Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis

Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)

What the New York Times Left Out About Obama’s ‘Secret War’ in Somalia

Sharmini Peries speaks to Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report who recounts what was left out of a recent New York Times story on the U.S. role in Somalia, namely the more than two decades of American involvement there. (The Real News)

Hillary Clinton Reaffirms Commitment to a No-Fly Zone in Syria

Paul Jay speaks to Max Blumenthal and Medea Benjamin after the conclusion of the third presidential debate where host Chris Wallace challenged Clinton by saying a no-fly zone would lead to confrontation with Russia in Syria. (The Real News)

The Foreign-Policy Elite Are Extremely Ready for More War in Syria

Eric Levitz writes for New York Magazine:

In an election cycle that has pushed American politics to new heights of partisan acrimony, the Washington foreign-policy elite has represented a singular bastion of bipartisan comity. A large segment of the GOP’s neoconservative wing broke with Donald Trump in the early days of his general-election campaign. A significant number took shelter in Hillary Clinton’s coalition, where they’ve gotten along amiably with liberal interventionists who share their belief that Obama has betrayed America’s obligation to lead.

That point of agreement has now been ratified in a flurry of new reports — from an array of think tanks that span partisan divide — all calling for an escalation in U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war.

[…] The foreign-policy elite’s frustration with President Obama’s reluctance to engage in a large-scale military intervention in Syria is nothing new. And the desire to do something to ameliorate the suffering of the Syrian people is, of course, understandable.

But there are a few problems with the narrative advanced by the papers and foreign-policy thinkers quoted in the Washington Post


Obama DOJ Drops Charges Against Alleged Broker of Libyan Weapons

Kenneth Vogel and Josh Gerstein report for Politico:

160410-clinton-obama-libya-1160The Obama administration is moving to dismiss charges against an arms dealer it had accused of selling weapons that were destined for Libyan rebels.

Lawyers for the Justice Department on Monday filed a motion in federal court in Phoenix to drop the case against the arms dealer, an American named Marc Turi, whose lawyers also signed the motion.

The deal averts a trial that threatened to cast additional scrutiny on Hillary Clinton’s private emails as Secretary of State, and to expose reported Central Intelligence Agency attempts to arm rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi.

Government lawyers were facing a Wednesday deadline to produce documents to Turi’s legal team, and the trial was officially set to begin on Election Day, although it likely would have been delayed by protracted disputes about classified information in the case.

A Turi associate asserted that the government dropped the case because the proceedings could have embarrassed Clinton and President Barack Obama by calling attention to the reported role of their administration in supplying weapons that fell into the hands of Islamic extremist militants.


A No-Fly Zone For Aleppo Risks a War That Could Engulf Us All

Jonathan Steele writes for The Guardian:

Much was made in this week’s Commons debate on Syria of the need for a no-fly zone over Aleppo. Given that the Syrian government and the Russians have a monopoly of air power over the city, the idea of denting or deterring it might seem attractive. Hillary Clinton also advocated such a zone in Sunday’s presidential TV debate.

In 1991 the US and Britain imposed a successful no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. But they were already at war with Saddam Hussein, having just defeated him in Kuwait. Saddam was on his own internationally, despised and isolated. He had no support from Russia or any Arab allies. The last thing he wanted was to confront the US any further. Enforcing a no-fly zone (even though it had no clear UN security council authorisation) involved no risk to the US or UK. Saddam made little effort to resist and not one of their manned aircraft was shot down.

Today’s situation in Syria is different. The Syrian air force is fully engaged and will not back down in its campaign to defeat its enemies in Aleppo. After three years of military stalemate, Bashar al-Assad feels he has regained the upper hand and is determined to retake his country’s largest city.

More importantly, the Russians are also active in the air. Imposing a no-fly zone unilaterally (it would never gain a security council mandate) would be a declaration of war on Russia as well as on Assad.


US Officially Enters War with Yemen Amid Charges of Saudi War Crimes

Nadia Prupis reports for Common Dreams:

The U.S. officially entered war with Yemen late Wednesday, launching strikes on Houthis for the first time, purportedly in retaliation for attempted missile attacks on American warships earlier this week.

An anonymous U.S. spokesperson said the strikes destroyed three radar installations used to target the USS Mason over the past four days. The American warship had been operating out of the Bab al-Mandeb waterway between Yemen and East Africa, the Guardian reports.

