Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

CENTCOM Document Reveals Coalition’s Hidden Civilian Carnage in Syria and Iraq

Chris Woods reports for AirWars.org:

A newly-declassified CENTCOM document – published by Airwars and international media partners for the first time on Thursday –  reveals that by early May of this year, the anti-ISIL Coalition had already internally investigated dozens of events involving at least 325 possible civilian deaths from airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Yet despite often significant published evidence of civilians killed in Coalition strikes, most allegations were dismissed as “Not credible” within 48 hours – with few signs of later follow-ups.

The document also reveals for the first time that French, Canadian, Dutch and Australian aircraft have all been involved in problem incidents in Iraq, which between them allegedly killed up to 30 civilians.

The previously-secret 14-page file – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by journalist Joseph Trevithick for War Is Boring – offers a rare insight into internal military workings. It also makes clear that the US and its 12 international allies have long known of significant allegations of civilians killed in some 6,500 airstrikes – far more than the two deaths presently admitted to.

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Banned Cluster Bombs Were Used in Five Countries, Report Says

Rick Gladstone reports for The New York Times:

[…] The organization, the Cluster Munition Coalition, said in its annual report that use of the bombs had been documented in armed conflicts in LibyaSudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

The use of these weapons was criticized by all 117 countries that have joined the treaty, which took effect five years ago. Their use was also criticized by a number of others that have not yet joined the treaty but appear to have abided by its provisions.

[…] The treaty prohibits all use of cluster munitions and sets deadlines for the destruction of stockpiles and the clearance of areas contaminated by unexploded cluster bomblets, which can be deadly if disturbed. The treaty also provides for assistance to victims of cluster bombs.

The United States, which is among the countries that have not signed the treaty, still produces and exports cluster munitions. In a telephone interview, Ms. Wareham said that although the United States had sharply reduced its supply of cluster munitions, at least three different types of American-made cluster munitions had been used by Saudi-led forces this year in the Yemen conflict.

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David Petraeus’ bright idea: Give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

The latest brilliant plan to curtail Isis in the Middle East? Give more weapons to current members of al-Qaida. The Daily Beast reported that former CIA director David Petraeus, still somehow entrenched in the DC Beltway power circles despite leaking highly classified secrets, is now advocating arming members of the al-Nusra Front in Syria, an offshoot of al-Qaida and a designated terrorist organization. Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?

Petraeus was forced to respond on Tuesday, the day after his article provoked a firestorm, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that he doesn’t want to arm al-Nusra itself, just “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra”. He thinks the US could somehow “peel off” these fighters and convince to join the much weaker rebel army that al-Nusra recently decimated. Oh okay, then. He’s in favor of arming only the “moderate” members of al-Qaida: that sounds so much better.

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failedIraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat?

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Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees

Helena Smith reports for The Guardian:

Young boy washed up on the beach.The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west.

The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum.

A second image portrays a grim-faced policeman carrying the tiny body away. Within hours it had gone viral becoming the top trending picture on Twitter under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore).

Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had reportedly hailed from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic state insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: “This tragic image of a little boy who’s lost his life fleeing Syria is shocking and is a reminder of the dangers children and families are taking in search of a better life. This child’s plight should concentrate minds and force the EU to come together and agree to a plan to tackle the refugee crisis.”

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Refugee Crisis: Interview with Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration, and Dr. Chiara Montaldo of Doctors Without Borders

Amy Goodman speaks with Joel Millman, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, and Dr. Chiara Montaldo of Doctors Without Borders in the Sicilian town of Pozzallo in Italy. Dr. Montaldo provides medical and psychological care to people rescued from boats in the Mediterranean. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that approximately 2,500 people have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. (Democracy Now!)

CIA Running Anti-ISIS Drone Campaign in Syria

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

[…] The CIA has been involved in various operations against ISIS for years, of course, and has also been doing all sorts of different things in Syria, mostly arming dubious rebel factions. That they are escalating this to a drone war concurrent with an actual war must inevitably raise eyebrows, as previously the US has been very careful to keep CIA drone wars distinct from Pentagon-run wars.

