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Ed Webb

'How are they terrorists?': UK treatment of Kurdish YPG volunteers under fire after leg... - 1 views

  • The YPG was praised by ministers for driving the terrorist group out of northern Syria last year, but the victory was swiftly followed by a Turkish invasion. Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group and although the UK does not, several volunteers have faced terror charges for fighting or training with it.
  • Paul Newey was accused of funding terrorism by sending £150 to his son, while his 19-year-old son Sam was accused of assisting his brother.
  • “It just doesn’t add up,” he said. “They’ve been so unsuccessful with all the other prosecution, why haven’t they just given up? Nobody [in the YPG] is going to be a danger to the British public, they’re fighting for a cause they believe in to protect people. How are they terrorists?”
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  • Mr Burke’s legal team said he believed the CPS’s decision to drop the prosecution was directly linked to his application for the prosecution to disclose “information relating to diplomatic pressure placed on the UK government by Turkey to treat the Kurdish YPG as ‘terrorists’”.
  • There has been a string of failed or abandoned terror prosecutions of people who fought with the YPG, amid persistent questions over how supporting a group that was backed by the British government against Isis could be terrorism.
  • In previous cases, prosecutors have highlighted the YPG’s left-wing ideals, push for female equality and projects including a “communal lettuce garden” in evidence.
  • The link between that kind of activity and terror laws relies on the definition of terrorism in British law as violence or threats advancing “a political, religious or ideological cause”.
  • at least six people who fought with or supported the Kurdish YPG have now been charged with terror offences
  • Joshua Walker, a student who joined the YPG in 2016, was arrested on his return to Gatwick airport 18 months later. He was not prosecuted for his activities in Syria but instead charged with a terror offence for possessing a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook.
  • A jury acquitted him after hearing Mr Walker downloaded the document, which contains bomb-making instructions, for a role-playing society at the University of Aberystwyth.
  • Several other British people who joined the group have been arrested and questioned by counterterror police, with some having their passports and phones seized, but faced no further action.
Ed Webb

The Coronavirus Oil Shock Is Just Getting Started - 0 views

  • People in the West tend to think about oil shocks from the perspective of the consumer. They notice when prices go up. The price spikes in 1973 and 1979 triggered by boycotts by oil producers are etched in their collective consciousness, as price controls left Americans lining up for gas and European governments imposed weekend driving bans. This was more than an economic shock. The balance of power in the world economy seemed to be shifting from the developed to the developing world.
  • If a surge in fossil fuel prices rearranges the world economy, the effect also operates in reverse. For the vast majority of countries in the world, the decline in oil prices is a boon. Among emerging markets, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Argentina, Turkey, and South Africa all benefit, as imported fuel is a big part of their import bill. Cheaper energy will cushion the pain of the COVID-19 recession. But at the same time, and by the same token, plunging oil prices deliver a concentrated and devastating shock to the producers. By comparison with the diffuse benefit enjoyed by consumers, the producers suffer immediate immiseration.
  • In inflation-adjusted terms, oil prices are similar to those last seen in the 1950s, when the Persian Gulf states were little more than clients of the oil majors, the United States and the British Empire
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  • Fiscal crises caused by falling prices limit governments’ room for domestic maneuver and force painful political choices
  • The economic profile of the Gulf states is not, however, typical of most oil-producing states. Most have a much lower ratio of oil reserves to population. Many large oil exporters have large and rapidly growing populations that are hungry for consumption, social spending, subsidies, and investment
  • In February, even before the coronavirus hit, the International Monetary Fund was warning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that by 2034 they would be net debtors to the rest of the world. That prediction was based on a 2020 price of $55 per barrel. At a price of $30, that timeline will shorten. And even in the Gulf there are weak links. Bahrain avoids financial crisis only through the financial patronage of Saudi Arabia. Oman is in even worse shape. Its government debt is so heavily discounted that it may soon slip into the distressed debt category
  • Ecuador is the second Latin American country after Argentina to enter technical default this year.
  • Populous middle-income countries that depend critically on oil are uniquely vulnerable. Iran is a special case because of the punitive sanctions regime imposed by the United States. But its neighbor Iraq, with a population of 38 million and a government budget that is 90 percent dependent on oil, will struggle to keep civil servants paid.
  • Algeria—with a population of 44 million and an official unemployment rate of 15 percent—depends on oil and gas imports for 85 percent of its foreign exchange revenue
  • The oil and gas boom of the early 2000s provided the financial foundation for the subsequent pacification of Algerian society under National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria’s giant military, the basic pillar of the regime, was the chief beneficiaries of this largesse, along with its Russian arms suppliers. The country’s foreign currency reserves peaked at $200 billion in 2012. Spending this windfall on assistance programs and subsidies allowed Bouteflika’s government to survive the initial wave of protests during the Arab Spring. But with oil prices trending down, this was not a sustainable long-run course. By 2018 the government’s oil stabilization fund, which once held reserves worth more than one-third of GDP, had been depleted. Given Algeria’s yawning trade deficit, the IMF expects reserves to fall below $13 billion in 2021. A strict COVID-19 lockdown is containing popular protest for now, but given that the fragile government in Algiers is now bracing for budget cuts of 30 percent, do not expect that calm to last.
  • Before last month’s price collapse, Angola was already spending between one fifth and one third of its export revenues on debt service. That burden is now bound to increase significantly. Ten-year Angolan bonds were this week trading at 44 cents on the dollar. Having been downgraded to a lowly CCC+, it is now widely considered to be at imminent risk of default. Because servicing its debts requires a share of public spending six times larger than that which Angola spends on the health of its citizens, the case for doing so in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is unarguable.
  • Faced with the price collapse of 2020, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has declared that Nigeria is now in “crisis.” In March, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered Nigeria’s sovereign debt rating to B-. This will raise the cost of borrowing and slow economic growth in a country in which more than 86 million people, 47 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty—the largest number in the world. Furthermore, with 65 percent of government revenues devoted to servicing existing debt, the government may have to resort to printing money to pay civil servants, further spurring an already high inflation rate caused by food supply shortages
  • The price surge of the 1970s and the nationalization of the Middle East oil industry announced the definitive end of the imperial era. The 1980s saw the creation of a market-based global energy economy. The early 2000s seemed to open the door on a new age of state capitalism, in which China was the main driver of demand and titans like Saudi Aramco and Rosneft managed supply
  • The giants such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will exploit their muscle to survive the crisis. But the same cannot so easily be said for the weaker producers. For states such as Iraq, Algeria, and Angola, the threat is nothing short of existential.
  • Beijing has so far shown little interest in exploiting the crisis for debt-book diplomacy. It has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the other members of the G-20 in supporting a debt moratorium.
  • In a century that will be marked by climate change, how useful is it to restore profits and prosperity based on fossil fuel extraction?
  • The shock of the coronavirus is offering a glimpse of the future and it is harsh. The COVID-19 crisis drives home that high-cost producers are on a dangerously unsustainable path that can’t be resolved by states propping up their uncompetitive oil sectors. Even more important is the need to diversify the economies of the truly vulnerable producers in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.
Ed Webb

