Kurds celebrate liberation of Kobane as ISIS calls for new Paris-style attacks

Vice News reports: On Monday, the same day Kurdish fighters in Syria decisively broke the Islamic State’s bloody and sustained siege of Kobane, a senior leader of the extremist group called for jihadists to carry out fresh Paris-style attacks across Europe.

Fireworks lit up the dark night in Turkish and Syrian towns and refugee camps across the border from the embattled Syrian town of Kobane Monday night, while elated Kurdish residents bearing flame torches flooded the streets, celebrating the liberation of their friends, family, and neighbors, who until earlier that morning had been under militant control since September. In the distance, the Kurdish flag flapped silently on a hill east of Kobane — a declaration of the resilience of peshmerga fighters and rebel brigades who had fought deadly battles to drive out the extremists for four months. [Continue reading…]

Reuters adds: Turkish police fired tear gas on Tuesday to stop people trying to cross back into Kobani to celebrate its retaking, a Kurdish politician and a journalist said. [Continue reading…]

David L. Phillips writes: The battle for Kobani is significant for several reasons:

  • It’s a major setback for Daesh’s propaganda campaign. Daesh uses its aura of invincibility to gain recruits. In Kobani, Daesh was bloodied and beaten.
  • It has brought global attention to the Kurds of Syria and their social revolution, which is based on grass-roots democracy, women’s empowerment, and environmental sustainability.
  • It was a public-relations disaster for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey sealed its border to cut off Kobani’s defenders. Erdogan demanded that the U.S. impose a no-fly-zone and a security buffer in exchange for Turkey’s cooperation with the U.S.-led multinational coalition fighting Daesh. Many observers (including this author) allege Turkey is providing military, logistical, financial and medical support for Daesh and other jihadists.
  • It did what no Kurdish leader could do: Kurds from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran found common cause in forming a united front against terrorism and the Islamic State’s fascist nihilism.

The Islamic State’s defeat in Syria followed a victory for the Peshmerga in Sinjar, where they defeated Daesh and saved thousands of Yazidis. The Iraqi armed forces is also rolling up Daesh in Iraq’s Diyala province.

Despite these battlefield gains, challenges remain. Thousands of displaced persons need assistance resettling to their ruined homes in Kobani. Villages around Kobani are still under control of Daesh. Cooperation between Washington and the Democratic Union Party, which represents Syrian Kurds, is shallow and should expand.

Today Kurds rejoice. The world applauds their heroism — and joins their celebration.

When Daesh’s obituary is written, Kobani will be enshrined as the turning point in the struggle to destroy the Islamic State.

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Turkey won’t accept Iraq-style Kurdish rule in Syria, says Erdoğan

Today’s Zaman reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled out any possibility of accepting an autonomous Kurdish government in northern Syria similar to the one in northern Iraq, saying a government like this would cause major problems in the future.

In his remarks to reporters on his way back to Turkey after an African tour, Erdoğan criticized the United States’ policy on Syria, which doesn’t involve toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“[The US] doesn’t want to make moves that target the [Syrian] regime. It says [toppling the government] is not among its targets. If it doesn’t take place, there won’t be any solution. What would happen? The same thing that happened in Iraq will happen. We don’t want a new Iraq. What is this? Northern Iraq… [We don’t want] a northern Syria to appear! It is not possible for us to accept this,” Erdoğan said.

“I know the burden on Turkey is heavy. We have to keep our stance [firm] on this issue. Otherwise, after a northern Iraq, there would be a northern Syria. These formations will cause big problems in the future,” he concluded.

Erdoğan also pointed to the three Kurdish autonomous administrations formed by Syrian Kurds in January 2014, and once more scolded the US for only placing importance on Kobani. [Continue reading…]

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Yanis Varoufakis — Greece’s new finance minister

The New York Times reports: The leftist-led coalition that won Greece’s elections unveiled its government on Tuesday, with the crucial post of finance minister going to an economist who has called the eurozone’s austerity policies “fiscal waterboarding.”

The new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, a professor and avid blogger, will confront Greece’s international creditors in tough talks over the austerity policies, widely despised by the Greeks. Those talks could have profound consequences for Greece, the future of the euro currency and the financial integration of the European Union.

Twenty-two ministries have been streamlined to 10 in the new cabinet, all but one held by members of Syriza, the radical-left party that won the most votes in the Sunday elections and that has vowed to renegotiate the country’s onerous debts.

The Defense Ministry post went to Panos Kammenos, the leader of Syriza’s coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, and a handful of deputy posts went to his colleagues.

But the most important post filled by the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year-old leader of Syriza, was his choice of finance minister: Mr. Varoufakis, 53, who left a teaching post at the University of Texas to join Syriza’s election campaign. [Continue reading…]

Yanis Varoufakis interviewed by Johanna Jaufer: You have been a politician for only three weeks now…

Two weeks.

