Tag: Syria

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Will The Real Axis of Evil Please Stand Up? by Geminijen

Last Tuesday, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Israel added a new power to the “Axis of Evil”. According to Netanyahu, “Militant Islamists” (including not only  ISIS in Iraq and Syria but Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Al Qaeda groups in Africa and the Middle East)”, want to dominate the world like the Nazis; only unlike the Nazis, they believe in a “Master faith” instead of a “Master Race”

Obama, in his speech four days earlier announcing that he would begin Air Strikes in Syria, also discussed “extreme fundamentalism” in the Middle East. Although he did not specify Islamists as the only fundamentalists, he emphasized the necessity of eliminating  these groups and, using a combination of the idea of “American Exceptionalism” and a retread of the colonial playbook where the civilized countries (read mostly white, western) have to quell the extreme militant fundamentalists (read “savages”)in the Middle East. This was of course, his justification for invading Syria and bombing ISIS.

The “Axis of Evil”,  originally inspired b the Nazis in World War II, was recreated by George W. Bush in 2002 and initially included three Nation States –Iraq, Iran and North Korea  –and became Bush’s excuse to invade Iraq.  Under his administration, this concept was later expanded to include Cuba, Libya and Syria. The American president offered no evidence to support what we now know was slander and had much more to do with protecting US oil interests than protecting the American people, not to mention the lives of other peoples of the world.

Of the original six members, Cuba and North Korea are effectively quarantined by Western-imposed embargoes, isolated from balanced international relations and development. Of the other four, Iraq and Libya, were invaded by US-led forces in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism, and have been destroyed and realigned to serve Western interests.

It is no accident that Obama is targeting one of the two remaining members, Syria, while changing the stakes from targeting a specific country to the concept of “extreme (read Islamic) fundamentalism” which is much broader and not hampered by nation state boundaries blurring the lines of what is legal and illegal under international law as well as increasing the threat of endless war since it is unclear what nation state you would negotiate with to end the war.

In analyzing the current crisis with ISIS, an historical analysis provides some perspective. Since the 1970’s, capitalist interests have morphed into a toxic combination of religious fundamentalism  and extreme militarism to achieve their economic goals  — whether that is the reawakening of the Christian-based KKK and the rise of the Patriots and Tea Party in the United States; the Evangelicals, military dictators and death squads in Latin America; the Orthodox Zionist Jews and the concept of a Greater Israel in the Palestinian conflict; or extreme Islamic fundamentalism  in the larger Middle East.  

It is unclear why this fundamentalism has such appeal these days – maybe it’s because the world is scarier as we globalize and people want to retreat to the “good old days”, to concepts they believe will not change. Maybe it’s because fundamentalism is unquestioning and based on faith rather than reason and it makes it easier for the 1% to manipulate the rest of us. Maybe it is because religious fundamentalism is not restricted by national borders and makes it easier to rationalize the new global paradigm. Maybe it is a combination of all of these.

Whatever the reason, the drums of war are rumbling again, and we are hoping that the drum beats will be loud enough to drown out the voice of reason by finding a new enemy.  An enemy who can be the bad guy — pure evil that must be squelched mercilessly which we can only do with war.  We, of course, are the “good guys” and wear the white hat because, as always, “God (and a white supremacist morality) is on our side.”

But I would suggest it is not Islamic extremists, terrorists, drug lords, rogue states, corrupt regimes, authoritarian superpowers or Eastern Block” (the “Red Menace sans Communism)who are “the enemy.” It is the multinational oil interests, the military industrial complex and the American government and its allies who are the real “axis of evil.”   It is the system of capitalist corruption, exploitation and enrichment that has put the world into poverty, conflict and on the brink of yet another major war.

Are Syria Strikes an Illegal War?

Are the Syria strikes an illegal war? By what authority has President Barack Obama ordered these attacks? The administration says that it doesn’t need congress to approve it and congress, along with the courts, has surrendered its responsibility.

United States Bombs Syria In Latest Undeclared War

By Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law Professor George Washington University

I just completed a two-city debate with former Bush official John Yoo on executive power with a focus on undeclared wars. It appears Yoo won the debate . . . at least with President Obama. Indeed, Yoo appears to have had Obama at “hello” to quote Jerry Maguire. Without any declaration of war, Obama has launched attacks against targets in Syria – an act of war by any measure and a violation of international law.