U.S. officials claimed to Reuters that there were “growing indications” the rebels or allied forces had carried out strikes on Sunday, which saw two coastal cruise missiles launched at the warship, but not reaching it. However, Houthi rebels have denied any involvement, stating that allegations otherwise from U.S. officials were pretext to “escalate aggression and cover up crimes committed against the Yemeni people.”

In addition to making the U.S. an official combatant in the war, the strikes further complicate a tense situation on the ground in Yemen, where the Saudi Arabia-led coalitionbombed a funeral ceremony on Saturday, killing by some estimates at least 155 people. It prompted human rights advocates on Capitol Hill and beyond to implore the U.S. to stop supporting the Saudi campaign, although the Obama administration recently authorized a $1.13 billion arms sale to the Gulf kingdom.


Obama Is Killing Yemen: A Yemeni Journalist Speaks Out After US-Backed Bombing Strikes Funeral

Amy Goodman speaks with Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee and Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, about the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen. (Democracy Now!)

Obama’s Syria Policy and the Illusion of US Power in the Middle East

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

With the collapse of the US-Russian ceasefire agreement and the resumption and escalation of the massive Russian bombing campaign in Aleppo, the frustration of hawks in Washington over the failure of the Obama administration to use American military power in Syria has risen to new heights.

But the administration’s inability to do anything about Russian military escalation in Aleppo is the logical result of the role the Obama administration has been playing in Syria over the past five years.

The problem is that the administration has pursued policy objectives that it lacked the means to achieve. When Obama called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down in September 2011, the administration believed, incredibly, that he would do so of his own accord. As formerHillary Clinton aide and Pentagon official Derek Chollet reveals in his new book, The Long Game, “[E]arly in the crisis, most officials believed Assad lacked the necessary cunning and fortitude to stay in power.”

Administration policymakers began using the phrase “managed transition” in regard to US policy toward the government, according to Chollet. The phrase reflected perfectly the vaulting ambitions of policymakers who were eager to participate in a regime change that they saw as a big win for the United States and Israel and a big loss for Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be out front pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a “transition” in Syria.

But US regional Sunni allies – Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – would provide the arms to Syrian fighters. The only US role in the war would be a covert operation devised by then CIA director David Petraeus to provide intelligence and logistical assistance to those allies, to get arms to the groups chosen by the Sunni regimes that would pay for them.


Afghanistan’s Killing Fields

Everything you need to know about the Afghanistan war in a seven minute excerpt from episode two of Abby Martin’s Empire Files. (The Empire Files)

Between Hope and Fear: Photographer Paula Bronstein Captures 15 Years of the Afghanistan War

Lizzie Dearden reports for The Independent:

paula-bronstein-7.jpgFifteen years after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the country remains at war.

More than 5,000 civilians have been killed and injured this year alone as Isis and al-Qaeda compete with the Taliban in a bloody insurgency against the Afghan government and “invader” forces.

The UK has lost almost 500 troops in the conflict, which it entered alongside 17 other countries in the wake of the September 11 attacks, with the stated aim of bringing down terror groups, driving out the Taliban, quashing the drug trade and furthering democracy and development.

But the extremists remain, opium production has increased to one of the highest levels ever recorded and 2.7 million refugees have fled, becoming the largest nationality – behind Syria – making desperate sea journeys to Europe this year.

Paula Bronstein, an award-winning American photographer, has recorded the evolution of the war through her lens, arriving as the Taliban was driven out of its last city stronghold.


Afghanistan War at 15th Year Without End in Sight

Greg Wilpert speaks to Afghan Women’s Mission co-director Sonali Kolhatkar who says Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ignore Afghanistan war because they both will continue it. (The Real News)

From Gaza to Aleppo: A Handy Guide for Defending War Crimes

Stephen Zunes writes for In These Times:

Given the United States’ disastrous record in the Middle East—most critically the invasion and occupation of Iraq—and the manifold lies coming out of Washington to justify its policies, many Americans are understandably skeptical about U.S. interventions and the rationalizations used to defend them. This leads many Americans to oppose both direct intervention in Syria and the arming of rebel factions—and rightly so.

