Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Micah Zenko: “Most reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by Assad regime”

Micah Zenko writes for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Syria-StatsEstimates released today [April 1st] by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) portray a different picture of the civil war in Syria than U.S. policymakers and media convey. SOHR’s estimated death toll reinforces the point made in an article published on ForeignPolicy.com in September 2013, when they last released updated data: most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command. Additionally, the involvement of various individuals and groups in the conflict has broadened greatly since SOHR’s September 2013 estimate.

Despite the potential bias and the methodological challenges it faces, SOHR has unrelentingly compiled casualty data since the start of the conflict in Syria more than three years ago. While the United Nations (UN) last updated its estimated death toll in July 2013 at 100,000 killed, and has since stated it will no longer provide updates, SOHR’s update released today estimates a total of 150,344 people killed since March 2011. SOHR’s estimates are presented below.

There are two noticeably provocative elements of SOHR’s estimates. First, while estimates for rebel force casualties were a separate category in SOHR’s previous estimates, SOHR has now included rebel force casualties (24,275) within civilian casualties, totaling 75,487. Above, rebel forces have been listed separately, which reveals that, according to SOHR’s estimates, more pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Syrian civil war.

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Syria: A shift for fading insurgency as foreign backers look to reverse months of military defeats at the hands of government soldiers

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

Jihadist rebels have reportedly come into possession of anti-tank weaponry supplied by the United StatesIn the wake of a series of battlefield defeats for the Syrian rebels over the past few months, there are signs that the opposition’s foreign backers are trying to reverse the tide and salvage what is left of the waning insurgency. The removal of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh’s efforts to overthrow the Syrian government over the last three years, shows frustration within Saudi Arabia – one of the biggest backers of the rebels – at the failure of his policies.

The royal decree announcing the removal of Prince Bandar, for 22 years the highly influential Saudi ambassador in Washington, said that he had stepped down at his own request and was being replaced in the job he has held since 2012 by his deputy General Youssef  al-Idrissi as “head of general intelligence.” Western experts on Saudi Arabia had variously reported that Prince Bandar is genuinely ill or has been discredited by the failure of Syrian rebels to make headway against President Bashar al-Assad. What is clear is that his policy of funding and supplying the rebels fighting against Assad has failed to have a meaningful impact.

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Tehran – the secret party town

From The Guardian’s Tehran Bureau:

Tehran after darkThe streets of Tehran turn deceptively quiet after midnight, but one anomalous corner in the affluent part of the city offers a rare glimpse of what goes on between four walls. In contrast to the deserted sidewalks and shopfronts lining Tehran’s boulevards, the block around the late-night grocery store Super Jordan buzzes with activity. Traffic is denser here, as drivers line up behind Porsches and Mercedes Benzes whose owners swerve in and out of lanes, either because they are drunk or because they can. While a strictly enforced law compels other shopkeepers to close by midnight, Super Jordan stays open through the wee hours, monopolizing late-night refreshment sales. It is rumored that the owner has exquisite connections to the municipal government; in any case, shoppers in various stages of inebriation complete their purchases without police intervention.

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Remote-control machine gun installed on top of wall near Bethlehem?

Phil Weiss and Annie Robbins report for Mondoweiss:

detail of photograph of wall north of Bethlehem

The above device, fixed lately to the top of the separation wall north of Bethlehem, is a remote-controlled rifle, according to Palestinian sources. Ma’an News published a report on the device three days ago, saying it’s “unprecedented” and is causing anxiety among Bethlehemites. A Facebook page called “Bethlahem Today” has the same report.

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The Street Art of Egypt’s Revolutions

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The Iranian Threat That Never Was: Another Manufactured Crisis

Sheldon Richman writes for CounterPunch:

If you take politicians and the mainstream media seriously, you believe that Iran wants a nuclear weapon and has relentlessly engaged in covert efforts to build one. Even if you are aware that Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, you may believe that those who run the Islamic Republic have cleverly found ways to construct a nuclear-weapons industry almost undetected. Therefore, you may conclude, Democratic and Republican administrations have been justified in pressuring Iran to come clean and give up its “nuclear program.” But you would be wrong.

