Dec 8, 2016

Libya Political Agreement Still On?

Good article from Eye On Isis in Libya yesterday:

UN Envoy Martin Kobler has insisted that he will not give up on getting the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and the GNA approved by the HoR, while also denying that he is considering resignation. On November 29, Kobler flew to Tobruk to meet with HoR Vice President Emhemed Shuaib, in an attempt to reactivate an HoR vote on the LPA. However, news of Kobler’s arrival spread quickly. Anti-GNA demonstrations were triggered, forcing Kobler to stay at the airport to met Shuaib. 
In an open conversation with the Libya Herald on 3 December, Kobler said that the LPA is not set in stone, indicating that re-negotiation of certain points in the 2015 Skhirat agreement is possible, including notably those preventing Marshal Khalifa Haftar remaining in control of the LNA. In that interview, Kobler also lamented the militia clashes in Tripoli, saying they exposed the failure of the security arrangements section in the LPA. Kobler highlighted that a meeting will be held in New York at the UN Security Council on 6 December to take stock of the LPA process as a whole, which may lead to an extension of the UNSMIL mandate.

Nov 6, 2016

Do We Hear Both Sides in an Unbiased Way: Mosul vs Aleppo?

'Good Bombs' Western media justify civilian victims from coalition attacks

Media should report in an unbiased manner regarding any conflict, but especially so in a very complicated, muddied Middle-East. 
Listening to the rhetoric, especially from the US side, is embarrassing. 

Urban combat is extremely difficult - even more so when bombing from the air. The US should put away it's 'air of superiority' when talking about how the Russians are engaging the takfiri militant terrorists in Aleppo City, Syria. Full Stop!



Nov 5, 2016

Western Hypocrisy & Propaganda

ConsortiumNews has an excellent piece written by Gareth Porter, an award winning investigative journalist. Remember them, dear reader?!
Amid the sludge of propaganda, it’s hard to know what’s really happening in Syria, but the West’s outrage over Russian-inflicted civilian casualties is clearly hypocritical given the U.S.-Israeli slaughters elsewhere in the region, notes Gareth Porter.
By Gareth Porter
The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness. In an unusual move for a senior U.S. official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.
The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel’s recent campaigns in densely populated cities.
At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as "shock and awe."
At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”
The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.
But in fact, al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) turned Aleppo into the central hub of a massive system of conventional warfare in Aleppo province in late January 2016 when it sent an enormous convoy of at least 200 vehicles with troops and weaponry into eastern Aleppo. A dramatic three-minute al-Nusra video shows what appears to be hundreds of vehicles full of troops and trucks with weapons mounted on them.
The Russian command in Syria has drones observing the routes in and out of Aleppo, so it certainly knew where many of those military sites were located. Syrian opposition sources also revealed that Nusra began immediately to put the military assets at its disposal underground, digging deep bunkers to protect troops, military equipment and tunnels through which troops and weapons could be moved unseen.
The move underground explains the Russian use of bunker-buster bombs for the first time in the war. As the Guardian reported, Justin Bronk of the British defense think tank Royal United Service Institute concluded that the Russians “have high-grade intelligence of the whereabouts of Syrian opposition positions,” mainly because bunker buster bombs are too expensive to use simply to destroy buildings at random.
But like Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2014, the Nusra Front-led command in Aleppo has moved its troops, weapons and command centers around in the tunnels that they have built. So many of the Russian and Syrian air strikes are almost certainly hitting targets that have already been abandoned. And in other cases, the wrong target has undoubtedly been hit.
The Aleppo Health Directorate, a local monitoring group, estimated that 400 civilians had been killed in the first three weeks of bombing in east Aleppo. The United Nations put the death toll at 360. Read rest of story

