Last counties in Kirkuk fall to Iraqi Gov’t as Sistani calls for protection of Kurdish Citizens

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iraqi military and its Shiite militia auxiliaries have completed their reassertion in Kirkuk. The last pockets of resistance fell as units advanced on Altun Kupru, the last check point before you get to Erbil, one of the three Kurdistan provinces. In the process, there was reportedly heavy fighting with the Kurdistan Peshmerga paramiitary. Neither side has released how many casualties they took.

Meanwhile, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the foremost Iraqi clerical leader, asked the Iraqi government to protect Kurdish civilians. The statement came after reports surfaced that Shiite militias had abused Kurdish noncombatants in Kirkuk city, as well as in surrounding ones.

Sistani had nevertheless backed the Baghdad government’s move to recover Kirkuk province. He just wants the process to be as orderly and lawful as possible. Although Sistani is often credited with reviving the Shiite militias to fight ISIL in 2014, he clearly wanted them to be an arm of the regular army. He does not have any tolerance for disarray.

Sistani’s nationalist rival, Muqtada al-Sadr, also made a plea that the long tradition of religious and ethnic coexistence should be reasserted. He had likewise supported the reintegration of Kirkuk into Iraq.

Sistani and al-Sadr are functioning as Iraqi nationalists when they voice support for the Kirkuk operation. People sometimes forget how much Shiite Iraqis can adopt country nationalism about Iraq. Sunni Arabs in that country were often tempted by pan-Arabism or pan-Islam. The Iraqi Arab Shiites always knew that there is just one country where they have a hope of being in charge.

Reuters points out that without Kirkuk’s oil wealth, the three remaining rugged provinces that make up the Kurdistan Regional Government likely could not survive economically if they tried to declare independence.

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Related video added by Juan Cole

AFP: “Clashes as Iraq army takes Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province”

Posted in Featured,Iraq | No Responses | Print |

Like his hero Trump, John Kelly falsely smears Critics

The Los Angeles Times | (Video News Clip) | – –

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, criticizing Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, misrepresented an April 2015 speech she made at the opening of a new FBI building in Miami. (Oct. 20, 2017)”

“Frederica Wilson 2015 Video Shows John Kelly Got It Wrong | Los Angeles Times”

George W. Bush & GOP lack standing to bash Trump for Racism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

George W. Bush gave a speech on Thursday widely interpreted as an attack on Trump in which he deplored the rise of white nationalism and bigotry in the past year. “Bigotry,” he lamented, “seems emboldened.”

George W. Bush may or may not personally be a nice guy. People used to say he was the sort of person you’d enjoy going for a beer with, and he has had close African-American and Arab friends.

On the other hand, he authorized the CIA to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammad practically to death. And, throughout his public career was complicit with the Republican Party dog whistle of racism and he wouldn’t have been president without it.

We can’t blame W. for his father’s campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, when George H. W. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater played the race card. Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent in 1972 had signed into law a furlough program for inmates in prison, and one Willie Horton was let out for a weekend on the program when Michael Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts. Horton committed assault and rape and fled, though a Muslim police officer later shot and apprehended him.

Atwater did up campaign ads trying to tie Dukakis to Horton, and very successfully so. He said, “I’m going to strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate.” In 2016 mainstream Republican strategists were still talking about using a “Willie Horton” strategy. Atwater used to like to play Chicago blues, but after 1988 African-American musicians often avoided him like the plague. Atwater repented on his death bed and apologized for what he had done.

I’m not aware that W. ever criticized his father’s campaign for this tactic. It was very racist. I remember the ads. Horton was a disreputable-looking fellow and Atwater paired his photo up with that of Dukakis as though they were jointly on the most wanted list. The racism virtually dripped off the tv screen and pooled on the floor below.

But W. himself also does not have the standing to bash Trump on this issue, most unfortunately. This sad fact diminishes our country. I wish it were otherwise.

