By Hamish de Bretton Gordon.
Sitting with the Peshmerga forces of Iraqi Kurdistan in Gwer, not far from Mosul, the juxtaposition between the genocide of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein and what is happening to innocent civilians, like Omar Daqneesh in Aleppo is horrifyingly similar. However, it offers, in a somewhat lateral fashion, some hope.
I’m here to advise and train the Peshmerga to counter the increasingly frequent mustard agent and chlorine attacks which have the potential to delay their advance on Mosul to push ISIS out of Iraq.
During the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s Saddam killed up to 400,000 Kurds with chemical weapons, including 5,000 in one day at Halabja, amid indiscriminate bombing of defenceless villages.
After the liberation of Kuwait, which I still remember quite graphically as a young tank officer, Saddam turned with an even greater vengeance on the Kurds. But it was Britain, led by Sir John Major who forced the International Community to set up a No Fly Zone. This saved the Iraqi Kurds, prevented huge numbers being murdered, and millions more becoming refugees. It is these very Kurds, the highly effective Peshmerga who are defeating ISIS in Iraq and in the last few days have pushed ISIS back to within 20 kms of Mosul.
In Syria, there are at least 500,000 dead civilians from the current bloody conflict, and the majority have been killed by the regimes indiscriminate barrel bombs many filled with chemical weapons, napalm and high explosives. Assad killed up to 1,500 civilians in a single day at Ghouta, 21 Aug 13, using the same deadly nerve agent, Sarin, and the same operating procedures as Saddam had done at Halabja on 16 Mar 88. After Halabja the International Community ‘sat on its collective hands’ for 3 years, the same as Ghouta.
This is an opportunity for history to repeat itself in Syria, but this time in a positive fashion. Today, 3 years after the Ghouta chemical attack, there is the opportunity to introduce a No Fly Zone for helicopters over civilian areas to stop this needless killing. It is these helicopters, and their illegal barrel bombs which are the war crimes and crimes against humanity leading to the genocide unfolding on our TV screens, in the papers and social media. This surely cannot be denied by anybody who possesses the merest hint of decency. Every senior politician I have lobbied in the last 6 months, except Jo Cox and Andrew Mitchell, told me this No Fly Zone is not possible because of the Russians. I do not believe the Russians are dropping barrel bombs and I have heard both Putin and Lavrov say that Russian aircraft are not targeting civilians or hospitals, so why would they not agree to it?
I call on, I plead with our new Prime Minister, who I gauge has the quiet understated steel of Sir John Major, to lead the International Community again to this No Fly Zone approach. Tracking and stopping slow moving helicopters which drop barrel bombs, is relatively straightforward with the array of technology that the Coalition has at its control, and is potentially quick to put into effect. Britain even has the Royal Navy assets in the Eastern Mediterranean today, to do this ourselves, I judge.
It must be time now for ‘good men and women’ to act, to ensure that Omar Daqneesh and his generation survive to build a new Syria and not to be another statistic in this genocide or to become the Jihadists of tomorrow.
Adapted from an article originally at the Daily Telegraph.co.uk