Monday, September 12, 2011

It's not extreme ideology that creates most Afghan or Iraqi insurgents or Al Qa'ida men, it’s killing members of their family, country or religion

Tony Blair is still pointing to Islamic “extreme ideologies” as “the threat” and the cause of all opposition to the US led “liberations” of Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair adds that it’s not about anything “we” do to “them” (1) – (2).

Yet one British reporter in Libya for Al Jazeera English the day the rebels took Tripoli recounted how Iraqis had come up to him in Baghdad the day Saddam was overthrown and told him they loved Americans, who were the greatest people in the world. A week later, one of the same people told him American troops had killed two members of his family – and that he would now kill as many Americans as he could.

This was not an unusual case. A CIA intelligence assessment in 2005 found the typical Iraqi insurgent was “motivated to fight because the United States is occupying his country” and “a family grievance, someone was hurt by coalition forces”, though adding that “There is also [in this Iraqi insurgent] religion and nationalism that results in a view he must fight on to get non-Muslims out of Muslim territory.” (3)

‘Hurt’ here is a nice vague word that papers over family members jailed without trial, tortured by Coalition forces or by US trained Iraqi government ‘police commandos’ or ‘counter-terrorist’ units using the same torture methods as under Saddam, or raped or killed by them. Blair’s claim that only insurgents and Al Qa’ida kill civilians in Iraq, with British , American and Iraqi government forces not responsible for killing any, is demonstrably and very false (4) – (8).

American journalist Thomas Ricks even found American forces often ‘arrested’ the wives and children of suspected insurgents – and often even if the suspect did give themselves up, US forces had ‘lost’ their families in the horrific prison torture network of which Abu Ghraib was the tip of the iceberg (9).

While Blair is probably right that terrorist attacks killed more civilians than Coalition forces did, due to truck, car and suicide bombings, even US military statistics showed that over 75% of insurgent and/or terrorist attacks targeted Coalition or Iraqi government armed forces (10).

So the insurgents’ motives include not just the religious ones that Blair sees as the only issue, but anger at foreign troops having killed, tortured or raped a member of their family; and opposition to foreign troops occupying their country. These are not examples of an alien ideology distorting reality, but reactions anyone can understand and empathise with.

Our enemies’ motives also include opposition to a new government that uses the same death and torture squad techniques on it’s people as the military government of El Salvador in the 80s, or Saddam Hussein himself (11).

Similarly, when many Iraqi insurgents turned from being allied to Al Qa’ida to accepting American money to fight it, the reason was not their ideology changing to one more similar to the British or American governments’, but disgust at Al Qa’ida killing Iraqi civilians (12) – (14).

Afghanistan : it’s mostly not about extreme Islamic ideology either

In Afghanistan the extremism of the Taliban is notorious. Yet US intelligence analysts found that 90% of the people NATO are fighting in Afghanistan are neither Taliban nor even “religiously motivated”, but fighting out of a cultural tradition of attacking foreign troops who are occupying their lands (which in Afghanistan may include for instance non-Pashtuns occupying Pashtun areas, or even soldiers from a tribe from another valley) (15) – (16).

A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research also found that the number of attacks on NATO forces in each area of Afghanistan correlated closely with incidents in which NATO troops killed civilians in that area, with, on average, six extra attacks taking place each time civilians were killed (17).

There is also a fair amount of evidence of the ‘El Salvador option’ of US trained and led native ‘counter terrorist’ and ‘militia’ death squads being employed by the US in Afghanistan in summary executions in night raids (often of teenagers who turn out to be innocent). As in Iraq this allows the US military massive influence while denying any direct involvement – US officials for instance confirming that a raid had had US forces present but with the ‘trigger pullers’ being Afghan (18) – (20).

As with Al Qa’ida in Iraq most of the opposition to the Taliban among Afghans is due to Taliban killing civilians.

(US, UN and Afghan government sources show that Taliban and other opponents of NATO and the Karzai government have been responsible for the majority of civilian deaths for several years including 2011 so far. Given the Karzai government and the UN giving slightly higher figures for civilian casualties than NATO this can’t be discounted entirely as biased reporting of numbers.  However the total number of civilians killed has also been rising each year. (21) – (25).

NATO forces are also the body with the most security resources to collect enough statistics to make even a rough estimate of the total for each year across the whole country (21) – (26).

NATO figures for civilian casualties caused by their forces are also much lower than those of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission’s  figures in the minority of cases in which the AIHRC conducts it’s own investigation, though the UN may increase it’s figures in such cases. The AIHRC are all appointed by President Karzai and it’s head, Sima Samar, has had death threats from the Taliban and has said she’s in favour of NATO forces staying on to defeat the Taliban. This suggests NATO and UNAMA figures may understate the number of civilians killed by NATO and Afghan government forces. (26).

