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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:38 pm 
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JULY 20, 2018

Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”

by PATRICK COCKBURN


“The people want an end to the parties,” chanted protesters, adapting a famous slogan of the Arab Spring, as they stormed the governor’s office and the international airport in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

Part of the wave of demonstrations sweeping across central and southern Iraq, they demanded jobs, electricity, water and an end to the mass theft of Iraq’s oil wealth by the political parties.

Beginning on 8 July, the protests are the biggest and most prolonged in a country where anti-government action has usually taken the form of armed insurgency.

The demonstrations are taking place in the heartlands of the Shia majority, reflecting their outrage at living on top of some of the world’s largest oilfields, but seeing their families barely survive in squalor and poverty.

The protests began in Basra, Iraq’s third largest city which is at the centre of 70 per cent of its oil production. A hand-written placard held up by one demonstrator neatly expresses popular frustration. It read:

“2,500,000 barrels daily
Price of each barrel = $70
2,500,000 x $70 = zero !!
Sorry Pythagoras, we are in Basra”

The protests quickly spread to eight other provinces, including Najaf, Kerbala, Nasariya and Amara.

In several places, the offices of the Dawa Party, to which the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi belongs, were burned or attacked, along with those of parties whom people blame for looting oil revenues worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the 15 years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

As the situation deteriorated, Mr Abadi flew to Basra on 13 July, promising to make $3bn available to improve services and provide more jobs. After he left, his hotel was invaded by protesters.

The credibility of almost all Iraqi politicians is at a low ebb, the acute feeling of disillusionment illustrated by the low 44.5 per cent turnout in the parliamentary election on 12 May that produced no outright winner.

The poll was unexpectedly topped by the Sairoun movement of the populist nationalist cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has encouraged his followers to start protests against government corruption and lack of services since 2015.

The Sadrists, who emphasised their socially and economically progressive programme by allying themselves with the Iraqi Communist Party in the election, are playing a role in the current protests.

The demonstrations are also backed by the prestigious Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. At ground level, political activists and tribal leaders have set up a joint committee called “the Coordination Board for Peaceful Protests and Demonstrations in Basra”, its purpose being to produce a list of demands, unite the protest movement, and keep their actions non-violent.

“The ends don’t justify the means,” says the committee in a statement. “Let us, being oppressed, not lead to the oppression of others.”

A list of 17 demands is headed by one asking for a government timetable for supplying water and electricity, both of which are short at a time of year when the temperature sometime exceeds 50C, making it one of the hottest places on earth.

Local people claim that the last time that the port city of Basra, once called the Venice of the Gulf, had an adequate supply of drinking water was in 1982. Iran had been supplying some extra electricity, but has cut this back because of its own needs and failure of Iraq to pay on time.

The second demand of the protesters is for jobs with “priority to the competent sons of Basra”, the discharge of foreign labourers and employment for a quarter of people living in the oilfields.

Lack of jobs is a source of continuing complaint all over Iraq. Much of its oil income already goes on paying 4.5 million state employees, but between 400,000 and 420,000 young people enter the workforce every year with little prospects of employment.

Anger towards the entire political class is intense because it is seen as a kleptocratic group which syphoned off money in return for contracts that existed only on paper and produced no new power plants, bridges or roads.

Political parties are at the centre of this corruption because they choose ministries, according to their share of the vote in elections or their sectarian affiliation, which they then treat as cash cows and sources of patronage and contracts.

Plundering like this and handing out of jobs to unqualified people means that many government institutions have become incapable of performing any useful function.

Radical reform is difficult because the whole system is saturated by corruption and incompetence. Technocrats without party backing who are parachuted into ministries become isolated and ineffective.

One party leader told The Independent that he thought that the best that could be done “would be to insist that the parties appoint properly qualified people to top jobs.”

The defeat of Isis in 2017 with the recapture of Mosul means that Iraqis are no longer absorbed in keeping their families safe so they have they have more time to consider “corruption” – a word they use not just to mean bribery but the parasitic nature of the government system as a whole.

There is a general mood of cynicism and dissatisfaction with the way things are run.

“Bad government, bad roads, bad weather, bad people,” exclaimed one Iraqi friend driving on an ill-maintained road.

Corrupt motives are ascribed to everything that happens: a series of unexplained fires in Baghdad in June were being ascribed to government employees stealing from state depots and then concealing their crime by setting fire to the building and destroying it.

Given that the Iraqi security forces are primarily recruited from the areas in which the protests are taking place, the government will need to be careful about the degree of repression it can use safely.

Some eight protesters have been killed so far by the police, who are using rubber bullets, water cannon and rubber hoses to beat people.

The armed forces have been placed on high alert. Three regiments of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, which led the attack on Mosul and is highly regarded and well disciplined, has been ordered south to cope with protests and away from places where there is still residual activity by Isis.

The protests are largely spontaneous, but the Sadrists, whose offices have not been attacked by crowds, want to put pressure on Mr Abadi, Dawa and other parties to form a coalition government with a reform programme.

Many protesters express anti-Tehran slogans, tearing up pictures of Iranian spiritual leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They blame Iran for supporting corrupt parties and governments in Iraq.

Protesters have so far escalated their actions slowly, gathering at the entrances to the major oil and gas facilities, but not disrupting the 3.6 million barrel a day production. If this happens, it would affect a significant portion of world crude output.

Iraq’s corrupt and dysfunctional governing system may be too set in its profitable ways to be reformed, but, if the ruling elite wants to survive, it must give ordinary Iraqi a larger share of the oil revenue cake.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:55 pm 
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This can't be true... According to Foota Eyeraq is a free nation and a shining beacon for democracy in the Middle East. Cos Murricu...

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 07, 2018 6:34 pm 
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In other news, looks like Assad and friends are about to retake the last 'rebel' holdout.

Quote:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected Turkey's calls for a truce to prevent a "bloodbath" in Syria's Idlib.

At a trilateral meeting with Iran and Turkey, Mr Putin said that Russia would continue its fight against "terrorists" in the northern province.

Idlib is the Syrian opposition's last major stronghold, with almost three million residents.

There are fears that a major Syrian government offensive, backed by Russia and Iran, is about to take place there.

