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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

The grim details of ISIS’s rule come to light

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James Verini wries in the National Geographic:

The Kurdish soldiers stood on a berm, next to a gunner’s dugout, in a corner of their position. It was one of several forward positions on a front line that ran along the crest of a mountainside and faced west onto the Tigris River Valley. The sun had set on a late summer day—the driest season in Iraq, when land and sky seem to merge. Still, through the thickening dark the soldiers could make out, on the river’s near bank, the lights of the city of Mosul. Though this was a vista they could have described in their sleep—for months these soldiers, who were with thepeshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, had surveilled and mapped and discussed every inch—its fascination and menace never dimmed. Everything they looked at belonged to the Islamic State.

The battle for Mosul, long rumored, was finally at hand. An international invasion force had assembled. The Iraqi military had beaten ISIS out of Fallujah and was now fighting its way north toward Mosul. The peshmerga was pushing in from this mountain. U.S. troops were massing, as were Iraqi militias and foreign fighters from Turkey, Iran, and elsewhere.

Inside Mosul there was panic. The United Nations was expecting a humanitarian crisis. More than a million people would be displaced by the battle, it estimated. Civilian casualties would be grievous: ISIS was busy mining streets and booby-trapping buildings. Residents were fleeing the city by any means they could, and this Kurdish position was the terminus of a popular route of escape. Almost every night people scrambled up the mountainside and arrived here with only the clothing on their backs.

Tonight the soldiers were expecting a family of seven. The father, a nurse, had phoned a cousin who lived near the mountain. The cousin had notified the commander. Now cousin and commander stood on the berm together.

The family’s journey would be treacherous. If they were caught by ISIS trying to escape Mosul, they might be jailed, beaten, beheaded, or all three. If they got out of the city, that was only the beginning: Next they would have to get to Fazilia, the village the position overlooked, at the foot of the mountain. ISIS controlled Fazilia and sent up the slope homemade artillery—including, lately, crude chemical missiles—snipers, and suicide bombers. (Recently a pair had gotten to within 50 feet of where the soldiers now stood before blowing themselves up.) If the nurse’s family made it out of Fazilia, they would have to negotiate the mountainside’s boulders without aid of trail or light. With so much dust in the sky, not even the moon would help. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 4:43 pm

Settlement Debate Flares Again in Israel

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Isabel Kershner reports in the NY Times:

Israel’s long-smoldering debate over Jewish settlement in the West Bank reignited on Sunday with a fierce exchange between the government and a human rights organization that touched on broader arguments over definitions of patriotism and the very character of the country.

The latest cross-fire of accusations began after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Saturday that he would push for legislation to bar Israelis from volunteering for national service with B’Tselem, an organization that focuses on allegations of human rights violations againstPalestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.

On Friday, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, addressed a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council devoted to a discussion titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” referring to the internationally endorsed goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The session was initiated by the Palestinians and requested by five countries, including Egypt, a regional ally with which Israel signed a peace treaty in the late 1970s.

Most of the world considers Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that were conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The Palestinians demand those areas as the heart of a future independent state, and continued Israeli building there has been a constant source of tension between Israel and the United States.

Mr. Netanyahu’s pronouncement was largely symbolic: Only three volunteers from a program for 18-year-olds exempted from compulsory military service on ideological, religious, health or other grounds have applied to perform national service at B’Tselem in the last seven years. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, said no other volunteers were in the pipeline. He described Mr. Netanyahu’s ban as “spin” and “a distraction from the actual issues.”

Yet it underscores the rawness of the political divide in Israel over the fate of the territories it seized nearly 50 years ago, the work of nongovernmental organizations that oppose the occupation, and the wedge that Jewish settlement there drives between Israel and the rest of the world.

“Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation,” Mr. El-Ad told the Security Council. Living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank, he said, “mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”

Israel officially considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, and it annexed East Jerusalem in a move that was never internationally recognized.

Mr. Netanyahu denounced B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now, a sister organization of the leftist Israeli Peace Now group, on Facebook. He said they had “joined the chorus of besmirching Israel” and had repeated “the mendacious claim that ‘the occupation and settlements’ are the cause” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 4:14 pm

U.S. and U.K. Continue to Actively Participate in Saudi War Crimes, Targeting of Yemeni Civilians

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Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

From the start of the hideous Saudi bombing campaign against Yemen 18 months ago, two countries have played active, vital roles in enabling the carnage: the U.S. and UK. The atrocities committed by the Saudis would have been impossible without their steadfast, aggressive support.

