Middle Eastern wars


The long Sunni-Shia civil war continues in several parts of the Middle East. The news from Syria is not good, with reports that the more moderate opposition that the west wishes to encourage against Assad is being squeezed between government and its more extreme opponents. Meanwhile in Iraq it is proving difficult to marshall the forces on the ground to counter the ISIL fighters.

As many military experts have predicted, it is difficult identifying and hitting suitable targets from the air against ISIL when they are dug into residential areas and are not easy  to single out  amidst the general population. Air power can destroy their larger military equipment when it is suitably exposed, and can deal with any concentration of ISIL fighting force outside residential areas, but it is less useful when fighters have infiltrated a community and can use the local population as cover or as collaborators.

In Libya the democratic government struggles to exert much authority over the country, which remains gripped by various armed bands and militias fighting for supremacy or advantage. The democratic government of Iraq has still to find the right voice to win over the parts of the country it does not control, as it also goes about the difficult task of trying to remove the influence of ISIL and other hostile forces from some of Iraq’s communities.

The recent BBC documentaries on the Afghan war served as a timely reminder of the trouble the previous UK government experienced in trying to win over the province of  Helmand for the Afghan civilian government. The BBC voiced US criticisms of the UK for not committing enough troops to the huge task, leaving our forces at times exposed or needing to retreat. US reinforcements were finally delivered in recognition that the province was very large and in need of substantial numbers of well armed personnel to try to provide the level of security the civilian administration wanted.

I read that we are now becoming more involved again in training local forces to help them carry out the dangerous and difficult tasks of policing these areas subject to civil war and ISIL insurrection. It should be easier for local forces than our own, as they speak the local languages and understand more of the local customs and politics. However, their task too will prove difficult or even impossible if there is  not a sufficient intensive political process undertaken to prove to most of the people living in modern Iraq that the  borders make sense and it is best as one country. Their forces also need to attain the highest levels of professionalism, keen to be neutral in the cause of justice between the competing people and communities. This is something they have to want to do. It is not easy teaching people unless they see the need themselves to behave in the recommended way.


  1. Richard1
    November 8, 2014

    Libya has been a disaster as predicted by Max Hastings and others. The (alleged ed)Libyan rapists and muggers who were brought over here for training will now perhaps -(etc ed) have a right under human rights legislation to remain in the UK, claim extensive legal aid, cost public money in benefits and police and prosecution costs, and perhaps at the end of it get UK citizenship.

    1. Mondeo Man
      November 8, 2014

      Those refugee boats crossing the Mediterranean ?

      Mr Cameron’s fault.

      1. Mitchel
        November 14, 2014

        Indeed, Gaddaffi was a much better border guard than anyone we currently employ back home.

    2. Richard1
      November 8, 2014

      Indeed I should have put alleged if they have not been found guilty.

  2. lojolondon
    November 8, 2014

    John, I am not sure if we do want to train these people to the highest levels of professionalism (and arming them too) – because it won’t be too long before they are attacking us again!

  3. Lifelogic
    November 8, 2014

    All very depressing true I suspect. Libya particularly and the whole region seems to be in a terrible mess thanks to Blair, Bush, Brown and Cameron.

    Osborne claims he a achieved a result for Britain and indeed he did. Brussels ten British tax payers nil. The dishonest & cynical way it has been presented by Cameron and Osborne (falsely claiming they have halved it) is even worse than the demand itself. It shows clearly that as Douglas Carswell puts it Cameron is not remotely serious on the EU renegotiation.

    They will surely spin a few fig leaf concession in the same pathetic & dishonest way. Perhaps better not to have a referendum under the EU fanatic Cameron. The public are not as stupid as he takes them for.

    I do not think Miliband will fall on his sword or be evicted but if he does Yvette Cooper seems to be the favourite. So we might end up with a choice between two Oxford PPE, pro EU, fake green, high tax borrow and waste, anti-democratic & dishonest socialists. Neither of whom seem to have ever held what I would describe as a real job.

    1. Hope
      November 9, 2014

      Well said LL. There is no difference between Cameron and Miliband, other than Miliband has original ideas and Cameron copies them.