But while there is room for debate on some aspects of the conflict, certain elements of the anti-war movement and the anti-imperialist Left—such as the U.S. Peace Council, the ANSWER Coalition, some Green Party leaders and even Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire—go beyond opposing U.S. intervention and implicitly (and in some cases, explicitly) defend the corrupt and autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad. They minimize or deny its responsibility for war crimes, attempt to discredit the reputable human rights organizations that document these crimes, treat virtually the entire Syrian opposition as its most extreme and violent components and attack fellow Leftists who disagree with them.

Many of the arguments used to defend the Syrian regime’s devastating attacks on rebel-held cities are eerily similar to those used by U.S. politicians, in their public statements and in a series of bipartisan Congressional resolutions, to defend Israel’s massive assaults on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. By combining segments of these statements and resolutions supporting Israel’s “right to self-defense” with certain anti-imperialists’ writings on Syria, I was able to put together the ultimate guide to defending war crimes.


Risk of Famine Looms in Yemen


Intensive care wards in Yemen’s hospitals are filled with emaciated children hooked up to monitors and drips – victims of food shortages that could get even worse due to a reorganisation of the central bank that is worrying importers.

With food ships finding it hard to get into Yemen’s ports due to a virtual blockade by the Saudi-led coalition that has backed the government during an 18-month civil war, over half the country’s 28 million people already do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.

Yemen’s exiled president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, last month ordered the central bank’s headquarters to be moved from the capital Sanaa, controlled by Houthi rebels in the north, to the southern port of Aden, which is held by the government. He also appointed a new governor, a member of his government, who has said the bank has no money.

Trade sources involved in importing food to the Arab peninsula’s poorest country say this decision will leave them financially exposed and make it harder to bring in supplies.

Diplomats and aid officials believe the crisis surrounding the central bank could adversely affect ordinary Yemenis.


How Goldman Sachs Lost $1.2 Billion of Libya’s Money

Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel report for Bloomberg:

Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya was a miserable place for a business trip.

In 2008, a few years after renouncing its nuclear and chemical weapons program, the desert nation remained a menacing and ugly place, with cratered highways, awful restaurants with no booze, and Qaddafi’s leathery visage everywhere, staring balefully down from billboards. The dreary capital, Tripoli, sat at the edge of the Sahara, in the least barren sliver of a country defined in the West by dictatorship, terrorism, and billions of dollars’ worth of oil.

Goldman Sachs’s Youssef Kabbaj was one of the few that enjoyed the commute. A securities salesman based out of the bank’s London headquarters, Kabbaj found that Libya reminded him of his native Morocco, and he considered the ruins in Tripoli’s old quarter enchanting. The city had a single decent hotel, the Corinthia, a crescent hulk the color of sand, and that year Kabbaj was such a frequent guest that he stored a rack of pressed suits there at all times. With slick black hair, round cheeks, and a mischievous smile, he was fluent in English, French, Arabic, and the language of international finance.

Qaddafi’s peaceful turn had reopened Libya to Western banking for the first time in two decades. Its $60 billion in oil wealth, no longer dammed up by international sanctions, was ready to flood into the market, as directed by the Libyan Investment Authority, Qaddafi’s brand-new sovereign wealth fund. With his North African pedigree, Kabbaj had been one of the first at Goldman to spot the opportunity. The LIA had become his biggest client, transforming him in a year from rookie salesman into possibly the No. 1 rainmaker at the world’s most profitable investment bank. He was 31 years old.


Fake News and False Flags: How the Pentagon Paid a British PR Firm $500m for Top Secret Iraq Propaganda

Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

General Petraeus signed off on Bell Pottinger's material, says Wells.Photo by Cate Gillon\/Getty ImagesThe Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda programme in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.

The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.

Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”

Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.

Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.


Medea Benjamin: If Americans Can Sue Saudis over 9/11, Drone Victims Should Be Able to Sue U.S.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speaks to Medea Benjamin, author of the book Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection, to get her response to the vote by Congress to allow Americans to sue Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks, overriding President Obama’s veto of the bill. The legislation would allow courts to waive claim of foreign sovereign immunity after an act of terrorism occurs within U.S. borders. “If innocent families [of drone attacks] were able to take the U.S. to court instead of seeing joining ISIS or al-Qaeda as their only resort, that would be a very positive thing.” (Democracy Now!)