Have you had to think it over very much? In your blog you wrote that you were frightened, too.

It was a major decision. Primarily, because I entered politics in order to do a job that I always thought should be done and I was offered the opportunity to do it. It has to do with the negotiations between Greece and the European Union if Syriza wins, which is an extremely scary project and prospect. At the same time I am an academic, I am a citizen, an active citizen, so I am used to dialogue where the point of the conversation really should be that I learn from you and you learn from me – we are going to have disagreements, but through these disagreements we enrich each other’s points of view.

It’s not about winning the other one over…

That’s right – actually in politics, it is worse: each side tries to destroy the other side – in the eyes of the public – and that is something that is completely alien to me and something that I didn’t want to get used to.

What about your university job? Have you put it on hold?

Yes, indeed. I have resigned from University of Texas. I still retain my chair at the University of Athens – without pay – and hopefully it won’t be too long before I return to it.

Wouldn’t you be ready to stay in a government for a longer time?

No, I don’t want to make a career out of politics. Ideally, I would like somebody else to do it, and to do it better than I. It’s just that this was a window of opportunity, because Syriza rising to power is a precedence. So, it was a small window of opportunity to get something done that would not have been done otherwise. I’m not a prophet, so I can’t tell you where I will be in two, three, five, ten years. But if you’re asking me now, my ideal outcome would be that our government succeeds in renegotiating a deal with Europe that renders Greece sustainable, and then other people, you know… power should be rotated, no one should grow particularly fond of it. [Continue reading…]

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Greece has voted for a new politics, not just a new party

Yiannis Baboulias writes: Prior to the financial crisis of 2008, anyone familiar with the Greek nation and its politics would have been surprised by the events of Sunday night. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras addressed a crowd of thousands who had gathered in central Athens to celebrate his party’s general election victory. The new Greek Prime Minister—state educated, young and not related to previous prime ministers—is unlike any of his predecessors. His party is a coalition of the radical left, that was born as a fringe party six years ago.

“The Greek people gave us a clear, indisputable mandate to end austerity,” said Tsipras. But despite the fact Syriza is the outright winner, it didn’t quite manage to get the seats it needed to form a majority government (increasing its share of the vote from 4.6 per cent in 2009, to more than 36 per cent now.) Yesterday we learned that it would form a coalition with the populist right, anti-austerity party Independent Greeks.

Analysts rightly point out that the parties will be uneasy bedfellows. Syriza comes from a breakaway faction of the traditional communist party, and is itself a coalition of smaller entities that range from the centre-left to anarchism. The Independent Greeks on the other hand broke away from the centre-right party New Democracy when it signed up to austerity after its election in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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The news website that’s keeping press freedom alive in Egypt

Leslie T Chang reports: On the afternoon of 17 June 2013, a group of friends gathered in a fourth-floor apartment in downtown Cairo. They sat on the floor because there were no chairs; there were also no desks, no shelves, and no ashtrays. A sign on the door, written in black marker, read “Office of the Artists Formerly Known as Egypt Independent”. What they had was a name – Mada, which means “span” or “range” in Arabic, had been chosen after much debate and many emails between 24 people – and a plan to set up an independent news outlet. Most of them had not seen each other since their former employer, a newspaper called Egypt Independent, closed two months before.

Lina Attalah, the venture’s founder and editor-in-chief, called the meeting to order. Designers were rushing to finish the website; a team was drafting a business plan; half a dozen grant applications were pending. “The update is: there’s no money,” she said, to laughter, “but we have a lot of promises. I’m working on the faith that the money will be there.” She signed off on 17 articles to be delivered over the next week. Lina is dark-eyed and fine-boned, with long black hair; she speaks in lengthy and well-wrought sentences that suggest a professor teaching a graduate seminar. Nothing in her demeanour betrayed the pressures she felt. The company had no cash to pay its writers. She was covering the rent and furnishing the office out of her own pocket. This would be, by her count, her seventh news venture; many of the previous ones had folded owing to the hostility of successive governments towards independent-minded journalists (“I have a history of setting up places that close”). Although she was only 30 and didn’t have a husband or children, Lina was accustomed to taking care of other people.

The website had to launch by 30 June, the day that a mass demonstration calling for the resignation of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, was planned. Lina was determined about that – “I want everyone to be a journalist on that day” – but otherwise her timing could not have been worse. In the previous two and a half years, investment in Egypt had dried up; many foreign companies had evacuated their staff during the 2011 revolution and not returned. Morsi’s year in office had seen decreasing stability and a stagnant economy. Whatever came next – people were calling for the army to step in – could be more repressive.

“I think it could just be slow-motion state failure,” Lina said.

“Not state failure,” objected Dina Hussein, a close friend from college and the new website’s opinion editor. “Of course, the infrastructure is shit, there’s no electricity …”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Lina interrupted. “Not complete collapse.”