The Obama administration “has offered to sell $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over its eight years in office, more than any previous US administration,” as the Guardian reported this week, and also provides extensive surveillance technology. As The Intercept documented in April, “in his first five years as president, Obama sold $30 billion more in weapons than President Bush did during his entire eight years as commander in chief.”

Most important, according to the Saudi Foreign Minister, although it is the Saudis that have ultimate authority to choose targets, “British and American military officials are in the command and control centre for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen” and “have access to lists of targets.” In sum, while this bombing campaign is invariably described in western media outlets as “Saudi-led,” the U.S. and U.K. are both central, indispensable participants. As The New York Times Editorial Page put it in August: “The United States is complicit in this carnage,” while the Guardian editorialized that “Britain bears much responsibility for this suffering.”

From the start, the U.S.-and-U.K-backed Saudis have indiscriminately and at times deliberately bombed civilians, killing thousands of innocent people. From Yemen, Iona Craig and Alex Potter have extensively reported for The Intercept on the widespread civilian deaths caused by this bombing campaign. As the Saudis continued to recklessly and intentionally bomb civilians, the American and British weapons kept pouring into Riyahd, ensuring that the civilian massacres continued. Every once and awhile, when a particularly gruesome mass killing made its way into the news, Obama and various British officials would issue cursory, obligatory statements expressing “concern,” then go right back to fueling the attacks.

This weekend, as American attention was devoted almost exclusively to Donald Trump, one of the most revolting massacres took place. On Saturday,warplanes attacked a funeral gathering in Sana, repeatedly bombing the hall where it took place, killing over 100 people and wounding more than 500 (see photo above). Video shows just some the destruction and carnage:

Saudi officials first lied by trying to blame “other causes,” but have since walked that back. The next time someone who identifies with the Muslim world attacks American or British citizens, and those countries’ leading political voices answer the question “why, oh why, do they hate us?” by assuring everyone that “they hate us for our freedoms,” it would be instructive to watch that video.

The Obama White House, through its spokesman Ned Price, condemnedwhat it called “the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians” – ones, it did not note, it has repeatedly supported – and lamely warned that “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check.” That is exactly what it is. The 18 months of bombing supported by the U.S. and U.K. has, as the NYT put it this morning, “largely failed, while reports of civilian deaths have grown common, and much of the country is on the brink of famine.”

It has been known from the start that the Saudi bombing campaign has been indiscriminate and reckless, and yet Obama and the U.K. Government continued to play central roles. A UN report obtained in January by the Guardian “uncovered ‘widespread and systematic’ attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law”; the report found that “the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure.”

But what was not known, until an excellent Reuters report by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay this morning, is that Obama was explicitly warned not only that the Saudis were committing war crimes, but that the U.S. itself could be legally regarded as complicit in them:

The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials.

State Department officials also were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials with knowledge of those discussions. . .

Continue reading.

Remember when President Obama got the Novel Peace Prize? We’ve come a long way, what with drone warfare plus our continuing support for both Netanyahu and the Saudis.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2016 at 6:46 pm

U.S. Admits Israel Is Building Permanent Apartheid Regime: Weeks After Giving It $38 Billion

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Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

In 2010, Israel’s then-defense minister, Ehud Barak, explicitly warned that Israel would become a permanent “apartheid” state if it failed to reach a peace agreement with Palestinians that creates their own sovereign nation and vests them with full political rights. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic,” Barak said. “If this bloc of millions of ­Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Honest observers on both sides of the conflict have long acknowledged that the prospects for a two-state solution are virtually non-existent: another way of saying that Israel’s status as a permanent apartheid regime is inevitable. Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies as early as 45 years ago explicitly warnedthat Israeli occupation would become permanent if it did not end quickly.

All relevant evidence makes clear this is what has happened. There has been no progress toward a two-state solution for many years. The composition of Israel’s Jewish population — which has become far more belligerent and right-wing than previous generations — has increasingly moved the country further away from that goal. There are key ministers in Israel’s government, including its genuinely extremist justice minister, who are openly and expressly opposed to a two-state solution. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has himself repeatedly made clear he opposes such an agreement, both in words and in deeds. In sum, Israel intends to continue to rule over and occupy Palestinians and deny them self-governance, political liberties, and voting rights indefinitely.

