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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Ed Webb

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Spurned by Trump, Europeans ponder how to meet Iran ultimatum - 0 views

  • With Trump warning of a last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated”, Britain, France and Germany have begun talks on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

    It is hard to say what might mollify the Trump administration, which is split between those who would like to tear up the agreement and those who wish to preserve it and which has said inconsistent things about its demands to keep the accord, U.S. and European officials said.

    Under U.S. law, Trump must decide again whether to renew the U.S. sanctions relief every 120 days, giving Congress, as well as U.S. and European diplomats, until mid-May to see if there is a way to finesse the issue.

    But the Brussels meeting has left European powers wary that whatever they agree, it may not be enough.

  • A collapse of the nuclear deal could see a breakdown in the relations between the United States and Europe that have underpinned the West’s security since World War Two, European diplomats and the senior U.S. official said, and could confirm Europe’s fears that it can no longer count on U.S. leadership
  • Washington wants U.N. nuclear inspectors to be able to visit military sites as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s verification of the nuclear deal. The IAEA says it does not distinguish between military and non-military sites and has repeatedly said Iran is honoring its commitments under the deal.
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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
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Egypt-Sudan Spat Muddies Prospects for Deal on Big Nile Dam - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • diplomatic spat between Egypt and Sudan is spilling over into the long-running dispute over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, which Cairo sees as an existential threat
  • Sudan officially warned of threats to its eastern border from massing Egyptian and Eritrean troops, while Egypt has also moved into a disputed triangle of territory claimed by both Cairo and Khartoum. Late last week, Sudan abruptly recalled its ambassador to Egypt, the latest chapter in a fight that started last summer with trade boycotts and that has only intensified in recent weeks
  • Sudan’s support for Ethiopia’s construction of a massive $5 billion dam on the Nile River that could choke off vital supplies of water downstream. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called the dam a matter of “life or death.”
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  • dam is more than 60 percent complete, and Ethiopia could start to fill the reservoir as soon as this summer, leaving little time to find workable solutions
  • The dam, a huge power project at the head of the Blue Nile meant to meet fast-growing Ethiopia’s need for more electricity, will hold a year’s worth of river flow behind its concrete walls. Depending on how quickly Ethiopia fills the dam, downstream flows to Egypt could be restricted — a potentially fatal threat for a country dependent on agriculture that is already facing severe water shortages.
  • The three countries seemed to have sorted things out in 2015 with an agreement on how to manage the project, but since then they have been unable to agree on how to even measure the dam’s impacts.
  • Sudan’s role is crucial, because it is smack in the middle of Egypt and Ethiopia geographically and politically. Egypt and Sudan have long divvied up the Nile’s waters between them, according to the terms of a 1959 treaty that does not include Ethiopia. By using less Nile River water than it was allotted, for years Sudan allowed more to flow downstream to Egypt, which has used more water than it is entitled to.

    But in recent years, Sudan has sought to increase its own water use, aiming to boost its agriculture sector. Because it hopes to use the dam for irrigation, Sudan has moved closer to Ethiopia and become a supporter of the project. That makes antagonizing Khartoum a dangerous gambit for Egypt

  • the United States — still saddled with plenty of unfilled positions at the State Department — hasn’t been able to mediate the dispute
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Erdogan vows to 'destroy all terror nests' in Syria - 0 views

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “destroy all terror nests” in Syria today, as he kept up his verbal attacks against the United States over its continuing support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

  • followed a night of shelling by Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army allies targeting Afrin, the Kurdish-majority enclave on the Turkish border that is under YPG control
  • Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Afrin and Manbij, an Arab-majority town that lies further east and is also under YPG control. But so far its actions have been limited to sporadic artillery strikes initiated from the Turkish side of the border and from within the Euphrates Shield zone run by Turkey and its rebel allies.
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  • Russian forces patrol the skies over the region and are present on the ground. Similarly, targeting Manbij could trigger a confrontation with hundreds of US special forces deployed in the YPG-controlled areas, which extend from Manbij all the way to Iraq
  • “The feeling, increasingly even within traditionally cautious Turkish Foreign Ministry circles, is that Turkey’s prestige is on the line. And that an operation is feasible.” Russia may well consent to a limited and clearly defined Turkish foray
  • Erdogan took direct aim at the United States. “Lower your flags over the terrorist [YPG] bases so that we are not forced to hand them over to you ourselves, so that we are not forced to bury those who stand by the terrorists in the ground,” he warned. “The Turkish Armed Forces will settle the Afrin and Manbij affairs in the shortest possible time. The offensive can begin any second.”
  • Turkey has so far swallowed the US partnership with the YPG — albeit kicking and screaming — on the assumption that it would end once IS was vanquished and that the United States would not embark on any form of nation-building that would cement the Kurds’ territorial and political gains. But recent statements from top US officials suggest the United States is reviewing its options
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Is war about to break out in the Horn of Africa? Will the West even notice? - Salon.com - 0 views

