Tuesday, September 30, 2014

As U.S.-Afghanistan Sign Troop Deal, CIA-Backed Warlord Behind Massacre of 2,000 POWs Sworn-In as VP

Democracy Now!

"Afghanistan has inaugurated its first new president in a decade, swearing in Ashraf Ghani to head a power-sharing government. Joining him on stage Monday was Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s new vice president. Dostum is one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords, once described by Ghani himself as a "known killer." Dostum’s rise to the vice presidency comes despite his involvement in a 2001 massacre that killed up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war. The victims were allegedly shot to death or suffocated in sealed metal truck containers after they surrendered to Dostum and the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. The dead prisoners — some of whom had been tortured — were then buried in the northern Afghan desert. Dostum, who was on the CIA payroll, has been widely accused of orchestrating the massacre and tampering with evidence of the mass killing. For more than a decade, human rights groups have called on the United States to conduct a full investigation into the massacre including the role of U.S. special forces and CIA operatives. We speak to Jamie Doran, director of the 2002 documentary "Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death," and Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, the group that discovered the site of the mass graves of the Taliban POWs...."

Lebanon: Rising Violence Targets Syrian Refugees

Authorities Should Protect Syrians, Prosecute Attackers

(Beirut) – The authorities in Lebanon are failing to take adequate steps to prevent and to prosecute increasing violence by private citizens against Syrians following the outbreak of clashes in Arsal in August 2014 between the Lebanese Army and extremist groups the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra and the subsequent executions of three Lebanese soldiers by extremists. The attacks against Syrians, most of them refugees, are being carried out in a climate of official indifference and discrimination, with the violence appearing in some cases to be attempts to expel Syrians from specific neighborhoods or to enforce curfews.
Human Rights Watch documented 11 violent attacks in August and September against unarmed Syrians or those perceived to be Syrian by private Lebanese citizens, including attacks with guns and knives. All of the victims were targeted because of their actual or perceived Syrian nationality, victims, witnesses, and aid workers said. Almost all victims indicated that they did not trust the Lebanese authorities to protect them or to investigate the attacks. In at least four cases, witnesses reported that the attacks took place in full view of Lebanese security forces, who did not intervene.
Lebanon’s security forces should protect everyone on Lebanese soil, not turn a blind eye to vigilante groups who are terrorizing refugees,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The security forces have a duty to protect all persons in Lebanon, whatever their nationality.”
Lebanese authorities need to take the attacks seriously, investigate and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 victims, 5 relatives or friends of victims, and 7 humanitarian workers assisting Syrian refugees. The attacks Human Rights Watch documented took place in the Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and North governorates. Local media have reported and aid workers have documented dozens of similar attacks throughout Lebanon.
“When I first arrived, Lebanese people were very hospitable to me,” one Syrian refugee told Human Rights Watch. “They treated me like a refugee, someone who needed protection and had fled from the war. Now they treat me as if I am a terrorist or a security threat.”
One aid worker providing assistance to refugees near Tyre, South Lebanon, said that previously Syrians living in the south had experienced few such problems, but that the organization was now recording about one violent incident per week in 80 percent of southern municipalities.
The Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (LIFE), a local nongovernmental group, said it had documented two dozen violent attacks against Syrian refugees in September, including attacks with guns and knives, and assaults in which the attackers pulled Syrians out of buses and vans. The majority of the attacks were in the Bekaa, the Nabaa and Bourj Hammoud neighborhoods of Beirut, and in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Local and international media also reported dozens of such attacks in August and September. They include attacks against refugee settlements on September 8 in Douris, in the Bekaa governorate, and in the southern suburbs of Beirut, al-Lailaki and Hay al-Sellom. On September 10 in Baalbek, in the Bekaa, residentsreportedly tied up two men and left them as human roadblocks facing traffic. The same day, assailants fired on a Syrian refugee camp in Hermel, in the Bekaa, wounding two Syrians, the Lebanese National News Agencyreported.
Those interviewed said that as far as they had been able to determine, the vast majority of incidents have not been investigated or anyone punished. Suspects were arrested in only one case that Human Rights Watch documented, although it is not clear if they have been charged.
Only one victim said he tried to report an attack to Internal Security Forces, the local police, on September 6, but that the duty officer told him “not to get so upset about such things” and that as far as the victim knew, the police had taken no action. In a second case, a Syrian refugee said he told municipality officials in Zoqaq al-Blat that one of his friends was attacked but they told him that there was nothing they could do.
