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.