Anyone naturally skeptical about such foreign-policy alarms has by now found solid alternative reporting that debunks the official narrative about the alleged Iranian threat. Much of that reporting has come from Gareth Porter, the journalist and historian associated with Inter Press Service. Porter has done us the favor of collecting the fruits of his dogged investigative journalism into a single comprehensive and accessible volume, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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CIA’s Pakistan drone strikes carried out by regular US air force personnel

Chris Woods writes for The Guardian:

A regular US air force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA‘s drone strike programme in Pakistan, according to a new documentary to be released on Tuesday.

The film – which has been three years in the making – identifies the unit conducting CIA strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates from a secure compound in a corner of Creech air force base, 45 miles from Las Vegas in the Mojave desert.

Several former drone operators have claimed that the unit’s conventional air force personnel – rather than civilian contractors – have been flying the CIA’s heavily armed Predator missions in Pakistan, a 10-year campaign which according to some estimates has killed more than 2,400 people.

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Tony Blair, George W. Bush and David Cameron: Hi-jacking God?

Felicity Arbuthnot writes for Global Research:

blairbushcam_2760543bThere must be something in the water at No 10 Downing Street, currently inhabited by Prime Minister David Cameron.

When Tony Blair was in residence, according to the diaries of his former communications director, Alastair Campbell, before the illegal invasion of Iraq, for which Blair’s Downing Street offices produced fantasy, fictional, false justifications, the then Prime Minister was guided by his faith and regularly spoke to “his Maker.” Blair may have “spoken” – but, as ever, he clearly didn’t listen.

Proverbs (6:16-19) rules on six personality traits his “Maker” abhors and seven that are an abomination to Him: “Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord …” Blair ticks every box, shattering any claim to his trumpeted Christian principles.

False witness is also slammed by King Solomon and in Matthew (15:18-20) Jesus condemns false testimony as defiling to any person.

No, this is not a treatise on religion, but a reminder of the most false of believers.

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Palestinian university students’ trip to Auschwitz causes uproar

William Booth writes for The Washington Post:

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani took 27 Palestinian college students to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland a few weeks ago as part of a project designed to teach empathy and tolerance. Upon his return, his university disowned the trip, his fellow Palestinians branded him a traitor and friends advised a quick vacation abroad.

Dajani said he expected criticism. “I believe a trip like this, for an organized group of Palestinian youth going to visit Auschwitz, is not only rare, but a first,” he said. “I thought there would be some complaints, then it would be forgotten.”

But the trip was explosive news to some, perhaps more so because it took place as U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were in danger of collapse, and emotion surrounding the decades-old conflict is high. Controversy was also heightened by rumors — untrue — that the trip was paid for by Jewish organizations. It was paid for by the German government.

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Nine-month-old baby attempted murder charges thrown out by Pakistan court

Heather Sual reports for The Independent:

A judge in Pakistan has thrown out charges of attempted murder against a nine-month-old baby on Saturday, lawyers said, after the infant appeared in court for a second time. At his first appearance in court last week, baby Musa Khan cried while his fingerprints were taken by a court official.

He appeared in court in the city of Lahore again today, calmly sitting on his grandfather’s lap and drinking from a bottle of milk after being bailed. But the judge said the case should never have come to court

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Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations

Adam Goldman and Julie Tate write for The Washington Post:

The FBI’s transformation from a crime-fighting agency to a counterterrorism organization in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been well documented. Less widely known has been the bureau’s role in secret operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations around the world. With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial. The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

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Erdogan paves way for Turkish surveillance state

Senada Sokollu writes for DW:

CREDIT: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTASAfter Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to secure a clear victory in local elections at the end of March, his government has taken on the next controversial task that’s bound to spell trouble: Erdogan pushes for a stronger intelligence service within the state apparatus. If Erdogan has his way, Turkey’s intelligence service MIT would become much more powerful and much more detached from the country’s judiciary, critics have said. They fear this would circumvent separation of powers.

Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted a first draft law in mid-February. According to Turkish newspaper “Hurriyet”, Turkish President Abdullah Gul had already called on the government to rework the draft. Erdogan’s AKP plans to have the law passed by parliament by the end of June. The Turkish government has been dealing with severe corruption charges since mid-December. In the past weeks, Erdogan has also increasingly come under pressure for his own role in the scandals.

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Death Squads Galore: U.S.-Backed Assassinations Wreak Global Havoc

Alex Kane writes for Alternet:

…The U.S. has denied that it has anything to do with the death squads, claiming it has trained Kenyan security to operate in line with human rights. But those claims are dubious. America’s involvement with Kenya’s anti-terror forces is deep. Since 2003, the U.S. has given Kenya $50 million to fight terrorism; the country is one of the five recipients of U.S. anti-terror financing. And the U.S. and the U.K. provide training for Kenya’s fight against al-Shabaab.

The claims of no U.S. involvement are all the more dubious since the U.S. has partnered with Somali militias to hunt down al-Shabaab members, and because of the extensive record of U.S. support for death squads in other countries. Whether in the context of the Cold War or the war on terror, America’s support for death squads has allowed the U.S. to stand back while proxy forces achieve its goals by engaging in the most unsavory of activities: extrajudicial assassinations.

Here are five other countries where the U.S. has supported death squads…

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Pakistani baby taken into hiding after attempted murder charge

From Reuters:

Relatives of a nine-month old baby charged with attempted murder in Pakistan have taken him into hiding, one said on Tuesday, in a case that has thrown a spotlight on Pakistan’s dysfunctional criminal justice system. Baby Musa Khan appeared in court in the city of Lahore last week, charged with attempted murder along with his father and grandfather after a mob protesting against gas cuts and price increases stoned police and gas company workers trying to collect overdue bills.

“Police are vindictive. Now they are trying to settle the issue on personal grounds, that’s why I sent my grandson to Faisalabad for protection,” the baby’s grandfather, Muhammad Yasin, told Reuters, referring to a central Pakistani city. The baby is on bail and due to appear at the next hearing on April 12 but Yasin said he was not sure if he would take him to court for the case.

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The Forgotten War: Libya After NATO

‘With the Libyan war, like so many wars before it, the public was lied to just enough to convince them that war was necessary to maintain peace. And now that the real mission has been accomplished and Libya’s gold has been stolen and its central bank has been established and its AFRICOM-resisting leader has been killed and it has been established as an operations base for NATO’s Al-CIAda mercenaries, the political misleaders who started the war couldn’t care less about the lives of the Libyan people. Find out more about what’s happening in Libya today in this week’s Eyeopener report.’ (Boiling Frogs Post)

Israel Buys $2 Billion in Warplanes, Assumes US Will Pay for It

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Ever confident in their ability to get the US to foot the bill for unwise purchases, Israel has announced the acquisition of $2 billion worth of the troubled V-22 Osprey planes, on a “deferred payment plan.” The reason for the deferred payment plan in this case is because Israel has no intention of paying for these planes, and is just putting them in the arms dealers’ equivalent of layaway until they can con the US into paying for it.

The planes won’t be coming out of the current promises of US aid, but rather will be covered by military aid the US hasn’t promised yet, which will be appropriated after 2018. Former Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon says it is “reasonable” for Israel to assume that the US will eventually cough up a couple billion dollars for the Ospreys, citing overwhelming support in the US Congress for all things Israel.

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Tony B. Liar: Failure to intervene in Syria will have terrible consequences

Nicholas Watt writes for The Guardian:

Tony BlairThe world will face terrible consequences over many years to come for failing to intervene in SyriaTony Blair has said. The former prime minister, who serves as the envoy for the Middle East quartet of the UN, US, EU and Russia, said the failure to confront President Bashar al-Assad would have ramifications far beyond the region.

Speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 on Monday, he said: “We have not intervened in Syria. The consequences are, in my view, terrible and will be a huge problem not just for the Middle East region, but for us in the years to come.”