After 'Missteps' And Controversies, Museum Of The Bible Works To Clean Up Its Act : NPR - 0 views

  • When the Museum of the Bible opened three years ago, its founders aimed to engage a wider audience with the Bible and its thousands of years of history. But the museum's ambitious goals have been overshadowed by a series of scandals, still unfolding, over antiquities — acquired in a five-year international shopping spree — that have turned out to be looted or fake.
  • Steve Green, the evangelical president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and the museum board's chairman, started acquiring artifacts in 2009 for what would become a $500 million museum on prime Washington, D.C., real estate. (Museum officials have long said the institution has no sectarian or evangelical agenda.)
  • Hobby Lobby paid a $3 million fine in a Justice Department settlement for not exercising due diligence in acquisitions. The judgment directed the forfeiture of 5,500 clay tablets and other illegally imported items to the Iraqi government.
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  • fresh controversies — over previously acquired objects, including Dead Sea Scroll fragments found to be fake and items from Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt — have continued to dog the museum
  • the museum is discussing the return to Iraq of another 8,106 pieces. Hobby Lobby acquired them so haphazardly for the museum, he says, that it may never be known how they came onto the market
  • ome of these items may have even come from Iraq's national museum, which was looted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and troops failed to protect cultural sites
  • Hobby Lobby acquired the items, most of them clay tablets, between 2009 and 2014 from sources in the U.S., the U.K. and Israel. Another 5,000 items, Egyptian papyri and textiles, acquired during the same period, also lack proper documentation
  • between 5% and 10% of the roughly 8,000 objects now being returned to Iraq are fake
  • The Museum of the Bible's latest issue is over an ancient Jewish prayer book from Afghanistan. The museum says it was "legally exported" from the U.K. and "acquired in good faith" with provenance information dating from the 1950s. Now, Kloha says, museum staff believe the book was taken out of Afghanistan after 1998 — decades after a UNESCO convention made it illegal to export antiquities without government approval. The Taliban, which controls many parts of the country today, is accused of widespread trafficking in antiquities.
  • The U.S. government's 2017 complaint against Hobby Lobby notes that Green was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2010 while carrying a $1 million Bible without a customs declaration. The following year, U.S. Customs agents seized misidentified cuneiform tablets being shipped to Hobby Lobby from the United Arab Emirates.
  • the museum's reputation among scholars has made it difficult to arrange loans of works from other institutions
  • Iraqi's ambassador to the U.S., Fareed Yasseen, tells NPR that he would personally like to see Iraqi artifacts exposed to as wide an audience as possible. "To me, the Elgin Marbles should be in Greece, not in the British Museum, because a lot of people will see them in Greece," he says. "But if you look at the massive winged bulls [from ancient Iraq] you have in the British Museum ... or the Louvre, I mean honestly, if they were in Iraq, so few people would go there to see them. To be fair, looking at the issue as a world citizen, if you will, these are part of all our heritage. Anybody who has read the Bible can relate, right?"
Ed Webb

