Why it Matters that the World thinks US under Trump is Laughingstock

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Pew Research Center has found that the confidence of the world public in the US willingness to do the right thing has plummeted in just the few months Trump has been at our helm. Last fall, 62 percent of people throughout the world said they trusted Obama to do the right thing, and 64 percent had a favorable view of the US. (US favorability ratings were even higher before Bush invaded Iraq; nobody likes aggressors).

Now, 22 percent trust Trump to do the right thing (which means a fifth of humankind are nincompoops).

pewtrump

And US favorability has fallen to 49%, though 58% still like Americans. That’s only fair of them. A relatively small proportion of us just made a fateful mistake.\

In fact, as much as Americans like a cold brew in the summer, a majority of them say they would give up alcohol if only Trump could be impeached!

So the question all this raises is, does it matter if the rest of the world has a low opinion of the United States?

You betcha.

Despite the go it alone cowboy tough guy rhetoric that plays so well to the Republican base, the world system is not a frontier town and one sheriff can’t clean it up. 7.4 billion people are an incredibly complex puzzle to solve. The US can project influence and power only if it has powerful allies. It is only 5% of the world population, and while its GDP is 22% of the world’s, that still means that nearly 80% of the global economy is in the hands of others. The US has more high-tech weapons than others, but those haven’t done it much good; it hasn’t won a war since 1945.

Ironically, the recent president who perhaps best demonstrated the value of diplomacy was a Republican, George H. W. Bush, who orchestrated an enormous global coalition (it included Argentina, Syria and France) to kick Iraqi occupation troops back out of Kuwait in the Gulf War.

Exhibit A is what George W. Bush did to American prestige with his gotten-up war on Iraq, which involved a great deal of lying about intelligence findings to allies. Although the Bush crew often maintained that that the rest of their allies’ intelligence was the same as that of the US, this is not true. First, the French tried to tell them they were wrong and they would not listen. Second, it is a phony excuse because most allies of the US at least used to take their lead from US intelligence, so Washington was shaping the narrative of what was plausible, biasing e.g. German intelligence.

So Bush dragged Britain and Australia and Czechia into Iraq on false pretenses, and the British public really minded having been taken for a ride. British politics is somewhat less corrupt than that of the US, and many of their television journalists ask dogged questions of politicians with a tenacity and frankness that would get them fired at compliant corporate news channels in the US. The British public take their own soldiers’ atrocities ‘way more seriously than Americans typically do, and there were several embarrassing inquiries that hit the front pages. The British also seems less suggestible than Americans, who apparently will believe 24 impossible things before breakfast. This is not the fault of the American public. It appears to me that the wealthy and corporations have for decades deliberately been interfering in the quality of public education, in hopes of producing pliant dupes rather than citizens with a critical faculty. Betsy DeVos is a poster child for such ruination of good public education, and she now finally has a chance to screw over the entire country . The number of Americans who are unable to understand simple principles of science such as that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect is deeply embarrassing to this country. But that is exactly the sort of ‘citizen’ Exxon-Mobil and Big Gas want you to be.

In any case, the British were duped by Bush into a long national nightmare.

So then, remember that President Barack Obama established a red line that the Syrian regime should not use chemical weapons? And then the regime allegedly did. It isn’t important to the story I am telling you whether they did or not. Obama believed they did and a UN investigation backed him.

So Obama was in the position, in 2013, of being forced by his own rhetoric to consider bombing Syria. But he did not want such an act to be seen as another rogue American policy. He wanted a partner.

So he went to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and asked for support. He didn’t know that Cameron was the worst British leader since Ethelred the Unready. Cameron wanted a vote in parliament before committing to bombing Syria, which was itself a side-effect of the Bush lies, since parliament had felt badly used by Tony Blair.

And parliament voted the proposal down.

Obama was left hanging out their alone. And then the Republicans in Congress made it quite clear to him that they wanted a vote on any Syria action, and that also they did not intend to authorize one.

Obama was rescued by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who pointed out that Russia could sequester Syria’s chemical weapons. They did not 100% follow through on that pledge, but they also did not do nothing. Obama took the deal, having been left in the lurch by the Mother of Parliaments and by the US Congress.

