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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

The threat of terrorism

The mess created in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and its ‘liberation’ from Saddam Hussein spawned Isis – or Daesh, its proper name – and this is where the world finds itself today

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
29 March 2016, 7:42am
Tony Blair arrives in Iraq
Tony Blair arrives in Iraq
In his autobiography, ‘Journey’, Tony Blair goes to great lengths and extensive pain to justify his decision to support the US in the invasion of Iraq and its ‘liberation’ from Saddam Hussein’s hold.

According to Blair this invasion was practically the consequence of Al Qaeda’s infamous attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the attack that has since been referred to as 9/11. Blair insists that he honestly believed in the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussien and refers to some interesting wisdom by hindsight from former UN weapons inspector Charles Dullfer to the effect that Hussein thought the US and its allies were bluffing when they threatened force, when actually they were not... while they thought that Hussein definitely had weapons of mass destruction when he was actually bluffing!

Surely, a game of poker gone sour!

That part of Blair’s autobiography ends with a poignant anecdote: ‘I still keep in my desk a letter from an Iraqi woman who came to see me before the war began. She told me of the appalling torture and death her family had experienced, having fallen foul of Saddam’s son. She begged me to act. After the fall of Saddam she returned to Iraq. She was mudered by sectarians a few months later. What would she say to me now?’

The mess created in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and its ‘liberation’ from Saddam Hussein spawned Isis – or Daesh, its proper name – and this is where the world finds itself today. 

Writing in the March/April 2015 issue of ‘Foreign Affairs’, Audrey Kurth Cronin points out that after 9/11, many worried that, following decades of preparation for confronting conventional enemies, the US was not ready for the challenge posed by an unconventional adversary such as Al Qaeda. So the United States built an elaborate organisational structure to fight the jihadist organisation, adapting its military and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the tasks of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Now, however, Isis has supplanted al Qaeda as the jihadist threat of greatest concern. Isis’s ideology and long-term goals are similar to al Qaeda’s, and the two groups were once formally allied. So many assume that the current challenge is simply to refocus the existing counter-terrorism strategies on a new target. But this is a wrong assumption. Isis is not just a terrorist group that has supplanted Al Qaeda. 

It is a pseudo-state led by a conventional army and boasts of a complex administrative structure. And that is why the counter-terrorism and counter insurgency strategies that greatly diminished the threat from al Qaeda will not work against Isis.

In contrast to Al Qaeda, Isis does not need outside funding. Holding territory has allowed the group to build a self-sustaining financial model unthinkable for most terrorist groups. It took over key oil assets in eastern Syria and now controls an estimated 60 percent of the country’s oil production capacity. During its push into Iraq, Isis also seized seven oil-producing operations in that country. The group manages to sell a lot of this oil on the black market in Iraq and Syria and also smuggles oil out of Iraq and Syria into Jordan and Turkey. Its revenue from oil is estimated to be between $1 million and $3 million per day.

Clearly the US and the EU must go back to the drawing board.

According to a report by Associated Press, Isis has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage. The network of semi-autonomous cells shows the reach of the extremist group in Europe, even as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq. 

So far Malta has been lucky. One could say that we are too small to matter, but there is no doubt that we figure somewhere in Isis’s plans. 

When we see ordinary people like us blown up while going on with their life, sitting in a Parisian cafe, at a music concert, queuing up to check in for a flight or commuting on the metro to work, we all feel targeted. 

After Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels EU interior ministers were expected to hold an emergency meeting as the EU tries – again – to find ways to address the terrorism threat.

Four months after similar meetings in the wake of the Paris attacks in November 2015, EU ministers are to discuss again control of the EU’s external borders, the use of existing databases and the launch of a new EU-wide air passenger name record system.

Although the large majority of the terrorists behind the Paris and Brussels attacks were born in European countries – some 5,000 Europeans have gone to Syria – the EU hopes it can track the movements of those who go to and return from Isis camps. 

European leaders need to take incisive positive action rather than holding urgent discussions and issuing messages of solidarity and sympathy after every terrorist attack.

 

Meanwhile back home...

Last week the House of Representatives unanimously approved the appointment of Anthony Mifsud as Ombudsman; Charles Deguara as Auditor-General and Noel Camilleri as Deputy Auditor-General.

This bit of important news hardly made any ripples in the press and did not affect the public perception of the way our Republic works. Pity. 

The fact that while the political ‘pot and kettle’ game was going on – sometimes hysterically and inanely – the two parties in Parliament could agree on two such important appointments speaks volumes. More so as these appointments needed to be supported by at least two-thirds of the members of the House. 

It is for such moments of sanity and clear thinking that politicans should be commended.

During the short discussion about these appointments, Mario de Marco said that the PN is proposing that key officials such as the AFM Commander and the Commissioner of Police should also be nominated with the support of two-thirds of the House.

Personally, I would also add members of the judiciary to these two.

They are all people whose responsibilities and loyalties are to the people and to the Republic and not to the government of the day.

That’s the way it should be, of course.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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