IS extremists step up as Iraq, Syria, grapple with virus - 0 views

  • a resurgence of attacks by the Islamic State group in northern Iraq
  • In neighboring Syria, IS attacks on security forces, oil fields and civilian sites have also intensified.
  • the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos.
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  • In Iraq, militants also exploit security gaps at a time of an ongoing territorial dispute and a U.S. troop drawdown.
  • IS was benefiting from a “gap” between Kurdish forces and federal armed forces caused by political infighting.
  • In northeast Syria, Kurdish-dominated police have become a more visible target for IS as they patrol the streets to implement anti-virus measures,
  • IS fighters in late March launched a campaign of attacks in government-held parts of Syria, from the central province of Homs all the way to Deir el-Zour to the east, bordering Iraq. Some 500 fighters, including some who had escaped from prison, recently slipped from Syria into Iraq, helping fuel the surge in violence there, Iraqi intelligence officials said.
  • more IED attacks, shootings and ambushes of police and military
  • The number of Iraqi military personnel on duty has dropped 50% because of virus prevention measures
  • territorial disputes between Baghdad and authorities from the northern Kurdish autonomy zone have left parts of three provinces without law enforcement
  • “Before the emergence of the virus and before the American withdrawal, the operations were negligible, numbering only one operation per week,” said a senior intelligence official. Now, he said, security forces are seeing an average of 20 operations a month.
  • Iraqi military officials believe the improved, organized nature of the attacks serves to cement the influence of new IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, who was named after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. raid late last year. One military official said more operations are expected during Ramadan to demonstrate the new leader’s strength.
  • because of the security situation in the desert several gas wells in the fields of Shaer and Hayan were damaged, leading to a 30% drop in electricity production.
Ed Webb

Pentagon Asks for More Cash to Cut Down Civilian Deaths - 0 views

  • Under fire from human rights groups, the Pentagon is asking lawmakers for funding to improve its ability to track civilian casualties in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups
  • It’s not immediately clear how much the new setup, which includes funds to set up a database that would allow members of the public to directly submit claims of U.S.-caused deaths, will ultimately cost. Those estimates are expected to come later as the Pentagon appears set to unveil a new policy to curb civilian casualties in combat later this year, first prompted by former Defense Secretary James Mattis and continuing under his successor, Mark Esper.  
  • The Pentagon has been under increased scrutiny to improve its civilian casualty reporting since the London-based Airwars outfit began reporting higher tallies of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria
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  • At the end of last month, U.S. Africa Command announced it would begin issuing a new report revealing ongoing civilian casualty investigations, after Amnesty International said that retaliatory American strikes against the al Qaeda-linked Somalian group al-Shabab killed two civilians in February, contradicting U.S. findings
  • “Currently, information from the public is received in a variety of ways — such as through email, reports by impartial humanitarian organizations and civil society groups, media reports, and social-media,” a defense spokesperson told Foreign Policy. “We are looking at additional options for receiving information from the public, such as creating a webpage that identifies what types of information helps in conducting assessments and how to submit it.”
  • after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Islamic State out of the self-described caliphate’s twin capitals of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in 2017, spearheaded by foreign troops backed by American advisors and strikes, rights groups that accused the Pentagon of vastly undercounting the number of civilian dead are pushing the agency to fold in public assessments to get smarter about choosing its targets.
  • The Defense Department has also chafed at building a fund to pay back the families of innocent victims of U.S. strikes, allowing only $3 million to be authorized each year, despite a tabletop exercise meant to reconcile the differences between the agency and the NGO community
Ed Webb

Trump threatens a new war with Iran as the coronavirus spreads through the military. - 0 views

