Category Archives: War

IRAQ-SYRIA: Stop the killing

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a U.S. military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base’s lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

“I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

Oscar Romero muralThe three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren’t soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero’s final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.

Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his support for women’s ordination) were sentenced to 15 -18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero’s words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero’s appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.

As we approach the nightmare of renewed, expanded U.S. war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero’s words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio.  With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.

I believe we should try very hard to hear the grievances of people in Iraq and the region, including those who have joined the Islamic State, regarding U.S. policies and wars that have radically affected their lives and well-being over the past three decades.  It could be that many of the Iraqis who are fighting with Islamic State forces lived through Saddam Hussein’s oppression when he received enthusiastic support from the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Many may be survivors of the U.S. Desert Storm bombing in 1991, which destroyed every electrical facility across Iraq.  When the U.S. insisted on imposing crushing and murderous economic sanctions on Iraq for the next 13 years, these sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of a half million children under age five.  The children who died should have been teenagers now; are some of the Islamic State fighters the brothers or cousins of the children who were punished to death by economic sanctions? Presumably many of these fighters lived through the U.S.-led 2003 Shock and Awe invasion and bombing of Iraq and the chaos the U.S. chose to create afterwards by using a war-shattered country as some sort of free market experiment; they’ve endured the repressive corruption of the regime the U.S. helped install in Saddam’s place.

The United Nations should take over the response to the Islamic State, and people should continue to pressure the U.S. and its allies to leave the response not merely to the U.N. but to its most democratic constituent body, the General Assembly.

But facing the bloody mess that has developed in Iraq and Syria, I think Archbishop Romero’s exhortation to the Salvadoran soldiers pertains directly to U.S. people.   Suppose these words were slightly rewritten:  I want to make a special appeal to the people of the United States. Each of you is one of us. The peoples you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a person telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you …I command you to stop the repression.

The war on the Islamic State will distract us from what the U.S. has done and is doing to create further despair, in Iraq, and to enlist new recruits for the Islamic State.   The Islamic State is the echo of the last war the U.S. waged in Iraq, the so-called “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion.   The emergency is not the Islamic State but war.

We in the U.S. must give up our notions of exceptionalism; recognize the economic and societal misery our country caused in Iraq; recognize that we are a perpetually war-crazed nation; seek to make reparations; and find dramatic, clear ways to insist that Romero’s words be heard: Stop the killing.

* This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence http://www.vcnv.org.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

n-US-AIRSTRIKE-large570As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement…

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AFGHANISTAN: International Day of Nonviolence in Afghanistan

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul–“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer (APV) from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.

The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning.  To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the Palace, which is a war ruin.  But the police, citing general security concerns, had denied us permission.

Imadullah and Rauff, another APV member, continued discussing the attack. Rauff believes that the latest string of suicide bombings in Kabul have been in response to actions of the newly formed government. “Three days ago, they signed the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA),” Rauff explained. “The Taliban condemned the new government, now led by former World Bank official President Ashraf Ghani and ex-warlord Vice President General Dostum, for signing the agreement.”

Listening to Imadullah’s and Rauff’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, I wondered if I myself had become inured to this sober Afghan reality of perpetual war.

We were soon joined by Zekerullah and Abdulhai who had gathered local street children at Borderfree Community Centre, so we could supervise their walk to a nearby park, the alternative place for our event.

“I’m taking music lessons and if I’m good enough, the teachers say I may be able to participate in Afghan Star (like the American Idol show) in the future!” said Nur Rahman, after belting out a sweet Afghan love song for me.

“We wish for a life without wars,” Mehdi, a boot polisher in our street kid program, said emphatically as we set off towards the park. “He’s telling the truth!” echoed another street kid walking just behind him.

Most people outside Afghanistan are too far away to preoccupy themselves over what the former British envoy to Afghanistan called an ‘eye wateringly expensive exercise in military futility’.

Whereas seemingly everyone understands that wars are futile, U.S./NATO and Afghan politicians have nevertheless wired their media and general public to believe that this war, in Afghanistan, is necessary. Through the BSA, they have agreed to keep long term U.S./NATO military bases in Afghanistan. The decision will assuredly prolong war and violence.

Governments involved in Afghanistan spend a vast bulk of their borrowed or tax-payer money not on food, water, shelter, education, health and other basic human needs, but on the machine of war.

Most of us assume that our leaders must know what to do, even if they have failed to bring genuine security after 13 years. I feel a deep frustration.

On our way to the park, street vendors and shopkeepers asked us, “What’s the occasion? Why the blue scarves?” Ordinary Afghans, trying to eke out a meagre living in a country with at least 36% unemployment, seem eager for some action, some change.

