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Military action is not the answer for Aleppo

Syrian bombsiteWhat is happening in Aleppo is a human rights calamity.

It’s impossible to watch the footage without wanting to do something, immediately. That leads some on the left to surprising positions.

Disrupting Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on December 10 did nothing to help civilians in Aleppo; it diverted attention from the important pledges he made on women and human rights. Equally, this newspaper was wrong to characterise President Bashar al-Assad/Vladimir Putin’s military assault as a “liberation”. Faced with brutal horrors, the West — both the left and the right — reaches too quickly for military solutions. 

Jeremy Corbyn is right to continue to reject military intervention, and to call for:

“humanitarian assistance to Aleppo and other besieged areas and serious pressure to negotiate ceasefires across the conflict zones […] the UK, as a member of the United Nations security council, should bolster and affirm the UN as the primary avenue for international efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

Corbyn has repeatedly and correctly condemned Russia’s involvement in Syria and its actions in Aleppo, as have shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith.

The analogy has been made with Guernica. As with all historical analogies, it’s only partly correct. As with Guernica, Aleppo’s civilians have been subjected to brutal military air strikes. However, the political context is different. In 1937, socialists had no difficulty defending — including militarily — the elected Republican government from Franco’s fascist military rebellion. They did so as individuals or through the labour movement, not by calling on the British government to intervene.

In Syria, what began in 2011 as a political revolution against a dictator has collapsed into a multilateral conflict involving many military forces, most of which — Isis, al-Qaida, etc — are guilty of the most appalling crimes, including kidnapping, arbitrary executions and rape.

Assad’s crimes are also well-known: a dictator with a record of torture and arbitrary detentions in secret prisons is raining down hell from the sky, with hospitals, residential areas and schools all bombed.

As government forces entered the city, the UN reported that civilians, including women and children, were summarily executed — collective punishment for the actions of the fighters.

Both sides are guilty of horrific war crimes. Rather than take sides, surely the answer is to condemn all human rights abuses and all military action against civilians?

What should and what should not be done? Military intervention causes more harm than it is intended to prevent. In 2013, the Labour Party was completely correct to oppose British military intervention in Syria. The Tories, and shamefully some Labour MPs, now blame the current tragedy on that vote. Ben Bradshaw said: “In August 2013, after the international outrage at his use of chemical weapons, we had the chance, but we blew it.” John Woodcock MP agreed.

It’s nauseating watching Boris Johnson and others talk about their concern for civilians in Aleppo. They don’t show the same concern for civilians in Yemen, murdered by US drones and Saudi military forces — armed by Britain — nor for the deaths in Iraq, over 13 years after the invasion. The city of Mosul is seeing dozens of civilian fatalities every week, the result of aerial bombardment, which British MPs backed a year ago.

Humanitarian aid, through air drops, might be right, but only if it has been negotiated. Unilateral action, without agreement of the local or international combatants, could simply escalate the conflict.

Realistically, Britain can do four things: political pressure, humanitarian aid as soon as there is a ceasefire, a welcoming approach to refugees and taking action against the arms trade. Sadly, the Tories and some Labour MPs would much rather bomb than provide assistance for refugees, or stop selling arms.

Political pressure must continue, especially against the executions of civilians. The government should offer humanitarian aid — food, shelter and medical assistance. This should include, once people are safe, fed and sheltered, taking testimony so that war crimes are documented and perpetrators can be held accountable.

The government should welcome Syrian refugees — far cheaper than military engagement. The Dubs amendment was a humane response but by mid-November only 330 children from Calais had been received. The government has failed to meet the inadequate quota of 3,000 children and spent its energy contesting its international obligations.

More than five million Syrians have been displaced since 2011. Thousands are stranded in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere, where all European governments, including the British, are trying to avoid granting them asylum. The government should allow asylum claims from those refugee camps, recognising that most Syrian refugees are in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Those who prefer to stay close to Syria, so that they can return home quickly when it’s safe, should be supported too.

Finally, we need national and international action on arms sales. The British government could ban, overnight, the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Libya and Iraq. It could lead an international non-proliferation process, seeking to reduce economic dependence on arms manufacturing, to increase the types of arms that are banned under international law and to reach agreement on the gradual decommissioning of the arms industry. If we can change our habits to beat climate change, can governments be persuaded to solve their problems by talking, rather than fighting?

Liz Davies and Mike Phipps are Labour Party members and were involved in setting up Iraq Occupation Focus in 2004. Mike continues to publish a regular Iraq Occupation Focus newsletter, documenting events in Iraq.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star online.