Even Al Qa’ida gets many recruits who want to protect Muslim civilians from being killed

Photo : The aftermath of the Madrid bombing

Al Qaeda was always a tiny minority of the people fighting the US and it’s allies and most Muslims want nothing to do with them, largely because they have often deliberately targeted civilians, which is not justified either morally or by anything in the Quran, but they have also repeatedly said they are killing our civilians because we are killing their (Muslim) civilians.

After 9-11 Bin Laden said “Every time they kill us, we kill them” (27). The Madrid bombers asked “Is it OK for you to kill our children, women, old people and youth in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine..? And is it forbidden to us to kill yours.” (28). Al Qa’ida in Europe said the July 7th bombings were revenge for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (29). In 2004 Bin Laden offered a truce to European countries if they withdrew their troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, saying “stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling yours” (30).

This does not mean their murder of civilians was justified. Two wrongs cannot make a right. It is never justified to target civilians or take revenge on people not responsible for the acts you are taking revenge for. Taking revenge is usually pointless and counter-productive.

Al Qa'ida have also lost support among Muslims for targeting Muslim civilians as supposedly not 'true' Muslims.However these statements are more evidence that Al Qa’ida, like other Iraqi and Afghan insurgents, have motivations which are based at least partly on reality and which we can understand.

Only someone blinded by ideology could claim that the US and its allies have done nothing to turn any Afghans, Iraqis or Muslims against them

It’s hard to believe that Tony Blair can genuinely fail to see that if you kill members of the families of many thousands of people, or torture people by the thousand, many of them will hold it against you and some will seek revenge.

The fact that some Muslims, seeing themselves as part of a global community of Muslims, may also think they have a duty to fight to protect other Muslims in other countries, should not be surprising either. It’s not so different from Tony Blair, a British Prime Minister, deciding that we had a moral duty to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Americans due to ‘shared values’ after September 11th.

No doubt Blair is right that a minority of Muslims would be extreme in their views no matter what the US government and military and it’s allies did or didn’t do. Bin Laden for instance once claimed that “the crusaders” had allied with the Serbs against the Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.

To claim that nothing the US led alliance has done in terms of military action, torture, or supporting the dictatorships and occupations of others over mostly Muslim populations has turned anyone against us, or that anyone opposed to the US led alliance is only opposed due to ideology, is just him believing what he would like to believe though, blindly refusing to see the facts. That is deluded. You might even say that he clings so blindly to an ideology in which the US and it’s allies can do no wrong - and that this ideological belief is distorting his perception of reality.

Many converts to Islamic extremism may well be more symptoms of how some people react to having family members killed by foreign forces than a cause of them, just as the number of votes the BNP gets in the UK rises with the unemployment rate and rose after the London bombings. Blair and Bush and the neo-conservatives like to pretend that history began on September 11th – that it was what the Khmer Rouge called Year Zero, but in fact Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been a motivating factor for Islamic extremist groups for decades, as have American and European support for torturing dictatorships in Muslim countries, along with civilians killed in wars on Muslim countries.

(1) = Independent 10 Sep 2011 War on terror 'not over' says Tony Blair, ; ‘Mr Blair warned the threat would only end when "we defeat the ideology". …"I think it will take a generation, but the way to defeat this ideology ultimately is by a better idea, and we have it, which is a way of life based on openness, democracy, freedom and the rule of law."’…my view is that actually this is a spectrum of which the terrorists are at one end but actually that spectrum of radical Islamism goes far, far deeper than we think…."It is profound, it is an ideology, it is a movement and it is still there, still with us.

(2) = BBC News 10 Sep 2011 ‘Tony Blair denies military action 'radicalised' Muslims’, ; ‘The reason why these people are radicalised is not because of something we're doing to them. …There is this view, which I'm afraid I believe is deeply naive in the West, that somehow these people, you know, misunderstand our motives, that we've confused them, that that's why they've become radicalised. …And until we stop accepting that somehow we, by our actions, are provoking these people to be as they are, we will carry on with this problem….Mr Blair said that military force should be considered to stop Iran developing a military nuclear programme. "I don't think it would include invasion but I think you cannot rule out the use of military force against Iran if they continue to develop nuclear weapons in breach of the international community's obligations on them."’

