Category Archives: Syria

The Syrian Labyrinth: A review of Reese Erlich’s new book ‘Inside Syria’

Conn Hallinan recently reviewed Reece Erlich’s new book ‘Inside Syria’ for Foreign Policy In Focus:

InsideSyria‘Reese Erlich’s informative and insightful book Inside Syria (Prometheus, 2014) brings to mind the Greek myth of a vast maze under the palace at Knossos, with one exception: King Minos’ labyrinth on Crete concealed a single Minotaur, whereas Syria is teeming with the beasts.

Erlich has spent almost three decades reporting from the Middle East, and he brings his considerable knowledge of the region into this analysis of the Syrian civil war. A winner of the Peabody Award and the Society of Professional Journalists’ explanatory journalism award for his radio documentary “Inside the Syrian Revolution,” Erlich combines on-the-ground reporting with an encyclopedic background in the region’s history. It is a combination that is particularly useful for a subject as complex and nuanced as the current war—one that has gradually drawn in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, along with the United States, France, and Britain.

The mainstream media generally considers history an afterthought, which explains why it does such an awful job reporting on the Middle East. Journalists like Erlich, Robert Fisk, and Patrick Cockburn understand that the history of the region and current events are one and the same—a sort of paraphrase of William Faulkner’s observation that history is as much about the present as the past.’

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US Statements, Actions on Syria Starkly Different

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘Vice President Joe Biden spent four hours today in private meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The topic: how to impose regime change on Syria, Turkey’s war-torn neighbor to the south.

Publicly, the US has been in favor of regime change for years, and had been backing “moderate” rebel factions on and off in hopes of installing one of them.

Since entering a direct war with ISIS in Syria two months ago, the US war focus has been on ISIS and other rebel factions, strikes which the US concedes are benefiting the Assad government.

Over the past few weeks, the US has been reiterating, over and over, that their policy is regime change, but their actions in the ISIS war are supporting the exact opposite, and when asked point blank, President Obama conceded earlier this week that no actions were being taken to try to remove Assad from power at this point.’

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Antiwar Voices Absent from Corporate TV News Ahead of U.S. Attacks on Iraq and Syria: Interview with Peter Hart

‘A new analysis of corporate TV news has found there was almost no debate about whether the United States should go to war in Iraq and Syria. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the issue, just six voiced opposition to military action. The report, titled “Debating How — Not Whether — to Launch a New War,” examines a two-week period in September when U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria dominated the airwaves. The report also finds that on the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice — Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. We speak to Peter Hart, activism director at FAIR.’ (Democracy Now!)

Top US Military Officer Predicts ISIS War Will Last up to 4 Years

Brendan McGarry reports for Military.com:

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin DempseyThe chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimates the U.S.-led fight against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria will last up to four years.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey made the estimate on Wednesday during an interview at Atlantic Media’s Defense One conference in Washington, D.C. about the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

The U.S. started launching airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to thwart the organization’s advances in some areas, though the militants still control vast parts of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Under Secretary of Intelligence Mike Vickers later agreed with Dempsey’s estimate warning about the time it will take to train a force inside Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.

Dempsey first mentioned the timeline in regards to the challenges the military faces in funding the many conflicts across the globe. He listed the deployment of more American troops to Europe and Africa, as well as the “protracted probably three or four year campaign in the Middle East.”‘

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  1. Joint Chiefs Chairman Predicts ISIS War Will Last Four Years
  2. Joint Chiefs Chairman: Ground Role for Troops in Iraq Likely
  3. Panetta Predicts ’30-Year War’ Against ISIS

If You Thought the ISIS War Couldn’t Get Any Worse, Just Wait for More of the CIA

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

As the war against the Islamic State in Syria has fallen into even more chaospartially due to the United States government’s increasing involvement there – the White House’s bright new idea seems to be to ramping up the involvement of the intelligence agency that is notorious for making bad situations worse. As the Washington Post reported late Friday, “The Obama administration has been weighing plans to escalate the CIA’s role in arming and training fighters in Syria, a move aimed at accelerating covert U.S. support to moderate rebel factions while the Pentagon is preparing to establish its own training bases.”

