Tuesday, June 12, 2007 

Bits and pieces.

Various scraps of news which don't deserve their own individual post.

Via D-Notice, a very hopeful petition calling for the repeal of the Obscene Publications Act:

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 is an out of date, virtually useless piece of legislation. Its definition of "obscenity" as something which "depraves and corrupts" is an uncertain, unclear and completely subjective test, dependent solely on alternate attitudes and opinions and feelings of particular judges and juries. Obscenity is a moral attitude which every individual perceives differently; some are offended easily and some are rarely offended at all. Individuals should be able to make up their own minds about what they deem to be obscene, and avoid such material if they do, and embrace it if they do not. A law against such material, except where it protects children, violates individual liberty.

All of which is very true, but with this latest bunch of illiberals I wouldn't put it past them to repeal it and replace it with something far, far worse, like the original proposals to make viewing "violent" pornography a criminal offense, thankfully toned down but still highly objectionable. I've signed anyway.

Via Ten Percent and the Mail on Sunday, which has rather belatedly but still welcomely decided to take the government on over rendition comes further evidence that planes (see image) linked to rendition flights are still landing here, quite contrary to the claims made by APCO:

The row over CIA ‘torture flights’ using British airports has deepened following fresh evidence that a plane repeatedly linked to the controversial programme landed in the UK just days ago.

The plane was logged arriving at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk last weekend, and watching aviation experts said the aircraft, piloted by crew clad in desert fatigues, was immediately surrounded on the runway by armed American security forces.

Its registration number, clearly visible on the fuselage, identifies it as a plane which the European Parliament says has been involved in ‘ghost flights’ to smuggle terrorist suspects to shadowy interrogation centres abroad.

Shami also soon got to the bottom of the so-called ACPO investigation:

"ACPO have admitted to me in a private letter that their investigation amounted to little more than a cursory review of reports on the issue – which they issued, 18 months after I requested it, to coincide with the Council of Europe’s report."

The voting is hotting up, or rather, getting about as exciting as a Labour deputy leadership contest is likely to get, and other blogs have been listing their preferences in order, so here's mine, despite the fact I have no way of influencing the vote whatsoever:

1. Cruddas
2. Benn
3. Harman
4. Johnson
5. Hain
6. Blears

I would probably have put Harman second if it wasn't for the endless repetition, both from her and other Grauniad columnists that the party needs a male/female leadership, and that only dear Harriet can rebuild Labour's support among the fairer sex. It's bollocks, we know it's bollocks, and Harman is taking advantage of the fact she doesn't have any for her own purposes rather than that of Labour. Blears is last for obvious reasons, and there's hardly a Rizla to put between Johnson and Hain, Hain being the slightly more opportunistic and hubristic in his finding his moral compass act once Blair's finally shuffling off.

Finally, the omnipresent carnage in Iraq continues, with the third bridge in as many days to be bombed. This seems to be an attempt, most likely by the "Islamic State" to hinder military movements, with the knock-on effect that it further inhibits movement by the general population, who according to IraqSlogger are resorting to ferries. It probably constitutes some sort of a war crime: we condemned it when it was Israel doing it to Lebanon, we should condemn it equally virulently now. It additionally makes it far, far harder for any families that are fleeing to take almost any belongings at all: latest reports estimate that 2.2 million Iraqis have become refugees, mostly going to either Syria or Jordan, with a similar number likely to be displaced within Iraq itself. The "Islamic State" has also once again succeeded in capturing a large number of Ministry of Interior/Defence employees (some have suggested that they could be civilians dressed up, as the Iraqis have previously denied having any men missing, although this seems incredibly unlikely to me), inevitably to face the same fate as the previous groupings; a bullet to the back of the head, all filmed for the one-handed hordes on the jihadist forums to explode and salivate over. Justice for those murdered in such a fashion will eventually prevail.

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Monday, June 11, 2007 

My enemy's enemy is my enemy.

The Jihad and Reformation Front's logo.

It's a well-known quote, or cliche, depending on which you prefer, that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The United States, which has never done irony or history well, seems to have ignored the proverb. Why else would it be embarking on such a palpably suicidal tactic as once again arming the enemy of the enemy?

The driving force behind the thinking of arming groups such as the Anbar Salvation Council has to be both a mixture of desperation and stone-cold realpolitik. The "coalition" cannot possibly defeat the insurgency militarily, without using the kind of overwhelming force that will drive even more ordinary Iraqis into the arms of the resistance groups, but neither can it live with the consequences of the possibility of the "Islamic State of Iraq" gradually enforcing its brutal rule over the areas it has declared as part of their new theocracy. The in-between measure they've decided upon is supplying those who have finally grown weary of the despicable tactics employed by the radical Salafis, themselves rising up and fighting back against the groups which until recently enjoyed an uneasy truce with the tribal Sunni clans.

Recent memory ought to show the high risks involved in a such a strategy. The training and funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets has had consequences which very few could have possibly imagined at the time. The arming of both sides during the Iran/Iraq war only encouraged Saddam Hussein and further embittered Iran. Israel's covert decision to help the fledgling Hamas as a bulwark against the secular, nationalist Fatah must be one of the most regretted decisions ever made by an Israeli government.

One of the simple, sad realities of life in Iraq is that the security situation, and with it, living conditions, have deteriorated to such an extent that even supplying arms over sectarian lines when the seller knows full well what they'll be used for is something that's become acceptable. The fear has to be that supplying arms to groups as potentially fracturous as the Anbar Salvation Council appears to be is that they'll simply be sold on for a profit, or even supplied straight back to the insurgent groups.

The rising of some tribal Sunnis might well turn out to be a lesser factor compared to the apparent turning of other insurgent groups against the "Islamic State". Just last week it appeared that the 20th Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army in Iraq, both far more nationalistic and Sunni in their outlooks and ideology than Salafi, were fighting running battles in the streets of Amiriyah against al-Qaida in Iraq, having been provoked by attacks on their own members by the State. The Islamic Army has now like al-Qaida formed its own umbrella group, the Jihad and Reformation Front, which includes the Mujahideen Army and at least two of the former highest members of the Sharia council of Ansar al-Sunnah, and with the 20th Revolution Brigades apparently fighting side by side with the IAI, it's a possibility that they too could eventually join. How this new alliance and its opposition to the Islamic State should be judged is for now hard to tell: any grouping which opposes the indiscriminate violence which al-Qaida and its allies are unleashing throughout the country ought to be supported, but it may well yet turn out that this is simply Iraq going the way of Algeria, the armed groupings turning on each other rather than fighting the "enemy".

Providing arms and support to such groups may for now look like the least worst option, but the chances for it coming back and biting the suppliers' in the ass are great. It may well be though that the luxury of making such choices has long gone.

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