Archive | August 24th, 2017

An Off-the-Record Genocide: Global Resource Extraction Economy Destroys DR Congo Indigenous Groups

NOVANEWS
 

On April 27, 2017, a hapless cow wandered off-course during a seasonal cattle drive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and ended up over the campfire of some Indigenous hunters. The traditional lands of these groups (Batwa and related groups) are routinely trampled by cattle, cut for old-growth timber, or grabbed for mineral resources including diamonds and coltan — generally illegally. As their wild game diminishes from these impacts, the Batwa have come to view cattle as fair game. 

The cattle herders followed their cow’s tracks, and upon learning her fate, agreed to share the meat with the Batwa. But when they returned to their village, a local self-appointed “defense militia” was infuriated, returning to kill and mutilate eight of the Batwa.

The global economy’s demand for hard-to-obtain minerals and tropical timber, coupled with a long history of contempt and exploitation by neighboring tribes, have made these Batwa hunter-gatherers easy targets for land grabs and violence. Specifically targeted during a massive regional conflict to gain control over resources, in the early 2000s, an estimated 70,000 Batwa were tortured, killed and even cannibalized in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment Case Studies.

There is only one word for the attempted eradication of an entire group of people through the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, whatever the reason. That word is genocide.

The conflict is now heating up again, this time in southeastern DRC. Since September 2016, volunteer investigators on the ground have been gathering names and numbers of Indigenous community members killed, injured, raped and displaced. These numbers, no doubt gross underestimates, show that well over 1,200 Batwa have been killed in the past 12 months — primarily in skirmishes with non-Indigenous neighboring communities intent on expanding their access to land and resources.

In one recent case, on July 4, 2017, a national online news source in DRC said that daylong clashes between Batwa and other ethnic groups were triggered after the Batwa killed two adversaries near the provincial capital of Kalemie. No casualty list was provided in the news article, but according to our sources, 189 Batwa people were killed that day, including men, women and children.

In the worst attack we have documented so far, on the night of January 13-14, 2017, there was a nighttime attack against the Batwa near a town called Moba. Six hundred Batwa people were slaughtered outright; at least 1,600 women and girls were brutally raped, and were being cared for using traditional medicines because there are no health centers. No pain-killers; no antibiotics; no urgently-needed surgeries; no forensic evidence; no psychological counseling. More than 40 of those women and girls had already died or were on the verge of death several days after the attack.

A desperately inadequate RFI news report on the event, translated from French, says,

“On 13 January, clashes took place … 25 kilometers from the city of Moba. Four villages were partially or totally burned down and the population fled to Moba. In total, 24 people — four Bantus and twenty [Batwa] — lost their lives in one week.”

Is this destined to be an off-the-record genocide?

Knowledgeable sources on the ground say that neighboring tribes are intent on exterminating (yes, a dehumanizing term) the Indigenous people, and that the DRC government is determined to prevent word of this massacre from becoming known internationally. This is to be expected: President Joseph Kabila, who refuses to hold elections as required by DRC’s constitution, prefers to get rid of anything that stands in the way of enriching elites in his kleptocracy. Indigenous people’s traditional land rights are an impediment to uncontrolled resource extraction.

Less expected is the lack of forthright information by the UN’s peacekeeping force in DRC. The UN’s radio station in DRC routinely downplays these incidents, and fails to distinguish between deaths of Indigenous peoples and others. A July 11, 2017, article in IRIN, which reports on crises for the UN, left the dangerous misimpression that conflict and large-scale internal displacements of people in this region are instigated primarily by Indigenous Batwa militias. Without providing any objective breakdown of casualty statistics or detailed descriptions of incidents, the article presents, unchallenged, the anti-Batwa statements of individuals, primarily from the very tribal groups who are engaged in driving the Batwa off their lands.

This opacity is a major contributing factor to the ongoing crisis, providing cover for those looking to profit from the chaos. Local news sources fail to provide acceptable coverage, and international media are (rightly) afraid to send reporters in. The DRC government’s information cannot be trusted. UN investigators have been killed. Local journalists have been killed. Human rights advocates have been killed or barred from entering the country. International NGOs have sounded the alarm about conflicts and conflict minerals in the region, but only one organization has paid close attention to the genocide against the Indigenous Batwa. And on July 19, 2017, the UN announced plans to shut down five of its monitoring and peacekeeping bases in DRC, courtesy of the Trump administration’s refusal to meet US funding commitments.

There is, however, a way to obtain accurate and timely information on the situation: from the locals. My organization works with a network of local groups and individuals who are already on the ground and can tap into sources of information from the various ethnic communities and factions. Their cross-verified Field Reports provide one of the only current sources of insight into the devastation faced by the Batwa in eastern DRC.

With awareness comes the possibility of transformation. On January 16, 2017, just two days after the Moba massacre, delegates from organizations across the region convened along the shores of Lake Kivu to form a multi-ethnic coalition to defend the survival and rights of the Batwa people. With strong Batwa leadership, they developed a plan of action to monitor human rights violations and violent conflict, undertake legal interventions, launch a region-wide public awareness campaign on behalf of Indigenous rights, and implement genuine conflict resolution mechanisms (unlike the feeble government efforts led by Emmanuel Shadary, an internationally sanctioned human rights violator, which have failed to bring necessary issues and actors to the table).

We have a choice: we can either look away in horror, or we can take action to help stop the killing. If Congolese people of all ethnic backgrounds can join together to defend Indigenous rights, despite the horrendous civil and regional conflict of the past two decades, the least we in the international community can do is to back them up where we have influence. We need to educate ourselves and others, then support civil society efforts on the ground, demand that African Union and United Nations peacekeepers do their jobs, and block multinational resource extractive companies from providing financial incentives for genocide.

My colleagues in DRC end many of their communications with the exhortation, “Courage!” Let’s follow their lead.

Posted in Africa, DR CongoComments Off on An Off-the-Record Genocide: Global Resource Extraction Economy Destroys DR Congo Indigenous Groups

Politicized Injustice in America Directed against a Palestinian-American Community Leader

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Featured image: Rasmea Odeh (Source: Abayomi Azikiwe)

It’s rife in America, thousands incarcerated and abused for political reasons – notably people of color and Muslims, deplorably treated like fifth column threats.

Chicago-based Palestinian/American Rasmea Yousef Odeh is a noted community leader, an activist, feminist, educator and champion of human and civil rights, a widely respected figure.

Born in Palestine, she was victimized by Israeli viciousness, imprisoned unjustly in its gulag from 1969 – 1979, horrifically mistreated, tortured and sexually abused.

Her sentenced was commuted as part of a prisoner release deal. Deported to Lebanon, in 1995 she emigrated to America, becoming a Chicago resident in 2005, continuing her activist work, ongoing for over 40 years.

A founding member of the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) Chicago chapter, the organization earlier called her “a living legend in the eyes of thousands across the world, one of our precious elders.”

In October 2013, she was arrested in Chicago, prosecuted in Detroit, the jurisdiction where she applied for citizenship, wrongfully charged and convicted for unlawful procurement of naturalization – pertaining to allegedly lying on her 1994 immigration application, omitting her lawless arrest and imprisonment in Israel nearly five decades ago.

She committed no crimes. So-called evidence of her involvement in 1969 Jerusalem bombings was based on her confession under torture, given to stop the pain, not for any wrongdoing.

Israel pressed for her prosecution in America. US Muslims are war on terror scapegoats, unjustly vilified and abused.

Judge Gershwin Drain sentenced Odeh to time served, 33 days in 2014, a $1,000 fine, plus loss of citizenship and deportation to Jordan.

Last Thursday in Detroit federal court, during her sentencing hearing, she recounted her horrific mistreatment, along with conditions under brutal Israeli occupier.

Here’s what she said in full, a moving, forthright, factual statement by a glorious woman, deserving high praise, not what she’s been put through.

“On this court’s platform, I’m standing today to raise my voice on behalf of myself as a Palestinian woman and on behalf of all Palestinian people, whether under occupation, in refugee camps, or scattered in exile across the world,” she began.

“Honorable Judge Drain: First, I would like to clarify that my following message is not directed at you personally.”

“I am a Palestinian woman who was born into a family that had simple dreams and desires to live in peace and tranquility, far away from bombs, explosions, murder, and displacement.”

“But those dreams turned into a nightmare at the hands of the Zionist Haganah gangs whose crimes are hard to imagine. The Zionists committed massacres, killing children and the elderly without any consideration of human values.”

“They displaced hundreds of thousands of my people, and killed thousands more, in 1947 and 1948, upon the establishment of the state of Israel.”

“They turned us into strangers in our own country, and pushed us into the inhumane conditions of refugee camps inside Palestine and other Arab countries.”

“The Israeli goals were not satisfied in 1948, so they pursued the ambitions of Zionism and launched another war in 1967, illegally occupying the rest of Palestine and parts of surrounding Arab countries.”

“International law prohibits the following practices, and considers them punishable offenses:

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a crime. Its use of biological and chemical weapons is a terrorist crime. Demolishing schools, homes, hospitals, clinics, and places of worship is a crime.”

“Imprisoning hundreds of political organizers and resisters (including dozens of children) without charge is a crime. Putting up the Apartheid Wall is a crime.” killing people is a crime; and collective punishment is a crime!”

“Many countries in this world have struggled to win their independence. International law and all the United Nations conventions state that people have the right to fight for their independence, and to expel the colonizer and the occupier.”

“People in the US struggled against British colonialism for their independence, and that is the reason the 4th of July is celebrated. Why are the Palestinians prohibited from struggling for our independence?”

“When Palestinians have fought for our rights over the years, all US administrations have responded by supporting Israeli crimes and brutal aggression, falsely describing Israel’s acts as ‘self-defense.’ “

“At the same time, the US government calls us terrorists by placing all of our legitimate resistance organizations on its terrorist list!” – because Israel demand it.

“I wonder how the US or any other country would respond if they were invaded by a foreign force? If people in the US were to defend themselves, would they be considered terrorists, and would their resistance organizations be placed on a terrorist list?”

“I am sure that they would have the full right to protect their country, just as my people should have the right to protect our country.”

“The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 prohibits the US from exporting arms in situations where such arms would ‘aid in the development of weapons of mass destruction (or) increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict…,’ and also prohibits use of such arms against civilians and innocents.”

Thus, the US government or any US company violates the law if it exports weapons to a state or group that uses them in this way.”

“The reality is that the US, as Israel’s patron, violates its own laws by supporting Zionist aggression. That means the US is also guilty of crimes against the Palestinians.”

“This country’s military, political, economic, and diplomatic support allows Israel to continue its colonization and military occupation of Palestine, and to commit crimes prohibited by international law and US law.”

“That is why we organize for Palestinian rights in the US, because it is this government that must also be held responsible for Israel’s state terrorism against my people.”

“We, the Palestinians, have been struggling against oppression for one hundred years, ever since the British Balfour Declaration promised the world that it would support the colonization of our country. And for almost 70 years, the manufactured state of Israel has been doing the bidding of the powerful British and US empires.”

“This Israel has no right to exist as a racist state of white settler colonialists, just like South Africa had no right to exist as the racist, Apartheid state it was.”

“This Israel represents nothing but violence and ethnic cleansing against my people.”

“Many years of negotiations for a political settlement have been a huge failure, because Israel continuously demands recognition as a Jewish state, which goes against all notions of equality and democracy; and because it wants to liquidate all the rights of the Palestinians, including our rights to return, self-determination, equality, and political independence.”

“Each Israeli government moves more and more to the extreme right, and Netanyahu’s is the worst of them, launching three horrible wars on Gaza.”

“It destroyed homes, schools, health clinics, and our infrastructure as a whole, killing thousands, and finally imposing a siege on the entire Gaza Strip.”

“Recently, Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras at the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, prompting weeks of massive protests. Three Palestinians were killed, and a thousand injured, before Israel was forced by our mass movement to remove the barriers.”

“At the same time, Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians in Jerusalem, as well as settler violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, are official policies meant to force more and more Palestinians out of our country, and to consolidate Israeli control over Greater Jerusalem. It is quite clear that many, if not most, Israelis do not want Palestinians around at all.”

“I personally experienced a harsh, unstable, and terror-filled life in Palestine, like all my people under occupation. I was pushed off my land two separate times.”

My family home was destroyed twice, and my young sister was killed by the trauma of war. I was a political prisoner who was brutally tortured and raped by Israeli soldiers and prison authorities, and was almost killed more than once.”

“I continue to be terrified of the future for myself and my people. I can still almost feel the accelerated pounding of the people’s hearts while they are running to find shelter, the horrific screaming of the children, the moans of the people under the rubble of their homes, and the sounds of them dying from bombs, missiles, and bullets.”

“My people have the right to struggle to rid ourselves of the Israeli occupation of our country. The US government must stop disavowing our rights, and stop working with the Israelis to prosecute activists and organizers here.”

“Most of the people and governments in the rest of the world are with us. Millions of people are supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

“Black-Palestinian unity and solidarity is at its absolute height in the US, because both peoples recognize that the racist nature of the US government and the racist nature of Israel are the same.”

“When I saw those white racists marching in Virginia, all I could think of was the white settlers in Israel burning Palestinian children to death or marching to attack my people in Jerusalem.”