What did the new US envoy for Syria say?
Jim Jeffrey said the anticipated conflict would be a "reckless escalation".

"I am very sure that we have very, very good grounds to be making these warnings," Mr Jeffrey said in his first interview since being appointed.

"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation. There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-45444276

So after Assad wins the conventional war and Trump has lobbed a few missiles in response to a possible chemical attack or two, what then?

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 08, 2018 6:38 am 
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Slacks wrote:
In other news, looks like Assad and friends are about to retake the last 'rebel' holdout.

Quote:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected Turkey's calls for a truce to prevent a "bloodbath" in Syria's Idlib.

At a trilateral meeting with Iran and Turkey, Mr Putin said that Russia would continue its fight against "terrorists" in the northern province.

Idlib is the Syrian opposition's last major stronghold, with almost three million residents.

There are fears that a major Syrian government offensive, backed by Russia and Iran, is about to take place there.

What did the new US envoy for Syria say?
Jim Jeffrey said the anticipated conflict would be a "reckless escalation".

"I am very sure that we have very, very good grounds to be making these warnings," Mr Jeffrey said in his first interview since being appointed.

"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation. There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-45444276

So after Assad wins the conventional war and Trump has lobbed a few missiles in response to a possible chemical attack or two, what then?



Then the world still spins in its orbit around the solar system.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 08, 2018 9:21 am 
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barcelona wrote:
Then the world still spins in its orbit around the solar system.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2018 12:44 pm 
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SEPTEMBER 24, 2018

Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains

by PATRICK COCKBURN


An Iraqi joke says that their country must have the most environmental government in the world since the same political leaders are always recycled, however dismal their past performance and low expectations that they will do any better in future.

The biggest change in the next Iraqi government will be that Haider al-Abadi, appointed prime minister after the Isis victories of 2014, is unlikely to be heading it. He has conceded that he will not last in office after protests engulfed Basra in southern Iraq and led to important religious and political leaders withdrawing their support and calling on him to resign.

Mr Abadi’s fate had been in the balance since he did unexpectedly badly in the general election on 12 May when his coalition came in third. Weakened by the result of the poll, he needed to bring on side those who had done better such the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but he ultimately failed to do so.

Although Mr Abadi will not be the next prime minister, most of the top political players will be the same as those blamed by many Iraqis for misruling the country in the 15 years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A quota system dividing senior posts between Shia, Sunni and Kurds combined with the sharing out of ministries between the parties, favours permanent political stalemate and ensures a complete failure to tackle rampant corruption or to provide essential services such as electricity and water.

Mr Abadi had hoped that the defeat of Isis and the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month siege last year would win voters’ backing. The Iraqi armed forces followed up victory at Mosul by retaking Kirkuk along with territory long disputed with the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Security in Iraq has much improved since the defeat of Isis and over the last six months it has been the best since 2003. But Iraqis did not see Mr Abadi as the sole architect of military success and the low 45 per cent turn out in the election underlined their disillusionment with the entire political elite. Mr Sadr and his Sairoon group got the most seats by campaigning for progressive economic and social policies, followed by the Fatah alliance led by the paramilitary leader Hadi al-Amiri. Mr Amiri has withdrawn from consideration to become prime minister.

Mr Abadi, strongly supported by the US, might have clung on if he had kept the backing of the Sadrists, but they felt that their support had been taken too much for granted in the past. They wanted Mr Abadi to resign from the ruling Dawa party and endorse their reformist programme. Other politicians whom Mr Abadi needed to conciliate accused him of seldom consulting them and operating through a narrow clique of advisers.

Although the main players in Iraqi politics are much the same, the overall political environment has altered radically. Isis had been advancing on Baghdad when Mr Abadi first became prime minister and people feared massacre and displacement. But the defeat of Isis meant less concern for personal security and heightened resentment against the corruption and incompetence of the government, despite oil revenues that in August alone this year were worth $7.7bn. Mr Abadi could claim credit for defeating Isis, but many Iraqis felt that this was almost his only identifiable achievement.

The protests in Basra, at the heart of the area that produces most of the crude oil, were the most widespread and destructive since the fall of Saddam Hussein. They showed grievances boiling over in the majority Shia community. During this summer, which was hot even by Iraqi standards with temperatures rising to 50C, there was an electricity shortage in southern Iraq so air conditioning did not operate and there was too little drinking water.

The breaking point for many in Basra came when there was not only a lack of water to drink but thousands of those who did drink it became ill with diarrhoea and stomach complaints. There were fears of a cholera epidemic. Salt water was mixing with the fresh water because of broken pipes, reducing the effectiveness of the chlorine in killing bacteria. Hospitals said they had treated 17,500 patients, though this was denied by a government official who, showing a lack of sympathy that enraged people in Basra, said that the figures for those in hospital were much exaggerated and “only 1,500 people have been poisoned”.

Peaceful protests grew violent with 27 people killed as government and party offices, with the exception of Sairoon, were set ablaze as well as the Iranian consulate. Mr Abadi went to Basra but could not get a grip on the crisis. This was a final blow to his hopes of remaining prime minister. Mr Sadr withdrew his support and called on him to resign. The vastly influential Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a statement saying that the next prime minister should be a new one.

The parties will eventually choose a new prime minister and a national unity government, in which all the big players will get a share of the political cake, but it is unlikely to be any more effective than Mr Abadi’s outgoing administration.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2018 4:46 pm 
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Holyman wrote:
A quota system dividing senior posts between Shia, Sunni and Kurds combined with the sharing out of ministries between the parties, favours permanent political stalemate and ensures a complete failure to tackle rampant corruption or to provide essential services such as electricity and water.....


Nice to see some effort of power sharing between the Shia, Sunni and Kurds. Representative governance is messy and sometimes inefficient and corrupt. But it is absolutely necessary if you have a country that is as diverse as Iraq to allow all representative voices at the table.