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    November 8, 2014

    No follow up to yesterday’s EU shenanigans. Not surprised, as you don’t want to rock the boat. Party before country is such a powerful force in political life.

    1. willH
      November 8, 2014

      “yesterdays shenanigans” must have proved to anyone who was in any doubt that any renegotiation by Cameron will be a waste of time, shows how stupid they think we are if they think we`ll believe this is victory.

      1. Lifelogic
        November 8, 2014

        Surely the very last straw from the say one thing do the opposite Cameron/Heathite/Majorite conman, we shall see how Rochester reacts to this transparent PR stunt and cave in. Very few of the any question’s audience were taken in by it (and the audience are nearly always “BBC think” EU enthusiasts.

    2. Leslie Singleton
      November 8, 2014

      Brian–I never thought to find myself agreeing totally with Ed Balls–It all seemed trivially simple and with little indeed to talk about unless we are going to get the rebate twice, which I doubt.

    3. Lifelogic
      November 8, 2014

      What is there to be said? Just PR spinner Cameron & Osborne acting true to form yet again. Few will be fooled as we shall see in the by-election.

    4. Denis Cooper
      November 8, 2014

      Personally I think George Osborne has done a fantastic job by finding out that the EU Commission had always intended to refund half of this extra contribution to the EU budget under the normal UK rebate system.

      It couldn’t have been easy to drag that information out of them, because his boss David Cameron had spent two days in Brussels in the company of EU leaders, including the President of the EU Commission, and as he had to admit in the Commons afterwards, at Column 30 here:


      he had been unable to discover whether this would be the case.

      “One of the important questions that needs to be asked and properly answered about this proposed sum of money, which, as I have said, is still an estimate, is how much of it is applicable for the rebate. Obviously, that would make a potentially significant difference to the amount.”

      So well done, George Osborne, for making a special trip to Brussels and persisting and extracting a proper answer to that question, when the Prime Minister himself had obviously been frustrated in his attempts to do so over two days.

      Although to be fair the latter was probably in a state of shock after being handed this massive bill, completely out of the blue, without any warning over preceding months; and so maybe it would be premature to suggest that George Osborne should take over from David Cameron as Prime Minister.

      Reply If it was so obvious that the rebate applied to the new demand, why did everyone go around talking about a £1.7bn and why did no-one suggest it was only going to be half that?

      1. Lifelogic
        November 8, 2014

        JR it was very clear that the rebate would always apply, as everyone knew full well & especially at the treasury. You cannot expect us to belief for one second the Cameron/Osborne, surprise bill, the thumping of the lectern, the we will no pay it! (on Dec 1st only), the later victory & halving of the bill pantomime/PR stunt.

        Just how stupid do you think the public are?

      2. Leslie Singleton
        November 8, 2014

        Denis–Osborne, and in any event not personally I’ll bet, may or may not have done a 13th Labour of Hercules on the Rebate but even assuming he did, so what? What has that got to do with the new £1.7 billion foisted on us? It’s a wonder he didn’t anticipate the following year’s (or even years’) Rebate(s) as well, which would have meant the latest Demand (assuming – unlikely I agree – that it stayed the same) being wiped out entirely. Maybe we could have turned a Profit! A small Cash Flow advantage that’s all. Obvious and very usual PR drivel.

      3. Denis Cooper
        November 8, 2014

        Weren’t you in the chamber when Andrew Lansley suggested to David Cameron that it might even be only a third of that? Just above the reply from the latter, linked above.

        “Does my right hon. Friend believe that the provisions for the UK rebate on the EU budget contribution apply to any additional demand made by the Commission? I think that they should and, therefore, that whatever the final calculation of any demand may be, up to two thirds of it should be rebated back to the United Kingdom.”

        Cameron and his officials had plenty of time to get to the bottom of that during the meeting of the European Council, whose members actually include the President of the EU Commission which produced the demand, and find out then and there that the rebate would be applied to this extra contribution just as with the normal contributions.

        So why did Cameron come back unable to tell MPs that this would be the case, why did he not volunteer to MPs that the rebate would apply and so the net sum would actually be lower than the £1.7 billion being repeatedly mentioned, including by one Tory MP after another when they jumped up to deliver their expressions of outrage, and why was it seen as necessary for Osborne to make a separate trip to Brussels to find that out?