We have been discussing the growing concerns over President Barack Obama’s series of unilateral actions in ordering agencies not to enforce law, effectively rewriting laws, and moving hundreds of millions of dollars from appropriated purposes to areas of his choosing. One of the greatest concerns has been his unchecked authority asserted in the national security area.

The most serious acts of unilateral presidential action falls within war powers – powers that the Framers expressly and carefully limited to prevent precisely this type of attack. Of course, the Administration does not use the word “war.” I previously represented members of Congress in challenging Obama’s intervention in the Libyan civil war without a declaration from Congress. In the case, President Obama insisted that he alone determines what is a war and therefore when he needs a declaration. Since the court would not recognize standing to challenge the war, it left Obama free to engage in war operations in any country of his choosing.

Professor Turley joined David Corn, Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief, on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss just how legal are these attacks.

US ties itself in legal knots to cover shifting rationale for Syria strikes

By Dan Roberts, The Guardian

Lawyers use Iraq’s right of self-defence and weakness of Syrian regime – which US has undermined – to justify failure to seek UN approval

In a letter to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, released near 24 hours after attacks began, US ambassador Samantha Power argued that the threat to Iraq from Islamic State, known as Isis or Isil, gave the US and its allies in the region an automatic right to attack on its behalf. [..]

The brief letter did not mention the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which rested on erroneous claims of weapons of mass destruction and arguably contributed to its current instability, but stresses instead the country’s right to self-defence in the face of this new threat. [..]

The US also argued that there was legal right to pursue Isis inside Syria due to the weakness of that country’s government – a regime the US has been actively urging be undermined by rebel groups for much of the past two years. [..]

Fearing that US politicians up for re-election in November may balk at voting for a third military attack on Iraq and being sucked into a Syrian quagmire, the White House has avoided seeking a fresh authorisation of the use of military force, preferring to rely on early authorisations against al-Qaida granted after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

But this means arguing that Isis is equivalent to al-Qaida, even though the groups are split – logic that several critics in Congress, such as Virginia senator Tim Kaine, have argued is flawed and requires a fresh authorisation to fix.

Power reached for similar arguments in her letter to the UN, arguing that Tuesday’s separate attack on Khorasan rebels in Syria was also an act of self defence by the US due to the group’s closeness to al-Qaida.

Is Obama misleading the world to war? Depends how you define ‘misleading’

By Trevor Timm, The Gusrdian

When it comes to military strikes against Isis in Syria, his administration’s strategy relies on what the meaning of ‘is’ is

Want to decipher what the US military is really doing in Iraq and Syria, or figure out whether its regional war against the Islamic State (Isis) is legal? Good luck. The Obama administration’s secret efforts to redefine the ordinary meaning of key legal terms and phrases has made that near impossible.

For instance, in his Tuesday statement that US airstrikes that have expanded into Syria, Obama studiously avoided any discussion about his domestic legal authority to conduct these strikes. That dirty work was apparently left up to anonymous White House officials, who told the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that both the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 2001 (meant for al-Qaida) and the 2002 war resolution (meant for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) gave the government the authority to strike Isis in Syria.

In other words: the legal authority provided to the White House to strike al-Qaida and invade Iraq more than a dozen years ago now means that the US can wage war against a terrorist organization that’s decidedly not al-Qaida, in a country that is definitely not Iraq. [..]

So when you hear the words “imminent attack”, “civilians”, militants” or “ground troops” from now on, be careful: if the government says they’re not misleading you, it might only be because they’ve secretly changed the definition of “misleading”.

Public Law 107-40  – the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001

Public Law 107-243 – The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq

Neither one of those laws applies to this situation. The president is in violation of his oath of office.

Khorasan Who?

First it was Al Qaeda, then it was ISIS (or Is, or ISIL, whatever), now a new “monster under the bed” has been marched out as the latest excuse to bomb another Muslim country, number seven for President Barack Obama, who has managed to surpass any of his predecessors. So who and what is “Khorasan”? Are we now suppose to believe a proven liar, James Clapper, that this group is such a threat to US national security that it’s necessary to violate Syria’s sovereignty, further enabling terrorist groups to attract members? All of a sudden this group is an imminent threat when as recently as Monday weren’t even on the radar.