  • The outbreak spreading on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers, reveals yet another victim of the coronavirus pandemic: the American military’s ability to patrol the world’s oceans and deter or fight wars.
  • Warships and submarines, even more than cruise ships, are breeding grounds for viruses. Crew members are packed into narrow confines, working and sleeping within inches of one another.
  • amid this crisis, the Trump administration has ordered U.S. military commanders to prepare a campaign to destroy Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, as part of an overall effort—spearheaded by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien—to weaken the regime in Tehran
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  • According to official figures released today, 893 U.S. military personnel across all the services have tested positive, as have 306 Defense Department civilian workers, 256 dependents, and 95 contractors. Of them, 85 have been hospitalized; five are dead.
  • the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Robert White, wrote a rare dissenting memo, objecting that the campaign would require sending thousands of additional troops to Iraq and would distract from the main U.S. mission in the country: training Iraqi troops to fight ISIS.
  • other Pentagon officials and officers have raised concerns about another problem with the plan—sending U.S. armed forces, some of whom may already be infected with the coronavirus, to a region where the virus is spreading like wildfire.
  • mericans aren’t the only ones at a disadvantage right now. It’s time to step up diplomatic efforts to deal with our various crises and conflicts. Too bad we have so few diplomats.
  • A Reuters correspondent is reporting that the Navy will relieve Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who wrote the leaked letter, asking his superiors to deal more speedily with the pandemic spreading across his ship. The navy bosses are citing a “loss of confidence” in the captain for his presumptuousness. One wonders how many sailors, to say nothing of their anxious families, will lose confidence in the Navy. A truly responsible president or defense secretary should fire the admiral who made this decision—and replace him with Crozier.
Ed Webb

Is ISIS Gone? No, Kurdish Leader Says. - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • a Kurdish leader who witnessed the militant group’s rise and fall is warning that ISIS is putting itself back together and stressing an uncomfortable fact: that ISIS is bigger now than it was nearly six years ago, when it founded its self-styled caliphate.
  • Even after America spent billions of dollars during two presidencies to defeat ISIS, deployed troops across Iraq and Syria, and dropped thousands of bombs, ISIS persists. If anything, it stands ready to exploit Trump’s impatience to end America’s “forever wars” and shift the country’s focus to countering Iran.
  • Before he became prime minister in June, Barzani was an influential U.S. partner in the war against ISIS as the top security official in the Iraq’s Kurdish region, which is semiautonomous from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. Kurdish fighters, called peshmerga, defended their territory from the ISIS onslaught in 2014 even as entire divisions of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces melted away. They not only proved to be some of America’s most effective military allies in the country, but their spies fed intelligence to the Americans, their officials helped coordinate U.S. air strikes, and their counterterrorism units worked alongside U.S. special operators. Thousands of  peshmerga have been killed and wounded in the anti-ISIS campaign.
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  • Barzani, whose government relies heavily on U.S. support, did not directly criticize Trump for the Soleimani killing, saying he was “surprised” by it and wanted to de-escalate regional tensions.
  • ISIS is still managing to carry out 60 attacks a month in Iraq alone against security forces and local rivals, Barzani said, as it regroups around a core of hardened fighters.
  • what is striking about Barzani’s portrayal of the group is the idea that it is not just surviving but thriving
  • The Soleimani strike capped months of U.S.-Iran tensions that included Iran-linked attacks on shipping and oil interests in the Persian Gulf and rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. troops in Iraq; after Soleimani’s death, Iran sent missiles flying at bases housing U.S. troops in the country. “This confrontation definitely will have a negative effect on the fight against terrorism and ISIS, which should be the priority for all of us,” Barzani said.
  • the main reason for the ISIS resurgence, Barzani said, is the persistence of the same conditions that allowed it to rise up in the first place. Syria remains in chaos. In Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi leaders alike have, for almost two decades, failed to solve problems such as corruption, poor governance, sectarianism, and economic malaise
  • The U.S. has pushed other countries to contribute funds to help rebuild ravaged areas, but it has not prioritized these efforts, which have been halting and plagued by local mismanagement. Leaders in Baghdad have made little effort at political reconciliation. Many residents remain in displaced-persons camps. “If people are jobless, if people are hopeless, if people have no security, if people have no opportunity, if there is no political stability, it's always easy for terrorist organizations to manipulate local populations,” Barzani told us. “ISIS is a by-product. So as long as these factors are still valid, there will always be either ISIS or something similar to ISIS.”
Ed Webb