  • Now an actual conflict over H2O may be boiling, but no one in Washington has put down Michael Wolff’s book long enough to notice. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia may come to blows — with the help of Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project
  • The Nile is so important that, setting aside terrorism and internal stability, Egypt’s most significant security concerns lay largely to the south and are directly related to the unimpeded flow of the river’s waters
  • When GERD is completed, it will reduce Egypt’s share of Nile water by 22 billion cubic meters per year, devastating Egyptian agriculture and hydroelectric production, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. This is obviously of critical concern to Egypt’s leaders, but they have not been able to reach a diplomatic solution to the problem. The country has been preoccupied with internal developments since the uprising in 2011 that pushed President Hosni Mubarak from power. In addition, the issue of the Ethiopian dam has been managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is not as influential as it once was, especially in comparison to the Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Directorate. There was an effort to resolve the problem in 2015, with Sudan acting as a broker between Egypt and Ethiopia, but that failed.
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  • The Sudanese recently welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Khartoum, where he signed a number of security-cooperation agreements, including a provision to allow the Turks to administer Suakin Island, located at a strategic point in the Red Sea between Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The island used to be home to an Ottoman naval base, and the Egyptians fear the Turks plan to renovate the island and establish a permanent military presence there.
  • Egyptians deployed a helicopter carrier in the Red Sea and sent troops to an Emirati base in Eritrea. This in turn angered the Ethiopians. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993 and the two countries fought a border war in the late 1990s that killed an estimated 80,000 people. In 2016 they briefly clashed again, killing hundreds more. In response to the presence of Egyptian troops in Eritrea, the Ethiopians not only rejected a Cairo proposal to cut Khartoum out of negotiations over GERD, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn hosted the Sudanese defense minister and vowed to speed up dam construction. All the while the Sudanese deployed thousands of troops to its border with Eritrea
  • tension between Cairo and Khartoum over the Hala’ib and Shalateen disputed zones, which are located on the border between Egypt and Sudan but administered by the Egyptians
  • Qatar also upgraded its security relations with Sudan
  • It is not hard to imagine how all this escalates into warfare. We are not dealing with the best militaries in the world, which reduces the margin for error and miscalculation. It is also a potential conflict that involves a number of important American allies against each other. Turkey, a NATO ally, and Qatar, which hosts the largest American military base outside the United States, have aligned themselves with Sudan and by extension with Ethiopia, another American ally. On the other side we have Egypt, a longtime partner of the United States in the Middle East, and Eritrea. The United Arab Emirates, a critical player in the Persian Gulf and beyond, would also likely be involved given its ties to Egypt and Eritrea.
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Who was behind the Balfour Declaration? - 0 views

    • Ed Webb
       
      Benjamin Disraeli was Prime Minister (and therefore a cabinet minister) in the second half of the 19th century, so Samuel was not the first.
  • His niece, Blanche Dugdale, who worked in the London office of the Jewish Agency with Chaim Weizmann, indicated that Balfour was a Christian Zionist in her autobiography: “Balfour’s interest in the Jews and their history was lifelong, originating in the Old Testament training of his mother, and his Scottish upbringing.”
  • others argue that Balfour was an anti-Semite and that his interests in the Zionist project were merely for British strategic gains
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  • In his autobiography, Lloyd George reportedly wrote that the Balfour Declaration was offered to Weizmann, who became a British citizen, as a reward for his contribution to the war effort
  • "Should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage a Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have in 20 to 30 years a million Jews out there - perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal."
  • In his memoirs, Lloyd George listed a multitude of reasons as to why he supported Zionism, including a desire to attract Jewish financial resources, Christian Zionist beliefs, the Jewish lobby in Britain, and sympathy with Jews facing anti-semitism.
  • Prior to serving as prime minister, Lloyd George worked closely with Theodore Herzl, the “father of political Zionism,” on the Uganda scheme - a plan to resettle the Jews in Uganda under British auspices.
  • Samuel presented a memorandum titled The Future of Palestine, to the British Cabinet, proposing a Jewish commonwealth, but then Prime Minister HH Asquith did not find his proposal enticing.

    “He thinks we might plant in this not very promising territory about three or four million European Jews” as a solution to anti-Semitism, Asquith wrote.