Marcy Wheeler isn’t biting into this either:

It appears the legal logic behind the attack (besides the fact that Congress hurriedly approved funding for war through December so it could get back to the campaign trail) is that in addition to striking ISIS in Syria (an attack we don’t have any reasonable  legal justification for) we are also attacking a group that James “Too Cute by Half” Clapper just rolled out, “Khorasan,” which unlike ISIS has not been kicked out of Al Qaeda and therefore might be targetable under the 2001 AUMF. [..]

Today’s continuation of that narrative appears in CNN (and ABC, which I won’t link to because of their infernal auto-play ads), which doesn’t ask how the US hoped to surprise Khorasan if they had just rolled them out as the big new boogeymen. [..]

The threat of Ibrahim al-Asiri – who with one bomb that could not have worked and several more claimed attacks identified by double agents in Saudi employ not only created the excuse for millions of dollars in TSA scanner profits, but also the ability to label Yemen an “imminent” threat and therefore bomb it – has moved to Syria.

Label the country an “imminent” threat. Then bomb.

In Obama’s statement, he emphasized the Khorasan tie.

She’s not the only one questioning the latest excuse to start another war:

So far the only source for any information about this new group comes from two people, who as Marcy says, “have a somewhat strained relationship with the truth and a very cozy relationship with disinformation,” Clapper and Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

This latest US military intervention has gone from a humanitarian rescue, to assisting the Iraq army fighting ISIS to bombing another sovereign nation under the guise of “national security” in a mere 6 weeks. While there is no dispute that ISIS and Kordasan are terrorist groups and some very bad people, but this has the whiff of being just another excuse to overthrow Syrian President Bashir Assad.  

Here We Go Again: US Strikes Syria

US launches air strikes against Isis targets in Syria

By Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

  • US and allies have deployed jets and missiles against militants
  • Isis stronghold of Raqqa is among targets, says US official
  • ‘Dozens’ of fighters are killed, says monitoring group
  • Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan involved

The United States stepped up its war against the Islamic State militant group, launching air strikes on targets in Syria for the first time.

The Pentagon press secretary, rear admiral John Kirby, confirmed that the US and allied nations sent fighter jets, bomber aircraft and Tomahawk missiles in an operation against Isis that he described as “ongoing”.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Raqqa, a Syrian stronghold of Isis, was among the targets of the operation, which began in the early hours of Tuesday morning local time.

The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later at around 10pm EDT (2am GMT), but the operation was expected to continue for several more hours. [..]

The US was joined in the Syria operation by Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, an official said.

The strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft, while the Tomahawk missiles were launched from US ships in the northern Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush is in the Gulf.

Kirby said the strikes were ordered by army general Lloyd Austin, the commander of US forces in the Middle East and South Asia “under authorisation granted to him by the commander in chief”. [..]

Syria’s foreign ministry says the US informed Damascus’ envoy to the United Nations before launching the raids.

As Doc Maddow would say, “watch this space.”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, host of “The Last Word.” spoke with several MSNBC contributors and observors.


Full Disclosure

Yesterday the Senate joined the House of Representatives to give the Pentagon funds to train un-vetted moderate fighters of the Syrian rebel army. The pro-war pundits have been all over the media. So as the US inches its way into another war in the Middle, Lee Fang of The Nation asks a good questions: Who is paying the pro-war pundits? Shouldn’t the public know about their links to Pentagon contractors?

If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as IS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle IS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of IS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.

Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on IS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets. [..]

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) (pdf) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

To expose the conflicts of interest by these media analysts. Mr. Fang joined Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh of Democracy Now.



Transcript can be read here

The media needs to be honest with the public about who they are presenting as “experts” to promote the push to another illegal war.

US Middle East Presence Just Making Things Worse

While Congress is holding hearings on whether or not President Barack Obama’s current plan to contain ISIS and assist so-called moderates of the rebel Syrian army, the CIA expressed its doubts on what the agency most likely perceives as an encroachment on their not so covert operations to train these un-vetted rebels that has been going on for a year in Jordan. That was reported earlier this week by Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim and Sam Stein:

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.

“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.

Probably for all the wrong reasons, the CIA is right. President Obama’s plan is not just doomed to failure but may well make matters worse.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Ann Cury, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed his doubts about the strategy and condemned ISIS

           

“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.

“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.

“Maybe it is necessary for airstrikes in some conditions and some circumstances,” he added. “However, air strikes should take place with the permission of the people of that country and the government of that country.”  [..]