The last thing Iraq needs is another strongman. They've come a long way from the Stalinistic brutality of Sunni Baathists feeding Shia and Kurds into wood chippers and mass graves.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2018 9:29 pm 
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With hindsight I'm not so sure now, it totally had its merits.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2018 9:50 pm 
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Vampire's Kiss


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2018 11:17 pm 
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PBFMullethunter wrote:
Slacks wrote:
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Vampire's Kiss


Get out

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2018 1:38 pm 
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SEPTEMBER 25, 2018

How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria

by PATRICK COCKBURN


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A ceasefire seldom gets a good press. If it succeeds in ending violence or defusing a crisis, the media swiftly becomes bored and loses interest. But if the fighting goes on, then those who have called the ceasefire are condemned as heartless hypocrites who either never intended to bring the killing to an end or are culpably failing to do so.

Pundits are predictably sceptical about the agreement reached by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on Monday to head off an imminent offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces directed against rebels in Idlib province. This is the last enclave of the armed opposition in western Syria which has lost its strongholds in Aleppo, Damascus and Daraa over the past two years.

Doubts about the accord are understandable because, if it is implemented, the anti-Assad groups in Idlib will be defanged militarily. They will see a demilitarised zone policed by Russia and Turkey eat into their territory, “radical terrorist groups” removed, and heavy weapons ranging from tanks to mortars withdrawn. The rebels will lose their control of the two main highways crossing Idlib and linking the government held cities of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.

There is a striking note of imperial self-confidence about the document in which all sides in the Syrian civil war are instructed to come to heel. This may not happen quite as intended because it is difficult to see why fighters of al-Qaeda-type groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham should voluntarily give up such military leverage as they still possess. The Syrian government has said that it will comply with the agreement but may calculate that, in the not so long term, it will be able to slice up Idlib bit by bit as it did with other rebel enclaves.

What is most interesting about the agreement is less its details than what it tells us about the balance of forces in Syria, the region and even the world as a whole. Fragile it may be, but then that is true of all treaties which general Charles de Gaulle famously compared to “young girls and roses – they last as long as they last”. Implementation of the Putin-Erdogan agreement may be ragged and its benefits temporary, but it will serve a purpose if a few less Syrians in Idlib are blown apart.

The Syrian civil war long ago ceased to be a struggle fought out by local participants. Syria has become an arena where foreign states confront each other, fight proxy wars and put their strength and influence to the test.The most important international outcome of war so far is that it has enabled Russia to re-establish itself as a great power. Moscow helped Assad secure his rule after the popular uprising in 2011 and later ensured his ultimate victory by direct military intervention in 2015. A senior diplomat from an Arab country recalls that early on in the Syrian war, he asked a US general with a command in the region what was the difference between the crisis in Syria and the one that had just ended with the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The general responded with a single word: “Russia.”

It is difficult to remember now, when Russia is being portrayed in the west as an aggressive predatory power threatening everybody, the extent which it was marginalised seven years ago when Nato was carrying out regime change in Libya.

Russia was in reality always stronger than it looked because it remained a nuclear superpower capable of destroying the world after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 just as it was before. It should be difficult to forget this gigantically important fact, but politicians and commentators continue to blithely recommend isolating Russia and pretend that it can be safely ignored.

The return of Russia as a great power was always inevitable but was accelerated by successful opportunism and crass errors by rival states. Assad in Syria was always stronger than he looked. Even at the nadir of his fortunes in July 2011, the British embassy in Damascus estimated that he had the backing of 30 to 40 per cent of the population according to The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which should be essential reading for anybody interested in Syria. Expert opinion failed to dent the conviction among international statesmen that Assad was bound to go. When the French ambassador Eric Chevallier expressed similar doubts about the imminence of regime change he received a stern rebuke from officials in Paris who told him: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Such wishful thinking and flight from reality continues to this day. Miscalculations by Washington, Paris and London have provided Putin with ideal political terrain on which to reassert the power of the Russian state. The agreement signed by Russia and Turkey last Monday deciding the future of Idlib province is a token of how far Russia has come out on top in Syria. Putin is able to sign a bilateral agreement with Turkey, the second largest military power in Nato, without any reference to the US or other Nato members.

The accord means that Turkey will increase its military stake in northern Syria, but it can only do so safely under license from Moscow. The priority for Turkey is to prevent the creation of a Kurdish statelet under US protection in Syria and for this it needs Russian cooperation. It was the withdrawal of the Russian air umbrella protecting the Kurdish enclave of Afrin earlier this year that enabled the Turkish army to invade and take it over.

As has happened with North Korea, President Trump’s instincts may be surer than vaunted expertise of the Washington foreign policy establishment and its foreign clones. They have not learned the most important lesson of the US-led intervention wars in Iraq and Syria which is that it is not in western interests to stir the pot in either country. Despite this, they argue for continued US military presence in northeast Syria on the grounds that this will weaken Assad and ensure that any victory he wins will be pyrrhic.

Everything that has happened since 2011 suggests the opposite: by trying to weaken Assad, western powers will force him to become more – not less – reliant on Moscow and Tehran. It ensures that more Syrians will die, be injured or become refugees and gives space for al-Qaeda clones to reemerge.

Russian dominance in the northern tier of the Middle East may be opportunistic but is being reinforced by another process. President Trump may not yet have started any wars, but the uncertainty of US policy means that many countries in the world now look for a reinsurance policy with Russia because they are no longer sure how far they can rely on the US. Putin may not always be able to juggle these different opportunities unexpectedly presented to him, but so far he has had surprising success.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2018 12:20 pm 
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OCTOBER 2, 2018

With ISIS Defeated, Trump Targets Iran

by PATRICK COCKBURN


The shadowy figures of Kurdish fighters can be just made out on film as they ambush and kill three pro-Turkish fighters in a night time attack in Afrin in northern Syria. The Kurdish enclave was invaded and occupied by the Turkish army and their Syrian armed opposition allies earlier in the year. Sporadic guerrilla warfare has been going on ever since.

This skirmish took place a few days after an attack on a military parade by gunmen a thousand miles away from Afrin in Ahvaz in southwest Iran that killed 25 people. Film shows soldiers and civilians running in panic as they are sprayed with bullets, leaving 25 dead, including 11 conscripts and a four-year-old child. The killings were claimed by both Isis and Arab separatists from the province of Khuzestan whom the Iranians accused of acting as catspaws for the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These incidents matter because they may be the harbinger of the next round of confrontations, crises and wars engulfing the Middle East. The most recent phase of conflict in the region saw the rise and fall of Isis and failed campaigns to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iraq. But Isis, which three years ago ruled a de facto state with a population of five or six million, has been largely crushed and confined to desert hideouts. President Bashar al-Assad – whose fall was confidently predicted after the uprising in 2011 – is firmly in power, as is the Iraqi government that suffered calamitous defeats at the time of the Isis capture of Mosul in 2014.

