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Journal Archives

Syria and Iraq: Ethnic cleansing by Sunni and Shia jihadis is leading to a partition of the M East.

Conflicts among communities that once lived together in peace brings the prospect of a refugee crisis that will continue long after the fighting ends

Patrick Cockburn

Sunday 27 December 2015

Sectarian and ethnic cleansing by all sides in Syria and Iraq is becoming more intense, ensuring that there are few mixed areas left in the two countries and, even if the war ends, many refugees will find it too dangerous to return to their homes.

Communities which once lived together in peace are today so frightened of each other after years of savage warfare that the more powerful sect or ethnic group is forcing out the weaker one. This pattern is repeating itself everywhere from the Sunni towns captured by Shia militiamen in provinces around Baghdad to Christian enclaves in central Syria under threat from Isis, and in Turkmen villages just south of the Syrian-Turkish border being bombed by Russian aircraft.

The inability of Syrians and Iraqis to return home in safety means that Europe and the Middle East will have to cope for decades to come with an irreversible refugee crisis brought on by the war.

There are good reasons for everybody to be afraid, though outside powers play down the sectarian or ethnic agenda of their local Syrian proxies and allies. “We will end up like the Christians, being forced out of the country,” says a young Sunni photographer, Mahmoud Omar, who once lived in Ramadi in the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar. Many fled when Isis captured the city in May which is now under assault by the military forces of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad trying to recapture it. Some 1.4 million people from Anbar or 43 per cent of its population are displaced, according to the International Organisation for Migration.


Israel: Breaking the witness

December 19, 2015
Meron Rapoport

Israeli human rights organization are accustomed to being labelled as anti-patriotic and anti-Zionist, but even they were caught by surprise this week by the brutality of a video clip posted by the right wing Im Tirzu movement.

In the clip, a Palestinian-looking young man is approaching the camera with a knife in his hand, yet a moment before the seemingly inevitable stabbing, the faces of four activists from a leading human rights organizations appear on the screen in "wanted" mug pictures, and a voice warns that "before the next terrorist will stab you" he knows that these activists would defend him. "They are Israelis, they live here with us and they are 'implants'. When we fight terror, they fight us."

The clip was part of a campaign promoting what is termed the "implants" law, which would classify organizations receiving aid from foreign countries as "implants" and forbid them from contacting any government office or the Israeli army without special permission. Yet it is clear that the scope of the clip was wider than just promoting this law. It was meant to depict those human rights workers as the enemies from within, helping "Palestinian terrorists" to murder innocent Israeli citizens.

snip* The immediate reaction to Im Tirzu's clip was a surge in support for Breaking the Silence in social media and even from some former generals, who claimed that its work is important to Israel's moral values. More ex-soldiers volunteered to give evidence, and even donations to the organization have gone up. This may indicate the wakening up of the dormant Israel Left. It might also be its death throes.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israel-breaking-witness-733223900#sthash.6CpYJ6k1.dpu

Ex-IDF general takes out ad to support Breaking the Silence

Amiram Levin backs NGO that publishes alleged abuses by soldiers, says army should encourage such groups to speak out
By Times of Israel staff December 18, 2015


Obama Slavery Speech 2015: The President's Remarks On 'Nation's Original Sin' On 150th Anniversary


Obama Slavery Speech 2015: The President's Remarks On 'Nation's Original Sin' On 150th Anniversary Of The 13th Amendment
By Bruce Wright @bctw on December 09 2015 12:30 PM EST

U.S. President Barack Obama commemorated Wednesday the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment during a speech at the U.S. Capitol. In marking the landmark legislation that effectively abolished slavery in America, Obama ran down a list of milestones achieved in the country to show how far the nation has progressed, and how far the nation still has to go.​

Evoking images of lynching that “justice turned a blind eye to,” Obama said that slavery was wrong in every sense.” Noting that black people at one time couldn’t vote, fill most jobs or “protect themselves or their families from indignity or violence,” the president went on to say that “through all this, the call to freedom survived.”

He continued: “Maids, porters, students, farmers, priests, housewives – because of them, the civil rights law passed” and “doors of opportunity swung open.” Not just for blacks, Obama was sure to note, but also for white menial workers. “Freedom for you and for me. Freedom for all of us. And that’s what we celebrate today. The long arc of progress. Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible,” he said.


Saudi Arabia’s unity summit will only highlight Arab disunity

Sixty-five opposition figures are supposed to achieve Arab unity in time for international talks

Robert Fisk

4 hours ago

The city of Riyadh is set to host 65 “opposition figures” at a summit to discuss Arab unity later this month Getty

Everyone opposing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will be invited to Riyadh later this month with one significant exception: a delegation from the so-called “Islamic State”.

