Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

In Defence of Jeremy Corbyn

Freddy Gray, deputy editor, writes for The Spectator (?!?):

(Photo: Getty)What strange people we Brits are. We spend years moaning that our politicians are cynical opportunists who don’t stand for anything. Then along comes an opposition leader who has principles — and appears to stick by them even when it makes him unpopular — and he is dismissed as a joke.

Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed in recent days for the feebleness of his foreign policy. It is widely agreed that his positions on terrorism and Isis show how unelectable and useless he is. At the same time, we say he is a grave threat to national security.

But what has Corbyn said that is so stupid or dangerous? In the wake of the attacks in Paris, he declared that Britain ‘must not be drawn into responses that feed the cycle of violence and hate’. He has urged his country not to ‘keep making the same mistakes’ in the Middle East, something he has been saying for decades. ‘Enthusiasm for interventions has only multiplied the threats to us,’ he says, not unreasonably. He has said he will not support airstrikes in Syria unless it is clear that military action will help us achieve our strategic objective of defeating Isis.

If you look at Corbyn’s actual words — rather than the Twitter feeds of the organisations he is affiliated with or the outbursts of his crazy fans — his response to the difficult and frightening problem of terrorism has been sensible, cautious and moral.


David Cameron Has Enough Tory Votes For Syria Air Strikes

Peter Dominiczak and Kate McCann report for The Telegraph:

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to the media during a press conference on day two of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on November 16, 2015 in Antalya, TurkeyDavid Cameron now has the Parliamentary numbers required to allow him to send British warplanes to bomb targets in Syria as senior sources said that the vote will be held on Thursday.

Downing Street is said to be confident that a motion to bomb Isil jihadists in Syria will pass in a vote in Parliament.

The Tories had previously been concerned that Conservative rebels could defeat plans for a military intervention in Syria if Labour decided to oppose Mr Cameron’s plans for actions.

In 2013, 30 Conservative rebels humiliated the Prime Minister by joining with Labour to block his plans to bomb Syrian targets.

However, in recent days, dozens of those Tory rebels have made clear that they will now support the Government position.


Syria: David Cameron Challenged Over ‘Magical’ Claim of 70,000 Moderate Fighters

Matt Dathan reports for The Independent:

A senior Conservative MP has challenged David Cameron over his “magical” claim that there are 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria who could seize Isis-held territory following a bombing raid on the Islamic extremists in the north of the country.

The claim has also become a sticking point for Labour, with Jeremy Corbyn expected to demand clarification over the 70,000 figure before deciding his party’s position on air strikes.

Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Committee, said he was “extremely surprised” to hear the Prime Minister tell MPs that there were “about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups” when he set out the case for launching air strikes against Isis targets in Syria.

Mr Lewis said he was tabling a question in the House of Commons demanding Mr Cameron clarify the claim.


The U.S. Air Campaign in Syria Is Suspiciously Impressive at Not Killing Civilians

Micah Zenko writes for Foreign Policy:

The U.S. Air Campaign in Syria Is Suspiciously Impressive at Not Killing Civilians […] The first problem with this theory is that large militant armies are not defeated, either exclusively or primarily, with air power. Military and civilian policymakers repeat the mantra that “you can’t kill your way out” of the problem posed by such adversaries, but then continue to call upon air power to do just that. This is despite the fact that all of the militant armies and terrorist groups that have been bombed and droned for the past 14 years have survived. None have been completely destroyed, which is allegedly the strategic objective against the Islamic State. Moreover, the size of the al Qaeda-affiliated groups that the United States claims to be at war with have either stayed flat or grown, while the total number of State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations has grown from 34 in 2002 to 59 in 2015.

However, the larger concern with this mindset is the assured growth of collateral damage and civilian casualties that will accompany significantly loosened ROEs. Last month, Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, the U.S. Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, observed that the coalition was “challenged in finding enough targets that the airplanes can hit that meet the rules of engagement.” However, he added an important caveat: “If you inadvertently — legally — kill innocent men, women, and children, then there’s a backlash from that. And so we might kill three and create 10 terrorists.”

There was a revealing indicator made public last week of just how challenging it is for pilots to prevent civilian harm while conducting “dynamic targeting” strikes — meaning against unplanned and unanticipated targets in a compressed timeline — despite all the checks and balances in place.


Is Bilal Erdogan, Son Of Turkey’s President, The Man Who Helps Fund ISIS?

Zero Hedge reports:

[…] While we patiently dig to find who the on and offshore “commodity trading” middleman are, who cart away ISIS oil to European and other international markets in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars, one name keeps popping up as the primary culprit of regional demand for the Islamic State’s “terrorist oil” – that of Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s son: Bilal Erdogan.

His very brief bio:

Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, commonly known as Bilal Erdogan (born 23 April 1980) is the third child of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, the current President of Turkey.

