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Middle East

Sep 1, 2014

Government breaches its own terror laws in returning to Iraq

In arming the Kurdish regional government, Tony Abbott is helping a proscribed terrorist organisation and placing Australians at greater risk of terrorist attack.


So, to be clear about what the Australian government is doing in Iraq, we will be providing arms not to the government of that country, but to a breakaway province whose forces include a terrorist group, the PPK, proscribed under our anti-terror legislation since 2005. As that proscription notes:

“The precise strength of the PKK is not known; however, it is widely believed the group numbers approximately four to five thousand militants, the majority of whom are based in northern Iraq.”

The proscription lists a large number of PKK murders and attacks in Turkey since 2010 alone. Under Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code, it is a crime to provide support to groups like PKK. That is what the Abbott government is now doing, albeit under the fig leaf that the weapons supplied will only be used by the Kurdish regional government forces. In fact, the PKK is central to the fight against Islamic State militants that we have now joined. It’s only a matter of days since the US media was lauding the role of the PKK in the battle against IS, with battle-hardened PKK soldiers — or are they more correctly called terrorists? — providing critical support for the Kurdish peshmerga both in operating alongside them and operating as special forces units behind IS lines. The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government actually visited a PKK camp recently to acknowledge their efforts.

The idea that somehow we’re not helping a proscribed terrorist organisation is thus, given the on-the-ground reality, laughable. And as past experience shows, arming terrorist groups because they are momentarily fighting someone we’re opposed to has a horrible way of coming back to hurt us.

That’s just one of the many absurdities and contradictions in the government’s decision — without debate — to rejoin the war in Iraq. The government itself has proposed laws prohibiting people from travelling to Iraq to fight for non-government forces, as it aids a regional government aiming to split away from the government of Iraq. IS, of course, are fighting a government in Syria condemned by Australia and other Western governments (and anyone with any sense of decency) that only months ago we were debating bombing. And the Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that there would be no Australian combat troops involved. As Crikey noted last week, air strikes and support for air strikes are very likely to mean SAS troops being involved — something since confirmed. There will be Australian boots on the ground in Iraq, regardless of what the Prime Minister says.

“The only likely consequence of the decision of the Abbott government is to make Australians less safe …”

And remember, IS is being bankrolled by patrons in our allies in the War on Terror, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

How does this serve Australia’s national interest? That explanation was absent from the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday beyond motherhood words about “beheadings” — we await the government’s condemnation of the chop-happy Saudi government — and “a humanitarian catastrophe” and “security nightmare for the people of the region and for the wider world”.

In fact there is no evidence that IS represents any sort of “security nightmare” outside Iraq and Syria. If a group like IS can represent a “security nightmare” to Western governments, it suggests our police, intelligence agencies and armed forces are operating at an astonishing level of incompetence. The website Foreign Policy on the weekend tried to hype the IS threat by running a story about a “terror laptop of doom” that featured plans to “weaponize bubonic plague”. The story was picked up by right-wing sites like Breitbart and Fox in the US, The Times and The Telegraph in the UK and Andrew Bolt here, all presumably unaware that bubonic plague can be treated with topical antibiotic cream from your local chemist.

The problem with the other justification, of a humanitarian catastrophe, is the selectivity motivating the intervention. Where was the intervention against Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group of equal savagery to IS, in Nigeria? Where’s the second intervention in Libya, where Islamic militants, directed from London (despite the UK government hyping the threat is IS) took over Tripoli? Where’s the intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UN efforts to end a decades-long civil war are hopelessly inadequate, or in Gaza, where hundreds of children can be killed by Israel with the US preventing any international action? Or (ignoring that it’s simply the case that Africans don’t really matter to Westerners) do humanitarian catastrophes only warrant intervention if they are somehow connected to Western security interests? That might be a plausible, hard-nosed approach in a world of limited resources, but relies on making the case that IS is a serious threat to Australian security beyond the Australians we let go over and join in the fight.

In fact the only likely consequence of the decision of the Abbott government is to make Australians less safe, just as our previous intervention in Iraq made Australians less safe. Then again, that can be used to justify further extensions of the government’s anti-terrorism powers and further increase the budgets of our security agencies, so no great loss from the government’s point of view. Let’s just hope that the time-honoured tradition of the War on Terror doesn’t play out yet again and we find ourselves under attack from the very groups we supported.


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24 thoughts on “Government breaches its own terror laws in returning to Iraq

  1. extra

    I guess that by now the Australian military must be getting used to being pissed up against a wall by the Coalition.

  2. JohnB

    And if Australia, in arming the Kurds, did so in response to a request from the government of Iraq or at least with their agreement, then the whole question of illegality goes out the window.