Exhibit A is the 2000 Republican primary campaign. Bush was running against Senator John McCain (R-AZ). McCain’s wife Cindy had visited an orphanage in Bangladesh and seen a little girl with a cleft palate who badly needed surgery. She and John adopted her and named her Bridget. Although Bridget was not raised Muslim, I think the McCains are particularly sensitive to anti-Muslim bigotry because of having a Bangladeshi in the family, and McCain refused to play the Islamophobia card in his campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.

In 2000, the McCains campaigned in South Carolina with their children, including Bridget. So Bush’s mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the idea of robo-calling voters and calling into talk radio, asking the question, “If you knew McCain had an illegitimate child with a Black woman, would that affect how you felt about him.” The Republican Party in South Carolina is solidly white, although the state is 1/3 African-American, and what they were pleased to call ‘miscegenation’ had been a crime in South Carolina until the late 1960s.

Because people had seen Bridget at the rallies, Rove’s smear was widely believed, and it contributed to McCain’s loss in the GOP primary. Bush winning South Carolina cemented his standing as a front runner.

No racism and bigotry, no Bush presidency. (McCain handily won South Carolina in 2008 when Rove was not calling the shots any more). Now you could say that Rove was behind all this and W. may not have backed it. But Bush never denounced Rove or dissociated himself from these tactics. The buck stops with him.

I agree with Bush that the poor response to Katrina by Bush and his FEMA was probably largely incompetence and that Kanye West was wrong to call him a racist over it (West has since apologized).

But Bush’s tax cuts went overwhelmingly to rich white people, and were designed to make it more difficult for the government to continue its social welfare spending, which benefits African-Americans. Structural racism was a big part of the Bush administration even if that wasn’t the lens through which W. himself saw his policies.

Moreover, Bush’s FBI wrongly targeted perfectly innocent Muslims, including those at the charity, the Holy Land Foundation, producing some of the biggest travesties of American justice since the end of Jim Crow.

The GOP had been better than most Democrats on race issues in the first half of the twentieth century. But with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Nixonian “southern strategy,” the party actively sought to become the mouthpiece for angry white men.

Trump is merely the logical conclusion of the Southern strategy, and until the Republican Party comes to terms with its decades of latent racism and its rather loud dog whistle, it will create more and more Trumps. Indeed, with Der Robert Mercer’s billions behind him, Der Steve Bannon is planning to oust GOP merely latent mild racists, and replace them with full on Nazis. The party has to decide whether it will acquiesce in this hostile takeover. If it won’t, it has to apologize for past racism and develop some other less toxic way of appealing to upper middle class voters.

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Related video:

Washington Post: “George W. Bush’s ardent speech on democracy, in 3 minutes”

Are China and N. Korea biggest Winners from Trump dissing Iran Deal?

Neil Thompson | (Informed Comment) | – –

The recent move by President Trump to unilaterally decertify Iran under the 2015 nuclear agreement has predictably caused tensions between Iran and the West to rise. Trump’s unilateral jettisoning of the Obama-era deal (which has been sent back for 60-day congressional review in a bid to renegotiate parts the Trump Whitehouse dislikes) has also angered the other five powers who signed the multilateral accord, which was enshrined in a UN resolution.

They point out that international inspectors say Iran is in technical compliance with the accord and that the nuclear agreement will remain valid regardless of President Trump’s actions. The air of international exasperation with the cranky US President, who has also withdrawn America from the Paris climate accord and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (and started renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement) in pursuit of his “America First” campaign pledges, is palpable.

But the biggest damage to US credibility has probably been done far away from Iran, the Middle East or even Great Power political circles. Instead it is in East Asia where the terrible diplomatic precedent of an American leader trying to unilaterally renegotiate a functioning international nuclear accord will be felt the most. A binding multilateral nuclear agreement was meant to restrain a rogue state’s sovereignty to pursue nuclear development; but it promised regime security in exchange.

Hardliners in authoritarian countries who pointed out that Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had both been invaded and overthrown after giving up their weapons of mass destruction were placated with the promise that any international agreement was permanent and binding. That promise has now been demolished by a US president who often seems bent on simply tearing up everything his predecessor accomplished before him, regardless of the cost to others.