Eight victims said they did not report the attacks due to fear of reprisals by the assailants or that they themselves would be arrested, in some cases because they lacked valid residency permits. One aid worker said that in the few cases she knew of in which refugees did file complaints, the result was the refugees themselves faced problems with the authorities instead of justice. Aid workers also said that violent incidents were widely underreported because the victims feared reprisals. One refugee said his attacker threatened to kill him if he reported the incident to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Men, women, and children in all regions of Lebanon were attacked, interviewees said, but those interviewed said that men perceived to be supporters of the Syrian opposition seemed to be more vulnerable to attack.
Eight displaced Syrians told Human Rights Watch that the violence followed efforts by local residents to force Syrians to leave particular neighborhoods. They said local residents had posted flyers demanding that Syrians leave the neighborhood by a certain time. An aid worker providing assistance to refugees near Tyre, south Lebanon, said such flyers were posted on September 17 in the `Ayn Kineya area of Hasbaya and that some Syrians said they received SMS messages from an unknown number telling them to leave immediately.
Media reports indicated that such flyers were posted in villages and towns throughout the country, including inHay al Salloum , Bourj Hammoud , Hadath, Bourj Shemali in Tyre , Ajaltoun, Srifa and Al-Qulay`a. Some flyers threatened violence if the instructions to leave the area were not complied with. In Beirut’s Zoqaq al-Blat, a note was reportedly posted threatening those who did not leave within 48 hours with “slaughter or torture until death.”
In a September 23 case, a group of Lebanese men in Rawda brutally stabbed a Syrian man, saying it was because he was out after a curfew.
Although the assailants in the cases Human Rights Watch documented appeared to be private citizens, in many cases they appeared to be operating with at least tacit support of local authorities. In six cases, victims or witnesses said, the attacks took place in full view of Lebanese security forces.
Lebanese security forces should remain vigilant against any abuse of Syrian refugees and ensure that anyone responsible for violations is held to account. The Lebanese authorities should take immediate measures to adequately investigate the attacks and prosecute those responsible. The authorities should take precautionary security measures in areas where they know the risk of attacks to be high, such as increased security patrols. Security officials who witness attacks and then fail to intervene should be held to account.
“Attacking Syrian refugees won’t bring back the abducted soldiers or solve the country’s refugee crisis,” said Houry. “The attacks on Syrian refugees will only increase their misery and add to instability and insecurity in Lebanon.”
High-level government officials should issue official statements condemning the violence, noting that it will not be tolerated and that those responsible will be brought to justice. There have been recent statementscondemning the violence by national politicians, including Walid Jumblatt from the Progressive Socialist Partyand Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah from Hezbollah. National politicians should use their influence to push state institutions to protect Syrian refugees.
A number of local officials, such as Mayor Adel Najd of Abadieh and Marcellino al-Hark, head of the Batroun municipality, have also tried to quell the violence and other restrictions against Syrians. A local newspaperreported that al-Hark criticized the curfews increasingly imposed on Syrians: “Our problems in this country are from discrimination… You can’t take a decision like this [to impose curfews] based on where a person comes from, his identity, race or sect.”
However, some statements by government officials blaming all Syrians for security incidents or wrongdoing can only serve to heighten tensions and the potential for violence, Human Rights Watch said. For example, on September 13, Antoine Chakhtoura, the municipal head of Dekwaneh, a suburb north of Beirut, was quoted by a local newspaper as saying that, “Every gathering by Syrians is a sleeper cell [directed] against the security, economic, livelihood, or environmental [sectors].”
Officials should refrain from issuing any statements that risk inciting violence and instead should condemn such attacks and call for accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
The national government should also provide more guidance to municipalities on how to manage relations with refugees in their communities and provide effective and concrete guidance on how to carry out such measures. The government should oversee these policies to ensure their compliance with Lebanon’s international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
“Meeting the challenges of the increasing number of refugees in a small country such as Lebanon is an enormous task,” Houry said. “Scapegoating Syrians for Lebanon’s ills is not the answer.” 
For details of the attacks Human Rights Watch documented, please see below.
Cases of Violence Documented by Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch documented 11 cases in August and September in which Syrians in Lebanon, or people perceived to be Syrians, were violently attacked in their homes or on the street by Lebanese private citizens. Humanitarian workers informed Human Rights Watch of an additional 21 cases. Human Rights Watch was not able to investigate those cases independently.
Bourj al-Barajneh, South Beirut. Early August
While attacks against Syrians in Lebanon spiked in August and September, in some areas, like in Bourj al-Barajneh, in the Beirut suburbs, Syrians reported violent attacks and harassment by local residents as early as 2013. The attacks have since intensified. Bourj al-Barajneh, which before the conflict in Syria was the site of a Palestinian refugee camp, is home to at least 31,000 refugees including Palestinian refugees from Syria and Lebanon, and other Syrian refugees, reported a local newspaper quoting United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