    I don’t like Australia going back to Iraq, for any number of reasons, but please keep the discussion/argument based on the facts.

  3. Luke Hellboy

    So I guess “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” is now “our terrorists are our freedom fighters – when it is politically expedient.” Shows the arbitrary nature of prescribing terrorist groups. I prefer pragmatism over ideology but from a government that has shown nothing but ideologically driven policies it smacks of hypocrisy or an inability to make nuanced decisions in complex areas… probably both.

  4. SusieQ

    Does Iraq have a government in place at the moment or are we just doing (as per usual) whatever the Americans want us to?

  5. Zeke


    So it’s OK to arm a proscribed Kurdish terrorist group (PPK) because the Iraqi government says so?

  6. Graeski

    No, no, no, no, NO! You Leftie Crikey types just need to back off a bit.

    This is Tony’s Tampa moment! Don’t spoil it for him.

  7. Gratton Wilson

    We will decide which terrorist groups are terrorists and the manner in which they shall be armed.

  8. JohnB

    @ Zeke. I half agree with you. Maybe Graeski has it in a nutshell.

  9. Duncan Gilbey

    We are at war with IS. We have always been at war with IS…

  10. CML

    Bernard – very well said!
    And I agree with Graeski at #6.
    This government just dishes out cr+p to the bogans here, who lap it up and believe we are all poised for catastrophic destruction.
    Toady the rAbbott should be careful what he wishes for!!

  11. Mark out West


    Your a mental giant on these matters Bernard.

  12. GideonPolya

    Excellent article by Bernard Keane.

    Incorrect, hysterical, and jingoistic reportage by Mainstream journalist, Coalition and Labor Right (aka Lib-Lab, Liberal-Laboral) politician and academic presstitutes has again led Australia to war.

    Mainstream media Censorship and genocide ignoring have played a key part as illustrated by the following example.
    On 1 September 2014 The Guardian Australia published an article by Martin Chulov, “Iraqi forces take Amerli town from Islamic State fighters”: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/31/isis-islamic-state-iraq-advances .

    I attempted to post the following carefully researched comment but after a day of non-appearance (The Guardian “pre-moderates” me to ensure that the Awful Truth cannot be seen even for a few seconds or minutes) it has evidently been CENSORED by The Guardian presumably for containing things it does not want its readers to read, know about or think about (for further examples of see “Censorship by The Guardian Australia”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home/censorship-by-the-guardian-a and Gideon Polya “The Guardian Australia Censors & Ignores Iraqi Holocaust And Iraqi Genocide Now Renewed By US & Australia”, Countercurrents, 1 September: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya310814.htm ):

    Censored comment. “History ignored yields history repeated. Here is a short history of Australian involvement in Iraq – 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the British invasion of Iraq in November 1914 and the commencement of a century of Anglo devastation of Iraq . The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) assisted the British invasion of Iraq in 1915 and its soldiers unwittingly commenced the Palestinian Genocide with the Surafend Massacre in 1918. Australia was involved in the US-led 1990-2003 Sanctions War during which 1.7 million Iraqis died from imposed deprivation and 1.2 million under-5 Iraqi infants died (90% avoidably and due to US Alliance war crimes in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention). Australian special forces spearheaded the illegal and war criminal US-UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that resulted in 2.7 million Iraqi deaths from violence (1.5 million) or violently-imposed deprivation (1.2 million) and a further 0.8 million Iraqi under-5 infant deaths (Google “Iraqi Holocaust Iraqi Genocide” and read “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, now available for free perusal on the web).
    The US and US-invited Australia are now re-invading Iraq. Exploiting barbaric acts by the IS Sunni rebels, the US and Australia have returned soldiers and air force planes to Iraq, and the US has intervened in the civil war with renewed massive bombing of Iraq and with Australia-directed drone strikes, with Australia now committing to air-supply of weapons to the Kurds and with Australian air force bombing a much-touted possibility.

    Of course Iraq is just 1 of 70 countries that have been invaded and devastated by the US since 1776 . The UK has invaded about 172 countries and France has invaded 80 . Australia as a UK ally or (since 1941) a US ally has invaded scores of countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Why are these distant, non-Muslim, non-Arab-speaking, non-Arab and serial invader countries re-invading Iraq? Short answer: for US hegemony, oil, and non-Russian gas for Europe.