After graduating from Kartal Imam Hatip High School in 1999, Bilal Erdogan moved to the US for undergraduate education. He also earned a Masters Degree in John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2004. After graduation, he served in the World Bank as intern for a while. He returned Turkey in 2006 and started to his business life. Bilal Erdogan is one of the three equal shareholders of “BMZ Group Denizcilik “, a marine transportation corporation.

Here is a recent picture of Bilal, shown in a photo from a Turkish 2014 article, which “asked why his ships are now in Syria”:

In the next few days, we will present a full breakdown of Bilal’s various business ventures, starting with his BMZ Group which is the name implicated most often in the smuggling of illegal Iraqi and Islamic State through to the western supply chain, but for now here is a brief, if very disturbing snapshot, of both father and son Erdogan by F. William Engdahl, one which should make everyone ask whether the son of Turkey’s president (and thus, the father) is the silent mastermind who has been responsible for converting millions of barrels of Syrian Oil into hundreds of millions of dollars of Islamic State revenue.


John Pilger on the War on Terror and Western Foreign Policy

Afshin Rattansi interviews award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on the War on Terror, the birth of the Islamic State and Western foreign policy. (Going Underground)

Peter Hitchens On David Cameron’s ‘Delusional’ Case For War in Syria

James O’Brien interviews author and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “delusional” case for war in Syria. (LBC)

Coalition or Cold War with Russia? Interview with Stephen Cohen

John Batchelor talks to Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. Cohen suggests that powerful forces are working against a post-Paris coalition between Russia and European nations lead by France against the Islamic State. (John Batchelor Show)

The Hypocrisy of U.S. Syria Policy: Interview with Larry Wilkerson

Paul Jay talks to Larry Wilkerson, a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. (The Real News)

Erdogan: Russian Plane Downed Defending ‘Our Brothers in Syria’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Turkey and Russia continue to step up the rhetoric today after Turkish warplanes destroyed a Russian bomber over northern Syria yesterday morning, with Turkish officials continuing to insist they had every right to destroy the plane.

In comments today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the plane was destroyed defending “the rights of our brothers in Syria,” and insisted that Turkish policy toward planes along the Syria-Turkish border would not change, despite Russian anger.

Oddly, Erdogan conceded that a “short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack,” but followed this up by reiterating that they are going to view planes in northern Syria “as a military threat and treated as a military target.”


Turkey shoots down Russian plane: NATO will be worried

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a strong domestic position because of his sweeping parliamentary election victory on 1 November. But he has seen what appeared to be a strong Turkish position in the Middle East in 2011 deteriorate year by year as leaders and movements he supported, such as President Morsi in Egypt and the opposition in Syria, suffer defeats.

At the same time, it is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders. Leaders of Nato countries will want to prevent further Russian-Turkish hostilities, so they can look for Russian cooperation in attacking Isis and ending the Syrian conflict.


Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet: Interview with Baris Karaagac

Jessica Devereux interviews Baris Karaagac, a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. (The Real News)

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane Over Syria, Inflaming Tensions

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Tensions are soaring in the Black Sea tonight after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 over neighboring Syria. Turkey claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace when it was attacked, though US officials have said they believe the plane was inside Syria when it was attacked. Pentagon officials also say they are unsure if the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace at all.

Turkey informed the UN Security Council that it shot the plane down today, saying it had every right to do so. They also urged “consultations” with NATO, though the alliance appears to be urging Turkey to calm down and show a little restraint.

This is the first NATO downing of a Russian military plane since the 1950s, and is fueling concern of eventual retaliation by Russia after the incident, particularly with Turkey so loudly trumpeting their attack.


Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.


Frankie Boyle: This is the worst time for society to go on psychopathic autopilot

Comedian Frankie Boyle writes for The Guardian:

There were a lot of tributes after the horror in Paris. It has to be said that Trafalgar Square is an odd choice of venue to show solidarity with France; presumably Waterloo was too busy. One of the most appropriate tributes was Adele dedicating Hometown Glory to Paris, just as the raids on St-Denis started. A song about south London where, 10 years ago, armed police decided to hysterically blow the face off a man just because he was a bit beige.

In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise.

If that sounds unbearably drippy, just humour me for a second and imagine a country where the response to Paris involved an urgent debate about how to make public spaces safer and marginalised groups less vulnerable to radicalisation. Do you honestly feel safer with a debate centred around when we can turn some desert town 3,000 miles away into a sheet of glass? Of course, it’s not as if the west hasn’t learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time round, no one’s said out loud that we’re going to win.


No, Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane will not spark World War III

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

Only three short hours of Turkey announcing it had shot down a Russian warplane for violating its airspace, an unusual phrase appeared as a new trending topic on Twitter: “World War 3.” The conversation is both joking and not joking.