Nov 1, 2016

The Syrian Revolution That Really Wasn't

Stephen Gowan's Wordpress blog, recently penned this extremely interesting and well thought out position on how the Syrian "Revolution" came to be. Some of you may find this surprising, others of us came to this conclusion some time ago. It's difficult to follow these events in the Middle East and not come to this same conclusion, if one is unbiased at the start.
Apparently, the US Left has yet to figure out that Washington doesn’t try to overthrow neoliberals. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were a devotee of the Washington Consensus–as Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser seems to believe–the United States government wouldn’t have been calling since 2003 for Assad to step down. Nor would it be overseeing the Islamist guerilla war against his government; it would be protecting him.
By Stephen Gowans
There is a shibboleth in some circles that, as Eric Draitser put it in a recent Counterpunch article, the uprising in Syria “began as a response to the Syrian government’s neoliberal policies and brutality,” and that “the revolutionary content of the rebel side in Syria has been sidelined by a hodgepodge of Saudi and Qatari-financed jihadists.” This theory appears, as far as I can tell, to be based on argument by assertion, not evidence.
A review of press reports in the weeks immediately preceding and following the mid-March 2011 outbreak of riots in Daraa—usually recognized as the beginning of the uprising—offers no indication that Syria was in the grips of a revolutionary distemper, whether anti-neo-liberal or otherwise. On the contrary, reporters representing Time magazine and the New York Times referred to the government as having broad support, of critics conceding that Assad was popular, and of Syrians exhibiting little interest in protest. At the same time, they described the unrest as a series of riots involving hundreds, and not thousands or tens of thousands of people, guided by a largely Islamist agenda and exhibiting a violent character.
Time magazine reported that two jihadist groups that would later play lead roles in the insurgency, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, were already in operation on the eve of the riots, while a mere three months earlier, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood voiced “their hope for a civil revolt in Syria.” The Muslim Brothers, who had decades earlier declared a blood feud with Syria’s ruling Ba’athist Party, objecting violently to the party’s secularism, had been embroiled in a life and death struggle with secular Arab nationalists since the 1960s, and had engaged in street battles with Ba’athist partisans from the late 1940s. (In one such battle, Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father, who himself would serve as president from 1970 to 2000, was knifed by a Muslim Brother adversary.) The Brotherhood’s leaders, beginning in 2007, met frequently with the US State Department and the US National Security Council, as well as with the US government-funded Middle East Partnership Initiative, which had taken on the overt role of funding overseas overthrow organizations—a task the CIA had previously done covertly.
Washington had conspired to purge Arab nationalist influence from Syria as early as the mid-1950s, when Kermit Roosevelt, who engineered the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh for nationalizing his country’s oil industry, plotted with British intelligence to stir up the Muslim Brothers to overthrow a triumvirate of Arab nationalist and communist leaders in Damascus who Washington and London perceived as threatening Western economic interests in the Middle East.
Washington funnelled arms to Brotherhood mujahedeen in the 1980s to wage urban guerrilla warfare against Hafez al-Assad, who hardliners in Washington called an “Arab communist.” His son, Bashar, continued the Arab nationalists’ commitment to unity (of the Arab nation), independence, and (Arab) socialism. These goals guided the Syrian state—as they had done the Arab nationalist states of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq under Saddam. All three states were targeted by Washington for the same reason: their Arab nationalist commitments clashed fundamentally with the US imperialist agenda of US global leadership.
Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to renounce Arab nationalist ideology dismayed Washington, which complained about his socialism, the third part of the Ba’athists’ holy trinity of values. Plans to oust Assad—based in part on his failure to embrace Washington’s neo-liberalism—were already in preparation in Washington by 2003, if not earlier. If Assad was championing neo-liberalism, as Draitser and others contend, it somehow escaped the notice of Washington and Wall Street, which complained about “socialist” Syria and the country’s decidedly anti-neoliberal economic policies.
A Death Feud Heats Up With US Assistance
Read entire story

Oct 21, 2016

Middle-East Links for October 2016

From the Arabist: links covering Middle-East issues for the month of October 2016.

Oct 20, 2016

Serena Shim: Journalist

The american journalist Serena Shim was killed on the Turkey|Syrian border approximately 2 years ago, shortly after she indicated live on air, that Turkish Intelligence suspected her of being a spy. Reading a story published online by The Free Thought Project this morning reminded me of her reportage. It truly is a story worthy of an espionage thriller IMHO.
Serena Shim is an American citizen of Lebanese descent who was born near Detroit. Shim worked for Iranian broadcaster Press TV as a foreign correspondent covering wars, legitimate protests and fake uprisings in multiple countries. She reported live from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon during the conflict since 2011, including in the critical region of Daraa during the beginning of protests, which are misrepresented by American media as the reasons for the fake civil war.
Serena Shim was killed two years ago on October 19, 2014, in Turkey while reporting on the intense battle for the Syrian border city of Kobani which was the focus of international media attention. She was 29 when she died.
The city of Kobani, which has one of Turkey’s major border crossings with Syria, because it was under threat of being completely captured by the Islamic State. The US was forced to respond because Islamic State grew out of control and threatened the border stability of Turkey, and it became the first major area bombed during the US campaign in Syria.
The US and Turkey were also arguing over Washington’s plan to arm Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of the border and how to allow Kurds from Iraq to support the effort by crossing through Turkey. On the day she was killed, the US began operations to airdrop weapons to the Kurds. Less than two days later, Islamic State fighters released a video showing the capture of an American weapons cache airdropped near the city. The video received international media attention which led the Pentagon to admit the weapons mistakenly reached ISIL terrorists.
It is claimed she was killed in a car accident with a cement truck. However, physical details about the case raise questions about the official explanation by Turkish officials. There are also conflicting stories about the timeline after her death and before the family received her body, which indicate actions by the government of Turkey and possibly the United States.
Read Story 