Whether despite this aggression and oppression, or because of it, the Obama administration has continually protected Israel with unstinting loyalty and lavished it with arms and money. This rewarding of Israeli behavior culminated in the administration’s announcement just three weeks ago that it has signed a “memorandum of understanding” to significantly increase the amount of money the U.S. gives to Israel every year, even though Israel was already by far the biggest recipient of U.S. aid. Under this agreement, the U.S. will give Israel $38 billion over 10 years, by far a new record for U.S. aid commitments, even though Israeli citizens enjoy all sorts of state benefits that Americans (whose money is being given to Israel) are told are too costly for them, including universal health care coverage, and tout superior life expectancy and infant mortality rates.

This week, with its fresh new $38 billion commitment in hand, the Israeli government announced the approval of an all new settlement in the West Bank, one that is particularly hostile to ostensible U.S. policy, the international consensus, and any prospects for an end to occupation. The new settlement, “one of a string of housing complexes that threaten to bisect the West Bank,” as the New York Times put it this morning, “is designed to house settlers from a nearby illegal outpost, Amona, which an Israeli court has ordered demolished.” This new settlement extends far into the West Bank: closer to Jordan, in fact, than to Israel.

In response to this announcement, the U.S. State Department yesterdayissued an unusually harsh denunciation of Israel’s actions. “We strongly condemn the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank,” it began. It suggested Netanyahu has been publicly lying, noting that the “approval contradicts previous public statements by the government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements.” The State Department invoked the aid package the U.S. just lavished to describe it as “deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long-term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians.”

Much of that, while a bit more rhetorically clear than usual, is par for the course: The U.S. — in vintage Obama fashion — issues pretty, pleasing statements claiming to be upset at Israel’s settlements while taking continuous actions to protect and enable the very policies Obama pretends to oppose. But the State Department denunciation yesterday was actually notable for what amounts to its stark and explicit acknowledgement — long overdue — that Israel is clearly and irreversibly committed to ruling over the Palestinians in perpetuity, becoming the exact “apartheid” state about which Barak warned:

Israelis must ultimately decide between expanding settlements and preserving the possibility of a peaceful two state solution. Since the recent Quartet report called on both sides to take affirmative steps to reverse current trends and advance the two state solution on the ground, we have unfortunately seen just the opposite. Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners, and further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace.

So Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably “towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation” that is anti-democratic: i.e., the equivalent of apartheid. And the leading protector and enabler of this apartheid regime is the U.S. — just as was true of the apartheid regime of the 1980s in South Africa. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2016 at 11:21 am

Obama Worries Future Presidents Will Wage Perpetual, Covert Drone War

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Ryan Devereaux and Alex Emmons report in The Intercept:

President Obama warns in a new interview of a future in which a U.S. president could engage in perpetual covert wars “all over the world.” But he claims that the accountability and transparency measures he is instituting will make that less likely.

In the interview, with New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, Obama expressed agreement with one of the most salient critiques of his drone war, that it risks creating “institutional comfort and inertia with what looks like a pretty antiseptic way of disposing of enemies.”

Obama explained that he had looked at “the way in which the number of drone strikes was going up and the routineness with which, early in my presidency, you were seeing both DOD and CIA and our intelligence teams think about this.”

He continued: “And it troubled me, because I think you could see, over the horizon, a situation in which, without Congress showing much interest in restraining actions with authorizations that were written really broadly, you end up with a president who can carry on perpetual wars all over the world, and a lot of them covert, without any accountability or democratic debate.”

[See update below, in which the White House press secretary says Obama was actually talking about how he felt before he instituted his reforms.]

The president expressed a sense of urgency to rein in these powers that seems particularly appropriate given that both candidates for the White House have indicated receptiveness to intensifying the use of military force abroad, with Donald Trump going so far as expressing openness to killing the families of suspected terrorists.

“By the time I leave here, the American people are going to have a better sense of what their president is doing,” Obama said. “Their president is going to have to be more accountable than he or she otherwise would have been. The world, I think, will have a better sense of what we’re trying to do and what we stand for. And I think all of that will serve the American people well in the future.”

