8 Oct 2012

Kofi Annan's dire warning on Syria

Last night I interviewed Kofi Annan live onstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. The place was packed – some six hundred people were present.

I was ostensibly talking to the former UN Secretary General about his aptly titled book, ‘Interventions’. Annan arrived on deck in the senior echelons of the UN as head of UN peace keeping just as Messrs Blair and Bush developed their passion for intervention.

Mr Annan is subtle in his observations – but the Iraq war and his opposition to it from the very outset, have left a deep scar on his public life. It is inescapable in the pages of his book, and inescapable when one comes to interview him.

He doesn’t go as far as Desmond Tutu in calling for Blair’s prosecution but he is still clear that the War was completely illegal. He adds separately that the UN resolution safeguarding civilians in Libya was illegally stretched to embrace regime change.

So here we are in Syria in a vile vortex that has sucked every crazed gunman across the North African and Muslim world into a maelstrom of bloodletting. Annan maybe reluctant to name names but he is clear from his own experience that the so-called rebel cause has attracted armed groups and individuals from Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and most critically, Iraq.

One external name he conjures is that of Saudi Arabia. He talked of how the West turns a blind eye to the export of Islamic extremism in the interests of vastly profitable trade and defence deals.

Our own films from the French photojournalist Mani, have demonstrated how locals in Syrian towns with no love for Assad, yet loath the presence of these foreign ‘madmen’.

Last night, Mr Annan declared that the ‘Assad regime, will not be defeated militarily’. He also added that the rebels would not be defeated either.

Thus, facilitated by the abuse of UN process, deliberate neglect of the will of the United Nations, the Western Powers have unwittingly contributed to the most explosive cauldron of hatred, lawlessness, fanaticism, and criminality now burning in the most tender region on earth.

In its path Kurdish nationalism, the war between Sunni and Shia Islam, and the forever unresolved crisis between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

Last night Kofi Annan criticised both the reporting and the wider political understandings of the conflict in Syria. He went so far as to praise Russia and China for blocking (3 months ago) Western efforts to internationalise the crisis.

It is rare to hear such candour from one who has held such high office. I left feeling that we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to try to understand what is happening in Syria and to deploy every sinew to try address those factors over which we have some control.

As for the reporting, the truth is – as the death toll of journalists describes – that it is vastly dangerous to get anywhere near the violent truths that rampage on all the assorted ‘sides’.

As Mr Annan observed, there is no option for international military action in Syria. In the meantime the fast lashing up of a Kurdish state – uniting the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and now Syria to the dismay and violent military opposition of all four of those countries looms.

The break-up of Syria itself into Alawite and zealous Sunni quadrants beckons. No one believes a united Lebanon would remain untouched, and don’t begin to mention the effect on Israel/Palestine.

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