Oct 18, 2016

ISHM on Mosul Operation

From Iraqi Security & Humanitarian Monitor:
Yesterday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced the start of military operations to clear Mosul of ISIS and those efforts are now well underway. But what happens to the one million or more residents trapped in the city who risk death if they stay - and if they attempt to flee? 
As UN Under-Secretary-General Stephen O'Brien said, "Families are at extreme risk of being caught in cross-fire or targeted by snipers. Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields. Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines. Children, women, the elderly and disabled will be particularly vulnerable." 
Please read and share our analysis, which offers an explanation of how this situation came to be and the warnings that government policymakers and aid agencies cannot ignore. 
As they face the most difficult challenge of their lives, we will continue to keep the citizens of Mosul - and all Iraqis - in our thoughts.

Oct 14, 2016

Iraqi Security & Human Rights Report

Flag of Turkey.

October 07 to October 13, 2016:

The new issue of ISHM is out and here is their recap.

Turkish Troop Presence in Northern Iraq Continues to Cause Tension – On October 11, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi needs to “know his place” in regional affairs, asserting that Turkey will not be excluded from impending operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants. The statement follows the Turkish Parliament’s approval of a continued Turkish troop presence in northern Iraq despite calls from the Iraqi Parliament, Arab League, and the United States that foreign military forces in Iraq should only be there with the consent of the Iraqi government. Members of Iraqi Parliament have called for severing diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and Iraq (despite Turkey’s status as Iraq’s number one importer), and have called for the UN Security Council to hold an emergency session on the issue. Meanwhile, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Kurdish parties are divided about the presence of Turkish troops, with the PUK demanding Turkey’s withdrawal and the KDP defending Turkey’s right to remain. As Renas Jano, a KDP Member of Kurdish Parliament said, “as long as the PKK presence continues, Turkey’s presence in the region will be essential for security.” 
Preparations to Clear Mosul Include Instructions for Trapped Civilians – Save the Children’s Country Director in Iraq, Maurizio Crivallero, highlighted the predicament facing those in Mosul, saying, “Families have an impossible decision to make. If they stay, their children may get caught in the crossfire,” and will not have access to food, water or medicine. “If they decide to flee, they will have to run a gauntlet of fighters, snipers, and landmines.” Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) issued a list of 32 recommendations for civilians in Mosul to implement during imminent military operations to clear the city of ISIS militants, including not attempting evacuation, marking windows with tape to indicate civilian status, and telling children that the sounds of battle are “just a game” or the sounds of “thunder and rain,” in order to keep children calm. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Ambassador Brett McGurk, said that the decision to encourage civilians in Mosul to stay in their homes during military operations belongs to the ISF. Besides being caught in the crossfire, another serious concern for allowing families to remain is that they may be misidentified as ISIS sympathizers and summarily executed. Meanwhile, U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes continue to target IED factories, ISIS courts and media centers, and ISIS leadership in the city. 
Operations to Secure Hawija Continue as Escape from the City Remains Risky – Security forces began to move toward the Hamrin Mountains and al-Fathah, west of Kirkuk, to survey areas ahead of operations to clear Hawija of ISIS militants. Over the past week, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga have received more than 1,200 IDPs fleeing the ISIS-occupied city where humanitarian conditions remain dire. Fleeing Hawija is particularly difficult according to witnesses who have seen ISIS militants break the hands and feet of those trying to flee, behead defectors, and plant landmines along potential escape routes. The Iraqi Government has been accused of not doing enough to protect civilians in Hawija, instead focusing limited resources on Mosul. (For more on the neglect of Hawija, see our report.)
 