        It seems that the pantomime season is starting early this year.

        1. zorro
          November 9, 2014

          As I said in a previous blog, clearly a ‘false flag’ political stunt….. http://johnredwoodsdiary.com/2014/10/24/the-uk-should-decline-to-pay-the-extra-eu-tax/


        2. Lifelogic
          November 9, 2014

          It was all an orchestrated and planned pantomime/PR spin/fraud as is very clear to almost everyone. From the fake initial surprise at the bill, to the fake lectern thumping, the fake non halving of the bill, and the eventual tiny concession over timing and interest.

          Pathetic, dishonest and totally transparent. Cameron/Osborne are just trying to take everyone for complete and utter idiots.

      4. Denis Cooper
        November 8, 2014

        I’ll add more thing if I may, JR, which is that these Tory “EU shenanigans” no longer seem to impress the public, not even temporarily.

        Three years ago it was different; in December 2011 when Cameron defied Merkel over her “fiscal pact” there was an immediate public response supporting him, with the Tories bouncing up 4% in the opinion polls and Labour dropping 2%, wiping out the latter’s 6% lead and putting the two parties on level pegging; that is, until he let her go ahead anyway, when those gains by the Tory party were more than reversed.

        Now things like the LibDems killing the EU referendum Bill, and Tories making noises about freedom of movement, and now this absurd episode, seem to leave a much more sceptical electorate unmoved.

        Labour has its own difficulties, not least Miliband, and has been losing support bringing its poll rating down towards that of the Tory party; but that support lost by Labour has been switching to UKIP far more than to the Tory party, which has itself been making little progress in the opinion polls for more than a year now:


        1. Lifelogic
          November 9, 2014

          Indeed clearly UKIP are usually now the best stop Labour candidates. Cameron set to ram through the EU arrest warrant tomorrow too. We shall see which at best 100? Tory MP are actually perhaps worth supporting.

      5. acorn
        November 8, 2014

        This is a lot more complicated than you think it is. But, it was a text book piece of spin management. The game play, at every stage, has to have a “what’s the headline” at this stage?

        The Tory team played it perfectly. The first headlines out of the media were, Osborne halves the bill or similar large type media words. Job done. Frankly, it has been beautiful to watch the story unfold in the media in the hours since.

        With spin control like this, the Conservatives can’t lose the GE.

        If you think this sort of stuff won’t fool the voters? You are so wrong.

        Anyway. Cameron went off on one with his £1.7 billion. This bill came in as a re-calc of the UK GNI, using the proper EU rules for the period 2003 to 2009. The UK rebate is calculated over four years based on the budget being totally funded by VAT. This year will finalise the 2011 UK rebate. That’s the simple bit.

        We are are going to pay the £1.7 billion. We will get stage payments on £850 billion to September 2015, avoiding the 2.5% m/m interest charge (so will the Dutch etc). This payment goes into the rebate calculation, the same as it does every year at this time. The EU fiscal year starts Jan 1st; the UK, April 6th; a very useful feature for the Treasury. The EU budget for EU fiscal 2015, is already set and the UK rebate in 2016, will be £850 billion less than it would have been.

        Only man can make his life this complicated.

        1. acorn
          November 8, 2014

          Sorry. £1.7 billion and £850 million not billion, sorry.

        2. Denis Cooper
          November 9, 2014

          Clearly there are highly influential people in the upper echelons of the Tory party who do still believe that this sort of stuff will fool the voters, to the electoral advantage of their party, just as they still believe, or at least pretend to believe, that UKIP will be to blame if their party fails to win the next general election.

          I can’t definitively prove them wrong on either count; I can only look at the pattern of the opinion polls and other evidence, and apply Occam’s Razor where appropriate, and come to different provisional conclusions – that this sort of performance no longer cuts as much ice with the electorate as it once did, and that even if UKIP were to completely disappear from the political scene then that would be of only marginal net benefit to the Tory party in their contest with Labour at the next general election.

