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Ed Webb

The ISIS Ambassador to Turkey - Homeland Security Today - 0 views

  • the ISIS military and weapons training and the ISIS “obligatory shariah training” in which new male recruits are taught the ISIS takfir ideology, an ideology that justifies use of violence against those considered heretics or unbelievers, including against fellow Muslims.
  • Abu Mansour explains the format and nature of intake forms that were filled out at the ISIS reception area. “It was a form about experience, countries you visited, etc. I don’t remember it very well, but it was very detailed,” he explains. He further continues, “There were several people who came with higher education. We wrote his discipline, his studies, his languages. These things were recorded on my forms.” According to Abu Mansour, job placements occurred after another intake took place inside the training camps. “At those places, there were very trusted people running the ISIS offices of recruiting, so if you say you’re an engineer, they put you to that kind of job. It was an office of human resources management,” he states, adding, “but of course different, because in ours we also had, ‘I want to be a martyr.’
  • According to Abu Mansour, the numbers of would-be “martyrs” went down as the Caliphate was in fact established. “It started to go down as Raqqa stabilized. [Then,] most came simply to live. It was a small ratio of those who came to martyr themselves.” Adhering to his uncanny ability to remember exact recruiting figures, he explains, “Before 2014, 50 percent came to martyr themselves. Then it went under 20 percent.”
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  • “There were some agreements and understandings between the Turkish intelligence and ISIS emni about the border gates, for the people who got injured,” Abu Mansour continues. “I had direct meeting with the MIT [the Turkish National Intelligence Organization], many meetings with them.”
  • “There were teams. Some represent the Turkish intel, some represent the Turkish Army. There were teams from 3-5 different groups. Most meetings were in Turkey in military posts or their offices. It depended on the issue. Sometimes we meet each week. It depends on what was going on. Most of the meetings were close to the borders, some in Ankara, some in Gaziantep.”
  • When he mentions meeting Turkish government officials in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, we suddenly upgrade him in our minds to an ISIS ambassador, which is indeed how he was functioning. “I passed the borders and they let me pass. [At the border,] the Turks always sent me a car and I’m protected. A team of two to three people from our side were with me. I was in charge of our team most of the time.”
  • we learn that his “diplomatic” reach on behalf of ISIS extended even to the president of Turkey himself. “I was about to meet him but I did not. One of his intelligence officers said Erdogan wants to see you privately but it didn’t happen.”
  • The benefit to Turkey, according to Abu Mansour, was that “we are in the border area and Turkey wants to control its borders – to control Northern Syria. Actually they had ambitions not only for controlling the Kurds. They wanted all the north, from Kessab (the most northern point of Syria) to Mosul.”
  • In our meetings, we talked about re-establishing the Ottoman Empire. This was the vision of Turkey.
  • “I cannot say that this is the vision of the whole Turkish government. Many are against interfering to bring this project to reality. They say we will try to defeat the PKK and Kurds. We are afraid of the union between Kurds and that they may make a Kurdish state, but they also expanded to Aleppo,” he adds regarding Turkish aspirations inside Syria.
  • “It’s a big benefit to Dawlah, as they could protect our back. Approximately 300 km of our border is with them. Turkey is considered a road for us for medications, food – so many things enter in the name of aid. The gates were open.”
  • “No one can accuse the Turkish government that they gave us weapons, because we got weapons from different sources. Actually, we didn’t need to get weapons from Turkey,” he explains, noting that the Free Syrian Army soldiers would trade their weapons for a pack of cigarettes. “Anti-government Syrian people provided us with weapons; many mafias and groups traded weapons to us.”
  • “We negotiated to send our fighters to the hospitals [in Turkey]. There was facilitation – they didn’t look at the passports of those coming for treatment. It was always an open gate. If we had an ambulance we could cross without question. We could cross [into Turkey] at many places. They don’t ask about official identities. We just have to let them know.”
  • “Dawlah [ISIS] paid for the treatments, but some Turkish public hospitals took these fighters for free. It was not only for our fighters but also for the victims of bombings. I don’t know how many were treated in Turkey, but it was routine,” Abu Mansour explains, adding that it was not his area, so he doesn’t have the figures on that. “I just know this agreement to open the gates for our wounded and that there were ambulances sent for them. It was a ‘state-to-state’ agreement regarding our wounded. I negotiated these agreements. For the wounded, medical and other supplies to pass, and I negotiated about water also, the Euphrates.”