The War Against the Assad Regime Is Not a “Pipeline War”

Gareth Porter writes for Truthout:

Crude oil is refined into diesel and other products near al-Jawadiyah, Syria, on Oct. 24, 2015. (Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)[…] That argument has been made in a number of places over the last few years, but the most widely republished version is an essay by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Politico, arguing that the Obama administration began to lay the groundwork for overthrowing the Assad regime in 2009 after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a pipeline proposed by Qatar. That planned pipeline agreed to by Qatar and Turkey, Kennedy argues, would have linked Qatar’s natural gas to European markets through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, so it would have deprived Russia of Europe’s dependence on its natural gas.

But Assad not only prevented the realization of the Qatari plan but signed up with Iran for an alternative pipeline that would make Iran, not Qatar, the principal Middle East supplier of natural gas to European energy markets, according to the “pipeline war” account, so the Obama administration decided that Assad had to be removed from power.

It’s easy to understand why that explanation would be accepted by many anti-war activists: it is in line with the widely accepted theory that all the US wars in the Middle East have been “oil wars” — about getting control of the petroleum resources of the region and denying them to America’s enemies.

But the “pipeline war” theory is based on false history and it represents a distraction from the real problem of US policy in the Middle East — the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region.


Ravaged by Conflict, Yemen’s Coast Faces Rising Malnutrition

Ahmed Al-Haj reports for the Associated Press:

Mideast Yemen MalnutritionSitting by her son’s hospital bed, Houdaid Masbah looks at her 5-year-old boy’s skeletal body and sunken cheeks, helplessness engulfing her like a thick cloud — a desperation she shares with many other mothers in Hodeidah.

Even before the war, Hodeidah was one of the poorest cities in Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished nation. Now, the destruction of the port city’s fishing boats and infrastructure by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes over the past 18 months of war has deprived the townspeople of their prime livelihood.

The U.N. estimates that about 100,000 children under the age of five in the city and the surrounding province, also called Hodeidah, are at risk of severe malnutrition.


Colin Powell in Leaked Email Says Israel Has 200 Nukes

Jack Moore reports for Newsweek:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellFormer U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell alleged that Israel has a nuclear arsenal of 200 warheads, a thorny subject that Israel never comments on, according to an email that Russian hackers leaked earlier this week.

Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, refusing to speak about its rumored nuclear arsenal and never even going as far as to admit that it has possession of nuclear weapons.

But Powell may have given away the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Speaking to Democratic party donor Jeffrey Leeds about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress focusing on the Iranian nuclear deal, he wrote that Iran would never use a nuclear weapon if it was able to develop one. He then stated that Israel has hundreds of nukes and Washington thousands, suggesting that such firepower would deter any Iranian action.


The Kingmaker Club

Stephen Kinzer writes for The Boston Globe:

epa05501742 A Houthi militiaman keeps watch as Yemenis attend a rally in support of the newly formed supreme political council, Sana'a, Yemen, 20 August 2016. According to reports, the supreme political council, formed by Houthi rebels and ex-president Ali Saleh three weeks ago, called on Saudi Arabia to direct negotiations to put an end to the 17-month conflict in Yemen, in an attempt to bypass stalled UN-sponsored peace talks between the Houthis and Yemen's Saudi-backed government. EPA/YAHYA ARHABViolently intervening in the affairs of other countries has brought the United States much grief over the last century. We are hardly the only ones who do it. The club of interventionist nations has a shifting membership. During the current round of Middle East conflict, two new countries have joined: Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Both have succumbed to the imperial temptation. Both are paying a high price. They are learning a lesson that Americans struggle to accept: Interventions have unexpected consequences and often end up weakening rather than strengthening the countries that carry them out.