Put aside for a minute that the Central Intelligence Agency has been secretly arming Syrian rebels with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons since at least 2012 – and with almost nothing to show for it. Somehow the Post neglected to cite a front-page New York Times article from just one month ago alerting the public to the existence of a still-classified internal CIA study admitting that arming rebels with weapons has rarely – if ever – worked.

The Times cited the most well-known of CIA failures, including the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the arming of the Nicaraguan contra rebels that led to the disastrous Iran-Contra scandal. Even the agency’s most successful mission – slowly bleeding out the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s by arming the mujahideen – paved the way for the worst terrorist attack on the US in its history.’

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Global terror attack deaths rose sharply in 2013, says report

Helier Cheung reports for BBC News:

GTI2014‘The number of deaths from terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013, a study into international terrorism says.

There were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013, a 44% increase from the previous year, the Global Terrorism Index 2014 report added.

The report said militant groups Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban were behind most of the deaths.

Iraq was the country most affected by terrorism, the report said.

The report by the Institute for Economics and Peace says that nearly 18,000 people died from terrorist attacks in 2013.

“Not only is the intensity of terrorism increasing, its breadth is increasing as well,” it notes.’

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Study finds little opposition to attacks on Iraq, Syria in U.S. media

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting reports:

Debate, corporate media style:  Two pro-war guests go at it. While Congress may soon debate the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Syria, a new FAIR study shows that at the critical moments leading up to the escalation of US military action, mainstream media presented almost no debate at all.

The study of key TV news discussion programs from September 7 through 21 reveals that guests who opposed war were scarce.

The study evaluated discussion and debate segments on the Sunday talk shows (CNN’s State of the Union, CBS‘s Face the Nation, ABC‘s This Week,Fox News Sunday and NBC‘s Meet the Press), the PBS NewsHour and a sample of cable news programs that feature roundtables and interview segments (CNN‘s Situation Room, Fox News Channel‘s Special Reportand MSNBC’s Hardball).’

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Syrian ‘hero boy’ video faked by Norwegian director

Anne-Marie Tomchak and Charlotte McDonald report for BBC News:

A film being shot in a desert settingMillions of YouTube viewers have been captivated by the ‘Syrian hero boy‘ who manages to rescue a little girl while under gunfire. Now a group of Norwegian filmmakers have told BBC Trending they are behind it. They say it was filmed on location in Malta this summer with the intention of being presented as real.

Lars Klevberg, a 34-year-old film director based in Oslo, wrote a script after watching news coverage of the conflict in Syria. He says he deliberately presented the film as reality in order to generate a discussion about children in conflict zones.

“If I could make a film and pretend it was real, people would share it and react with hope,” he said. “We shot it in Malta in May this year on a set that was used for other famous movies like Troy and Gladiator,” Klevberg said. “The little boy and girl are professional actors from Malta. The voices in the background are Syrian refugees living in Malta.”‘

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ISIS Chief Returns, Calls For ‘Volcanoes of Jihad’

David D Kirkpatrick and Rick Gladstone report for the New York Times:

AP MIDEAST ISLAMIC STATE I FILE IRQDispelling rumors of his injury or death, the leader of the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State issued a new call to arms on Thursday in a 17-minute speech, belittling President Obama’s plan to send more soldiers to Iraq and urging disciples to “erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere.”

An audio recording of the speech by the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was distributed online, along with Arabic, English and Russian transcripts. It was first reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, a jihadist monitoring organization.

Mr. Baghdadi’s speech appeared to end days of rumors that he had been killed or grievously wounded in an airstrike carried out in northwestern Iraq on Saturday by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.’

