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Will Trump Agree to the Pentagon’s Permanent War in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria?

If Trump approves expected proposals for the three countries, the US ground combat role in the region will be extended for years to come

The two top national security officials in the Trump administration – Secretary of Defence James Mattis and national security adviser HR McMaster – are trying to secure long-term US ground and air combat roles in the three long-running wars in the greater Middle East – Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. 

Proposals for each of the three countries are still being developed, and there is no consensus, even between Mattis and McMaster, on the details of the plans. They will be submitted to Trump separately, with the plan for Afghanistan coming sometime before a NATO summit in Brussels on 25 May.

But if this power play succeeds in one or more of the three, it could guarantee the extension of permanent US ground combat in the greater Middle East for many years to come – and would represent a culmination of the “generational war” first announced by the George W Bush administration.

‘Open-ended commitment’

It remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump will approve the proposals that Mattis and McMaster have pushed in recent weeks.

Judging from his position during the campaign and his recent remarks, Trump may well baulk at the plans now being pushed by his advisers.

The plans for the three countries now being developed within the Trump administration encompass long-term stationing of troops, access to bases and the authority to wage war in these three countries.

These are the primordial interest of the Pentagon and the US military leadership, and they have pursued those interests more successfully in the Middle East than anywhere else on the globe.

US military officials aren’t talking about “permanent” stationing of troops and bases in these countries, referring instead to the “open-ended commitment” of troops. But they clearly want precisely that in all three.

Shifting timetables

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The George W Bush administration and the Barack Obama administration both denied officially that they sought “permanent bases” in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. But the subtext in both cases told a different story.

A Defense Department official testifying before Congress at the time admitted that the term had no real meaning, because the Pentagon had never defined it officially.

In fact, at the beginning of the negotiations with Iraq on the US military presence in 2008, the US sought access to bases in Iraq without any time limit. But the al-Maliki government rebuffed that demand and the US was forced to agree to withdraw all combat forces in a strict timetable.

Despite efforts by the Pentagon and the military brass, including Gen David Petraeus, to get the Obama administration to renegotiate the deal with the Iraqi government to allow tens of thousands of combat troops to stay in the country, the Iraqis refused US demands for immunity from prosecution in Iraq, and the US had to withdraw all its troops.

Reversing withdrawals

Now the regional context has shifted dramatically in favour of the US military’s ambitions. On one hand, the war against Islamic State (IS) is coming to a climax in both Iraq and Syria, and the Iraq government recognises the need for more US troops to ensure that it can’t rise again; and in Syria, the division of the country into zones of control that depend on foreign powers is an overriding fact.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, growing Taliban power and control across the country is being cited as the rationale for a proposal to reverse the withdrawals of US and NATO troops in recent years and to allow a limited return by US forces to combat.

Now that Islamic State forces are being pushed out of Mosul, both the Trump administration and the Iraqi government are beginning to focus on how to ensure that the terrorists do not return.

They are now negotiating on an agreement that would station US forces in Iraq indefinitely. And the troops would not be there merely to defeat IS, but to carry out what the war bureaucracies call “stabilisation operations” – getting involved in building local political and military institutions.

Plans for Syria

The question of what to do about Syria is apparently the subject of in-fighting between Mattis and the Pentagon, on one hand, and McMaster, on the other.

The initial plan for the defeat of IS in Syria, submitted to Trump in February, called for an increase in the size of US ground forces beyond the present level of 1,000.

But a group of officers who have worked closely with Gen Petraeus on Iraq and Afghanistan, which includes McMaster, has been pushing a much more ambitious plan, in which thousands – and perhaps many thousands – of US ground troops would lead a coalition of Sunni Arab troops to destroy Islamic State’s forces in Syria rather than relying on Kurdish forces to do the job.

Both the original plan and the one advanced by McMaster for Syria would also involve US troops in “stabilisation operations” for many years across a wide expanse of eastern Syria that would require large numbers of troops for many years.

Both in its reliance on Sunni Arab allies and in its envisioning a large US military zone of control in Syria, the plan bears striking resemblance to the one developed for Hillary Clinton by the Center for New American Security when she was viewed as the president-in-waiting.

Reversing Obama’s Afghanistan policy

The Pentagon proposal on Afghanistan, which had not been formally submitted by Mattis as of this week, calls for increasing the present level of 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan by 1,500 to 5,000, both to train Afghan forces and to fight the Taliban. It also calls for resuming full-scale US air strikes against the Taliban. Both policy shifts would reverse decisions made by the Obama administration.

Five past US commanders in Afghanistan, including Petraeus, have publicly called for the US to commit itself to an “enduring partnership” with the Afghan government. That means, according to their joint statement, ending the practice of periodic reassessments as the basis for determining whether the US should continue to be involved militarily in the war, an idea that is likely part of the package now being formulated by Mattis.

But the problem with such a plan is that the US military and its Afghan client government have now been trying to suppress the Taliban for 16 years. The longer they have tried, the stronger the Taliban have become. The US and NATO were not able to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with the government even when they had more than 100,000 troops in the country.

Committing the US to endless war in Afghanistan would only reinforce the corruption, abuses of power and culture of impunity that Gen Stanley A McChystal acknowledged in 2009 were the primary obstacles to reducing support for the Taliban. Only the knowledge that the US will let the Afghans themselves determine the country’s future could shock the political elite sufficiently to change its ways.

Most political and national security elites as well as the corporate news media support the push to formalise a permanent US presence in Afghanistan, despite the fact that national polls indicate that it is the most unpopular war in US history with 80 percent of those surveyed in a CNN poll in 2013 opposing its continuation.

Beltway brawl?

There are signs that Trump may reject at least the plans for Afghanistan and Syria. Only days after his approval of the missile strike on a Russian-Syrian airbase, Trump told Fox Business in an interview,

“We’re not going into Syria.”

And White House spokesman Sean Spicer seemed to suggest this week that Trump was not enamoured with the plan to spend many more years trying to “transform” Afghanistan.

“There is a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS,” Spicer said

Despite Trump’s love for the military brass, the process of deciding on the series of new initiatives aimed at committing the US more deeply to three wars in the greater Middle East is bound to pose conflicts between the political interests of the White House and the institutional interests of the Pentagon and military leaders.

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Mosul Hasn’t Been Fully Liberated ‘Because of Washington’

Soldiers with the Iraqi special forces look out on Islamic State group positions from a rooftop in west Mosul as fighting continues, Monday, April 24, 2017

The United States has deliberately not provided advanced precision weapons to Iraqi security forces, limiting Baghdad’s ability to fully liberate Mosul and fight Daesh, defense analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi told Sputnik Persian.

“Sixty-two countries, including the United States, are part of the international coalition in Iraq. The US has enormous military capabilities and the most cutting-edge weapons. However, airstrikes conducted by foreign planes have not had a crushing effect on Daesh,” he said, adding that the counterterrorism operation in Iraq has been used to pressure politicians in other countries.