Obama has been attacked ever since by the very Republicans who told him they would not authorize a Syrian bombing campaign. They jumped up and down for joy when Trump acted alone over the Shuayrat base in Syria and the alleged launching of chem from it. But they would have impeached Obama for the same thing. Both Obama and Trump are presidents. Gee, I wonder what the difference is between them, that causes the GOP to adore the one and abhor the other?

Anyway, folks, for anyone who cares about the American security position in the world, the Pew findings should be terrifying. Because as long as Trump is there, there won’t be any major joint initiatives, and if we need our allies, it isn’t clear that they will show up, since they think we were idiots to put a bull in a China shop in charge of the world’s most powerful country.

Trump accuses Syria of Planning Gas attack as Haley attacks Russia, Iran

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Trump administration is making noise about striking Syria, on the grounds that Damascus is planning to use poison gas again.

Trump’s Neoconservative ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted:

The statement is said to be from “the White House” but is otherwise not characterized. Why does the White House think this? Why did Trump himself not tweet about it if it is coming from him?

The last time Syria stood accused of using poison gas on a rebel population, killing some 70 civilians, Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the air base from which the poison-bearing aircraft took off, on April 6. It was a largely symbolic action, having no real impact on the regime or even the operation of the Shu`ayrat air base.

The odd thing about the breathless announcement late Monday was that earlier that day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned his Russian opposite number, Sergei Lavrov to discuss tamping down the violence in Syria. They want to extend the current ceasefire in some areas, which did in fact lead to less violence in the “deconfliction zones.

As for the substance, it is true that the Syrian Arab Army sometimes uses chemical weapons on the battlefield. As I understand it, many units of the army have chem auxiliaries for those instances where they might be overrun by the enemy. The army at one point was down to 35,000 troops, from a peak of 300,000 before the civil war. It is evil and against international law, but some of their officers think the only way to level the playing field is to release some gas. The Syrian Conquest Front, formerly the Nusra Front, which held the territory where the early April incident took place, is not known (unlike ISIL) have a chem capacity. The Syrian government is.

But so far the chem use by the Syrian Army appears to be occasional and ad hoc and it isn’t the sort of thing the White House could have gained intelligence about beforehand.

It is almost as if there were a faction of hawks around Trump who wanted to derail any Tillerson-Lavrov cooperation and maintain a condition of undeclared war with Russia and Iran. We haven’t heard a lot from CIA director Mike Pompeo, unlike most others in the Trump cabinet. But if I had to guess who is behind Monday’s “statement” . . .

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “U.S.: Syria Planning Another Chemical Weapons Attack”

Civilians Fleeing as Battle for Mosul enters last days

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iraqi army has created pathways for civilians trapped in Mosul to escape and at least 100 have managed to flee to safety.

The chief of operations for the Elite Iraqi Counter-Terrorism forces, Ma’n al-Sa`di, said that his units are engaged in vicious battles despite the difficult terrain. At the same time, 8 persons were killed by a suicide bombing in a popular market in east-central Mosul.

Daesh fighters, holed up in the Old City, are mostly foreign volunteers

A couple of days ago, Al Jazeera reported that Iraqi prime minister Haydar al-Abadi has announced that Mosul will be liberated from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) during the coming days. At the same time, the head of the national federal police, Ra’id Jawdat, said that his forces had surrounded Daesh in the two districts of Ra’s al-Jada and Bab al-Bayd Old Mosul.

During this current campaign, the Iraqi Army also said that it is making more progress in encounters with Daesh, despite intense fighting, than it had anticipated, with their advance happening rapidly amid house to house fighting.

Mosul was the last major urban asset of Daesh in Iraq.

Over the border in Syria, Daesh is also losing neighborhoods to the Kurdish YPG supported by the US Air Force.

In Old Mosul in Iraq, some 150,00 civilians are still trapped between Daesh and the advancing Iraqi Army.