“Many of the social justice forces – from the Women’s March, the Movement for Black Lives, and anti-occupation and anti-Zionist American Jews, to immigrant rights, anti-torture, and civil liberties organizations – that supported my defense campaign did it not only because they support me as a survivor of torture and injustice, but also because they support the much more important cause of the liberation of all of Palestine – a democratic, secular Palestine for all.”

A powerful statement by a glorious woman about to be wrongfully deported to an uncertain fate in Jordan – because Israel wants her persecution, pain and suffering continued, no other reason.

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Haiti Helped Create Largest Revolt of Enslaved Africans in U.S. History

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Haiti Helped Create Largest Revolt of Enslaved Africans in U.S. History. The “Independence Debt” with France and the Louisiana Purchase

The Triumphant Haiti Revolution help double the size of the U.S. Yet, the U.S.-EU nations continue to demean, malign and pillage Haiti.

Featured image: Jean Jacques Dessalines, president and then emperor of Haiti (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So, sorting fiction from reality, which one is the “land of the free and the brave, the pioneers of human rights, freedom and liberty in the Western Hemisphere? Which nation didn’t make white folks 3/5ths human even after 300-years of brutal, rape and enslavement? But gave the few whites who fought alongside the African warriors, Haitian citizenship, full and equal rights?” Haiti, of course. 

The triumphant Haiti revolution triggered the selling to Thomas Jefferson of the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the United States. Also, the second contingent of 20,000 soldiers sent by Napoleon to the Louisiana Territory for French control of all in the U.S. had to be redirected to go fight in Haiti after the Afrikan warriors, led by Desalin and the indigenous Haiti army, which Desalin called the “armies of the Incas,” decimated the first 50,000 French soldiers sent in 1802 and led by Bonaparte’s brother in law, General Lerclerc. Later, Desalin, Haiti’s founding father, declared, in the name of the slaughtered since 1492, “I have avenged America!”

This historical triumph of the enslaved Afrikans in Haiti – Black men, women and children – against the greatest and most well-armed European armies of the era – first the French, then Spanish, then English armies – a U.S. embargo and then Napoleon’s French armada, is what stopped the U.S. from possibly being conquered by the French, whose 20,000 troops were, at that point in U.S. history, larger and much more battle-experienced than the U.S. armed forces. Haiti’s win, helped make the U.S. the superpower that it is but it has been terrorized by the white tribes since its independence. President Thomas Jefferson conspired with General Napoleon Bonaparte and the rest of the slavers and rapists nations to force besieged and embattled Haiti to pay an Independence Debt that was 10 times more than what Jefferson paid for the Louisiana purchase. Yet, Haiti’s land mass is as small as Rhode Island. Jefferson paid Napoleon $15million francs for the Louisiana Purchase which ended up creating, in part and whole, 15 new American states.

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Haiti, a country smaller than Rhode Island was forced, at the point of 300 gunboat cannons, to pay ten times that amount – $150million to France as reparations for France losing Haitians as their slaves. (After this debt help cost Haiti to lose the Eastern side of the Island now called Dominican Republic, the amount was reduced to $90million Francs)

It took Haiti 122 years to finish paying this 1825 slave-trade debt. This moral perfidy, after the Afrikans gave 300 years of FREE labor (1503-1804) to the European terrorists, slavers, rapists, plunderers and colonists. Haiti is not the poorest country because it still has vast riches, protected by the Afrikans, for over 200 years from the grasp of the hoarders. But, it is the most exploited nation. Its resistance continues to this day….as under Barrack Hoe-bama, his U.S. colonial “exceptionalism,” its pretensions and the disaster capitalism of the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti has presumably lost, without world scrutiny, nearly 30% of its landmass. This, through Bill Clinton’s HRC – U.S. sanction of puppet president Martelly decrees that gerrymander and gives away, to the corporatocracy, Haiti offshore islands and prime lands. Through the Clintons’ World Bank amendment to Haiti constitution, if not stopped, Haiti will loses control of its gold belt, shorelines, iridium, oil and gas reserves, all the Caracol zone and Haiti’s Northern and Southern deep water ports.

It simply cannot be over-emphasized, how there’s no one in power to protect the bullied, disenfranchised and brutally suppressed Haiti masses from the international crime syndicate, now in Haiti behind a humanitarian front, which is steadily extracting rare earth metal resources and mining gold on another earthquake fault line in Haiti – the Septentrional fault line in the North. (See also, The dangers of building garment factories next to one of Haiti’s most important marine national parks/a US $3.2 trillion mangrove and coral reef ecosystem and Tourism is not development)

The Independence Debt that Haiti was forced to pay France for losing the grangrans as property, caused such internal dissatisfaction and protest within Haiti, that the destabilization (along with a devastating 1843 earthquake in Northern Haiti) allowed space for the Eastern side of Haiti to separate into what is today known as the Dominican Republic. The Spanish immediately pounced to retake this landmass. On its part, the French terrorists returned to Haiti with the Independence Debt, which meant controlling Haiti economically and then ecclesiastical colonialism, which meant controlling Haiti education…. Haiti has yet to recover. And then they all returned, a world war to stop the Black masses’ celebration of the Haiti bicentennial, in 2004, with a popularly elected Haiti president.

President Aristide was and is the first and only Haitian president to ask France to return the Independence Debt.

For that temerity, Bush the lesser, unleashed his shock and awe military on an island nation with no military, that was no threat but merely wished peaceful co-existence. To live free and sovereign on lands paid for in 300 years of free labor, over 214 years in containment in poverty; a 60-year U.S. embargo; a 19-year U.S. occupation where the Marines carted out Haiti gold reserves in 1914 never to be returned; and 122-years of paying off an Independent Debt to France to be recognized as a free nation after slavery and winning our Independence in combat and losing half the Black population (250,000) in that revolutionary war. (See, Haiti: Until She Spoke and, Three Simple Èzili principles for a Just New World)

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Syrian Army with Support of Russia and Iran Defeating (ISIS) ‘Video’

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Syrian Army with Support of Russia and Iran Defeating Islamic State (ISIS-Daesh) in Central Syria ‘Video’

 

The Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance has achieved a large progress in its operations against ISIS in the province of Homs.

On August 20, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) liberated the key held village of Humaymah, which had been controlled by ISIS near the Iraqi border. The SAA allegedly lost a bulldozer and an unknown number of fighters during the clashes for the area. On August 21, government troops continued operations in order to seize the T2 pumping station that remained that last valuable ISIS strong point in this part of the  administrative border between the provinces of Homs and Deir Ezzor.

On August 20, the SAA Tiger Forces, backed up by Russian attack helicopters, liberated from ISIS the village of Taybah and the Maqbarah Mountain located at the Resafa-Sukhna road posing a real threat of creating the second ISIS pocket in the province.

On August 19, pro-government sources reported that warplanes of the US-led coalition bombed the Tiger Forces in Kadir north of Taybah. No videos or photos from the area appeared. However, even the airstrikes took place they didn’t prevent government forces from further advances against ISIS.

Pro-government experts believe that the SAA and its allies will be able to clear the entire area north of the Homs-Palmyra highway from ISIS within a month.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have destroyed a large ISIS military column heading to the area of the city of Deir Ezzor “to regroup and equip their last base in Syria”, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Over 200 ISIS members  were reportedly killed and about 20 vehicles equipped with large-caliber weapons were destroyed.

On August 20, the Iraqi Army, Federal Police, SWAT forces and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) launched a large-scale operation to liberate the ISIS-held Tal Afar area in northern Iraq. The Iraqi military had deployed 40,000 fighters for the operation. According to the Pentagon, ISIS has about 2,500 members in and around Tal Afar. By August 21, Iraqi forces have achieved notable progress in the town’s countryside liberating over 12 villages and facing little ISIS resistance. The main fighting will likely take place inside Tal Afar itself.

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Turkey Chooses Russia’s S-400 Missile Defence System in Defiance of NATO

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Turkey Chooses Russia’s S-400 Missile Defence System in Defiance of NATO, Growing Ankara-Moscow Rapprochement

 

Turkey’s missile defence dilemma has continued for a while. Recent reports confirm that Turkey has agreed to purchase Russian air and missile defence system, the S-400 Triumph. The deal is worth $2.5 billion under which Turkey would receive two batteries of anti-missile system. The S-400 weapon system can detect track and destroying aircraft, drones and missiles – including cruise and ballistic missiles.

Until November 2015, there were reports that Turkey showed interest to purchase Chinese air and missile defence system FD-2000. In November 2015, reports came in that Turkey had cancelled the $3.4 billion deal with China to develop long range missile defence system. Though that seemed to be a respite for NATO countries which had time and again raised objections to a Chinese missile defence system in Turkey, another NATO member, the Russian deal is equally a matter of concern for NATO.

The NATO countries have raised objections to the Chinese air defence system on grounds that the missile defence system would enable China to gather information on NATO’s missile defence system. This is because Turkey’s missile defence system would have to be integrated with the NATO missile defence system for interoperability. This, NATO feared would enable China to develop counter measures against NATO missile defence shield. Turkey chose China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp. Apparently, the company was once sanctioned by the United States for selling missile related technologies to Iran in 2013.

The issue of missile defence in Turkey has remained a contentious issue. Turkey, which has been the worst affected by Syrian crisis, needed sophisticated missile defence system to protect its territory. NATO countries like Germany, the United States, the Netherlands and Spain stationed their Patriot air and missile defence system in Turkey for protection against incoming missile threats. However, the United States, Turkey and Netherlands removed their Patriot systems after a while. At present only Spain and Italy have their missile defence systems stationed in Turkey. Needless to say that Turkey has been upset with this move of its NATO allies. Turkey’s faith in NATO is declining and that has been proved by its reduction in defence spending for NATO which has declined to 1.9%.

In the recent times, relations between Turkey and Russia has strengthened and Russia has left no stone unturned to grab the opportunity to strike this defence deal with Turkey to benefit as it is suffering from a sanctioned economy. In 2016, Russian President Vladmir Putin during his trip to Turkey agreed to revive a suspended natural-gas suspended project. In fact, Gazprom which is the largest natural gas company in Russia has already commenced construction of the pipeline. In addition, Russia has also ended the sanctions that it levied on Turkey after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 bomber as it crossed Turkish airspace from Syria.

In March 2017, President Tayyip Erdogan requested Russian leader’s Vladimir Putin’s cooperation over military operations in Syria, to enable Turkey to create a border “safe zone” free of Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia. This is a great respite as the much to the chagrin of Turkey, the United States has supported the Kurds that Turkey views as terrorists.

Russia also agreed to build the Ayukku nuclear power plant for Turkey which is a $20 billion worth deal. Turkey has for years aspired to join the European Union but its efforts have gone in vain. Turkey therefore, sees hope in the China-Russia led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In fact, Turkey would be chairing the Energy Club of the SCO in 2017.

But one of the major reasons why Turkey chose Russian missile defence system as Russia agreed to jointly produce the second of the missile defence system. Turkey has good reasons to choose Russian air and missile defence system as it has already argued before that many NATO countries are using Russian weapon systems. Moreover, following an attempted coup in Turkey last year which Ankara suspects was initiated by the United States to overthrow the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is looking for new friends in the international system.

С-400 «Триумф».JPG

S-400 Triumf launch vehicle (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Both Russia and Turkey are collaborating on bringing negotiation sessions between Syrian government and the rebels and this was despite the fact that Turkey and Syria were previously fighting opposite sides. Russia and Turkey have conducted joint naval drills in 2017 in the Black Sea. In fact, the US and NATO Patriot batteries stationed in Turkey made Iran suspicious of Turkey and its intentions and Tehran criticised Turkey for this move. However, a missile defence system from Russia, a country with whom Iran shares good relations and also a country that has played crucial role in the Iranian nuclear negotiation process, is least likely to be a threat to Iran. This is even more crucial as Iran and Turkey are trying their best to improve their relations.

This is not for the first time that a NATO country has sought for Russian missile defence system. Greece too has the Russian S-300 missile defence system. In 2015, the country was also in negotiation with Russia to avail of missiles for the S-300 anti-missile system. In fact, there is a growing military alliance between Greece and Russia also. This is worth mentioning as Greece and Turkey are at loggerheads with each other over the territorial dispute concerning the Aegean. Russia may opt to become a mediator between the two countries to solve the dispute and create a stronger alliance along with Turkey and Greece – two NATO countries.

Also, for Turkey whose neighbours share good relations with Russia, Ankara will surely gain from a strengthened relation with Russia especially as Turkey probably expects not much help from the United States. In fact as Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute writes,

for Turkey “to have served in the NATO commands is now seen by Turkish officers as a ticket to prison, not promotion.”

The Russian Turkey relations are no doubt burgeoning and with US lawmakers seeking to withhold the sale of US F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey, Russian fighter jets may also find new openings in Turkey.

At the moment Turkey has become a Trojan Horse – but it is unclear whether it is a Trojan Horse for Russia or for the United States.

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US Military Bio-labs in Ukraine, Production of Bio-weapons and “Disease Causing Agents”

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Ukraine turned into the proving ground for the new generation of US biological weapons, European mass media report.