But the round of conflicts just ending may soon be replaced by another with different players and different issues. The guerrilla action in Afrin is a single episode in the escalating confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria which will involve the US and Russia. The Middle East is always dangerous because, like the Balkans before 1914, it is full of complex but ferocious conflicts that draw in the great powers. The risk is always there but is more dangerous under President Trump because he and his administration view the Middle East through a paranoid prism in which they everywhere see the hidden hand of Iran. President George W Bush and Tony Blair had similar tunnel vision during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when they blamed everything that went wrong on a remnant of Saddam Hussein supporters.

The exaggeration of “the Iranian threat” by the Trump administration this week at the UN General Assembly in New York was very like what was being said about Iraq fifteen years earlier. The National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened that “the murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behaviour. We are watching, and we will come after you.” The US military intervention in Syria, previously targeting Isis, will in future be directed against Iranian influence.

US policy in Syria and Iraq has been likened to playing chess while mistaking the knight for the bishop and thinking that castles move diagonally. The US has decided to retain a military force in northeast Syria in order to thwart Iranian ambitions, but the country most affected by this is not Iran but Turkey. The US can only stay in this part of Syria in alliance with the Syrian Kurds, whose de facto state, which they call Rojava, Turkey is pledged to eliminate.

Turkey has been nibbling its way into northern Syria over the past two years and is now deploying troops in Idlib province in cooperation with the Russians. A shaky alliance with Turkey as a leading Nato military power is one of the biggest Russian gains of its military intervention in Syria which it will go a long way to preserve. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now threatening to extend the Turkey advance east of the Euphrates river in order to slice up the Kurdish statelet.

This would mean the extinction of the last remaining gain of the Syrian uprising of 2011. Rojava was the unexpected creation of the Syrian Kurds and their YPG militia that allied themselves with the US against Isis during the siege of Kurdish city of Kobani in 2014. They provide the ground troops and the US the airpower.

The US-backed Kurds are greatly overextended, holding a swathe of northeast Syria, half of whose population are Arabs hostile to Kurdish rule. It is not a place where American troops can stay forever without becoming somebody’s target. Prolonged US presence invites disaster as with the American ground operations in Lebanon in 1982-84, Somalia in 1992-95 and in Iraq in 2003-11. “There will always be people in the Middle East who think that the best way to get rid of the Americans is to kill some of them,” noted one observer with long experience of region.

Denunciations of Iran as the root of all evil by Trump, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley are simple minded to the point of idiocy. Haley responded to the Ahvaz massacre by telling the government to “look in the mirror”. Bolton last year promised the exiled Iranian opposition group, the very weird cult-like Mojahedin-e Khalq, that by 2019 they would be ruling Iran. This week he was saying that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran stood in the way of the US.

The blood-curdling rhetoric may be arrogant and puerile but should be taken seriously because it reflects the same attitude of mind that preceded past US interventions in the Middle East: the enemy is demonised and underestimated at the same time. There is credulity towards self-interested exiled groups who claimed that US intervention would be easy (Iraqi opposition groups were privately cynical in 2003 about how far they were misleading the Americans on this score). Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE have an interest in luring the US into fighting Iran, though they are not intending to do much fighting themselves.

The twists and turns of US policy in the Middle East has in the past mystified knowledgeable observers who attribute bizarre actions by the White House to stupidity and ignorance of local conditions. But US policy was often more rational than it looked – so long as one understood that it was determined by American domestic politics and the main purpose was to persuade the US voter, particularly in the run up to important elections, that their president had not mired them in a bloody and unsuccessful war.

The reputation of every US President since the 1970s, with the exception of President George Bush senior, has been damaged to a greater or lesser degree by conflict in the Middle East or North Africa. There is Jimmy Carter (Iran), Ronald Reagan (Lebanon, Irangate), Bill Clinton (Somalia), George W Bush (Iraq, Afghanistan), Barack Obama (Syria, Libya). It would be surprising if Trump turns out to be an exception to the rule.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

_________________
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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 1:42 pm 
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OCTOBER 5, 2018

Russia’s New Missile Defense System in Syria May Change Balance of Power in Middle East

by PATRICK COCKBURN


Russia has completed delivery of a S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria in a move likely to change the balance of forces in the skies over the Syrian battlefields.

“The work was finished a day ago,” Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in a meeting broadcast on television.

The decision to supply the sophisticated anti-aircraft system came in response to the shooting down of a Russian Ilyushin reconnaissance plane with the loss of all 15 on board by Syria on 17 September in an incident 22 miles off the Syrian coast for which Russia holds Israel ultimately responsible.

The friendly fire loss of the Russian plane is unsurprising since three of the world’s most powerful air forces – Russia, US and Israel – are frequently flying in or close to Syrian air space. In addition, there are Turkish and Syrian planes, backed up, in the case of Syria, by a ground-to-air defence system. With five air forces operating in close proximity some mishap always appeared inevitable.

Israel has expressed regret at the death of the Russian air force personnel and is concerned that the S-300s may make it more risky for its planes to continue a campaign against Iranian facilities in Syria. The missiles have the capacity to track dozens of targets at a distance of hundreds of miles. The state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Antey says they can also shoot down cruise and ballistic missiles.

Israel has long sought to prevent the delivery of the S-300s to Iran and Syria. Iran did buy the system in 2007 but it was only delivered in 2016.

“We have not changed our strategic line on Iran,” said Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett, a member of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet. “We will not allow Iran to open up a third front against us. We will take actions as required.”

Mr Putin has succeeded hitherto in maintaining good relations and a high level of cooperation with Syria, Turkey and Israel, despite their conflicting objectives in Syria.

Relations between Israel and Russia have been frayed by the 17 September shoot down when the Russians claimed that Israeli F-16s had used the reconnaissance flight of the Russian plane off Latakia to make an attack.