The American breach with Tehran is therefore a propaganda gift to the hereditary Stalinist dictatorship of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who has spent the last few months trading insults with President Trump over his own country’s nuclear and missile programmes. The North Korean leader has already tested more rockets than his father and grandfather’s regimes did combined.

Indeed, since his accession to power in 2011, North Korean foreign policy has seemingly revolved around acquiring a nuclear deterrent capable of hitting the American homeland before any resumption of diplomatic relations. While it is unlikely that a revival of the Six-Party Talks or some other multilateral forum could now dissuade Pyongyang from its attempts to achieve this, the North Korean regime now has the perfect riposte for any who even try; America doesn’t keep to its international agreements unless deterred by fear of mutual catastrophe.

But strengthening the North Korean government’s diplomatic hand looks even more foolish strategically when one takes into account the fact that Trump is counting on North Korea’s enabler China to rein in the regime. With exquisitely bad timing Trump announced he was ditching the Iran nuclear deal (to which China is a signatory) just before China’s leader Xin Jinping was to begin celebrating the end of his first term in office at the Chinese Communist party’s 19th party congress.

Meant to celebrate a new era of Chinese strength and prosperity, this congress is also crucial to the Chinese president’s personal political future. Five of the seven members of the central Politburo Standing Committee and six of the 25 strong Politburo are due to stand down in accordance with the party’s unofficial rules on retirement; President Xin therefore has an unusually large number of places he can fill with personal loyalists.

During this transformative “patriotic” period there is no way that anyone in Beijing can be seen to break ranks with an East Asian communist regime in its own back yard, especially not for the Americans. Yet even as he restarted the US confrontation with Iran, Trump was also seeking ways to pressure China into cutting off the economic lifelines the North Korean elite rely upon to keep their dysfunctional country up and running. In September the US threatened to target major Chinese banks over their ties to North Korean actors. This followed actual American sanctions on China’s Bank of Dandong, for allegedly helping North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Neither move will have been well received by Beijing, which has many options for retaliation against American firms once its party congress is over.

It is extremely unlikely that a rising China (with a sovereignty-obsessed ruling class) will accept the demands of America’s extraterritorial legal and financial systems in the way that smaller states in Europe and Asia have. North Korea may thus end up becoming the geopolitical flashpoint that spurs China into formally creating it’s own global business architecture and cross-border payment systems, independent of the US neo-liberal order.

This process will be aided by the global perception that under Trump the United States is a law unto itself, but one which is happy to hold states hostage by their economies until they submit to American demands. Trump’s recent threat to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization like al Qaeda or the Islamic State is another gift to hardliners in Beijing and Pyongyang both.

If the US can unilaterally designate a branch of the armed forces of a UN-member nation an illegal organisation and impose sanctions, then it is taking upon itself the right to decide who is, and is not, a legitimate state actor; neither China nor North Korea will ever accept this state of affairs and if Trump carries out his threat against the IRGC both states will feel more justified than ever in looking to the only weapons proven to be capable of deterring a hostile US; nuclear ones. The “grown ups” in the Trump Whitehouse should consider the cost to America elsewhere of the president’s chest-beating over Iran. It may help save the American led global system they are supposed to be protecting.

Neil Thompson is a freelance writer who has lived and travelled extensively through East Asia and the Middle East. He holds an MA in the International Relations of East Asia from Durham University, and is now based in London.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “China calls on US to maintain commitment to agreement on Iran nuclear deal”

Why is Saudi Arabia suddenly so paranoid?

By James L. Gelvin | (The Conversation) | – –

In the past, Saudi Arabia depended upon its enormous oil wealth and the United States for its security. It used the former to buy friends and pay off enemies and potential enemies. It used the latter to guarantee its survival. With a few exceptions, Saudi Arabia did not involve itself directly in the affairs of its neighbors.

Over the course of the past decade, however, that has changed. Saudi Arabia intervened militarily in Bahrain and Yemen. It helped finance the 2013 coup d’état launched by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. It has supported insurgents in Libya and Syria and put together an international coalition purportedly to fight terrorism. And it led the Gulf Cooperation Council’s campaign against its tiny neighbor, Qatar.