Blair advocated military action against the Assad regime after a sarin gas attack on the Ghouta district, near Damascus, last August killed between 350 and 1,400 people. His stance placed him on the same side as David Cameron, who wanted to join the US in launching an attack on the Assad regime, but highlighted differences with Ed Miliband, who was highly sceptical about military intervention.

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Potential Turkish Role in Syria Chemical Strike That Almost Sparked U.S. Bombing: Interview with Seymour Hersh

‘Was Turkey behind last year’s Syrian chemical weapons attack? That is the question raised in a new exposé by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh on the intelligence debate over the deaths of hundreds of Syrians in Ghouta last year. The United States, and much of the international community, blamed forces loyal to the Assad government, almost leading to a U.S. attack on Syria. But Hersh reveals the U.S. intelligence community feared Turkey was supplying sarin gas to Syrian rebels in the months before the attack took place — information never made public as President Obama made the case for launching a strike. Hersh joins us to discuss his findings.’ (Democracy Now!)

Artists install massive poster of child’s face in Pakistan field to shame drone operators

Tom Boggioni reports for Raw Story:

notabugsplat_facebook

An artists collective has unfurled a massive poster showing a child’s face in a heavily bombed area of Pakistan in the hopes that it will give pause to drone operators searching the area for kills.

According to #notabugsplat, named after the description given to kills on the ground when viewed through grainy video footage, the artists – with help of villagers – unfurled the giant poster in a field in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan.

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Will Extremist Avigdor Lieberman Become Israel’s Next Prime Minister?

 

Inside the deep, ugly world of anti-Semitic YouTube

Gaby Dunn writes for The Daily Dot:

undefined[...] Anti-Semitic communities represent the worst of YouTube. Just like Reddit, if not worse, YouTube mostly turns a blind eye to racism in the name of free speech, allowing vigorously uninformed and hateful comments to flourish.

Of course, YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit hate speech, defined as “speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.” But one stroll through pretty much any popular video inevitably validates Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

But it’s not just YouTube’s comment section—long considered one of the filthiest places on the Web—that’s inundated with accusations that the Jews own the banks and control the media. There are popular anti-Semitic vloggers, conspiracy videos, documentarians, “comedy” videos, and more.

Delve into one of the darker parts of a community mostly known for cat videos and there’s a thriving, terrifying world we’ve lulled ourselves into thinking doesn’t exist.

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Iraq and Afghanistan: Unlearned Lessons from Vietnam 41 Years Later

Abby Martin goes over the anniversary of the US withdrawal from Vietnam, highlighting the unlearned lessons from the war and draws a parallel to America’s recent conflicts, namely Iraq and Afghanistan.’ (Breaking the Set)

Thousands of Bahrainis march for democracy ahead of F1 race

Farishta Saeed reports for Reuters:

Bahraini hold up the national flag during a demonstration against the Formula One Grand Prix in the village of Shakhurah, west of Manama, on April 4, 2014.(AFP Photo / Mohammed AL-Shaikh)Tens of thousands of mainly Shi’ite protesters marched for democratic reforms in Bahrain on Friday, two days before its annual Formula One motor race turns international attention toward the Sunni-led kingdom. The protest, organized by al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the main opposition group, drew an estimated 20,0000 men and women who marched with national flags and posters in northwestern Bahrain demanding reforms and release of prisoners.

The tiny Gulf Arab monarchy, a U.S. ally, has suffered sporadic unrest since an uprising led by its Shi’ite Muslim majority in early 2011 demanding reforms and a bigger share of power in the minority-led government. The turmoil forced the cancellation of that year’s race, but the event went ahead despite continuing unrest in 2012 and 2013, with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel winning both times. This year’s race is due to take place on Sunday.

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Warlords and Corruption are on the Rise as Afghanistan Prepares to Vote

Bob Dreyfuss writes for The Nation:

Having a presidential election in Afghanistan is sort of like trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again—that is, if every piece of the eggshell were trying to kill all the other pieces. Thirteen years after the US invasion in 2001, Afghanistan is no closer to being a unified country than it was back then, after a decade of war during the Soviet period, the civil war that followed and finally the conquest by the Taliban. Nevertheless, Afghanistan votes on April 5.