IDPs are Returning to Sharqat as Fighting there Intensifies – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that between September 24 and October 6, 3,420 IDPs returned to Sharqat, a strategically important town on the Tigris River in Salah ad-Din Province which was ostensibly cleared of ISIS militants on September 22. According to eyewitness accounts, however, shelling and indiscriminate attacks by ISIS militants have increased in recent days, evidence of the capacity of Iraqi security forces to clear locations temporarily, but not hold them in the long-run. Holding cleared areas will become increasingly important as operations to clear Mosul of ISIS militants advance. 
Security Forces Clear Hit of ISIS Militants and Continue Focus Elsewhere in Anbar – The capacity of Iraqi security forces to hold cleared areas will be further tested in Anbar Province, where the ISF, assisted by local militias and U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes cleared ISIS militants from Hit, as well as the Byjy al-Holi Road, a vital ISIS supply line to the western end of the province. According to an unconfirmed report, ISIS command has ordered all of their commanders and militants to leave the last three ISIS strongholds in Anbar (Anah, Qa’im and Rawa). 
VPs Reinstated; Parliament Questions Foreign Minister; IMF Loan Talks Conclude – Iraq’s Federal Court ruled that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s attempt to abolish the Vice Presidency and Deputy Prime Minister positions is unconstitutional because the measure passed the Iraqi Parliament without an absolute majority in August 2015. The reform effort was part of al-Abadi’s measures to better streamline the government. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was one of the three vice presidents when the mostly symbolic position was initially eliminated. On October 6, Parliament questioned Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on charges of corruption, although the outcome of the questioning and Parliament’s intentions to oust the Minister have not been publicly discussed since. Despite the vacancy of the Minister of Finance position, the Iraqi government concluded talks with the International Monetary Fund over a US$ 4 billion loan package intended to help Iraq diversity its economy and reform the government. Ousted Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari is largely credited with initiating the agreement. 
IDPs Pressed to Return to Fallujah – On October 8, Mayor of Fallujah Isa al-Sayer, announced the return of “7,400 displaced families” to the city center since returns began on September 17. The number reported by the mayor is unconfirmed and is remarkably high for such a short period of time. Al-Sayer encouraged IDPs to return, stressing that the restoration of public services such as electricity and drinking water are well underway. Fallujah was cleared of ISIS militants on June 26, but the presence of IEDs and lack of services have made families reluctant to return. On October 10, using a database of wanted persons, security forces identified and arrested eight ISIS militants hiding among IDPs returning to eastern Fallujah, underscoring concerns that the city may not be completely clear of militants.  

Oct 7, 2016

Iraq Human Rights & Security Update

For the week Sept. 30 - Oct. 06/16

From the EPIC news organization the ISHM writeup.