Washington’s decision to refrain from providing advanced armaments to Baghdad has slowed down the army’s advance against terrorists, the analyst said, adding that Iraqi security forces have lost their advantage as a result. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has given the green light to arms deliveries to the Syrian Kurds in their efforts to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital.Brigadier General Yahii Rasul named Daesh’s fierce resistance as the main reason why Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, has not been fully liberated. The city has symbolic value for the militant group since it was in the Great Nuri Mosque that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the rise of Daesh’s caliphate, he added.

“Terrorist attacks in different parts of Iraq, including the attack on Kurdish-administered areas near Kirkuk, have one goal. They are aimed at boosting morale of the militants who are suffering defeat after defeat in Mosul and elsewhere,” he said.

Brigadier General Yahii Rasul further mentioned that pushing Daesh out of Mosul is a priority for Iraqi security forces. Other towns and settlements still held by Daesh will be liberated once Mosul is under Baghdad’s full control.

Ahmad al-Sharifi also criticized Ankara for its activities in Iraq.Turkey “has prevented the Iraqi Armed Forces from entering Tal Afar and Hawija,” he said. Both Iraqi towns have been under Daesh occupation, with the latter often used for mass executions.

“Iraq is currently engaged in the war against terrorists. It does not have an opportunity to settle disputes with neighbors, whatever the cost,” the analyst added, referring to Turkey. “At the same time you need to understand that the US will never go against Turkey, its strategic partner.”

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ISIS launches 2nd chemical attack in Mosul in 2 days, injures 6 Iraqi soldiers

Image result for ISIS chemical attack IN IRAQ CARTOON

At least six Iraqi soldiers have suffered inhalation problems following a chemical attack launched by Islamic State on Sunday. This is the second time in two days that the terrorists have used chemical agents to push back government forces in Mosul.

The chemical attack on Sunday occurred in a recently-liberated area of Mosul, where the Federal Police and Rapid Response forces are advancing towards the old city which is still roaming with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists.

The spokesman for the Joint Operation Command in Iraq, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told the Associated Press that six soldiers suffered “breathing problems” from the attack.

The victims are now being treated at a field clinic, the spokesman added. An investigation has been launched to determine what type of gas was used.

Meanwhile, security sources told the AhlulBayt News Agency that missiles were loaded with chlorine and were fired at the al-Abar neighborhood.

This is the second time in as many days that IS terrorists have used chemical weapons in an effort to stop government troops’ advance on the old city.

“The Daesh terrorist gangs tried to block the advance of our forces by using shells filled with toxic chemical material, but the effect was limited,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement, referring to Saturday’s incident on their Facebook page.

The statement added that the attack on Saturday did not cause any deaths, only “limited injuries” to an unspecified number of troops who were immediately treated after being evacuated from the area.

Officers in Iraq’s Federal Police told Reuters that the chemical weapons agents were fired from the Urouba and Bab Jadid districts on Saturday.

Some 400,000 people are trapped in the area controlled by extremists, as Iraqi forces make slow progress in liberating the rest of the city from the jihadists.

The initial operation to liberate Iraq’s second largest city began exactly six months ago on October 16.

After securing the eastern part of the megalopolis earlier this year, fighting in heavily populated west Mosul was expected to turn into a tough challenge for Iraqi forces due to the city’s narrow alleyways and streets which does not allow for armored vehicles and tanks to go through.

While coalition forces have been reporting on their military advances, civilian casualties have been piling up – both at the hands of terrorists and sometimes as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the US-led coalition.

International human rights groups, as well as the Russian Foreign Ministry have warned that the humanitarian plight in war-torn Mosul has “escalated to the limit.” Iraq’s president has described it as a “full-on catastrophe.”

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No “Problems” with Export of Iraqi – Kurdish Oil via Turkey and Drawing New Borders in the Middle East

Amidst intense discussions about a referendum on the independence of northern Iraq’s predominantly Kurdish region, the Kurdistan Ministry of Natural Resources notes that there were no problems with the export of oil via Turkey. The statement comes against the backdrop of a fundamental reorganization of the Middle East.

The Ministry dismissed reports according to which there were political issues that had prompted a halt in the export of oil from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region via Turkey. A source at the Ministry told reporters that Turkey had informed the Kurdistan regional Government (KRG) that it was going to conduct planned maintenance work on the pipeline that carries the Kurdish oil exports to Turkey’s Ceyhan port.

The routine maintenance was reportedly planned three months ago, and was originally was due in March, but the MNR and the state-owned Turkish company, Botas, that operates the Ceyhan pipeline agreed to “delay” the maintenance to April 10.


The Ministry noted that exports may resume as early as Wednesday and that the scheduled work is expected to take 2 – 3 days. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq stated on Monday that the NOC, at the same time, is taking the opportunity to repair a technical problem with the Kirkuk pipeline to minimize the disruption of the flow. Between 550,000 to 600,000 barrels of oil are exported through the Kurdistan Region-Ceyhan port in Turkey daily.

The oil business between the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and the Turkish AKP government prompted a great deal of controversy in recent years. Syrian oil stolen by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province has been “laundered” via Iraqi Kurdistan before it was pumped to Turkey to finally make it to the international markets via Ceyhan.

Antidote against propaganda-induced ignorance

This financial support of the Islamic State was boosted when the European Union, in 2013, lifted its sanctions against the import of Syrian oil, provided that it comes from “rebel-held territories”.

Ironically, in September 2014 the EU Ambassador to Iraq chastised Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey for financing the so-called Islamic State by facilitating their oil export. Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz described such rumors as lies. Nobody appears to recall that the EU lifted its embargo on the import of Syrian oil from rebel-held territories on April 22, 2013.

EU’s Ambassador to Iraq and former European Parliament MP for the Czech Republic, Jana Hybášková, addressed the EU’s foreign affairs committee, chastising Iran, the Kurdish administrated region of Iraq and Turkey for “inadvertently” supporting the so-called Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS/ISIL/IS by facilitating the “terrorists” export of oil for a net revenue of $3 million per day.

Hybášková demanded that the European Union “exert pressure on Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey in order to stop this trade”, adding that this wasn’t the first time that Turkey had been accused of turning a blind eye to the political situation in Iraq for financial gain.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, for his part, denounced allegations about Turkey’s involvement in financing the Islamic State, claiming that such statements aimed at creating controversy about Turkey’s politics.

Yildiz did, however, admit that Turkey is transporting oil from the Kurdish administrated region of Northern Iraq via Turkey, while the Kurdish government described Turkey as reliable partner in that regard. In fact, the export of northern Iraqi oil via Turkey has almost doubled in 2014 and increased to 400,000 barrels per day.

EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana_Hybášková. CC-BY-3.0-WikiNeither EU Ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybášková, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, nor any of the mainstream media in EU and NATO member states, however, appear to recall that the EU legalized the import of Syrian oil from so-called “rebel-held territories”.

