Published on August 15th, 2014 |
by Charles Fleetham
Image © Iraq 2003
The third invasion of Iraq?
It has recently emerged that Britain has sent a contingent of SAS soldiers to Iraq on an intelligence gathering mission in regards to potential rescue operations for the Yazidi refugees on Mount Sinjar. This comes amid continued UK aid drops to the refugees and US air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) militants besieging the Yazidi. The US has announced that a rescue attempt will not be needed as fewer refugees remain trapped on Mount Sinjar and conditions are not as desperate as previously expected. This may be a result of the continued air strikes against militants besieging the mountain, combined with aid drops for the refugees. Whilst the situation for the Yazidi is undoubtedly awful, the question remains whether the UK should be getting involved in Iraq once more. Additionally, we have to consider whether fighting IS in Iraq will be enough to stem the rise of this extremist group.
I have previously made my stance on military intervention clear in an article for the Institute of Opinion, arguing that as a Liberal Interventionist I subscribe to the belief that intervention is justified when it is on a humanitarian basis – the dominant nations of the UN have a duty to intervene in other countries if the purpose is to protect civilians and if their motives are completely transparent. At this moment of time only the US has chosen to utilize their military might to intervene, performing air strikes on IS militants near Erbil and near Mount Sinjar. Although initially described as ‘limited’ air strikes, the likelihood is now that the Obama administration has committed to air strikes to protect refugees, a resolution may be made to expand this mandate to other areas of Iraq. Importantly, Western powers have been firm in their refusal to send ground troops to Iraq. Neither the UK nor the US wish to get trapped in Iraq for another blood soaked decade. Despite both powers having already sent military units on intelligence missions to Iraq, the distinction between this and a full-scale troop deployment in Iraq is clear.
However, a military intervention does not require ground troops. The NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 did not involve boots on the ground, rather the establishment of a no-fly zone and the use of tactical air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces. The chances are that we will see a similar intervention in Iraq, paired with the delivery of high quality arms to the Kurdish troops. With central Iraqi government currently bitterly divided over its leadership, it is becoming evident that the horse to back is the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). No matter if it is Nouri al-Maliki or Haider al-Abadi ruling from Baghdad, the fact remains their sphere of influence does not extend far from the capital. It has been the forces of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani who has managed to consistently push IS extremists from Kurdistan, only recently have IS fighters come close to Erbil – prompting US air strikes.
What does this mean for those of us living in the UK? Why does it matter? There are a few reasons why this hits UK politics. Firstly IS has called for a global caliphate leading to misled individuals handing out propaganda in London. Secondly, conflicts like these are a regional issue. It was the bloodshed in Syria that led to IS gaining enough strength to spread into Iraq. There is a risk that IS will open a third front in Lebanon. A regional conflict in the Middle East will hit our economy in the UK, increase the amount that the Government chooses to spend on humanitarian aid and could cause internal strife with our own Muslim population. No matter how we look at it, the current conflict in the Middle East will have consequences for us.
It is my passionate belief that we, as members of a global society, have a duty to protect innocent civilians who are at risk of violence. We are currently doing that as we seek to provide aid to the Yazidi refugees, with the UN declaring a major emergency in Iraq, meaning that as a level 3 emergency it should be easier to mobilise more aid resources. However, I believe we should be doing more, the UNSC should act to enforce a no-fly zone over Iraq and authorise air strikes on any IS stronghold in Iraq. Yet, it is unlikely that the UNSC will do this with the West and Russia currently at loggerheads over Ukraine. Furthermore, there remains the issue of Syria. If the UN were to approve strikes in Iraq, then what about IS bases in Syria? The IS fighters would just retreat back to Syria and continue to proliferate there, whilst still being able to send raiding parties into Iraq to continue to destabilise the Iraqi government.
If IS were to be defeated in Iraq, through coordinated initiatives between the KRG and the Iraqi government, alongside air strikes and military aid, then IS will continue to exist in Syria. We will not see the end of this bloodthirsty militant group, until we see the end of the current cycle of conflict in the Middle East.
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