More is at stake than future Israeli air operations over Syria. US military power in the northern tier of the Middle East – notably in Syria and Iraq – stems primarily from the massive destructive power of its air force and its ability to use its planes and missiles at will.

This strategy worked successfully in the campaign against Isis in both countries in 2014-18 when local ground troops – the Kurds in Syria and government security forces in Iraq – defeated Isis thanks to US air support. Any radical improvement in Syrian air defences reduces US military options.

The US could not confirm yesterday that the S-300 missile batteries had been delivered. But the Russian Defence Ministry has published a video of the launcher, radar and command and control vehicle being unloaded.

Moscow will also support and upgrade Syrian electronic defences.

Syria hopes that Israel will be less free in future to carry air attacks on Syrian territory. Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said that: “Israel, which has gotten used to carrying out attacks under various pretexts, will now have to weigh and rethink before attacking again.”

The S-300 missiles will at the very least make Israel more cautious and less likely to take for granted Russian acquiescence in Israeli operations against Iran in Syria. It has also deployed the even more advanced S-400 missile batteries to its own bases in Syria.

Israel gives advanced warning to the Russians of any of its air actions in or close to Syria which has allowed some 200 attacks since the start of 2017 to be carried out in relative safety.

A Russian complaint about the shooting down of the Ilyushin reconnaissance plane is that only one minute’s warning was given. This was too short a period for them to alert the Syrians as to what was happening. An explanation for this could be that the Russians and Syrians must inevitably inform their Iranian allies about Israeli intentions leading Israel to keep the warning time as short as possible.

The shooting down of the Russian aircraft and the delivery of the S-300 is a sign that the military balance is changing to the advantage of the Syrian government.

Since the end of 2016, President Bashar al-Assad has recaptured the most important armed opposition strongholds in East Aleppo, East Ghouta and Deraa, leaving only one, the large opposition enclave in Idlib untaken. He can now focus more time to pushing back against Israeli military operations affecting Syria.

Israel and the US continue to speak of the build up of Iranian influence either directly or through local proxies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. But Iranian influence probably peaked in Syria and Iraq in 2015 when governments in both countries were under intense military pressure from Isis and needed all the foreign help they could get. Israeli attacks will not stop, but they will be riskier.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 12:17 pm 
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OCTOBER 9, 2018

Cracks in the House of Saud

by PATRICK COCKBURN


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Over the past half century, critics have often predicted the fall of the House of Saud or emphasised the fragility of its rule. They were invariably proved wrong because the Saudi monarchy enjoyed limitless oil revenues, had the support of the US, and avoided becoming a front-line combatant in Middle East crises.

Saudi strengths and weaknesses may have been long debated but the Kingdom’s vulnerabilities have seldom been so starkly on display as they were last Tuesday because the coincidence of two very different events. Before a rally in Mississippi, President Trump stated – brutally and without qualification – the dependence of the Saudi monarchy on US support and the price it must pay for such backing.

“We protect Saudi Arabia,” Trump told the cheering audience. “Would you say they’re rich? And I love the King, King Salman. But I said ‘King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us – you have to pay for your military’.” Outbursts by Trump tend to be more calculated than they sound and he only humiliates allies in this way when he knows he can get away with it.

Trump’s contemptuous reference to the instability of Saudi Arabia was given greater significance by another dramatic event which happened a few hours earlier some 6,000 miles away in Istanbul. The prominent Saudi journalist and critic of his country’s government, Jamal Khashoggi, failed to emerge from the Saudi consulate where he was doing some paperwork relating to his divorce and impending marriage.

Khashoggi has not been seen since. The Turkish authorities, no doubt delighted to be able to present themselves as defenders of journalistic freedom, say he is still inside the consulate. Saudi officials claim that he left the building, though surveillance cameras prove he did not do so on foot, so, if he did leave, it was presumably in a diplomat’s car, possibly in the boot. Khashoggi’s fiance was left waiting disconsolately outside the consulate gates.

The best that can be hoped for is that the blast of international criticism over the incident will lead Khashoggi to reappear, perhaps denying that he was ever detained. This was the bizarre experience of the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in November last year when he disappeared during a visit to Riyadh and resigned his post on television before reappearing thanks to French government pressure.

The fate of Khashoggi, whatever the outcome of the present furore, carries an important message about the present state of Saudi Arabia. If he has been forcibly detained, as the Turkish government says, then it is a self-harming act of stupidity. It elevates him from being a minor irritant to a cause célèbre and a continuing mystery about his whereabouts ensures that the story is not going to go away.

It is early days yet but the Khashoggi disappearance has released a torrent of negative publicity about Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This was wholly predictable. It is a curious fact about publicity that horrendous events – like the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has brought five million children to the verge of starvation – has failed to make its way to the top of the international news agenda. The slaughter is too great and the place too distant and ill-reported for most people to take on board and react to the horrors underway there.

Something on a smaller scale, like the disappearance of a critic of the Saudi government while his fiance waits for him in the street, is much easier to understand and respond to. Often, the all-too-common disappearance of journalists has the simple objective of silencing them and intimidating others. “Let them hate us so long as they fear us,” is the point being crudely made.

But the crown prince had hoped for a more positive image in the international media and his expectations have seldom been disappointed. Take a look at the piece by The New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman in November last year about the four hours he spent with him: “We met at night at his family’s ornate adobe-walled palace in Ouja, north of Riyadh,” he writes. He describes Saudi Arabia as being in the throes of its version of the Arab Spring that ‘”will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success – but only a fool would not root for it.”

Khashoggi was one of those “fools” who balanced between reasoned criticism and outright dissent. Going by Friedman’s account of Saudi public opinion he was a lonely voice because “not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive.” But could it be that this impressive display of unanimity might have something to do with the fact anybody expressing a hint of criticism – like economist Essam al-Zamel – may find themselves clapped in jail on charges of terrorism and treason.

Hagiographic journalistic reports on Saudi Arabia may be more difficult to retail in future in the wake of the Khashoggi scandal. Already, some longtime backers of the country are jumping ship. One of them, Elliott Abrams, is quoted as saying that “the Saudi government is either keeping him [Khashoggi] in the consulate building or has kidnapped him and taken him to Saudi Arabia.” He warns that the reputation of the current Saudi government could “be harmed irreparably.”