Asked about the extremists’ beheading of American James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Briton David Haines, Rouhani said ISIS’ actions are at odds with Islamic tenets.

“They want to kill humanity,” he said. “And from the viewpoint of the Islamic tenets and culture, killing an innocent people equals the killing of the whole humanity. And therefore, the killing and beheading of innocent people in fact is a matter of shame for them and it’s the matter of concern and sorrow for all the human and all the mankind.”

But he also took issue with the American-led coalition, saying members include nations that helped ISIS with weapons and training.

At emptywheel, Jim White, noticed what the MSNBC article failed to mention

Rouhani told the NBC that the US-led coalition against the ISIL group was not a serious movement and added that US had been present in the region since 2001 to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan but it not only did not solved the terrorism problem but exacerbated the crisis.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has emphatically stated that foreign ground troops are not needed or wanted

Al-Abadi praised the U.S. aerial campaign targeting the militants who have overrun much of northern and western Iraq and carved out a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border, saying it has helped efforts to roll back the Sunni extremists.

But he stressed that he sees no need for the U.S. or other nations to send troops into Iraq to help fight the Islamic State.

“Not only is it not necessary,” he said, “We don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.” [..]

The comments provided a sharp rebuttal to remarks a day earlier by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that American ground troops may be needed to battle Islamic State forces in the Middle East if President Barack Obama’s current strategy fails.

And the insanity will continue

ISIS Is the Direct Result of the War on Terror

ISIS Disaster Has Failed ‘War on Terrorism’ Blowback Written All Over it

By John Queally, Common Dreams

‘What I think we’re going to end up seeing [in Syria] is the end result of the disaster that Obama inherited, not just from Bush, but from his own first term,’ says investigative journalist

Investigation journalist Jeremy Scahill sat down with MSNBC’s Ari Melber on Thursday to discuss President Obama’s announced plan to escalate the U.S. military campaign against the group known as the Islamic State and offered a damning assessment of the administration’s “strategy.”  He said that not only is the militant group (also known by the acronym ISIS) the product of failed military adventurism but that continued attempts to bomb al Qaeda-like groups out of existence simply creates a cycle of “blowback” that is self-defeating and counter-productive. [..]

“Now I think there’s the potential for huge blowback here,” Scahill said of Obama’s plan to launch airstrikes-including possible carpet bombing-against targets in Syria. “I also think that ISIS is, in part, the product of blowback from the Bush era and the Obama era.”

Scahill continued: “What I think we’re going to end up seeing [in Syria] is the end result of the disaster that Obama inherited, not just from Bush, but from his own first term.” Scahill reminded the audience that though former President Bush had bombed Yemen only once (“that we know of”), but but President Obama has dramatically increased the number of airstrikes in Yemen and Pakistan, ratcheted up the covert war in Somalia, and otherwise expanded the sphere of the U.S. so-called “counter-terrorism” operations.

“President Obama, for all the criticism he gets from Dick Cheney,” argued Scahill, “is actually far more effective at the ‘war games’-so to speak-than the neocons were, because he’s able also to sell it to the liberal base.”

Attacking terrorist organizations with military tactics is part of the reason these groups exist. Innocent civilians are killed. Property is destroyed. Hate for Americans is fueled.  

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: War Profiteers Ecstatic at Middle East Mess by Justina

In 1935, US General Smedley Butler detailed in his “War is a Racket” the World War I  racket he had served.  It is now much, much worse.

Vice-President Richard Cheney and his fellow Neo-Cons originally lit the barn fires with their factually unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Bush-Cheney then torched the secular, but Sunni sect based, ruling Baathist Party and applauded the decapitation of its brutal, but anti-al Qaeda leader, Saddam Hussein.  (Saddam himself had originally been put in place by the US CIA in a coup, but thereafter fell out of favor with the US government because he dared to assert exclusive control of Iraq’s oil industry.)

Up to his ouster, Saddam had successfully kept the radical jihadists out of Iraq, which even the US intelligence agencies have admitted:

“There was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection until the war; our invasion made it so. We have known this for nearly a decade, well before the murderous ISIS even appeared. In a September 2006 New York Times article headlined “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” reporter Mark Mazetti informed readers of a classified National Intelligence Estimate representing the consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” the analysis cited the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology: “The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.”