You can see why people might worry. Turkey is a NATO ally, meaning that at least in theory the other members of NATO — the United States and most of Europe — can be obliged to come to its defense against an external attack. A theoretical slide into conflict between Turkey and Russia could thus also become a conflict between Russia and NATO, dragging the world’s top four nuclear powers into war. Tensions between NATO and Russia have been rising for two years, and now both are bombing on opposite sides in Syria. With fears of some unintended escalation in Ukraine or now Syria sparking a larger conflagration, it sounded scarily possible.

But I am here to reassure you: This is not the start of World War III.


The Emirati Plan for Ruling Egypt

David Hearst reports for Middle East Eye:

A top-secret strategy document prepared for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan reveals that the United Arab Emirates is losing faith in the ability of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to serve the Gulf state’s interests.

The document, prepared by one of Bin Zayed’s team and dated 12 October, contains two key quotes which describe the frustration bin Zayed feels about Sisi, whose military coup the Crown Prince bankrolled, pouring in billions of dollars along with Saudi Arabia. It says: “This guy needs to know that I am not an ATM machine.” Further on, it also reveals the political price the Emiratis will exact if they continue to fund Egypt.

Future strategy should be based on not just attempting to influence the government in Egypt but to control it. It is summarised thus: “Now I will give but under my conditions. If I give, I rule.”

Egypt, which has recently tried to stem a run on the Egyptian pound, is heavily dependent on cash from the Emirates, which have become the largest foreign direct investor. At an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in March, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, revealed the UAE had already given Egypt $13.9bn and he pledged $3.9bn more. The real amount of aid Sisi got from the Emiratis is thought by analysts to be closer to $25bn, around half of the total Gulf aid to Egypt.


Iran’s ‘Deep State’ Has the Most to Lose from Opening to the West

Editor’s Note: You can listen to a recent interview with Muhammad Sahimi discussing the below article here.

Muhammad Sahimi writes for The National Interest:

The comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – was signed on July 14. A few days later the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 2231 endorsing it. October 18 was the “adoption day” of the agreement, the day both sides began laying the legal groundwork for carrying out their obligations under the agreement. In particular, the European Union and the United States began the legal process to lift the economic sanctions against Iran.

Led by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s moderates and pragmatists have been trying to open their country’s gates to the outside world. Believing that the shadow of war has been lifted, they are trying to attract foreign investments, normalize Iran’s relations with the West and in particular the United States, and move the nation’s political system toward a more inclusive and open one.

But, Iran’s deep state – the security and intelligence forces and their hardline supporters that hide behind the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – does not want normalization of the relations with the West. While it does want lifting of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, it also abhors opening Iran to the world. The reason is clear: normalization of the political and economic ties with the West will lead to loosening of the deep state’s grip on political power. Loss of political power will inevitably lead to the loss of economic might and privileges that the deep state and its supporters enjoy.


America’s ‘Establishment’ Has Embraced ‘Deep States’

Philip Giraldi, a former military intelligence and CIA case officer, writes for the New York Times:

Citizens in many countries wonder how certain government policies can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are harmful. This persistence is frequently attributed to a “deep state.”

The phrase is often applied to Turkey, where the nation’s security services and governing elite pursue the same chauvinistic and inward-looking agenda no matter who is prime minister.

But every country has a deep state of some kind. “The Establishment,” as it’s been called in the United States, where it evolved from the Washington-New York axis of national security officials and financial services executives. They are said to know what is “best” for the country and to act accordingly, no matter who sits in the White House.


 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror: Interview with Former Drone Operators

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to four former U.S. Air Force members and drone whistleblowers. Brandon Bryant, Michael Haas, Stephen Lewis and Cian Westmoreland are also joined by Jesselyn Raddack of the Government Accountability Project. The interview took place as a new documentary, DRONE, was scheduled to be screened in New York. (Democracy Now!)

Mali hotel attack “puts Al-Qaeda back on the map in the competition against ISIS”

In Mali and Rest of Africa, the U.S. Military Fights a Hidden War

Nick Turse reports for The Intercept:

The General leading the U.S. military’s hidden war in Africa says the continent is now home to nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” that threaten U.S. interests. And today, gunmen reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital and seized several dozen hostages. U.S. special operations forces are “currently assisting hostage recovery efforts,” a Pentagon spokesperson said, and U.S. personnel have “helped move civilians to secured locations, as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen.”

In Mali, groups like Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have long posed a threat. Major terrorist groups in Africa include al Shabaab, Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). In the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, attention has been drawn to ISIS affiliates in Egypt and Libya, too. But what are the dozens of other groups in Africa that the Pentagon is fighting with more special operations forces, more outposts, and more missions than ever?

For the most part, the Pentagon won’t say.