At least 65 “opposition figures”, in the words of Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled press, are supposed to achieve the impossible – Arab unity – in time for the new year’s round of multinational peace talks on Syria. But the whole shebang is likely to prove as mystifying as David Cameron’s 70,000 “moderate” fighters. There will, we are assured, be representatives of the “armed opposition”. But who are they? Will the head-chopping and sectarian al-Qaeda outfit Jabhat al-Nusra be represented, funded by sources in Qatar and posing as the new “moderates”? And then there’s the virtually non-existent “Free Syrian Army”, which will certainly be ready to fly to Riyadh, if only to prove it exists.

Will the Kurds be there? The Turks, who are spending more time bombing them than any other groups in Syria, will not approve. The Iranians have already expressed their anger, sneering that the Saudi conference will cause the failure of the international talks in Vienna. The US Secretary of State John Kerry has, of course, given his approval – why should Washington oppose an initiative by its “moderate” Arab ally, Saudi Arabia? But then, as British MPs now know all too well, it all depends what you mean by “moderate”.

And the poor old Germans, who are now committing 1,200 soldiers, a frigate and reconnaissance aeroplanes to the Syrian war – in a strictly non-combat role, of course – were huffing and puffing yesterday that Saudi Arabia was “a key partner in regional conflict resolution”. A necessary if dodgy assertion, after the German foreign intelligence service (the BND) dumped on the Saudi Defence Minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for his bloody intervention in the Yemeni war.


War with Isis: President Obama demands Turkey close stretch of border with Syria

Ankara is accused of tolerance of – if not complicity with – the terrorists, who use border as a crossing point for Isis recruits and oil sales

Patrick Cockburn

1 hour ago

The US is demanding that Turkey close a 60-mile stretch of its border with Syria which is the sole remaining crossing point for Isis militants, including some of those involved in the massacre in Paris and other terrorist plots.

The complete closure of the 550-mile-long border would be a serious blow to Isis, which has brought tens of thousands of Islamist volunteers across the frontier over the past three years.

In the wake of the Isis attacks in Paris, Washington is making clear to Ankara that it will no longer accept Turkish claims that it is unable to cordon off the remaining short section of the border still used by Isis. “The game has changed. Enough is enough. The border needs to be sealed,” a senior official in President Barack Obama’s administration told The Wall Street Journal, describing the tough message that Washington has sent to the Turkish government. “This is an international threat, and it’s coming out of Syria and it’s coming through Turkish territory.”

The US estimates some 30,000 Turkish troops would be needed to close the border between Jarabulus on the Euphrates and the town of Kilis, further west in Turkey, according to the paper. US intelligence agencies say that the stretch of frontier most commonly used by Isis is between Jarabulus, where the official border crossing has been closed, and the town of Cobanbey.


In Defense of Public Housing

Imagine a future in which many of us live in, and thrive in, quality public housing.

When people on the Left think about solutions to the housing crisis, few of us think about public housing. Faced with the twin problems of overinvestment, leading to gentrification and displacement, and underinvestment, leading to substandard housing and foreclosures, we tend to think about locally based solutions, which makes sense. Many of these problems are caused by the state in collusion with the real estate industry, and it seems impossible to imagine a future in which the government plays a different role. But I’d like to imagine a future in which many of us live in, and thrive in, public housing.

Any discussion of the future of public housing must begin by understanding its origins. Public housing in the United States first emerged in the 1930s as part of the New Deal, when there was an enormous shortage of housing following the Great Depression. The federal government began by making loans to nonprofit corporations to build housing. This program produced very few housing units, due both to the lack of qualified builders and to the inefficiency of channeling public funds through the limited-dividend corporations.

As a result, under the Public Works Administration, led by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the government decided to enter the housing business: rather than paying companies to build government-subsidized housing, the state would build and maintain housing through local housing authorities.

As soldiers returned from World War II, their expanding families created a boom in demand for housing, both private and public. The vast public housing programs undertaken in the postwar period, however, suffered from the racism and disinvestment that would become endemic to government housing, and to nearly every other public institution through the present day.


Karen Narefsky is a community organizer based in Somerville, MA and a contributing editor at Jacobin.

Turkey shoots down Russian plane: Nato will be worried by strike on Russia

It is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders

Patrick Cockburn

2 hours ago

Turkey must have been eager to shoot down a Russian aircraft. Even going by the Turkish account of what happened, as illustrated by a Turkish map of the route of the Russian plane, it would only briefly have been in Turkish airspace as it crossed a piece of Turkish territory that projects into Syria.