The chief American concern, of course, is the election of a president who’ll sign the much-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, allowing a contingent of US forces to remain in-country past the end of 2014. President Hamid Karzai, after dithering, shocked Washington last year by saying he won’t sign it. Now, the chances that the next president will sign it are high, since every candidate says that he will. Still, once elected, that could change, and it isn’t clear what conditions the Afghans might place on the accord. Last month, President Obama warned Karzai—and, through him, the other candidates—that he ain’t fooling when he says the United States might pull every last soldier out. According to the White House, in a phone call with Karzai, Obama also said that the door is still open for Karzai’s successor to sign on the dotted line.

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Who are U.S. drones killing? Lawmakers ask Obama

Olivier Knox reports for Yahoo News:

Photo: STML/ Creative Commons/ FlickrAre drone strikes creating more enemies for America than they are killing extremists? That’s the question at the heart of new bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the executive branch to issue an annual report detailing the combatant and civilian death toll from missile strikes by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, a frequent critic of “war on terrorism” policies, introduced the “Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act.” The goal? Find out who is dying in drone strikes.

…The measure calls for an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed or injured in strikes by remotely piloted aircraft. It also aims to require that the administration define what it considers “combatants” and “civilians.” And it seeks a full accounting of casualties over the past five years… The bill would exclude strikes in “theaters of conflict” — which really just means Afghanistan, Schiff said. That’s because singling out drone strikes, as opposed to bombings, raids and firefights, is of “less significance in a war zone than in a third country,” he explained.

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Why PSG and the World Cup will not be enough for football-hungry Qatar

Owen Gibson reports for The Guardian:

Qatar graphicQatar‘s trolley dash around world sport could not have been more eye catching, even without the controversy and turmoil that has surrounded its successful World Cup 2022 bid. The PSG purchase was just one of a number that have been marked down as an attempt to both secure the Gulf state’s future beyond the point when its natural gas and oil reserves run dry, and afford it international profile.

That process reached its natural conclusion with the vote in December 2010 to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a decision that remains mired in controversy as Fifa and organisers grapple with the desperate plight of the 1.4m migrant workers and questions still swirling around the bidding process. Yet it goes much broader and deeper, also encompassing a hitherto largely ignored parallel network of sports TV channels, branded BeIn Sports, that also play a significant strategic role.

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Britain Orders Inquiry Into Muslim Brotherhood in London

Alan Cowell reports for the New York Times:

CREDIT: REUTERS/LUKE MACGREGORPrime Minister David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood to determine whether it is using London as a base for planning extremist attacks after the military crackdown in Egypt, officials and news media reports said on Tuesday.

In the past, British governments have moved against small Islamic militant groups, but have tended to cast the Brotherhood, a prominent Islamic organization, in a different, more moderate light, particularly after Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate, was elected Egypt’s president in 2012. Mr. Morsi was overthrown last year by the Egyptian military, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia have since declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

…The inquiry, to be led by Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is to complete its investigation by midsummer, officials said… It comes amid pressure from Egypt and Saudi Arabia for Britain to outlaw the organization, but an official said the aim of the inquiry was “not about establishing evidence to proscribe” the group. Mr. Morsi and hundreds of his followers are facing trial in Egypt.

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1,886 killed in Iraq in March as violence continues to rise

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Another month has come to an end, leaving a staggering number of people dead across Iraq. Antiwar.com figures show 1,886 killed and 2,186 wounded nationwide, with 1,063 of the dead civilians or security members, and 823 militants.

That was an increase over the 1,705 killed and 2,045 wounded in February, which was itself a significant rise over January’s figures, as fighting over the Anbar Province continues, unresolved but claiming enormous casualties.

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CNN continues to point at Iranians in disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370

Loomio: an Occupy inspired democratic decision-making app