The proposed economic reforms in Saudi Arabia have always sounded like wishful thinking. Deep scepticism is the correct approach to government-backed radical change in any country dependent on revenues from oil and other natural resources. Anticorruption campaigns simply redistribute the spoils to a new gang of well-connected predators. Much of the population has got too used to getting well-paid patronage jobs in return for little or no work. Domestic industry and agriculture cannot compete unless heavily subsidised. The system is too convenient to too many to be uprooted: opposition to corruption and patronage gets a thumbs up so long as it involves no personal sacrifice of any kind.

Saudi economic problems are serious, but not necessarily disastrous. More destabilising for the Kingdom is the extent to which Saudi Arabia is now demonstrably operating beyond its real strength in the region as its its more adventurous foreign policy over the last three years backfires.

The list of failures is impressive: Saudi-led bombing in Yemen since 2015 has not defeated the Houthis, but it has produced the greatest manmade famine on earth; increased help for the Syrian armed opposition the same year provoked Russian military intervention and has brought President Bashar al-Assad close to victory; the quarrel with Qatar has weakened all the Gulf monarchies; confrontation with Iran is a conflict that can never be won.

As Mikhail Gorbachev discovered after the first heady days of trying to change the Soviet Union, reforms are more likely to capsize an existing systems of government than improve it.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

_________________
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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 12:04 pm 
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OCTOBER 10, 2018

After Four Decades of Chaos is Iraq Finally Stabilizing?

by PATRICK COCKBURN


Changes of government in Iraq are often fiercely disputed and frequently violent. When the monarchy was overthrown in 1958, the young King Faisal II was machine gunned in the courtyard of his palace in Baghdad and his body later strung up from a lamp post.

Few of his successors met peaceful ends up to the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and political transitions in the following years have provoked extreme rancour inside Iraq and intense political pressure from foreign powers.

In contrast to this bloodthirsty tradition, the choice of the veteran Kurdish politician Barham Salih as president by the Iraqi parliament and his selection as prime minister of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, an independent Shia Islamist politician, was peaceful and low key.

The formal handover ceremony took place at the presidential palace in Baghdad’sGreen Zone, where Mr Salih was saluted by an honour guard and received by outgoing president Fuad Masum.

The appointments were a long time coming – it is almost five months since the general election on 12 May – but, when they did come, they were welcome or, at least, accepted by almost all the main political players. Mr Abdul-Mahdi now has 30 days to put together a government and is likely to succeed in doing so.

The political climate is very different today from the last change of prime minister in 2014 when Haider al-Abadi took office after the Iraqi army had been routed by Isis, whose fighters were only an hour’s drive north of Baghdad.

Isis still carries out sporadic killings and bombings but on nothing like the scale of the past. Violence is at its lowest level in Iraq than at any time since 2003. The turnaround is really even more radical in that Iraq is no longer being engulfed by wars, crises, revolutions and sanctions as it has been over a period of almost 40 years since Saddam Hussein seized supreme power and invaded Iran.

Cynics in Baghdad contend that the lack of serious political strife is explained by the fact that Mr Salih and Mr Abdul-Mahdi are well-entrenched members of the Kurdish and Shia political elite that replaced Saddam Hussein 15 years ago and has misruled the country ever since.

Both men have held senior government posts in the past, leading to expectations that the politicians that chose them will get their normal share of ministries, jobs and contracts.

“Has any state as corrupt as Iraq ever really been reformed?” asked one political commentator with a long experience of Iraqi politics.

The pressure for reform of the kleptocratic state is greater than ever before. Popular discontent was underlined this summer by the mass demonstrations in Basra protesting the lack of electricity and water, supply failures that culminated in the drinking water becoming so poisonous that thousands of people were admitted to hospital after drinking it.

The electoral success of Muqtada al-Sadr, the populist nationalist cleric whose Sairoon Alliance topped the poll in the general election in May, showed the growing primacy of social and economic issues over sectarian solidarity.

Mr Sadr is well aware of the scepticism among many Iraqis who believe that his movement’s zeal for reform would evaporate once its leaders took office as ministers.

To counter this, he said on Thursday that his bloc would not nominate “any minister whatever” for the new cabinet, giving Mr Abdul-Mehdi one year to carry out reforms or face “an uprising”, a threat which carries more weight since the burning of government and party offices in Basra.

“We have succeeded in pushing for an independent prime minister … and have encouraged him to form a cabinet without being put under pressure from parties or sects,” tweeted Mr Sadr. “We have issued our instructions not to nominate any member of our bloc to assume a ministerial post in the upcoming cabinet. We have agreed to give the premier a one-year ultimatum to prove his success and take serious steps to build Iraq and shun autocracy.”

Such reforms will be difficult to carry out because it is not only the elite that plunder Iraq’s oil revenues. At least $4bn a month is spent paying some 4.5 million state employees who often hold their jobs because of party or religious allegiance.

The choice of president and prime minister already shows that there is some change in who holds power in Baghdad and the Kurdish region. Mr Abdul-Mehdi is not from the Shia Dawa party that has provided the last three prime ministers, but from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a religious party that has had close links with Iran. Mr Salih comes from the much-divided Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that rules the east of the Kurdistan Regional Government territory.

Both appointments show a shift towards Iran and away from the US. This is significant because the US was hoping to see Mr Abadi, with whom it had cooperated successfully against Isis, stay on as prime minister. At one moment, he had seemed to say that he would go along with US sanctions against Iran.

Although Mr Abadi was prime minister when Mosul was recaptured from Isis and the oil city of Kirkuk reclaimed from the Kurds, he gained little credit for it among Iraqi voters.

The reduction in violence allowed them to focus on the mass theft of state resources under Dawa which has failed to improve, or even maintain, the infrastructure.

The choice of Mr Salih is a sign that the influence of Masoud Barzani, long the most powerful Kurdish leader, has been reduced by his referendum on Kurdish independence last year. This precipitated the advance of the Iraqi security forces on Kirkuk and other territories disputed with the Kurds. Part of Mr Salih’s party, the PUK, cooperated with government forces.

