosul: it has a population of two million. That’s not two million combatants, but two million citizens who have become – willingly or otherwise (more likely the latter) – human shields in this terrible conflict. It is likely that at some point air strikes will be used against this city.
- For a comprehensive timeline of the latest war in the Iraq/Syria region, click here.
- To see statistics on casualties, click here.
- To access the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, click here.