  • “Actually, we [Syria] had an agreement with Turkey for 400 cubic meters per second [of water] into Syria. After the revolution, they started to decrease the quantity of water to 150 cubic meters per second. After our negotiations [in 2014] it returned to 400. We needed it for electrical power and as a vital source of living. Even water we cannot keep it, it passes to Iraq also,” he explains. “But the importance of water [cannot be understated]. We don’t need to generate electricity through the dams. We could have another source [i.e. petrol], but we need water for farming. There are three dams. The biggest is Tabqa dam. Actually, at 150 cubic meters, we could generate some electricity, but if the level of the lake reached 5 meters it would not work.”
  • When asked what ISIS gave in return for water, he answers, “There is the most important benefit – their country will be safe and stable.” We ask if he means that ISIS agreed not to attack inside Turkey.“In negotiations I could not say I would attack Turkey. This is the language of gangs, but I would say we will try to keep Turkey from the field battle, we will not see Turkey as an enemy. They understood what we are talking about. We said many times, ‘You are not our enemy and not our friend.’”
  • “Most of the Syrian oil was going to Turkey, and just small amounts went to the Bashar regime.”
  • “We didn’t ask ransom for the consul employees, we asked for our prisoners. MIT knows their names.” For the consul employees, “approximately 500 prisoners were released from Turkey, and they came back to Dawlah,”
  • “[In 2014,] they opened some legal gates under the eye of Turkish intel that our people went in and out through,” Abu Mansour explains. “But, entry into Syria was easier than return to Turkey. Turkey controlled the movements.”
  • “Turkey wanted us to move 10 km back from the borders so the danger from Turkey is removed. They wanted it to be under control of Turkey and no aviation above it. This was for an area 60 km long and 10 km wide.”
  • Abu Mansour’s journey started in Morocco when he was a young man and where he first watched the 9/11 events from afar and suddenly began to feel that if he wasn’t with them, as U.S. President Bush stated, he was against them – that Muslims in the world needed to unite and resist dictators and world powers, like the U.S.-led coalition that invaded foreign countries. “After I heard George Bush say it’s you are with us or against us – when I heard that [and saw his invasion of Iraq] I searched for who stands up for the Muslims.”
  • We were searching for the identity of Muslims, to protect Muslims and to be freed to do our Islamic duties. There was no desire to fight, no tendency to kill or revenge, just to free ourselves from dictators. I use the weapon to prevent harm by others and all that is taken by force should be regained by force,” he explains. “All these government regimes, we were forced to follow, we didn’t chose them.”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia makes friends with an old enemy - Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that's dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy
  • Saudi Arabia has also employed other soft power tactics such as offering to build a sports stadium and government-backed broadcaster MBC recently announced a dedicated channel for Iraq. Clerics in the kingdom have been toning down their anti-Shiite rhetoric
  • Saudi Arabia's aim is to prop up a government in Baghdad whose authority has been challenged by Iran-sponsored militias and bring the nation back firmly into the Arab fold
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  • Iraq has been dominated by non-Arab Iran after the majority Shiites took over power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia now considers Iraq as a potential bulwark against Iran rather than a puppet state controlled by Tehran
  • On a state visit to Riyadh last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi oversaw the signing of 13 agreements whereby Saudi Arabia pledged to pump a billion dollars into its neighbor's economy
  • The Saudis "have been relatively successful" in Iraq, said James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. "They need, however, to follow up on promises and capitalize on the fact that, unlike the Iranians, they have the cash to do so."