On Monday, April 22, 2013, the 27 EU foreign ministers decided to lift the EU’s embargo on the import of Syrian oil from rebel-held territories to support more economic support for the so-called Syrian opposition.

The then UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters that the move aimed at laying the legal groundwork to get the flow of crude oil going as rapidly as possible reported Yahoo News, quoting Hague as saying:

“The security situation is so difficult that much of this will be difficult to do, but it is important for us to send the signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible.”

The then German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle commented on the lift of the oil-import ban:

“We wish for good economic development in the areas controlled by the opposition, therefore we lift the sanctions which hinder the moderate opposition forces work.”

The irony of EU Ambassador Hybášková, chastising Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey was palatable.

Neither the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, nor the guardian mention the EU’s lifting of the oil-import ban in 2013 in relation to the EU Ambassador’s 2014 criticism of Iraq, Turkey and “Kurdistan”.

Hague’s words about “helping in all ways possible” however, were indeed ominous in more than one sense.

Not to be fooled twice ? Understand the timeline!

  • April 22, 2013, the EU lifts the ban on the import of Syrian oil from rebel-held territories”.
  • nsnbc warned since June 2013 that a major chemical weapons attack was planned to serve as pretext for a military intervention against Syria.
  • August 20, 2013, nsnbc reports that a major offensive in the predominantly Kurdish and oil-rich eastern regions of Syria had begun in the attempt to conquer the Syrian oil fields in the Deir Ez Zour province and the city of Deir Ez-Zor and reiterated the risk of an imminent chemical weapons attack.
  • August 21, 2013, Liwa-al-Islam, under the command of the Saudi Arabian intelligence asset and chemical weapons specialist Zahran Alloush, and under direct U.S. orders, launched the chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb East Ghouta.
  • August 30, 2013, the BBC had to report that British PM David Cameron’s motion to join a U.S.-led military intervention against Syria had been rejected by the UK’s parliament.
  • On August 31, U.S. President Obama had to follow suit saying  that he had decided to consult with Congress first, reported the guardian.
  • November  22 – 23, 2013, the Atlantic Council convened for an Energy Summit in Turkey’s capital Ankara. Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe stated before the meeting, that decisions which were about to be made in the nearest future would have a historical bearing on Iran, Turkey, the U.S. and the region, which were comparable to the historic events in 1918 and 1945.
  • June 22, 2014, nsnbc international published a report after a meeting with a person from within the inner circle around the former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri. The whistleblower presented evidence in support of his statement that the invasion of Iraq by ISIL had originally been planned for 2013, but that it was called off when the UK parliament voted against bombing Syria.
  • The final green light for the invasion of Iraq via ISIL/ISIS or IS was given on the sidelines of the Atlantic Council’s Energy Summit in Ankara, in November 2013, he said, adding that the campaign was managed via the U.S. Embassy in Turkey and that U.S. Ambassador Ricciardone played a central role in the management of the war waged with ISIS as mercenary force that both served as friend and foe.

Note that nsnbc, already in October 2013 reported that the agenda of the Atlantic Council’s Energy Summit was the distribution of Syrian and Northern Iraqi oil to the international markets and the “Balkanization” of Iraq. EU Ambassador Jana Hybášková’s chastising of Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey has, as all statements in politics a function. The question is what function her statement has, especially in the light of the given, although omitted facts.

Watching recent history repeat itself

Alleged Chemical Weapons victim_Idlib_Syria_Apr 2017

The most noteworthy recent developments are the push of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces towards Raqqa and U.S. attempts to disrupt the Syrian Arab Army’s attempt to reassert control in Deir Ez-Zor;

The U.S. cruise missile attack following an alleged chemical weapons attack;

Sustained U.S. support for the establishment of an independent Kurdish State in Northern Iraq, thus weakening the role of the federal government in Baghdad and of Iran as a regional actor;

Close U.S. cooperation with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP); The KDP’s support of KDP-I militants who have increased their armed struggle against Iranian Revolutionary Guard units in northwestern Iran since the summer of 2016.

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US to balkanize Syria under Kurdish pretext


Image result for Kurdish pretext CARTOON


By Marwa Osman 

As early as 2013, Western powers have been rooting for the balkanization of Syria as the best possible outcome of the war tearing apart the country since 2011.

Since the war against Syria is significant in this period of imperialism, watching how it was led by the US, imperialist proxies and their so-called allies, one can fully understand that the war against the Syrian Arab Republic has been decades in the making.

Throughout history, the imperialist powers have been facilitating and empowering the most intolerant, bigoted ideologies and groups in the region starting from the Balfour Declaration, passing through the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and ending in the invasions of Iraq and Libya before making their way into Syria. The latest group to gain the full support of the US on the ground in Syria is the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces (People’s Protection Units).

The US threw its lot in with the Kurds in Iraq at first as it supposedly tried to find partners who reportedly pose a credible threat to ISIS. Thus, their pick of the Peshmerga Kurdish group came as a result of mutual interest in the region. The Kurds wanted to establish their own autonomous state in the region and the US wanted to reenter Iraq under the pretext of helping the Kurds fight ISIS.

Kurdish Political Ambitions

The first direct coordination between US forces and Kurdish groups was between October 2014 and January 2015 in the battle of Kobani, inside Syria, where Kurdish forces reached out to the Americans after ISIS forces surrounded them. The US then hit the terrorist group’s targets in the area with airstrikes, while the Kurdish forces on the ground assaulted ISIS positions that ended up inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists and drove them out of the area.

This battle represented an historic opportunity for both political wings of the Kurdish movement, the Iraqi Peshmerga and the Syrian PYD (The Democratic Union Party) to realize their dream of independence. The PYD’s armed forces known as the YPG (People’s Protection Units), which has a fighting force of 50,000 fighters, became determined to take control of the vast majority of Syria’s border with Turkey fully backed by US airpower.

The PYD then stated that its priority focused on uniting traditional Kurdish areas of Syria (known as Rojava), extending from Afrin to the Tigris river into one attached land mass.

That statement took me back to the words of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 2013 when he commented on the Syrian situation, expressing his preference for a broken-up and balkanized Syria to emerge out of the current so-called “Assad-controlled unity.” The man said he supports the partitioning of a unified state.

Oldest plan in the book: Balkanize Syria

The US’s vision of the future Syrian map was detailed by Kissinger during a presentation at the Ford School Syria with pretty much a distorted history lesson. He stated that Syria was not a historic state “It was created in its present shape in 1920, and it was given that shape to facilitate the control of the country by France, which happened to be after a UN mandate,” he said.

Kissinger then claimed that the current Syria was conceived as a more or less artificial national unity consisting of different tribes and ethnic groups.

This same theory was also presented by the Israeli Oded Yinon plan which is an article published in February 1982 in the Hebrew journal Kivunim (“Directions”) entitled A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s. This plan is an early example of characterizing political projects in the Middle East in terms of a logic of sectarian divisions and the dissolution of all the existing Arab states.