The war is targeting ISIS so far, but officials say that they are also authorized to attack al-Qaeda militants or any other “operatives” suspected of advancing ISIS goals to expand their caliphate further across Syria, a nation they already control more than half of.

But officials say that the CIA war, at least in Syria, is comparatively small, and that they’ve launched relatively few strikes compared to the military. That the two are both launching strikes in the same theater will only add to complications about investigating civilian casualties, as it will allow each side to deny being the one behind a particular incident.

Officials are also insisting that the Syria war won’t be using the same model as the Pakistan and Yemen drone wars, but rather that the Syria CIA war, in which they are working closely with special forces, could itself be a model for even more drone wars elsewhere around the world.

This plan to expand CIA war-making comes amid some pushes from the Pentagon, which believes that as the military wars should sort of be their thing exclusively. Running wars concurrently only adds to the confusion, and seems to reflect an intention by the Obama Administration to keep the CIA running wars of its own outside of traditional military purview.

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4,547 Killed in August Bloodshed across Iraq

Margaret Griffis reports for Antiwar:

During August at least 4,547 people were killed and 2,296 were wounded. These figures include civilians, security personnel and militants. At least 350 were killed and 10 were wounded in more recent fighting.

The casualty figures compiled in this column during August were 1,464 killed and 1,179 wounded. That includes 1,017 civilians killed and 818 wounded. These figures were compiled from media reports.

The United Nations, which has team members on the ground in Iraq, found 1,325 dead and 1,811 wounded. These numbers do not count militant deaths. Of those killed, 585 were civilians. The number of civilian wounded was 1,103. These figures should be considered the absolute lowest possible casualty numbers. The true number of dead and wounded is likely much higher.

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Iraq: The battle for your hearts and minds in Fallujah

Former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran Ross Caputi writes for Insurge Intelligence:

On 13th August 2015, the Iraqi government bombed the Fallujah Maternity and Neonatal Hospital, killing 31 people, including 23 women and children.

This incident was widely reported in the Western media; though the coverage was perhaps cursory and even dismissive by labeling it an “IS-held” hospital. Nevertheless, information about this atrocity was available to the Western world, as is information about the many similar atrocities committed by the Iraqi government since the start of their war against the Sunni uprising and the Islamic State in December 2013.

This was in fact the 40th time that the Iraqi government has bombed a hospital in Fallujah, and in Fallujah alone over 4,000 civilians have been killed and 5,200 wounded in the last 20 months of government attack.

The United States has also been complicit in these killings; first by shipping weapons to the Iraqi government to facilitate their internal repression of Sunnis, and then by reinitiating a campaign of airstrikes in the Sunni majority provinces of Iraq in August 2014.

According to Airwars, a nonprofit group monitoring US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State, “publicly-available evidence” alone shows that civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria from these airstrikes are significantly higher than what the US and its partners have claimed.

Though certainly not a trending topic, information on these killings is readily available to those who look for it. Yet despite easy access to these reports, the public’s reaction has never surpassed bland disapproval.

It is easy to chastise the American public for their indifference. But there is reason to believe that the American public doesn’t fully understand why Iraqis are dying in the staggering numbers that they are, who to blame for them, or what they could do to stop the bloodshed.

None of this is accidental. The public’s reaction to civilian casualties has been carefully crafted by the best thinkers in “strategic communications” — or in common parlance, “propaganda” — within the US military and government.

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Yemen’s Hidden War: How the Saudi-Led Coalition Is Killing Civilians

Iona Craig reports for The Intercept:

[…] The names of the dead did not even make news in the local press in Aden. This form of death is now commonplace amid a war so hidden that foreign journalists are forced to smuggle themselves by boat into the country to report on an ongoing conflict that the U.N. says has killed more than 4,500 people and left another 23,500 wounded.

