Stella Creasy Email Update on Syria: Sunday 29th November 2015

A number of people have been asking for a copy of my email to residents who have been in touch regarding the possibility of extending UK military action into Syria — here is the text in full:

Hello

I’m emailing you as someone who has been in touch with me within the last few days regarding the debate on extending the RAF strikes against Daesh (ISIL) into Syria, on which the Prime Minister made a statement on Thursday and on which we are expecting a vote soon. As so many have been in touch I wanted to let you know how I am approaching deliberating on this extremely serious matter, and to ask for further feedback at this point in the decision making process. I apologise in advance for sending a long email, and at late night, but given the seriousness of the situation and the timescale for such a decision, I wanted to try to share as much information with you all as well as my concerns.

The decision on whether to support any proposal to extend UK action into Syria raises multiple issues about how we as a country respond to humanitarian crises, and when military action can be justified to save lives and protect human rights. I respect that some oppose all military action for any reason, and I think that each case has to be considered on its own merits. For example, whilst I was not an MP at the time, I was opposed to the 2003 action in Iraq. However, equally I believe it was right that Britain supported intervention in the former Yugoslavia which saved thousands of lives by halting the Serbian-led genocide aimed at Bosnian Muslims.

Since I have been the MP for Walthamstow I have taken part in three votes regarding decisions for the UK to engage in military action. Whilst I know there is a desperate situation in Libya today, I supported action in 2011 in response to requests from opposition forces in the country to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians from bombing by the Gaddafi regime who were at immediate risk of attack. Conversely in 2013, when the Government requested support for military action in Syria I voted against this proposal as I was not convinced of the case the Prime Minister made and in particular the planning made for the end of the conflict. In September 2014 I voted to respond to the request of the Iraqi Government for assistance and accordingly supported air strikes against Daesh in Iraq- more of which below.

From reading your emails and online messages to date, it is clear most of you agree that Daesh is an extraordinarily malevolent force, with no regard for human rights. Many of you are appalled by their brutality. You have written to me of your concerns about their glorification of their own shocking violence, twisted ideology which reflects their corrupted interpretation of the peaceful religion of Islam, their systematic imprisonment and rape of women and their brutal homophobic murders. So too many of you have written about your fears for their intention to commit terrorist atrocities here in the UK. Following terrorist attacks around the world in Nigeria, Beirut and Paris as well as attempted attacks in Belgium and Germany you have stated your belief that the UK is already under direct threat of attack from Daesh- an assessment that has also been confirmed to MPs by security experts.

In considering the issue of extending action against Daesh from Iraq where we are already participating in air strikes into Syria, the question for me is whether the proposed action will be effective and carried out in such a way that it will do more good than harm. This is a matter on which it is clear from your letters you are divided — with many opposed outright to the suggestion. In contrast others have raised the direct request from our allies in France and America for assistance and the implication of refusing such a request as well as the direct threat that Britain faces. Whilst there is no proposal for Western troops to go to the region as a ground force, others have questions about whether assertions made about the Syrian Free Army and its size and unity are accurate. Below are some anonymised quotes from those who have been in touch to give you a sense of the messages I have had:

“I feel we should vote for action in Syria. We should stand by our EU and US allies, and join wider forces to stand against ISIL. We may not make much difference militarily, but politically we show solidarity and determination to defend ourselves and our families. It may not make us safer in the short term, but will do long term. It will not make us less safe. ISIL will attack us, regardless.”

And

“We need a clear plan to get rid both of Assad and ISIS. And bombs will only backfire and play into the hands of ISIS.”

And

“I am very concerned over what I consider to be ill thought out proposals to enter into military action in Syria. I believe that we must oppose and fight ISIL as well as other fundamentalists who oppose human rights and freedoms, but I do not believe that the proposals made serve to either help the Syrian people or make us safer in Europe. I do not see a comprehensive strategic plan being proposed by the Conservatives and fear that this will become another war which serves to increase profits of multi-nationals. I will make ordinary people less safe, more illiterate and less kind and understanding of people who are different to them”

And

“There is no logical case for bombing Syria. We do not know who our allies are, and through the inevitable civilian deaths resulting from bombing campaigns, we would be playing right into the hands of Isis. I believe that further military action would put myself and my loved ones at increased risk of terrorist attack, while killing civilians in Syria who have just as much right to life as we do. I worry that I will have to give up more and more of my civil liberties in response to acts of terrorism. No guerilla group in history has been able to survive without support, so I feel that our priority must be the cutting of supplies of money and arms flowing to Isis. Meanwhile we must do what we can to reconcile the differences between Russia and Turkey, as well as between Turkey and the Kurds. For these powers, coming in on one side or the other will not defuse the situation, but will only exacerbate it. Isis will fall one day, but the question is what comes next. We have world class intelligence agencies; experienced diplomats; expert academics who have studied the region; and a large number of refugees with strategic information on Isis and the other belligerents in Syria. We can produce a viable solution for the region if we try, but until then, I can see no role which our military can play.”