          I note that today the Sunday Telegraph has “Conservatives snatch first poll lead for six months” in a headline, and “The Tories have seized their first lead in the ICM Wisdom Index poll for six months, reversing Labour’s lead in just a month”, and “The Conservatives have turned Labour’s two point lead in the same poll last month into a one point lead in just four weeks”; but in contrast to all that bullish language in the headline and in the early parts of the article giving the false impression that the Tories have actively pulled support away from Labour to themselves it is quietly admitted further into the report that some bod “cautioned that the Tories were still stuck on 31 per cent – a vote share the party has achieved in nine of the last 11 Wisdom indices”.

          Which is more or less true for that period of just a year; but even worse, in terms of their own level of popular support the Tories have actually made no significant progress over the past two years or so, and what has really changed is that Labour has lost about a quarter of its support over that longer period, down from 40-odd per cent to 30-odd per cent support; which substantial loss is in fact almost matched by the increase in support for UKIP, rather than in that for the Tories.


          Labour down from its peak of about 43% two years ago to only about 33% now; Tories down slightly from about 33% at that time to about 32% now; UKIP up from about 8% at that time to about 18% now; LibDems down from about 10% at that time to about 8% now; both the SNP and the Greens up a bit over that period: what does all of this tell us?

      6. waramess
        November 8, 2014

        Yes, we have a wonderful Chancellor who has, single handedly, caused the economy to reinvigorate to become one of the fastest growing in the Western world and he has now negotiated with an imovable object to achieve a deal not short of a miracle.

        He can leap over tall buildings in a single bound and can almost certainly both walk on water and change it into wine at the same time.

        Just so, so impressive.

        1. Mark B
          November 9, 2014

          You gad me there for a minute !

      7. waramess
        November 8, 2014

        I wonder to what extent the Chancellor takes responsibility for growth in the economy resulting from prostitution and drugs?

        1. zorro
          November 9, 2014

          Hopefully not too much personal responsibility!

          1. Hope
            November 9, 2014

            Depends if you believe the stories about his past.

      8. Brian Tomkinson
        November 8, 2014

        Reply to reply,
        Why didn’t you know? Or perhaps you did?
        I take it from the tone of your response that despite yesterday saying : “No to £1.7 billion must mean No”, now that the rebate has been applied you are totally onside with Cameron and Osborne and claiming victory. However, I must remind you that you also wrote: ” The UK does not accept retrospective taxation.” How are you going to talk your way out of that one?
        In any event many people will realise that your leaders are indeed taking us all for fools, despite your best efforts to give them cover and credibility.

        Reply Dont put words in my mouth. I wrote what I wanted to say about the 1.7bn and havent changed my statement.

        1. Tad Davison
          November 9, 2014

          Reply to reply:

          Clearly, this debacle has been very damaging for the Tory leadership’s credibility, and the public aren’t buying the spin as they once did. I wonder what that nice Mr Gove is going to do to whip the free-thinking, free-speaking dissenters into line so as not to rock the boat too much?

          He’d get nowhere with me, but then I’m made of different stuff and won’t ever compromise my principles.


  5. Margaret Brandreth-J
    November 8, 2014

    We simply cannot impose western ethics on these warmongering nations. All we can do is be thankful that we were born post world war and have become more civilised. All we can hope for is that these vicious people to dot infiltrate our society.

    1. ian wragg
      November 8, 2014

      But Margaret with the compliance of our leaders, these people are in our midst. Years of turning a blind eye to ….. extreme behaviour just to try and get a few votes has left us very vulnerable.
      If we spoke out we were racist and intolerant, now we have the violence and corruption associated with their native counties in our very own backyard.
      Is there any wonder that people are voting UKIP.
      There is a rumour that the Tories may lose their deposit on 20th November. Serves them right.

  6. Lifelogic
    November 8, 2014

    Let us hope for more defectors to UKIP until Cameron finally wakes up and stops his pathetic spinning, duplicity and dishonestly and finds a working compass.

  7. majorfrustration
    November 8, 2014

    Given that intervention between opposing actions seldom works why not try a new approach – withdraw and leave the two sides to beat sh.t out of each other until they see reason. And as for training we have already spent billions in Iraq/Afghanistan – and for what. This is an Arab issue and if it is to be resolved then the Arab world should take the lead.