A series of bombings in the Beirut suburbs in 2013 and 2014 were claimed by several Syrian extremist groups, including Jabhat al Nusra. One Syrian resident of the Bourj al-Barajneh camp, Yusra, whose name, as with other witnesses, was changed for her protection, said that while the deteriorating security situation affected everyone, Syrians and Palestinian refugees from Syria were increasingly regarded with suspicion after the bombings. In the past year, she said, the violence against refugees from Syria worsened and sometimes took place directly in front of security personnel, who did not intervene.
Abdul Rahman, a Syrian refugee who has lived in Burj al-Barajneh since 2013, told Human Rights Watch:
About three months ago a false rumor started to go around Bourj al-Barajneh that I was a member of a terrorist sleeper cell in Lebanon. Of course I am not, but that’s what people were saying. Whenever I would leave the house people would curse me, sometimes throw shoes at me in the street. It wasn’t just me, they did this to other Syrians too.
At the beginning of August, he was standing outside Haifa Hospital on a main road in the camp when one of his neighbors, a Palestinian man living in Lebanon, took out a knife and threatened him, unprovoked:
A crowd gathered around us. He put the knife to my neck and said ‘You are Syrian. You have no voice here.’ Everyone in the street saw it, but did nothing. Even the local security committee operating and patrolling inside the camp watched but didn’t intervene. Several weeks later I was standing in front of the same hospital when I saw three Syrian brothers with stab wounds being rushed into the hospital…. Realizing that my own life was in danger, I decided to flee the neighborhood with my family.
Rahman relocated to South Lebanon with the help of UNHCR, but he told Human Rights Watch he continues to fear for his safety and to restrict his own movements because he does not have a valid residency permit in Lebanon.
Jnah, South Beirut. September 17
In some cases, Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been threatened with guns or shot. Ali, his brother Hussein, and his mother, Zeina, described how he was shot and beaten on September 17 in Jnah, in the Beirut suburbs. Ali showed Human Rights Watch his medical documents and the wounds, which corroborated his statement.
He said he was sleeping when at around 3 a.m. he heard a knock on the door. He opened the door and saw about seven armed men in civilian clothes. “They said “Ya da`eshi” [supporter of ISIS] and then immediately hit me on my head with the butt of a rifle and I fell on the floor,” Ali said. The men then entered his house and beat him with their hands and feet, accusing him of being a member of the extremist Islamist group the Islamic State. They searched his house for weapons, but found none. They fired at him with a pump-action shotgun and hit him along the side of his body:
Then they drove me away to another location. There they accused me of attacking them, selling drugs, and other things. None of it was true. They made me sign a ‘pledge’ saying that I will leave the area by the end of the month and that I am not allowed to re-enter the neighborhood. I didn’t read it because I was in so much pain and bleeding a lot. They just told me to sign and I did because they had guns.
Ali believes his assailants were members of the Amal Movement political party because an Amal party flag and a picture of Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri was hung on the wall of the office in which he was forced to sign the pledge. Human Rights Watch was not able to independently verify this claim. He said the men later dropped him off at his friend’s house. A few hours later he went to the hospital where he was given medical treatment. “The doctor told me that if they had shot me at closer range I would be dead,” he said.
“While I was at the hospital with my brother I got a phone call from a private number,” he said. “They told me that if we file a complaint against them, they will find us and that we know what they will do to us.”
Zeina told Human Rights Watch that when she went to Ali’s house to gather his belongings for him after the attack, that some men came into the house and started harassing her: “One of the guys started cursing me for being Syrian and then pushed my forehead and I fell on the bed. They told me I was Syrian and should never come back. The Lebanese women present intervened on my behalf. I don’t know what would have happened if those women didn’t stop them. My body is weak and I am 56 years old.”
She said that when she went to the hospital to visit her son she spoke to another woman whose son had been attacked in Jnah by people he didn’t know: “I saw his legs, they were covered in bruises. I asked the woman what happened and she said that her son was attacked in the neighborhood, just for being Syrian.”
Mar Mikhael, South Beirut. September 20
Khalid, a Kurdish refugee from Syria, said that Lebanese men attacked him on September 20. He had taken a bus to an area near Mar Mikhael in the Beirut suburbs with his wife and child to visit some people, but when they got off the bus, a Lebanese man asked him where he was going. “The Lebanese men in the neighborhood recognized my Syrian accent and started to beat me,” he said. “They were hitting me, my wife, and child with their hands, feet, and sticks....My eye is still red from the beating,” He said that no passersby intervened and that while he was in Mar Mikhael he saw Lebanese men pull a number of other Syrians out of a bus and beat them. He and his family escaped by running away through the crowds.
Nabaa, Beirut. September 21
Kareem said that four men attacked him in the Nabaa neighborhood in Beirut on September 21 as he walked home from work: “They slapped me on the back on the neck and then kicked me in my back. ‘You are Syrian, you are not allowed here,’ they said. There was police around but they didn’t do anything. I fell down on the street. I can’t complain to the police because I don’t have any papers here. If I do, they will just arrest me.”