“Lebanon, not Somalia,” Dina said.

“It could be state failure for the next 10 years,” Lina said.

Everything about the project belied this pessimism. Mada Masr would be an independent online newspaper, owned by employees whose average age was 25, in a country where news production was controlled by the government or large conglomerates. It would produce stories, in English and Arabic, and make money from online advertising and side businesses in research, editing and translation. The company would be run as a democracy – in a country that had never seen such a system, by employees who, by and large, had not experienced it in practice. Egypt was ostensibly on a parallel course of building a democratic and sustainable state; both ventures were perilous, fraught with uncertainty, and short of money. In the year and a half to come, Mada’s goals would prove more daunting than its founders imagined. A military coup, set into motion three days after the website launched, would lead to the ruthless suppression of dissenting voices. Mada would emerge as one of the very few independent news sources in the country. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS said to execute 10 doctors in Mosul for refusing to treat wounded fighters

Rudaw reports: The Islamic State (ISIS) executed 10 physicians in Mosul for refusing to treat the group’s wounded fighters, well-placed sources in Mosul said.

They reported Monday that ISIS had shot the physicians over their refusal to treat jihadi fighters wounded in clashes or shelling.

“Because of extensive attacks and shelling on ISIS, the hospitals of the city (Mosul) are filled with ISIS wounded fighters,” said a source in Mosul. “ISIS has evacuated all other patients in the hospitals in order to treat its own wounded fighters,” he added. “Medical equipment is only being used to treat ISIS fighters.” [Continue reading…]

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Auschwitz remembered

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The Holocaust’s forgotten victims: The 5 million non-Jewish people killed by the Nazis

The Huffington Post reports: Six million Jewish people were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945, and the Jews are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the Holocaust.

But the Nazis targeted many other groups: for their race, beliefs or what they did.

Historians estimate the total number of deaths to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters. [Continue reading…]

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The CIA’s failed mission to arm Syrian rebels

The Wall Street Journal reports: It didn’t take long for rebel commanders in Syria who lined up to join a Central Intelligence Agency weapons and training program to start scratching their heads.

After the program was launched in mid-2013, CIA officers secretly analyzed cellphone calls and email messages of commanders to make sure they were really in charge of the men they claimed to lead. Commanders were then interviewed, sometimes for days.

Those who made the cut, earning the label “trusted commanders,” signed written agreements, submitted payroll information about their fighters and detailed their battlefield strategy. Only then did they get help, and it was far less than they were counting on.

Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no.

All sides now agree that the U.S.’s effort to aid moderate fighters battling the Assad regime has gone badly. The CIA program was the riskiest foray into Syria since civil war erupted in 2011.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clinging to power after more than 200,000 deaths blamed on the war. Moderate fighters control only a fraction of northern Syria, while Islamic State and al Qaeda’s official affiliate, the Nusra Front, have gained ground. Last fall, Nusra overran one trusted commander and seized another’s equipment.

Entire CIA-backed rebel units, including fighters numbering in the “low hundreds” who went through the training program, have changed sides by joining forces with Islamist brigades, quit the fight or gone missing.

“We walk around Syria with a huge American flag planted on our backs, but we don’t have enough AK-47s in our hands to protect ourselves,” a leader of the Hazzm Movement, among the most trusted of the trusted commanders, told U.S. lawmakers in a meeting after Nusra’s advances.

The CIA recently stopped offering help to all but a few trusted commanders in Syria. Much of the U.S.’s focus is shifting to southern Syria, where rebels seem more unified but say they get just 5% to 20% of the arms requested from the CIA. [Continue reading…]

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Obama cuts off Syrian rebels’ cash

The Daily Beast reports: In the past several months, many of the Syrian rebel groups previously favored by the CIA have had their money and supplies cut off or substantially reduced, even as President Obama touted the strategic importance of American support for the rebels in his State of the Union address.

The once-favored fighters are operating under a pall of confusion. In some cases, they were not even informed that money would stop flowing. In others, aid was reduced due to poor battlefield performance, compounding already miserable morale on the ground.

From afar, the U.S.-approved and partially American-armed Syrian “opposition” seems to be a single large, if rather amorphous, organization. But in fact it’s a collection of “brigades” of varying sizes and potentially shifting loyalties that have grown up around local leaders, or, if you will, local warlords. And while Washington talks about the Syrian “opposition” in general terms, the critical question for the fighters in the field and those supporting them is, “opposition to whom?” To Syrian President Assad? To the so-called Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL? To the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra?