On one side of the conflict is the U.S.-backed coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia supporting Yemen’s president-in-exile, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. Their adversaries are the predominantly Shiite Houthi fighters who hail from the northern province of Saada that abuts the Saudi border, along with soldiers from renegade military units loyal to the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In March, the Saudis — aided by U.S. and British weapons and intelligence — began a bombing campaign in an attempt to push back the Houthis, who they see as a proxy for Iran. Since then, from the northern province of Saada to the capital Sanaa, from the central cities of Taiz and Ibb to the narrow streets at the heart of Aden, scores of airstrikes have hit densely populated areas, factories, schools, civilian infrastructure and even a camp for displaced people.

From visiting some 20 sites of airstrikes and interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, survivors and relatives of those killed in eight of these strikes in southern Yemen, this reporter discovered evidence of a pattern of Saudi-coalition airstrikes that show indiscriminate bombing of civilians and rescuers, adding further weight to claims made by human rights organizations that some Saudi-led strikes may amount to war crimes and raising vital questions over the U.S. and Britain’s role in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

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Human Rights Watch: Saudi-Led Forces Kill Dozens in Yemen Using US-Made Cluster Bombs

Amy Goodman interviews Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth. Human Rights Watch has accused Saudi Arabia of using U.S.-made cluster munition rockets in at least seven attacks in the Yemeni city of Hajjah between late April and mid-July. Dozens of civilians were killed or wounded, both during the attacks and later, when they picked up unexploded submunitions that detonated. (Democracy Now!)

Is Turkey’s Erdogan Creating a Perfect Storm to Get His Party in Power? Interview with Baris Karaagac

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

Will the U.S. Stop “Cozying Up” to Egyptian Regime After Jailing of Journalists? Interview with Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Kenneth Roth

Democracy Now! talks to Sharif Abdel Kouddous from Cairo, and  Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, after Egypt sentences Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste to three years in jail for “spreading false news” that purportedly harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. According to Roth: “The U.S. should stop cozying up to General — now President — Sisi. He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history.” (Democracy Now!)

UN: Gaza could be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if trends continue

Cara Anna reports for the Associated Press:

A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says.

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Extraordinary Brutality Inflicted on Civilians in Yemen: Interview with Vijay Prashad

German Envoy: ‘US Considered Using Nukes Against Afghanistan After 9/11’

Ofer Aderet reports for Haaretz:

U.S. President George Bush (2nd R) is pictured with Vice President Dick Cheney (R) and senior staff in the President's Emergency Operations Center in Washington in the hours following the September 11, 2001. © U.S. National ArchivesThe United States considered using nuclear weapons against Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks, Der Spiegel reported on its website Saturday.

Michael Steiner, who served as a political advisor to then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, told the German daily that the nuclear option was one of the possibilities examined after the attacks.

“The papers were written,” Steiner said when asked whether the U.S. was considered using nuclear weapons in response to the attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaida’s Osama bin Laden, in which almost 3,000 people were killed. “They had really played through all possibilities.”

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UN Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’

Kanya D’Almeida reports for IPS News:

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council on August 19 that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

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Whose War in Yemen?

Daniel Larison writes for The American Conservative:

usa saudi arabia yemen flagsFor much of the past year, the country of Yemen in southern Arabia has been convulsed by civil war and foreign military intervention. Especially since the capture of the capital city, Sana’a, last September by a Zaydi Shi’ite militia called Ansar Allah—more commonly known as the Houthis—Yemen has been in political turmoil. Since then a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military intervention has intensified the country’s civil strife and brought about a humanitarian catastrophe affecting more than 20 million civilians. Though most Americans may not realize it, the U.S. is helping to wage war on yet another country in Middle East and supporting a policy that is inflicting enormous suffering on an entire people. The effects of this reckless intervention will likely include the further empowerment of jihadist groups in Yemen, amplified resentment of U.S. interference in the region’s affairs, chronic political instability, and a massive loss of life from famine and disease.

Yet despite the central role of U.S. clients including Saudi Arabia and Egypt in prosecuting this war, and the intelligence and logistics support provided by the U.S. and Britain, the conflict in Yemen has received only sporadic coverage in Western media. The ill-advised U.S. role has gone mostly unnoticed here at home, and there has been no real debate about our involvement. By contrast, Yemenis are only too aware of U.S. support for the campaign that has wrecked their country.