In the case of the current action in Iraq, I think that our involvement has led to progress in addressing the threat of Daesh and supporting the people of Iraq in regaining control of their country. The air strikes, combined with action by Kurdish ground troops, stopped the advance of Daesh and has now seen them removed from Sinjar, where the liberating forces have discovered mass graves of their victims. In supporting these air strikes it was of paramount importance to me that the people of Iraq asked for such assistance given the threat they faced from Daesh.

Since the possibility of extending these air strikes against Daesh over the border into Syria was first proposed, Labour has sought to press the Government to focus on securing international agreement on a plan to end the Syrian civil war — a war which has created the chaos, fear and violence in which Daesh has thrived and which has led to a large number of refugees seeking shelter in Europe. Getting a Syrian peace process going will help in the fight against Daesh because over 90% of all civilian deaths in Syria — over 200,000 — are attributable to forces controlled or loyal to President Assad and half the population has fled their homes as a result of a civil war, for which the ultimate blame lies wholly with Assad.

We have been critical of the Government’s narrow focus on possible UK involvement in air strikes and have called for a more comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria and to defeat Daesh, making the point that aerial bombing by itself cannot defeat Daesh in Syria. It was an integrated ground/air campaign, involving a number of countries, which enabled the Kurdish Peshmerga to retake Sinjar. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was also critical in this regard of the Government’s approach in its recent report.

Specifically we have argued for a UN Security Council Resolution which could cover both a peace process for Syria and action to end the threat from Daesh, and such a resolution was agreed unanimously last week — calling on “member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law ….. to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups …. and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.

At the second round of recent talks in Vienna, the outline of a Syrian peace plan emerged in which President Assad and certain opposition groups would start formal talks on 1st Jan about the formation of a transitional government prior to national elections. This would include a ceasefire, possibly with United Nations peacekeepers as an observer force. However, one major issue to be resolved is which opposition groups should take part. It is clear these groups would not include Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra, with which there can be no negotiation. In addition to the current air strikes in Iraq, I note the UK is already contributing to action in Syria through intelligence, surveillance and refuelling using RAF drones and planes. We have also called on the Government to take more refugees from Syria- if of interest you can also find the recent questions I have tabled on this matter in Hansard.

After much uncertainty, the Government now seems likely to come forward with a proposal on extending action in Syria to include airstrikes to Daesh targets in Syria next week. Ahead of this the Prime Minister acknowledged the strength of the case that has been made by Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn, and by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, when he told a press conference at the G20 summit in Turkey: “I think people want to know there is a whole plan for the future of Syria, for the future of the region. It is perfectly right to say a few extra bombs and missiles won’t transform the situation. The faster we degrade and destroy ISIL, the safer we will be. But we will only be safe in the longer term if we can replace ungoverned space by ISIL with a proper Syrian government.”

If the Government now has a proposal relating to airstrikes against Daesh in Syria then along with many of my colleagues who are extremely concerned about these proposals, we believe we must consider such a plan against a series of tests before voting upon it. These involve clarity about what difference any extension of military action would make to defeating Daesh, the nature of any intervention, its objectives and the legal basis. In learning the lessons of previous conflicts, I also believe it is vital any potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition already taking action in Syria. And, crucially, it must be part of a wider and more comprehensive strategy to end the threat they pose.

As I write, no formal proposal has been put to MPs following the Prime Minister’s statement last week so I cannot tell you whether any such proposal meets these tests or not. So too in listening to the Prime Minister’s statement a number of questions have arisen for me, especially around the nature of any Syrian ground force and any post conflict planning- questions which I wish to see addressed satisfactorily in the coming days before making any decision on this issue.

Residents have written to me stating a wide range of views as exampled above, and I also wanted to offer you a chance to have a discussion about this matter within the time constraints I face. Therefore, whilst I apologise for the short notice, tomorrow (Sunday 29th November) I will be holding a drop in discussion for local residents on this matter at 12.30pm at the Vestry House Museum to which all Walthamstow residents are invited. This is because on Monday 30th November I will be attending a series of meetings with my colleagues in Labour in parliament to discuss these issues and would like to bring to these debates the feedback from Walthamstow residents.

I am grateful for you sharing your views- so that I might understand your concerns better, perhaps you could also let me know what you think on the following points:
· — If you state at present that you do not support the proposal to extend air strikes, are there any circumstances in which you would support military intervention in a foreign country?
· — Do you support the air strikes in Iraq which have helped the Kurdish Peshmerga drive Daesh out of their communities?
· — Do you think that no country should be taking military action against Daesh in Syria, or are your concerns primarily about UK involvement?
· — Are there any circumstances in which you would support extending those air strikes against Daesh into Syria?

I would be extremely grateful for your responses to these points by Tuesday 1 December so that I may have time to read them and reflect on them ahead of any possible vote and continue to feed them into the debates in parliament.

I passionately believe that Britain should not turn its back on the Syrian people. As I have stated I have already pressed the Government about doing more to help refugees, and I will continue to monitor the situation and press the Government to ensure the UK lives up to its international obligations in respect of this crisis.

I hope you will be able to response and thank you for contacting me on this very important matter and kind regards

Stella