Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A critical response to calls for a geographically-limited No-Fly Zone

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon writes in the Guardian of his visits to Syria to investigate chlorine attacks and to help Syrians survive them:

Only a no-fly zone can curb chemical attacks in Syria

He describes the UK Parliament’s August 2013 vote against action in response to Assad’s Sarin massacre as “the greatest strategic military mistake this century,” writing that “it kept Assad in power – with the result that thousands more are dead and injured – and fuelled the rise of Islamic State.”

Finally he advocates a no-fly zone in a limited part of Syria to curb Assad’s chlorine attacks.

I strongly disagree with the proposal to limit the area to just part of the country. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon’s reasoning is that a nationwide no-fly would bring those enforcing it “into conflict with Syria and Iran who are also fighting IS with jets” and that limiting the area might make it more palatable to Russia.

When Assad’s air force bombed the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last year, the targets were not ISIS buildings, and the vast majority of victims were civilians, according to Amnesty’s detailed report on the attacks. Those few ISIS members who were killed were in civilian clothes, not identifiable as ISIS by sight, and therefore likely to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time as Assad’s aircraft went about their usual practice of targeting the civilian population.

Allowing Assad to continue to bomb ISIS-held areas would cost more civilian lives; it not help the campaign against ISIS in any great way, but would likely further discredit that campaign in the eyes of the population.

The Avaaz Safe zone for Syrians, now! petition which I posted on last month has since passed a million signatures. The scale of the response is wonderful, but this also proposes a geographically limited air exclusion zone in the north of Syria.

A geographically limited no-fly zone would displace bombing, not necessarily reduce it. The limited zone would risk encouraging the regime to focus on forced clearing of resisting populations from areas beyond the zone, with a view to partitioning Syria and entrenching a geographically reduced Assad state.

Proponents of a geographically-limited No-Fly Zone need to remember the events of 1991 in Iraq when a limited no-fly zone in the north of that country protected one part of the population while leaving Saddam free to slaughter another. The numbers given for the dead in that horror range from 50,000 to hundreds of thousands. It was over a year later when a second no-fly zone was imposed in Iraq’s south—far too late. We should not promote the same mistake in Syria. A no-fly zone must be Syria-wide.

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