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The U.S.-Backed War in Yemen Is Strengthening al Qaeda

Nancy A. Youssef reports for The Daily Beast:

The U.S.-backed war in Yemen has strengthened al Qaeda there, American defense officials concede, posing a serious threat to U.S. security.

Months into the U.S.-supported Saudi intervention in Yemen, fighters linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), long considered the terror group’s deadliest franchise, are closing on the southern port city of Aden, according to U.S. officials and local reports.

The land grabs marks the most important gains al Qaeda has made since March, when the Saudi military began its intervention into Yemen. And it gives the group more area to train, plot, and attack U.S. interests. As recently as earlier this month, AQAP called for its supporters to hit the United States, urging lone wolf attackers to strike.

[…] It’s also safer than before. Mixed in with civilian populations, the group becomes harder to attack through the U.S. drone program. And it appears the group is using the conflict there to solidify its hold on Yemen.

[…] Not only is Saudi Arabia failing to stop the group’s expansion, but some fear the kingdom is colluding with AQAP to fight the Houthis, Iranian-backed rebels whom Saudi Arabia considers a bigger threat. Indeed, there have been reports that AQAP and Saudi Arabia worked together in the initial efforts last month to push the Houthis out of Aden.

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Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted

Mark Mazzetti and Mark Apuzzo report for The New York Times:

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.”

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Why is Saudi Arabia Now Supporting the Iran Deal?

Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for Iraq war on behalf of Labour if he becomes leader

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

The Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn is to issue a public apology over the Iraq war on behalf of the party if he becomes leader next month, a move Tony Blair repeatedly resisted.

In a statement to the Guardian, Corbyn said he would apologise to the British people for the “deception” in the runup to the 2003 invasion and to the Iraqi people for their subsequent suffering.

Such an apology would be important symbolically – particularly in a party where Iraq remains a sore point, 12 years after Britain joined the US in the invasion – and signal a wider departure from existing Labour’s defence and foreign policy.

The MP made a vow that suggests future UK military interventions will become rarer: “Let us say we will never again unnecessarily put our troops under fire and our country’s standing in the world at risk. Let us make it clear that Labour will never make the same mistake again, will never flout the United Nations and international law.”

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Tony Blair’s Tripoli Adviser

Tony Blair's Tripoli Adviser

Libya and the West’s moral bankruptcy

Ramzy Baroud writes for Arab News:

On April 26, 2011, a meeting that can only be described as sinister took place between the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The most pressing issue discussed at the meeting in Rome was how to deal with African immigrants.

Sarkozy, who was under pressure from his right-wing and far-right constituencies to halt immigration originating from North Africa (resulting from the Tunisian uprising), desired to strike a deal with the opportunistic Italian leader. In exchange for an Italian agreement to join a French initiative aimed at tightening border control (Italy being accused of allowing immigrants to cross through its borders to the rest of Europe), France, in turn, would resolve major disputes involving a series of takeovers, involving French and Italian companies. Moreover, Italy would then secure French support for a bid by Italian economist and banker, Mario Draghi, to become the head of the European Central Bank.

Another point on the French agenda was active Italian participation in the war on Libya, initially spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States, and later championed by NATO.

Initially, Berlusconi hesitated to take part in the war, although certainly not for any moral reasons: For example, because the war was deliberately based on a misconstrued interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011. The resolution called for an ‘immediate cease-fire,’ the establishment of a ‘no-fly zone’ and using all means, except foreign occupation, to ‘protect civilians.’ The war, however, achieved entirely different objectives from the ones stated in the resolution. It achieved a regime change, the bloody capture and murder of Libyan leader, Muammar Al-Qaddafi, and resulted in a bloodbath in which thousands of civilians were killed, and continue to die, due to the chaos and civil war that has gripped Libya since then.