Peshmerga unity depends on healing political divisions - 0 views

  • The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) peshmerga forces are lacking a unified command. Rather, the peshmerga, which played a key role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq alongside the US-led global coalition, is receiving commands from the Kurdish ruling parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). This raises concerns that the peshmerga will be exploited in political disputes.
  • The two main Kurdish ruling parties, the KDP and the PUK, have their own peshmerga forces. The KDP has 80 units, and the PUK has 70 units. Both parties jointly have nearly 240,000 peshmerga troops. The parties engaged in an internal armed conflict against each other from 1994 to 1998. Moreover, they frequently use the peshmerga to attack rival political parties and forcefully suppress civilian protests.
  • In the town of Bardarash, 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Erbil, a verbal quarrel between peshmerga officers led to the killing of a major and a first lieutenant, according to a senior peshmerga commander. The commander told Al-Monitor that the quarrel was related to who should hold military posts within the newly unified brigade.
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  • ruling parties and tribal figures are settling out [who will adopt] the commanding posts, consequently leading to quarrels and killings. The tribes insist that, for example, the commander of a peshmerga brigade should be from [among] them, and when their demands are met by ruling party officials, they nominate persons who lack any military knowledge and experience
  • “Both the PUK and the KDP use peshmerga forces under their command for other purposes: to guard orchards and houses of their political bureau members, to safeguard and serve tribal chiefs and even 'artists and dancers.'"
  • The office of KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil told Al-Monitor that many issues have delayed the unification of the forces. “The process is taking time for a number of reasons," the office stated, "among them new laws that need to be passed on peshmerga retirement and pensions, logistics and finances that need the support of the coalition forces and the Iraqi government
  • Maj. Gen. Baktyar Muhammed Sadiq, a member of the Ministry of Peshmerga’s reform board, told Al-Monitor that 14 brigades — nearly 40,000 peshmerga forces — are unified under the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. “There are plans for unifying all peshmerga forces, including the 70 and 80 forces, but there is no specific timeline yet,” Sadiq said. “There are also plans that the political parties would no longer be involved in recruiting peshmerga forces.”
Ed Webb

What Can We Learn from the Escalating Israeli Raids in Syria? - Lawfare - 0 views

  • Eyal Tsir Cohen is a visiting fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Tsir is currently on leave from the Israeli prime minister’s office, where he has served for the last 30 years in various senior positions. His career has focused on security and intelligence issues, and shaping policies and strategies on global terrorism.
  • While Israel has reportedly carried out thousands of strikes in Syria and neighboring Iraq in recent years, the frequency, intensity, and toll of these recent attacks are unprecedented.
  • Israel has come to see that Iran is not forsaking its project in Syria, and further may be pursuing more sophisticated means of threatening Israel’s northern border. This week’s report that Iran is moving missiles into Iraq only reinforces this perception
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  • To diminish Iranian capabilities being shipped to Hezbollah and other Iranian militias working to open a low-intensity military front threatening Israel’s northern border; To maintain Israel’s freedom of action and air supremacy in its neighborhood and the Middle East in general by minimizing Syrian military capabilities, more specifically anti-aircraft missile sites and their support systems; and To send a message of deterrence to three main actors in the region: Assad’s regime, Iran and its emissaries, and Russia.
  • air raids weaken the Syrian army’s capabilities; distract Assad’s capabilities from coping with opposition forces, ISIS, and al-Qaida in the north and east of Syria; and keep this war-ridden country in grave economic instability.
  • Israel also reportedly targeted significant air defense capabilities, especially surface-to-air missiles, that threaten Israel’s strategic dominance over Lebanese and Syrian airspace
  • Israel hopes its strikes will push Tehran to abandon its project in Syria. But Iran has shown no willingness so far to consider this. Instead, it has simply worked to make its arms shipments more difficult to detect. The search-and-destroy campaign demands excellent intelligence capabilities on Israel’s part to uncover clandestine shipments sent by air or land to Syria through Iraq. Fine-grained intelligence is also necessary to allow the airstrike to be effective and to minimize collateral damage and casualties. This poses a great challenge to Israel because, in time, Iran and its Syrian counterparts can find new, creative ways to mask their supply chain to Syria and avoid detection
  • While previous raids mostly damaged buildings and infrastructure, Israel probably expected this raid to inflict Iranian casualties, thus raising the stakes of the conflict.
  • As Iran faces unrest at home—and amid major popular demonstrations in Iraq—Israel is willing to match or even exceed Iran’s aggressive moves. For Khamenei, the prospect of large investments repeatedly being destroyed in Syria may be a difficult one, politically, as his domestic economy plummets. The contrast between these recent raids, which reportedly killed 16 Iranians, and the relative lack of an Iranian reaction highlights that it is difficult for Iran to respond in kind to Israeli escalations.
  • as Israel works to diminish the Syrian state’s military capabilities, it risks merely pushing the Assad regime deeper into its dependency on Iran
  • while Russia has been fast to criticize Israel for its strikes in Syria, it may quietly prefer to see Israel doing the dirty work of lessening Iranian power there. While they are partners in upholding the Assad regime, in some ways the Russians and Iranians are competitors in Syria, especially when looking toward state-rebuilding. Should Israeli strikes push the Iranians to play less of a role, the Russians would be the first to fill the void they would leave. Further, Israeli strikes in Syrian military facilities create business opportunities for the Russian arms industry. The Syrian regime will need to replace its destroyed weapons systems, and Russian manufacturers stand ready to supply new ones. Russia, while publicly opposed to Israeli strikes, might actually benefit from a laissez-faire policy toward these attacks.
  • Israeli raids in November sent a clear message to Moscow that unless the Iranian element is taken out of the equation, Syria will remain an unstable battleground. The raids are also a reminder of Russia’s commitment to Israel to keep the Iranian Quds Forces outside of the 50-mile radius from Israel’s border. These raids underscore that, if the Russians cannot uphold their side of this understanding, then Israel will wreak havoc in Syria. Putin seeks a political resolution and stability in Syria, and the Russians understand that Syria has no prospect of recovery from its civil war amid the constant friction between Israel and Iran.
  • When the fight between Iran and Israel in Syria moves closer to the Iraqi border, Israeli airstrikes become riskier, Iranian intelligence capabilities become stronger, and Iran’s ability to deny responsibility for missile launches becomes greater.
  • Iran cannot really be deterred by threats to the integrity of the Syrian state because it views the Assad regime only as a useful path by which it can increase its regional power
  • Given the gaps in its strategic messaging, Israeli deterrence, in and of itself, will likely not produce the total Iranian withdrawal for which Israel is hoping. The pressures Iran faces by demonstrations at home and in Iraq are perhaps the likelier trigger for Tehran to reconsider its strategy
Ed Webb