  8. Mondeo Man
    November 8, 2014

    It would have been far better to leave dictators in place.

    Not all countries are suitable for democracy.

  9. Max Dunbar
    November 8, 2014

    Well we know what the predictable outcome will be so why delude yourself?
    If our own politicians wilfully fail to understand the mood and opinions of their own people then there is little chance that they are going to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan either. How many of our politicians have any real idea of what’s going on out there anyway and do they really care? You are certainly right when you say ‘It is not easy teaching people’. The lesson here must be stay out and keep out.

  10. English Pensioner
    November 8, 2014

    How can we train local forces when they are like those sent for training at Bassingbourn? With (alleged ed)drunkenness, theft, violence and rape from (some? ed)cadets, who presumably were selected from the best of the Libyan “army”, what chance is there of establishing a disciplined military force in that country? Why should our citizens have to be told to stop indoor for their own safety?
    According to the Mail, one recruit claimed anarchy broke out because the Government didn’t tell the soldiers ‘about British law’. Presumably such things are normal under Libyan law!
    We should keep out of all such countries and concentrate our efforts on protecting our citizens at home.
    Meanwhile, it is reported elsewhere, that a couple of the cadets, accused of (serious crime ed), are claiming asylum on the basis that it would infringe their human rights to be sent back etc ed.
    You just wouldn’t believe it; have those running this country totally lost leave of their senses?

  11. Bill
    November 8, 2014

    The predatory sexual behaviour of the recently disgraced Libyan soldiers training in the UK surely tells us something about the way these young men have been socialised in childhood. They presumably see women who walk about without wearing an Islamic veil as immoral because they are ‘flaunting themselves’ and therefore fair game.

    Once you teach these people that the West is inherently corrupt and immoral, then all our freedoms and consumer goods can be viewed through a distorting prism and counted against us. This was not the case when East Germans looked across the Berlin Wall at the West and saw all our freedoms, including our economic freedoms, as wholly desirable.

    Call me a liberal if you like, but the problems of the Middle East seem to me to be problems of education. I once observed lessons given in Jewish and Arab schools in the Jerusalem area and was amazed at the way history was taught: children from each side of the divide were given an entirely partisan perspective. This continues today.

  12. Eddie Hill
    November 8, 2014

    You make an interesting point at the end of your post: “This is something they have to want to do. It is not easy teaching people unless they see the need themselves to behave in the recommended way.”

    When you say “the recommended way,” I assume you mean democratically and morally, as we do in the West (in the main)?

    Liberals would say that this is moral imperialism and that tolerance and moral relativism requires us to accept local mores and customs. However, their local mores and customs aren’t what even liberals would accept, apart from the diminishing band of die-hards who think that multi-culturalism is a good idea.

    Also, try to find a liberal who thinks that female genital mutilation or first cousin marriages are good ideas, then challenge him/ her for being intolerant!

    Reply I meant more narrowly that patrolling soldiers and police need to be impartial, fair, and seek to avoid resort to violence.

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    November 8, 2014

    JR: “I read that we are now becoming more involved again in training local forces”

    We don’t want any more experiences such as this in the quiet town of Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire as described in the Daily Mail: “Inside a village under siege: How one of the most peaceful corners of England was turned into a state of anarchy by Libyan cadets accused of rape and violence… that left residents in constant fear”

  14. Atlas
    November 8, 2014

    … Indeed. Just after you have struggled to get out of the grip of one whirlpool, somebody tries tossing you into another.

  15. Mark B
    November 8, 2014

    Good afternoon.

    Nice piece.

    And what of the other Nations’ in the region ? What are they doing to help the people and Government of Iraq ? How can a supposed rag-tag militia, overcome and thwart a well trained, and well equipped army ?Who is supplying and funding these people ?

    And lastly. What are ‘our’ interests in the region ? If we have no legitimate interests, then why are we involved ?

    One thing I did pick up from this piece, was the following paragraph, with one subtle change.