  • The Islamic Republic exported more than $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes alone to Iraq in 2017 and is the country's top source of everything from pig lard to human hair. Iran jumped from the Arab nation's fifth biggest non-oil exporter in 2016 to its biggest in 2017, bypassing China. Iraqi supermarket shelves are often stocked with cheap Turkish and Iranian products
  • "I don't think there's any illusion in Riyadh that Iraq will sever relations with Iran,"
  • After Iran cut off power to Iraq because of payment disputes last year, Saudi Arabia offered to sell it to Baghdad at a fraction of Iranian prices
  • As part of its outreach to Iraq, Saudi Arabia has also softened its position on Shiite Islam, long seen as antithetical to the official Wahhabi creed of the kingdom. In a nod to its often restive Shiite minority mainly in the east, Riyadh plans to open a consulate in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, to which many Saudi Shiites travel for pilgrimage
  • Still, Saudi Arabia continues to detain and even execute Shiites in large numbers on suspicion of spying for Iran, among other charges
Ed Webb

Iran's Next Supreme Leader Is Dead - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Outside the years 1999 to 2009, when he headed the judiciary, Shahroudi served from 1995 until his death as member of the Guardian Council, the powerful conservative watchdog that ensures the Islamic consistency and compatibility of parliamentary legislation and electoral candidates alike. He was likewise in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects the supreme leader’s successor, and a member of the Expediency Council, created toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War to adjudicate disagreements between parliament and the Guardian Council; this council subsequently also began advising the supreme leader on the broad contours of policy and strategy. After the 2017 death of its chairman—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a highly influential former president—Khamenei tapped Shahroudi as his replacement. Shahroudi was therefore clearly a figure Khamenei could rely on, a figure the supreme leader recently eulogized as a “faithful executor in the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions.”
  • Shahroudi presided over a witch hunt against reformist parliamentarians and newspapers, students and intellectuals, human rights activists and, at the end of his tenure, the pro-reformist Green Movement protesting against the fraudulent elections that handed Ahmadinejad a second term
  • Shahroudi is reported to have overseen, directly or indirectly, some 2,000 executions, including of minors
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  • also credited with introducing some reforms, including reinstituting the separation between judges and prosecutors abolished by his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi, suspending stoning as capital punishment, and proposing a bill granting more legal protection to minors
  • his unique selling point as potential supreme leader lay as much in his cross-factional appeal among the Iranian establishment as in the continuity he represented—two assets critical to Iran’s future political stability
  • Shahroudi maintained reasonably good ties with all four of Iran’s existing factions: conservatives, neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, and reformists
  • Shahroudi was also the only Shiite cleric in the rarefied pantheon of possible successors, or even anywhere, doubly rumored to have been angling for leadership of Iraq’s Shiites. Back in 2012, reports surfaced of Shahroudi building up a patronage network inside Iran’s western neighbor and specifically Najaf, greased by the levy of religious taxes and Iranian state funds. As things appeared, Shahroudi sought to undermine or even replace the aging Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s and therefore Twelver Shiites’ premier spiritual authority. Tehran had a good reason, too: the Iranian-born Sistani—a mirror image of Shahroudi—quietly opposed Iran’s political system based on the supreme leader’s rule, velayat-e faqih.
  • If Shahroudi was seen as an outsider with his Iraqi provenance and Semitic-laced Persian, neither quite Iranian nor fully Iraqi, his background at least held out some possibility of appealing to Twelver Shiite communities beyond Iran’s borders, and most critically in Iraq, where Shiites have tended to give velayat-e faqih short shrift. Ever since Saddam’s toppling in 2003, Iraq’s Shiite-majority government has gravitated closer toward Iran, but it continues to maintain a political autonomy at times grating to Tehran.
  • Iran’s internal stability and regime longevity—increasingly challenged by spontaneous protests countrywide over the past year—depend on the political class collectively accepting a supreme leader capable of forging consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s unique ability to span the divides of the Iranian political and clerical establishment was one reason his name was repeatedly floated as Khamenei’s eventual successor. He was also both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically reliable by Iran’s ruling establishment.