From Iraq to Lebanon, Iran Is Facing a Backlash - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of the protests in early October, various security forces, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, have killed more than 400 Iraqis and wounded some 20,000 others. Not only is there good reason to believe that much of the brutality has taken place at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, but the available evidence seems to confirm it. Aware of the anti-Iranian mood on the Iraqi streets—exemplified by protesters beating their shoes against portraits of Khamenei, just as they had done with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003—an unnerved Khamenei did not hesitate to intervene.
  • Suleimani called for a heavy-handed approach to deal with people on the streets, reportedly saying, “we in Iran know how to deal with protests,” an implicit reference to prior violent suppressions of peaceful demonstrations in Iran and, more aggressively, in Syria. The death toll in Iraq surpassed 100 the day after his departure, confirming the power of Iran’s word.
  • Tehran has invested heavily in hard and soft power tools to expand its influence in Iraq. This investment has eventually paid dividends. Some of the most prominent individuals in Iraq today—including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Amiri, former government officials and leaders of the most powerful Iranian-backed militias—were initially recruited by the IRGC in the early 1980s to spread the Islamic Revolution into Iraq
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  • Tehran planned to replicate its “Hezbollah model” in Iraq: nurturing militancy to gain control of territory, while encouraging these militants to take advantage of a newly created democracy as a way to penetrate political institutions. These efforts were bolstered by close cross-border clerical and personal relationships.
  • Leaked Iranian intelligence cables shed light on the scale and nature of Iran’s systematic and deep-rooted interference in Iraq, from its network of militant agents to its oversight of political institutions. The cables confirm what protesters already knew: Tehran has been committing enormous resources to imposing a command-and-control structure on Baghdad. Viewed within the broader context of worsening economic conditions and unresponsive, corrupt governance, protesters see Iran as the source of their grievances, fuelling anti-Iranian sentiment on the streets.
  • The protests in Lebanon, which have been uniquely secular despite the fragile sectarian composition of its population, are driven by charges of corruption and a desire to replace a rigid and unresponsive establishment—of which Hezbollah has become an intrinsic part.
  • A recent Asda’a BCW survey suggests that two-thirds of young Arabs consider Iran an enemy of their country.
  • The soaring levels of public discontent in Iran have been consistently overlooked by policymakers and commentators. The most recent protests in Iran, which were brutally repressed by the regime, caught many in the West off guard—but signs of widespread discontent have been in place for many years.
  • In 2009, there was a genuine belief that the Islamic Republic could be reformed, expressed primarily in the demand that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate, be installed as president. Now, the moderate pro-reform slogans that were heard on Iranian streets in 2009 have been replaced with more hostile chants, such as “Death to Khamenei” and “Mullahs have to get lost”—signaling a broader rejection of the entire Islamic revolutionary system.
  • as protesters in Iraq chant, “Iran out, Baghdad free,” in Iran they cry, “no to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran”—reflecting a growing desire in both countries for governments that put domestic interests above regional considerations
  • The IRGC and Iran’s Shiite proxies will not stand down without a fight. While the combination of pressure in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran may help weaken the regime in Tehran, it will probably be a deadly affair.
Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