In 2015, American alternative media outlet InfoWars accused the Pentagon of developing new types of biological weapons in secret military laboratories in Ukraine. The facilities were constructed under the terms of the bilateral agreement signed between the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the Department of Defense in 2012.

Today thirteen American military bio-labs operate in Ukraine, The International Mass Media Agency reports. They employ only American specialists being entirely funded from the budget of the Department of Defense. Local authorities have pledged not to interfere in their work. These military labs are reported to be mainly involved in the study and production of disease-causing agents of smallpox, anthrax and botulism. The facilities are located in the following Ukrainian cities: Odessa, Vinnytsia, Uzhgorod, Lviv (three), Kharkiv, Kyiv (four), Kherson, Ternopil.

The network of military bio-labs in Eastern Europe gives the hawks the opportunity to avoid the Geneva Convention of 1972 on the prohibition of development, production and stockpiling of biological and chemical weapons the US Senate ratified in 1973. So we witness the blatant violation of international laws.

Local media in Ukraine have frequently reported about splashes of contaminant diseases in that country since the beginning of the 2010s, the time American military facilities were opened. Western European media also express concern over splashes of contaminant diseases in that country this summer and point at American bio-labs as pockets of infection.

https://blogs.mediapart.fr/ivendurepos/blog/200817/la-menace-biologique-creee-par-washington

Experts warn this kind of weapon may be captured by terrorists due to the lack of security measures in Ukraine, the country being suffered from frozen conflict with pro-Russian rebels in its Eastern part and ongoing political turmoil after the flee of the Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in February, 2014. Latest terrorist acts in Europe show the jihadists are looking for new methods of attacks. Use of bio-weapons in densely populated regions will bring catastrophic consequences.

Chemical and biological weapons may be dangerous for the whole world because of their infectious effect. Modern diseases can travel through countries and reach any continent with just one plane passenger. And that is the big problem. Despite the remoteness of potential objects of infection from the territory of the United States, viruses still can reach the North American continent.

Posted in USA, UkraineComments Off on US Military Bio-labs in Ukraine, Production of Bio-weapons and “Disease Causing Agents”

Reporting on Trump’s Afghan Escalation Omits Dead Afghan Civilians

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As President Donald Trump tries to make the case for staying indefinitely in Afghanistan, the stakes for those actually living there are rarely broached by US corporate media.

In dozens of write-ups, recaps and reports on Trump’s “major” Afghan War speech, almost no outlets took time out to note the plight or condition of the people the US is nominally there to save. The New York Times (8/21/178/22/17), Washington Post (8/21/17), Chicago Tribune (8/22/17), CNN (8/21/178/21/17), NBC News (8/21/17), ABC News (8/21/17) and CBS News (8/21/17), among others, didn’t mention the Afghan death toll at all in their summary of events in the region.

Almost all, however, reserved airtime and column inches to mention the number of US soldiers and cost to the US treasury—presumably the only moral metric that matters. One notable exception was Ali Velshi at MSNBC (8/21/17), who did mention live on air how many Afghans were killed in the first half of 2017—a scope curiously limited to the term of the current Republican president, but an improvement on silence nonetheless.

US media also continued their rich tradition of not blaming the US or Trump for the war—instead laying responsibility at the feet of some unknown geopolitical dark matter that has forced the US to occupy Afghanistan permanently. The US isn’t waging ongoing war in the Central Asian country; it is simply “stuck,” according to the AP (8/21/17) and the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. Trump isn’t continuing the occupation; according to the Sacramento Bee (8/21/17); he “Keeps US Stuck in Afghanistan Quagmire.” The US doesn’t seek further war and occupation, but to “break free from the quagmire,” the Chicago Tribune(8/22/17) spells out.* Bush, Obama and Trump didn’t make a deliberate choice to bomb Afghanistan, according to PBS’s Judy Woodruff (8/21/17);  attacking the country just became “the burden of three presidents.” War was consistently depicted as being thrust upon the US government by forces outside of its control.

The number of Afghan civilians killed during the 16-year US military occupation is well over 31,000, according to researchers at Brown University. The average American couldn’t possibly know this fact, since it’s almost never mentioned when weighing the cost/benefit ratio of further military occupation and bombing.

Just as the thousands killed in Yemen by US-backed Saudi bombing don’t inform coverage of the famine there, the causal effect of US military action on poor, faceless brown people is never clearly laid out. The US bombs and, on a totally separate note, people are dying. That the United States may be causing the suffering, and could choose to stop doing so, is never really considered, much less argued in any meaningful way.

*The Chicago Tribune editorial does mention civilian deaths, referring to a 2016 UN report, but the paper attributes them solely to “ambushes and suicide bomb attacks” by insurgent forces, whereas the UN holds the US and the US-backed government responsible for nearly a quarter of the carnage there. The Tribunealso misstates the UN civilian death toll more than threefold, confusing deaths with casualties (which include injuries).

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Abrupt Middle East Geopolitical Turnabout: The Qatar, Saudi Arabia and GCC Crisis

NOVANEWS
 

Featured image: Logo of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

It is tempting, and not entirely inaccurate, to dismiss the escalating crisis between Qatar and a number of its neighbors as a petulant princely playground spat. Extending this tempting logic, one could conclude that decisive victory by each of the protagonists would be the optimal outcome. Yet the dispute also reflects deeper dynamics in Arab and regional politics that are shaping the increasingly turbulent and violent realities of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s Gulf Cooperation Council

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is the locus of the present crisis, was established in 1981 by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Its formation consummated the expiration of the concept of collective Arab action that the League of Arab States aspired to but was designed never to achieve, and presaged the pre-occupation of the region’s regimes with confronting Iran rather than Israel. Although formally established to promote greater economic, political, and security coordination among its member states, the impetus for the GCC’s formation was the collective threat presented to its members by both the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran on the eastern littoral of the Persian Gulf and the Iran-Iraq War, launched the following year by Saddam Hussein, whose efforts the Gulf Arab states supported and bankrolled in intimate coordination with the United States.

In the early 1980s, the only GCC member of consequence was Saudi Arabia–whose size, population, resources, and wealth dwarfed that of the others combined–and, to a much lesser extent, Kuwait. Although Oman, unlike its peers, had not severed relations with Egypt after the latter signed a separate peace with Israel in 1979, the prospect that GCC members would even contemplate pursuing a regional or foreign policy independent of Saudi Arabia in those days would have been considered beyond the realm of fantasy. It is for example inconceivable, after blowback struck and Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990, that Qatar or Bahrain would have opted for a negotiated settlement of the crisis rejected by Riyadh (and its patron in Washington). Nor could they have permitted the United States to deploy troops and establish military bases on their territory had the Saudis not led by example and consented to such moves.

During the 1990s, this equation began to gradually change. The Iran-Iraq, Kuwait, and Cold Wars were over, the price of oil slumped, and the United States maintained a growing and seemingly permanent military or naval presence within every GCC state. Riyadh, in addition to its relatively diminished strategic importance and ailing, sclerotic leadership, was also dealing with the substantial debts it had incurred–again in intimate coordination with the United States–to assemble and fund the coalition of states that evicted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. By contrast, Dubai, with its diversified economy fueled in part by extensive sanctions-busting trade with Iran, and never lacking for gaudy ambition, was well on its way to becoming a global city and replacing Kuwait as regional trendsetter. In 1995, Qatar, which even many Arabs would in those days have struggled to find on a map, made the news when its amir was overthrown by his son, Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in a bloodless palace coup while yet again vacationing in Switzerland.

A Coup in Doha

Much like Oman after Sultan Qabus seized the throne from his primeval father in 1970, Hamad embarked on a program to transform his country into a late twentieth-century state. Unlike Oman in the 1970s, Qatar was neither in the throes of a decade of armed insurrection (Dhofar) nor shared a border with a communist neighbor (the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), and could therefore proceed at a measured, deliberate pace. The new ruler of Doha was additionally able to finance his efforts with the proceeds of the as yet undeveloped North Dome/South Pars natural gas field, the world’s largest by several orders of magnitude that it shares with Iran. Production began in 1997, and within a decade Qatar became the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), accounting for almost a third of global supply.

In a different contrast with Qabus, Hamad’s seizure of power was not sponsored by the United Kingdom or other foreign power, thus giving regional discontents–first and foremost Saudi Arabia–the opportunity to reverse this affront to seniority and established conventions of succession. A foiled attempt to restore the ousted amir in 1996 and an additional bid to depose Hamad in 2005 further demonstrated that the construction of modernized states in the GCC region was an infrastructural and administrative rather than political project. Several thousand members of the Bani Murra, whose territory straddles the Saudi-Qatari border (where clashes over unresolved border issues had erupted as recently as 1992), had their citizenship revoked after several of their number were implicated in the attempted counter-coups.

Shaykh Hamad quickly set to work to reduce his vulnerability. Approximately one billion US dollars was invested in the expansion of Al Udeid Air Base so it could accommodate every aircraft in the US fleet. When the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), whose area of responsibility covers more than four million square miles on three continents, vacated Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to reduce the political exposure of the House of Saud after 11 September 2001, it was invited to establish its forward operating headquarters in Al Udeid. The US military presence, with some ten thousand personnel today its largest in the Middle East, provided protection from both Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. More importantly, it also served to deter Saudi designs on its tiny neighbor, which, measuring some 4,500 square miles, is smaller than Yorkshire or Connecticut.

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An aerial overhead view of”Ops Town”at at Al Udeid Air Base (AB), Al Rayyan Province, Qatar (QAT), taken from a US Air Force (USAF) KC-135 Stratotanker during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. (Source: Department of Defense / Wikimedia Commons)

Domestically, Hamad initiated a massive development of Qatar’s physical and financial infrastructure, and of its public services. According to most indices the country today has, at USD 130,000, the highest GDP per capita in the world. Its approximately 300,000 citizens enjoy cradle-to-grave welfare and benefits, while in excess of 1.5 million migrant workers keep its institutions, services, and rapidly expanding construction sector operating at maximum capacity. The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund established during the previous decade, is among the world’s best run and resourced. It has purchased iconic locations and prime real estate around the globe, as well as shares in leading corporations such as the London Stock Exchange and Volkswagen. The natural gas that is Qatar’s main export is, in contrast to oil, less prone to sudden price fluctuations, tends to be sold on the basis of long-term contracts that can run decades, and is under significantly less pressure from efforts to deal with global warming and climate change.

Qatar Leaves Home

It was within the region that Qatar made its biggest mark. In the mid-1990s, a joint Arabic-language satellite broadcasting venture between Saudi Arabia and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came to a premature end after its news station aired reports that violated Riyadh’s strict taboo against critical scrutiny of its policies. Qatar snapped up the suddenly available and professionally trained staff, and less than USD 150 million later it launched the Al Jazeera Satellite Channel on 1 November 1996. Breaking the mold of vacuous reporting by terrestrial channels that specialized in the limitless glorification of mediocre rulers, Al Jazeera was by 1999 providing round-the-clock, free-to-air, high quality satellite news and reporting across the region, and to Arabic-speaking diasporas worldwide. Qatar, its leadership, and foreign policy objectives almost never rated a mention in these broadcasts unless legitimately newsworthy, and doing otherwise would have been superfluous. When some years ago rumors spread that Al Jazeera would be defunded or even shuttered, Shaykh Hamad was reported to have dismissed them with the observation that the broadcaster was of greater value to Qatar than its entire diplomatic corps.

Indeed, Al Jazeera not only offered substantive news coverage but also prioritized issues that spoke to the concerns and aspirations of Arabs from Marrakesh to Muscat, and it was common knowledge that this had been made possible by Qatar’s rulers. It also pioneered deeply unpopular practices, such as interviews with Israeli government officials responsible for perpetuating the occupation of Arab territory. On the whole Al Jazeera offered a refreshingly broad range of perspectives, as a result of which eight Arab states and Ethiopia at one time or another recalled their ambassadors from Doha. Yet those promoting or sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents seemed to be consistently over-represented in its broadcasts. One such figure was Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the influential exiled Egyptian cleric who has resided in Qatar since the 1960s and serves as Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Widely viewed as the Brotherhood’s pre-eminent theologian, he for many years had a one-hour program on Al Jazeera every Sunday evening. Entitled Shari’a and Life, it habitually strayed beyond matters of faith to offer Al-Qaradawi’s views and prescriptions on current events.

Many Muslim Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members had found a home away from home in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, where political parties are strictly prohibited, after Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and other republican, nationalist regimes expunged them from their body politic beginning in the 1950s–in some cases defining mere membership as a capital offense. Although the Brotherhood as an organization does not share the Salafist orientation of its new hosts, it was a valuable ally to the conservative monarchies and their Western sponsors during the Arab cold war that was raging across the region. Its members were also an important source of skilled labor in the teaching profession and other sectors requiring linguistic or religious proficiency, at a time when the local labor force was still unable to meet such needs. In the 1980s, as Islamist activism took an increasingly militant turn, the Muslim Brotherhood played an important role in funneling fighters away from their home countries to the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan that Riyadh and Washington alike came to view as their finest hour.