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The Planned Destruction of Libya

John Wright writes for CounterPunch:

With talks between various political factions in Libya beginning in Geneva with the objective of forging a unity government in a country best by chaos and lawlessness, the West’s role in this process must be questioned given its culpability in the country’s destabilization.

Out of the many examples of Western military interventions in recent times, none has been more grievous or disastrous than NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which only helped turn the country into a failed state.

Unleashed under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 – a UN mandate abused to effect the toppling of the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli despite its official and stated objective of ‘protecting civilians’ – NATO’s intervention in the form of airstrikes did not result in the democratic society so gushingly anticipated by those responsible and their supporters. Instead it ushered in crisis and chaos as Libyan society promptly fragmented and broke down into the tribal, sectarian, and brutal internecine conflict that has turned a once functioning state and society into a dystopia into which ISIS has gained a foothold and been able to spread its malign influence. The result has been the usual barbaric ritual beheadings of ISIS prisoners, the persecution of women and minorities, and in June the slaughter of 37 tourists in Tunisia in a terrorist attack prepared and organized across the border in Libya.

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The very cosy friendship between Iraq inquiry chief and Tony Blair

Andrew Pierce reports for The Daily Mail:

Bereaved parents are disgusted their suffering is being dragged out while Sir John (pictured) gives leading figures in the inquiry, such as Mr Blair, the chance to rebut its findings – a process known as MaxwellisationWhen Tony Blair first appeared before the Iraq inquiry five years ago, the chairman Sir John Chilcot treated him with almost painful deference.

Chilcot, a crumpled figure whose opening remarks lasted seven minutes, never laid a glove on Blair, even though the former prime minister gave evidence for more than six hours.

What few people know is that the bumbling Chilcot, a retired career civil servant, could, in fact, have greeted Blair as an old friend.

The first time they met in 1997 — when Blair was still leader of the Opposition — was in a far more sedate environment. They dined together in the venerable Travellers Club in Pall Mall, where Chilcot is a member.

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Neocons to Americans: Trust Us Again

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

President George W. Bush pauses for applause during his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2003, when he made a fraudulent case for invading Iraq. Seated behind him are Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. (White House photo)America’s neocons insist that their only mistake was falling for some false intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and that they shouldn’t be stripped of their powerful positions of influence for just one little boo-boo. That’s the point of view taken by Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt as he whines about the unfairness of applying “a single-interest litmus test,” i.e., the Iraq War debacle, to judge him and his fellow war boosters.

After noting that many other important people were on the same pro-war bandwagon with him, Hiatt criticizes President Barack Obama for citing the Iraq War as an argument not to listen to many of the same neocons who now are trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear agreement. Hiatt thinks it’s the height of unfairness for Obama or anyone else to suggest that people who want to kill the Iran deal — and thus keep alive the option to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran — “are lusting for another war.”

Hiatt also faults Obama for not issuing a serious war threat to Iran, a missing ultimatum that explains why the nuclear agreement falls “so far short.” Hiatt adds: “war is not always avoidable, and the judicious use of force early in a crisis, or even the threat of force, can sometimes forestall worse bloodshed later.”

But it should be noted that the neocons – and Hiatt in particular – did not simply make one mistake when they joined President George W. Bush’s rush to war in 2002-03. They continued with their warmongering in Iraq for years, often bashing the handful of brave souls in Official Washington who dared challenge the neocons’ pro-war enthusiasm. Hiatt and his fellow “opinion leaders” were, in effect, the enforcers of the Iraq War “group think” – and they have never sought to make amends for that bullying.

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Iran Deal: Don’t expect much change in post-Vienna US Middle East policy

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

If and when the Iran nuclear agreement gets through Congress, many people in Washington hope that Obama will articulate a more realistic strategy for the Middle East than what we have heard from his administration in the past.

But Obama has evidently decided this is not the time to articulate anything about the region’s future that he does not see as helping to sell the agreement on Capitol Hill. The real question is whether there is a clear idea waiting to be made public when the timing is right.