    Renewed Australian military involvement in war-devastated Iraq is in the absence of (a) UN permission, (b) no clear threat to Australia, and (c) no clear invitation from the Iraqi Government (there are currently 3 governments in Iraq) is illegal and a further egregious war crime against the Iraqi people under International Law that will see an endless civil war for decades. As former ADF Lieutenant Colonel and now Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has stated there needs to be proper Parliamentary discussion and respect for International Law . Peace is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity.” End censored comment.

    Decent pro-peace Australians will utterly reject the resumption of the Iraq War, Iraqi Holocaust and Iraqi Genocide (4.6 million Iraqi deaths since 1990 from violence or war-imposed deprivation) by the pro-war, US lackey Lib-Labs (Liberal-Laborals, Coalition and Labor Right) and their use of our taxes to support a proscribed terrorist organization – decent Australians will vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last.

  13. jalal kassab

    The last time we were told of an imminent threat, the then Prime Minister John Howard told us about the irrefutable evidence and it was all one big lie. A fabrication to get into Iraq to an agenda that is now unfolding. It is still about Oil. This lead to invasion of Iraq over 10 years ago. Australia further supported a transitional government to give one group substantially more power in a so-called democracy that allowed sectarian division and political motivated violence to continue, simultaneously having American rendition and torture against those peoples that politicians and the same intelligence (or lack of) organisations that warned about the Saddam’s Weapons of Mass destruction are now saying we need to go an fight the same peoples that have escaped those jails the US ran and its allies operated and franchised out. Remembering also ISIS leaders, the AL Qaeda franchise were escapees from US jails in Iraq.
    The raising of fear and war warmongering is just another excuse to further erode freedoms and malign Muslims and with the same breath say we are not fighting Islam.
    Via Ghaith Krayem from the Islamic Council of Victoria asked “If the terrorist threat is greater now than 10 years ago doesn’t it mean our response has failed? So what are we doing? More of the same…..in what rational world does this make sense?”
    What a fantastic and insightful question. The question should be asked and the policy pundits and politician need to answer, has the policy failed.
    Or is the agenda still for the carve of Iraq with the Kurdish north and is its pro western position and all the oil reserves heading to the Mediterranean to the Haifa Oil Refinery. IF not what is the ultimate game plan.

  14. David Irving (no relation)

    It’s also interesting that suddenly (when it can maybe cause a poll bounce) it’s OK to discuss operational matters …

  15. Neutral

    So the loophole would be that Abbott and Shorten have agreed to supply arms to the KRG with no intention of them falling into PKK hands. Therefore Abbot and Shorten have not directly armed or had any intentions of arming a proscribed terrorist organisation.

    No doubt there is some legal eagle out there willing to mount a case to prove otherwise. Also no doubt Brandis would commit jihad against any such person like they did to Andrew Wilkie.

    It’s so blatant why doesn’t the average Aussie care? Too busy with weighty nail biters like Masterchef? Can’t see what’s in front of them because the phone’s in the way?

    Ah I know! It’s finals time and it’s going to be a big week on The Footy Channel. Now where did I leave the foxtel remote?

  16. klewso

    When it came to that “End of the Age of Entitlement” thingy of Shonkey’s – obviously “Some ends are more equal than others”?
    His (and Big Ears’) and Noddy’s mob, in goose-step, still feel entitled to be able to do whatever they want?

  17. Andybob

    Havent seen any comment from Turkey about arming the Kurds yet.
    Maybe the answer is to sell the Turks more arms …

  18. Rawand Azeez

    It is incredible just how misinformed this article is. There are several groups of interest in the warzone right now. PKK (Turkey), YPG/YPJ (Syria), the Peshmerga of KDP & PUK (Iraq & the two main/ruling parties of KRG). Then you have PJAK sending some soldiers from Iran. That’s just the Kurds. Then you have Shiite Militiamen & finally the Iraqi army which has Sunni among them. PKK didn’t help KDP out, they helped YPG/YPJ when they raced to Sinjar mountains to save the Ezidi from genocide. KDP & PKK have at best really rocky relations, at worst they are enemies who smile at each other. Trust me on this: KDP won’t help PKK nor provide arms. Not intentionally. Indeed KDP has a very close & tight-knit relationship with Turkey. They won’t jeopardise that. Having said the real force Australia should be helping is the YPG/YPJ. They’ve been successfully fighting IS for more than 2 years on 1960’s weaponry. They have caused the greatest casualties against this monstrous horde. I could keep going but I think I’ll stop here.

  19. Ryan John

    Bernard Keane, this article got me fired up and I am confronting many with it. A lot of people are questioning the assertion re PKK. Can you let us know where your intel is from?

  20. The Pav

    Yeah…supplying weapons has worked so well in the past

  21. Liamj

    Thanks Bernard for the lulz, & Jalal (yes the ‘arms drops’ prove policy failure) & Rawand (the Peoples Defence Units sound excellent).