The relationship began to sour during the 1980s, with the emergence of the Sahwa movement in Saudi Arabia. Combining Salafist thought with Muslim Brotherhood politics, it was a persistent thorn in the authorities’ side. These tensions culminated during the early 1990s, with the Brotherhood’s failure to embrace Riyadh’s acquiescence in the stationing of western troops on its soil during the Kuwait Crisis which was subsequently deemed an act of disloyalty and ingratitude, and additionally an implicit challenge to the House of Saud’s Islamic credentials.

By replacing Riyadh as chief patron of the region’s largest and best-organized opposition force, Shaykh Hamad was able to snap up yet another vehicle for projecting his country’s influence. (Salafi Jihadi movements, which during the 1990s would come to openly advocate the violent overthrow of not only the region’s secular republics but also its “apostate” monarchies, were less tolerated. Yet GCC rulers–presumably hoping to keep the peace–tended to turn a blind eye to sympathetic subjects who, as during the Afghan jihad, continued to funnel money and other forms of support to al-Qa‘ida and other such groups.) Although Qatar is the only other Muslim state that has elevated Salafism to official religious doctrine (Doha’s main mosque is named after Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the rigidly puritanical eighteenth-century cleric and co-founder of the Saudi state), few of the grim practices that are government policy in Saudi Arabia are enforced in Wahhabism’s second home.

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His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the State of Qatar (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

By 2010, Doha had successfully escaped from Riyadh’s formerly lightproof shadow. Another Hamad, Shaikh Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani (commonly known in the West as HBJ), had been a key player in this regard. A cousin of the amir, HBJ had served as Qatar’s foreign minister since 1992, and in 2007 became its prime minister as well. Concurrently the head of the QIA, his business activities and resultant fabulous personal wealth led the amir to quip that while he ruled the country, HBJ owned it. Another prominent Qatari during this period was Shaikha Moza bint Nasir Al-Masnad, the second and most influential of the amir’s three wives. From her perch atop the philanthropic Qatar Foundation, she personified the country’s soft power. Together Moza and the Qatar Foundation sponsored leading international universities and institutions to set up branches in Doha, and established a string of non-governmental organizations to promote freedoms and values across the region rejected and suppressed within Qatar.

Within little more than a decade, such efforts began to pay off. In 2008 Doha successfully brokered an end to a political crisis that had plagued Lebanon for over a year, facilitated by generous payments to its numerous protagonists. It similarly sought to mediate a peace agreement in Darfour, a ceasefire between the Yemeni government and the Houthi movement, as well as one between Djibouti and Eritrea over a border dispute that led to the deployment of Qatari peacekeepers to the Horn of Africa. On more than one occasion, it sought to displace Egypt as sponsor of reconciliation efforts between Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

When in early 2009 the Arab League, under Saudi and Egyptian pressure, refused to convene an emergency summit in response to Israel’s brutal assault against the Gaza Strip, Qatar, partial to Hamas which had since 2007 ruled Gaza, organized an alternative gathering in Doha in support of the Palestinians. The two Hamads used the considerable powers of persuasion and resources at their disposal to call in favors, outbid Saudi offers to boycott the meeting, and exploit the region’s deepening rivalries. In the end, political realities prevailed and the conclave fell short of a quorum, in part because no other GCC state (or Arab League official) saw fit to defy Riyadh. For good measure, Doha had assigned the Palestinian seat at the conference table to Hamas leader Khalid Mashal after PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas begged off, citing irresistible pressure to forsake his people during their hour of need. Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a representative of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez flew in to address those present. Qatar also announced the closure of the trade office Israel had maintained in Doha since 1996, and in subsequent years began to slowly downgrade what had been an increasingly public relationship with the Israeli government at the most senior levels (though Shimon Peres would again make an “unofficial” visit in 2007).

If the Hamads had done well by Qatar, their achievements prior to 2010 would also be easy to exaggerate; a self-assured UAE had similarly poked Riyadh in the eye in 2009 when it scuttled plans for a GCC monetary union after Saudi Arabia used its clout to locate the proposed central bank in its capital rather than Dubai. More notably, Oman several years later hosted secret American-Iranian negotiations that would in 2015 result in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear agreement). While Qatar had successfully placed itself on the map and was adeptly punching above its weight, only the most paranoid potentate considered its activities a threat to the regional order. It was, after all, part and parcel of this order.

Hubris

As with so much else, things began to change with the era of upheaval the Arab world entered in December 2010. As the Muslim Brotherhood used its organizational experience and acumen to enter government in Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, and carve out a leading role in the Syrian opposition, Al Jazeera became the official broadcaster of the Arab uprisings. It seemed to take particular glee in the downfall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, whose intelligence services had participated in the aborted 1996 coup to restore Shaykh Hamad’s father to power. Within a month Yusuf Al-Qaradawi returned to Cairo and delivered the Friday sermon in Tahrir Square. Attended by hundreds of thousands, it was simultaneously broadcast on Egyptian state television and of course Al Jazeera.

Qatar was suddenly the most influential member of the Arab League, engineering its endorsement of foreign military intervention in Libya, in which it participated, as well as the suspension of Syria’s membership and transfer of its seat to Doha’s protégé, the opposition Syrian National Council. When the Syrian uprising against nearly half a century of Ba’thist rule metamorphosed into civil war, Qatar was a leading financier and supplier of the armed opposition groups that emerged throughout the country. It seemed the entire region was being remade, if not in Qatar’s image, then at least in accordance with decisions made in Doha. The mouse was audibly roaring. In 2010 Qatar even succeeded–widespread allegations of bribery notwithstanding–in winning the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In 2013, acting with US consent, it invited the Afghan Taliban to open an office in Doha to facilitate negotiations to end the conflict in central Asia.

Doha’s indulgence of challenges to the region’s ancien régimes also had clear limits, particularly as the unrest spread closer to home. It endorsed and supported the Saudi-led 2011 GCC intervention in Bahrain to crush popular protests against the highly repressive Al Khalifa monarchy, and that same year signed on to a GCC plan for Yemen that saw President Ali Abdallah Salih transfer power to his deputy rather than cede it to those seeking to install a new and different kind of political system. Disturbances in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich, Shi’a-majority Eastern Province were also pointedly ignored.

Similarly, Qatar’s rulers, as thin-skinned and absolute in their powers as their GCC counterparts, did not hesitate to jail domestic critics inspired by regional events. In 2011, local poet Muhammad al-Ajami received a life sentence for the crime of lèse-majesté on the basis of several verses he had composed. The Doha-based Arab Democracy Foundation, which specialized in bombastic declarations about how the will of Arab peoples elsewhere would never be defeated, had not a word to say on the matter, while the Doha Centre for Media Freedom made do with an expression of “concern.” Nary a peep emanated from the numerous foreign institutions that had accepted Qatari largesse; many had done so with all but a formal communiqué implying they were motivated by the opportunity to civilize a new generation of Arabs. (Al Ajami received a royal pardon in 2016.) More recently the abysmal conditions experienced by migrant workers building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup has become an international scandal, but one that journalists in situ find almost impossible to investigate.

Several factors helped Qatar achieve a role out of any proportion to its geography, demography, or even economy. Egypt had for some time ceased to fulfill its traditional leadership role in the Arab world. In Saudi Arabia, the waning years of King Abdallah’s reign were characterized by an increasingly dysfunctional and divided Saudi elite often incapable of formulating a consistently coherent foreign policy and keeping other GCC members in line. Qatar’s closest regional ally, Recep Tayyip Erdoganof Turkey, by contrast suffered from an excess of clarity and ambition, commanded one of the region’s largest and most powerful states, and unlike his predecessors took a keen interest in the Middle East. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) additionally had much in common with the Muslim Brotherhood, and promoted itself as a model for the latter’s various Arab branches as they tried their hand at governance. Finally, Qatar took a pragmatic approach to foreign affairs. It maintained relationships with both Israel and Hamas, the United States and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Nemesis

In almost dialectical fashion, Doha’s moment of triumph also sowed the seeds of its unraveling. By 2012 the reputation of Al Jazeera Arabic offerings, now serving as an undisguised soapbox for ever more explicit Qatari foreign policy goals and the various allies and proxies mobilized to achieve them, was diminishing rapidly. As the saying goes credibility takes years to build, is sacrificed in an instant, and once lost is gone forever. (Al Jazeera English, whose relevance to regional politics is minimal, by contrast largely continued as a conventional news broadcaster.)

The ascendant Muslim Brotherhood, with its very different conception of Islamist politics to that practiced by Gulf regimes, its promotion of the ballot box as arbiter of political power, and growing role in government, was perceived as an existential threat by the region’s hereditary rulers. So too was the possibility that more militant Islamists groups, which openly challenge the potentates’ religious credentials and which called for their heads, might gain in strength. Where the custodians of the regional order had heretofore prioritized containing Iran–a project in which various Sunni Islamist organizations could play a useful role–they now focused primarily on restoring the regional status quo, in which such organizations would need to be removed from power and their Qatari and Turkish sponsors marginalized. (With many specialists convinced that the Brotherhood would easily sweep a theoretical election in Saudi Arabia, King Abdallah declared it his country’s main enemy).

Anti-Morsi demonstrators marching in Cairo, 28 June 2013 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A key turning point was the 2013 coup that deposed elected president Muhammad Morsi and his government in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous and pivotal state. The seizure of power replaced the Muslim Brotherhood with a military regime led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was determined to eradicate it. It also represented a shift from a Qatari client to one virtually dependent on Saudi and Emirati patronage for survival. Egypt re-imposed its blockade on the Gaza Strip, now exponentially more severe than anything enforced during the worst days of Mubarak; Tunisia’s Islamists voluntarily stepped out of government; and Qatar’s candidates began to fall short in Syrian opposition leadership elections.

Within the Gulf, the campaign reached its apex in the UAE where al-Islah, an association established by exiled Brotherhood members that had been licensed by the authorities during the 1970s, was accused of establishing a clandestine military organization to seize power in the country. The trial of ninety-four purported plotters resulted in the sentencing of fifty-six of them. If it was a sham, it was no show trial; a relative of one defendant was imprisoned for tweeting about the proceedings. In 2014, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

A week before al-Sisi’s coup, Shaykh Hamad suddenly abdicated in favor of his–and Moza’s– thirty-three-year-old son, Tamim. Although Hamad had undergone two kidney transplants, health reasons were neither cited nor convincing as an explanation. According to some reports, it was part of an informal deal with Riyadh and other GCC detractors whereby the amir’s departure would ensure that the furious Saudi-led counterrevolution would not consume the Al-Thani family, who were perceived as chief sponsors of regional instability. Others surmised that the voluntary transfer of power to a new generation was a final, two-fingered salute directed at the octogenarian monarch next door, whose trusteeship Hamad had spent most of his career defying. Perhaps it was both. In the event, Shaykh Hamad took HBJ with him into retirement, as the latter’s prominence and power would have made it impossible for Shaikh Tamim to rule in his own right.

Whether Riyadh and Abu Dhabi believed the new amir was as errant as his father, wanted to test the youngster’s mettle, or were simply determined to ensure Qatar would once again play by old rules, crisis ensued in March 2014. In a prelude to the current dispute, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and threatened further measures if Qatar did not correct its conduct. Tamim was said to have reneged on commitments undertaken at a 2013 GCC summit relating to the preservation of regional security and stability, hostile media, and members’ non-interference in each other’s affairs–concepts so broad they could encompass a poor restaurant review.

Within months the dispute was overtaken by a more urgent crisis when the Islamic State movement swept from northeastern Syria into northwestern Iraq and its second city of Mosul, declaring a caliphate. Reports that negotiations between Iran and the United States over the nuclear file were making unprecedented progress towards an international agreement additionally spurred the GCC to close ranks. On the strength of various understandings, a new document that restated the 2013 commitments, and Qatar’s expulsion of a number of Brotherhood leaders and cadres, Kuwait successfully mediated a November 2014 return of the recalled ambassadors to Doha. Yet the underlying tensions that had been building over nearly two decades remained unresolved.

The Reinvention of Saudi Arabia

In January 2015, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah, who had effectively ruled the country since his predecessor and half-brother Fahd was incapacitated in 1995, breathed his last. The kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz (commonly known as Ibn Saud), had fathered over forty sons from numerous marriages. Although Ibn Saud passed the crown to one of his sons, succession since then has proceeded horizontally among siblings rather than vertically between generations. With nature steadily depleting the supply of available candidates (two of Abdallah’s half-brother crown princes died within the space of a year), the monarch established the Allegiance Council (a princely consultative body) in 2006 as well as the position of deputy crown prince in 2014, to ensure a consensual and therefore smooth transition to the next generation. Such measures were necessary because, in contrast to traditional monarchies, every one of Ibn Saud’s numerous grandsons, rather than just the offspring of the last of his sons to occupy the throne, are eligible for the succession, thus multiplying the possibility for rivalry and royal conflict within the world’s largest oil exporter.