But the one existing transparency measure Obama touts as an example in the interview — the administration’s release of its tally on civilian casualties from drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia — was viewed by many in the human rights community as a farce, largely because it pointed to a death toll far lower than outside observer tallies.

The release, made public on the Friday afternoon of Fourth of July weekend, reported that between 64 and 116 civilians were killed during Obama’s two terms. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, by comparison, has estimated that between 492 and 1,077 civilians have been killed by drone strikes during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

And critical questions about those operations remain unanswered, such as the circumstances that led to the death of Momina Bibi, a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother killed in an October 2012 airstrike; or the reason for the attack that took the life of Salim bin Ahmed Ali Jaber, an anti-al Qaeda imam in Yemen a month earlier; or the full story of how American forces came to target a wedding convoy, also in Yemen, a year later, killing 12 people.

Those questions remain unanswered, in part because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 October 2016 at 4:55 pm

The Iraq War evaluated from the British side

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In the NY Review of Books Goeffrey Wheatcroft has a very interesting review of three recent books on Britain’s part in the Iraq War failure, one of which is the Chilcot Report. The review is definitely worth reading. The review begins:

How did it happen? By now it is effortless to say that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by American and British forces was the most disastrous—and disgraceful—such intervention of our time. It’s also well-nigh pointless to say so: How many people reading this would disagree? For Americans, Iraq is their worst foreign calamity since Vietnam (although far more citizens of each country were killed than were Americans); for the British, it’s the worst at least since Suez sixty years ago this autumn, though really much worse on every score, from political dishonesty to damage to the national interest to sheer human suffering.

Although skeptics wondered how much more the very-long-awaited Report of the Iraq Inquiry by a committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot could tell us when it appeared at last in July, it proves to contain a wealth of evidence and acute criticism, the more weighty for its sober tone and for having the imprimatur of the official government publisher. In all, it is a further and devastating indictment not only of Tony Blair personally but of a whole apparatus of state and government, Cabinet, Parliament, armed forces, and, far from least, intelligence agencies.

Among its conclusions the report says that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; that the British “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”; that military action “was not a last resort”; that when the United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix said weeks before the invasion that he “had not found any weapons of mass destruction and the items that were not accounted for might not exist,” Blair wanted Blix “to harden up his findings.”

The report also found that deep sectarian divisions in Iraq “were exacerbated by…de Ba’athification and…demobilisation of the Iraqi army”; that Blair was warned by his diplomats and ministers of the “inadequacy of U.S. plans” for Iraq after the invasion, and of what they saw as his “inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning”; and that “there was no collective discussion of the decision by senior Ministers,” who were regularly bypassed and ignored by Blair.

And of course claims about Iraqi WMDs were presented by Downing Street in a way that “conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence,” which is putting it generously. Chilcot stops short of saying directly that the invasion was illegal or that Blair lied to Parliament, but he is severe on the shameful collusion of the British intelligence agencies, and on the sinister way in which Blair’s attorney general changed his opinion about the legality of the invasion.

Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam “were wholly inadequate,” Chilcot says, and “the people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” Those might seem like statements of the blindingly obvious, as does the solemn verdict that the invasion “failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq.” It did more than merely fail, and not only was every reason we were given for the war falsified; every one of them has been stood on its head. Extreme violence in Iraq precipitated by the invasion metastasized into the hideous conflict in neighboring Syria and the implosion of the wider region, the exact opposite of that birth of peaceable pro-Western democracy that proponents of the invasion had insisted would come about. While Blair at his most abject still says that all these horrors were unforeseeable, Chilcot makes clear that they were not only foreseeable, but widely foreseen.

Nor are those the only repercussions. Chilcot coyly says that “the widespread perception”—meaning the correct belief—that Downing Street distorted the intelligence about Saddam’s weaponry has left a “damaging legacy,” undermining trust and confidence in politicians. It is not fanciful to see the Brexit vote, the disruption of the Labour Party, and the rise of Donald Trump among those consequences, all part of the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments that were so discredited by Iraq. And so how could it have happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2016 at 10:59 am

Good news but need more: 27 U.S. Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia

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An important step in the right direction, reported by Alex Emmons in The Intercept.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

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