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Related video:

AFP: “Iraq: residents who fled Mosul’s Old City are now traumatised”

Posted in Featured,Iraq | 1 Response | Print |

Green France: Macron bans Fracking and welcomes US renewables Scientists fleeing Trump

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The French government wants to steal increasingly unemployed US green energy scientists, who are being systematically defunded by the Trump administration.

After Trump pulled out of the Paris accords, Macron addressed US professionals:

“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland . . . I call on them: come and work here with us. To work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you, France will not give up the fight.”

At the same time, the Macron government has ambitious plans to make France a green energy powerhouse and major research hub, in hopes of capturing the trillions of dollars the renewables sector will generate. In short, who will invent the next inexpensive and efficient solar panel? The US, France or China? Whoever does will make a killing.

At the same time, French environment minister Nicolas Hulot (an actual environmentalist) announced that he France will ban any new fracking or exploration for oil, gas or coal on French soil. Now that’s what it is like to belong to a country not run by the CEO of Exxon Mobil.

France has a relatively low carbon footprint because 78% of its electricity is generated by some 58 nuclear power plants. Many of these plants are aging, however, and Macron will close a lot, reducing the nuclear share of electricity production to 50% only a few years from now (2025) Likewise, the French government hopes to see all coal plants in the country closed by 2022!

Macron and Hulot want to make up the shortfall with greater energy efficiency (many French buildings don’t have insulation), by encouraging 10% of work days to be telecommuting from home, and by making a massive push for wind and solar energy.

French wind power grew 7% last year, but the plan is for that pace to pick up substantially through government policy. It is now toward 5% of French electricity production.

France wants to build 2 gigawatts worth of small-scale solar installations.

France currently gets 11% of its electricity from renewables, but wants that proportion to be 23% by 2023– more than doubling in 5 years. France has applied to the EU to add 17 gigawatts of clean power over the next 7 years at a cost of $1.1 billion.

France is about to embark on the kind of “energy switch” Germany has long devoted itself to, with massive consequences for French society, science,engineering and the economy. The twentieth century was cruel to French military defenses, but this is a war where France will proudly be in the forefront, and winning, perhaps more than the fossil-fuel addicted US.

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Related video:

Construction of PV power plant in Cestas, France

Can the Sadr Movement in Iraq overcome Sectarianism with new Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish Party?

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( Niqash.org) | – –

One of Iraq’s most powerful political groupings, the Sadrist movement, is trying to form a new alliance that may unite secular, Sunni and Kurdish parties. It would be a first for Iraq. But it could also be a trap.

The Sadrist movement has had a busy few months. The Iraqi political movement, which is led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has defected from the larger Shiite Muslim political alliance to which it belongs, withdrawn ministers from government, joined in popular anti-corruption demonstrations calling for political reform and now, it seems, the Sadrists are trying to form a new alliance in preparation for federal elections next year. The most interesting thing about the latter is that the Sadrists appear to want to form an alliance that does not rely on sectarian affiliations – that is, whether one is a Shiite or Sunni Muslim. It may also end up not mattering whether one is religious or not, too.

For several weeks now, the Sadrists have been holding a series of talks with secular political groups. If successful, the alliance would be the first between a religious, Shiite Muslim political group and a secular, civil-minded one.

There are obvious ideological differences between the two groups but they also have some very important things in common.

“The Sadrist movement will be the first to break away from these sectarian alliances,” Ali Shawaileh, an MP for the Sadrist movement’s political party, known as the Ahrar bloc, told NIQASH; the model built on sectarian alliances and quotas for each of them in Iraqi politics has failed, he argued.

“And we have made many concessions in order to be able to do so,” Shwaileh continued. “We withdrew our ministers from the government so that the prime minister [Haider al-Abadi] was able to choose technocrats for ministers. However all the other political parties rejected this and continued to insist on the posts being filled, according to sectarian quotas.”

The meetings between the Sadrists and secular groups involve two major subjects. Firstly, their ability to form a future-proof political movement and how to compete in the next federal elections, slated to be held in 2018, with it. And secondly, how to keep up the pressure with weekly protests that take place every Friday in Baghdad and in other provinces.