Geitwai, Beirut. September 6
Basil said that seven or eight Lebanese men attacked him on September 6 in the Geitawi neighborhood of Beirut. Basil was born in Syria and obtained Lebanese citizenship after moving to Lebanon many years ago. He was leaving a friend’s house when he decided to smoke a cigarette in the park:
Suddenly seven or eight men appeared, identified themselves as General Security, and demanded my papers. I told them to give me their IDs first to prove that they were from General Security. I knew that they weren’t really from General Security and were just guys from the neighborhood. Then they started to beat me. They took out my Lebanese ID and saw that I was born in Damascus and had gained Lebanese citizenship only later in life. ‘Who gave you this nationality?’ They asked me. They continued to beat me and told me that they were searching me for drugs and weapons. Then they threatened me, ‘You need to leave now or else you will not make it home.’
He took a cab home. “The incident left me with bruises all over my body, my eyes were swollen shut and I had to get two stitches in the back of my head,” he said. The next day he went to the police station to file a complaint. “While filling out the paperwork the officer just told me that next time I need to be more careful and that I shouldn’t be so sensitive about things,” Basil said.
Fern al-Shebak, Beirut. September 13
Tariq, a Syrian, said that about five Lebanese men attacked him at around 10:30 p.m. on September 13 in the Fern al-Shebak neighborhood of Beirut as he was going to dinner with a friend. They noticed that a car with five men was slowly following them. The men asked Tariq and his friend where they lived and they responded just down the street: “Then they told us that we had three seconds to run home. Instead, they got out of the car and started to push us. They grabbed my friend and hit him:”
I know the guys who beat us. They are from the neighborhood and we see them a lot. People have been writing things on the wall saying that Syrians need to leave. Apparently a curfew had been imposed by residents in theneighborhood and no Syrians are allowed to go out after 8 p.m. Guys in the neighborhood are organizing themselves as part of vigilante groups to police the presence of Syrians in the neighborhood and sometimes to attack them.
Barbir, Beirut. September 14
Bashar, a Syrian refugee, said that five men attacked him at around 8 or 9 p.m. on September 14 in the Barbir neighborhood of Beirut when he went out to buy food at a local shop. A group of about five men approached him, he said, one of whom had a knife, and asked him if he was Syrian. Bashar said yes and then the men pushed and cursed at him. “They started to yell at me saying ‘get out of our country you dog’ and ‘you are allDaesh [ISIS],’” Bashar said. A neighborhood resident intervened, and Bashar ran home. “I am not able to handle any more insults,” he said. “I can’t file any complaints about this to the police. If I go, they will just say, ‘Why are you complaining against my Lebanese brother?’ I feel like there are no laws here.”
Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. September 9
On September 9, neighborhood youth circulated a flyer in the Bourj Hammoud area in Beirut ordering Syrians to leave, local media reported, after ISIS executed two captured Lebanese soldiers in Syria. “We ask Syrian citizens living in Burj Hammoud to evacuate the area starting Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 6 p.m. and [the decision is] in solidarity with the martyrs of the Lebanese Army,” the flyer said.
Nadia said that the army entered Bourj Hammoud on the same day and people started telling Syrians to leave. Syrians started to close their shops and flyers were passed around telling Syrians to leave, she said. “They [the army] closed off the neighborhood for a while and were not letting anyone enter. They said that Syrians needed to leave by 6 p.m.” “One Lebanese wearing civilian clothes walked down our street with a gun yelling, ‘Where are the Syrians?” she said. “The Lebanese security forces were present but didn’t do anything to stop it. I hid in the house with my child in fear.”
Mustafa said that he was attacked in the municipality square in Bourj Hammoud at around 8 p.m. that day while walking with his family:
Suddenly seven or eight Lebanese guys approached me and started hitting me with their hands and feet. The police saw it but weren’t doing anything. If my wife and small child hadn’t been with me, I would have been beaten more severely. I saw lots of other Syrians being beaten in the street that day. They want us to go back to Syria. But where would I go? My house was destroyed by barrel bombs and I am wanted by the [Syrian] regime.
Rawda, Baabda. Mount Lebanon. September 23
Human Rights Watch spoke to Salim, whose friend Bassam told him he was attacked on September 23 by two assailants in Rawda, in the Baabda district in Lebanon at about 10 p.m. Salim was not with Bassam when he was attacked but accompanied him to the hospital that night for treatment for his wounds. With Bassam’s consent, Salim sent Human Rights Watch copies of Bassam’s medical documents and a picture of him visiting Bassam in the hospital.
He said Bassam was targeted by several Lebanese men who were enforcing a curfew in the area. “Lebanese guys stopped him and said you are not allowed to go out at night,” Salim said. When Bassam told them he was just going to the store, they stabbed him three times, including in his chest. “He sustained severe wounds, one of which has perforated his lung,” Salim said. “He is in urgent need of surgery but we don’t have enough money…. He has no family in Lebanon and is all alone here.” Human Rights Watch could not speak with Bassam directly because of the extent of his injuries. Salim said that the two men who allegedly stabbed Bassam had been arrested but that Bassam did not file a police report.
Cases Reported by Humanitarian Workers
Mar Elias, Bekaa. August 5