When Salman became king in 2015, he appointed his half-brother Muqrin as crown prince and his nephew, the powerful interior minister (and Washington’s favorite Saudi) Muhammad bin Nayif, to the position of deputy crown prince. It was the first time a member of the third generation had been placed in the line of succession, and the seeming absence of widely-anticipated dissent appeared to vindicate the measures Abdallah had taken before his death.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef (L) and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (R)

A mere three months later, however, King Salman ousted Muqrin, promoted Muhammad bin Nayif to crown prince, and appointed his own twenty-nine-year-old son, Muhammad bin Salman (often referred to as MBS) as deputy crown prince. The supreme offices in the kingdom were now concentrated in a branch of the House of Saud descended from only one of Ibn Saud’s wives, Hissa Al-Sudairi, whose sons–including former King Fahd, former Crown Prince and Defense Minister Sultan, former Crown Prince and Interior Minister Nayif, and King Salman–are known as the Sudairi Seven. Not less importantly, the royal reshuffle strongly suggested that the ailing Salman sought to pass the crown to his own progeny, thereby transforming Saudi Arabia into a “regular” monarchy.

Almost immediately, MBS began to amass powers to rival a monarch, including Minister of Defense, Chairman of the newly-established Council for Economic and Development Affairs, and head of the newly-created Aramco Supreme Council, effectively usurping energy policy from the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources.

The following year MBS unveiled Vision 2030, a blueprint inspired by McKinsey & Company consultants that sought to transform the Saudi economy (and by implication, society) in response to the prolonged decline in oil prices since the US shale industry burst onto the scene. A centerpiece of the plan, which has been highly controversial domestically and within royal circles as well, calls for the sale of five per cent of Saudi ARAMCO, the state-owned oil company valued at between USD 1-2 trillion that is the jewel in the Saudi crown. The proceeds, in combination with savings resulting from various reforms and austerity measures, are to be leveraged to achieve a catalogue of utterly preposterous targets including a five-fold increase in non-oil government revenue, a five-fold increase in the non-profit sector’s contribution to GDP, a fifty per cent expansion of the private sector, and an increase in life expectancy by six years–all by the end of the next decade. Vision 2030 was also clearly designed to serve the more attainable objective of enabling MBS to leapfrog his cousin Muhammad bin Nayif in the line of succession before his father’s death.

That MBS was determined to fling the traditional Saudi policy-making process to the wind was even more evident in foreign affairs. The days in which Riyadh carefully crafts a domestic, regional, and international consensus before leading a change in direction from behind were replaced with aggressive recklessness. According to a leaked report authored by the German intelligence service BND:

The previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leading members of the [Saudi] royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention … [MBS] is a political gambler who is destabilizing the Arab world through proxy wars … [His concentration of power] harbors a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach … Relations with friendly and above all allied countries in the region could be overstretched.

This was most clearly evident in Yemen, where within months of becoming the world’s youngest defense minister, MBS unleashed a war supported (among others) by Qatar and the United States, to restore the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi that had been ousted by Houthi rebels working in alliance with former president Salih.

But instead of resulting in the quick and decisive victory that would bolster his military and leadership credentials, the war on Yemen has developed into an ongoing quagmire that has fragmented and effectively destroyed the country, killed many thousands of civilians, and made Yemen a first-order humanitarian emergency. It has inflicted material as well as human losses on Saudi Arabia, and additionally enabled Yemeni incursions and missile attacks into Saudi territory. As a consequence, MBS appears eager to bring his adventure to an end, but conditions that preserve rather than damage his reputation and ambition have yet to be found.

The Houthi relationship with Iran, much exaggerated but becoming a reality on account of the war, was cited as a key motivation by Saudi Arabia. This reflects a broader shift in Riyadh, where confronting and containing Iran’s growing influence in the region has since the 2014-2015 thaw in US-Iranian relations often taken precedence over marginalizing other Islamists and restoring the status quo disturbed by the Arab uprisings. In Syria, for example, the Saudis put aside their rivalry with Qatar and Turkey over control of the Syrian opposition, and crafted Jaysh al-Fath, a coalition of Syrian rebel groups in which Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qa‘ida, played a leading role. Similarly, an International Crisis Group report published this year found that Saudi Arabia was engaging in “tacit alliances” with al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and “regularly fought alongside” the forces of Ansar al-Shari’a, an AQAP subsidiary. Writing earlier for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gulf affairs specialist Neil Partrick reached a similar conclusion, and additionally noted that “Saudi Arabia made sure to repair its relations with the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] Islah Party” during the run-up to the war, and that this effort included putting it “back on Riyadh’s payroll.”

Another Gulf State Punches Above Its Weight

Although the UAE has been the most active member of the coalition in terms of committing ground forces to Yemen, it has eschewed alliances with Islamists. This reflects both its congenital hostility to them since 2011 (which also explains its comparative absence from the Syrian theatre), and the reality that its forces operate primarily in areas of the country where the Houthi-Salih coalition has been expelled, and the primary conflict is now between government forces and Islamist militias. The UAE, a federal state comprising seven hereditary emirates in which the ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose territory encompasses eighty-five per cent of the country, traditionally serves as president, was under its founding leader Shaikh Zayid bin Nahyan generally characterized by neutrality in inter-Arab conflicts and a balanced regional policy within a context of deference to Saudi leadership.

More recently it has developed a much more assertive stance. Although the UAE for example does not recognize Israel, the latter is permitted to maintain a diplomatic mission in the UAE capital under the umbrella of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The Emirati air force has also conducted joint exercises with its Israeli counterpart in the United States and Greece. Informal security links are said to run extremely deep and include the purchase of Israeli weapons systems and technology.

Spearheading such changes has been Muhammad bin Zayid (MBZ), who has since 2004 been Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE armed forces, and the country’s de facto ruler. Early on, he adopted Palestinian warlord Muhammad Dahlan to unseat Hamas after the latter won the 2006 Palestinian Authority legislative elections. Since Dahlan’s defeat in the Gaza Strip and then downfall in the West Bank on account of a personal dispute with his chief patron, Mahmoud Abbas, MBZ has been promoting him as Abbas’s successor. He was appointed national security advisor to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and conducts various missions on behalf of his new benefactor in Egypt, Libya, Serbia, and elsewhere. (In a more recent twist, Hamas and Dahlan in mid-June reached a number of understandings on cooperation in a joint effort to weaken Abbas. Because their implementation is reliant on Egyptian facilitation and Emirati funding, this effectively puts the UAE and Hamas in the same camp, even as Abu Dhabi points to Qatar’s sponsorship of the Palestinian Islamists as a factor in the present GCC crisis.).

One of MBZ’s most notable achievements has been the development of the UAE special forces into a significant military asset and their deployment across the region. Crucial to this endeavour was Erik Prince, formerly of Blackwater and brother of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and a large contingent of Colombian mercenaries imported by Prince to develop the force. The prince’s contract reportedly netted Prince in excess of half a billion dollars.

UAE ground forces have fought in Yemen to regain territory from the Houthis, and participated in a botched February 2017 raid in conjunction with US Navy Seals to eliminate an AQAP leader that resulted in the killing of numerous civilians. More recently, reports have emerged of horrific torture chambers operated by the United Arab Emirates in Yemen, in what appears to be close coordination with the United States. The Emirati air force has been active against Islamic State movement targets, and as far afield as Libya in support of renegade general (and former CIA asset) Khalifa Haftar. Such adventurism has led US Defense Secretary James Mattis to label the country “Little Sparta.” Even though serving a different agenda and using different instruments, the UAE’s growing regional clout in important respects echoes that of the other small state to its north, Qatar. In a further resonance, Saudi and Emirati forces have recently been working at cross-purposes in Yemen, competing for dominance over various proxies.

When King Salman succeeded to the Saudi throne and immediately set about systematically deposing or marginalizing Abdallah’s courtiers and confidantes, with whom MBZ had maintained close relationships, the elevation of Muhammad bin Nayif to crown prince caused particular concern in Abu Dhabi. A Wikileaks cable that detailed how MBZ had in a discussion with US diplomat Richard Haass compared the Saudi prince’s father to a monkey, caused what might be termed a permanent rupture. The UAE’s comparatively warm welcome of the Iranian nuclear agreement strained matters further.

MBZ rebuilt the relationship by assiduously cultivating the like-minded MBS, who conveniently was together with his father clipping Muhammad bin Nayif’s wings at every opportunity. MBZ was also quick to cultivate Donald Trump after the 2016 election. In December, he flew to New York to meet the president-elect and his key aides at Trump Tower without–contrary to protocol–informing the US government of his visit (according to the Washington Post the White House only learned of it when his name was discovered on a flight manifest). Shortly thereafter, the same newspaper reported, MBZ and his brother brokered a covert meeting between Erik Prince and an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, where the UAE has extensive property holdings, to set up a backchannel between the incoming American administration and the Kremlin. MBZ is also said to have arranged for MBS’s audience with Trump shortly after he took office, which in turn resulted in Trump’s May 2017 visit to Riyadh.

Enter Trump

By any measure, the Saudis have played their hand with the Trump administration extremely well. They reached out to his closest associates, provided the new president with the effusive praise that gets his attention, and then sent MBS to Washington to detail the contributions Saudi Arabia can make to both his foreign and domestic agendas. With the new administration’s relationships with its neighbors and traditional allies experiencing various levels of crisis, they succeeded in making Riyadh rather than Mexico City, Ottawa, or London the destination of Trump’s inaugural foreign visit.

The previous November, the Saudis had been eagerly counting the days until Obama would be replaced by Hillary Clinton, and US Middle East policy would revert to its longstanding pattern of intimate partnership with the Kingdom on the basis of a shared regional agenda and pursuit of common objectives, particularly in Syria and Iran. While no less taken aback than the rest of the planet by Trump’s unexpected victory, the Saudi leadership was additionally apprehensive on account of his inflammatory campaign rhetoric against their country, faith, and resources. But this was trumped by the winning candidate’s consistent hostility to Iran on the campaign trail, and the even greater animosity towards it expressed by presidential gurus like Steve Bannon and the incoming national security team.

Demonstrating their influence and authority by convening a GCC and Arab/Islamic summit to supplement the Saudi-US one (the source of Trump’s idiotic claim that history had never witnessed such a gathering and probably never would again), the Saudi leadership announced the formation of a new Islamic coalition (a “Middle Eastern NATO”) against “terrorism,” with Trump as its spiritual godfather; dangled the prospect of an Arab-Israeli peace agreement in front of the US president and his son-in-law; reheated existing deals concluded with the Obama administration, and additionally signed letters of intent for new ones that allowed the new US president to boast that he had secured hundreds of billions of dollars in new contracts; and lost no opportunity to engage in the ostentatious displays of wealth and kitsch that Trump so adores.

The reset in US-Saudi relations was a superlative success, to the extent that Trump virtually held Shi’a Iran responsible for the emergence and growth of Sunni extremist organizations across the region. More importantly, he anointed his new best friend Salman as Washington’s indispensable Arab partner and supreme leader of the Arabs and Muslims. Trump had effectively extended Salman carte blanche to remake the region in accordance with their joint vision of durable security and stability, and appointed him regional commander of the alliance against Tehran. The neglect that had characterized the Obama years, always more a matter of perception than reality, had come to a definitive end, and Riyadh felt empowered and emboldened to reassert its leadership role. In the immediate term, this meant bringing Qatar to heel.

Crisis

During the Riyadh summit, Saudi and Emirati leaders are said to have complained to Trump about Qatari misconduct with respect to Iran and Islamist groups, pointing out that this undermined the key pillars of Trump’s Middle East policy. When the US president relayed these concerns and their source during his separate meeting with the Qatari ruler, Shaykh Tamim reportedly retorted that the US president was barking up the wrong tree, noting that not only al-Qa‘ida but also the Islamic State movement obtain most of their funding and support from Saudi and Emirati sympathizers, and that Dubai additionally serves as the Iranian economy’s main window to the world. Yet only days later Doha, citing irresistible pressures, expelled a number of Hamas military leaders with immediate effect and informed the movement that additional measures may follow.

According to the Financial Times, the Saudis and Emiratis were particularly perturbed by a complex deal brokered by Qatar in April of this year to obtain the release of twenty six of its citizens–including at least one member of the royal family–who had been taken hostage in southern Iraq in 2015 by pro-Iranian Shi’a militias while on a hunting expedition. In addition to paying a ransom of some 700 million US dollars to the captors, most of which is said to have ended up in the coffers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the hostages’ freedom was made contingent on a population exchange in Syria. The Syrian component of the deal included the evacuation of several thousand Syrian Shi’a civilians from the town of Madaya, where they had for several years been under siege by Syrian Islamist groups including Jabhat Tahrir al-Sham, the recently re-branded al-Qa‘ida affiliate formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. With Qatar disbursing an additional 200 million US dollars to the Syrian rebel groups to secure the evacuation, it stood accused of not only directly funding al-Qa‘ida, but engaging in a pattern of using hostage negotiations as cover to fund radical Islamists in Syria in order to promote regime change in Damascus and consolidate its influence over the Syrian opposition. (The operation was exposed when bales of cash totaling hundreds of millions of dollars were discovered in a Qatari plane at Baghdad Airport).

Then, days after the conclusion of the Trump visit, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) website on 24 May carried statements attributed to Tamim in which he expressed support for Hizballah and Hamas; praised Iran and Israel; denounced Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt; and disparaged both Trump and the purported deals concluded in Riyadh. Qatar denied its amir had made the statements, claimed the QNA website had been hacked, and called in the FBI to investigate. By then the media war had already begun. The statements were massively circulated and vociferously denounced by Saudi and Emirati-sponsored media, and the circulation and transmission of Qatari-sponsored media were blocked in the offended states. The tone and ruthlessness of the ongoing media campaigns easily matches that of countries that have been engaged in prolonged warfare.