The blue scarves looked strikingly beautiful along the pot-holed road. “We’re a group of drug addicts!” Mirwais replied playfully. “No, we’re a group for nonviolence!” Mirwais is another street kid who has seen numerous people addicted to opium living under bridges in Kabul. Unable to find work in Afghanistan, many Afghan men go to Iran where they work illegally as labourers. There, they get addicted to drugs.

The APVs couldn’t help but feel weighed down by the serious irony of promoting nonviolence in a country where the world’s most powerful nations have gathered to wage war.

After Mohammad Qawa and Zebiullah had lifted our spirits with their guitar-accompanied singing, I took the loud-hailer to offer a word of encouragement.

“When I am abroad, I hear that you are the generation of war.” I sensed uneasiness in the air. Some of the youth responded in what I’ve noticed is a common Afghan way of coping with their harsh lives – they laughed.

“But well done to all of you for coming today to show that no, you are not a generation of war. You are a generation of love!” I didn’t expect the rapturous, supportive applause!

“On the International Day of Nonviolence,” I added, “we remember a quote from Gandhi, that ‘where there is love, there is life.’” I thought of how my Afghan friends among the Peace Volunteers have demonstrated love and affirmed life, and felt grateful.

The energetic little ones together with the sober youth and adults joined hands as they formed a circle, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and other Afghan ethnicities, each wearing the Borderfree blue scarf signifying our belief that we’re all human beings living under the same blue sky!

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“When I see this circle of children and youth,” Abdulhai told the group, “I feel excited about the possibility of change.”

We need this excitement to generate more and more circles of friendship, along with many more relationships that can help us understand that our governments have unfortunately disguised perpetual war as peace.

The Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and extremists like the Taliban will fight on and on, drop and lay bombs to kill mostly civilians, escalate hate, anger, hunger and thirst, rape our earth of its minerals, gases and oil, and warm our globe to extinction. They are increasing violence in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria, in the drug war in Mexico, on Wall Street against the 99%, through the tar sands in Canada, in student debt loans everywhere….

We need to work hard, cheerfully and patiently, to reach the human family with a simple message that we the people no longer like authoritarian, weapon-wielding profiteers. Too many of us are dying.

Our leaders inhabit an unequal system that is driven by the same corrupt power and egos that gripped ancient kings and queens. To hoard money and power for themselves, they are repeating the violent acts of history, and we can no longer satisfactorily explain to our children why they need to suffer for the elite.

We cannot wait. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” So, I readily join the APVs’ mission: to abolish war.

We understand that ‘we are the ones we’ve been waiting for’.

“Wake up! We are not the war generation. We are the generation of love!”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

CLIMATE CHANGE: War and climate change – Time to connect the dots

by Sheila D. Collins, Truth-out.org

NWNWimageThere was something surreal about the president announcing that he had just launched a heavy airstrike against militants in Syria – in effect, plunging the United States further into an unending quagmire in the Middle East – on the same day that he went to the UN to claim that he was serious about tackling climate change. It is as if climate change and war were distinct ontological categories when in fact climate change is both a catalyst of conflict and a result of it. Competition over resources – land, water, energy – has always been the ground of conflicts within and between nations despite the fact that they may be clothed in the trappings of ethnic, religious or national rivalries.

In the decade between 2001 and 2011, global military spending increased by an estimated 92 percent, according to Stockholm International Peace Research, although it fell by 1.9 percent in real terms in 2013 to $1,747 billion. At the same time, according to the draft of a new study from the International Peace Bureau (1), almost 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent has been released into the atmosphere. According to the Global Carbon Project, 2014 emissions are set to reach a record high. Could there be some connection between rising military expenditures and rising carbon emissions?

The United States and its allies have spent trillions financing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but while the terrible social, cultural and economic costs are publicly discussed, little is said about the environmental costs. Not only is the Pentagon the single largest industrial consumer of fossil fuels, but fighter jets, destroyers, tanks and other weapons systems emit highly toxic, carbon-intensive emissions, not to mention the greenhouse gases (GHG) that are released from the detonation of bombs. How quickly the world forgot the toxic legacy of Saddam Hussein’s oil fires!

And now we have the spectacle of the US bombing oil refineries in Syria in an attempt to cripple the oil revenue stream to ISIS. There has been one study done on the estimated impact of US military GHG emissions from both direct fuel consumption and upstream emissions related to the manufacture of materials and equipment procured for military activities. Tellingly, this impact has been ignored by our media and politicians, leaving the public in ignorance. There ought, in addition, to be a study of the amount of GHG emitted for each ton of explosives that are detonated, but the military sector – with the exception of the military’s domestic fuel use – is excluded from UN inventories of national greenhouse gas emissions thanks to intensive lobbying by the United States at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. The exclusion of the military sector from national greenhouse gas inventories makes a mockery of the entire UN climate process…

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IRAQ-SYRIA: Moral responsibility to protect Syrian citizens from drone strikes

Pax Christi USA has signed onto the following letter. We encourage others to add their names.