A humanitarian worker working in the Bekaa said that on August 5, four Lebanese youth stopped at an informal refugee settlement in Mar Elias and physically attacked and attempted to rob a group of Syrian refugees. The group documented the attack during its field visits and interviews with victims.
Al Hosnieh, Akkar. August 9
A humanitarian worker in North Lebanon said that she and her colleagues interviewed victims following an attack on August 9 against an informal settlement in the al-Hosnieh area of Akkar: “Armed men from the community physically attacked an informal settlement in that area on August 9, which was sheltering approximately 400 Syrian refugees. They assaulted and cursed refugees and threatened that they would return to burn down tents and, in some cases, kill refugees who had not left the area after 12 hours, the aid worker said.” Refugees scattered to Kuwaishare, Baabda and other unknown locations.
Halba, North Lebanon. August 15
A humanitarian worker in North Lebanon said her colleagues documented a violent attack by Lebanese residents in the area on three Syrian refugees on the street in Halba on August 15. “The refugees told us that they were targeted on an individual basis due to their perceived political support of the Syrian opposition,” the aid worker said. The information about the attack was collected through field visits and interviews with victims of the attacks.
Bcharre, North Lebanon. August 12 and 13
A humanitarian worker in North Lebanon said her colleagues interviewed two Syrian refugees living in an informal settlement who told them that on August 12, between 10:30 p.m. and midnight, people wearing face masks attacked 25 Syrian refugees. One victim was part of a family group and the others were single males. The attack was both verbal and physical, with knives, cursing, and fireworks thrown into the house through windows, she said. The aim of this attack was reported to be the expulsion of all Syrian refugees from the area, the aid worker said. She said some Syrian refugees fled to other districts.
Wadi Jamous, North Lebanon. September 12
A humanitarian worker in North Lebanon said that on September 12 a group of youths entered an informal refugee settlement in Wadi Jamous and threw stones at the residents. The aid worker collected information about the attack through interviews with victims. On September 14, the aid worker said, about 15 Lebanese youths entered the settlement, fired shots and burned tents, forcing the Syrians to leave. “According to eye-witness reports, the head of the municipality did not intervene to prevent the eviction,” the aid worker said. The information about the attack was collected through field visits and interviews with victims of the attacks.
Bekaa Area. September 8-14
A humanitarian worker at an aid organization operating in the Bekaa told Human Rights Watch, that the group recorded 16 violent incidents against Syrian refugees in one week in September alone through field visits and interviews with victims. Five refugee camps were set on fire, one of which was completely burned, he said.