Tensions Rise as Turkish Troops Remain in Northern Iraq – On October 6, Iraq called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to adjudicate the presence of unwanted Turkish troops in northern Iraq who have been stationed there since ISIS emerged in 2014. On October 1, Turkey’s Parliament voted to extend the presence of Turkish forces in Iraq for a year, a decision that was met with vehement opposition by Iraq’s Parliament. Turkey claims its military is in Iraq at the invitation of Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and will remain in place to assist with impending operations to clear the city of Mosul of ISIS militants. Iraq’s Parliament passed a resolution this week calling for the expulsion of the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, reconsideration of trade and economic relations with Turkey, and calling for the Iraqi government to take all legal measure to ensure Iraq’s sovereignty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has remained defiant after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that he is unwilling to resort to military force against Turkish troops, but warned of “regional conflict” if the troops remain. 
Fighting and Resistance in Hawija Intensifies as Kirkuk Allows Some to Return – According to anonymous sources in Kirkuk Province, the U.S.-led international coalition has ramped up airstrikes in Hawija, an ISIS stronghold 60 kilometers southwest of the city of Kirkuk. Approximately 800 IDPs fleeing Hawija arrived at the Nazrawa and Laylan IDP camps in Kirkuk between September 29 and October 2 and more than 700 IDP families were transported to Laylan Camp from a checkpoint outside of Hawija where they had been held by security forces for several days. Tragically, at least 17 children were kidnapped by ISIS militants while attempting to escape Hawija with their families. (Read more about the situation in Hawija and why it has been ignored.) Meanwhile, the UNHCR reported that buses are transporting returnees to Sharqat in Salah ad-Din and that over 15,000 IDPs have left the Debaga Camp in Erbil Province since the beginning of September, mostly bound for Qayyarah. Overcrowded camps with scarce resources are seen as the motivating factor for IDPs seeking to return to their places of origin, even though security, food, water, and access to medical care are considerably inadequate in many of those locations. 
Iraqi Security Forces, Allies Target Resurgent Presence of ISIS in Anbar – On October 1, Head of the District Council in Hit, Mohammed Mohannad al-Hiti, ordered the evacuation of the city in preparation for clearing the District of ISIS militants. After at least 170 families were evacuated, security forces assisted by U.S.-led international coalition air support attacked ISIS targets, resulting in the death of several dozen ISIS militants, and detection or confiscation of 500 IEDs, artillery shells, barrel bombs, Katyusha rockets, and other ammunition. Iraqi and coalition forces also targeted insurgents elsewhere in Anbar Province, including in nearby Ramadi. 
Airstrikes Contribute to Progress as ISIS Frustration Mounts in Mosul – As U.S.-led international coalition airstrikes continued to target ISIS positions and infrastructure in and around Mosul, reports of ISIS leadership inside the city showing signs of desperation grew. According to security sources in Ninewa Province, ISIS cut the ears off of 25 of their own militants who were attempting to flee Mosul and have ordered shop owners inside the city to keep their shops open or be subject to “a penalty in front of the people.” PUK Media reported that 12 ISIS militants were killed in clashes among themselves in Akhdar, 80 kilometers south of Mosul, and in Sharqat, at least one ISIS militant turned himself in to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Also this week, an anonymous security source indicated that a coalition airstrike may have accidentally killed 18 members of an Iraqi PMU in western Qayyarah. The coalition was providing air support for ground operations when the incident occurred. 
International Aid Groups and Governments Address Humanitarian Crisis, Mosul Plans – The UNHCR issued a report on its preparations for the wave of mass displacements that will accompany efforts to clear the city of Mosul of ISIS militants. According to the report, UNHCR will expand and build new IDP camps and pre-position emergency supplies and shelter kits to assist the expected outflow once fighting inside of the city commences. 11 camps are nearing completion and altogether, should accommodate 120 thousand individuals. Iraqi government camps can currently shelter 150 thousand. Added together, this capacity to temporarily house 270 thousand IDPs remains far short of the estimated 1.2 million who may need to be sheltered. 
Minister Candidate Names Expected Soon; New Ambassadors Announced – Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has yet to submit a list of candidates for the vacant cabinet positions, which he said would be released this week. Currently, the Defense, Finance, Interior, and Trade and Industry Minister positions are vacant. The Defense and Finance Ministers were ousted on charges of corruption in August, and the Interior and Trade and Industry Ministers resigned their positions in July. Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who Parliament may soon question on corruption charges, announced the appointment of eight new ambassadors this week, including Dr. Fareed Mustafa Kamel Yassin as Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States.  more

American Support of HR Catastrophe in Yemen

While the US administration critiques Russia for actions in Syria, the Americans are arguably doing far worse in Yemen and ignoring the abuses of its allies. Middle East Eye, has an excellent story on this:

While US officials condemn Russian war crimes in Syria, the US-Saudi coalition in Yemen is committing the same - but the media is silent

For a generation of Americans old enough to remember, the Korean conflict is often dubbed the “forgotten war”. Where Hollywood has lionised or contextualised those who fought in the Second World War and Vietnam, the nearly 2 million Americans who fought on the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s have largely been airbrushed from history.
Fast forward 60 odd years, and Americans find themselves participating in yet another forgotten war: Yemen.
Where the unfolding tragedy in Syria has grabbed media attention in the US over the course of the past five years, at least intermittingly, America’s participation and contribution towards alleged war crimes and the unmitigated humanitarian crisis in Yemen is yet to have even grabbed the attention of CNN’s scrolling news ticker.
Effectively what this means is this: the US mainstream media is choosing to broadcast to US viewers news stories that reflect only the geopolitical positions of the US administration. While this is hardly breaking news or some kind of deep revelation, given how US media behaved as cheerleader-in-chief for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it’s still worth noting.

Double standards

For instance, when Russia bombs an aid convoy, attacks a hospital or a school in Syria, a spokesperson for the US administration will come forward to denounce Russia’s intervention, and the media will cover it. But when US taxpayer bombs, using US military guidance systems, blow up wedding parties, schools, anything, you can cut the silence with the proverbial knife. Read more

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