There are obvious ideological differences between the two groups but they also have some very important things in common. One of the most vital is their shared enmity for Iraq’s former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Not a week goes by without some senior member of the Sadrist movement criticising al-Maliki. Muqtada al-Sadr himself said in a television interview in mid-May that he would never vote for al-Maliki again because he had sold off the country.

Al-Maliki countered that by criticizing the Sadrist movement for stepping outside the Shiite Muslim alliance and going against what he called the consensus.

The secular groups also dislike al-Maliki. The latter’s hostility towards the organisers of the Friday demonstrations is well known; he used Iraq’s military to disperse the unarmed protestors and arrested many of them.

Shiite Muslim parties have held power in Iraq since 2003, winning a majority of seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, 2009 and 2014. In the past, al-Maliki had said he wanted to lead the country because of his ability to liaise with all sectors of Iraqi politics, including Sunni Muslim parties and the Kurdish ones.

But in 2018, al-Maliki has said he wants to return to power because he is supported by the Shiite Muslim alliance. Some of the Shiite Muslim militias, who started as volunteer fighters against the extremist Islamic State group but who are now a quasi-official force, say they will support al-Maliki. In particular, the militias allied with Iran say they support the former prime minister.

However, if the Sadrist movement do not take part in the existing Shiite Muslim alliance, this would mean the loss of around 30 seats and effectively, a loss of their majority.

Since April 2017, Ahmad al-Sadr, the 31-year-old nephew of Muqtada al-Sadr, has been involved in trying to build new political alliances for the Sadrist movement. During April, the younger al-Sadr has held meetings with most of the other political blocs in Iraq, including Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties. He did not hold a meeting with the coalition led by al-Maliki.

There is no doubt that the Sadrist movement remains powerful. Muqtada al-Sadr is the only Shiite Muslim political leader who is capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis within hours. Other Shiite Muslim parties, especially those with close links to Iran, are unable to do this – they may have power but it is considered to come from outside Iraq. Additionally only the Sadrist movement has leaders who remained inside the country while Shiite Muslims were being terrorized by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim.

Today the Sadrist movement’s strength comes from three different things. Al-Sadr’s ongoing popularity with the poor Shiite Muslims of Baghdad and in the southern provinces, who are inspired by him; the armed forces the Sadrist movement can raise because of this – formerly it was the Mahdi army, now it is the Salam, or Peace, brigades; and the fact that the movement’s political wing, Ahrar, is very active at both federal and provincial level. Despite changes in the political scenery, the Sadrists have remained united.

All of these factors mean that if the Sadrist movement does manage to ally itself with civil, Sunni Muslim or Kurdish parties, it will become even more important in the next Iraqi elections – because of its new alliances and also because of its crippling withdrawal from the Shiite Muslim alliance. Any new alliance between the Sadrists and non-Shiite actors will effectively prevent al-Maliki from leading the country again. There’s only one question local analysts are still asking: Could the Sadrist movement be setting up a Trojan horse? Given more historic Sadrist ties to Iran, that possibility is also real – but only time will bring the answer.

Via Niqash.org

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

FRBI: ” Sadr: ‘We are all responsible, but Maliki occupied the apex of the pyramid’”

Posted in Iraq | 7 Responses | Print |

In Apocalyptic Vandalism, ISIL blows up 800-year-old Nuri Mosque in Mosul

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

al-Hayat (Life) reports that on Wednesday evening around 9:30 pm local time, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) blew up the Nuri Mosque in Mosul.

The destruction of the 800-year-old edifice was undertaken at a time when Iraqi government troops were closing in on this area in Mosul’s Old City, the last remaining bastion of Daesh there, where 3,000 fighters are still keeping some 100,000 people as human shields. That is about a tenth the strength they initially had.

I once called the destruction by the US Air Force of the annex to the Iraqi National Archives where 19th century administrative documents were housed a “cliocide,” a killing of history itself. The razing of the Nuri Mosque is another act of cliocide. Ironically, I also once suggested that the main antecedent for Daesh, of a state that held both Mosul and Aleppo, was the Zangid polity before the rise of Saladin Ayyubi. Daesh emulated the Zangids geographically and now they have wiped out one of their major surviving architectural legacies.