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Isis and al-Qaeda agree ‘to end fighting and join against their opponents’

Kashmira Gander reports for The Independent:

Militant leaders from the Isis and al-Qaeda terrorist groups have agreed to stop fighting each other in order to join against their opponents.

Isis, which calls itself the Islamic State (Isis), and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, have been engaged in bitter fighting for more than a year in an attempt to dominate the bloody rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The accord set between the extremists groups in northern Syria last week could spell problems for the US-led coalition in its fight against Isis, as it complements its air strikes by arming “moderate” rebel factions to fight on the ground.

Now, if the two terrorist groups fulfil their agreement and unite as one force, this would further weaken US-backed rebels – who are viewed as relatively disorganised.’

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Survey: 85% of Arabs hold negative views of Islamic State

Middle East Monitor reports:

ISIS terrorist in Raqqa, Syria (file)A new survey conducted by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies at the Doha Institute shows that 85 per cent of Arabs polled hold negative views of the Islamic State (ISIS).

The survey results also suggest that while the majority of Arabs, 59 per cent, support the aims of the international military campaign against ISIS, only 22 per cent of the respondents expressed “unqualified confidence in the ability of the US-led coalition to fulfil its mission”.

According to As-Sabeel newspaper, the survey is considered to be the first of its kind regarding ISIS and took a wide-ranging look at the phenomenon.’

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Nine-year-old Aleppo girl is star of YouTube show on Syria war

Rana Moussaoui reports for AFP:

A nine-year-old girl has become the star of a YouTube comedy that depicts with bittersweet humour the harsh reality of everyday life in rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo.

Rasha plays the role of “Umm Abdo al-Halabiya”, a housewife who must make do in a city devastated by more than three years of violence, despite daily bombings and severe shortages.

The 30-episode eponymous show, shot on location in the city which was once Syria’s economic hub, stars only children playing adult roles and has been viewed by tens of thousands of Internet users.

Umm Abdo rants against President Bashar al-Assad, takes swipes at insurgents who have been trying to oust him and also mocks Syria’s often overbearing social norms.’

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Obama’s Syria Review Looks to Shift Focus to Attacking Assad

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Though publicly administration officials continue to deny any formal review of the ISIS war strategy or any change in policy, privately there are growing numbers conceding that a series high-level meetings are in progress looking to totally revamp the Syria war policy.

In particular, officials say, there is a recognition that the previous Iraq-first strategy is untenable, and much of the push also seems to be toward ousting the Assad government alongside the war against ISIS, against al-Qaeda, and against other, miscellaneous factions therein.

Previously, the administration was of a mind to defer attacks on the Assad government until the creation of a new “moderate” rebel faction, late in 2015 or after, that might serve as a potential replacement.

Gulf Arab nations involved in the US war are keen to see Assad ousted, and that’s at least part of the force driving them toward a faster regime change, with officials saying they want such a move within the next 6-12 months.’

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UN: 13.6 million displaced by wars in Iraq and Syria

Reuters reports:

About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and many are without food or shelter as winter starts, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.

Amin Awad, UNHCR’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the world was becoming numb to the refugees’ needs.

“Now when we talk about a million people displaced over two months, or 500,000 overnight, the world is just not responding,” he told reporters in Geneva.

The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria – an increase from a long-held U.N. estimate of 6.5 million – as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad.

In Iraq, 1.9 million have been displaced this year by tribal fighting and the advance of Islamic State, adding to 1 million previously displaced, and 190,000 have left the country to seek safety.’

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LSE Report: Local ceasefires best way to ease Syrians’ suffering

Reuters reports:

Local ceasefires in Syria may be the best way to ease the suffering of civilians in the absence of a political solution to the three-and-a-half year conflict, researchers from the London School of Economics said on Monday.

In a report that looked at more than 35 local negotiations across Syria since the start of the crisis, they said the international community should support such solutions, even if they have sometimes been problematic.