All Iraqi governments are, to a greater or lesser extent, fragile because of religious and ethnic differences, but the new government is a sign that Iraq is stabilising after four decades of violence and division.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

_________________
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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 8:16 pm 
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OCTOBER 23, 2018

The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall

by PATRICK COCKBURN


The Middle East has a century old tradition of being the political graveyard of American and British political leaders. The list of casualties is long: Lloyd George, Anthony Eden, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W Bush. All saw their careers ended or their authority crippled by failure in the region.

Will the same thing happen to Donald Trump as he struggles with the consequences of the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi? I always suspected that Trump might come unstuck because of his exaggerated reliance on a weak state like Saudi Arabia rather than because of his supposed links to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the PR company boosterism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his ambitious projects, Saudi Arabia has oil and money, but is demonstrably ineffective as an independent operator.

The Middle East disasters that toppled so many Western leaders have a certain amount in common. In all cases, the strength of enemies and the feebleness of friends was miscalculated. Lloyd George was forced to resign as prime minister in 1922 because he encouraged the doomed Greek invasion of Anatolia which almost led to a renewed Turkish-British war.

George W Bush and Tony Blair never understood that the occupation of Iraq by American and British ground forces had no support inside Iraq or among its neighbours and was therefore bound to fail. A British military intelligence officer stationed in Basra told me that he could not persuade his superiors of the potentially disastrous fact that “we have no real allies anywhere in Iraq”.

The political debacle most similar to Trump’s ill-judged reliance on the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia over the last three years was American policy towards the Shah and Iran in the years leading up to his overthrow in 1979. US humiliation was rubbed in when its diplomats were taken hostages in Tehran which torpedoed Carter’s hope of a second term in the White House.

There are striking and instructive parallels between US and British policy towards Iran in the lead up to the revolution and towards Saudi Arabia in 2015-18. In both periods, there was a self-destructive belief that an increasingly unstable hereditary monarchy was a safe bet as a regional ally as well as being a vastly profitable market for arms.

The Shah and MBS both promoted themselves as reformers, justifying their authoritarianism as necessary to drag their countries into the modern era. Foreign elites fawned on them, ignored their weaknesses, and were fixated by the mirage of fabulous profits. A British ambassador to Iran in the 1970s was said – I quote from memory – to have rebuked his embassy staff with the words: “I don’t want any more elegantly written reports about social conditions in Iranian villages. What I want is exports, exports, exports!”

Brexit has taken Britain off the world stage and it must be happy in future with whatever crumbs it can scrounge in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else. But Trump sounds very much like this long-forgotten ambassador when he justifies the US strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia by referring repeatedly to a $110bn in arms contract.

In practice, hereditary monarchies are at their most unstable during a leadership transition, attempts to reform, efforts to expand as regional powers or as initiators of war. In England, the pacific and cautious King James I was succeeded by his arrogant, arbitrary and incautious son, King Charles I, with unfortunate consequences for the monarchy.

Vulgar display was a feature of the Shah’s Iran 40 years ago as it is of Saudi Arabia today. In his case, there was the celebration of 2,500 years of the Persian Empire at Persepolis in 1971, which fed the ruling elites of the world with exotic delicacies such as 50 roast peacocks with tail feathers restored and stuffed with foie gras along quail eggs filled with caviar, which the Shah could not eat because he was allergic to caviar.

The Saudi equivalent to Persepolis is the much-publicised “Davos in the Desert” or, more prosaically, the “Future Investment Initiative” being held this week in Riyadh and from which politicians and businessmen have been very publicly dropping out as mystery over the disappearance of Khashoggi has deepened. Much of the media is treating their decision to stay at home as some sort of moral choice and never asks why these luminaries were happy to act as cheerleaders for Saudi Arabia in the same time the UN was warning that 13 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation because of the Saudi-led military intervention.

It is no excuse for the Trump administration or the defecting guests in Riyadh to claim that they did not know about Saudi Arabia’s potential for random violence. As long ago as 2 December 2015, the German federal intelligence agency, the BND, published a memo predicting that “the current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy.” It went on to say that the concentration of so much power in the hands of Prince Mohammed bin Salman “harbours a latent risk that …he may overreach.”

The memo was hurriedly withdrawn at the insistence of the German foreign ministry, but today it sounds prophetic about the direction in which Saudi Arabia was travelling and the dangers likely to ensue.

Trump has put a little more distance between himself and the Crown Prince in the past few days, but he makes no secret of his hope that the crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia will go away. “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” he says though he may believe he can shrug off this affair as he has done with so many other scandals.

Just for once, Trump’s highly developed survival instincts may be at fault. His close alliance with Saudi Arabia and escalating confrontation with Iran is the most radical new departure in Trump’s foreign policy. He withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in defiance of the rest of the world earlier this year on the grounds that he can extract more concessions from Iran by using American power alone than Barack Obama ever did by working in concert with other states. This struggle is so important because it is not just between the US and Iran but is the crucial test case of Trump’s version of American nationalism in action.

The White House evidently calculates that if it draws out the crisis by systematic delaying tactics, it will eventually disappear from the top of the news agenda. This is not a stupid strategy, but it may not work in present circumstances because the Saudi authorities are too inept – some would say too guilty – to produce a plausible cover story. The mystery of Khashoggi’s disappearance is too compelling for the media to abandon and give up the the chase for the culprits.

Above all, the anti-Trump portion of the US media and the Democrats smell political blood and sense that the Khashoggi affair is doing the sort of serious damage to the Trump presidency that never really happened with the Russian probe.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

_________________
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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:42 pm 
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Holyman wrote:
OCTOBER 23, 2018

The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall

by PATRICK COCKBURN


Above all, the anti-Trump portion of the US media and the Democrats smell political blood and sense that the Khashoggi affair is doing the sort of serious damage to the Trump presidency that never really happened with the Russian probe.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.


The same media that wants us to blow up our relationship with Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi, wants us to overlook Iran executing gay children, drug users, adulterers and apostates to maintain the "Iran Deal".

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/c ... pters/iran


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 9:54 pm 
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Forget the Saudis.

Look..... An Iranian squirrel .......

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:24 pm 
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OCTOBER 29, 2018

The Death Toll in Yemen is Five Times Higher Than We Think…How Much Longer Will We Shrug Off Responsibility?

by PATRICK COCKBURN


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One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated. The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.

