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Why Attack Shamima Begum? We Caused the Mess to Begin with
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A tidal wave of hypocrisy has greeted the discovery of the Bethnal Green schoolgirl and Isis bride Shamima Begum in a refugee camp in eastern Syria. Grandstanding politicians like Sajid Javid, the home secretary, say they will do everything to stop her coming back to the UK and might seek to put her on trial as a terrorist if she did return.

It is a symptom of the parochialism of British political life that debate rages over the fate of Begum and her possible complicity in Isis crimes. But there is scarcely a word of well-informed discussion about the role of the British and other western governments in creating the circumstances in which Isis was able to create a powerful de facto state in the heart of the Middle East.

The role of foreign fighters in Isis was important but tends to be exaggerated because of understandable public fascination with people who would leave London or Paris to go to fight for a murderous and bizarre jihadi cult in Syria and Iraq.

I was once in touch with a former Isis fighter, himself a Syrian, who had talked to foreign volunteers of whom he was highly critical, saying that they were ill-informed about Islam and local customs. He thought that many had come to Syria because of unhappy home lives or simple boredom and were not much use for anything except propaganda – showing that Isis was a global movement – or as suicide bombers.

A reason why many of the foreigners were used in the latter role was they lacked military training. Another was that Isis is a deeply paranoid movement that sees spies and traitors at every turn and was convinced that a proportion of the volunteers from abroad were in fact foreign agents so it was prudent to have them blow themselves up as soon as possible.

It is difficult to have much sympathy for these foreign jihadis and Isis sympathisers who found Syria very different from what they expected. But they were not alone in their misunderstanding of the nature of the war and its likely outcome.

The rise of Isis surprised many, but it was neither unpredictable nor unpreventable and many in the region foresaw what dire things would come years before Isis fighters captured Mosul in 2014 and established the caliphate.

I was spending much time in Baghdad after 2011 and I recall Iraqi political leaders repeatedly telling me that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) would resurrect itself unless the civil war in Syria was swiftly brought to an end. They said the same to western diplomats and were told they were exaggerating.

But those Iraqi politicians were dead right as the western powers, backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, supported the Sunni Arab insurrection in Syria. The initial aim of western countries like Britain in 2011 and 2012 was to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, and, when this turned out to be more difficult than originally supposed, to weaken him – though not to the extent that his jihadi opponents would take over.

Iraqi politicians were not alone in foreseeing the calamity that was in the making. The Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) drew up a draft report in August 2012 which is an astonishingly accurate resume of what was happening in Syria and the probability that it would spread to Iraq.

“There was a regression of AQI in the western provinces of Iraq during the years of 2009 and 2010,” says the report which is written in a rather contorted bureaucratic style. “However, after the rise of the insurgency in Syria, the religious and tribal powers [in Iraq] began to sympathise with the sectarian uprising.”

The author of the report rightly interpreted the struggle in Syria and Iraq as one which was essentially a conflict between Sunni and Shia. He says: “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria.” Moreover, he or she foresaw “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi, and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria (sic)”. The DIA report goes on to suggest that the outcome of this turmoil might be the declaration of “an Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

The purpose of quoting the DIA report at length is to show that western governments were in a position to know what the real situation in 2012 and do something to prevent such a disaster by making greater efforts to end the war.

Unfortunately, when the declassified report was published it met the fate of many such revelations, which is to fuel conspiracy theories inculpating the US government. The fact that one or more intelligence officers knew what was happening does not mean that this knowledge was shared by the White House and the Pentagon.

It is easy enough to say that Begum and her fellow schoolchildren should have had some idea of what Islamic State was all about when they set off for Syria in 2015. If they did not know when they departed, then they should have learned about its atrocities soon after their arrival.


No doubt they should have, but so too should the British and other western governments when they played sorcerer’s apprentice in Syria and ended up failing to get rid of Assad but creating the sort of chaos in which Isis could flourish.

There is much anxiety now in Europe and elsewhere about former Isis fighters and volunteers heading back to their homelands. But the very same governments showed remarkably little concern five years ago about tens of thousands of foreigners travelling in the other direction to join the war in Syria. They poured unimpeded across the Turkish border without the rest of the world expressing much concern.


I have always been struck by the contrast between outrage over Tony Blair leading Britain into the war in Iraq in 2003 and the lack of interest in British government culpability in becoming engaged in Afghanistan and later in Libya and Syria. The British role in these three conflicts was more limited than in Iraq but it was not insignificant. All of them turned out to be disasters for the inhabitants of these countries and whatever the British government thought it was doing certainly ended in failure, as has been explained in copious detail in various reports and inquiries. What comes across in all of them is that successive British governments had little more idea of what they were doing than Begum and her teenage friends on the road to Syria.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Britain, ISIS, Shias and Sunnis, Syria 
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  1. swamped says:

    They both knew exactly what they were trying to do but were unable to do it. So, damn them all!

  2. The author is way too friendly in his view of western leadership.

    Lord, do not forgive them, because they know exactly what they are doing.

    • Agree: Moi
  3. El Dato says:

    A tidal wave of hypocrisy has greeted the discovery of the Bethnal Green schoolgirl and Isis bride Shamima Begum in a refugee camp in eastern Syria.