Turkey’s long intervention in Syria has failed to bring about its intended result, the fall of President Bashar Assad. Instead it has intensified the Syrian conflict, fed a regional refugee crisis, set off terrorist backlash, and deeply strained relations between Turkey and its NATO allies. As this blunder has unfolded, Saudi Arabia has also been waging war outside its territory. Its bombing of neighboring Yemen was supposed to be a way of asserting regional hegemony, but it has aroused indignant condemnation. The bombing campaign has placed Saudi Arabia under new scrutiny, including more intense focus on its role in promoting global terror, which the Saudi royal family has managed to keep half-hidden for years.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia intervened in foreign conflicts hoping to establish themselves as regional kingmakers. Both miscalculated. They overestimated their ability to secure quick victory and failed to weigh the strategic costs of failure or stalemate. If the Turks and Saudis had studied the history of American interventions, they would have been more prudent. We know the sorrows of empire. From Iran to Cuba to Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, the legacy of our interventions continues to haunt us. Ambitious powers, however, continue to ignore the stark lesson that American history teaches. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the latest to repeat our mistake. It is the same mistake that has undermined many nations and empires. They overestimated their ability to shape events in foreign lands. Now they are paying for their delusional overreach.


Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on Whether War Should Have Waged on Libya

Afshin Rattansi speaks to British MP Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, about the new report on the 2011 military intervention in Libya. (Going Underground)

MPs Deliver Damning Verdict on David Cameron’s Libya Intervention

Patrick Wintour and Jessica Elgot report for The Guardian:

David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.

The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds.

The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. The findings are also likely to be seized on by Donald Trump, who has tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials by repeatedly condemning her handling of the Libyan intervention in 2011, when she was US secretary of state.


9/11 Then and Now: Terror, Militarism, War, and Fear

Rami G Khouri writes for Al Jazeera:

We do not know how many have been killed or injured in the dozen countries across the Middle East and South Asia where the so-called 'global war on terror' continues unabated, writes Khouri [Getty]Terrorism is a terrible thing, but it is made even more terrible and tragic when people and governments fail to react to it intelligently and allow it to perpetuate itself and expand – which is precisely what is happening today, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda against the United States.

I was in Boston on September 11, 2001, and I find myself in Boston again this week. As I watch the public’s mood here, I see a very bizarre combination of militaristic triumphalism, political perplexity, and slightly hysterical fears about new terror attacks; nearly 50 percent of Americans tell pollsters today they worry about terror attacks in the US.

No wonder, then, that the balance sheet of events since 2001 is mostly negative and frightening for the whole world.

A review of American actions against terrorism since 9/11 registers one very big achievement: No major terror attack by al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) against the US mainland has occurred since 2001, due to significantly enhanced anti-terror measures in the US and globally.


The Truth About 9/11

Eric Margolis writes:

As Americans enter the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on their nation, they still have not understood the true cause of these dreadful attacks.

Who can blame them? Our politicians and media have totally obscured the truth behind these and subsequent attacks that we call ‘terrorism.’ While we mourn 9/11, US B-52 heavy bombers are raining bombs on what’s left of Afghanistan in a futile attempt to crush tribal forces (aka Taliban) fighting western occupation.

We did the same thing in Laos in the 1980’s, as President Barack Obama properly noted during his visit there last week. Laos has never recovered and Afghanistan won’t either.

Since 2015, the US has dropped at least 32,000 – 1,000-2,000 lb. bombs on Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all Muslim nations. US bomb inventories are running critically low as arms makers work overtime.

9/11 was a revenge attack conducted by mostly Saudi nationals who claimed they wanted to punish the United States for supporting Israeli oppression of Palestine, and for what they claimed was the US ‘occupation’ of Saudi Arabia.

That’s as much as we really know. We have never gotten the full story about 9/11. The best we can do is ask “qui bono,” who really benefitted from the attacks?


Fifteen Years After 9/11, Neverending War

Alex Emmons writes for The Intercept:

In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Congress voted to authorize military force against the people who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the hijackings, few Americans could have imagined the resulting manhunt would span from West Africa all the way to the Philippines, and would outlast two two-term presidents.

Today, U.S. military engagement in the Middle East looks increasingly permanent. Despite the White House having formally ended the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. troops and contractors remain in both countries. The U.S. is dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria faster than it can make them, and according to the Pentagon, its bombing campaign in Libya has “no end point at this particular moment.” The U.S. is also helping Saudi Arabia wage war in Yemen, in addition to conducting occasional airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia.

Fifteen years after the September 11 attacks, it looks like the war on terror is still in its opening act.


House Passes Bill Allowing 9/11 Victims to Sue Saudi Officials

David Francis reports for Foreign Policy:

House Passes Bill Allowing 9/11 Victims to Sue Saudi Officials Ahead of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would allow the families of the victims to sue Saudi Arabia over its alleged support for terrorism. If it passes, it will amount to a largely symbolic gesture.