Now jihadis even more extreme than Al Qaeda, the ISIS, are an hour outside of Baghdad, threatening the capitol city and its Shia sect residents.  Its Sunni sect population, a minority in Baghdad, is seemingly terrified of the reaction of the Shiite majority as well as the blatantly brutal, although Sunni ISIS.  Likely everyone there is arming.  (The NRA must be delighted.)

Will Iraq Fall Apart? The Death of Sykes Picot

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Ninety-eight years ago on May 20, 1916, the French diplomat Fran├žois Georges-Picot and British Sir Mark Sykes with Russian agreement concluded negotiations that would define each country’s spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The Sykes-Picot agreement, combined with the Balfour Declaration that proposed separate Jewish and Palestinian states, has shaped the region and its politics for nearly 100 years.

With the current Iraqi government under siege from Sunni militants angered at their exclusion from the government and the maltreatment of the Sunni population, Sykes-Picot may now be in its death throws.

In the north the Kurds seized the oil rich city of Kirkuk which paves the way for them to break away from the Shia dominated government in Baghdad. In an surprise statement from an official member of the Turkey’s ruking party, Huseyin Celik said that the Kurds in Iraq have the right to self-determination.

The AKP 9Justice and Development Party) is the party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan under whom Ankara and Erbil have built strong economic and diplomatic relations.

In case Iraq gets partitioned, said Celik, “the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”

Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.” [..]

“Turkey has been supporting the Kurdistan Region till now and will continue this support,” said Celik.

Turkey and Kurdistan have signed a 50-year energy deal and Kurdish oil is exported via a pipeline that connects the autonomous region to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim and Sophia Jones further report

The Kurds have been effectively autonomous since 1991, when the U.S. established a no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Turkey, a strong U.S. ally, has long opposed the creation of an independent Kurdistan so that its own eastern region would not be swallowed into it. But Celik’s statement indicates that the country may be starting to view an autonomous Kurdistan as a viable option — a sort of bulwark against spreading extremism within a deeply unstable country. [..]

Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have recently forged a strong bond over oil, much to the chagrin of Iraq, which claims that Baghdad has sole authority over oil in Kurdistan. Turkey recently signed a 50-year energy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous government to export Kurdish oil to the north, and Kurdistan has increased its exports this week despite the insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. [..]

Considering the Turkish past opposition to an independent Kurdish state, this is an interesting reversal.

I suspect that Iraq’s creator, Gertrude Bell, is rolling over in her Baghdad grave.

Militants March on Baghdad

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This week an Al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seized the Sunni dominated cities of Mosul, Iraq’a second largest city, and Tirkut, Sadaam Hussein’s ancestral home. The militants are now marching on Baghdad and have been reported to be about 100 miles north of Baghdad and have vowed to take the city to “settle accounts.”

Iraq Insurgency: Militants Plan To March On Baghdad After Seizing 2 Key Sunni Cities

The Islamic State aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. It has been able to push deep into parts of the Iraqi Sunni heartland once controlled by U.S. forces because police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes.

Two senior intelligence officials told The Associated Press that an armed group led by al-Douri, the Naqshabandi Army, and other Saddam-era military figures joined the Islamic State in the fight. In Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit that was overrun by militants Wednesday, witnesses said fighters raised posters of Saddam and al-Douri. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

The involvement of Saddam-era figures raises the potential to escalate the militants’ campaign to establish an al-Qaida-like enclave into a wider Sunni uprising. That could only further the momentum toward turning Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divisions in to a geographical fragmentation.

The Islamic State issued a triumphalist statement declaring that it would start implementing its strict version of Shariah law in Mosul and other regions it had overrun. It said women should stay in their homes for modesty reasons, warned it would cut off the hands of thieves and told residents to attend daily prayers. It told Sunnis in the military and police to abandon their posts and “repent” or else “face only death.”

In the north, Kurdish security forces took over the strategic northern oil city of Kirkuk after government troops fled.

Iraqi Kurdish forces take Kirkuk as Isis sets its sights on Baghdad

In Kirkuk, truckloads of peshmerga fighters patrolled the streets, but sporadic clashes continued between Kurdish forces and Isis gunmen on the outskirts of the city. A Kurdish minister responsible for regional security forces survived a bomb blast as he drove to the city after visiting peshmerga units in the surrounding region, AFP reported. [..]