    I assume:

    > Got hammered constantly by media types and politicians that “something must be done” and that “Assad must go”
    > Actually went and did something

    More courage than can be found in those politicians, pundits and hysterical no-skin-the-game “reporters” who should really be driven into the dry wastes to fend for themselves.

    Some Syria reality construction news:

    Riam Dalati is on the BBC production team based in Beirut and describes himself, on his Twitter page, as an “esteemed colleague” of Quentin Sommerville, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent. Dalati broke ranks with his UK Government-aligned media, on Twitter, to announce that “after almost 6 months of investigation, I can prove, without a doubt, that the Douma hospital scene [of April 2018] was staged.”

    The scenes of children being hosed down, following a “chemical attack” were immediately accepted as credible and appeared alongside sensationalist headlines in most Western media outlets, including the BBC, CNN and Channel 4. Simon Tisdall of the Guardian wrote an opinion piece, with the headline ‘After Douma the West’s response to Syria regime must be military’ – only two days after Douma, effectively calling for all out war.

    It is very unlikely, despite the BBC protestation, that Dalati would risk publishing his claims without approval from BBC hierarchy. Timing is always crucial when examining events that have the potential to expose colonial media, particularly the BBC, as the refined state PR agencies they are in reality.

    Based on an informed and intelligent interpretation of events with historical context, we could speculate that the OPCW is about to release its final findings on the Douma attack. A report which has the potential to lay bare the full extent of the BBC’s deception and falsification of facts in Douma. A report which could raise unpleasant questions about corporate media reporting, particularly on alleged chemical weapon use by the Syrian government, throughout the 8 year conflict in Syria. Was Dalati’s shock information release nothing more than a damage limitation tactic by the BBC or is Dalati genuinely a rogue truth-teller? Only time will tell.

  4. Sean says:

    The Isis state in Syria was founded and run by Syrians, and neither i the rebels or the Assad regieme was beholden to Britain so Britain could not start a war there or end it. It was a war between the Saudi and to a lesser extent Turkish backed rebels and Assad’s Iranian backed regieme. The West owed Assad nothing.

    Cockburn needs some reality therapy, the British don’t have as much control over the fate of their own county as he thinks they have in Syria. Son of a Pakistani bus driver and the current Home Secretary (government minister in charge of internal security) Sajid Javid.

    Indian-origin Deputy Assistant Commissioner N. l Basu, the Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Policing in the United Kingdom.

    Both of the above officials are screaming that Shamir Began will not be allowed back into the UK. I would point out that Isil bride Shamima Begum has legal right to return to UK according to Alex Younger, the white British head of MI6, but no one is listening to him.

    It is a symptom of the attitude of the old establishment in British political life that in the debate that rages over the fate of Begum only an obscure paleface official in the secret service is standing by the traditional desire of the British civil service to insist that Britain has a duty to people who we have no duty at all (like the Ugandan Asians of the 70’s, who we are now told all are incredibly successful).

    What comes across in all of them is that successive British governments had little more idea of what they were doing than Begum and her teenage friends on the road to Syria

    Both groups had about the same effect on the Syrian civil war.

  5. “We Caused the Mess to Begin with”

    Who is this WE Paddy?

  6. Sean says:

    Cockburn generously give Britain full credit for everything that goes wrong in the Middle East although nothing Britain does makes much of a difference anywhere any more. But even when the UK’s policies are more or less the opposite of America’s, he prefers to go on about how Britain is the source of all that is wrong in the region.

    Mike Pence, the US vice president, has accused Britain, France and Germany of trying to sabotage American sanctions against Iran and called on the European states to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.

    In an unusually blunt attack on America’s traditional European allies, Mr Pence told a summit in Warsaw that the three countries were leading “an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime”.

    Why does Cockburn prefer to ignore important international news rather than that write something positive about British policy in the Middle East for a change, eh?

    • Replies: @Tsar Nicholas
  7. llloyd says: • Website

    Shamima Begum said she encountered in Iraq what she expected. She was however shocked to find a head of an ISIS enemy in a rubbish container. Well there is a war. ISIS has a right to be paranoid. ISIS goes back religiously and culturally to the era of the first Caliphates. That followed Arabian Moslem law which gave women high political and social places in society. Hence her fascination and motives. I will hurriedly say ISIS supporters are deluded and should be defeated. But in history there is a very common phenomenon that defeated peoples such as Sunni in Iraq will revert to an idealised pre modern society that they believe will solve their problems.

  8. “It is a symptom of the parochialism of British political life that debate rages over the fate of Begum and her possible complicity in Isis crimes.”

    Meh, if Sajid was serious he would have already had her droned. He’s just trying to score points by talking tough for public consumption; if he’s lucky, he won’t create more blowback like that empty suit Gavin Williamson did with China.

    As for AQI, they were essentially under house arrest under Saddam. Makes one wonder whose side our leadership are on.

  9. Tony says:

    Do we even care about this?