America's Dark History of Killing Its Own Troops With Cluster Munitions - The New York ... - 0 views

  • In December 2009, when President Barack Obama ordered attacks on two suspected terrorist camps in Yemen, at least one Tomahawk missile fired from a warship accompanying the U.S.S. Nimitz dumped BLU-97 bomblets onto the village of al-Ma’jalah. The Navy made an almost comical play for plausible deniability of America’s role. The ships steamed near shore so their cruise missiles would have sufficient fuel to fly beyond the target, turn back in the direction of the sea, release their payload onto al-Ma’jalah and then continue over the beach and fall into blue water, hiding evidence on the ocean floor.The attack reportedly killed 55 people, including 14 people suspected of being Qaeda members, 14 women and 21 children. The empty cruise missiles fell into the sea. But at least one dud was left behind at the strike scene. Before long, photos of Tomahawk missile parts appeared in news reports from Yemen, along with one clearly showing an unexploded BLU-97 — distinctive bright yellow and made in the United States. In keeping with United States policy of concealing American involvement in the Yemen conflict, the government of Yemen lied about the strike, claiming the village was attacked by Yemeni forces. Along with the accidental civilian casualties, the bungled attack had another unintended effect: Diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks show that President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and Gen. David Petraeus decided to forgo future cruise missile attacks in favor of airstrikes — evidently a concession to BLU-97 unreliability and public mood.
  • Under the new policy, military commanders can now use existing cluster munitions until “sufficient quantities” of “enhanced and more reliable” replacements are developed and fielded. Though the Army has recently purchased cluster munitions that claim a dud rate of less than 1 percent, the service is buying them in such small quantities that they will come nowhere close to replacing existing stockpiles on a one-for-one basis.
  • The vast majority of cluster weapons the United States currently holds are the same as those that killed and injured dozens of troops in Desert Storm.
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  • Despite cluster munitions’ long history of fratricide, Pentagon leaders continue to assert that using these weapons can reduce casualties among Americans, partner nations and even civilians. When pressed repeatedly by The Times to explain such a scenario, and why other, newer, smaller and much more reliable munitions that have been added to its arsenal in recent years would be unable to carry out the same missions with less risk, Pentagon officials declined to elaborate.
  • A 2008 Defense Department memorandum showed that the Pentagon’s munitions stockpile in South Korea contained nearly 1.7 million cluster weapons, of which almost 1.2 million were Vietnam-era cluster artillery projectiles — the same weapons that killed many American service members in that war.
  • It’s possible that cluster weapons’ grim legacy, particularly that of the BLU-97, has been forgotten by the people now deciding how they will be deployed in the future. Those who remember are the explosive-ordnance disposal techs, who for more than 25 years have circulated Staff Sergeant Crick’s battlefield logbook as a testament of American military recklessness. It had almost no public exposure in all these years until a senior tech, who called the BLU-97 “the most dangerous weapon in our arsenal, and not just to the enemy,” shared a copy with The Times.
Ed Webb

Iraqis rise up against 16 years of 'made in the USA' corruption | openDemocracy - 1 views

  • Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi has announced he will resign, and Sweden has opened an investigation against Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari, who is a Swedish citizen, for crimes against humanity.
  • Out of 198 contracts reviewed by the inspector general, only 44 had documentation to confirm the work was done.
  • while Iran has gained enormous influence and is one of the targets of the protests, most of the people ruling Iraq today are still the former exiles that the US flew in with its occupation forces in 2003, “coming to Iraq with empty pockets to fill” as a taxi-driver in Baghdad told a Western reporter at the time.
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  • The corruption of both US and Iraqi officials during the US occupation is well documented. UN Security Council resolution 1483 established a $20 billion Development Fund for Iraq using previously seized Iraqi assets, money left in the UN’s “oil for food” program and new Iraqi oil revenues. An audit by KPMG and a special inspector general found that a huge proportion of that money was stolen or embezzled by US and Iraqi officials.
  • According to Al Jazeera, “protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.” Only 36% of the adult population of Iraq have jobs, and despite the gutting of the public sector under US occupation, its tattered remnants still employ more people than the private sector, which fared even worse under the violence and chaos of the US's militarized shock doctrine.
  • The US Congress also budgeted $18.4 billion for reconstruction in Iraq in 2003, but apart from $3.4 billion diverted to "security," less than $1 billion of it was ever disbursed. Many Americans believe US oil companies have made out like bandits in Iraq, but that’s not true either. The plans that Western oil companies drew up with Vice President Cheney in 2001 had that intent, but a law to grant Western oil companies lucrative “production sharing agreements” (PSAs) worth tens of billions per year was exposed as a smash and grab raid and the Iraqi National Assembly refused to pass it.
  • Ayad Allawi and the INA were the instrument for the CIA’s hopelessly bungled military coup in Iraq in 1996. The Iraqi government followed every detail of the plot on a closed-circuit radio handed over by one of the conspirators and arrested all the CIA’s agents inside Iraq on the eve of the coup. It executed thirty military officers and jailed a hundred more, leaving the CIA with no human intelligence from inside Iraq.
  • Allawi and the INA are still involved in the horse-trading for senior positions after every election, despite never getting more than 8% of the votes - and only 6% in 2018.
  • The cost of rebuilding Mosul, Fallujah and other cities and towns is conservatively estimated at $88 billion. But despite $80 billion per year in oil exports and a federal budget of over $100 billion, the Iraqi government has allocated no money at all for reconstruction. Foreign, mostly wealthy Arab countries, have pledged $30 billion, including just $3 billion from the US, but very little of that has been, or may ever be, delivered.
Ed Webb