  • the hard-liners’ longtime stranglehold on the key levers of military, judicial, media, and clerical power will now leave little room for Iran’s reformists and moderates, among them current President Hassan Rouhani, to weigh in on the succession process
  • With the first generation of Iran’s revolutionary clerics fast fading out, Shahroudi’s relatively early death at 70 eliminates what is perhaps the most serious and qualified succession candidate so far floated in Tehran’s corridors of power
  • Iran’s acrimonious elite infighting may be normal and not necessarily a sign of regime weakness, but this requires a supreme leader generally accepted by all to adjudicate differences
Ed Webb

The Transnational Politics of Iraq's Shia Diaspora - Carnegie Middle East Center - Carn... - 0 views

  • With each political transition—from the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to the Transitional Administrative Law—the first wave of Shia diasporic elites (as well as the Kurdish parties) supported and often encouraged the U.S.-UK coalition’s calamitous political decisions. These included “de-Baathification” and the disbanding of the army—two policies that would forever change the course of Iraqi politics. Both policies effectively dismantled existing state institutions and human resources instead of strengthening and building on them. And with the removal of the police force came the loss of law and order that could have prevented the wide-scale looting and violence that began in 2003. More destructive still was the exclusion of thousands of Sunnis from state and society and the resulting unleashing of a resentful public, whose vengeance would later manifest in violent reprisals throughout Iraq’s 2006 civil war and the formation of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
  • By the time Iraq’s first democratic elections took place in December 2005, Shia political leaders who came to power through the IGC and were supported by the U.S.-UK coalition had already gained a significant advantage, so it was unsurprising that the United Iraqi Alliance, an alliance of Shia political parties, dominated the elections. Iraq’s first democratically elected prime minister was Jaafari, a British Iraqi Dawa Party member. Many more Shia returnees would later assume ministerial and parliamentary positions, including Maliki, whose rule would epitomize the sectarian-diasporic dynamic. This legacy of Shia diasporic transnational networks used for recruiting political staff throughout Iraq’s political system continues to this day
  • there is no such thing as a homogeneous Shia diaspora; as with any community, there are multiple layers of categorical difference and division. While in the pre-2003 era the Shia diaspora may have been united in their political stance against Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, in the post-2003 era, Iraqi Shia politics has been divided along clerical and political lines, echoing the situation in Iraq and the new power brokers ruling the country
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  • The Shia political identity of the diaspora has thus emerged from an expression of Shia pride, the combating of misconceptions about the Shia faith, and the insistence that Islam is not represented by the Islamic State—thereby distancing the Shia faith from terrorism.
  • The role of Shia diasporic elites in shaping the Iraqi state in 2003, in collaboration with the U.S.-UK coalition, is hard to overstate. Shia diaspora returnees agreed to, along with the Kurdish parties, an ethno-sectarian power-sharing system that has provoked deep schisms in Iraqi politics and society. While diasporic interventions can play a significant role in supporting livelihoods, transferring knowledge, and providing human resources in times of brain drain, during political transitions, they should be approached with caution. Western governments should heed the lessons of Iraq, as they demonstrate the perils of parachuting long-exiled elites, who lack legitimacy, to positions of power without understanding their histories, motivations, agendas, and the populations they purportedly represent
  • A professional, educated, and westernized Shia Iraqi diaspora is emerging, maintaining links with Iraq through social media platforms, pilgrimages, and the creation of new Shia practices and rituals.
Ed Webb

Insurgents Again: The Islamic State's Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Ir... - 0 views

  • since losing Mosul, its most sizeable and symbolic territorial possession, the Islamic State has not fought to the last man to maintain control of any other population center.
  • While a loss of morale after the fall of Mosul, the desire by less ideologically driven fighters to save themselves, and the degradation of command and control structures all contributed to some Islamic State fighters fleeing on certain fronts,7 the available evidence suggests the withdrawals were part of calculated strategy by the group to conserve its forces and pivot away from holding territory to pursuing an all-out insurgency
  • despite its supposed significance, Mayedin fell almost abruptly and with little fighting in October 2017. Local sources speaking to Deirezzor24,37 a grassroots organization specializing in documenting violations by both the regime and jihadis, denied the city was retaken by forces loyal to Assad. The regime, uncharacteristically, produced little footage to prove it recaptured a key city. The local skepticism was an indication that the sudden withdrawal from the city was surprising to locals,38 who, along with U.S. officials, had reported that the city had become a center for the group after it came under attack in Raqqa
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  • Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter issued by the Islamic State’s Central Media Department, hinted at a major change of strategy in a series of articles published between September and October 2017 on the topic of dealing with the U.S. air campaign. In a series of two reports in September 2017,42 the newsletter explained that Islamic State militants, having suffered heavy losses, especially in Kobane, were debating how to evade the “precision” of U.S. air forces in the face of ground assaults on multiple fronts. These fronts included the disguising of weaponry and engaging in military deception. The article concluded that it would be a mistake for the Islamic State to continue engaging forces that enjoy air support from the United States or Russia because the function of these forces was not to serve as conventional fighting forces, but mainly to provoke the militants and expose their whereabouts and capabilities for drones and aircraft to strike them. In order to prevent the depletion of its forces by air power, the article pushed for the Islamic State to adopt a counter-strategy in which it would refrain from sustained clashes in urban centers with its enemies as it did formerly
  • In another report, issued in Al-Naba on October 12, 2017,45 the Islamic State suggested that it had again been forced to switch to insurgency tactics like in the spring of 2008 under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his war minister Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The article related how the group’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, had been forced to dismantle its fighting units in March 2008 and pursue a different strategy to preserve what was left of its manpower. Providing details never before disclosed, it described how the Islamic State of Iraq had become exhausted and depleted after two years of fierce fighting against U.S. and Iraqi troops to the point that it was no longer able to stand and fight for long. “In early 2008, it became clear that it was impossible to continue to engage in conventional fighting. That was when Abu Omar Al Baghdadi said: ‘We now have no place where we could stand for a quarter of an hour.’”46 The article argued the situation was now comparable and that this justified a switch of approach.