Why the sudden change?

Based on recent developments, it is evident that Saudi Arabian officials assume that they can no longer depend on their traditional security safeguards of oil and U.S. might. They seem to imagine that the only guarantee for their security is their own muscular response.

As a historian of the modern Middle East who has researched and taught about the region for over 30 years, I believe there are three causes for the shift in Saudi Arabia’s security stance: the Arab uprisings of 2010 and 2011, the policies of the Obama administration and the collapse of oil prices.

A perceived threat

Saudi Arabia looked at the Arab uprisings as a potential calamity. The Saudis support the status quo in the region and Saudi-Western leadership there. The uprisings endangered not only Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian allies such as Egypt and Bahrain, but the regional order and the foundations of Saudi Arabia’s legitimacy as well. The uprisings also threatened to expand the realm of democratic and human rights in the region – something which the Saudi regime fears.

Furthermore, the Saudis feared the uprisings would open the way for the expansion of Iranian influence throughout the region. That led to the Saudi intervention into Yemen, where they believe the Iranians have meddled. In reality, local grievances, not Iranian meddling, precipitated Yemen’s current civil war. Saudi Arabia made the same accusation with regard to Bahrain, although a royal commission appointed by the king of Bahrain failed to find any evidence of Iranian subversion there.

Just as serious for the Saudis, the uprisings threatened to empower Muslim brotherhoods and Muslim-Brotherhood-style movements throughout the region. The Saudi royal family believes this movement provides a model for reconciling religion and politics that competes with its own vision of the proper relationship between the two. While the brotherhoods have linked religion and politics, the Saudi royal family has sought to distance one from the other to prevent the emergence of potentially destabilizing Islamist movement. This has been the royal family’s survival strategy since 1932.

At the behest of Abdulaziz ibn Al Saud, the founder of the current Saudi state, Saudi religious scholars have emphasized the doctrine that Muslims should passively obey their leaders so long as those leaders are also Muslim. That is still their position.

The Saudis were outraged by what they claimed was American support for the Arab uprisings. While the American government was, in fact, ambivalent about the uprisings because friendly autocrats have furthered American interests in the region since World War II, the Saudis were outraged that the United States did not give its unconditional support to the authoritarian governments it had long supported.

Saudi Arabia versus Obama

This brings us to the second reason for Saudi paranoia and assertion in the region: the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.

Obama sought to reverse the fixation of his predecessor, George W. Bush, on the Middle East. He believed that the United States should focus its attention on East Asia, where the global future will be determined, not on a region as conflict-prone and economically stagnant as the Middle East.

And so Obama was looking to reduce America’s commitments in the region and resolve or at least smooth over conflicts so that the United States could turn its attention elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why he signed the Iran nuclear deal and tried to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Most of all, he sought to have American allies take more responsibility for their own defense.

Obama’s grand strategy, however, made America’s traditional allies in the region fear abandonment. The Saudis found his comment that they would have to learn to “share the neighborhood” with Iran particularly horrifying.

Saudi Arabia’s oil dependency

The final reason for Saudi paranoia has to do with the collapse of oil prices. From June 2014 to April 2016, oil prices dropped 70 percent for a variety of reasons, including a glut in the market, alternative sources for fuel and conservation.

Most economists think the price of oil will rebound, although not to peak levels. But this hasn’t prevented oil-producing states from following the advice of the International Monetary Fund to take steps to diversify their economies.

Saudi Arabia has been particularly receptive to IMF entreaties. In spring 2016, then-Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman unveiled a plan titled “Vision 2030.” “Vision 2030” is hardly innovative. It includes a list of the same tired free-market recommendations that have been applied internationally since the 1970s.

The plan calls for privatizing government assets, including education and 5 percent of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco; reducing and targeting subsidies on oil, electricity and water; introducing an income tax; and creating 450,000 new private sector jobs, among other proposals.