IS designates Turkey as its next base - 0 views

  • There are credible indications that the Islamic State (IS), after losing its territorial dominance in Iraq and Syria, has designated Turkey as its next reorganization base.
  • The arrests of so many IS members by Turkish security forces are another sign of IS' intention to create cells in the country.
  • Iraqi intelligence sources have provided solid information that the brains of IS have moved to Turkey. The United States has tracked the jewelry shops and foreign currency exchanges used by IS in money transfers. The US Treasury Department on Sept. 10 placed al-Haram, al-Hebo, al-Khalidi and Saksouk foreign exchange bureaus and jewelry outlets on its sanctions list for transferring money for IS. 
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  • Turkey usually keeps a close watch over foreign exchange bureaus, so it was hard to believe that it missed such a developed network. The US Treasury’s update of its sanctions list with new companies and people meant Turkey once again lagged behind the United States. In addition to the Turkey-based Sahloul and al-Sultan foreign exchange companies, the United States put ACL and Ithalat-Ihracat on its blacklist Nov. 18 for providing IS financial and technological support.
  • Allaq, who works closely with the CIA, said IS senior personnel and bomb makers Khair-Allah Abdullah Fathi and Hussein al-Jumaili bribed smugglers in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces to secretly enter Gaziantep in Turkey.
  • The ongoing cooperation between Iraqi and Turkish intelligence services was seen in February 2018, when Turkey apprehended Ismail al-Ethawi, the man behind IS money operations, and sent him to Baghdad.
  • It's open to debate how much capacity Turkey has to mobilize against IS, and whether this is sufficient to cope with the threat. Turkey’s security and intelligence services have been dedicating the bulk of their capabilities to eradicating the Gulen movement and to suppressing domestic opposition, as led by the Kurds
  • haphazard policies and flawed legal processes enable IS members to escape, hide and move as they want in Turkey. IS has further obtained more room to maneuver due to Operation Peace Spring and the subsequent deterioration of stability east of the Euphrates
Ed Webb

Report: Leaked intelligence cables show Iran's grip on Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • Hundreds of pages of purported Iranian intelligence documents have come to light that detail Iran’s massive influence in neighboring Iraq
  • unprecedented leak of 700 pages of what appears to be Iranian intelligence cables shows Tehran’s efforts to embed itself in Iraq and to co-opt the country’s leaders, including paying Iraqi agents working for the U.S. to switch sides and to infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life
  • growing anti-Iran sentiment expressed by Iraqi anti-government demonstrators who have been revolting in the streets since Oct. 1. The protests in Iraq have exposed long-simmering resentment at Iran’s influence in the country, with protesters targeting Shiite political parties and militias with close ties to Tehran.
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  • In Iraq’s Tahrir Square, a protester said the article was being translated for protesters by English-speaking volunteers. “Most of us were not surprised by what we read in the report. It was just a confirmation of our case and the information we already had,”
Ed Webb

Ex-Hezbollah leader slams Iran Supreme Leader for Iraq, Lebanon protest deaths - Middle... - 0 views

  • Former Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, a key ally of Iran, criticised Iran’s supreme leader Sunday for being behind corruption in Lebanon and Iraq, where anti-government and corruption protests are ongoing.Subhi al-Tufayli, speaking to Arab and social media, delivered remarks on recent mass protests held in Lebanon and Iraq.
  • In 1988, Al-Tufayli, one of the founding members of Hezbollah, who is a religious scholar, survived an assassination attempt, which is suspected to have been conducted by Israel and the USHezbollah and he diverged paths after the former took part in 1992 general elections of Lebanon.
  • Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since October 17 by a wave of rallies against the ruling elite that led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister on October  29.
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