Van Bommel: military campaign against ISIS will lead to more violence

11 September 2014

Van Bommel: military campaign against ISIS will lead to more violence

On Wednesday evening the Dutch Parliament debated the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Below is the text of the speech by SP foreign policy spokesman Harry van Bommel which formed part of the debate.

The SP regards the recent developments in the north of Iraq with utter disgust. ISIS violence against minorities in the area – against the Kurds, Yezidis, Turkmens, Christians and others – is horrifying beyond words. It is of great importance that a halt is called to this, so it’s good that international aid has been offered to the minorities threatened with mass murder to enable them to escape the ISIS death machine.

The SP is, however, afraid that the struggle against ISIS is doomed from its start to failure if serious political steps, and other steps, are not taken. In contrast to what many have suggested, ISIS is not only a group of radicals capable of committing horrific acts, it is also at the forefront of a broad uprising amongst Sunnis against the established authority. Since the illegal American invasion the Sunnis have been systematically marginalised. Former Prime Minister Al-Maliki was a major contributor to this. Combatting ISIS without tackling the causes of the movement is unrealistic. How does the Minister of Foreign Affairs see this?

How does the minister view the new government that has been formed in Iraq? First indications are, it’s true, fairly positive, but read further and you can see that the coalition is extremely fragile. Kurdish support is, for example, conditional. They want more money from Baghdad and they want the status of disputed areas amended in their favour. They complain also that they have been palmed off with unimportant positions and that they have been forced into supporting the government by the international community. At the same time there are important posts which remain unfilled. What does all of this mean? It’s extremely doubtful whether the Sunnis will have high expectations of this government. And have any other steps been taken towards serious political and also economic inclusiveness? Are there plans to tackle economic discrimination against the Sunnis?

Unfortunately serious violence in Iraq is not only coming from ISIS. Shiite militias and the Iraqi army are also guilty of large scale war crimes, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch indicate. Consider for instance last week’s air raid on a hospital and the barrel bombs used by the Iraqi army, just as they were used by Assad in Syria. Consider also the suicide bomb attacks against Sunni targets by militias loyal to Baghdad. This violence makes it clear that the question is very much whether there are any reliable partners in Iraq with whom we can work. How does the minister see this? Does the minister share my fears that the deployment of Shiite militias will stir up religious and other antagonisms enormously? What does this deployment say about the Iraqi army?

The many victims of all this violence deserve our support. More humanitarian aid is urgently needed,. What has been delivered of the five hundred million pledged by Saudi Arabia? For the Netherlands, that was a reason to mark time, yet the money does not seem to have arrived at UNHCR. In the short term 350 million is needed. Can the Netherlands give more? And what is the state of affairs in relation to the future of aid to Syria, given that a resolution on the matter was adopted by the UN Security Council in July? Has access improved? On Monday Oxfam published an extremely worrying report on this. Aid is falling well short, was its conclusion. And the Netherlands is doing too little. What is the government’s reaction to this?

Some eleven years ago, following the illegal war against Iraq, a war conducted with the support of the Netherlands, a war which to a great extent is the cause of the current widespread violence and the rise of Jihadism in Iraq, a new Coalition of the Willing is being assembled. The SP greatly fears that the military campaign now taking shape will contribute to still more violence. This goes also for the supply of arms to this area of tension. It is abundantly clear that weapons could easily fall into the wrong hands, as Amnesty warns. I well understand therefore that the Minister of Defence is extremely hesitant over this. Can it be explained how the delivery of arms to Iraq comes within the EU’s export criteria? And should the conclusion not be that in Iraq and Syria there is no shortage of weapons, but rather a surplus?

This so-called core coalition raises a host of questions. In the letter from the Minister today it is stated that the government is prepared to take part in this coalition, but it isn’t clear to me precisely what is meant by this. Does the Netherlands support the American policy outlined by President Obama only this evening? Still more important is the question of what the actual aim of this coalition is. President Obama has recently spoken of the destruction of ISIS, including in Syria. How realistic is that goal?

Are Arab countries also going to join the coalition, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for example? This is of major importance, but the question now is whether this is at all possible. Certainly now that Germany has accused Qatar of supporting ISIS. Saudi Arabia is also often accused of this. How does the minister view this? Does the fact that Turkey forms part of the core coalition mean that the country will finally close the border to foreign Jihadists, 12,000 of whom have entered the conflict zone, most of them travelling via Turkey. And how does the minister view cooperation with Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, who have the same enemy? Can reports that western secret services are cooperating with the Assad regime be confirmed?

The minister recently made it clear that ISIS can only be combatted if there is a preparedness to tackle the movement in Syria as well. Could we be informed as to what is intended here? In Parliament we have long debated supplying weapons to parties in conflict and the conclusion, shared by the minister, was that this is a bad idea. Is he now distancing himself from this? I very much hope not. And what of the possible air raids against ISIS targets in Syria? Will these be supported? British Prime Minister Cameron stated recently that no permission would be needed for this from the Syrian authorities. Do you share this analysis? Has legal advice been sought on this from the advisor on international law?

Of equally great importance is the question of how it can be prevented that the military campaign against ISIS proves counterproductive. There are already indications enough that since the US air raids, recruitment of new ISIS fighters has only increased. Is it not also the case that American military interference is precisely what ISIS wants? Can the minister also let us know what targets the US has now bombed? To what extent is this limited to making humanitarian aid possible and to the prevention of genocide? And is it the case that Special Forces are also present in Iraq? What are they doing there? Are they conducting targeted killing operations?

Lastly is the question of what the consequences will be of any Dutch support to the fight against ISIS. Rob Bertholee, head of the AIVD*, said recently that until a short time ago there was no threat to the west posed by ISIS, but that the threat has grown since the west began to interfere in the conflict there. This confirms once more the relationship between military intervention and the terrorist threat. What is the minister’s reaction to Mr Bertholee’s statement? What does this mean, in concrete terms, for the Netherlands? And furthermore, will Dutch support for the military approach in Iraq not lead to more Jihadists from the Netherlands going to the region? What is the relationship here?

In sum, the rise of ISIS is a problem that will become greater through ill-considered steps. The SP shares the government’s conviction that combatting ISIS can only have a chance of success if progress is also made politically.

* General Intelligence and Security Service

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