The odds that Saudi Arabia is capable of transforming its economy to become globally competitive in 13 years are not high. This would mean, among other things, discarding the most effective tool the Saudi government has to gain that population’s consent – buying it. When the Arab uprisings threatened to spread to Saudi Arabia, for example, the Saudi government distributed US$130 billion worth of grants to its population to maintain their loyalty. It would also mean ensuring a free flow of information in a country in which transparency on all levels of governance and commerce is rare. In 2017, Saudi Arabia ranked 168th out of 180 countries surveyed in terms of press freedom. Finally, it would mean changing attitudes toward work in a country in which women make up only 22 percent of the workforce – compared to close to 40 percent globally – and foreigners literally do all the heavy lifting.

The ConversationMuhammad bin Salman has already had to back away from some of the proposals outlined in “Vision 2030.” It is unlikely this vision will be any more successful than Saudi Arabia’s failed Yemen war, for which the crown prince is also responsible.

James L. Gelvin, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Los Angeles

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

TRT: “Roundtable: Can Saudi Arabia reform?”

Posted in Saudi Arabia | 2 Responses | Print |

Beyond the “Me Too” campaign: Sexual harassers and adult bullies

By Gail Ukockis | (Informed Comment) | – –

His name was Jesse. I would have considered him to be handsome but for his dark eyes, which looked at me in a predatory manner. Dressed in his blue security guard uniform at the downtown Denver library, he looked official and authoritative. I was only sixteen, an ugly duckling who wore an ugly mustard-yellow shelver’s jacket. At first, the attention from this older man was flattering. Then I grew afraid.

He would find me downstairs in the dimly lit corridors of the library basement. Alone and vulnerable, I just stood there as he crept closer and closer to me. He enjoyed my discomfort, a discomfort made obvious by my nervous giggles and scared looks. I had no idea of how to handle these encounters. Fortunately, he never touched me—just intimidating me gave enough pleasure to this creep. This was the late 70s, when his behavior was considered harmless. A librarian told me later that she had transferred to another library branch just to avoid him. Even this adult did not think of reporting him to his employer. He had not only the physical power to invade our space, but the institutional power of a system that would have dismissed our complaints.

The “Me too” campaign, recently launched in reaction to the Harvey Weinstein controversy, invites anyone who had been harassed or attacked to declare their status to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the problem. This campaign has reminded me of Jesse’s bearded face and heavy breathing as he edged toward me. Why did he choose to harass me? According to an expert on sexual assault, a perpetrator may use three criteria for the victim: vulnerability, accessibility, and the lack of credibility. On all three counts, then, I was certainly an ideal target for his cruel game because I was only a kid.

However, my story is not about the experience of being harassed (it was a minor event for me) but about the dynamics of bullies. The “Me too” campaign is trying once again to educate males about respecting women: do not catcall, do not follow too close behind, etc. Although this approach might work for the oblivious male who should know better by now, it ignores the reality of what happened to me and perhaps others. Jesse knew exactly what he was doing and he had fun doing it. He was clearly conscious of my reaction, which was far more gratifying to him than a kiss or touch. Telling a man like Jesse that his behavior was harmful would only increase his pleasure. He was not a clueless or awkward geek, but simply a bully.

By defining “bullying” as intentional cruelty that is done repeatedly to make somebody feel worse off, I am stressing the aggressiveness of both children and adults who bully. The traditional view of bullies is that they are insecure, so they build up this self-esteem by harassing others. My research into bullies (especially adult ones) contradicts this assumption because bullying has several rewards. The bad news is that it feels good to put somebody else down, either through violence or putdowns. The popularity of wrestling, for example, derives from the vicarious joys of watching one person smash another one into the ground. Verbal attacks on reality shows and sitcoms highlight the thrills of diminishing another person.

The social rewards of bullying also deserve attention, especially in a culture that emphasizes that nice guys finish last. People laugh at mean jokes directed at some poor schmuck. In countless movie scenes, the man who wins the fight gets the girl. (My choice of the words “man” and “girl” is deliberate, since the man dominates the girl.) Researchers note that no matter the gender, workplace bullying can improve your career. In fact, some European countries call workplace bullying “mobbing” to stress the herd mentality within an office.