Iraq prime minister Haydar al-Abadi remarked that the terrorist organization was by this act announcing its own defeat.

This is a fair observation. Daesh was proud of having captured Mosul and of having taken that mosque, built in the rule of Nur al-Din Zangi, a Muslim ruler who held Mosul and Aleppo during the era of the medieval Crusades. They would not have destroyed the mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his claim to the caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy) unless they knew they were about to lose control of it.

Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.

But historical consciousness matters, and helps make us who we are. Mosulis were fiercely proud of the great mosque. Its minaret famously leaned, and that seems to have started happening soon after it was built. The medieval traveler Ibn Battuta spoke of seeing a leaning structure at the city’s citadel, and he likely was referring to this mosque.

The siege of Daesh has gone on for months, and the Iraqi counter-terrorism brigades are exhausted. They continue to fight on, and will eventually liberate all of Mosul.

Daesh sought support from sympathizers by falsely claiming that the US struck at the mosque. The US Air Force, however, denied that it was running any bombing raids in that part of Mosul.

We are seeing the slow destruction of Daesh as a territorial state. Eventually West Mosul will fall (though they have put up a more bloody-minded and dogged existence than anyone would have imagined.). Daesh believes that the last days are upon us, and its destruction of the mosque is likely an announcement of the near advent of the Judgment Day in their eyes. But actually we’ll all be around for a while to do ordinary non-apocalyptic politics.

But the grievances that gave rise to Daesh and led to the establishment of this iniquitous city-date are still there. How Baghdad treats post-war Mosul will be crucial.

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Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Iraqi military says ISIS blew up iconic mosque in Mosul”

The Millennial’s Palace Coup in Saudi Arabia: How Dangerous?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The epic battle in the Trump White House between Jared Kushner, the Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, and Steve Bannon, the alt-NeoNazi White House strategist, is hard to top.

But Saudi Arabia just topped it?

Saudi Arabia just topped it.

King Salman just fired the crown prince and made his son, Muhammad bin Salman, heir apparent.

the new crown prince is a foreign policy adventurer and hard liner who said just last month that there can be no compromise with Iran.

The octogenarian King Salman acceded to the throne in January of 2015. He has made several changes in his cabinet since then, but by last year the two most important figures in it were Muhammad bin Naif, 57, his nephew and the crown prince, and Muhammad bin Salman, 32, his son.

Muhammad bin Naif had become the minister of the interior, a position his father had also filled at one point, and was known as master of the deep state. He had taken the lead in the war on terror in 2003-2006 when al-Qaeda launched a concerted attempt to undermine the kingdom through terrorism. He was known for his iron fist policy and for filling jails with suspects. US CIA director Mike Pompeo recently gave him an award.

Muhammad bin Salman did not have much of a resume before his father made him minister of defense. In spring of 2015 he launched a devastating air war on the Houthi guerrilla group in northwest Yemen believing it was a slam dunk. It is still dragging on with no end in sight. The war has disregarded humanitarian considerations and deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure. At one point after he launched the war, Muhammad bin Salman went off on vacation to the Maldives and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter couldn’t get hold of him despite the urgency of the situation.

Both men seem to have supported the Yemen War. Muhammad bin Naif had a longer history in the Syrian conflict, but both seem to have backed Salafi jihadis like the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and the later formation of an alliance of the Freemen of Syria with the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra).

Muhammad bin Salman was identified in addition with a scheme to cut pensions and benefits for government workers and to begin privatizing the state owned petroleum giant. The king undid the pension and benefits cuts just before making his son the crown prince, and gave him the credit for the change.

It isn’t clear that the two cousins had any strong ideological differences with one another, but they just did not like one another. Muhammad bin Salman seems to be as ambitious as he is sloppy, and wanted to move his cousin out of the way.

Saudi Arabia had been using an agnatic succession model, where the brother of the king is given preference over the son of the king.