Hence, supporting the partitioning of Syria began with the US and Israel’s full support of the so- called “Rojava Project”.

US helping Kurds put plan into effect

The US’ support for the YPG has gained public sympathy in the West viewing the Kurds as the most forward-thinking “rebel” group in the battle against extremism. The same cannot be said for the countless factions receiving aid from regional backers, many of which have cooperated with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front (Ahrar Al Sham).

However, you would have thought that the PYD’s connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a US, EU, and Turkey-designated terror group – are problematic. Despite this fact, the US appears to be committed to maintaining its air support for the Syrian Kurds, both near the Euphrates in the west and the outskirts of Raqqa in the south.

Thus since the US favors the balkanization of Syria, it is now working openly to empower Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. So by choosing sides, the US may be signaling that it is preparing for all contingencies, including the fracturing of Syria and the complete collapse of the state in Raqqa.

During the past couple of weeks, Raqqa, ISIS’s main urban base of operations in Syria, is the focus of an ongoing campaign by the newly formed US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is a coalition of Kurdish (YPG), Sunni Arab (FSA-Free Syrian Army) and Syriac Christian fighters, but is completely dominated by its Kurdish element (YPG).

The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, already controls swathes of northern Syria as well, where Kurdish groups and their allies are working to establish a decentralized system of government in areas captured from ISIS. This political project is causing deep alarm in Damascus, which sees the YPG and its political affiliate, the PYD, as a potential threat with their current loud and clear alliance with the US.

According to Reuters, Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, stated that the northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is freed from ISIS.

As per these comments, I spoke with Fares Shehabi, a member of the Syrian Parliament for Aleppo and Chairman of the Syrian Federation of Industry who firmly guaranteed that “the statement of Saleh Muslim is irresponsible since the Syrian government will not recognize any presence in Raqqa or any other province other than the legitimate Syrian state represented by the Syrian Arab Army.”

As I spoke with Mr. Shehabi, a heavy US-backed operation near Raqqa was blocking any advance by the Syrian Arab Army from the west in preparation for the balkanization process. Thus I asked Mr. Shehabi where the Syrian government stands from this process as seemingly the Kurdish forces are fully under the control of the US. The Syrian MP responded resolutely that “no balkanization of Syria will be allowed” stating that “the Kurdish Forces do not have the field power to enter or stay in Raqqa because that would cause an unwanted and unrealistic change in the fabric of the city.” Mr. Shehabi then explained that any sort of a Kurdish uncalculated incursion whether from YPG or SDF on the city of Raqqa would backfire since their move will not be accepted or tolerated in the city.

In March, the SDF announced it had captured the Tabqa air base, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa, with direct US substantial air and ground support provided.

The Telegraph reported on that mission that five helicopters, supported by five fighter jets, dropped dozens of SDF fighters near the northern town of Shurfa without stating whether or not US soldiers accompanied them.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army’s main ally Russia has always been aware of US plans to pull Raqqa into a “decentralized” government, which would be the first step toward balkanizing Syria. As early as October of 2014, Sputnik reported:

The Pentagon’s reliance on Kurds to liberate Raqqa may indicate that the US is actually ready to support the federalization of Syria, said Alexander Babakov, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the upper house of the Russian parliament.

“It would be hard to imagine that American plans on Raqqa are aimed only to bring peace to Syria. It cannot be ruled out by using Kurds to liberate the city from Daesh the US wants to support the federalization of Syria, including establishing an autonomous Kurdish region,” Babakov told the Russian newspaper Izvestia.

Therefore, since the United States and Israel have never denied their aspiration to see Syria divided up into small, vulnerable and easily manipulated territories, and since the Kurds have provided the US and Israel with the pretext to do so, it remains to be seen how the Syrian government and its allies will respond. Now that a foreign army and its proxies are blocking the Syrian Army from liberating its own country from terrorists, we wait to see if balkanization is next.

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The Idea of ISIS Will Outlive the Caliphate

An Iraqi soldier inspects a recently-discovered train tunnel, adorned with an Islamic State group flag.

Despite claiming responsibility for attacks like the one in London, the group is dying. It will retain the ability to inspire.

The Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the London attack that left three people and the attacker dead on Wednesday. “It is believed that this attacker acted alone,” Prime Minister Theresa May said, adding that the British-born man, already known to authorities, was inspired by “Islamist terrorism.” For its part, ISIS called the attacker its “soldier” in a report published by its Amaq news agency in both Arabic and English. The caliphate, it seemed, was eager to signal to a broad audience that it was as busy and effective as ever. The facts, however, tell a different story.

Back in 2014, God was on the side of ISIS—or so it appeared, and so ISIS claimed, with some plausibility. The speed and scope of its ascent was extraordinary. In mid-June it seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and in the following months it annexed a Britain-sized swath of territory crossing Syria and Iraq. In his historic June 29 statement, in which he declared the restoration of the caliphate and announced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its leader or caliph, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said:

It is a hope that flutters in the heart of every mujahid [one who does jihad] and muwahhid [monotheist]. … It is the caliphate—the abandoned obligation of the era. … The sun of jihad has risen. The glad tidings of good are shining. Triumph looms on the horizon. The signs of victory have appeared. … Now the caliphate has returned. … Now the dream has become a reality.

Al-Adnani also warned ISIS fighters that they would face “tests and quakes,” and the next few months proved him right about that. But he couldn’t have been more wrong about the “triumph” part.

Since August 2014, when it was at the height of its powers, ISIS has lost about 45 percent of its territory in Syria and 20 percent in Iraq—and with it a vast source of wealth generation. According to research conducted by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), ISIS’s “annual revenue has more than halved: from up to $1.9b in 2014 to a maximum of $870m in 2016.” At the same time, the flow of foreign fighters to the caliphate has plummeted, from a peak of 2,000 crossing the Turkey-Syria border each month in late 2014 to as few as 50 each month nowadays. The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition has reportedly killed more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including al-Adnani, who was targeted in a U.S. drone strike last August, and other notable leadership figures. And last month Iraqi government forces took complete control of Eastern Mosul.

More than two and a half years after al-Adnani’s statement, “the sun” of ISIS’s jihad would appear to be setting. Far from becoming an entrenched reality, ISIS’s self-declared caliphate is desperately hanging on for survival and will in all probability return to the dreamscape from which it came. God, it turns out, has switched sides and deserted ISIS—or so it seems, and so ISIS’s enemies can claim, with some plausibility.

It’s far too early to be writing ISIS’s obituary, but it seems likely that the group will lose its hold on Mosul and its de-facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria by the end of the year, although much will depend on what role the United States takes on in coalition efforts to defeat the group.

What will happen to ISIS—both as a physical entity and as an idea—once it is removed from its territorial bases in Iraq and Syria?