In early June, the email account of the UAE’s Ambassador to the United States, Yusuf al-Otaiba, described by the New York Times as “a personal tutor in regional politics to Jared Kushner”, was hacked. Its embarrassing contents–particularly concerning Otaiba’s calls to relocate CENTCOM’s regional headquarters away from Qatar, his close relationship with the extreme pro-Israel Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and disparaging assessments of Trump in exchanges with Obama officials during the transition–were prominently publicized by Qatari-owned media.

Immediately thereafter, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt on 5 June announced they were severing diplomatic relations with Qatar. In addition to recalling their diplomats from Doha and giving Qatar’s emissaries forty-eight hours to leave, they severed all land, sea, and air links with it; closed their air space to Qatar’s national airline in apparent violation of the Convention on International Civil Aviation; ordered the repatriation within fourteen days of all Qataris residing in their territory as well as (Egyptians excepted) of their citizens living in Qatar; and expelled Qatar from the coalition that has been reducing Yemen to rubble. Because Qatar’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia, through which it obtains forty per cent of its food supply (including more than ninety-five per cent of fruits and vegetables), this has amounted to a virtual blockade. A number of Arab and Muslim recipients of Saudi and Emirati largesse including Jordan, Mauritania, The Maldives, the exiled government of Yemen, and the powerless one of Libya, also announced a downgrading or severance of their relations with Qatar. Jordan additionally revoked Al Jazeera’s operating license.

The following days saw additional measures imposed against Qatar, particularly by the UAE. Qatalum, the aluminum producer jointly owned by Qatar Petroleum and Norway’s Norsk Hydro, was forced to re-route exports from its traditional port, Dubai’s Jabal Ali, to alternatives in Oman. Similarly Qatar, the world’s second largest producer of helium, had to close down production facilities on 12 June because the gas could no longer be exported overland through Saudi Arabia. On 7 June, the authorities in Abu Dhabi announced that any resident expressing opposition to its policy towards Qatar, or sympathy for Doha, faced the prospect of fifteen years in prison and a hefty fine. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain followed suit with similar measures.

The rapidity with which this crisis escalated and intensified has been remarkable. Amidst unverifiable rumors of divisions within the Qatari, Saudi, and Emirati leaderships about their respective handling of events, and even talk of a military option if the political one fails, Kuwait and Oman–the only GCC states that declined to take measures against Qatar–commenced mediation efforts. But tensions were further heightened when President Trump, who appeared unaware that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the region, in his Twitter account all but took personal responsibility for the campaign against it, presenting it as a signal achievement of his foray into the Middle East to slay the beast of terror. Needless to say, his comments left the State Department and Pentagon scrambling to re-assure Doha that neither CENTCOM’s relocation nor regime change are under consideration.

While details remain scarce, Qatar’s detractors have strenuously denounced “violations” of the agreement that ended the 2014 diplomatic rupture. Although there have been reports of a list of ten demands, others speak only of “grievances.” The Qataris, who insist they will only discuss issues relating to compliance with GCC commitments and only after the blockade has been lifted, for their part maintain that the Kuwaiti and Omani mediators have yet to transmit or be provided with a list of specific violations or demands in this regard.

Whether the expulsion of Hamas from Qatar and the closure of Al Jazeera form an opening gambit or are designed for rejection is difficult to divine, but Qatar’s adversaries initially seemed to be holding all the cards. Doha was forced to rely on Iran and Turkey for food and other imports, and their airspace for its national carrier to remain operational, thus making its conduct only more suspect. Furthermore, a diminished Al Jazeera lacked the credibility and audience it once had to mobilize regional public opinion. Qatar’s currency and credit rating have been in decline, and questions are being raised about its ability to successfully host a World Cup in which it had already invested massively.

Where some observers took the demands made of Qatar seriously, others suggested the specific issues raised were either submitted for propaganda value or are marginal to the real interests of Saudi Arabia and the others. Rather, their purpose is to force Doha to dance to the GCC tune, cut it back down to its miniature size, and ensure that it once again follows the lead of more powerful neighbors rather than pursue an independent regional agenda that too often works at cross purposes with theirs.

Qatar’s fortunes took a sudden turn for the better on 7 June. Trump called Tamim, and during their discussion the US president emphasized the importance of restoring calm and stability to the GCC, invited his Qatari counterpart to the White House, and offered help with mediation efforts–thereby giving the Kuwaiti-Omani mission a vital endorsement. Earlier that day, the FBI announced that QNA had indeed been hacked by Russian parties, but left unstated on whose behalf they may have been acting. That same evening the Turkish parliament—with whom Qatar had in 2016 concluded a mutual defense treaty—adopted a resolution to dispatch an additional three thousand troops to the beleaguered country. The tripwire force that effectively took any military option being contemplated off the table arrived the following week, during a joint military exercise between Qatari and US forces that sent an equally pointed message. Meanwhile a growing chorus of international powers, including Russia, the European Union, and Germany, made clear they need another crisis in the Middle East, this time between its main energy exporters, like a hole in the head. Unsurprisingly, they have consistently pressed for a speedy and peaceful resolution.

Two days later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, presumably in consultation with the White House, issued prepared remarks in which he essentially praised Qatar and its alliance with the United States, while also calling upon it to more rapidly take more effective measures against the “funding of terrorism.” He further appealed to its adversaries to begin lifting the blockade on account of its humanitarian impact during the month of Ramadan, and the obstruction of US military and business activities. He again endorsed and offered to participate in a negotiated resolution of the dispute. Only hours later President Trump, in prepared rather than impromptu remarks of his own, repeatedly denounced Qatar as a virtual state sponsor of terrorism. For good measure, he revealed that its misconduct had been raised with him by his “good friend” King Salman during his visit to Riyadh, once again throwing his weight behind the states ranged against Doha. Earlier that same day Saudi Arabia and the UAE designated fifty-seven individuals and entities connected to Qatar as terrorists–some of whom are also known for links to Saudi Arabia and some of whom are said to be in prison. A week later, Trump would, despite his assessment of Doha’s nefariousness, celebrate the sale of advanced fighter aircraft worth 12 billion US dollars to its air force.

Consequences

The unsustainable intensity of the Qatar crisis suggests it is headed for either catastrophic escalation or speedy resolution. Absent the removal of Tamim and his replacement with a pliant relative in the very near future, a scenario that seemed at best highly improbable and is now increasingly distant after an attempt was recently foiled, a renewed Qatari commitment to the 2014 agreement, sweetened with a few symbolic concessions, a public reconciliation, and a monitoring mechanism, seems the most likely outcome.

That said, the situation is sufficiently tense that a rash move or miscalculation could have unforeseen consequences–particularly as Qatar and its increasingly reckless adversaries have each failed to rally decisive regional and international support, while Washington’s response has been divided at best. While uncontrolled escalation would be disastrous for Qatar, it is also unlikely to be kind to Saudi Arabia or the UAE and indeed the GCC as a whole, for whom a reputation for stability and insulation from regional upheaval is these days no less valuable than its energy products. The impact on the broader global economy could also be significant.

Should a quick resolution that essentially sweeps the dispute under the rug indeed materialize, it would be an impressive reversal of Qatari fortunes. At the same time, this crisis, not unlike the war in Yemen, is intended to showcase MBS’s leadership abilities and thus his eligibility for the Saudi throne. He can therefore ill afford a climb down that further punctures his reputation. For the UAE and MBZ, the stakes are arguably more ideological, and the crisis will have been a poor investment if it does not produce a clean break between Doha and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The big winners so far are Iran, Syria, and their Lebanese ally Hizballah, who cannot but be delighted by the audible cracks in the alliance ranged against Damascus and Tehran and that may well spell the end of the GCC. Iran and Hizballah will additionally hope that Hamas has finally learned the lesson that no ally of the United States can be a true friend of the Palestinians. Turkey has also, yet again, demonstrated that in today’s Middle East it has a role to play in every crisis and that others ignore Ankara’s interests– whether in the Gulf, Syria, or Iraq–at their peril. On the flip side, there are growing noises within Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the campaign should expand to include Turkey–which has recently been claiming that the UAE is implicated in the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.

The crisis has also been of enormous propaganda value to Iran as it ferries hundreds of tons of food and other basic necessities to Qatar in an effort reminiscent of the Berlin airlift–albeit to the richest country on earth rather than the Gaza Strip. Turkey, and–perhaps more significantly in view of attempts to place Doha under Arab quarantine–Morocco have been stocking Qatar’s supermarket shelves as well. Yet, even as The Economist concludes that the blockade “isn’t working,” over the longer term structural dependence on Iran and Turkey is not an option Qatar’s rulers can sustain for political reasons.

Israel appears to be a beneficiary as well. A restrained Qatar that reduces support to Hamas is a welcome gain, but more importantly Tel Aviv has been able to further consolidate its budding relationship with other Gulf states. The Netanyahu government’s June decision to drastically reduce electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip pursuant to a contemptible request by Mahmoud Abbas, which it had previously rejected because the Israeli security establishment warned this could lead to a new conflagration with Hamas, can only be read as an effort to demonstrate its value and reliability to its Arab partners, and the feasibility of a diplomatic approach that focuses on Arab-Israeli normalization rather than Palestinian statehood to the new regime in Washington.

The clear losers are, of course, the Arabs–all of them. Their institutions have once again revealed themselves to be thoroughly and irredeemably dysfunctional. The crisis is being resolved not within or by the region, but rather on the basis of which protagonist can buy the most US weapons, recruit the most lobbyists, and elicit the most patronizing statements from the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and European capitals. The fate of Qatar is being decided by the location of CENTCOM.

However this crisis is resolved, Qatar will have to seriously weigh the consequences before it again contemplates punching above its intrinsically light weight, and will to one extent or another have been brought to heel within a Saudi-dominated coalition directed against not only Iran, but also further upheaval in the region that even today retains the possibility of transforming its disenfranchised subjects into empowered citizens. This crisis is thus both a petulant princely playground spat worthy only of indifference, and an attempt to determine the future of an entire region in which indifference is not an option.

Postscript: House of Salman?

On the morning of 21 June, King Salman deposed Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, simultaneously stripping him of all government functions and powers, and replaced him with his son, MBS. Although as discussed above the move has been widely anticipated, the timing nevertheless caught most by surprise, and raises the possibility that Salman is either seriously ill or intends to abdicate soon in favor of his son. Simultaneously, and in a development that is certain to have far-reaching political consequences even if intended for only one-time invocation, Salman “amended sections of the 1990 Basic Law to move to vertical royal succession from father to son for the office of king.”

Thus far, no new deputy crown prince has been appointed, and given the generational shift there is reason to suspect the post may be abolished altogether. Although these changes have been formally endorsed by the Allegiance Council and the clerical establishment, reports of dissent, particularly from within the ruling family, are rife. There are additional suggestions of discontent among clerics considered close to Muhammad Bin Nayif and Prince Mit’ib bin Abdallah, son of the previous monarch who remains commander of the National Guard, the regime’s praetorian guard. There may well be serious trouble ahead for the House of Saud on account of this power play.

In the meantime MBS, now also deputy prime minister, has consolidated his position further, most prominently through Salman’s appointment of Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayif, considered an MBS ally, to the position of interior minister. Abdulaziz is also a nephew of Muhammad bin Nayif, “thus perpetuating Nayif’s old fiefdom over the most important ministry for domestic security.” No doubt this appointment was concurrently made with a view to limiting partisan royal dissent to the latest reshuffle.

MBS now single-handedly controls Saudi energy, security, economic, and foreign policy. The partnership between MBS and the UAE’s MBZ can now be expected to dominate GCC decision-making and regional policy. This does not augur well for the prospects of GCC-Iranian détente, is likely to produce a further improvement in relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, and will almost certainly result in an intensification of the Syria conflict and other proxy wars, including that in what is left of Yemen.

The elevation of MBS also suggests a hardening of the Saudi-Emirati position towards Qatar. Yet, unless Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have an ace up their sleeve or are reckless enough to directly intervene in Qatar, it is difficult to see how they can prevail in view of growing international impatience with the persistence of this crisis and the instability it is producing in a corner of the world critical to the global economy.

Posted in Middle East, Qatar, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Abrupt Middle East Geopolitical Turnabout: The Qatar, Saudi Arabia and GCC Crisis

US Threatens Pakistan as Part of New Afghan War Drive. Islamabad Seeks Beijing’s Support

US government officials have begun to spell out the meaning of Trump’s threat to punish Pakistan if it does not suppress Afghan insurgents operating from its border regions. These punishments include not just cuts to aid and payments for services rendered in fighting the Afghan war, but also encouraging India, Pakistan’s arch-rival, to play a larger role in Afghanistan, and a more pro-Indian stance on the seven-decade-old Kashmir dispute.

India has repeatedly boasted of its readiness to mount military raids inside Pakistan, even if they risk provoking all-out war between South Asia’s rival nuclear powers.