[…] The secret of whom the U.S. military is fighting extends to Africa. Since 9/11, U.S. military efforts on the continent have grown in every conceivable way, from funding and manpower to missions and outposts, while at the same time the number of transnational terror groups has increased in linear fashion, according to the military. The reasons for this are murky. Is it a spillover from events in the Middle East and Central Asia? Are U.S. operations helping to spawn and spread terror groups? Is the Pentagon inflating the terror threat for its own gain? Is the rise of these terrorist organizations due to myriad local factors? Or more likely, is it a combination of these and other reasons? The task of answering these questions is made more difficult when no one in the military is willing to name more than a handful of the transnational terror groups that are classified as America’s enemies.


How US-Backed Intervention in Libya Spread Chaos to Nearby Mali: Interview with Nick Turse

Amy Goodman speak to Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa and journalist for TomDispatch and The Intercept. This interview with Turse was recorded earlier in November with the segment on Mali republished in light of the hostage crisis in Bamako, Mali. (Democracy Now!)

Glenn Greenwald on “Shameless” U.S. Officials Exploiting Paris Attacks, “Submissive” Media’s Drumbeat for War and “Despicable” Anti-Muslim Scapegoating

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh talks to Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who exposed NSA mass surveillance based on Snowden’s leaks. Greenwald discusses the Paris attacks and the response by U.S. officials and how the media has covered the events since 13th November. (Democracy Now!)

Europe Is Harbouring The Islamic State’s Backers

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

[…] The ripple effect from the attacks in terms of the impact on Western societies is likely to be permanent. In much the same way that 9/11 saw the birth of a new era of perpetual war in the Muslim world, the 13/11 Paris attacks are already giving rise to a brave new phase in that perpetual war: a new age of Constant Vigilance, in which citizens are vital accessories to the police state, enacted in the name of defending a democracy eroded by the very act of defending it through Constant Vigilance.

Mass surveillance at home and endless military projection abroad are the twin sides of the same coin of national security, which must simply be maximized as much as possible.

“France is at war,” Hollande told French parliament at the Palace of Versailles.

“We’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world.”

Conspicuously missing from President Hollande’s decisive declaration of war however, was any mention of the biggest elephant in the room: state-sponsorship.


It’s True, Media Did Cover Beirut Bombings–About 1/40th as Much as They Covered Paris Attacks

Jim Naureckas writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

New York Times front page: Paris attacksMax Fisher takes issue in Vox (11/16/15) with people who complain about the lack of media coverage of ISIS’s bombings in Beirut compared to its attacks in Paris:

The media has, in fact, covered the Beirut bombings extensively.

The New York Timescovered it. The Washington Post, in addition to running an Associated Press story on it, sent reporter Hugh Naylor to cover the blasts and then write a lengthy piece on their aftermath. The Economist had a thoughtful piece reflecting on the attack’s significance. CNN, which rightly or wrongly has a reputation for least-common-denominator news judgment, aired one segment after another on the Beirut bombings. Even the Daily Mail, a British tabloid most known for its gossipy royals coverage, was on the story. And on and on.

Yet these are stories that, like so many stories of previous bombings and mass acts of violence outside of the West, readers have largely ignored.

Let’s grant Fisher one point: The much-retweeted Twitter complaint that “no media has covered” the Beirut bombing is wrong—as is most media criticism that asserts that “no media” did anything.

But Fisher’s overarching argument—that because “the media does cover Beirut,” it’s wrong to blame media for the fact that “the world truly does care more about France”—is equally absurd.


Islamic State Sustains Itself Through a War Economy: Interview with Loretta Napoleoni

Sharmini Peries talks to Loretta Napoleoni, an economist who specialises in terror financing and the author of Islamic Phoenix. They discuss how the Islamic State is sustains itself. (The Real News)

How the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Aided Growth of the Islamic State: Interview with Abdel Bari Atwan

Amy Goodman speaks to Abdel Bari Atwan, a longtime journalist and the author of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. (Democracy Now!)

Obama’s drone war a ‘recruitment tool’ for ISIS, say US air force whistleblowers

Ed Pilkington and Ewen MacAskill report for The Guardian:

A Yemeni man looks at graffiti showing a US drone after al-Qaida in Yemen confirmed the death of its leader in a US drone strike in June.Four former US air force service members, with more than 20 years of experience between them operating military drones, have written an open letter to Barack Obama warning that the program of targeted killings by unmanned aircraft has become a major driving force for Isis and other terrorist groups.

The group of servicemen have issued an impassioned plea to the Obama administration, calling for a rethink of a military tactic that they say has “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like Isis, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay”.

In particular, they argue, the killing of innocent civilians in drone airstrikes has acted as one of the most “devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world”.

The letter, addressed to Obama, defense secretary Ashton Carter and CIA chiefJohn Brennan, links the signatories’ anxieties directly to last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris. They imply that the abuse of the drone program is causally connected to the outrages.