The expert consensus seems to be that ISIS as a physical entity will retreat into the desert, where it will regroup in some form or other, just as it did after the U.S.-led surge in Iraq in 2007. Whether such a retreat will spell the end of ISIS in the long term will depend crucially on the political situation in Iraq. If nothing is done to change the power balance between Sunnis and Shia, and if Sunni civilians are massacred out of misplaced revenge for ISIS atrocities, there is every possibility that ISIS will again return and resume a footing among Sunni communities. As Hassan Hassan put it in The New York Times, if there is no Sunni group in Iraq that can “fill the void left by the Islamic State,” then ISIS “will once again emerge from the desert.”

A return to the desert will almost certainly make it harder for ISIS to mount large-scale attacks on Western targets, although it may intensify the desire to mount such attacks as a way of signaling continuing relevance and resilience to the wider jihadist community. And although surviving foreign fighters may seek to return to their countries of origin to launch attacks there, incidents of remotely guided lone wolf attacks in the West may actually decline, given the diminishing symbolic rewards a degraded ISIS is able to provide distant would-be-martyrs.

Loss of territory will also, as Georgetown’s Bruce Hoffman recently observed, greatly reduce ISIS’s global appeal, making it difficult to recruit and retain supporters. Indeed, it may even, as political scientist Mara Revkin suggested in The New York Times, “trigger a credibility crisis from which the group may never fully recover,” given that ISIS’s self-avowed status as the world’s preeminent jihadist actor is based almost entirely on its control of territory and ability to govern.

The other point of consensus is that the destruction of the caliphate will not spell the end of the caliphate as an idea; it will live on not only in the minds of surviving ISIS members, but also as a free-floating ideological meme in contemporary global culture. ISIS analyst Charlie Winter, for example, argued that one way in which this meme will be preserved is through ISIS’s massive digital propaganda archive. “The caliphate idea will exist long beyond its proto-state,” Winter wrote.

No doubt there will be some ISIS foreign fighters for whom territorial defeat of the caliphate will spark a spiritual crisis, prompting disaffection from ISIS and disillusionment with its animating ideology.

But for many others, especially those true believers whose core identity is intricately and indisociably bound up with ISIS, it will spark disaffection from neither the group nor its animating ideology. For these diehards, ISIS will remain the divinely ordained real deal whose setbacks are merely temporary and whose ultimate triumph is guaranteed. It’s not that God has abandoned the mujahids in favor of the infidel; rather, it’s that trial and torment are inevitable on the path of jihad, and must be endured. Even if territorial defeat does occur, it will not be a “true” defeat, as al-Adnani explained in his last recorded massage in May 2016: “Whoever thinks that we fight to protect some land or some authority, or that victory is measured thereby, has strayed far from the truth. … O America, would we be defeated and you be victorious if you were to take Mosul or Sirte or Raqqa? … Certainly not! We would be defeated and you victorious only if you were able to remove the Quran from Muslims’ hearts.”

For others still, territorial defeat of the caliphate may prompt defection from ISIS, but not from its worldview. In John Horgan’s research on former terrorists, many belonged to this category: “disengaged” but not “de-radicalized.” “Often,” Horgan wrote, “there can be physical disengagement from terrorist activity, but no concomitant change or reduction in ideological support.”

There is some evidence to suggest that many former ISIS members are disengaged but ideologically committed. “Many of the ISIS deserters I have met in Turkey,” Revkin wrote, “still identify as jihadists who want to establish some form of shariah-based governance, but they became disillusioned with ISIS when they saw that the group was failing to follow its own strict rules.”

report by the ICSR echoed this: Among a sample of 58 ISIS defectors, only a few had renounced their “commitment to the jihadist ideology,” whereas “for the majority, the critique of [ISIS] continued to be framed in jihadist and/or sectarian terms.” Terrorism researcher Amarnath Amarasingam categorized ex-ISIS foreign fighters as “disengaged returnees,” writing, “While they may rescind their allegiance to a particular militant group, they remain committed to the broader cause of jihadism.” According to German authorities, 48 percent of German fighters linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda returning from Syria and Iraq (274 in total) were still devoted to the cause of jihad.

The history of Western supporters of Soviet communism testifies to a similar phenomenon: Although many renounced their membership in the Communist Party and acknowledged its failures, they did not renounce their commitment to the ideals of communism. In The End of Commitment, the sociologist Paul Hollander called these unrepentant comrades “the unwavering,” those whose “deep attachment to ends and ideals persists in the face of disillusioning experiences.” By way of example, he cited the British social historian E. P. Thompson, who, in a 100-page “Open Letter” to the Polish philosopher and ex-communist Leszek Kołakowski, expressed his allegiance not to the Communist Party, “but to the Communist movement in its humanist potential.”

Hollander also discussed the case of British historian Eric Hobsbawm, who, though he recognized the flaws inherent in existing communist societies, remained resolute in his commitment to the ends of communism. “The dream of the October Revolution,” Hobsbawm wrote in his 2002 autobiography Interesting Times, “is still there somewhere inside me…”

For Hollander, such formidable intransigence, as exemplified by Thompson, Hobsbawm, and a host of other left-leaning intellectuals, is a testament to the power of utopian ideas—and their extraordinary capacity to inspire and retain allegiance even after history has decisively repudiated them.

This intransigence is also a testament to the need to believe—or rather, as the English writer Stephen Spender put it in his contribution to The God that Failed (a classic volume of essays by famous ex-communists), “the unwillingness of people to believe what they did not want to believe, to see what they do not want to see.”

History will assuredly repudiate ISIS, just as it has decisively repudiated the utopian experiment of Soviet communism. But the idea of the caliphate will remain, despite its tarnished association with ISIS. Just as unrepentant communists said of their utopian vision of a classless society, today’s caliphate supporters can say: The caliphate never failed—it was never tried.

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Stop the US-led massive terrorist attacks in Iraq and Syria


People in every country must oppose the terror campaign the US is leading in Iraq and Syria. America seeks to maintain its intolerable political and economic domination of the region, which created the conditions for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the first place. The lives of the people of Iraq and Syria mean nothing.

The US and its coalition have been carrying out stepped-up terror attacks in Iraq and Syria, killing almost 1,000 civilians since the beginning of March, according to the UK-based monitoring group

Although not all of these reported deaths have been verified, in many cases the organization cross-checked eyewitness accounts and lists victims by name and age. These children and adults are real individuals whose lives were cut short by murderers acting for political purposes – just like the four people killed in the attack in London’s Westminster district that British authorities are maliciously using to justify more terrorism by the UK as part of the US-led coalition.

The American authorities justify these killings of Arab civilians on the grounds of the necessities of war. But they are the direct result of the coalition’s reactionary aims in this war, which are not to liberate the people but to thwart a reactionary threat to Western domination, including by punishing and slaughtering masses of people.

Significantly, these mass killings are also being documented by organizations like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the White Helmets rescue workers, whose previous reports on the killing of civilians by Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes were used by the US and other Western governments to accuse these rivals of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  However, until 24 March, when even the US-dependent Iraqi government called for a pause in this murderous drone and bomber assault, Washington denied that these massive civilian causalities had even occurred, and it is still refusing to change its tactics.