About 500,000 people have fled Mosul, home to 2 million, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in autonomous Kurdistan.

Isis’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said on Thursday that the group’s fighters intended to take the southern cities of Kerbala and Najaf, which hold two of the holiest shrines for Shia Muslims. [..]

Reports from Iraq have painted a confused picture of a rapidly developing situation with fighting reported in a number of key locations on Wednesday night and on Thursday, including on the outskirts of the city of Samarra, where government officials said Isis fighters had been driven back.

According to Army Staff Lieutenant General Sabah al-Fatlawi, quoted by Agence France-Presse, “elite forces” backed by air strikes pushed back a “fierce attack by Isis fighters who then bypassed the city heading towards Baghdad”.

Complicating the picture of the past few days were emerging suggestions that other Sunni insurgent groups, including Ba’ath nationalists, supporters of the executed Saddam, had played a role in the series of stunning setbacks for the Iraqi military.

The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army has raised international concerns about a rapidly widening regional crisis that has implications for Iraq’s powerful neighbours, Iran and Turkey.

This afternoon President Barack Obama said that he is watching this situation closely and is concerned

Speaking in the Oval Office after meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, Mr. Obama said: “Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community.”

The president said his national security team was working “around the clock” to determine the most effective aid. The United States, he noted, has given the Iraqi government military equipment and shared intelligence with it. [..]

“I don’t rule out anything,” Mr. Obama said, “because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.”

The reality: there is very little that Obama can do. This was dumped on his desk when he was elected. The Iraqi government insisted that all American troops leave.

The real shame of it is that the people who created this crisis, George W. Bush and Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney, are war criminals Obama refused to hold accountable. The current crisis lies squarely at their feet and the members of Congress who voted to allow the illegal invasion in 2003.

The Fall of Mosul and the False Promises of Modern History

by Juan Cole

It is an indictment of the George W. Bush administration, which falsely said it was going into Iraq because of a connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. There was none. Ironically, by invading, occupying, weakening and looting Iraq, Bush and Cheney brought al-Qaeda into the country and so weakened it as to allow it actually to take and hold territory in our own time. They put nothing in place of the system they tore down. They destroyed the socialist economy without succeeding in building private firms or commerce. They put in place an electoral system that emphasizes religious and ethnic divisions. They helped provoke a civil war in 2006-2007, and took credit for its subsiding in 2007-2008, attributing it to a troop escalation of 30,000 men (not very plausible). In fact, the Shiite militias won the civil war on the ground, turning Baghdad into a largely Shiite city and expelling many Sunnis to places like Mosul. There are resentments. [..]

I hasten to say that the difficulty Baghdad is having with keeping Mosul is also an indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime (1979-2003), which pioneered the tactic of sectarian rule, basing itself on a Sunni-heavy Baath Party in the center-north and largely neglecting or excluding the Shiite South. Now the Shiites have reversed that strategy, creating a Baghdad-Najaf-Basra power base.

Mosul’s changed circumstances are also an indictment of the irresponsible use to which Sunni fundamentalists in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf are putting their riches. The high petroleum prices, usually over $100 a barrel, of the past few years in a row, have injected trillions of dollars into the Gulf. Some of that money has sloshed into the hands of people who rather admired Usama Bin Laden and who are perfectly willing to fund his clones to take over major cities like Aleppo and Mosul. The vaunted US Treasury Department ability to stop money transfers by people whom Washington does not like has faltered in this case. Is it because Washington is de facto allied with the billionaire Salafis of Kuwait City in Syria, where both want to see the Bashar al-Assad government overthrown and Iran weakened? The descent of the US into deep debt, and the emergence of Gulf states and sovereign wealth funds is a tremendous shift of geopolitical power to Riyadh, Kuwait City and Abu Dhabi, who can now simply buy Egyptian domestic and foreign policy away from Washington. They are also trying to buy a Salafi State of Syria and a Salafi state of northern and western Iraq. [..]

PM Nouri al-Maliki can only get Iraq back by allying with nationalist Sunnis in the north. Otherwise, for him simply brutally to occupy the city with Shiite troops and artillery and aerial bombing will make him look like his neighbor, Bashar al-Assad.

Whose Sarin?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Whose sarin?

by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Book

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.

Obama “Cherry-Picked” Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike



Full transcript can be read here

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition

Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books accusing the Obama Administration of cherry-picking intelligence to present its case that Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical weapons attack on August 21.