What if ‘Islamic State’ Didn’t Exist?

If IS didn’t exist, many in the region would be keen on creating one.
If IS didn’t exist, many in the region would be keen on creating one.
By Ramzy Baroud
What if the so-called Islamic State (IS) didn’t exist?
In order to answer this question, one has to liberate the argument from its geopolitical and ideological confines.
Flexible language
Many in the media (Western, Arab, etc) use the reference “Islamist” to brand any movement at all whether it be political, militant or even charity-focused. If it is dominated by men with beards or women with headscarves that make references to the Holy Koran and Islam as the motivator behind their ideas, violent tactics or even good deeds, then the word “Islamist” is the language of choice.
According to this overbearing logic, a Malaysia-based charity can be as ‘Islamist’ as the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. When the term “Islamist” was first introduced to the debate on Islam and politics, it carried mostly intellectual connotations. Even some “Islamists” used it in reference to their political thought. Now, it can be moulded to mean many things.
This is not the only convenient term that is being tossed around so deliberately in the discourse pertaining to Islam and politics. Many are already familiar with how the term “terrorism” manifested itself in the myriad of ways that fit any country’s national or foreign policy agenda – from the US’ George W. Bush to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In fact, some of these leaders accused one another of practising, encouraging or engendering terrorism while positioning themselves as the crusaders against terror. The American version of the “war on terror” gained much attention and bad repute because it was highly destructive. But many other governments launched their own wars to various degrees of violent outcomes.
The flexibility of the usage of language very much stands at the heart of this story, including that of IS. We are told the group is mostly made of foreign jihadists. This could have much truth to it, but this notion cannot be accepted without much contention.
Foreign Menace
Why does the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insist on the “foreign jihadists” claim and did so even when the civil war plaguing his country was still at the stage of infancy, teetering between a popular uprising and an armed insurgency? It is for the same reason that Israel insists on infusing the Iranian threat, and its supposedly “genocidal” intents towards Israel in every discussion about the Hamas-led resistance in Palestine, and Hezbollah’s in Lebanon. Of course, there is a Hamas-Iran connection, although it has been weakened in recent years by regional circumstances. But for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran has to be at the heart of the discourse.
There are ample examples of governments of the Middle East ingraining the “foreign menace” factor when dealing with solely international phenomena, violence or otherwise. The logic behind it is simple: if the Syrian civil war is fuelled by foreign fanatics, then al-Assad can exact his violence against rebelling Syrians in the name of fighting the foreigners/jihadists/terrorists. According to this logic, Bashar becomes a national hero, as opposed to a despotic dictator.
Netanyahu remains the master of political diversion. He vacillates between peace talks and Iran-backed Palestinian “terror” groups in whatever way he finds suitable. The desired outcome is placing Israel as a victim of and a crusader against foreign-inspired terrorism. Just days after Israel carried out what was described by many as a genocide in Gaza – killing over 2,200 and wounded over 11,000 – he once more tried to shift global attention by claiming that the so-called Islamic State was at the Israeli border.
The “foreign hordes on the border” notion is being utilised, although so far ineffectively, by Egypt’s Abdul-Fatah al-Sisi also. Desperate to gain access to this convenient discourse, he has made numerous claims of foreigners being at the border of Libya, Sudan and Sinai. Few have paid attention aside from the unintelligible Egyptian state-controlled media. However, one must not neglect the events that took place in Egypt when he himself overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratically-elected government of Mohamed Morsi last year.
When US President Barack Obama decided to launch his war on IS, Sisi lined up to enlist his country in a fight against the “Islamists” as he sees them as part and parcel of the war against the supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood. After all, they are both “Islamists.”
US-western Motives
For the US and their western allies, the logic behind the war is hardly removed from the war discourse engendered by previous US administrations, most notably that of W. Bush and his father. It is another chapter of the unfinished wars that the US had unleashed in Iraq over the last 25 years. In some way, IS, with its brutal tactics, is the worst possible manifestation of American interventionism.
In the first Iraq war (1990-91), the US-led coalition seemed determined to achieve the clear goal of driving the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, and to use that as a starting point to achieve complete US dominance over the Middle East. Back then, George Bush had feared that pushing beyond that goal could lead to the kind of consequences that would alter the entire region and empower Iran at the expense of America’s Arab allies. Instead of carrying out regime change in Iraq itself, the US opted to subject Iraq to a decade of economic torment – a suffocating blockade that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. That was the golden age of America’s “containment” policy in the region.
However, US policy in the Middle East, under Bush’s son, W. Bush, was reinvigorated by new elements that somewhat altered the political landscape leading to the second Iraq war in 2003. Firstly, the attacks of September 11, 2001 were dubiously used to mislead the public into another war by linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda; and secondly, there was the rise of the neoconservative political ideology that dominated Washington at the time. The neo-cons strongly believed in the regime-change doctrine that has since then proven to be a complete failure.
It was not just a failure, but rather, a calamity. Today’s rise of IS is in fact a mere bullet point in a tragic Iraq timeline which started the moment W. Bush began his “shock and awe campaign.” This was followed by the fall of Baghdad, the dismantling of the country’s institutions (the de-Baathification of Iraq) and the “missions accomplished” speech. Since then, it has been one adversity after another. The US strategy in Iraq was predicated on destroying Iraqi nationalism and replacing it with a dangerous form of sectarianism that used the proverbial “divide and conquer” stratagem. But neither the Shia remained united, nor did the Sunni accept their new lower status, or did the Kurds stay committed to being part of an untied Iraq.
Al-qaeda Connection
The US has indeed succeeded in dividing Iraq, maybe not territorially, but certainly in every other way. Moreover, the war brought al-Qaeda to Iraq. The group used the atrocities inflicted by the US war and invasion to recruit fighters from Iraq and throughout the Middle East. And like a bull in a china shop, the US wrecked more havoc on Iraq, playing around with sectarian and tribal cards to lower the intensity of the resistance and to busy Iraqis with fighting each other.
When the US combat troops allegedly departed Iraq, they left behind a country in ruins, millions of refugees on the run, deep sectarian divides, a brutal government, and an army made mostly of loosely united Shia-militias with a blood-soaked past.
Al-Qaeda was supposedly weakened in Iraq by then. In actuality, while al-Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq prior to the US invasion, at the eve of the US withdrawal, al-Qaeda had branched off into other militant manifestations. They were able to move with greater agility in the region, and when the Syrian uprising was intentionally-armed by regional and international powers, al-Qaeda resurfaced with incredible power, fighting with prowess and unparalleled influence. Despite the misinformation about the roots of IS, IS and al-Qaeda in Iraq are the same. They share the same ideology and had only branched off into various groupings in Syria. Their differences are an internal matter, but their objectives are ultimately identical.
The reason the above point is often ignored, is that such an assertion would be a clear indictment that the Iraq war created IS, and that the irresponsible handling of the Syria conflict empowered the group to actually form a sectarian state that extends from the north-east of Syria to the heart of Iraq.
IS Must Exist
US-Western and Arab motives in the war against IS might differ, but both sides have keen interest in partaking in the war and an even keener interest in refusing to accept that such violence is not created in a vacuum. The US and its western allies refuse to see the obvious link between IS, al-Qaeda and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Arab leaders insist that their countries are also victims of some “Islamist” terror, produced, not of their own anti-democratic and oppressive policies, but by Chechenia and other foreign fighters who are bringing dark-age violence to otherwise perfectly peaceable and stable political landscapes.
The lie is further cemented by most media when they highlight the horror of IS but refuse to speak of other horrors that preceded and accompanied the existence of the group. They insist on speaking of IS as if a fully independent phenomenon devoid of any contexts, meanings and representations.
For the US-led coalition, IS must exist, although every member of the coalition has their own self-serving reasoning to explain their involvement. And since IS mostly made of “foreign jihadists” from faraway lands, speaking languages that few Arabs and westerners understand, then, somehow, no one is guilty, and the current upheaval in the Middle East is someone else’s fault. Thus, there is no need to speak of Syrian massacres, or Egyptian massacres, or of Iraq wars and its massacres, for the problem is obviously foreign.
If the so-called Islamic State didn’t exist, many in the region would be keen on creating one.