Rattled by Washington’s threats, Islamabad has turned to Beijing for support, further heightening tensions in a region where India and China are engaged in their most serious border stand-off since their 1962 border war, and Indian and Pakistani troops routinely exchange fatal artillery barrages across the Line of Control that separates Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Trump insisted that Pakistan must “immediately” change course and stop “harboring criminals and terrorists” in his Monday evening speech outlining plans for a massive US escalation of the Afghan war. Elaborating on this, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a Tuesday press conference that Washington’s relations with Islamabad will henceforth be determined by whether it heeds US demands on the conduct of the Afghan war. Those who provide “safe haven” for terrorists have been “put on notice,” he declared, “warned (and) forewarned.”

Failure to comply, Tillerson suggested, would cost Islamabad financially and result in a further downgrading in relations, or worse. Asked what specific actions Washington might take against a recalcitrant Pakistan, he said,

“We have some leverage that’s been discussed in terms of the amount of aid and military assistance we give them; their status as a non-NATO alliance partner. All of that can be put on the table.”

Although Tillerson did not mention it, senior Trump administration officials are known to have considered threatening Pakistan with designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Such a designation would automatically entail the loss of all US financial support and scrapping of all US arms sales, and likely lead to the sanctioning of government and military officials.

Lisa Curtis, who last month was named deputy assistant to the president and senior White House director for South and Central Asia, called, in a report issued by the Heritage Foundation last February, for the “terrorist state” designation to be held in reserve for use beyond the Trump administration’s “first year.”

Tillerson also indicated that the US will resume the drone strikes that have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and terrorized the impoverished population of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The former Exxon CEO refused to directly answer a question at Tuesday’s press conference about the drone strikes, which are a flagrant violation of international law. But in sidestepping the question, he declared,

“We are going to attack terrorists wherever they live.”

The US military-security establishment, along with Democratic and Republican Party leaders, has long blamed the resilience of the Afghan insurgency on Pakistan’s reputed failure to crack down on the Taliban and its allies, especially the Haqqani Network.

The reality is that Washington and its NATO allies are waging a brutal neo-colonial war of occupation, propping up a corrupt and reviled puppet government in Kabul with night raids, drone strikes and other acts of terror.

Consequently, the Taliban, notwithstanding its reactionary Islamist ideology, is able to draw on widespread popular support. Pentagon officials themselves concede that, despite the US spending close to a trillion dollars, losing more than 2,400 troops, and raining death on one of the world’s most impoverished countries for the past 16 years, the Taliban insurgency is the strongest it has been since American forces invaded the country in October 2001.

Mentioned only in passing by Tillerson on Tuesday was the other element in Washington’s double-pronged threat to Pakistan: Trump’s call for India to become more involved in Afghanistan, especially in the provision of economic assistance.

India lost no time in welcoming Trump’s new Afghan war strategy, which includes among its core elements removing all restraints on US commanders targeting civilian areas and otherwise using the US war machine as they see fit.

“We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists,” said an Indian External Affairs Ministry statement.

India’s corporate media has lauded Trump’s endorsement of India in his Afghan speech as a “key security and economic partner” of US imperialism. In an op-ed column titled, “Donald Trump’s Afghanistan policy presents India a chance to increase sphere of influence in South Asia,” Firstpost senior editor Sreemoy Talukdar termed Trump’s Afghan policy a “loud” endorsement—one that has huge implications for India in South Asia, where it jostles for influence with a mercantile China.”

To the dismay of Pakistan’s ruling elite, New Delhi has supplanted Islamabad over the past dozen years as American imperialism’s principal regional ally. With the aim of building up India as a counter-weight to China, Washington has showered India with strategic favours,

Under Narendra Modi and his three year-old Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Indo-US strategic alliance has undergone a qualitative transformation. India has parroted Washington’s provocative stances on the South China Sea and North Korea disputes, dramatically increased its military-strategic cooperation with America’s principal Asia-Pacific allies, Japan and Australia, and thrown open its ports and bases to routine use by US warships and fighter jets.

The US establishment, be it National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and the rest of Trump’s cabal of generals, or the liberals of the New York Times, accuse Islamabad of playing a “double game”—that is, of fighting the Pakistan Taliban and providing logistical support to the US war in Afghanistan, while surreptitiously protecting the Haqqani Network and other elements of the Taliban with close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

This is truly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It was the CIA that instructed the Pakistani ISI in the use of Islamist militia as proxy forces. At America’s behest, Islamabad helped organize and train the Mujihadeen who were used to draw the Soviet Union into the Afghan civil war, then to bleed it militarily for the next decade.

Moreover, the US has repeatedly employed Islamist militia and terror groups, including in regime-change operations in Libya and Syria. And it has done so while cynically claiming they are the target of the “war on terror” that successive US administrations have invoked as the pretext for military interventions in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia and for sweeping attacks on democratic rights at home.

Pakistan’s maintenance of ties with sections of the Taliban is bound up with its strategic aim of securing a major say in any political settlement of the Afghan war and its mounting anxiety over the “global Indo-US strategic alliance.”

For years, Islamabad has been warning Washington that its strategic embrace of India is fueling an arms and nuclear arms race in South Asia and encouraging Indian belligerence. But these warnings have been curtly dismissed. At most, Washington would agree to somewhat curb India’s ambitions in Afghanistan. Now even that is being set aside.

As the US has downgraded its relations with Pakistan, Islamabad has increasingly turned to its “all-weather friend,” China, to offset Indian pressure. Beijing, for its part, long sought to woo New Delhi with offers of investment, including a leading role in its One Belt-One Road Eurasian infrastructure-building scheme. But with India under Modi emerging as a frontline state in Washington’s military-strategic offensive against China, Beijing’s stance has changed markedly.

Over the past two months, Chinese government officials and the state-owned media have repeatedly threatened India with a border war unless it withdraws its troops from a remote Himalayan ridge, long under Beijing’s control but also claimed by Bhutan.

Underscoring the extent to which the US drive to harness India to its war drive against China has drawn South Asia into the maelstrom of great power conflict and is polarizing the region along India-US versus China-Pakistan lines, Beijing has given Islamabad a strong show of support in the wake of Trump’s Afghan war speech.

First, a Chinese Foreign Ministry representative came to Pakistan’s defence, saying the country had made “great sacrifices” and “important contributions” to the fight against terrorism. Then, the Chinese foreign minister, who was already in Pakistan on a previously scheduled visit, agreed in meetings with the Pakistani leadership to “maintain the momentum” of high level military-security and economic cooperation. This is to include Beijing and Islamabad enhancing policy coordination in the “emerging global and regional situation” and pressing forward with the development of the $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Russia has also made clear its opposition to Washington’s plans to intensify the Afghan War and bully Pakistan. Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said Tuesday,

“Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilize the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.”

Traditionally, Russia has enjoyed very close relations with India. But New Delhi’s alignment with Washington is placing the Indo-Russian strategic partnership under severe strain.

Posted in USA, Pakistan & KashmirComments Off on US Threatens Pakistan as Part of New Afghan War Drive. Islamabad Seeks Beijing’s Support

Syria War Diary: What Life Is Like Under ‘Moderate’ Rebel Rule

NOVANEWS

Since the liberation of Aleppo, and the restoring of peace to Madaya and al-Waer, most Western media have gone silent on the areas, even though it is now possible to visit all of them and hear from civilians who lived under the rule of ”moderate rebels,” which is exactly what journalist Eva Bartlett did.

In early 2016 the hillside town of Madaya, just northwest of Damascus, was the focus of sudden Western and Gulf media campaigns featuring harrowing photos of emaciated elderly and children splashed widely across print, online and social media. Throughout 2016, these stories continued in Madaya, as well as in al-Waer, Homs, and in eastern-Aleppo areas.

The Syrian government was accused of not allowing in food and medical aid, of deliberately starving its people; the terrorists’ presence was largely unmentioned. On Madaya, The Telegraph ran a headline, “Starving Syrians in besieged town of Madaya are reduced to eating cats and dogs,” and subheadline, “The people of Madaya outside Damascus – besieged by regime forces and Hezbollah since July – are surviving on boiled leaves and street animals,” with no mention of al-Qaeda or Ahrar al-Sham.

The Independent accused the “Assad regime” of deliberately starving 40,000 civilians and, while citing the Red Cross in the article, neglected to cite that organization stating it had sent in food aid in October 2015, and also failed to mention al-Qaeda’s presence in the town. In the same vein, the New York Times ran a piece stating aid was denied from coming in, while also ignoring the realities on the ground and prior aid deliveries.

On Aleppo, corporate media extended the blame to Russia. The Independent published “Russia and Assad regime accused of ‘starving’ Aleppo,” in early 2016, and in a July article fear-mongered about starvation after the Syrian army secured a key road which had connected Turkey to al-Qaeda in Syria and other extremists occupying areas of Aleppo. In November, The Independent reported that “a quarter of a million people in rebel-held east Aleppo will starve unless aid is allowed into besieged areas,” ignoring that aid had been sent in numerous times prior, also ignoring that the al-Nusra-led coalition, Jaysh al-Fatah, had in mid-September rejected further aid coming into eastern Aleppo.

Completely unmentioned was the terrorists’ hoarding of food and medicines, occupation of hospitals and schools, and trying of civilians in Sharia courts resulting in jailing (usually in underground prisons with tight solitary confinement cells) and/or execution, among other heinous crimes.

Throughout 2016 Aleppo and the district of al-Waer, Homs, were the subject of the same claims, with even more propaganda and slick media campaigns the intent of which was to vilify those fighting the terrorists dubbed “rebels” by the Western media.

Filed from abroad—or even as close as Lebanon or Turkey—such reports relied on unnamed sources, “‘activists” who themselves often had ties to terrorist factions, and the Western-funded, terrorist-affiliated, White Helmets — a group that acclaimed journalist John Pilger recently denounced as a propaganda construct, which has received US$23 million from the US government alone.

Some of the those called “rebels” were members of Ahrar al-Sham (listed as a terrorist group in US Congressional documents), Nour el-Din el-Zenki (known for their beheading of a Palestinian youth in mid-2016), and even, unbelievably, al-Qaeda in Syria—Jabhat al-Nusra (rebranded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham).

The US “Syrian Train and Equip Program” saw $500 million approved in 2014 for training “Syrian rebels.” Shortly after the US-trained Division 30 “Syrian rebels” entered Syria in mid-2015, their commander (and presumably all of the weapons the US had provided) was taken by al-Nusra.

A November 2014 Newsweek article cites former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who stated:

“The main problem with plans that arm and train the ‘moderates’—who ominously are moderate only in their fighting abilities– … is that it assumes perfect knowledge, or ‘good enough’ knowledge, about the people being armed. When in fact there is nothing close to that.… The background info on these fighters is next to nothing and misleading, especially in Syria, where we don’t have a liaison relationship, and so the vast majority of even check-the-box vetting is by third parties [who are] out-of-the-country players with a stake in the game.”

Indeed, the US support has included more than mere training. It has also encompassed the supply of TOW missiles to some “opposition” groups, and the turning a blind eye to Saudi supplying of many more armed groups with these missiles.

A June 2016 article on Medium.com outlined the different factions possessing TOWs, and noted:

“Northern Thunder Brigade appears to be the most recent TOW supplied group, and is a special case as this group is part of a new wave of North Aleppo Vetted Syrian Opposition [VSO] who have been trained and equipped in part by the US Department of Defense [DoD].

Important to keep in mind, other TOW groups have historically liaised with the CIA in terms of US agencies under the covert “Timber Sycamore” program, and this CIA/DoD lack of coordination and differing outlook is a major complicating factor with regards to foreign backing of the Syrian Opposition and the associated TOW program.”

Since the liberation of Aleppo, and the restoring of peace to Madaya and al-Waer, most Western media have gone silent on the areas, even though it is now possible to visit all of them and hear from civilians who lived under the rule of what the West deemed “moderate rebels.”

That is what I did again in June 2017.

East Aleppo starved and trapped by the Syrian government?

I first went to Aleppo in July 2016, returning there in August and twice more in November. What I learned and experienced there was almost completely absent in Western media reports, which ignored Aleppo’s over 1.5 million civilian population and ignored the terrorists’ sniping and bombing of civilians. By the end of 2016, nearly 11,000 civilians in Aleppo had been killed by these attacks.

Instead, Western corporate media focused almost exclusively on areas occupied by al-Qaeda and other extremists but usually disregarding their presence while spinning war propaganda against the Syrian government.

In November 2016, while I was standing on the Castello Road humanitarian crossing, two mortars hit nearby, the closest within 100 meters. They originated from areas west of the crossing occupied by militants of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition, which included al-Qaeda in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham, and others. This was not the first time that armed groups attacked crossings, preventing civilians from leaving.

Roughly a week later, in a school sheltering internal refugees, I met a family from the eastern Halloq district who had fled their area in late October, along with over 40 others. The father said that on two prior occasions he had been arrested and beaten by terrorists when he tried to flee.

“In the beginning, they beat us and imprisoned me,” he said of a short period of imprisonment.

According to him, people trying to flee would be punished, but not necessarily with long-term imprisonment.

He spoke of militants hoarding and controlling the food, forcing women to cover themselves head to foot, and attempting to intimidate civilians from fleeing by telling them the Syrian army would rape their women and murder the men.

Footage again emerged of civilians coming under fire from militants while escaping to greater Aleppo.