The Third Saudi kingdom was founded by Ibn Saud in 1902. He and his ancestors had an alliance with the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics. He initially only had Najd in the interior, but in 1913 he added Shiite Eastern Arabia (where the oil turned out to be), and in 1924-6 added the Sunni Hejaz on the Red Sea littoral. In 1932 a united Saudi Kingdom was announced. Ibn Saudi died in 1953. One of his many wives, Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, had given him 7 sons, the largest bloc of men eligible for the throne, who tended to support each other vis-a-vis other branches. From the 1930s, Saudi Arabia struck oil and the royal family became fabulously wealthy. Sometimes some members of it have caused scandals with how they have spent it.

Salman is a Sudairi, as are Muhammad bin Naif and Muhammad bin Salman; the latter were the first of Ibn Saud’s grandsons to have a shot a the throne.

Muhammad bin Salman is also the first Millennial (born in 1985) to have the prospect of succeeding to power. His father is advanced in age.

The new crown prince is known to be both reckless and sloppy. His irrational hatred for Iran could well lead to a military confrontation. His Yemen and Syria policies are in tatters. He has fallen out with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He is trying to squash the independence of neighboring Qatar. Some European investment firms are afraid he will upset the world’s apple carts so much it will hurt all our retirement accounts.

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Related video:

Bloomberg: “Saudi Arabia Names Mohammed Bin Salman as Crown Prince”

Russo-US dog fights over Syria?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Yara Bayoumi at Reuters reports on the complicated minuet being danced by Russia, the Syrian Air Force, and the United States.

The Syrian Air Force was bombing positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US euphemism for the leftist Kurds of the YPG. The US Air Force shot down the plane (apparently the pilot was able to eject and survive). The US is depending on the Syrian Kurds to take Raqqa city, where they already hold a few neighborhoods. It is the so-called capital of ISIL (ISIS, Daesh). Of all the military forces in the region, only the Kurds have been willing to provide ground forces to roll up ISIL in eastern Syria, with the help of US and coalition air support. If the US proved unable to protect the YPG Kurdish fighters from the regime and from ISIL, they would peel off.

The Kurds are generally considered neutral as between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the mostly Sunni fundamentalist rebels challenging him. The Syrian Kurds want at the least more ‘states’ rights,’ from the regime, but for the moment they enjoy semi-autonomy given that the regime is weak and bogged down in the fight against the rebels. The YPG Kurds have some Arab allies, but most of the fundamentalist Arab militias hate them, partly for being Kurds and partly for being secular leftists.

It is not clear why the Syrian regime chose to bomb the Kurds. It likely fears that the latter are taking over Raqqa province permanently, despite its large Arab population. After ISIL is defeated, Damascus is not going to be sanguine about an expanding Kurdistan that permanently detaches large swathes of Syria from its government. The US military may be sanguine about a Kurdish semi-autonomous zone stretching south from Hasaka all the way down to the borders with Jordan and Iraq. But this development is not acceptable to the Syrian regime.

The development is also not acceptable to Turkey, which has also bombed the Kurds allied with the US, despite Turkey being a member of NATO and a US ally. It is possible that Ankara and Damascus are coordinating in hopes of rolling back up the Kurdish fighters as the war winds down and the US becomes restless and leaves.

The problem with the US shooting down that Syrian plane is that the Syrian air Force is allied with the Russian Federation, and the Russian Aerospace forces often fly alongside the Syrian pilots.

The Russians complain that the US did not warn them before bombing in east Syria, and they should have under the agreement between Washington and Moscow.

And, Russia announced that it would possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria.

Those are about the most dangerous words I’ve heard in decades, since the era of the Cuban missile crisis or the dark Cold War film Fail Safe (1965) .

BBC Monitoring translated a statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“Regarding what is happening ‘on the ground’ in Syria, it is necessary to completely respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. So any actions ‘on the ground’ – and there are many participants, including those who conduct military operations – must get Damascus’ approval.” Source: TASS news agency, Moscow, in Russian 0555 gmt 19 Jun 17.

