The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) has accused the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) of attempting to use the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak to 'hide from scrutiny' after it was recently revealed that British airstrikes were conducted in Iraq while the Prime Minister was in hospital.
Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the PPU, explained why these revelations concern him and his network of anti-militarists and pacifist. The airstrikes, which were announced on the MoD website on 25 April 2020, were actually conducted one week after the UK's Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said that his government was backing the calls for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Symon Hill: We know very little. The UK Ministry of "Defence" (MoD) states that the incident took place west of Tuz Khurma in north-eastern Iraq, on 10th April. They say that three Royal Air Force aircraft were involved in bombing buildings used by Daesh fighters.
However, they have given no figures about estimated casualties. They claimed that they checked before bombing that there were no non-combatants in the area. However, the MoD has a history of denying civilian casualties that have been well-attested by others.
Sputnik: Explain your criticisms of the government's actions in this case.
Symon Hill: Firstly, all the evidence suggests that bombings cannot bring peace or progress to Iraq, whoever they are carried out by. In the last two decades, all sorts of groups - from various armed factions within Iraq to the US and UK governments - have justified their violence by claiming they are stopping the violence of others. Each wave of violence triggers another wave of violence. Iraq is a living example of the failure of war to solve problems.
Secondly, we know very little about who was bombed. The Peace Pledge Union has absolutely no sympathy with Daesh. However, we find it very difficult to believe that only Daesh fighters were killed in this bombing.
Monitors from the group Airwars estimate that between 11,000 and 18,000 civilians were killed by US-led forces in Iraq and Syria in 2017 alone. The group Action on Armed Violence verified 8,051 civilian deaths in Syria in the same year, caused by both Russian and US-led forces, as well as other parties to the conflict.
It is simply fantasy to suggest that aerial bombing can be conducted without civilian casualties. Not only are these deaths appalling in themselves, and terrible for those affected, but they can also be used by groups such as Daesh to stir up hatred of people in the West.Thirdly, there is an issue of accountability. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the bombing in itself, the people of Iraq and the people of the UK have a right to know more details about what happened and why. In the UK, we only know about the incident because the MoD posted a short and vague piece of information on its website more than two weeks after the incident. They even went so far as to post it at the weekend, when fewer journalists would be working. It seems they did the least possible to avoid being accused of concealing the incident, while trying to make sure that they did not draw it to anyone's attention [to the strikes].
Sputnik: If these strikes are aiding in the war against Daesh why doesn't it make sense for an exception to made, insofar as the global call for a ceasefire is concerned?
Symon Hill: Violence cannot end violence. It is like trying to put out a fire with more fire, instead of water. Iraq's history make this clear, especially since 2003.
Any country or group could claim to support a global ceasefire, and then say that an exception needs to be made for their own operations. Virtually all governments, terrorist groups and armed forces claim that they are using violence only because their enemies use violence.
This cycle can end only when people at the grassroots refuse to support the violence carried out in their name. We realise of course that this not always an easy thing to do. However, we believe it is more realistic than imagining that deep-rooted problems can simply be bombed away.
Sputnik: How significant is it that these strikes were ordered while Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being treated for COVID-19 in hospital?
Symon Hill: UK armed forces rules allow such bombings to be carried out without approval from ministers, once the general programme of bombings has been approved.
However, this is the first known aerial bombing by UK forces for seven months, and it seems unlikely that it would go ahead with no ministers knowing about it. We need answers about who knew about it.While it seems unlikely that Boris Johnson would have acted any differently to his deputy Dominic Raab, it is significant that Raab was speaking frequently about the UK government's supposed support for a global ceasefire only days before the bombing took place.
Did he know about the bombing when he was talking about the ceasefire? If he did not know, why was he not told? The public are entitled to answers when a government behaves so hypocritically.
Sputnik: Do we know the legal basis of these strikes, given that the Iraqi parliament passed a bill calling for all foreign troops to leave the country after the deadly US strikes which killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and a number of Iraqi soldiers in 2019?
Symon Hill: I can't claim to be a lawyer. Many things that are legal are nonetheless immoral. However, the legal basis of US and UK violence in Iraq has always been questionable. The vote in the Iraqi parliament makes clear that many Iraqies who strongly oppose Daesh do not want foreign troops in their country. This makes it hard for the UK government to claim that they are acting in the interests of the Iraqi people.
Sputnik: What is the Peace Pledge Union calling for now?
Symon Hill: We strongly back calls for a global ceasefire, but then the PPU will always oppose war. While we are a UK-based organisation, we resist war in alliance with people around the world, through War Resisters' International and other networks. For example, we support people in Russia who oppose their own government's militarism, just as we oppose the British government's militarism. We have more in common with each other than those who would wage war in our name.
Thinking more specifically, we would like to see the withdrawal of all UK, US, Russian, Turkish and other troops from Syria and Iraq. On a more immediate level, we want answers from British ministers, and particularly from Dominic Raab, about why the bombing took place when it did, who was killed and who knew about it at a time when the UK government was claiming to support a global ceasefire.