To be clear, Hersh does not say that Assad did not launch the attack. Nor does he say al-Nusra carried out the attack. Rather, he shows that:

   At some unidentified time since the beginning of the Civil War, Assad had discovered and neutralized wiretaps on his inner circle, leaving US intelligence blind to discussions happening among his top aides

   Sensors planted to detect any movement of Assad’s CW immediately had not been triggered by the August 21 attack

   By June, some intelligence entity had concluded that an Iraqi member of al-Nusra had the capability to manufacture sarin in quantity

A lot of the story serves to establish that two days after the attack, the US had yet to respond to it, presumably because it did not have any intelligence Syria had launched the attack, in part because nothing had triggered the sensors that had worked in the past. To develop its intelligence on the attack days afterwards, the NSA performed key word searches on already-collected radio communications of lower level Syrian military figures.

Hersh On Obama’s Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons

Moon of Alabama

A month ago Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote about CIA analysts who threatened to resign over the Obama administration allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government:

   With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.

Now Seymour Hersh writes about the case and finds that the CIA knew that Jabhat al-Nusra, a fundamentalist gang fighting the Syrian government, was capable of producing Sarin, the toxic chemical weapon that was used in a suburb of Damascus:

   In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

   …

   [I]n recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.

MoA has maintained since the very first reports of the chemical weapon use that this attack was likely a false flag event. We also criticized allegations by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch about the origin of the rocket debris found after the attack. The new Hersh report now completely debunks those allegations.

New Yorker, Washington Post Passed On Seymour Hersh Syria Report

By Michael Calderon, Huffington Post

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused the Obama administration Sunday of having “cherry-picked intelligence” regarding the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria that served as evidence for an argument in favor of striking President Bashar Assad’s government. [..]

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.

In an email, Hersh wrote that “there was little interest” for the story at The New Yorker.

A New Yorker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hersh then took the story to The Washington Post. The Post intended to publish it, as BuzzFeed first reported.

Hersh told HuffPost that he went to the Post because of the paper’s reporting on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Game, Set, Match

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Just how really stupid do these two think we are?

Obama’s Syria address: do we look that dumb?

by Michael Cohen, The Guardian

The president marred his chance to lay out a principled position to the American people with patronising dog-whistling

Upholding and enforcing the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons – while deterring Bashar al-Assad from using them again against his own people – offers a compelling rationale for even a punitive use of force by the United States against Syria. Tuesday night, Barack Obama made a semblance of that argument; but he lathered it in so much threat-exaggeration and maudlin imagery that it was virtually impossible to take his case for war seriously.

If anything, the fact that Obama was forced to rely on contradictory and deceptive arguments to sell the American people on the idea of military intervention in Syria did more to undermine the case for intervention than reinforce it. [..]

Finally, what is the justification for condemning one violation of international law (the use of chemical weapons) with the violation of another (fighting a war in Syria without a UN security council mandate)? Does this set a troubling precedent for conflicts down the road?

To be sure, there are reasonable answers to these questions, but in failing even to try to answer them, and instead, raising red-herring issues and making dubious claims – such as, attacking Syria will “make our own children safer over the long run” – Obama offered the American people a confusing and ultimately misleading rationale for military action.

What Vladimir Putin didn’t tell the American people about Syria

by Anna Neistat, The Guardian

Russia’s leader poses as a champion of the rule of law in a New York Times op-ed, but his record as Assad’s backer is shameful

It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Putin overlooked …

There is not a single mention in Putin’s article, addressed to the American people, of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government and extensively documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry, local and international human rights groups, and numerous journalists: deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. His op-ed also makes no mention of Russia’s ongoing transfer of arms to Assad throughout the past two and a half years. [..]

Finally, the sincerity of Putin’s talk about democratic values and international law is hard to take seriously when back home his own government continues to throw activists in jail, threatens to close NGOs, and rubber-stamps draconian and discriminatory laws.

President Putin should give more credit to his audience: Russia will be judged by its actions, both on the international arena and domestically. So far, Russia has been a key obstacle to ending the suffering in Syria. A change towards a more constructive role would be welcome. But a compilation of half-truths and accusations is not the right way to signal such a change.

Neither of these two men are honest brokers to end the Syrian conflict, nor are they exceptional.

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