Now a count by a non-partisan group has produced a study demonstrating 56,000 people have been killed in Yemen since early 2016. The number is increasing by more than 2,000 per month as fighting intensifies around the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. It does not include those dying of malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, who researches Yemen for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex that studies conflicts and is focusing attention on the real casualty level. He told me he expects a total of between 70,000 and 80,000 victims, when he completes research into the casualties, hitherto uncounted, who died between the start of the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemen civil war, in March 2015, and the end of that year.

The oft-cited figure of 10,000 dead comes from a UN official speaking only of civilians in early 2017, and has remained static since. This out of date statistic, drawn from Yemen’s patchy and war-damaged health system, has enabled Saudi Arabia and the UAE – who lead a coalition of states strongly backed by the US, UK and France – to ignore or downplay the loss of life.

Casualties are rising by the day as Saudi and UAE-directed forces try to cut off Hodeidah – the last port controlled by the Houthi rebels – from the capital, Sanaa. Oxfam said this week, a civilian is being killed every three hours in the fighting, and between 1 August and 15 October, 575 civilians were killed in the port city, including 136 children and 63 women. An airstrike on Wednesday killed 16 civilians in a vegetable market in Hodeidah, and other strikes this month have hit two buses at a Houthi-held checkpoint, killing 15 civilians, including four children.

Little information about casualties in Yemen reaches the outside world because Saudi and the UAE make access difficult for foreign journalists and other impartial witnesses. By contrast to the war in Syria, the American, British and French governments have no interest in highlighting the devastation caused in Yemen – they give diplomatic cover to the Saudi intervention. But their deliberate blindness to the death of so many Yemenis is starting to attract more negative attention, as a byproduct of the flood of international criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi – now admitted by Saudi officials – in Istanbul on 2 October.

The absence of credible figures for the death toll in Yemen has made it easier for foreign powers to shrug off accusations they are complicit in a human disaster. That is despite frantic appeals from senior UN officials to the organisation’s Security Council to avert a manmade famine which now threatens 14 million Yemenis – half the population.

The crisis has worsened because of the siege of Hodeidah – with the city a lifeline for aid and commercial imports – since mid June, a situation that has forced 570,000 people to flee their homes. UN humanitarian affairs chief Mark Lowcock warned on 23 October “the immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now literally collapsing, making them – especially the elderly – more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera and other diseases”.

Just how many people die because they are weakened by hunger is difficult to know accurately, because most of the deaths happen at home and are unrecorded. This is particularly true of Yemen, where half the meagre health facilities no longer function, and people are often too poor to use those that do.

Loss of life from fighting should be easier to record and publicise, and the fact this has not happened in Yemen is a sign of the lack of interest by the international community in the conflict. Carboni says ACLED has been able to tally the number of civilians and combatants killed in ground fighting and bombing by drawing on the Yemeni press and, to a lesser extent, international media. ACLED has used these sources, after carefully assessing their credibility, to calculate the number of fatalities. Where figures differ, the group uses lower estimates and favours the claims of those who suffered casualties, over those who say they inflicted them.

It is difficult to distinguish between civilian targets that are deliberately attacked, and non-combatants who died because they were caught in the crossfire, or were close to a military unit or facility when hit.

A study by Professor Martha Mundy – Strategies of the Coalition in the Yemen War: Aerial Bombardment and Food War – concludes the Saudi-led bombing campaign deliberately targeted food production and storage facilities. Some 220 fishing boats have been destroyed on Yemen’s Red Sea coast and the fish catch is down by half.

ACLED began counting casualties after the war was under way, which is why it is only now researching loss of life in 2015, with its findings due to be published in January or February.

Carboni adds, the trend is for the number of people being killed to rise. The monthly total before December 2017 was fewer than 2,000 casualties, but since then it has always been more than 2,000. Almost all those who died are Yemenis, though the figures also include 1,000 Sudanese troops killed fighting on behalf of the Saudi coalition.

The Khashoggi affair has led to greater international focus on the calamitous war in Yemen, and the role of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the conflict. But there is no sign of the US, Britain or France curtailing military assistance to the kingdom and the UAE, despite the likelihood the coalition will fail to win a decisive victory.

The true “butcher’s bill” in the Yemen war has taken too long to emerge, but it may help to increase pressure on outside powers to stop the killing.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:01 pm 
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I hear khashoggi was about to blow the whistle on the Saudis using chemical weapons in Yemen..

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:57 pm 
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barcelona wrote:
I hear khashoggi was about to blow the whistle on the Saudis using chemical weapons in Yemen..


Probably a double false-flag. Seems likely coming so close to the mid-terms.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 10:06 pm 
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Slacks wrote:
barcelona wrote:
I hear khashoggi was about to blow the whistle on the Saudis using chemical weapons in Yemen..


Probably a double false-flag. Seems likely coming so close to the mid-terms.





Yup.

Also Murricu sold those weapons to the Saudis.........

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2018 10:21 am 
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barcelona wrote:
Also Murricu sold continues to sell those weapons to the Saudis.........


As do the British and French.

Can't make America, the UK and France great again, without selling billions of dollars of weapons to the most execrable National regime on the Planet.

[**==] [X++X] [|||]

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2018 5:30 pm 
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Holyman wrote:
barcelona wrote:
Also Murricu sold continues to sell those weapons to the Saudis.........


As do the British and French.

Can't make America, the UK and France great again, without selling billions of dollars of weapons to the most execrable National regime on the Planet.

[**==] [X++X] [|||]


I dunno - I think China runs circles around Saudi Arabia in terms of number of human lives destroyed. Syria and North Korea not far behind in terms of killing their own citizens. Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country on the planet, Iran executes gay children and Russia spreads radioactive poison all around Europe and the UK to off their dissidents.

You don't seem to have much problem having economic or military ties with any of these nations.

These paragons of human rights are the new counterweight you so feverishly hope will knock the US off the top perch.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2018 9:27 pm 
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I do have a problem with those other regimes Foota.

But nobody around here is trying to defend, excuse or mitigate their behaviour.

So doesn't seem much point discussing them, does there?

>&8~

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"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory." - Howard Zinn


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