  • Reverting back to the old insurgency and terror tactics enabled the Islamic State to penetrate otherwise well-secured areas. Previous attempts to attack them through conventional fighting units had failed, even while the group was at the height of its power
  • The Islamic State’s reversion to insurgency tactics increased as it lost more territory. Hit-and-run attacks and notable assassinations returned to newly liberated areas, such as in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Anbar, and Raqqa,53 although such attacks were rarely accounted for in official and public statements related to progress against the group.
  • The Islamic State’s apparent decision to conserve forces for insurgency in the region stretching from Deir ez-Zor Governorate in Syria to Anbar Province in Iraq makes strategic sense given it has frequently highlighted the area as key to its survival and best suited for the base of a guerrilla war. For the Islamic State, rural- and desert-based insurgency is no less important than urban warfare to deplete its enemies, recruit members, and lay the groundwork for a comeback. The geographic and human terrain of the region provides the jihadis with an area in which they can regroup, run sleeper cells, rebuild finances through extortion, and plot attacks.
  • Territorial demise, he made clear, was merely the beginning of a new chapter in which the process of depleting the enemy does not get disrupted but persists in different forms. If and when a new opportunity for another rise presented itself, his logic went, the process of depletion will have laid the groundwork for a deeper influence than the previous round.
  • defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight
  • the Islamic State began to talk about the desert as a viable place to launch its post-caliphate insurgency. Its propaganda has since prominently featured desert combat. Through such messages, the group hopes to show it can still inflict damage on government forces in remote areas and on critical highways linking Syria and Jordan to Iraq and to draw parallels to the fact that the last time the organization was deemed defeated in Iraq, in the late 2000s, it came back stronger than ever
  • It appears that a key target for the Islamic State as it reembraces insurgency are Sunnis opposing its worldview. In its recent propaganda, the Islamic State has focused on the role of fellow Sunni collaborators in its demise in the late 2000s and has vowed to keep up the pressure against emerging ones. It is interesting that “Sahwat” was originally restricted to the tribal Awakening Councils68 established in Iraq to fight al-Qa`ida during the 2007 troop surge,69 but the group has since broadened the reference to mean opponents and collaborators from within Sunni communities writ large
  • Headquartered in the desert or hidden in populated areas, the Islamic State aims to run a far-reaching and ceaseless insurgency in rural areas and urban centers to deter and stretch thin its opponents and to abrade any emerging governance and security structures in areas it previously controlled
  • This contiguous terrain in Iraq and Syria is akin to the region along the Afghan-Pakistani border that previous U.S. administrations dubbed “AfPak” and treated as a single theater requiring an integrated approach. The “Syraq” space, which stretches from the areas near the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys in northern and western Iraq to Raqqa and Palmyra, looks set to be to the Islamic State what AfPak has been to the al-Qa`ida and Taliban factions, providing a hospitable environment and strategic sanctuaries. And by conserving fighters rather than fighting to the death in the battles that followed Mosul, the Islamic State still has significant manpower to sustain a campaign of terrorism and insurgency in the area
Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
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  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation. The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”
  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved. Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
Ed Webb

Is Turkey's Foreign Policy Really Sunni? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • it would be wrong to believe that bigoted Sunnis in Ankara embarked on an anti-Shiite mission in the Middle East that has left Turkey at odds with central governments in Syria, Iraq, and ultimately in Iran. To the contrary, Ankara has gone to great lengths to avoid the region's sectarianism, but its efforts have not been very fruitful.
  • it would be also wrong to assume that the reality of sectarianism in the Middle East isn't influencing feelings in Ankara and in Turkish society more broadly. The Alawite-Sunni conflict in Syria is creating bitterness between Turkey's Alevis and Sunnis, although violence seems highly improbable. On the other hand, Turkey is indeed beginning to be perceived as a Sunni power in the region.
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