While two rounds of peace talks between the government and the political opposition this year failed to halt the war, local ceasefires have brought some relief.’

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Hawks Triumph in Senate; Will Push More Aggressive US Policy

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘The Republicans took control of the Senate in Tuesday’s elections, but much more important than which party took control is the nature of the incoming Senators from the new ruling party.

It’s not an influx of Tea Party members, reluctant to waste US funds on overseas adventures and suspicious of federal power, but rather a series of hawks in the model of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R – SC) that seized the reins of power last night.

The new senators are typified by Jodi Ernst (R – IA) and Tom Cotton (R – AR), who campaigned heavy on escalating the ISIS war in Iraq and Syria, as well as being more hawkish at essentially every opportunity.”

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Noam Chomsky: “US created the conditions from which ISIS arose”

Dutch and German biker gangs join the Kurds in the battle against ISIS

David Charter reports for The Australian:

Biker gangs join the fight against ISIS‘It is not just air strikes that the jihadists of Islamic State have to watch out for. Kurdish forces have received a boost from an unlikely source — Dutch and German Hell’s Angels.

Western governments avoided putting boots on the ground but that has not deterred Ron from the Netherlands, one of several members of the No Surrender biker gang who have joined the anti-Isis struggle.

A group has reportedly also travelled to the region from the Cologne-based Median Empire biker gang, made up of Kurdish Germans.’

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Ex-chief of CIA’s bin Laden unit says Islamic State needs U.S. to intervene

Will Porter reports for Antiwar:

‘In recent media appearances, ex-chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, came out strongly against the latest American military campaign in Iraq. Echoing past criticisms, thoroughly voiced in his books Through Our Enemies Eyes, Marching Toward Hell, and Imperial Hubris, Scheuer offers a case against the new Iraq intervention based on his 20+ years of experience as a US intelligence officer, as well as an intimate and detailed knowledge of Islamic extremism.

In Scheuer’s view, another US military intervention in the Middle East against groups such as the Islamic State (IS) will not meet its stated objectives, and will fall into the same errors made in past operations of a similar character. Continuing this policy, he says, will only help to motivate and radicalize Muslims the world over, and will provide exactly the impetus IS needs to step up their drive to establish a long-sought Islamic caliphate in the Levant region.’

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Does Arming Rebels Ever Work? CIA Study Says No

Mark Mazzetti reports for The New York Times:

‘The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing C.I.A. effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.’

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Nafeez Ahmed on the ‘inevitability’ of a ground war against ISIS

War against ISIS: US air strategy in tatters as militants march on

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

‘[…] In the face of a likely Isis victory at Kobani, senior US officials have been trying to explain away the failure to save the Syrian Kurds in the town, probably Isis’s toughest opponents in Syria. “Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [Isis] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself,” said US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in a typical piece of waffle designed to mask defeat. “The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobani where we may or may not be able to fight effectively.”

Unfortunately for the US, Kobani isn’t the only place air strikes are failing to stop Isis. In an offensive in Iraq launched on 2 October but little reported in the outside world, Isis has captured almost all the cities and towns it did not already hold in Anbar province, a vast area in western Iraq that makes up a quarter of the country. It has captured Hit, Kubaisa and Ramadi, the provincial capital, which it had long fought for. Other cities, towns and bases on or close to the Euphrates River west of Baghdad fell in a few days, often after little resistance by the Iraqi Army which showed itself to be as dysfunctional as in the past, even when backed by US air strikes.’

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From Pol Pot to ISIS: “Anything that flies on everything that moves”

John Pilger writes:

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”.  As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.’

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Key Democrats, Led by Hillary Clinton, Leave No doubt that Endless War is Official U.S. Doctrine

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Key Democrats, Led by Hillary Clinton, Leave No doubt that Endless War is Official U.S. Doctrine‘[…] At this point, it is literally inconceivable to imagine the U.S. not at war. It would be shocking if that happened in our lifetime. U.S. officials are now all but openly saying this. “Endless War” is not dramatic rhetorical license but a precise description of America’s foreign policy.

