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Monday 30 November 2015

MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria

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Monday 30th November 2015

Dear Member of Parliament,

MPs are being asked the wrong question on Syria: Whether or not to bomb ISIS.

ISIS must be defeated, for the sake of people in Syria as well as for the safety of people in Europe, of people in Britain.

But the greater threat to Syrians comes from Assad rather than ISIS: The number of civilians killed by Assad forces is over 2½ times the number of UK civilians killed in World War Two.

The number of Syrians killed by ISIS is a very small fraction in comparison to the industrial scale of Assad’s slaughter.

Assad is the cause of ISIS:

  • by unleashing the violence that allowed ISIS to enter Syria from Iraq
  • by bombing those Syrian rebel groups resisting the advance of ISIS
  • by buying fuel from ISIS
  • by inviting sectarian forces such as Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militia into Syria’s killing fields
  • by a long history since 2003 of actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor of ISIS

As long as the Assad regime remains, the terror threat will remain.

Protect civilians

Civilian protection should be a primary concern in any military action by the UK. In the Syrian conflict, where so many have already been killed, and where so many civilians are still being killed by Assad and his allies, it is not enough for the UK to merely seek to minimise additional civilian casualties at the hands of UK forces; as an active participant in the conflict, the UK must prioritise the protection of civilians being killed by Assad forces.

To protect civilians, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Empower Syrians to defeat ISIS

The need to stop Assad’s bombing is morally fundamental; it is also strategically essential.

Not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

The government assertion that there are 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria able to fight Assad has been greeted by disbelief in some quarters. The truth is that these fighters do exist, and likely in greater numbers, but they are being bombed by Assad, and now by Russia. They are defending towns and neighbourhoods under attack by Assad and by his Russian and Iranian allies. Without action to stop Assad, most are not available to join the fight against ISIS.

To empower Syrians to defeat ISIS, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Empower UK diplomacy

To stop Assad’s killing, the UK has placed its hopes in “putting Britain’s full diplomatic weight” behind the Vienna talks. In pursuing a diplomatic path, the UK has long called on Assad’s key backer, the Russian government, to pressure Assad to stop bombing civilians. Instead Russia has joined in bombing both moderate rebels and Syrian civilians. Clearly Britain’s full diplomatic weight is not enough to tip the balance.

To empower UK diplomacy, and to enable a political solution, MPs need to explicitly back concrete action to end Assad’s air attacks on civilians.

Reject using Syria as a proxy war for UK domestic politics

Neither the government nor the opposition have come to grips with the humanitarian or strategic imperatives of the Syrian crisis. MPs must reject any use of Syria as a proxy war for UK domestic politics, and instead demand measures that protect Syrian civilians, enable the defeat of ISIS, and thereby safeguard the security of the UK.

The action we need to see

Any UK military action in Syria must include concrete measures to protect Syrian civilians.

The minimal action required is a no-bombing zone. This means issuing an ultimatum stating that if the Assad regime does not comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2139’s demand to “immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment” then the UK will enforce the demand by striking Assad regime military assets (for example air bases) complicit in breaching Resolution 2139.

This would not require widespread attacks on Syrian air defences as some have suggested, nor would it require the use of ground forces, as enforcement strikes can be carried out with precision weapons launched from beyond Syrian air space.

The resolution we need MPs to vote on

Suggested wording:

“That this house recognises the legal justification for humanitarian intervention in Syria on the basis of evidence of overwhelming humanitarian necessity and the lack of any other feasible or workable solutions; and calls upon the Government to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by imposing a no-bombing zone in Syria to enforce an end to aerial bombardment attacks against civilians.”


Abdullah Hourani and Kellie Strom
Syria Solidarity UK

Dr. Haytham Alhamwi and Yasmine Nahlawi
Rethink Rebuild Society

Dr. Mohammad Tammo
Kurds House

Abdullah Hanoun
Syrian Community South West

Fadel Moghrabi and Dr Mohamed Najjar
Peace and Justice for Syria

Amer Masri
Scotland 4 Syria

Dr. Mohammad Alhadj Ali
Syrian Welsh Society

Reem Assil
Syrian Platform for Peace

Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal
Syrian Association of Yorkshire

Note on numbers killed by Assad forces:

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented 180,879 individual civilians killed by Assad’s forces. The number of Syrian civilians documented killed by ISIS is 1,712.

Note on humanitarian intervention:

The UK position is that it is permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but only where three strict criteria are met:

1: There is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

2: It must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and

3: The proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

The UK approach was relied upon to justify the use of force on three occasions: (i) in protecting the Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1991; (ii) in maintaining the No Fly Zones in Northern and Southern Iraq from 1991; and (iii) in using force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in relation to Kosovo in 1999.

Note on moderate Syrian forces:

Yes, there are 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria. Here’s what we know about them
By Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.