    In a revised memorandum, Samuel said the British government should enable Jewish immigration “so that in the course of time the Jewish inhabitants, grown into a majority and settled in the land, may be conceded such degree of self government”, which he said “would win for England the gratitude of the Jews throughout the world”.

  • , Mark Sykes’ involvement in the Balfour Declaration is often overlooked.
  • Sykes served as a key channel between Chaim Weizmann and his fellow Zionist activists, and the British government
  • convinced that a Jewish settlement in Palestine would ensure British imperial interests and minimise French influence there
  • treaty
    • Ed Webb
       
      Agreement, not a formal treaty.
  • the Cambon Letter.

    The letter, addressed from Jules Cambon, the secretary-general of the French foreign ministry, to Sokolow, expressed the French government’s sympathy towards “Jewish colonization in Palestine”.

  • said to be the first Jewish Cabinet minister in England in 1909
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A declaration from North Africa: food sovereignty is a right | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • On December 15, 16 and 17, 2017, ATTAC Morocco, a member of the global network for the abolition of illegitimate debts (CADTM), organised a Maghreb seminar on free trade agreements, agriculture and food sovereignty under the slogan: No to colonial agreements, for the defence of people's sovereign right on their agricultural, food and environmental systems. The seminar was held in Agadir, Morocco with the participation of activists coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
  • trade agreements have deepened the control of multinational companies on agriculture and maritime fishing, exacerbated food speculation, and destroyed subsistence agricultural and fishing systems. Moreover, they accelerated the unlimited quest for the promotion of genetically modified seeds and the generalisation of the export-oriented agriculture and fishing industry. In the global south, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) are pursuing neoliberal policies that further deregulate, open borders to the invasion of foreign capital and subsidised products and ensure the transfer of profits and wealth. These neoliberal dictates are leading to an increase in public debt at the expense of the popular classes who shoulder the burden of austerity policies
  • affirm our support for people's food sovereignty and their right to determine their own food system, a system that ensures the production of healthy food in sufficient quantity while protecting nature and remaining in harmony with it
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  • resources for this purpose must be provided through the suspension of debt service payments and through the cancellation of illegitimate public debts
  • we are planning on organising campaigns of denunciation, raising awareness and initiatives in order to encourage common struggles and establish forms of coordination and solidarity with movements sharing the same objectives
  • Food sovereignty is the antithesis of the productivist capitalist food system, which is responsible for the destruction of natural resources and a climate chaos that threatens the lives of millions of people. It is peasant agriculture and subsistence fishing that feed humanity and preserve the environment, rather than the intensive, industrial, commercial and chemical agriculture promoted by capitalism.
  • collective struggle against free trade agreements, fisheries agreements and the World Trade Organization, as well as against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which enslave people through the debt system
  • initiation and promotion of experiments in popular farming systems that aim at breaking free from food dependence
  • Broadening international solidarity in order to stop the growing repression against popular mobilizations (peasants, fishermen, indigenous, and agricultural workers, etc.) and to organize and protect their lives, their lands, their environment and their food traditions.
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Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
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  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program.

    By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.

  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.”

    Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve?

    “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”

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Nabi Saleh is where I lost my Zionism | +972 Magazine - 0 views

  • the Achilles heel of the Israeli media — i.e., its willingness to report communiqués issued by the army as straight news, without any fact checking. Even though the Israeli security establishment has been caught lying on countless occasions, journalists who report for mainstream media outlets continue to accept without question the information they are given about events they neither witnessed nor verified independently
  • I’ve seen soldiers grab crying children and shoving them into military vehicles, pushing aside their screaming mothers.

    I’ve seen soldiers grab a young woman by her arms and drag her like a sack of potatoes for several meters along an asphalt road so hot that it melted the rubber soles of my running shoes, before tossing her into a military vehicle and driving away.

    I’ve had my ankles singed black when a security officer looked me straight in the eyes and threw a stun grenade at my legs.

    Israeli army sharp-shooters regularly shoot unarmed demonstrators in Nabi Saleh with both rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition. They break into houses and drag people out, arresting them on the claim that they allowed demonstrators to hide in their garden.

    And then I would go back to Tel Aviv and be told by my friends that I could not have seen what I saw, because “our soldiers” do not behave that way. Soon, I had to distance myself from those friends in order to keep my own emotions in check.