This most recent wave of mass murders first came to light in the Western media with a US air attack on the village of al-Jina in Syria’s western Aleppo province on 16 March. At least 46 people were killed when airstrikes hit a crowded mosque during religious classes. According to the Washington Post, two US drones fired six Hellfire missiles and then dropped a 226 kilo bomb. Photos showed the clearly identifiable fragments of the US missiles and the destroyed building. On 22 March, airstrikes hit a bakery and an adjacent market in al-Thani in Raqqa province, killing dozens of bakery workers and other civilians.

Then in what has been described as the worst airstrike on civilians since the US pounded Iraq during its 2003 invasion, US-led coalition planes hit the Mosul neighbourhood of al Jadida, where US-led forces had recently driven out the Islamic fundamentalist Daesh (ISIL). As of a week after the 17 March attack, more than 200 bodies have been pulled out from under the rubble, and the toll is expected to be much higher. Numerous bodies were found in a large basement where people were taking shelter from the fighting. Many others are thought to be buried under other buildings nearby.

The unspoken and sometimes explicit rationalization for this loss of life on such a large scale is that    Daesh cannot be defeated without it. On an immediate level, this is a sick argument whose implicit assumption is that Arab lives are worth less than those of people who look like “us” – people in the Western countries who are told that they must support their imperialist rulers who “keep them safe”.  What this argument also conceals is that wars are defined and conducted according to their political aims – and the unacceptable massive civilian deaths in this war flow from the reactionary aims on both sides.

Daesh’s project for a religious dictatorship in the service of old and new exploiters who feel thwarted by the present Western-dominated status quo requires treating not only people in the Western countries but also in the Middle Eastern countries they seek to rule as nothing more than cattle to be slaughtered. Its project runs counter to the basic interests of the masses of people, and it cannot ultimately rely on their conscious, voluntary support for their cause. Their shooting of people trying to flee areas under US-led attack, like the use of civilians as human shields and other tactics that disdain civilian lives, are dictated by their political and ideological aims.

This is no less true of the US-led coalition fighting against Daesh. The US, above all, seeks to maintain its intolerable political and economic domination of the region, which created the conditions for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the first place. The lives of the people of Iraq and Syria mean nothing to the US because the goals of the American project do not include the safety of these or any other peoples, let alone their well-being and emancipation from national humiliation and enforced backwardness.

This is true not only strategically but even in very specific, tactical ways. The US has put together an unstable coalition whose members are contending with each other and even with the US for a bigger role in running the region’s peoples, even as they often do the US’s dirty work. Despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mosul, for example, none of this coalition envision tactics to seriously avoid civilian deaths, which is supposed to be a prerequisite of war fighting according to the international rules of war. These rules are at most occasionally paid lip service to try to distinguish the pro-Western forces from Daesh. At the same time, a major reason why the US is stepping up its air assaults in Iraq and Syria has to do with its political aims and the necessities that flow from that. The US is facing a complex political landscape where it needs support from both Turkey and Kurds targeted by the Turkish regime, for instance, not to mention forces who look to the same Iranian Islamic Republic that the US also considers an obstacle to its interests, along with uneasy and unstable alignments with Russia and Turkey. In this context, the further unleashing of air power is a means to assert US control of the battlefield without sending in hundreds of thousands of US troops again, even though its troop numbers are increasing.

Whatever the immediate military results achieved by the US and its allies in Mosul and Raqqa, it is very likely that this situation will lead to more and not less jihadi Islamism. After all, Sunni fundamentalist Daesh arose out of US aggression and other crimes in Iraq: the extreme human cost of the Iran-Iraq war fuelled by the US, the death of hundreds of thousands of children and others as a result of the sanctions meant to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, and then the US invasion itself and the ensuing occupation.

During the occupation and since, the US cynically backed and armed Shia and Sunni forces to wage cleansing wars against each other, resulting now in US-backed Shia domination of Baghdad and the Iraqi government. In addition to the political consequences of the actions of the US and its allies in Iraq and Syria, including the targeting the West’s more secular opponents, these latest atrocities have also exposed the hypocrisy and real content of the Western values in whose name they were committed. Reactionary Islamists then seize on this to falsely claim that their ideology and social goals are the only alternative.

Under the Obama regime, the US stepped up its war crimes from the air in Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is happening now, under Trump, is what was to be expected from a man whose campaign promises included removing any restrictions on airstrikes and “killing their [‘terrorists’] families”. Yet some among the imperialists and their advisers are aware that these attacks on civilians will strengthen the appeal of the Islamists and can produce results counter to US and Western interests, as can be seen in a recent report from the International Crisis Group. Still, they have no effective hand to play other than using their military might to inflict mass terror to demonstrate their ability to impose collective punishment on whole populations.

What’s involved here is more than a single campaign or even one war. This is the dynamic Bob Avakian has called “the two outmodeds”: on “the one hand, imperialism, and on the other hand, reactionary Islamic fundamentalist Jihadism – and the way these two forces actually do reinforce each other, even while opposing each other, with the very negative effect this exerts in the world. This is a situation where the more the imperialists do what they do, the more they create fertile

People in every country must oppose the terror campaign the US is leading in Iraq and Syria to counter and defeat its rival exploiters and oppressors, and the crimes of all sides against the people. This needs to be linked to building struggle for revolution in both the imperialist countries and the countries they oppress, which is the only way this dynamic can be broken and humanity freed from this awful situation.

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Islamic State militants are kidnapping thousands of people to use as human shields

Islamic State militants have rounded up thousands of villagers at gunpoint to use as human shields as they retreat toward their stronghold of Mosul, the latest brutal war tactic inflicted on civilians in areas the group controls.

Military officials and some who escaped said that the vast majority of people in more than half a dozen villages were forced to walk north toward the city as the army advanced from the south, and that those who refused were shot. Some villagers said they ran and hid in the desert to avoid being captured, sleeping out in the open for days. Others said they were taken but later managed to flee.

Villagers also described mass executions of former policemen and army officers as the militants become increasingly paranoid about spies and collaborators.

The kidnappings and killings compound fears about the plight of civilians as Iraqi forces advance toward the northern city of Mosul, a prize the militants don’t appear ready to give up without a hard fight. Humanitarian organizations have said they have grave concerns that civilians are at risk of being caught in crossfire, trapped between fighting or used as human shields.

Holding civilian populations hostage is among the tactics the militants use to waylay advancing forces and complicate the U.S.-led airstrikes that support them. They also have set fire to oil wells and a sulfur plant south of the city, sending noxious fumes over hundreds of miles.

What you need to know about the battle for Mosul

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The complex military battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State has begun. Here is what you need to know about the ancient Iraqi city. (Ishaan Tharoor, Kareem Fahim, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Before launching the offensive for Mosul last week, Iraqi officials estimated that as many as 1.8 million residents were still in the city, with expectations of an exodus as forces advanced. But residents of Tulul al-Nasir, a gray, cinder-block settlement about 25 miles south of the city, said they were forced to flee the other way.