Real News Video: Underestimating ISIS: An Indictment of Decades of Failed US Policy in the Middle East

Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, says the US military's failure to understand and adequately respond to ISIS underscores America's decades-long blunders in Iraq


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Isis an Hour Away from Baghdad

No sign of the Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack, and US air strikes are making little difference.
US air strikes are failing to drive back Isis in Iraq where its forces are still within an hour’s drive of Baghdad.
Three and a half months since the Iraqi army was spectacularly routed in northern Iraq by a far inferior force of Isis fighters, it is still seeing bases overrun because it fails to supply them with ammunition, food and water. The selection of a new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to replace Nouri al-Maliki last month was supposed to introduce a more conciliatory government that would appeal to Iraq’s Sunni minority from which Isis draws its support.
Mr Abadi promised to end the random bombardment of Sunni civilians, but Fallujah has been shelled for six out of seven days, with 28 killed and 117 injured. Despite the military crisis, the government has still not been able to gets its choice for the two top security jobs, theDefence Minister and Interior Minister, through parliament.
The fighting around Baghdad is particularly bitter because it is often in mixed Sunni-Shia areas where both sides fear massacre. Isis has been making inroads in the Sunni villages and towns such as in north Hilla province where repeated government sweeps have failed to re-establish its authority.
Mr Abadi is dismissing senior officers appointed by Mr Maliki, but this has yet to make a noticeable difference in the effectiveness of the armed forces, which are notoriously corrupt. During the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June, Iraqi government forces nominally numbered 60,000 in the army, federal police and local police, but only one third were actually on duty. A common source of additional income for officers is for soldiers to kickback half their salaries to their officers in return for staying at home or doing another job.
The same system is universal in civilian ministries, which have far more people on their payroll than are actually employed.
A World Bank report just published reveals that out of 8,206 guards employed by one ministry only 603 were actually working. Some 132 senior officers have recently been sacked by Mr Abadi, but there is as yet no sign of the army being able to make a successful counter-attack against Isis. Worse, in Baghdad it has been unable to stop a wave of car bombs and suicide bombers, which continue to cause a heavy loss of civilian life.
An example of the continued inability of the Iraqi army to remedy the failings, which led to its loss of Mosul and Tikrit, came on 21 September when Isis overran a base at Saqlawiya, near Fallujah, west of Baghdad after besieging it for a week.
The final assault was preceded, as is customary with Isis attacks, by multiple suicide bombing attacks. A bomber driving a captured American Humvee packed with explosives was able to penetrate the base before blowing himself up.
This was followed up by an Isis assault team dressed in Iraqi army uniforms. Some 820 government soldiers stationed at the base broke up into small groups and fled by backroads but were ambushed.
What is striking about the loss of Saqlawiya is that during a siege lasting a week the Iraqi army was unable to help a garrison only 40 miles west of Baghdad. Complaints from the troops that they were left without reinforcements, ammunition, food or water are very much the same as those made in the first half of 2014 when rebels led by Isis outfought some five government divisions, a third of the 350,000-strong army, and inflicted 5,000 casualties.
Fallujah fell in January and the army was unable to recapture it.
The US could embed observers with Iraqi troops to call in air strikes in close support, but people in the Sunni provinces are frightened of being reoccupied by the Iraqi army and Shia militias bent on revenge for their defeats earlier in the year. In areas where there are mixed Sunni-Kurdish populations both sides fear the military success of the other.
The military reputation of the Kurdish soldiers, the Peshmerga, has taken a battering since their defeat in Sinjar in August where its troops fled as fast as the Iraqi army had done earlier. The Peshmerga have not done much fighting since 1991, except with each other during the Kurdish civil wars, and even in the 1980s their speciality was rural guerrilla warfare, wearing the enemy down with pinprick attacks by 15 to 20 fighters.
Before the deployment of US air power, Isis in Iraq used motorised columns with 80 to 100 men which would launch surprise attacks.
With the possibility of US air strikes, this kind of highly mobile warfare is no longer feasible without taking heavy losses, But Isis has shown itself to be highly adaptable and is still able to operate effectively despite US intervention.
The problem for the US and its allies is that even if Iraqi divisions are reconstituted, there is no reason to think they will not break up again under Isis attack. The main military arm of the Baghdad government will remain Iranian-backed Shia militias, of which the Sunni population is terrified.

US Expands Syria Strikes: Not Just a War Against ISIS

Attacks Hit Four Different Provinces Today


antiwar.com
US airstrikes seem to be expanding in scope today in Syria, with four different provinces of the country hit in attacks, including areas where ISIS is virtually non-existent.
President Obama has been insisting it is an oversimplification to say this war is America versus ISIS. Indeed, that’s the case, but while the president is seeking to downplay the scope of the conflict, the signs are that he’s at war with actually a much broader swath of the Syrian rebellion.
Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the other rebel factions that has found itself unofficially a target of the US air war, through the attacks on the non-existent Khorasan faction (which is really just Nusra),slammed the US strikes as a full scale “war against Islam.”


That is an overstatement, of course, but as the US strikes escalate, and the targets span more and more of rebel-held Syria, the more extreme factions of the Syrian rebellion are going to increasingly see this as not a US war against ISIS, but a US war against the rebellion in general.