  10. so many words to defend a terrorist? they knew what they did and should NEVER be allowed to live amongst innocent human beings. Life in jail or hang them, they probably gave their victims no mercy and their surviving victims should be able to see justice served.
    This is the most disgusting thing i have read in a long time tbh.
    If the writer feels so bad for these terrorists i suggest he stops writing bs and invite them to live with him, otherwise he is just virtue signaling and defending the undefendable.

  11. Voltaire says:

    You will need to go back a bit further than Blair to find those responsible for Britons woes.
    Hitching your wagon to the Zionist cause was your first mistake.
    Signing the UN Refugee Convention the 2nd…smart nations did not sign it and kept their soverenty.
    Then letting the Zionist drag you into their Middle East wars…wars to Balkanise their Middle Eastern enemies, unleashing the refugee tidle wave to Europe.
    Who’s pushing Globalism and Multiracialism….??
    You puppy partnership with Zion has turned the World agains you….you who were once respected.

  12. There is an easy way out of this dreadful and awkward mess, a Royal pardon, tea with the Queen herself and then Jezbollah and his gang can drop her into a safe Labour seat in the House of Commons.

    • Replies: @Billybob Binder
  13. Anonymous[504] • Disclaimer says:

    Aside from Zionists, fools like Cockburn are a big menace in Britain.

    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  14. The “we” is Israel, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, probably Jordan and the States who side with the Zionists that claim their deity “gave” it to them as theirs forever no matter how many times they sell it, parts of it, abandon it for better opportunities in Europe or lose it in poorly executed or planned confrontations The way things are going makes one wonder if the “G-d owners” will meet the same sort of fate they encountered in Spain & Germany on the conquered lands they couuently control, and their future acquisitions. Their endless optimism and ingenuity are tremendious assets, but the temptation to cause massive pain on the people they dislocate is a liability just as big as history shows… They are too small to safely be an empire.

  15. @Billy Corr

    Better than the current crew of bootlickers and thieves… Someone with a heart who learned the hard way what’s real.

  16. @Anonymous

    I’ll say one thing, he’s the first Brit – or British Islander, anyway, that I’ve seen arguing in favour of letting Little Miss Isis back into the UK. I guess “England’s difficulty is ISIS’ opportunity“.

    All the other pro-LMI op-eds I’ve seen have had Jewish (like David Toube or Rafael Behr) or subcontinental (like a lot of women with very long names in the Guardian) authors. Naturally we can rely on such people to have Britain’s best interests at heart.

  17. @Sean

    Why does Cockburn prefer to ignore important international news rather than that write something positive about British policy in the Middle East for a change, eh?

    Because, while Cockburn writes a lot of propaganda, he is not at heart a writer of fiction.

  18. Bill B. says:

    It is easy enough to say that Begum and her fellow schoolchildren should have had some idea of what Islamic State was all about when they set off for Syria in 2015.

    Nonsense. The evil pixies went to join ISIS precisely because they knew it to be a blood-thirsty, raping, head-chopping, child-slaving cult. It was all over the internet. In gruesome detail. Their ISIS contact gloated over it.

    Begum’s father is an Islamic extremist. The mood music of her community, even when not ISIS-extreme, is broadly sympathetic.

    Begum is now an adult and a very dangerous one. Any future she would have in the UK would be one of her being cosseted in welfare and monitored by the security services. No thanks.

    She and her many companions quite deliberately shed their claims to British nationality when they went to join a supra-national caliphate that despises nation-states, infidels and anathematizes the UK in particular. There are more than 50 Islamic countries in the world. Plenty of space for her and her pals within the Ummah.

    Yes Britain’s toy-town diplomacy misread and mishandled Syria but Begum’s decision to go there was entirely of her own making and a decision that she relished as she grew older. She is what is quaintly known as a traitor.

    The Home Secretary may be grand-standing but he is not wrong.

  19. But the very same governments showed remarkably little concern five years ago about tens of thousands of foreigners travelling in the other direction to join the war in Syria.

    Dope thinks this is a brilliant rhetorical killshot. For all his virtuous posturing about interventionism, he still does want Britain to be one of the world’s cops. if those very same governments had detained those “tens of thousands of foreigners”, I’m sure Cockburn would be he shrieking and wibbling about “political prisoners”

  20. Anonymous [AKA "Dazzer"] says:

    Yes – mus-scum shithole now wants to come back to the UK and live off the system she really hates. You must be joking. Only 19 and already 3 children. That says it all. They breed like rats, hoping to swamp the local population and then take over. It´s already started in France and the UK. A total disaster. At least all hers have died. Almost makes you believe in a god, hahaha.

    All these scum should be put up against a wall and liquidated. End of story.

  21. Anonymous [AKA "Buster Taylor"] says:

    Why is this conversation not equally as loud in the Netherlands ?
    A person born on or after 1 January 1985 to a Dutch father or mother (afstamming) is automatically a Dutch national at birth (van rechtswege). It is irrelevant where the child is born.
    We should take Shamima Begun back, but she should be treated the same way we treat ‘groomed’ gang members who ultimately end up involved in vicious killings.
    She was an 18 year old willing member of the Worlds most Murdery Gang.
    She should be serving a Very Long prison sentence.

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