Iran deal close; China also loose on Pacific War history; Ugandan president ducks and swerves Sydney rival By Hamish McDonald.

RAAF to bomb Syria as refugees flood out

Chinese President Xi Jinping emerges to inspect troops during the Pacific War 70th anniversary parade, in Beijing, last week.
Chinese President Xi Jinping emerges to inspect troops during the Pacific War 70th anniversary parade, in Beijing, last week.
Credit: Xinhua/Ju Peng

Here we go! Here we go! It’s bombs away again. Tony Abbott’s cabinet has duly weighed up the United States “request” for military assistance in Syria against the Daesh death cult and agreed.

Oh, and yes, we will be taking in some more Syrian refugees after Abbott was caught flatfooted by the overwhelming public sympathy to the human flood trying to get into Europe, and hastily sent Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Geneva to see if it was all true. This, as Guardian Australia reported, at the same time as Dutton’s officials at Manus Island have been trying to repatriate Syrians who arrived in Australia by boat, and succeeding as recently as last month in one case.

For the expansion of bombing by Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18s from Iraq into Syria, Australia will at least be in wider company, with François Hollande indicating France will join the air campaign. Britain’s David Cameron is also moving in this direction, having just crossed a legal-moral Rubicon of sorts by carrying out a drone strike in Syria that killed two young British citizens and another person said to have been plotting terrorist acts.

But the deepening involvement of the West highlights a dilemma. Many experts on the Middle East point out that military campaigns and attempts at regime change by Western powers feed the Muslim world’s sense of humiliation at the course of recent history, and from that comes the various purist movements such as al-Qaeda and Daesh (as well as others less extreme or violent). The government’s announcement that the additional refugee intake of 12,000 will focus on women, children and families from persecuted minorities will fan this resentment.

More immediately, the Western powers have to deal with Vladimir Putin’s moves to reinforce the Assad regime. As we reported last week, Russia has begun preparatory work to base combat aircraft in Syria. Washington is now trying to get Greece to block the overflights Moscow has requested. This comes as former Reagan and G. W. Bush security adviser Elliott Abrams has been in Australia this week urging a Western strike to eliminate Assad’s air power.

The Sunni Arab powers, who might be better employed against Sunni extremists, are meanwhile concentrating on their campaign against the Iran-backed Shiite force known as the Houthis in Yemen. After the Houthis hit a coalition munitions dump with a missile, killing 45 Emiratis, 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis, Qatar has sent 1000 troops plus armoured vehicles and attack helicopters into Yemen, and the Emirates stepped up air attacks on Houthi targets. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are meanwhile being criticised for their meagre support for Syrian refugees.

1 . Iran deal close

Barack Obama, meanwhile, looks set to get the six-power nuclear agreement with Iran past the US senate by the deadline on Thursday – set by earlier wrangling with the Republican majority – two months after the signature with Tehran.

With 41 senators now saying they will vote in support of the deal, which caps Iran’s uranium enrichment program for a decade or more, opponents will fall short of the number needed to pass a resolution blocking the president from lifting sanctions, and still less than the number needed to override the presidential veto that Obama has promised if they still somehow manage to pass such a resolution. Last Saturday, Obama obtained a grudging endorsement of the Iran deal from the visiting Saudi monarch, King Salman. In Israel, there is now intense political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end his efforts to fire up US domestic opposition to the Iran deal.

2 . China also loose on Pacific War history

The ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War have come to an end with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s massive parade of People’s Liberation Army weaponry along Chang’an Avenue in front of his podium in Tiananmen Square, the venue of a less rapturous encounter between the PLA and the Beijing population just over 26 years ago.

There were a few toothless old veterans of the victorious people’s anti-fascist struggle on hand, but as many analysts noted, it was more about the future than the past. Indeed, while Japan’s Shinzō Abe is frequently caned for whitewashing Japan’s actions before 1945, the Chinese communists are not averse to doing the same thing. That Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army bore the brunt of China’s resistance to the Japanese invasion, while Mao Zedong’s communists were holed up in remote mountains conducting purges against each other, went unmentioned. Vigorous censoring of the social media kept criticism at a low level, and Beijing’s inner city was closely patrolled to block any disruption or protest. However, the Chinese blogosphere did manage to deride one producer of a film that had Mao instead of Chiang attending the November 1943 meeting in Cairo with Churchill and Roosevelt.

Xi’s announcement of a cut of 300,000 in the 2.3 million troop numbers of the PLA was hardly a disarmament move either, but part of a reorganisation reducing static domestic garrisons in favour of more powerful air–sea–land battle groups. The parade was also notable for showing off missiles carefully labelled “DF-21D” (in Roman lettering rather than Chinese characters, for the benefit of the outside world). These are the so-called “carrier-killer” ballistic missiles that can be steered from the heavens onto US Navy battle groups. China has yet to demonstrate a realistic test against a moving ship, so this allegedly game-changing weapon remains somewhat futuristic.

3 . Ugandan president ducks and swerves Sydney rival

Earlier this year we reported the plans of Ugandan expatriate and Sydney-based cardiologist Aggrey Kiyingi to run for president in his home country next year against the incumbent strongman of the past 30 years, Yoweri Museveni.

After forming the Uganda Federal Democratic Organisation and announcing his intended candidacy, Dr Kiyingi has run up against obstacles that would deter most aspirants. In March, Ugandan prosecutors charged him in absentia with terrorism, aggravated robbery and murder along with 23 other suspects, allegedly in cahoots with a rebel group operating on Uganda’s border with Congo.

Undeterred, Kiyingi has pressed on. But now Museveni has deployed his bureaucracy. Last week, Uganda’s Electoral Commission refused to issue Kiyingi with nomination forms. Kiyingi is now weighing his options. No doubt these include trying to bring international pressure, though Museveni has long covered his back in the West somewhat by deploying Uganda troops to fight the al-Shabaab jihadists in Somalia.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 12, 2015 as "RAAF to bomb Syria as refugees flood out".

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Hamish McDonald is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.

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