As a form of bullying, sexual harassment has its own rewards. Admiration of a man’s alleged virility (i.e., he did it because he’s a man’s man) can override the condemnation of his boorish behavior. Bill O’Reilly, for instance, has a tough persona that was reinforced by the lawsuits involving sexual harassment; his recent actions indicate that he plans a comeback despite being fired in disgrace. I also wonder how many people envied Harvey Weinstein for his casting couch privileges instead of being sickened by this abuse of power.

Deliberate cruelty in the context of bullying, then, is another aspect of sexual harassment that merits an in-depth discussion. The assumption that all bullies/harassers simply need a good lesson on respecting others will not solve the problem of men who like to corner teenaged girls in a library basement. Jesse had taken a sick pleasure in stalking me–what do we do to stop men like him?

Gail Ukockis, PhD, MSW, MA, is an educator and social worker with an eclectic background that includes graduate studies in history. For eleven years, Dr. Ukockis taught a women’s issues course at Ohio Dominican University, which served as the foundation for this textbook. Her research interests also include HIV/AIDS, cultural competence, and human trafficking. She is author of Women’s Issues for a New Generation: A Social Work Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Good Morning America: “Alyssa Milano reacts to viral #MeToo movement”

Posted in Feminism,women | No Responses | Print |

Iran’s Khamenei: We’ll observe Deal if Europe does, despite “Charlatan,” Trump

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday that he did not intend to engage in a tit for tat with Donald Trump, who had attacked Iran in a speech last week.

“Naturally, I do not want to spend time right now in replying to the fables and falsehoods of this charlatan president of the republic. . .” He added that replying to such as Trump is “a waste of time.”

Seyyed_Ali_Khamenei

He complained that the US has gone about roiling the Middle East, supporting Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and of Lebanon, and creating ISIL [this is a false allegation — JC] and supporting extremist groups that routinely excommunicate Shiites and other Muslims from the religion. He said the US regime is angry with Iran because Tehran had foiled their dastardly plots in the region, including in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He quoted sardonically former secretary of state Condi Rice’s saying that a new Middle East is being born. Sure it is, he said, and it isn’t the one Washington imagined.

Khamenei said that the new US president had shown himself to be a moron, but nevertheless, Iranians should not let their guard down in the face of the sly tricks of the US.

He seems worried that Iranians will discount the danger the US poses to the Iranian state because the American leader is clearly a stupid individual.

He said that there will be no conventional war, but that things might take place that are just as important.

He complained that the US threatened enmity if Iran did not sign the nuclear deal, but after Tehran signed, the enmity redoubled.

He praised European countries for standing by the nuclear deal. He said that Iran welcomes European steadfastness in the face of Trump’s threats to simply tear up the deal. But, he said, standing by their own treaty is not enough. He pointed out that the deal is in the interest of the Europeans and the Americans.

He added of the Europeans, “We also naturally said that as long as this side does not tear it up, neither will we.” If it is torn up [by Europe] then Iran will also shred the agreement. (US news outlets are mistranslating this part as saying that If Trump tears up the deal, so will Iran; Khamenei is clearly speaking of Europe here).

That is not enough, he said. If the US Congress contravenes the agreement by imposing substantial new sanctions on Iran, he said, he expects the Europeans to step up and foil them. He rejected Western concerns about Iranian missiles, on the grounds that all the Western countries also have rockets and missiles and no one is sanctioning them over it.

Posted in Bush,Featured,Iran | 8 Responses | Print |

Burma: New Satellite Images Confirm Mass Destruction of Rohingya

Human Rights Watch | – –

288 Villages, Tens of Thousands of Structures Torched

(New York) – Newly released satellite images reveal that at least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine State in Burma since August 25, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The destruction encompassed tens of thousands of structures, primarily homes inhabited by ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

Complete destruction of Rohingya villages in close proximity to intact Rakhine village, Maungdaw township, recorded on 21 September 2017.


© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Analysis of the satellite imagery indicates both that the burnings focused on Rohingya villages and took place after Burmese officials claimed security force “clearance operations” had ceased, Human Rights Watch said. The imagery pinpoints multiple areas where destroyed Rohingya villages sat adjacent to intact ethnic Rakhine villages. It also shows that at least 66 villages were burned after September 5, when security force operations supposedly ended, according to a September 18 speech by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese military responded to attacks on August 25 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) with a campaign of ethnic cleansing, prompting more than 530,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Ethnic Rohingya village completely destroyed adjacent to intact ethnic Rakhine village in Maungdaw Township, Burma.


© 2017 Human Rights Watch

“These latest satellite images show why over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in just four weeks,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Burmese military destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages while committing killings, rapes, and other crimes against humanity that forced Rohingya to flee for their lives.”

Map of villages destroyed in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung Townships.


© 2017 Human Rights Watch

A total of 866 villages in Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine State were monitored and analyzed by Human Rights Watch. The most damage occurred in Maungdaw Township, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the areas where destruction happened between August 25 and September 25. Approximately 62 percent of all villages in the township were either partially or completely destroyed, and southern areas of the township were particularly hard hit, with approximately 90 percent of the villages devastated. In many places, satellite imagery showed multiple areas on fire, burning simultaneously over wide areas for extended periods.

Human Rights Watch found that the damage patterns are consistent with fire. Comparing recent imagery with those taken prior to the date of the attacks, analysis showed that most of the damaged villages were 90 to 100 percent destroyed. Many villages which had both Rohingya and Rakhine residing in segregated communities, such as Inn Din and Ywet Hnyo Taung, suffered heavy arson damage from arson attacks, with known Rohingya areas burned to the ground while known Rakhine areas were left intact.

Multiple villages on fire along the coast of Maungdaw Township, Burma on the morning of September 15, 2017.


© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The Burmese government has repeatedly said that ARSA insurgents and local Rohingya communities were responsible for setting the fires that wiped out their villages, but has offered no evidence to support such claims. Human Rights Watch interviews in Bangladesh with more than 100 refugees who had fled the three townships gave no indication that any Rohingya villagers or militants were responsible for burning down their own villages.

The Burmese government and military has not impartially investigated and prosecuted alleged serious abuses committed against the Rohingya population. UN member countries and international bodies should press the Burmese government to grant access to the UN-mandated fact-finding mission to investigate these abuses. The UN Security Council should also urgently impose a global arms embargo on Burma, and place travel bans and asset freezes on those Burmese commanders responsible for grave abuses. Governments should impose a comprehensive arms embargo against Burma, including prohibiting military cooperation and financial transactions with military-owned enterprises.

“The shocking images of destruction in Burma and burgeoning refugee camps in Bangladesh are two sides of the same coin of human misery being inflicted on the Rohingya,” Robertson said. “Concerned governments need to urgently press for an end to abuses against the Rohingya and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches everyone in need.”

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

ODN: “580,000 Rohingya are now seeking refuge from Myanmar”

ISIL was ended not by Trump or Obama but by Muslims

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Raqqa, the capital of the ISIL phony “caliphate” in eastern Syria, has completely fallen, according to a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. It is just a matter of neutralizing a few remaining cells and defusing booby traps in the city.

The SDF is primarily made up of leftist Kurds of the YPG or People’s Protection Units, the paramilitary of the Democratic Union Party of northeast Syria. There are a few Arab adjuncts for appearances, since the US has enlisted the Kurds in taking primarily Arab areas under ISIL control.

In Iraq, ISIL has also lost almost all significant territory to the Iraqi Army, which was supported by Shiite militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga. Last month, 1000 militants surrendered at Hawija, a largely Sunni Arab town near Kirkuk.

Although it now cannot be called a territorial ‘state,’ ISIL hasn’t disappeared. It will devolve back into being a destructive terrorist organization. Still, it will have far fewer resources for committing terrorism.

Americans are arguing over whether Trump or president Barack Obama is responsible for the victory.

It is a self-absorbed and shameful debate, as though the whole world revolves around America’s broken two-party system. As for Trump’s egomania of the three-year-old sort, where everything that happens while he is alive derives from him, surely we need not take it seriously enough to argue with it.