“They told us on the loudspeakers that whoever stays will be killed,” said Mohammed Ali, 45. They were ordered by the militants to walk about 15 miles north to Hamam al-Ali, a larger village that is still under Islamic State control.

As he spoke, men crowded around him to list their family members who are missing. Some said dozens had been taken, with families divided in the confusion.

More than 90 percent of the village’s 5,000 residents were kidnapped, said Iraqi army Col. Faisal Ali Abdellatif.

“When they retreat from every village, they take the civilians with them to use as human shields,” he said.

At her house in Tulul al-Nasir, Bushra Hussein recalled how two armed militants came by one recent day.

“They said we had to gather on the road and that if they came back in 30 minutes and found us here, they’d kill us,” she said.

With thousands of her neighbors, she was marched north, pushing her disabled 26-year-old son in his wheelchair, which broke after several days. Unable to move him, she was allowed to stay by the side of the road with him, where she remained until security forces advanced. Her husband, three other sons, three daughters and grandchildren were all forced to move on with the militants, she said. They called her briefly two days earlier to say they were in Mosul.

“Thousands of families have been taken,” she said. “No one wanted to go.”

For those who refused to leave, the punishment was swift.

On the outskirts of the village, Moyad Atallah, 40, was attending a funeral for his three brothers, who were shot after protesting. Eight Islamic State fighters in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns had arrived at their house at sundown to round them up, he said. One brother refused.

“They shot him just there,” said Atallah, pointing at the dust outside his home. When his two other brothers then fought back, they were also killed, he said. The militants took their money and the family car, then kidnapped another brother and said they would return. The rest of the family fled and hid in an abandoned house nearby, including 11 now-orphaned children.

The Islamic State’s utter disregard for the safety of civilians and its apparently deliberate use of human shields is putting people trapped in areas of active conflict at even greater risk as Iraqi forces advance, said Lynn Maalouf, a Beirut-based researcher for Amnesty International.

Iraqi security forces have slowly won back villages and towns outside Mosul, but the militants have shown little sign that they will give up ground easily, and Iraqi and U.S. military officials say they expect the fight to get tougher as they near the city’s outskirts.

As the militants are gradually squeezed, they have stepped up their savagery against local populations, residents have said.

Abdulrahim al-Shammiri, the chairman of the human rights committee in the Iraqi parliament, said that 190 civilians were executed in Hamam al-Ali on Wednesday after being “kidnapped” from surrounding areas.

Those who escaped said that former police or army officers were separated from their families and executed.

“They killed 20 people in front of me,” said one 19-year-old from the village of Safina, who was held for three days in Hamam al-Ali before his family escaped at night, walking for days before reaching the Iraqi security forces.

The family members were separated during their escape, and militants on motorbikes recaptured some of them while others watched from a ditch. Those who escaped were shot at as they fled; one woman was hit in the abdomen and is receiving treatment in Irbil. The family members declined to give their names because of concerns about the security of 30 relatives who are still missing.

“All of us were against them, but they dragged us with them, all the village,” said his aunt, whose husband, four sons and three daughters are missing.

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The airstrike in Mosul was potentially one of the worst U.S.-led civilian bombings in 25 years


Even though Iraqi civil defense workers are still sorting through the rubble, the March 17 U.S. airstrike in West Mosul, if confirmed, could potentially rank among one of the most devastating attacks on civilians by American forces in more than two decades.

Residents from the neighborhood where the strike occurred said that 137 civilians were killed, while Iraqi officials have said that upward of 80 people had been pulled from the rubble. Chris Woods, the director of the monitoring group, said the range of dead have been reported from 101 to 511, though the likely numbers are somewhere between 130 and 230.

On Monday, Col. John Thomas, the spokesman for the U.S. command that oversees the wars in Iraq and Syria, said that the U.S. military was investigating the March 17 bombing in addition to a number of other strikes that happened during the same time in roughly the same area.

Rescuers pull bodies from rubble of Mosul homes days after airstrike

In a statement U.S. Central Command said it had received multiple “conflicting allegations” placing a strike in the area sometime between March 17 and 23. (Loveday Morris/The Washington Post)

The battle for West Mosul, which began earlier this year, has been marked by heavy fighting in dense urban terrain. Islamic State fighters have used residents as human shields around their defensive positions and relied heavily on booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide vehicles to delay the U.S.-backed Iraqi advance. Even before Iraqi forces moved into the western part of Mosul, there were multiple allegations of civilian casualties during the four months it took to take the eastern side of the city.

When asked about the loss of civilian life Monday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters that the U.S.-led coalition goes out of its way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries.”

There have been numerous U.S. air attacks that have killed dozens since the Gulf War. These include two potential strikes in Syria just this month, the 2015 Kunduz Hospital strike in Afghanistan, and roughly a dozen errant wedding party strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen over the years. Yet there are only a handful of U.S.-aerial bombardments that have killed more than a hundred civilians in a single event.

Some of these strikes below:

Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. Sept. 4 2009.

At the direction of German ground forces, U.S. F-15 multi-role fighters bombed a column of suspected Taliban tanker trucks, killing anywhere between 91 and 172 civilians. Fearing an attack from the aircraft, the Taliban had abandoned the trucks in a river bed before the bombs struck. Instead of striking a large number of Taliban fighters, U.S. aircraft targeted locals that were siphoning off gas from the trucks. According to a 2010 report in the German publication Spiegel, the German army identified 102 families that would receive condolence payments for the strikes — 91 killed and 11 seriously injured. A German-based lawyer for the victims maintained that 179 had been killed.

Farah Province, Afghanistan. May 4, 2009

After a firefight with Afghan soldiers, policemen and American troops, a group of Taliban retreated into the village of Granai. The U.S. forces called for air support, and soon after, a combination of fighters and bombers, including what was believed to be a B-1 strategic bomber, dropped thousands of pounds of bombs on the village killing an estimated 140. According to a Reuters article from time, the Afghan investigation into the strike found that of the 140 victims, 93 were children and only 22 were adult males. Pentagon estimates put the civilian dead at a much lower, saying the majority of those killed were insurgents. The U.S. attack on Granai forced Gen. Stanley McChrystal — then the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan — to heavily restrict the criteria for airstrikes in Afghanistan. That criteria — decried by many ground troops and commanders — has served as the basis for the current rules of engagement in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Baghdad. Feb. 13, 1991.

The attack on the Amiriyah air-raid shelter during the Gulf War by U.S. stealth aircraft resulted in the loss of anywhere between 200 and 300 civilians, according to a Human Rights Watch report from 1991. Later news reports said that more than 400 had been killed. The shelter was packed with civilians when bunker busting bombs penetrated the roof at around 5 a.m. According to the report, the Pentagon said it had intercepted military communications from the building and that military personnel were stationed near it. The U.S. military, however, also knew the building had been used as a shelter during the Iran-Iraq war. Lawyers in Belgium accused former president George H.W. Bush; Richard B. Cheney, who was Defense secretary at the time, and Colin Powell of war crimes because of Amiriyah strike, but in 2003 the country’s highest court dismissed the complaints.