Why would Turkey do this? Probably because Ankara has become increasingly furious, since Russian air strikes started in Syria on 30 September, that Russian jets were routinely invading its airspace. The Turkish government also knows that its policy since 2011 of getting rid of President Bashar al-Assad has failed and that it has a diminishing influence in events in Syria as Russia, the US, France and possibly, in the near future, Britain increase their military involvement in Syria.

Specific events on the 550 mile-long Syrian-Kurdish role may also have played a role. This year Turkey has seen the Syrian Kurds, whom it denounces as terrorists as bad as Isis, take control of half of the frontier and threaten to move west of the Euphrates. More recently, Syrian army units backed by Russian air strikes have been attacking towards the other end of the border near where the Russian plane came down and the pilots were killed.

Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.


Backround, July 2014 Subcommittee Hearing: The Future of Turkish Democracy--Testimony. Transcript:


Americans saved my life': former refugees from Iraq perplexed by US fears

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Displaced Kurds from the Persian Gulf war in 1991 say politicians’ backlash against taking in Syrian refugees is a stark contrast to what they experienced

As US lawmakers voted this week to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris, Abdulla Sindi struck a despondent tone.

As one of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds displaced by the Persian Gulf war, Sindi knows firsthand the plight of refugees fleeing conflict and recalls as though it were yesterday the sense of desperation looming over temporary resettlement camps.

Sindi remembers the daily uncertainty confronted by his family when placed at a refugee camp lacking the most basic of resources. The image of food and supplies airdropped by American planes under Operation Provide Comfort stays with him to this day – it was what motivated Sindi to accept two deployments training and advising US troops after the country’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Americans saved my life,” Sindi told the Guardian. “And so I worked with them and returned the favor.”


Iraq Vet: We Created ISIS—Now We Need a Plan to Defeat It

November 18, 2015

Alexander Lemons is a former Marine Scout Sniper and Staff Sergeant who deployed to Iraq three times.

Containment is our least bad option

Armchair generals, presidential candidates, military generals and our foreign policy officials are out in force in the wake of the Paris attacks offering angry responses. It’s difficult to watch the cacophony. I learned too much while fighting in Iraq over three tours not to offer a plea: Have we learned nothing in the last 14 years? Virtually all of the rhetoric from Main Street to Washington is to double down on a failed strategy.

The civilians killed in Paris seem to be pawn sacrifices in ISIS’ greater game to impact foreign policy and civil government. We have seen this strategy before in the ideas of Osama Bin Laden—conduct a devastating attack with the goal of eliciting a thoughtless military response that gets Western nations bogged down in a country where they are universally distrusted no matter how good their intentions are. Once embroiled there, the insurgency wears down the multinational force by proving that no matter how many insurgents you kill, their ideas or political objectives live on.

At the same time, the Western governments crack down on civil liberties while expanding the surveillance state and alienating sections of the population that look like potential terrorists. This harassment of our own Muslim populations only makes for radicalization.

ISIS is our monster. Our government picked the winners in Iraq, and our push for the 2005 national elections hastened the civil war from which ISIS grew.


How can Philip Morris sue Uruguay over its tobacco laws?

Monday, November 16, 2015

When the architects of the international order that took shape after the second world war created the United Nations, they gave the organization a lofty goal: “Save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Through the UN charter – akin to a world constitution – solemnly adopted in 1945 in San Francisco, they also said they were “determined to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

Since then and in line with that vow, the UN has put on the world stage not only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also legally binding instruments, including 10 core human rights conventions and countless declarations and resolutions.

But now more than ever, one single mechanism – the little-known investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) – threatens the existing system of justice, the concept of checks and balances, the very core of the rule of law. Its implications for the respect of human rights around the world are devastating. If it is allowed to continue to exist, it will hijack the dreams of a just international order born out of the second world war. It must be abolished because it undermines fundamental principles of the UN, state sovereignty, democracy and the rule of law. Far from contributing to human rights and development, the international investment regime and ISDS have resulted in growing inequality among states and within them. Article 103 of the UN charter is clear: in case of conflict between the charter and any other agreements, including ISDS, it is the UN charter that prevails.

The ISDS mechanism is a unique privatised system of arbitration, often buried in bilateral investment treaties and multilateral trade agreements (such as Nafta and TTIP). It grants an investor the right to use private dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government, yet governments cannot sue the investors. The system is neither transparent nor accountable and often results in aberrant judgments without the possibility of appeal. Over the years, it has led to inconsistent, unpredictable and arbitrary awards contrary to national and international public order.

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