  • By the time I began going to Nabi Saleh, I had spent about four years reporting on what I saw in Gaza and the West Bank, and watching detachedly as my politics moved ever leftward from the liberal place in which they started, as a consequence of what I saw on the ground. But it was in Nabi Saleh that I lost the last remnants of what I would call — for lack of a word to describe my nostalgia for the idea of a state for the Jews — my Zionism.

    My radicalization was not only a consequence of witnessing brutal violence perpetrated right in front of my eyes, by soldiers of the army that was supposed to protect me. It was also a result of my seeing the Tamimi family endure that violence week after week, seeing their relatives injured, arrested and killed, and still not coming to the conclusion that the price of resistance is too high. They simply refuse to submit.

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  • The Tamimis clearly understand the power of social media. But they don’t manufacture those confrontations. In fact, I have never seen a video that comes remotely close to conveying the true brutality I saw in Nabi Saleh. Maybe you need to smell the tear gas and feel the smallness of the place to see how outrageous it is for soldiers to act as they do there: to, with a sense of entitlement, enter a village and break up a gathering of unarmed demonstrators; to kick open the doors of homes and drag off to jail unarmed people who pose no threat; to break into a house at 4 a.m., to roust a teenage girl from her bed and drag her off to jail, denying her even the right to be accompanied by a guardian.
  • Is Israel, with all the money and manpower it pours into sophisticated advocacy campaigns via social media, really in a position to criticize the Tamimis for understanding how to publicize their own cause? As Jonathan Pollak says to Yaron London, the reason those Nabi Saleh videos make Israel look bad is because Israel is doing bad things.
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UN allowing Assad government to take lead in rebuilding Aleppo | Fox News - 0 views

  • Matching up the planning documents with U.N. press releases issued throughout 2017 reveals that such projects as school refurbishment, health center repairs and new community centers in Aleppo fall almost exclusively within the priority areas of the city outlined by the government. 

  • Aleppo’s historic Old City has been separated from the broader humanitarian planning process, and is under the supervision of a so-called “National Higher Steering Committee for the Restoration of the Old City of Aleppo.” The most recent meeting of that committee, publicized on Nov. 2 by the Syria Trust for Development, a non-government organization associated with Syria's first lady, Asma Assad, was hosted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

    Asma Assad, and the charity she founded, are longtime partners of the U.N. in Syria. They are undertaking a large amount of relief and development work throughout the country using U.N. funds.

    The Old City reconstruction plan is led by the Syrian Government's Ministry of Culture, and works closely with the Ministry for Public Works and Housing, and the Ministry for Tourism, as well as UNESCO and the UNDP, along with other government bodies and NGOs.

    The Old Aleppo program is similar in design to that used in the rehabilitation of the Old City portions of Homs, a city south of Aleppo, which began in 2015 and continues today. There, too, the neighborhoods chosen for rebuilding appeared to prioritize the government's plans for the city, rather than any form of neutrality. 

  • The executive director of the Washington-based Syria Institute, Valerie Szybala, charges that “the U.N. agencies engaging in reconstruction work in areas like eastern Aleppo are -- at least publicly -- maintaining a willful ignorance, putting on blinders to the fact that the Syrian regime is taking very real steps to prevent many civilians from returning to their homes,"
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  • A “new class of war profiteers are the new power network Damascus is using to dominate Aleppo today, and the regime intends to use this network in ruling post-conflict Syria,”
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Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring, at Last - The New York Times - 0 views

  • On foreign policy, M.B.S. would not discuss the strange goings on with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon coming to Saudi Arabia and announcing his resignation, seemingly under Saudi pressure, and now returning to Beirut and rescinding that resignation. He simply insisted that the bottom line of the whole affair is that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, is not going to continue providing political cover for a Lebanese government that is essentially controlled by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia, which is essentially controlled by Tehran.

    He insisted that the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, which has been a humanitarian nightmare, was tilting in the direction of the pro-Saudi legitimate government there, which, he said is now in control of 85 percent of the country, but given the fact that pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, who hold the rest, launched a missile at Riyadh airport, anything less than 100 percent is still problematic.

    • Ed Webb
       
      Uh-huh. All going just swimmingly, then?
  • wrench Saudi Arabia into the 21st century
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The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
    • Ed Webb
       
      A remarkable and alarming discrepancy. We must treat military claims with great skepticism, unfortunately.
  • 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
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  • “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.
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • “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.”
  • 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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.”
  • 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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"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.

    Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.

