Legacy of Bush and Blair
Yassamine Mather comments on the Nice massacre
There can be no words to describe the atrocities committed last week in Nice, when 84 people - citizens of dozens of countries, amongst them many Muslims - were massacred in a brutal, senseless attack.
Islamic State’s cowardly action has, of course, been condemned by establishment politicians and the media, but Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians are amongst those who have commented that it is shame the western media only pay much attention to such IS mass killings when they occur in Europe or North America and the victims are predominantly westerners. Last week social media users were sharing an article from Huffington Post by Alexander C Kaufman, entitled ‘A staggering reminder that car bombs are an epidemic in Baghdad’. This was accompanied by a map of the city, which is covered in red dots to indicate the location of every car bomb attack in Baghdad since 2003. The map is almost completely red.1
In the last three weeks alone such car bombs have taken the lives of over 400 people. In early July, 280 Baghdad civilians were killed when a van parked outside a busy shopping complex blew up, as shoppers were preparing for the last day of Ramadan. Then, a few days later, an IS suicide bomber killed at least 40 people at a Shia event. Last week another 12 people were killed in the same way at a fruit and vegetable market in the Iraqi capital, and the next day yet another suicide car bombing took the lives of 10 people at a police checkpoint. As the relatives of those killed in the first bomb have said online and at funerals, no-one in the west seems to care much about the loss of life in Iraq.
In fact hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, etc have died since the invasion of 2003 - which was, of course, supposed to bring ‘democracy’ to the region, courtesy of the ‘free market’. Not only is the region still characterised by corrupt, dictatorial regimes, but it has been engulfed by civil wars and ‘failed states’. The two men most responsible for this regional disaster now spreading worldwide - George W Bush and Tony Blair - far from facing prosecution, are still lauded by sections of the establishment. Even after the damning condemnation of their record by the Chilcot report, they both keep telling us that the enforcement of ‘regime change’ through the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do.
Their supporters in the mainstream parties hypocritically condemn this or that bombing and shed tears for some victims of the terror unleashed on the peoples of the world, without mentioning the source of all this: the Iraq war itself. The dominant narrative of this imperialist lobby, at times repeated parrot-fashion by sections of the left, is that the failure of the ‘Arab spring’ in Syria has led to the rise of IS - although declassified documents that were part of the Chilcot report tell a different story, in fact confirming what we already knew.
IS began life as al Qa’eda in Iraq and was led by a Jordanian jihadi, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. According to the assessment of UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), included in the Chilcot report, the group’s strength is mainly due to Islamist insurgencies launched in response to the invasion of Iraq: “Al Qa’eda has capitalised on the Iraq jihad.” A further JIC assessment in June 2005 warned of what was to come:
The merger of al-Zarqawi’s organisation with al Qa’eda … has firmly placed it in a pre-eminent position in Iraq … a unified jihadist command may be emerging. Iraq is now seen by al Qa’eda as its main theatre of operations.2
Three years after the invasion, the JIC was, according to Chilcot, becoming concerned that the occupation was promoting extremism. And, of course, as time went by, the JIC’s assessments got more alarming . By March 2007, the security services considered al Qa’eda in Iraq to be “the single largest Sunni insurgent network” in the country, having acknowledged as early as 2006 that Sunni nationalists and religious extremists shared “common aspirations” in wanting to expel coalition forces and impose Sunni power. As the report states, by the time UK military forces left Iraq, “deep sectarian divisions threatened both stability and unity. Those divisions were not created by the coalition, but they were exacerbated by its decisions.”
The foreign office’s political assessment is just as damning, with warnings such as this from 2003: “All the evidence from the region suggests that coalition forces will not be seen as liberators for long, if at all. Our motives are regarded with huge suspicion.”
Let us not forget either that Iran’s Islamic republic is not blameless in all this. Driven by ambitions of becoming a stronger regional power, it propped up a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad and ignored the threat of increased mobilisation of disenchanted Sunnis in Iraq and later Syria.
Committed to Islam?
Of course, in the last few months military advances have been made against IS in Iraq and Syria. However, such military victories have seemingly been met by a new form of the barbarism displayed by the jihadi group: the indoctrination of petty criminals and disturbed individuals, who are willing to end their lives committing an act of savagery, taking with them those of the maximum number of innocent people.
The perpetrator of the Nice massacre, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, had a history of threats, violence and petty crime. He had been sentenced to six months in prison in March 2016 for a road rage incident, but, by all accounts, the intelligence services had no record of him as a potential IS terrorist. According to many witnesses, he was not actually religious. His cousin is widely quoted as saying: “He did not go to the mosque, he did not pray, he did not observe Ramadan. He drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs. This is all forbidden under Islam.” Neighbours also recall him eating in public during day time in the month of Ramadan and he was once arrested for a drunken brawl outside a bar.
Although there are reports that some of his relatives had been convicted for Islamic extremism in Tunisia during the rule of the now deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, police reports paint a different picture of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. His mobile phone records show that the Bastille Day killer - described by IS as a “soldier of Islam” - regularly used dating sites to pick up both male and female lovers. He visited gyms and salsa bars regularly, and would also visit websites showing pictures of executions. IS has been reduced to recruiting anyone who will follow their sadistic orders, irrespective of whether they are practising Muslims, and irrespective of whether they are committed jihadists or mentally disturbed.
If reports that he wired $84,000 to Tunisia earlier this month are true, then it seems Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was an IS mercenary with little or no conviction. This new profile (in some ways similar to the mass murderer in Orleans) tells us what we need to know about Islamic State’s new recruits in Europe: they are foot soldiers who are not necessarily religious, possibly petty criminals who have nothing to lose, or those who have been indoctrinated via the internet.
At a ceremony to commemorate the Nice victims, some in the crowd booed the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, for the incompetence of the government he headed in failing to prevent the massacre - although it is difficult to imagine such random attacks can be completely prevented. Having said that, however, apparently the police failed to check the 19-tonne vehicle used by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as a weapon of mass murder - he told them he was an ice cream delivery man. But the real problem is not such lapses in ‘security’. The French government is amongst those which fail to see the connection between selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the ‘unofficial’ support generated for IS.
A number of academics and social scientists have been wheeled out by the media to try and explain why France has had three terrorist attacks in as many years, while we have not seen a major incident in the UK. But no state should be self-congratulatory about having so far escaped Islamic State terror: many countries have fallen victim and more will do so in future.
1. See, for instance, www.theasian.asia/archives/95335.