  1. Rob Green says:

    All those who voted in Congress and Parliament in 2013 to turn their backs on the people of Syria and let Assad cut down the revolution in the most brutal way imaginable are jointly responsible for all of Assad’s murders from that date on, for the rise of ISIS in Syria and for the slaughter going on in Aleppo at the hands of Assadist and Iranian militias and the filthy Russian air force of the kleptocratic gangster Putin. They were right to protest at Corbyn’s pro-Assad `pacifism’. The labour movement should be on the side of the oppressed not the elites and believe me Assad and Putin are very much part of the global capitalist elite. The Morning Star should be boycotted for ever for describing the slaughter and evacuation of East Aleppo as Liberation. Stalinism was only hiding. The Morning Star managed to support every Stalinist atrocity from the beginning so it is hardly going to lose any sleep over a few hundred thousand dead Arabs at the hands of tyrannical capitalists.

    1. James Martiin says:

      I know you dream of ISIS and al-Qeada being in power and complete control in Syria Rob (and with the ethnic cleansing that would follow), which of course is what would have happened had we bombed the (at the time) reeling and exhausted secular Syrian Arab Army in 2013 (assuming Russia would have allowed us to), but thankfully that will not now happen, unless you still believe that Dodgy Dave’s ‘70,000 moderate rebels’ are still in hiding somewhere?

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      DavidE, were you on the night bus to Clapham last night?

      Only there was a drunken idiot furiously rambling to himself about something or other…

    3. Brian McGee says:

      The UK is no longer a Great Empire – our small scale meddling in other countries results in more harm than good. It serves to gratify the remnant Colonial urge but more bombs and guns add to the number of dead people – nothing more. It encourages a belief in whatever side we current choose to back that Great Britannia will send in the gunboats and fix it for them. Our diplomacy and aid are worth far more when not contaminated by military involvement.

  2. James Martiin says:

    The problems of this article are many, I will pick on a few.

    Like MP’s and the MSM the authors talk of ‘Aleppo’ as though it was only the eastern areas controlled by the ‘rebels’ (of which more later) and containing around 150,000 people rather than the rest of the government controlled city that continued to have around 1,500,000 residents (yes, around ten times more). So let’s be honest at least that the overwhelmingly majority of Aleppo residents have been deliberately ignored for political reasons (including it seems by these authors), although of course they were not ignored by the ‘rebels’ who daily fired rockets. mortars and ‘hellfire cannon’ (devastating gas canister bombs) into residential areas of western Aleppo before their recent defeat.

    As a result the celebrations, street parties and two days ago the erection of a large Christmas tree and Christmas decorations in Aleppo (complete with a brass band made up of scouts and guides) that was now possible following the defeat of the jihadists has also been ignored.

    For make no mistake here, there were no Christians in the ‘rebel’ areas, they had all been killed or driven out to the safety and protection of Syrian government areas. There were no Kurds either, who had been attacked by the ‘rebels’ and had worked alongside Syrian government forces to defend themselves. Likewise there were no Palestinians, their large Handarat refugee camp in Aleppo had been attacked and initially overran by the Aleppo ‘rebels’ until they managed to defend themselves with the formation of the Liwa al-Quds brigade who were then a key part in the rebel defeat in eastern Aleppo at great cost to themselves. It is important to recognise not only the military role of the Palestinians here, but also that the majority of them are Sunni Muslims which gives the lie to the accusation that this is now nothing more than a Sunni/Shia conflict.

    In contrast the main armed faction in eastern Aleppo that dominated the area, made up its ‘self-government’ and had political control was Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally called al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda group of jihadist head choppers. The so-called social media ‘citizen activists’ in eastern Aleppo (and elsewhere) can only operate with al-Sham’s permission and have long been (mostly very willing) sock puppets for them. These are the people that large numbers of Labour MP’s, Peter Tatchell and the authors of this article would like to drop aid to if it were possible to do so, despite the fact that the vast majority of those civilians that were trapped in eastern Aleppo chose not to go to Idlib and further jihadist rule when the SAA arrived, but to the safety of government areas instead (and where those that call for such aid deliberately ignore them).

    But of course the most telling aspect to all of this is that similar sieges with civilians under daily bombardment are now ongoing in Syrian government held towns surrounded by al-Sham and ISIS. Similar events are also happening in Raqqa and Mosul too of course, but there is largely silence about those people which also has a political basis to it.