    One ‘Cui Bono?’ not asked: where is Aus getting the weapons that Tony is handing out – from Aus military stores (long way to cart them) or via some mate in the business?

    IIRC, spivving for weapons manufacturers is common for retired defence ministers, spooks & LNP nobs.

  22. Dan B

    Rawand @ 17 = Excellent. Perhaps you should have authored this piece. Bernard continues his one-dimensional op-eds because it is too difficult to research this mess appropriately, and thoroughly. It appears he and Kingsbury are cut from the same cloth. Damn those who let thorough research get in the way of media theatre…

  23. GideonPolya

    The Australian ABC has reported “One major concern about sending arms to the Kurdish government is that those arms could end up in the hands of the proscribed terrorist organisation the PKK. The PKK has defeated Islamic State fighters on several occasions and Peshmerga generals are already facing accusations that they’re selling arms to the PKK” (Sarah Dingle, “No guarantee arms for Kurds won’t end up with PKK: experts” , ABC Radio National, The World Today, 1 September 2014: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2014/s4078227.htm ).

    The ABC quotes Professor Greg Barton ( director international of the Global Terrorism Research Centre) as saying that, given the rapid pace of change in the region, it’s possible that nations will rethink the PKK’s status as a terrorist organisation, and also quotes Dr Tristan Dunning (The University of Queensland and recently returned from Kurdistan): “What’s happened in the past is that Peshmerga arms have actually ended up with the PKK. So one of the reasons that I’ve heard that the collapse so quickly at Sinjar is actually because the Peshmerga generals in change of that Yezidi town had actually already sold the heavy weapons to the PKK for personal profit. There’s several Peshmerga generals on trial at the moment for selling the weapons for profit. So there’s absolutely no way that they could, within the fog of war especially, within such a corrupt environment, that they could guarantee that they won’t end up in PKK hands.”

    Further, “reckless” supply of weapons via the Peshmerga to the Kurdish PKK, an Australia- proscribed terrorist organization according to Australian National Security (see “Australian National Security”: http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/KurdistanWorkersPartyPKK.aspx ), carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment under Australia’s anti-terrorism laws.

    Thus under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 it becomes a crime, punishable by life imprisonment, to recklessly provide funds to a potential terrorist: funds include money and equivalents and also assets; it is not necessary that the culprit know the receiver is a terrorist, only that they are reckless about the possibility; it is not even necessary that the receiver is a terrorist, only that the first person is reckless about the possibility that they might be (see “Anti-terrorism Act 2005”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Terrorism_Act_2005 ).

    The pro-war, warmongering, US lackey Lib-Labs are clearly reckless about the possibility that Australian-provided weapons will fall into the hands of a proscribed terrorist organization, the PKK, which is the most effective on-the-ground ally in White Australia’s renewed war against Iraqis it does not like, a war criminal Australian war violating International Law because (1) it has no UN sanction, (2) involves no Iraqi threat to distant Australia, (3) involves Australia directing indiscriminate, war criminal US drone strikes in Iraq and elsewhere , (4) recklessly arms proscribed terrorists, and (5) has no clear sanction from the Iraqi Government (there are at least 3 Governments in civil-war-wracked Iraq) and indeed the US-installed Baghdad Shia Government’s Ambassador to Australia, Mouayed Saleh, has objected to direct Australian arms supply to the Kurds: “As you know [Iraq] is a sovereign country and [the weapons plan] should go through the central government which is Baghdad and that is the proper protocol … or at least consult with the central government and then you can give it to a province like in Kurdistan, just like if I want to give weapons to Victoria, I should go through Canberra in order to pass it to Victoria” (see Daniel Hurst, “Australia’s Iraqi Ambassador warns on weapons supply to Kurds”, Guardian Australia, 1 September 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/01/australias-iraqi-ambassador-warns-weapons-supply-kurds ).

    Australia not only engages in Australian state terrorism but also supports US state terrorism, UK state terrorism, French state terrorism and Israeli state terrorism, and is “recklessly” supporting a proscribed terrorist organization, the PKK. Interestingly, some years ago Australia removed from its Proscribed Terrorist List the genocidally racist Zionist terrorist organization, Irgun, the neo-Nazi ideological parent of the present far-right Apartheid Israeli Government, which collaborated with the German Nazis before and during WW2, and which killed British servicemen before, during and after WW2.

    Why aren’t ASIO or the AFP arresting the “recklessly” terrorism-supporting Lib-Labs (aka the Liberal-Laborals, Coalition and Labor Right)?


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