It’s not hard to see why. A state of endless war justifies ever-increasing state power and secrecy and a further erosion of rights. It also entails a massive transfer of public wealth to the “homeland security” and weapons industry (which the US media deceptively calls the “defense sector”).

[…] It was designed from the start to be endless. Both Bush and Obama officials have explicitly said that the war will last at least a generation. The nature of the “war,” and the theories that have accompanied it, is that it has no discernible enemy and no identifiable limits. More significantly, this “war” fuels itself, provides its own inexhaustible purpose, as it is precisely the policies justified in the name of Stopping Terrorism that actually ensure its spread (note how Panetta said the new U.S. war would have to include Libya, presumably to fight against those empowered by the last U.S. war there just 3 years ago).’

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Hillary Clinton: US-ISIS fight a ‘long-term struggle’

David McCabe reports for The Hill:

‘Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that military force is a necessary part of the “long-term struggle” between the U.S. and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), according to a report.

Clinton said at an event in Ottawa that because ISIS’s mission is “expansionary” in nature — and because the group seems interested in embedding militants in the countries it opposes — she supports military action.’

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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Predicts ’30-Year War’ Against ISIS

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was harshly critical of President Obama’s handling of the new ISIS war, saying the US could have sustained the 2011 Iraq occupation and started arming Syrian rebels even sooner than they did.

But perhaps the most eye-opening comment in has new book tour was that he believes the conflict is a “30-year war” that will extend across the world, including campaigns in Nigeria, Somalia, and Libya, among other places.’

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The Impending Fall of Kobani Reveals Failure of U.S. Bombing Campaign: Interview with Patrick Cockburn

Editor’s Note: Patrick Cockburn writes a regular column for the The Independent and CounterPunch. His new book ‘The Jihadis Return‘ is available from OR Books. You can read his article related to the below interview here.

Beheading has a multicultural past

History professor Jonathan Zimmerman writes for the Star Tribune:

‘[…] After two American journalists were beheaded by ISIL fighters, President Obama vowed to dismantle the organization, and he has joined with five Arab allies to launch airstrikes on ISIL targets.

But one of our allies, Saudi Arabia, still practices beheading. So does the Free Syrian Army, which Obama pledged to assist in its battle to unseat dictator Bashar Assad. Unlike Assad’s “extremist” foes, the argument goes, the Free Syrian Army is a “moderate” force. But it still beheaded six captives in September.

Beheading is as old as human civilization itself. So it also reminds us how close we remain to savagery, which is what makes decapitation so repulsive and alluring at the same time. We don’t want to behold our own brutal natures. But we also can’t look away, as the millions of YouTube hits illustrate.’

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Costs of Obama’s New War in Iraq and Syria Set to Explode, say Analysts

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

‘The U.S. government’s new war in Iraq that now also includes Syria has already cost American taxpayers between $780 and $930 million, and could amount to over $1 billion a month if U.S. efforts intensify on the scale demanded by war hawks in Congress, according to a think tank analysis published this week.

[…] On an annual basis, CSBA estimates, the U.S. military’s operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) could cost as much as $22 billion dollars a year.

The Pentagon is currently funding the attack through a controversial war fund, dubbed the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is exempt from federal budget caps. The fund was originally created to fund the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan though defense officials say it will likely be around for the “long-term.”

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Jeremy Scahill on Obama’s Orwellian War in Iraq: We Created the Very Threat We Claim to be Fighting

‘As Vice President Joe Biden warns it will take a “hell of a long fight” for the United States to stop militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, we speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.” We talk about how the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that helped create the threat now posed by the Islamic State. We also discuss the role of Baathist forces in ISIS, Obama’s targeting of journalists, and the trial of four former Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.’ (Democracy Now!)