That lack of clarity is crippling the whole effort, not least because of profound suspicions among rebel groups that Washington is ready to cut some sort of deal with Assad in the short or medium term if, indeed, it has not done so already. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the Saudi-U.S. rift

Newsweek reports: For years, whenever Saudi Arabia and the United States bickered over Middle East policy, the relationship never seemed dangerously strained. The two sides have frequently clashed over Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a solution to the Syrian civil war and Washington’s efforts to ink a nuclear deal with Riyadh’s rival, Iran. But what held the alliance together, most assumed, was an immutable mutual dependence: The U.S. needed Saudi oil, and the kingdom needed American security.

Today, that line of reasoning appears to be wearing thin. As President Barack Obama meets in Riyadh with King Salman on Tuesday, the two leaders will be discussing a once-expansive relationship that has been relentlessly whittled down by deep and abiding differences over Middle East policy. Not only do the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have profound disagreements on Syria, Israel and Iran, but over the past few years Riyadh has been charting its own foreign policy path, coordinating with Washington only when it serves Saudi interests. King Salman, Riyadh’s new monarch, is expected to continue this policy that began under his predecessor, King Abdullah, who died last week. “The relationship is now transactional,” says Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “The main question now is what’s in it for them.”

Such hard-nosed realpolitik is a long way from the days when the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia brimmed with good will and overlapping interests. Since the end of World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt first met King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom, aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Suez Canal, the relationship centered on the exchange of Saudi oil for U.S. guarantees to protect the kingdom. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Robert Wyatt — ‘Left On Man’

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Syriza’s victory

James Meek writes: Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election is a hopeful moment for Europe. It shows how a radical left-wing political movement, brought together in a short time, can use the democratic system to attack three menaces: the rentier lords of jurisdiction-hopping private capital, the compromised political hacks of the traditional parties who have become their accomplices, and the panphobic haters of the populist right.

Nationalist-conservative movements, it turns out, don’t have a monopoly on the anti-establishment wave. The future doesn’t have to belong to Golden Dawn, Ukip, the Front National, Pegida, the Finns Party, Partij voor de Vrijheid or the Sweden Democrats. It could belong to Syriza, or Podemos, or Die Linke, or to an as-yet non-existent British movement – anti-austerity, pro-Europe – which would scoop up votes from Labour, Liberals, the Scottish National Party, Ukip and the Greens.

And these left-wing movements – so it seems now, savour it while you can – don’t have to rely on street protests to get what they want. They can get it through an instrument long considered by socialist radicals to be redundant: the ballot box.

The ascent of Syriza signifies the emergence of a trans-European politics in a way the previous rise to prominence of the likes of the Front National and Ukip haven’t. The eurosceptics want to push the European Union away. They want their politics to be more national. What makes Alexis Tsipras radical is not what he wants to do in Greece, but what he wants to do in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Syriza sweeps to victory in Greek election, promising an end to ‘humiliation’

By Spyros Economides, London School of Economics and Political Science

As had been widely predicted, the left-wing party Syriza has secured a victory in the Greek election. Having finished with just short of enough seats in parliament for a majority, leader Alexis Tsipras has agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the right-wing party Greek Independents.

Throughout the short campaign, it appeared the relative newcomer to Greek politics, led by the charismatic Tsipras, would win. Now it appears he has done so by a significant margin.

Speaking in the wake of the victory, Tsipras said the vote would end years of “destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism” and that his country could now leave behind the “humiliation” it has suffered.

[Read more…]

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Syriza’s unlikely coalition ally

The Guardian reports: Syriza just missed out on the 151 MPs it needed to govern alone after Greece’s election, winning 149 seats with a 36.3% share of the vote. The party has formed a coalition government with Independent Greeks, who took 13 seats.

The populist, rightwing Independent Greeks (Anel) would at first sight make for a strange bedfellow for the radical leftists Syriza and the deal makes an unusual alliance, but they are brought together by a mutual hatred for the bailout programme keeping Greece afloat.

The two parties have vastly diverging world views, standing well apart on issues such as illegal migration, Greece’s ever-fractious relationship with Nato rival Turkey, gay marriage and the role of the Greek Orthodox church.

Under their leader Panos Kammenos, who defected from the centre-right New Democracy party to form Anel at the height of the crisis in February 2012, the group has proved to be rabidly nationalistic in foreign affairs. [Continue reading…]

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Kurds liberate Kobane, expelling ISIS after 134 days of fighting

AFP reports: Kurdish fighters have expelled Islamic State group militants from inside the Syrian border town of Kobane, a monitor said Monday, dealing a key symbolic blow to the jihadists’ ambitions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) had pushed IS militants out of the town after four months of fighting.

In Iraq meanwhile, a senior army officer announced that Iraqi forces had also “liberated” Diyala province from the Islamic State group.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that YPG forces had “expelled all Islamic State fighters from Kobane and have full control of the town.” [Continue reading…]

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American Sniper illustrates the West’s morality blind spots

Gary Younge writes: Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.

The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job. “After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.”

Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy.

And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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Fortress Europe and the migrants risking their lives to find refuge

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