If there was ever an appropriate moment for Obama to articulate an overarching post-agreement policy vision that integrated the Iran nuclear agreement into a broader strategy for dealing with a Middle East at war, it was his speech at American University on 5 August. The time and place for the speech were chosen in explicit acknowledgement of John F. Kennedy’s speech at that same university 52 years earlier. In his speech, JFK offered a vision of a transformation of US policy toward the Soviet Union and the Cold War from one of confrontation to negotiations. But instead of using that occasion to explain how US diplomacy might play a transformational role in the Middle East, Obama limited the speech to defending the Vienna agreement in the narrowest terms.

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Warnings of jihadists among Syria’s rebels came early, were ignored

Hannah Allam reports for McClatchy:

[…] By all accounts – internal memos, intelligence briefings, dispatches from the ground – conventional wisdom was that the extremists were recruiting or routing mainstream fighters, and that the loosely affiliated moderate factions known collectively as the Free Syrian Army were no match for the more disciplined and better armed jihadists.

Extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama administration, some of whom spoke on the record and others who requested anonymity so as to freely describe the administration’s behind-the-scenes debates, reveal that the Obama administration was warned early on that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.

Senior officials chose to look the other way, however, and flog a misleading narrative of a viable moderate force. Today, the same extremists have seized wide swaths of Syria and Iraq, uprooting millions of people, threatening the stability of U.S. regional allies, and sucking the United States into another open-ended conflict in the Middle East.

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The rise and fall of Arab revolutionary discourse

Ramzy Baroud writes for Japan Times:

[…] The Arab Spring has not, as of yet, achieved any of its objectives, for neither bread is available in abundance, nor is freedom any closer, nor is social justice at hand. It did, however, energize Arab elites, armies and regimes, which became more aware than ever of their own vulnerabilities.

Fear is now gripping most Arab countries that once thought of themselves as invincible and of their own people as forever docile. That realization has resulted in a massive regional conflict and political realignments, which have turned every single Arab popular revolt into a regional conflict or war that crossed borders, inspiring extremist groups and inviting yet more Western intervention and war.

The Arab world, and the Middle East in general, has not experienced such a major geopolitical upheaval since the early 20th century, when Ottoman territories were divided among old colonial European powers, all the way to War World II. The outcome of this upheaval is likely to be as earth-shattering as these past experiences, if not more, due to the popular element in these conflicts.

But one of the most defining shifts of Arab Spring priorities is the reversal of the narrative from its basic, innocent, unifying, empowering and popular articulation into a complicated, cunning, disuniting, disempowering and elitist one, where the people do not matter in the least.

Language is an essential tool if one aims to understand political priorities of any historical phase situated in time and place. The language at work in the Middle East is one that speaks of a conflict between regional rivals, utilizing sects, tribes and religions to achieve political objectives.

As for the people, they are increasingly pushed back to the margins, only to emerge briefly when state ceremonies compel them to wave flags that long ceased to hold much national meaning, and posters of rulers — smiling, triumphant and, as ever, brutal.

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Officials: Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Iraq

Nafeez Ahmed writes for INSURGE INTELLIGENCE:

A new memoir by a former senior State Department analyst provides stunning details on how decades of support for Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden brought about the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS).

The book establishes a crucial context for recent admissions by Michael T. Flynn, the retired head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), confirming that White House officials made a “willful decision” to support al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists in Syria — despite being warned by the DIA that doing so would likely create an ‘ISIS’-like entity in the region.

J. Michael Springmann, a retired career US diplomat whose last government post was in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, reveals in his new book that US covert operations in alliance with Middle East states funding anti-Western terrorist groups are nothing new. Such operations, he shows, have been carried out for various short-sighted reasons since the Cold War and after.

In the 1980s, as US support for mujahideen fighters accelerated in Afghanistan to kick out the Soviet Union, Springmann found himself unwittingly at the heart of highly classified operations that allowed Islamist militants linked to Osama bin Laden to establish a foothold within the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, Springman alleged, similar operations continued in different contexts for different purposes — in the former Yugoslavia, in Libya and elsewhere. The rise of ISIS, he contends, was a predictable outcome of this counterproductive policy.

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