That’s because President Barack Obama has promised to veto the bill, but there could be enough support in Congress to overcome his seal of disapproval; it passed unanimously in the House and Senate. He maintains the bill would harm Washington’s relationship with Riyadh and that such a measure would put Americans overseas at risk.

The Senate passed the bill in May, even as the White House said it would reject it if it ever got to the president’s desk. If the bill were to become law, it would allow courts to waive immunity claims by foreign officials related to those terrorist attacks.


Iran Still Sticking to Nuclear Deal, IAEA Confirms

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter BaderThe latest in an ongoing series of regular reports by the IAEA on the implementation of the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran has shown, once again, that Iran is fully in compliance with all of its obligations under the deal, and that there was not a single violation in the period covered by this most recent report.

The report, though not made public, appears in all ways identical to other reports on the implementation, and Iran has been in compliance throughout the year since the deal took effect. The new report also confirms that Iran provided additional documentation, as requested.


People in Damascus Desperately Try to Cope with the Dangers of War

Patrick Cockburn reports for The Independent:

mount-qasioun.jpg[…] I was last in Damascus two-and-a-half years ago when security was worse than today in the government-held parts of the city. I stayed in Bab Touma, a Christian district in the Old City which was regularly mortared by a nearby rebel district called Jobar producing a trickle of casualties every day. The thunder of government artillery on Mount Qasioun firing into besieged opposition areas boomed across the city every night. Even then, people were getting used to this, but not as accustomed as they are now when many forget what it is like to live a normal life. The present mood in Damascus reminds me of Beirut halfway through the 15-year civil war (1975-1989)

Earlier still in the conflict, people in Damascus were inexperienced in assessing the degree of danger they were in and would under or over-react to each episode of fighting. I remember in early 2012 taking refuge from sniper fire in a shop selling wedding dresses in the Jaramana district close to the airport road. The owner and I were both crouching down by the counter when three young women came into the shop, oblivious of the shooting outside, and excitedly discussed which of the flame-coloured dresses they would like to buy.

Four years later those same young women would be more likely to spend what little money they have left on food rather than dresses. After the Syrian pound plunged in value and salaries were raised by a much smaller margin, a family that lived on the equivalent of $400-500 a month must now make do with $100. The definition of what is a luxury has changed radically since the start of the war. “Many families no longer eat chicken or lamb because they are so expensive,” commented one friend. “And, if they do buy them, the quantity is a couple of hundred grams just to have a taste of the meat. They may buy locally grown fruit for their children, but not bananas, which are imported and cost too much.” Holding a good job himself, the friend added that he has spent $300 to replace a broken car mirror which would have cost him $70 before the war.


Fake Antiquities Flood Out of Syria as Smugglers Fail to Steal Masterpieces Amid the Chaos of War

Patrick Cockburn reports for The Independent:

syria3.jpgIn the National Museum of Damascus are antique books of black magic or witchcraft listing curses and spells designed to dumbfound or destroy whatever enemy is targeted by the user. Alongside these tattered works lie a bible made out of copper, religious works from the Crusader period and, elsewhere in the museum, a striking stone statue of a falcon.

These look like impressive survivals from Syria’s past, but in reality all are fakes confiscated from smugglers on their way out of the country for sale to foreign customers and dealers. Expertly manufactured in workshops in Damascus and Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria, these fraudulent antiquities are flooding a market full of unwary or unscrupulous buyers who find it easy to believe that great masterpieces are being daily looted in Syria in the midst of the chaos and war. “It started happening in 2015,” says Dr Maamoun AbdulKarim, the general director of antiquities and museums in Damascus. “The looters had attacked all the ancient sites in 2013-14, but they did not find as much as they wanted, so they switched to making fakes.”

There is a strong tradition of craftsmanship in Syria and, in addition, though Dr AbdulKarim does not say so, many unemployed archaeologists and antiquarians are prepared to give expert advice to fakers. The results are often magnificently convincing and come from both government and rebel held areas. In rebel-controlled Idlib province the speciality is making Roman and Greek mosaics, which may be then reburied in ancient sites to reinforce belief in their authenticity and so the buyer can be shown persuasive film of them being excavated.