    Nice piece. And what of the other Nations’ in the region ? What are they doing to help the people and Government of UK ? How can a supposed rag-tag militia, overcome and thwart and well trained, and well equipped army ?

    This is a reminder of what can happen when you do not govern for ALL the people of a nation.

    1. Mark B
      November 8, 2014

      Sorry about that. Very embarresing. but there is something wrong with my cut’n’paste today;

      Should read:

      However, their task too will prove difficult or even impossible if there is not a sufficient intensive political process undertaken to prove to most of the people living in modern UK that the borders make sense and it is best as one country.

  16. Richard
    November 8, 2014

    Both past and recent history shows that the country borders in the ME are not natural and hence do not make sense.

    The problem is that the ME is both tribal and Muslim. Consequently democracy is not possible and the existing nation states are unstable.

    Almost any intervention from the West makes the situation worse both for them and for us, as we have already seen in Iraq and Libya. Even just the threat of bombing Syria has led to the creation of IS.

    It is not our job to police the world and certainly not to try to force democracy upon the tribes of the ME.

    We should not get involved with the ME in any way, including the training of any ME group.

    I was totally amazed that our government would be so utterly stupid as to bring Libyans over to the UK for training. I really feel sorry for the people of Bassingbourne.

  17. Max Dunbar
    November 8, 2014

    A map of the Assyrian Empire of 824 to 612 B.C. bears an uncanny similarity to the conquests of ISIS. Things haven ‘t changed much.

  18. waramess
    November 8, 2014

    Absolutely reduntant to suggest that going into Iraq in the first place was a grave mistake and hardly worthwhile to consider the foolishness of the later interventions that interfered in the regimes in neighbouring and otherwise friendly countries.

    Quite appropriate however to observe the nonsense of continuing these middle east crusades.

    The deeper the government gets involved the more stuck in the mire it will get until soon there will be no escape and the billions spent on war will become a permanent annual item for the taxpayer to pick up.

    Bin Laden was not caught as a result of the Iraq invasion, which caused only chaos. Bin Laden was caught by informants no doubt keeen to earn the reward money.

    Likewise ISIS will not be destroyed by planes and groundforces, it will be destroyed only when the funding stops.

    Step back and consider the possibility that when the UK and Europe start fracking there is the distinct possibility that the middle east oil will become largely irrelevant and funding of ISIS will become a thing of the past.

    Not a prediction but an observation that action is not always better than inaction and if the Isis problem cannot be solved by action and the democratisation of the Middle East cannot be achieved through regime change then the west should just get the hell out of the area and leave them to sort themselves out.

  19. forthurst
    November 8, 2014

    The neocon warmongers’ grand strategy for the ME involved the destruction of the secular regimes of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that in Iran followed either by their fragmentation into perpetually warring factions or with the replacements of the prior unitary authorities by neocon approved puppet governments. So far this plan has succeeded brilliantly, executed as it has with the aid of British forces who have taken substantial casualties, when there has never been a British strategic interest involved other than that of sucking up to the Americans, a policy now which with regard to Ukraine and Russia is totally against our best interests since we do not want another engineered war in Europe; we live here.

    We are now supposed to accept the nonsensical proposition that the rabble that is attempting to destroy the Assad regime as ‘moderate opposition’ should be assisted to both continue to oppose Assad but also ISIL, when we know perfectly well that ISIL has absorbed both some ‘moderate opposition’ and their weaponry. The regime of Assad may not be democratic but it had protected the World Heritage town of Maaloula, its Christian shrines and its Aramaic speaking people, now wrecked and its population driven out before ISIL flags appeared.

    In Iraq, ISIL has absorbed many of those who supplied the civilian and military infrastructure of Saddam Hussein; meanwhile the neocon puppet authority constantly disappoints both in its political behaviour toward uniting the country and in its ability to marshal effective military forces to oppose the ISIL onslaught.

    We have been party to creating anarchy and destruction throughout the Middle East; unfortunately, however hard we try, we cannot put Humpty together again. The best way forward would be to unfriend the neocon warmongers and the Sunni regimes of the ME which believe they can use their oil wealth to create disorder in the ME, whilst buying up London, etc ed

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