For its part the US military issued a statement saying it has no ambitions in Western Syria, doesn’t intend to fight there, and is not intent on ousting Bashar al-Assad:

The US said late Monday that it would try to reestablish “deconfliction” with the Russians. A lot is riding on whether they do.

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Related video:

CNN: “Russia: US planes in Syria are ‘targets'”

Habitual Labor abuser Saudi Arabia elected to UN body Promoting Workers

By Brian Whitaker | ( Al-Bab.com ) | – –

In a grotesque development earlier this week, Saudi Arabia – a world leader in the exploitation of migrant workers – won a seat on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The ILO is a United Nations agency “devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognised human and labour rights”, according to its website. It promotes “decent work for all women and men” and looks into complaints about violations of international labour rules.

As a member of its governing body, Saudi Arabia will be involved in setting ILO policies and establishing its budget and programme of activities.

On Monday, at the organisation’s annual conference in Geneva, the kingdom was elected for a three-year term with 168 votes out of a total of 253 votes cast.

This adds a further notch to Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in branches of the UN which are supposed to be protecting people’s rights.

Last October, despite its long history of abuses, the kingdom was re-elected to the Human Rights Council for a third three-year term. The British government was among those suspected of supporting its nomination.

In April, Saudi Arabia was also elected to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women – with support from at least three EU countries. The commission is described on its website as “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has a long history of institutionalised discrimination against women and is one of the world’s worst offenders in that respect.

In 2015 it was reported that Saudi Arabia, not content with being an ordinary member of the Human Rights Council, had begun lobbying to become its chair. The kingdom later abandoned this attempt but, in what some saw as a backroom appeasement deal, was instead appointed head of a panel that selects the experts reporting to the UN on various rights issues.

As far as labour rights are concerned, the kingdom has recently been trying to boost employment opportunities for women (usually under segregated conditions) but its overall record is dire – especially in regard to the vast numbers of foreign workers that its economy depends upon.

Many of the problems stem from the iniquitous kafala (sponsorship) system used in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. The International Labour Organisation has long been campaigning for kafala to be abolished or reformed.

One result of the kafala system is that foreign workers’ residence in the kingdom is tied to their employment, and in recent years hundreds of thousands have been summarily expelled – sometimes in mass deportations.

Yemeni migrants <a href="http://www.yementimes.com/en/1662/news/2150/Change-in-labor-law-in-Saudi-could-leave-300000-Yemeni-migrants-out-of-work.htm">rounded up for deportation</a> from Saudi Arabia in 2013

Last year tens of thousands of foreign workers became stranded in the kingdom, with no means to support themselves, after their employers – mainly in the construction industry – ran into financial difficulties and stopped paying their wages. The two biggest firms involved, Saudi Binladin and Saudi Oger, had depended heavily ongovernment contracts.

Saudi Oger, part of the Lebanese Hariri family’s business empire, is now on the point of closing down, according to Agence France Presse:

An angry ex-employee, who asked to be identified only as Robert, told AFP that he understands Saudi Oger’s last day of existence will be June 30. 

“In two weeks, we will no longer talk of Saudi Oger,” he said. “I have lost my future.”

Since resigning from Oger in January Robert no longer has a residency permit to stay legally in Saudi Arabia, and he can’t pay his children’s school fees.

He says he hasn’t received his salary since July last year and is owed 160,000 riyals (almost $43,000/39,000 euros).

AFP says that following negotiations between France and the kingdom, the Saudi government agreed to pay the equivalent of nine months’ salary to more than 200 French citizens employed by Saudi Oger, but it adds that thousands of Asian employees have not been paid.

London Mosque attack: Did Trump’s Tweets embolden Bigots?

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A man driving a white van swerved just after midnight early Monday morning into a crowd of Muslims coming out of Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, severely injuring British Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain called it a “violent manifestation of Islamophobia.” The organization asked for more security for British mosques.

As of this writing, one man was dead and 10 others wounded.

One eyewitness told the Telegraph, “We are shocked when we heard the news because we were just having a good time. We were praying for peace and for Grenfell Tower.”

It is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and worshipers often go to mosque late in the evening to pray extra, supererogatory prayers.