Some weeks later, Aleppo was secured, and the testimonies of horrors under ‘rebel’ rule were heard, including the accounts of civilians who blamed the ‘rebels’ for their suffering and hunger. Western media spun the liberation of Aleppo from terrorists as the city having “fallen.” The jubilation of Syrians in Aleppo directly contradicted this lie.

The state Eye and Children’s Hospitals, in the eastern district of Shaar, were militarized by terrorists of Tawhid Brigade, as well as by al-Qaeda in Syria and ISIS. In the bowels of the hospital, when I visited in June 2017, I saw remnants of food and medical aid — sent from Gulf states, Turkey, America, and various organizations — controlled and hoarded by terrorists.

Terrorists’ Sharia Court and prison in hospital complex

A building in the Eye Hospital complex which was used by the Liwa Tawhid brigade as a headquarters, Aleppo Syria, June, 2017. (Eva Bartlett/MinPress News)

A building in the Eye Hospital complex which was used by the Liwa Tawhid brigade as a headquarters, Aleppo Syria, June, 2017. (Eva Bartlett/MinPress News)

In November 2016, descending several levels underground in an area of Lairamoun that had been controlled by the CIA armed and funded Free Syrian Army’s 16th Brigade, I saw the rooms that had been used as prisons by the FSA, as well as narrow, concrete and metal solitary-confinement cells.

This June, in the Eye Hospital complex, I passed a building marked as the headquarters of the Tawhid Brigade, and a building marked on an outside wall with the writing, “The Sharia court in Aleppo and its countryside,” before entering and descending to another underground prison.

It contained the same tight solitary confinement cells as in Lairamoun, as well as many dank, windowless, concrete rooms serving as mass cells for the unfortunate Aleppo residents imprisoned by the terrorists.

A heavy steel door grants access to a solitary confinement cell in the makeshift underground prison in the Eye Hospital complex, Aleppo Syria, June, 2017. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)any of the cement room-cells contained religious texts, in boxes and plastic crates, and on the main level two rooms had been used as classrooms, segregated by sex, for teaching the extremists’ beliefs to Aleppo’s mostly-Sunni Muslims.

Prisoners’ writings, with dates, on the walls showed that at least some of them were held in this dungeon for over a year. The fate of some prisoners was execution, depending on the perverted rulings of terrorist judges.

Western media played down the militarization of hospitals in Aleppo by al-Qaeda affiliates.

Independent British journalist Vanessa Beeley visited the hospital complex-turned-prison in April 2017 and interviewed a man who had been imprisoned for seven weeks by Jabhat al-Shamiya (the Levant Front coalition of al-Qaeda and Salafi terrorists) because he talked about how bad conditions were in East Aleppo, under the terrorists.

Beeley told me some of what the man, Ahmad Aldayh, a shopkeeper, had told her:

“I was eyewitness to one execution: A young man, the only child in his family, was arrested because the terrorists found on his mobile phone a photo of his friend holding the Syrian flag. They tortured him for more than four hours and then executed him.

We were all treated very badly. One woman begged three times for food and said she was starving. The warden ordered the prison guards to torture her for three hours as punishment for complaining. Just before the SAA fully liberated the area and the Eye Hospital on the 4th December 2016, 22 other prisoners were executed. They were all shot. They were also about to throw another prisoner off the roof of the building but the SAA advance was so fast they fled without killing him.”

Looking at just one example of the kind of propaganda coming from Western and Gulf media on Aleppo, a Newsweek article by Lucy Westcott, comparing Madaya with Aleppo, lamented what it said were 250,000 people besieged in Aleppo, while also lamenting the Children’s Hospital “irreparably damaged by bombs dropped by the Syrian government last week, according to residents and medical workers…”

But neither Westcott nor any of her colleagues could verify the reported 250,000 number. In the end, 110,000 civilians registered at the Jibreen Registration center; another estimated 10 percent might have gone straight to stay with family instead; and according to the Red Cross, 35,000 people (“fighters” and their family members) were evacuated out of Aleppo. The total number was thus at most 150,000, most likely significantly lower.

Westcott also failed to mention the militarization of the Eye and Children’s Hospitals, let alone the below-ground dungeons for imprisoning civilians. She decried the use of siege, a common tactic of wars past, and one which America employed in Iraq (for example the over 4-year siege of Sadr city), and whitewashed the crimes of al-Qaeda and partners in Aleppo.

 A room used to imprison tens of civilians in the underground prison in the Eye Hospital complex, Aleppo Syria, June, 2017. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

A room used to imprison tens of civilians in the underground prison in the Eye Hospital complex, Aleppo Syria, June, 2017. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

The Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Ja’afari, in mid-January 2016, stated:

“The reality of the so-called besieged, hard-to-reach areas is that some of those areas are controlled by terrorist groups who are using civilians as human shields, and other areas are besieged from the terrorist groups who are preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance”

Meaning that the terrorist armed groups are two categories. One category is exerting, besieging on the civilians from within inside. And the other category is exerting, besieging from outside.

In Kafraya and al-Foua, the terrorists are besieging the two towns from outside, surrounding the two towns, in Idlib.

But in Madaya and al-Zabadani, the terrorists are inside. So they are using the civilians as human shields while they are inside.”

This applied to Aleppo and al-Waer, among other areas, as well.

MSF’s “destroyed” Quds hospital?

The April 28, 2016 edition of the Washington Post.

The April 28, 2016 edition of the Washington Post.

In April 2016, media, in chorus, reported that the Syrians or Russians had “destroyed” the Quds hospital in Sukkari, eastern Aleppo. The source of this claim was Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which reported:

“According to hospital staff on the ground, the hospital was destroyed by at least one airstrike which directly hit the building, reducing it to rubble.”

The lie was repeated, including in this Washington Post report:

“Airstrikes Wednesday night collapsed a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”

Yet, in June 2017, I stood inside the intact Quds hospital, which had not been reduced “to rubble” as MSF had claimed. It is not plausible that the building was “destroyed” and then rebuilt while eastern areas of Aleppo were under military siege.

On one ground floor wall inside the building, I saw a poster with the logo of an association (WATAN) backed by the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC) in the colors of the Free Syrian Army logo. Next to it, a poster of another NORWAC-supported association, Khayr.

Inside the al-Quds hospital, two Norwegian-supported associations which offer support solely to al-Qaeda and affiliates' occupied areas of Syria.​ (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

Inside the al-Quds hospital, two Norwegian-supported associations which offer support solely to al-Qaeda and affiliates’ occupied areas of Syria. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

NORWAC openly declares its support of the two organizations that are based solely in areas controlled by al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. WATAN’s lofty self-description includes  being a “nonpolitical and nonsectarian organization” and having the mission to develop “a sustainable, healthy and educated community, based on inclusive society that positively engages, supports and improves the lives of each individual, regardless of their gender, faith or ethnicity.” The fact, however, that they work with al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamists, which actively attack people of non-Muslim faith and oppress women, speaks the less lofty truth about WATAN’s concern for Syrians.

In November 2014, an article in Norwegian media revealed that ISIS had taken over the area (Tel Abyad) where since 2013 NORWAC had supported a hospital, providing 250,000 kroner a month to hospital staff. Soon after, another article noted the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decision to cut support to the hospital, as ISIS had control of the area and its members were being treated in the hospital. The article noted that NORWAC regretted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decision to halt support to the hospital, as “this could have an impact on the Syrian civilians who use the hospital.”

It is incredible that NORWAC was willing to keep supporting an ISIS-controlled hospital, and it is further beyond credibility that NORWAC was not aware that the two organizations—Khayr and WATAN—which they supported in al-Qaeda occupied eastern Aleppo, were actually working with, and perhaps included, terrorists.

When journalist Vanessa Beeley visited the premises in late December 2016, she documented the same intact state of the building, fortified with sandbagging around doors and windows, just as terrorists’ military headquarters had been.

Watch Vanessa Beeley’s footage of the purportedly destroyed Quds hospital in Aleppo:

Ambulance boy, saved by White Helmets after airstrike?

Mohammed Daqneesh displays a photo of his 11 year old son who died due to injuries sustained the same day that Omran, known as the Aleppo boy) was mildly wounded, a fact the much of the media missed. Aleppo, Syria, June 6, 2017 (Photo: Danny Makki/MintPress News)

Mohammed Daqneesh displays a photo of his 11 year old son who died due to injuries sustained the same day that Omran, known as the Aleppo boy) was mildly wounded, a fact the much of the media missed. Aleppo, Syria, June 6, 2017 (Photo: Danny Makki/MintPress News

In August 2016, the face of Omran Daqneesh was splashed across corporate media, which vilified Syria and Russia for his presumed grave injuries.

In June 2017, I met the boy and his father, who gave me an account very different from that which Western media had spun. Omran was only lightly injured, his father Mohammad said, and not by an airstrike. The father never authorized the famous photo of the boy to be taken and refused any further exploitation of his son.

The White Helmets, Mohammad Daqneesh said, had not ‘rescued’ his son, they had taken him for a photo op, exploited his image and name, and harassed Mohammad himself with attempted bribes and then threats.

Seven-year-old girl tweeting for peace?

7 year-old Bana Alabed has amassed 359,000 social media followers. With her exceptional use of English and intriciate knowledge of social media, many observers believe Bana is being used a tool to garner support for the Syrian opposition.

7 year-old Bana Alabed has amassed 359,000 social media followers. With her exceptional use of English and intriciate knowledge of social media, many observers believe Bana is being used a tool to garner support for the Syrian opposition. (Photo: Twitter screenshot)

In July 2017, Syrian journalist Khaled Iskef broke the real story on the most famous 7-year-old girl on Twitter, Bana al-Abed, who tweets in perfect English but could barely put a sentence in English together during interviews. Visiting her neighborhood and indeed her home, Iskef revealed that Bana’s father Ghassan was a terrorist and military trainer of the Sawfa Brigade faction; that he was a judge in the terrorist’s Shariah Council in the same Eye Hospital about which western media reported so misleadingly; and that the family lives surrounded by the hub of al-Qaeda headquarters — about which they never spoke.

Although Iskef, whom I met in Aleppo this June, has published a number of videos on his investigations, and willingly replied to my follow-up questions regarding Bana, none of the Western journalists who were so fervently endorsing the Bana narrative has bothered to contact Iskef about his on-the-ground revelations.

Based on his documentation and our follow-up conversations, I wrote:

“Ghassan’s father, Mohammed al-Abed, was a known arms dealer and had a weapons maintenance shop in Sha’ar, servicing light to heavy weapons for terrorist factions. The al-Abed weapons shop was opposite a school-turned-headquarters for al-Nusra.”

Something all of those corporate journalists crying over the Bana stories might have been interested in, no?

In his second video, Iskef revealed that in the exploitation of Bana al-Abed, the girl was made to speak in a video made just meters from the main al-Qaeda headquarters in Aleppo, near which ordinary civilians were forbidden from filming, much less hanging around.

“They are criminals, terrorists”

The owner of small hardware shop in eastern district Bab al-Hadid, The shop owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said he fled life under the rule of Syria's rebels groups, returning only the government restored the rule of law in the area. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

The owner of small hardware shop in eastern district Bab al-Hadid, The shop owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said he fled life under the rule of Syria’s rebels groups, returning only the government restored the rule of law in the area. (Eva Bartlett/MintPress News)

When in the eastern district Bab al-Hadid in June 2017, I interviewed a man in his small hardware shop who spoke of what the West deemed “rebels”:

“They are criminals! They call themselves ‘rebels’, but actually they are all terrorists, with no exceptions. They’re all the same but with different names. ISIS is like Nusra, Nusra are like the FSA, the FSA are like ISIS.”

When armed groups arrived in his area, the man stayed for one month, then left, taking his family to the government-secured area of Hamdaniya, which he described as “one of the most dangerous areas. We were targeted the most with missiles, mortars and Hell Cannons.”

Following the liberation of Aleppo, like so many others, he came home.

“Wherever the army is, there is safety,” he told me. “Life is back, we’re safe again. We used to fear for the safety of our children when they were going to school or going to relatives.”

Down the street from the small shop, in the courtyard outside of a mosque, a group of Aleppo youths were preparing Ramadan meals for the district’s poorest, part of the Saaed Association’s “Break the Hunger” campaign which began in Damascus years ago.

One volunteer explained to me that they chose to cook and serve the food in the Bab al-Hadid district of Aleppo, “an area that was filled with fear and destruction,” to say that there is still life and hope there.

An August 11 press release by the International Organization For Migration (IOM) noted that over 602,000 displaced Syrians had returned home in 2017. The IOM press release reported that “half of all returns in 2016 were to Aleppo Governorate,” with the city of Aleppo receiving the most returnees.

There is still time for the countless corporate media journalists who lied and propagandized to apologize and admit their guilt, or perhaps pretend innocence but at least admit being wrong — even to go to Aleppo anew (or for the first time) and listen to the living witnesses of the events they falsely reported. But they won’t. Those stories are old, and now these same journalists are busy propagating or fabricating new ones. In doing so, they are guilty of some of the worst war propaganda in history.

Part Two will examine the realities of the Madaya and al-Waer occupations and return to security when the “moderate rebels” were evacuated or granted amnesty through the reconciliation process.

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