 (3) = Washington Post 06 Feb 2005 ‘CIA Studies Provide Glimpse of Insurgents in Iraq’,

(4) = NYT magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(5) = New York Times Magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(6) = Nation 06 Jun 2009 ‘Iraq’s new death squad’,

(7) = Amnesty International World Report 2010 (covering 2009) – Country Report Iraq, ;(once pdf loads, scroll down to page 125 (by PDF page number) or 178 (number marked on page)

(8) = On US and British forces in Iraq killing civilians see this link and sources listed on it and also this one

(9) = Thomas E. Ricks (2006) ‘FIASCO – the American military adventure in Iraq’, Penguin, London, Chapter 11 - pages 236-238 of paperback edition & chapter 12, pages 283-284 of paperback edition

(10) = Brookings Institution (July 2008) – Iraq Index, Page 8 – Enemy-Initiated Attacks against the Coalition and it’s partners, source MNF (multinational forces) Iraq, see Page 8,

(11) = See the part of the blog post on this link with the sub-heading ‘Killing and torturing Iraqis - supposedly to save them from Saddam doing it’ and the sources for it

(12) = NPR 31 Mar 2005 ‘Profile of an Iraqi Insurgent’,, He says he grew disillusioned with the insurgency, which he says has been "hijacked by foreigners" and directs its attacks against Iraqis, not Americans.

(13) = Christian Science Monitor 06 Feb 2006 ‘Sunni tribes turn against jihadis’, ; ‘Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan, head of the influential Karabila tribe… He's also turned away from supporting Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and other foreign fighters in Iraq. "We realized that these foreign terrorists…claim to be striking at the US occupation, but the reality is they are killing innocent Iraqis in the markets, in mosques, in churches, and in our schools."

(14) = Time 31 Jan 2011 ‘The Insurgent's Tale: Rolling Stone's 2005 Profile of a Soldier Reconsidering Jihad’, ; ‘At thirty-two, Khalid was beginning to have serious reservations about the course of the insurgency in Iraq. They are over-killing there. Fighting foreign soldiers was one thing — he had been doing it all of his adult life. But did his faith really sanction killing civilians in their own country? The blood of people is too cheap.’

(15) = Boston Globe 09 Oct 2009 ‘Taliban not main Afghan enemy - Few militants driven by religion, reports say’,

(16) = Washington Post 27 Oct 2009  ‘U.S. official resigns over Afghan war’,

(17) = AP 02 Aug 2010 ‘Study ties civilian deaths to attacks on U.S. forces’, ; for full report see Luke N. Condra, Joseph H. Felter, Radha K. Iyengar, Jacob N. Shapiro (2010) ‘The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq’  , National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper No. 16152, July 2010, ; The fact that no correlation was found in Iraq may well be due to a greater degree of nationalism in Iraq, with most Iraqis seeing themselves as Iraqi first, compared to what one American officer called ‘valleyism’ in Afghanistan, with community loyalties often limited to one valley (see (16) above)

(18) = Guardian 22 Nov 2009 'US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan',

(19) = On the ‘El Salvador option’ of US trained and/or led native death squads from El Salvador to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to Colombia see the blog post on this link and sources for it

(20) = On summary executions of people who are often later found to be innocent and teenage boys see the blog post on this link – scroll down to the sub-heading ‘Night Raids and the El Salvador Option moving from Iraq to Afghanistan’ or to see sources for it to ‘Sources for Night raids etc’. Some links may have changed but you should be able to find the original articles by googling the newspaper name and the headline

(21) = Afghanistan Conflict Monitor ( of simon Fraser University, Canada) – Facts and Figures – Civilian Casualties (tables using UN statistics for 2007-2010 showing civilian casualties and whether they were caused by NATO or Afghan government forces or their allies (PGF =Pro-Government Forces) or their enemies (AGF = Anti-Government Forces)

(22) = Casualty Monitor – Civilian Casualties: Afghanistan – more tables showing the same things and again based on UNAMA figures,

(23) = Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission AIHRC (2010) ‘Afghanistan Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’,

(24) = 19 Jul 2010 ‘Afghanistan civilian death toll has risen sharply, says United Nations’,

(25) = USA Today 22 Jun 2011 ‘Taliban behind most Afghan civilian casualties’,

(26) = On problems with and likely biases in Afghan civilian casualty statistics in general; and on US civilian casualty counts on NATO airstrikes being far lower than AIHRC counts see the blog post on this link and sources for it

(27) = Guardian 12 Nov 2001 , ‘Bin Laden denies anthrax attacks’,

(28) = Guardian 12 Mar 2004, ‘The clues that point towards al-Qaida’,

(29) = Guardian Unlimited 17th July 2005 , 2.15p.m update ‘Al-Qaida in Europe claims responsibility for blasts’

(30) = Reuters / 15 Apr 2004 ‘Excerpts from 'Bin Laden' tape’,

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