ISIL was defeated by local Muslims, with air support and strategic advice from the United States and from Iran. But literally thousands of local Muslim troops died for this victory, and it is their’s.

Although Western journalists such as Graeme Wood argued that ISIL is ‘very very Islamic,’ most of the world’s Muslims beg to differ. They see it as a bloody and destructive cult, according to all the opinion polling.

The unpopularity of ISIL among all but a fringe of extremists explains its demise. Iran did not want it there. Iraq did not want it there. The Kurds did not want it there. The Syrian government did not want it there. Even if it wasn’t Turkey’s top priority, Turkey definitely did not want it there, especially after ISIL began setting off bombs in that country.

It is true that President Obama and his Secretary of Defense Ash Carter laid out the strategy. In Iraq, Obama reestablished the American military Iraq Command and sent in several thousand special forces personnel to retrain and reestablish the Iraqi army. At the same time, Iraq’s Shiite militias, some of which had become defunct, were revived. In part, they volunteered at the instance of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who issued a fatwa or considered legal opinion on the need to put down ISIL. In part, they received money, training a direction from the Jerusalem Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, headed by Qassem Soleimani. Since the Iraqi army had collapsed in June of 2014 when it ran away from ISIL in Mosul, the role of the Shiite militias in support of the army was key. The US de facto gave the Iran-backed militias air support, though neither Washington nor Tehran can admit it publicly. The Americans trained three counter-terrorism brigades in the Iraqi army, who spearheaded the fight against ISIL and took extremely heavy casualties.

Trump did not take those casualties. The Iraqi army did.

In Syria, Obama and Ash Carter allied with the YPG Kurds, giving them training and arms and and embedding hundreds of Special Ops troops among them. They renamed the YPG the Syrian Democratic Forces to allay Arab and Turkish fears (it did not work) and sent them against ISIL. Initially the SDF Kurds wanted only to go against ISIL in the West, so that they could establish a corridor linking the Jazeera in the northeast with Kobane to its west and to a third canton, Afrin. This move west was ultimately blocked by Turkey and its Arab guerrilla allies, most of them Kurd-hating fundamentalists. Then somehow the US at length persuaded the YPG Kurds to fight down south to Raqqa, giving them air support. It wasn’t only US fighter jets that supported the mission but also French and British (the French want revenge for the Paris attacks). Again, the heavy casualties were taken by YPG fighters.

ISIL split from al-Qaeda in 2013 and gained a nasty reputation as an opportunistic and bloody organization willing to stab its allies among the Arab rebels in Syria in the back for its own gain in loot or territory. Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the nom de guerre of Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, a minor professor of Islamics trained in an undistinguished department at Baghdad University, announced in 2014 that he was a “caliph,” a medieval office sort of like the papacy for Sunni Muslims. The claim was rejected by virtually all the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

Without Iran, the American plan would not have worked. Without the Shiite militias, the American plan would not have worked. Without the leftist Kurds, the American plan would not have worked.

You can bomb a guerrilla group like ISIL from the air forever and make almost no impact. You need troops on the ground to take territory. Obama was stymied for a while in finding such troops. Turkey was more worried about the Kurds than ISIL. Saudi Arabia was more worried about Iran and al-Assad. It was the Iraqi army and the YPG that stepped up.

Since the air war of the US and its coalition partners would have failed without the ground troops, you have to say that the ground troops made the difference. Those were Muslims.

The US helped tremendously but it isn’t clear that the mission could not have been accomplished without Washington. Obama should get some credit for a winning strategy. Trump just piggy backed on that strategy, keeping it completely intact.

Extremism was defeated by the Muslims. That should be the headlines. That is what Americans have trouble getting their heads around.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “Syria: US-backed forces clear Islamic state group from Raqqa”

Trump told widow of slain Sgt., he “knew what he was getting into”

CBS News | (Video Report) | – –

“U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson said that she was in the car when President Trump called the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in Niger. Wilson said Trump said Johnson “knew what he was getting into. Wilson spoke to CBS Miami about the phone call.”

CBS News: “Trump told widow of slain soldier that he “knew what he was getting into,” Congresswoman says”