    When German fascism was finally defeated in 1945 it was alongside the huge devastation of German towns and cities, hundreds of thousands of dead German civilians and millions of German refugees (including also the horrific ethnic cleansing of 12 million German speaking people from eastern Europe at the end of the war). This was terrible, but it was necessary to defeat the fascists. In Syria we have large numbers of jihadists, clerical-fascists, who also need defeating not supporting. No talk of ‘human rights’ has ever defeated fascism, not 70 years ago not now. And while the cost has been terrible, the fascist Islamic death cult of al-Sham who only yesterday released film of two 7 and 9 year old girls that the jihadist monsters had forced to become suicide bombers has finally been defeated in eastern Aleppo, and like the Morning Star I’m happy to call that, like the vast majority of Aleppo citizens called it, a liberation.

  3. Bazza says:

    It’s complex and heartbreaking but is usually about male power and wealth. Assad’s clique own a third of the Syrian economy (mainly in the rich North) so that may be driving them; Putin and the oligarchs are probably hoping for some spoils of war, then too are male dominated Middle East rival meddlers, then too the Western meddlers, then too the fake religious barbarians of so-called IS et al.
    I am just a peaceful democratic socialist and would hope our brothers and sisters in every country would get together and organise to offer hope.
    And as Hobsbawn was quoted recently in The New Left Review (updated) “Human beings exist because they believe the World can get better.”
    Just finished reading Dickens’ Christmas Carol and for all religious barbarians there is an interesting quote on page 65: “There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and do their deeds of passion, pride, I’ll-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
    Yours in peace, hope, solidarity and international left wing democratic socialism!

    1. Bazza says:

      Ooops should have read, mainly in the rich South.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Liz Davies of the socialist party, the socialist party,who are affiliated to the Morning star, the morning star, who called genecide in Aleppo ‘ liberation’ last week?

    1. James Martin says:

      John, when you and others throw words like ‘genocide’ around you need to be sure of what it actually means, not just to avoid silly misuse of words but in this case not to insult the memories of real historical genocides like the Holocaust. The OED describes genocide as “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group”, indeed the word is formed from the Greek word for race, genos. You cannot call a military battle like happened in Aleppo between jihadists and the Syrian army ‘genocide’ even where it involved significant civilian casualties. To do so would mean that you would also need to describe the liberation of Germany in 1944/5 by allied troops (including my dad and his brothers) ‘genocide’ too, so please avoid this type of language in the future, you are not writing for the Daily Mail here.

      It would also be worth noting that according to the UN yesterday a total of 34,000 jihadists and their families were evacuated from eastern Aleppo. 34,000 out of an original population of that area of around 150,000. This means that 80% of the residents of eastern Aleppo chose voluntarily to stay in the now Syrian government held area (to join the one and half million residents of western Aleppo who were always in the government held areas). When 80% of the population of a besieged area choose to stay with their former besiegers does that not suggest to you that they were not the victims of ‘genocide’ as the jihadists tried to claim but have in fact now been liberated from their former position as forced human shields for those jihadists?

      1. John P Reid says:

        Do you dispute the rest of what I put?

        1. James Marton says:

          I’m sure that Liz Davies as a former NEC member is more than capable of speaking for herself John, I’m not a particular fan given she like too many others on the left needlessly walked out of the Party and gave up the fight against New Labour but her history is not remotely relevant to the issues being debated.

  5. Bazza says:

    Really good piece by Kandil on Egypt in the latest New Left Review.
    It seems Islamists believe Muslim’s have been corrupted by Western countries and have to be persuaded to get back to true Islam whilst Militant Jihadists (self-appointed vanguards like so-called IS et al) believe there are already rules that must be followed and they will go to any lengths including brutality to try to achieve this.
    Perhaps our task for 2017 onwards is to try to unite diverse working humanity.
    Hopefully a grassroots, bottom up, left wing democratic socialism may offer hope.
    Yours in peace.

  6. Patrick Spence says:

    James Martin is correct. The salafist insurgents represented a tiny minority in Aleppo, a city where 30% of the population identify as Christian. Celebrations here

    1. James Martin says:

      And oddly the best coverage of the joyful Christmas celebrations of Christians and Muslims in Aleppo complete with the out of tune band was in the Daily Mail – – although maybe not so odd given the liars at the Guardian and the rest of the ‘liberal’ media would never dream of reporting this liberation of Christians now free from the very jihadists they have spent so long cheer leading for. In fact I made a special effort to check the Twitter feeds of Peter Tatchell, Alison McGovern and John Woodcock and it is no surprise that none of these jihadist patsies mentioned it either, even at this time of year when Christians in the region have suffered hugely at the hands of their ‘rebel’ friends.

      So stuff the jihadists and their western backers (including most of our MPs), but to everyone else a very happy Christmas and a wish for war to be over and progress towards socialism and secularism the world over in 2017. Here’s my own favorite Christmas tune, enjoy!

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