    “When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”

  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
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Peter Schwartzstein | Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq - 0 views

  • With every flood or bout of extreme heat or cold, the jihadists would reappear, often supplementing their sales pitches with gifts. When a particularly vicious drought struck in 2010, the fifth in seven years, they doled out food baskets. When fierce winds eviscerated hundreds of eggplant fields near Kirkuk in the spring of 2012, they distributed cash. As farming communities limped from one debilitating crisis to another, the recruiters—all members of what soon became the Islamic State—began to see a return on their investment.
  • By the time the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) seized this swath of Iraq—along with most of the country’s west and north—in a brutal summer-long blitzkrieg in 2014, few locals were surprised to see dozens of former fertilizer market regulars among its ranks.

  • Across rural Iraq and Syria, farmers, officials, and village elders tell similar stories of desperate farmhands swapping backhoes for assault rifles. Already battered by decades of shoddy environmental policies, which had hobbled agriculture and impoverished its dependents, these men were in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change. And so when ISIS came along, propelled in large part by sectarian grievances and religious fanaticism, many of the most environmentally damaged Sunni Arab villages quickly emerged as some of the deep-pocketed jihadists’ foremost recruiting grounds.
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  • ISIS appears to have attracted much more support from water-deprived communities than from their better-resourced peers
  • Hussein torched some of southern Iraq’s most bountiful date plantations for fear that Iranian saboteurs might use them as cover to attack oil facilities around Basra. Where once 12 million palm trees stood, there’s now just miles of dusty scrubland laced with oil spills
  • Years of below average rains in the Kurdish region and Nineveh governorate, the only parts of Iraq where rain-fed agriculture was historically possible, had increased the country’s dependence on the Euphrates and Tigris, the Fertile Crescent’s two great rivers. At the same time, upstream Turkey and Iran were relentlessly damming them and their tributaries. Turkey has built over 600 large dams, including dozens of major ones near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The Tigris and Euphrates’ combined flow in southern Iraq has subsequently shrunk so much that the Persian Gulf now barrels up to 45 miles upriver at high tide (the rivers used to project freshwater up to 3 miles out to sea).
  • the jihadists expertly exploited the desperation in Iraq’s agricultural heartland by rationalizing its inhabitants’ woes. They spread rumors that the Shia-dominated government was delaying crop payments and cutting off water to Sunni farmers. In fact, the lack of rain wasn’t due to climate change, but really a man-made ploy designed to drive Sunni landowners from their rich fertile fields, their emissaries suggested. Broke and unable to deal with their fast changing environment, many farmers ate it up.
  • By 2011, much of the Iraqi countryside was in desperate financial straits. Some 39 percent of people in rural areas were living in poverty, according to the World Bank. That’s two and a half times the country’s urban rate. Almost half lacked safe drinking water. The problems were so devastating in 2012-13 that tens of thousands of villagers ditched their fields altogether, preferring to try their luck in the slum districts of nearby cities instead.
  • water was becoming a resource that in some parts of Iraq only wealthier landowners could afford
  • When severe water shortages killed off countless livestock in 2011-12, jihadists descended on the animal markets to size up the frantic farmers, many of whom were trying to sell off their remaining cows and sheep before they too succumbed to drought.

    “They just watched us. We were like food on the table to them,”

  • After several years of energetic groundwater extraction near the oil refining town of Baiji, Samir Saed’s two wells ran dry in early 2014, forcing him to lay off the two young men he employed as farm laborers. Jobless and angry, he suspects they soon joined ISIS
  • Some 39 percent of those polled in Salahaddin cited drought as a reason for their displacement. Studies from neighboring Syria, large parts of which enjoy similar conditions to northern and western Iraq, suggest that anthropogenic climate change has tripled the probability of long, debilitating droughts.
  • The jihadists adopted scorched earth tactics as they were beaten back, laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland. And so for returning farmers, climate change and shoddy governance are now among the least of their worries. ISIS fighters ripped up buried irrigation pipes to mold makeshift mortars. They poisoned wells, blew up water canals, and carted off everything that was of any value, notably generators, tractors, and water pump parts.
  • More or less broke after the oil price crash, the Iraqi state can’t afford to pay farmers for crops they’ve delivered to state silos, let alone cover the multi-billion dollar agricultural clean up bill
  • Turkey has almost finished building the Ilisu Dam, which threatens to further cut the Tigris’ flow when it comes online, probably next year. Hotter temperatures are evaporating more and more surface water—up to six feet worth in Iraq’s lakes every year, according to Nature Iraq, a local NGO. As Baghdad’s relations with the upstream Kurdish region deteriorate, farmers might once more bear the brunt of the dispute. Kurdish authorities have cut off water to mostly Arab areas on several occasions in the past
  • If Iraq can’t get a grip on its crumbling environment, the next war might not be far off.
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