U.S.-led air strikes pose problem for Assad's moderate foes

Men inspect a damaged plastics factory that was targeted on Sunday by what activists said were U.S.-led air strikes at the Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa, September 29, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
Men inspect a damaged plastics factory that was targeted on Sunday by what activists said were U.S.-led air strikes at the Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa, September 29, 2014.
CREDIT: REUTERS/STRINGER
(Reuters) - U.S.-led air strikes against al Qaeda-inspired militants in Syria pose a problem for moderate rebel opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Western-backed rebels say they face a backlash from Syrians angered by the offensive, even though they have been kept in the dark about the air strikes against their enemies in Islamic State.
This could complicate Washington's plan to turn disparate rebel groups into a ground force to combat the militants.
The rebels say civilian casualties from the week-old air campaign and suspicion of U.S. motives are endangering the public support they have gained during their fight with Assad.
"There is popular anger towards us," said rebel commander Ahmed al-Seoud, who defected from the Syrian army in 2012 and leads a rebel group known as the 13th Division.
His group defines itself as part of the "Free Syrian Army" - loosely affiliated non-Islamist factions, some of which are backed by donors including the United States and Gulf Arab countries that have supported the uprising against Assad.
The 13th Division boasts 1,700 fighters and is in need of everything from boots to arms even though it has been a recipient of foreign aid. Its position as Western-backed means people see it as supporting the air strikes, said Seoud.
"We support air strikes, but air strikes against Islamic State and the regime," he said in an interview in the Turkish town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border.
DAMASCUS HEARTENED
The United States says it is investigating allegations of civilian deaths from the air strikes and takes great care to try to avoid them. Still, Syrians protested against the air strikes in several rebel-held parts of the country on Friday, footage posted on Youtube showed.
While Washington has said it will not cooperate with Assad, who it says has lost legitimacy as leader of Syria, its air strikes have steered well clear of any government targets.
That has further heartened Damascus, a year after the United States shied away from launching military action against Assad. In the week since they were launched, his forces have pressed their attacks on the array of groups ranged against them in three and a half years of civil war.
Syria's non-Islamist rebels are as keen as anyone to see the end of Islamic State, which has seized a third of the country, mostly by taking territory won from the government by other factions.
But they are also in a fight for survival against the Syrian army and its allies, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Battling both Assad and Islamic State, poorly armed rebels have no interest in escalating their fight with the militants at this point unless they can be sure the Syrian air force will not attack them in whatever territory they capture.
Thus far, there has been no sign of coordination with the U.S.-led coalition that could provide such air cover, according to members of rebel groups that have been fighting both Assad and Islamic State in northern Syria.
"It is not to our advantage to fight (IS) at this time just because some Tomahawks are falling on them ... without knowing that the regime has completely lost air supremacy over us," said Abu Abdo Salabman from the political office of the Mujahideen Army, an FSA-affiliated group he said has 7,000 personnel.
"They will bomb us out and take any advances we have made," he said in an interview in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. "It will be like we’re cooking the meal for the regime to eat in the end."
NO SIGN OF MORE WEAPONS
The Mujahideen Army, formed at the start of the year from eight smaller rebel factions, is being vetted as a possible recipient of aid from donors including the US, Salabman said.
But he added that Washington "won't be able to mobilize friends on the ground without coming up with a complete plan for (Islamic State) and the regime".
A handful of FSA factions have received military training in an ostensibly covert training program run by the CIA.
But Western states have been hesitant to provide significant military aid, fearing it could end up in the hands of extremists.
The United States is planning to train thousands of moderate rebels as part of its strategy to fight Islamic State. But the program could take several years.
Rebels fighting in northern Syria say there has been no sign of an accelerated dispersal of weapons, though some said they were hopeful they would receive more soon.
The first night of air strikes included an attack on al Qaeda fighters affiliated with the Nusra Front in an area where FSA-affiliated groups also operate.
Some of the Western-backed rebels have condemned the air campaign as unwanted foreign intervention.
For some rebels, the approach taken by the United States has raised questions about its agenda: Washington informed Damascus ahead of the strikes, but not them, they say.
A U.S. defense official told Reuters there was not enough of a mature organization within the moderate Syrian opposition at this point to be talking about coordinating strikes with it.
ALEPPO
As Islamic State positions are bombed further east, there has been no movement in a key front line near Aleppo, where FSA-affiliated groups including the Mujahideen Army are fighting to stop Islamic State advancing.   
The same groups are also battling simultaneously on other fronts to stop government forces from encircling Aleppo.
Were the U.S.-led coalition to coordinate military action against Islamic State with rebels in Aleppo province, that would mark a big shift towards engaging them directly in the battle. But it has yet to happen, the rebels say.
"The contacts are still very weak, with respect to the air strikes. There was absolutely no coordination," said Hussam Almarie, a spokesman with FSA-affiliated groups in northern Syria. "They have promised us they will open the lines of coordination more."       
The air strikes are part of what Obama has described as a strategy to degrade and destroy Islamic State, which has seized large areas of territory in both Syria and Iraq in a bid to reshape the Middle East.
The U.S. strategy includes training 5,000 Syrian rebels in the first year of a program that Saudi Arabia has offered to host and could go on for several years.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Friday a Western-backed opposition force of around 12,000 to 15,000 would be needed to retake areas of Syria controlled by Islamic State.
A limited amount of financial and military aid has been funneled to moderate rebel groups in Syria via a body grouping states that have backed the uprising against Assad. The body, set up this year, marks a bid to better control the flow of aid.
One recipient is the Hazzm movement, which was formed at the start of the year from FSA factions. It has been supplied with American-made anti-tank missiles not previously seen in the war.
But it still suffers from a lack of weaponry that means it can only deploy a fraction of the 5,000 fighters to whom it pays a salary of $100 a month, said Abu Abdullah, a Hazzm commander.
"Hazzm is today seen viewed as backed by the USA, but the support it gets does not reflect this," he said.
The U.S. defense official said it was too early to be talking about broadly equipping new forces, since the U.S. program in Saudi Arabia is only now starting to get underway.
Support has turned into a double-edged sword as Hazzm tries to build support among Syrians in the areas where it is operating. Both the Mujahideen Army and Hazzm have issued statements condemning the U.S.-led coalition's air strikes.
"People say the coalition is with Bashar. This puts us - the moderate groups - in a difficult position vis a vis the Syrian people. They say: 'Your friends, the people who are supposed to be friends of Syria, didn't find a solution or even put in place a strategy to eliminate the regime of Bashar al-Assad’."   
Abdullah said he did not blame the United States for not bombing Assad's forces, noting Russia would have vetoed any attempt to get legal backing for intervention in the United Nations Security Council.

"But you can’t explain this to a child whose father has been killed," he said. "Or a woman who was raped in jail and has a child from an unknown father, or a mother who lost four or five children."