Around the same time, in February 1991, British bombers struck multiple bridges in southern and western Iraq, killing more than 100 in each attack, according to local reports at the time.

The contrast is stark between the loss of life from the 1991 bombing campaign at the outset of the Gulf War and the opening salvos of Operation Iraq Freedom in 2003. A month-long Human Rights Watch investigation following the invasion found that “in most cases, aerial bombardment resulted in minimal adverse effects to the civilian population.”

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Address to the Kurdish Nation




ERBIL – By history and by language I am a member of a very old nation, one of the oldest in the world: France.

And in spirit I am a member of a very old people, the Jewish people – like the Kurds, one of the oldest on the planet, a people that founded one of the youngest states, Israel. That is an experience that the Kurds are now preparing to replicate.

As a people, the Kurds have existed for a very long time. They have lived through countless trials, endured innumerable twists of fate, suffered domination again and again.

But empires have crumbled; tyrants have passed away; and their executioners have fallen into the dustbins of history. All the while, the Kurds have held fast, resisting the forces that wanted them to disappear.

And today, they are approaching a milestone: a declaration of self-determination in the form of a free state in which all citizens will be able to live in liberty, their heads held high.

The Kurdish nation was forged over centuries of pain and pride. It was strengthened in the course of the war against Islamist terrorism, in which the Kurds have been the civilized world’s staunchest – and sometimes solitary – spearhead.

I know not one Peshmerga fighter who, while waging our common battle, did not have in mind the achievement of that ancestral dream of Kurdish independence. Mosul will be liberated; the Islamic State (ISIS) will be defeated; and, when the moment comes for the referendum that Massoud Barzani, President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, has described as the inalienable right of the Kurds, the will of each citizen will be shared by all.

Even the Kurds’ closest allies worry that recognition of a Kurdish state might upset the regional balance and pose a threat to peace. I believe that the contrary is true: the Kurds will be a pole of stability in a region increasingly susceptible to fanaticism and terror.

To their eternal credit, the Kurds have defended against all odds the standards – respect for borders, for the rule of law, and for the fundamental human rights of all – that underpin stability, and that tyrants from Saddam Hussein to Bashar al-Assad have flouted. In a region where others create refugees, the Kurds provide a safe haven.

Indeed, the Kurds have forged one of the region’s few examples of a vibrant democracy that upholds tolerance, cultural coexistence, and the rule of law. In what other part of the Muslim Middle East does one find such a strong belief in a geopolitical order that tends toward peace, not war; favors reconciliation over ancient hatreds; and prefers respect for the other to a war of civilizations?

For these reasons, I believe very deeply that, in this stormy region, swept by so many ill winds, threatened by the worst of ideologies and by the violence that accompanies them, the rebirth of an independent Kurdish nation and state will mark an advance. It will be an advance that helps to dispel from the region the terrible genies of disintegration, chaos, and bloody convulsion.

What kind of nation-state will the ancient Kurdish people make? It will be small – a nation of only several million – but that will not make it fragile or weak. History offers many examples of what the writer Milan Kundera has called “small nations” that are solid and strong, because their people are united in the face of their powerful neighbors. When it came time to defend the nation, the sword has always been close to the plow. They are nations of citizens united by their history and spirit, rather than ethnicity, a sense of superiority, or an arrogant identity.

The Kurds are such a nation: a people of volunteers who know why they fight, a people who, from the humblest to the greatest, from the Peshmerga regular to the loftiest of Kurdish commanders, does not hesitate to take up arms to discourage or to dismantle despotism – and not only on their behalf. They have been soldiers of freedom who kept Christians from being purged from the last place in the world where the language of Christ is still spoken, while defending the principle of equality of the sexes, even in combat – a principle that is the hallmark of great civilizations.

For all these reasons, I believe that a Kurdish nation-state will be a force for peace, not disorder, in the Middle East, a stormy region that is threatened by the worst of ideologies and by the violence that they beget. I believe that the Kurds will build a strong and solid state that helps to return the awful genies of violent extremism, tyranny, and disintegration to their bottles.

Furthermore, this new Kurdish nation-state will be a safe haven and a shared home for a people that has been scattered by the cruelties of history. It will help to unite a people long divided not just by scheming enemies, but also by deep disagreement over what it means to be a Kurd.

Like one of the world’s greatest nations – though one currently debased by those who purport to lead it – the Kurdish nation-state will be a “shining city on a hill,” a luminous lodestar for the lost sons and daughters of Kurdistan, and a source of hope for all of the world’s dispossessed and displaced. As such, the Kurds should never be afraid to proclaim their vocation – a vocation which is both universal and, if the words have any meaning at all, truly internationalist.

The very voices of the Kurds embody this. One thing that has struck me in the course of my frequent visits to Kurdistan is that the Kurds are a multilingual people. In addition to Kurdish – their mother tongue, rich with ancient culture – they speak the languages acquired in exile. Like the French nation, which was enriched over the centuries by immigrants and oppressed peoples, the Kurds are diverse in origin and cosmopolitan in outlook. Their provision of refuge for persecuted Yezidi and Christian communities is further proof of this.

Today’s populist wreckers across the West deny it, but “internationalism” is a beautiful idea. For two centuries, it has been the animating spirit of so many battles for freedom, and has inspired so much courage, resistance, sacrifice, and nobility, and so many beautiful writings. Despite the traps into which it has sometimes fallen and become entangled, internationalism has nourished the best of what “the West” has represented.

One of Kurdistan’s merits is to have kept alive the flame of internationalism in a benighted region. Reflect for a moment on the Kurds’ battle against ISIS, which they have waged not only for themselves and their safety, but also on behalf of the rest of the world. The Kurds have acted as internationalists, while also being internationalists in heart and soul.

So the Kurds will soon – very soon, I hope – be free, with their own independent nation-state. But, after that, they will be surrounded by powerful neighbors that will, one expects, be hostile toward them – not least because of the precedent Kurdish independence sets. Free Kurdistan will be a living reproach to the many false nations, anti-nations, and prison nations across the Middle East, in which Kurds, among others, remain confined.

Confronted with the new tests and challenges that are bound to stem from that reproach – challenges that independence alone will not suffice to surmount – the Kurdish people must recognize that they are likely to find themselves as alone as they have ever been in their long history. Charles de Gaulle once said that a people has no friends, and, alas, the Kurds will find out soon enough that today’s friends will not always be their friends. It may happen that they prefer their supposed world order to friendship, justice, and the cause of true stability and peace.

The Kurds are preparing for this. And, fortunately, there are also millions of men and women abroad, in France and throughout the world, who believed in Kurdistan when governments wanted nothing to do with it. That sort of friendship – the support offered by so many of the world’s citizens – is much more constant. Friends like that will never fail.

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