An eyewitness interviewed in Arabic on Al Jazeera said that the man was “white,” was cursing the Muslims and spoke with a working class accent.

He was also careful to say that Finsbury Park is an ethnically mixed area with good relations among the races and that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin lives near the mosque and has made friendly visits to it. (I lived there one summer myself and remember the ethnic kaleidoscope).

Another interviewee, for the BBC, said that the man was shouting “I want to kill all Muslims!”

Finsbury Park Mosque Attack: “We held him (attacker) to the ground” – BBC News

Locals wrestled him to the ground and held him until the police came (some half an hour to forty minutes later). One said he asked them to kill him.

The attack seems pretty surely a response to the attack at the London Bridge by three ISIL militants

Finsbury Park Mosque: Man dies as van hits mosque crowd – BBC News

Unlike the London Bridge atrocity, this act of white terrorism will not be given the wall-to-wall coverage treatment on cable news.

Whoever the murderous bigot is that carried out this cold-blooded murder has fallen for ISIL’s (ISIS, Daesh) strategy, which is to polarize people of Christian and Muslim heritage and create hatred and insecurity between them. ISIL, which is rapidly losing its territory in Iraq and Syria, hopes to come west and embed itself in European and American Muslim communities. The problem for Muslim extremism is that very, very few Western Muslims are interested in extremism. Almost all of them appreciate the benefits of Western democracy and ways of life.

So ISIL does not have much hope of recruiting more than a handful of marginal personalities– petty thieves and losers. (For some reason it also only has any success in getting a few troubled young men of the second immigrant generation to join up. First generation and third generation immigrants are not interested. Apparently being in between worlds is alienating).

So what ISIL wants to do instead is to recruit white people of Christian heritage to beat up Muslims and terrify them and make them insecure. And then ISIL thinks its recruiters can show up in Muslim communities and promise people protection and security. This modus operandi was typical of how they took over so much of Sunni Iraq. They had been hitting Shiites with terrorist attacks and provoking Shiites to lash out at Sunnis.

Britain, a country of 65 million, has some 3 million Muslims, and it would be a very, very bad mistake to fall into ISIL’s trap.

ISIL and other extremists want us to be afraid. The only proper response is to refuse to be afraid.

ISIL and other extremists want us to hate. The only proper response is instead to love.

ISIL and other extremists want us to lash out violently. The only proper response is nonviolence.

When ISIL attacks, people of Christian and Jewish heritage should find a Muslim and be spontaneously nice to them.

Studies show that Muslims in the West who attend mosque are much less likely ever to become radicals. Attacking mosque congregations is an attempt to undo that good work.

So we come to the question in my headline. Donald J. Trump is one of the chief dupes of ISIL strategy, and his election as president last November gave him a very loud megaphone with which to broadcast hate and polarization. He is aided in this by the worst person in the world, alt-Neo-Nazi Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist, who is working toward Catholic-Muslim polarization of a sort some fear could lead to blood in the streets.

During his campaign, Trump whipped up irrational hatred of Muslims, which some call Islamophobia. He said “I think Islam hates us.” He announced that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

After the London Bridge attack at the beginning of June, Trump tweeted that it vindicated his Muslim ban. It did no such thing, since you can’t blame all the Muslims in 6 countries for crimes committed by one or two people from that country. Besides, many acts of terrorism are committed by citizens, as was true of the one today.

Then Trump accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of playing down the seriousness of the attacks, as a person of Muslim heritage. The mayor in fact had simply said that there would be extra police on the streets of London and that the public should not be alarmed by their presence. Trump twisted his words to imply he wasn’t taking the attack seriously.

Trump has admirers in the fringe British Islamophobic groups, including in UKIP, and his demonization of all Muslims for the acts of a few has emboldened militant bigots on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trump and Bannon are not savvy, strong Western politicians bravely standing up to the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” They are behaving precisely as the radicals want. They are dupes.

And they are making other people dupes.

This polarization strategy, and the people that fall for it, leads to catastrophe, as we saw with ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Don’t go down that path.