Dear Mr. President:

We write with growing concerning over the air strikes in Syria and Iraq. News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority. As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue. We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.

Your stated reason for engaging in military action against ISIL was to protect innocent civilians and to bolster the security of the United States against terrorist attack. The recent deaths of civilians, which may have been preventable under your previous stated policy, will only serve to increase the fear and distrust U.S. military action in the region has produced since 2002. It is very likely that these deaths will further radicalize the population, which only serves to weaken the national security of the United States.

drone

We join Human Rights Watch in calling for an investigation into whether the recent strikes in Idlib were unlawful and urge your administration to cooperate in any such investigation…

Click here to read the entire letter and/or sign.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The folly of bombing

by David Cortwright

iraq-syria-buttonIf bombing were an effective way of ending terrorism and violent extremism, Afghanistan and Iraq now would be oases of tranquility. Pakistan would be a peaceful paradise. Israel would be safe and free from the fear of terrorist attack.

Despite more than a decade of U.S. bombing and large scale military intervention, the Taliban controls large swaths of territory in Afghanistan, and ethnic militias and violent extremist groups dominate Iraq. Hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and bombardments by the Pakistani army have not pacified Waziristan. Thousands of Israeli strikes have not diminished Hamas’ grip on Gaza. Air strikes and military interventions in these cases have hardened local resistance and increased the flow of militant recruits…

Click here to read the entire article.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The hypocrisy of further military intervention in Iraq

by Julio R. Sharp-Wasserman

iraq-syria-buttonAs the United States government initiates another war in the Middle East, we are yet again asked to ignore glaring absurdities in the government’s justification of large-scale violence. A distaste for hypocrisy, so central to Jesus’ moral vision, plays an essential role in the outlook of any morally devoted person. Yet a central fact of modern politics, and one accepted as a truism in modern political science since the writings of Max Weber a century ago, is that the state claims a monopoly on the use of violence through a police and military, a privilege whose public legitimacy is based upon its use to condemn, punish and prevent violence committed by others.

This hypocrisy at the essence of the political sphere is one that we do not reflect upon often enough. We seek security of our life and property by recourse to an institution—government—which was responsible for almost all and certainly the most appalling instances of violence in the 20th century. Genocide, mass imprisonment and torture, and large-scale conflagrations can only be brought about by institutions with the taxed resources and the social privilege necessary to organize such large-scale violence. Yet these same institutions, and always the largest and most powerful of them, are, inexplicably, routinely tasked with mitigating violence whenever and wherever it materializes in the world.

The best thing anyone can do to decrease violence in the world is to abstain from violence and embody peace; and as the country with by far the largest and most active military, the best thing we can do to make the world a more peaceful place is to stop going to war. Yet the U.S. government is now telling us that the latest round of violence in the Middle East is an evil that must be stopped by still more imprecisely destructive airstrikes on civilian areas. This is, of course, exactly what we were told about the crimes of Saddam Hussein, in the official attempt to justify a war which turned out to be far more destructive than his regime. Even the most conservative estimates have placed the death toll of this war in the hundreds of thousands, and the displaced—many of whom are religious minorities or other refugees of newly unleashed sectarian violence—in the millions.

The Obama administration, in a display of astounding moral insincerity whose purpose was clearly to drum up support for more extensive intervention, bombed ISIS targets at Sinjar Mountain this summer, claiming concern for the welfare of the Yazidi religious minority. The administration did this without mentioning the fact that religious minorities in Iraq, from Yazidis to Shabaks to Christians, have been far more unsafe since the invasion and before ISIS came to prominence. It also should not be forgotten that ISIS’s formation was a direct result of the original 2003 invasion, in the wake of which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi exploited instability and newly ripened sectarian tension to build an anti-Shiite unofficial al-Qaida off-shoot in Iraq that later became ISIS. And instability in neighboring Syria, which has been ISIS’s other training ground, is certainly attributable to a significant extent to the free movement of radicals between Iraq and Syria since the destruction of the Iraqi government.

As Martin Luther King taught us, paraphrasing Jesus, violence only begets more violence; and Iraq right now is a concrete illustration of this proverb. Let us also not forget the classical liberal dictum that every government intervention has unintended consequences, because of the essential unmanageability of human behavior. Human behavior is unpredictable and that of those enraged by violence and instability is yet more unpredictable. The future conduct of millions of people affected by a large-scale act of government violence such as the one being initiated, is so far beyond the capacities of human foresight that no consequentialist argument in defense of an act of war like this one, least of all in the complex region is question, is plausible. After all, none of those within the American war machine who are currently advocating war against ISIS predicted its rise in the first place. But what is predictable is that more violence will make Iraq a more violent place.