Foreign jihadists flocking to Iraq and Syria on ‘unprecedented scale’ says U.N. report

The Guardian reports: The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism.

A report by the UN security council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (Isis) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaida”.

The UN said it was uncertain whether al-Qaida would benefit from the surge. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida who booted Isis out of his organisation, “appears to be maneuvering for relevance”, the report says.

The UN’s numbers bolster recent estimates from US intelligence about the scope of the foreign fighter problem, which the UN report finds to have spread despite the Obama administration’s aggressive counter-terrorism strikes and global surveillance dragnets. [Continue reading...]

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that this surge in jihadists is the result of Obama’s newly-declared war on ISIS, it should be noted that this influx of foreign fighters has occurred post-2010, the magnet being the war in Syria. Those who argue that fighting against ISIS promotes its growth are in denial about the fact that ignoring ISIS has allowed it to grow even faster.

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Peshmerga forces delayed in Turkey en route to fight ISIS in Kobane

The Guardian reports: Dozens of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been held up in Turkey en route to the Syrian border town of Kobani, where they will join the fight against Islamic State (Isis) militants.

The peshmerga command have not commented on the delay, but Turkish media cited an attack by Isis on Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters crossing into Kobani through the Mürsitpinar border gate as a reason for the delay. According to the newspaper Milliyet, three FSA members were wounded by Isis snipers on Wednesday. They are being treated at a Turkish hospital.

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Aleppo ‘at risk’ after FSA fighters were sent to Kobane, says commander

Hurriyet Daily News reports: It was wrong to send Syrian rebel forces to the besieged city of Kobane, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander who has been fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kobane has said.

“I am criticizing this decision because we need these forces in the other fronts in Aleppo. The situation is very critical in Aleppo right now, regime forces have been surrounding the city for some time,” Nizar al-Khatib told a group of journalists at a press conference in Istanbul on Oct. 30.

Around 200 Syrian rebels on Oct. 29 entered the embattled town of Kobane from Turkey in a push to help Kurdish fighters battle ISIL militants there.

FSA fighters have been fighting against ISIL in Kobane alongside Peoples’ Protection Unit (YPG) forces since the beginning of the war, al-Khatib said.

“There have been around 200 FSA fighters fighting against ISIL since the very beginning of the war in Kobane. Now, with the entrance of 200 more FSA fighters, this number has risen to 400. Right now, there are 2,000 fighters, including the YPG and Democratic Union Party’s [PYD] forces fighting against ISIL there,” he added. “However, it was wrong to send more FSA forces to Kobane, we need our forces at the Aleppo front right now.” [Continue reading...]

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ISIS kills 220 Iraqis from tribe that opposed them

Reuters reports: Islamic State militants executed at least 220 Iraqis in retaliation against a tribe’s opposition to their takeover of territory west of Baghdad, security sources and witnesses said.

Two mass graves were discovered on Thursday containing some of the 300 members of the Sunni Muslim Albu Nimr tribe that Islamic State had seized this week. The captives, men aged between 18 and 55, had been shot at close range, witnesses said.

The bodies of more than 70 Albu Nimr men were dumped near the town of Hit in the Sunni heartland Anbar province, according to witnesses who said most of the victims were members of the police or an anti-Islamic State militia called Sahwa (Awakening).

“Early this morning we found those corpses and we were told by some Islamic State militants that ‘those people are from Sahwa, who fought your brothers the Islamic State, and this is the punishment of anybody fighting Islamic State’,” a witness said. [Continue reading...]

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Iran: Rafsanjani v. the hardliners — the battlelines are drawn

Scott Lucas writes: While most of the world’s attention to Iran is on nuclear talks and regional maneuvers in Iraq and Syria, an important power struggle is being waged inside the Islamic Republic.

Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose political career was buried by some analysts amid regime in-fighting after the disputed 2009 Presidential election, resurged to become a leading force behind the Rouhani Government. Vocal on both domestic and foreign policy initiatives — such as “engagement” with the US and Saudi Arabia — Rafsanjani even ventured to press the Supreme Leader for the release of political prisoners, including opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

That resurgence has worried hardliners, who still consider Rafsanjani an appeaser — or even collaborator — over the “sedition” of the mass protests from 2009. So, while challenging the Rouhani Government, they have searched for a way to put the former President back in a political box.

The occasion for the showdown will be the election of the head of the Assembly of Experts, due in early 2015, to replace the recently-deceased Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani — the cleric who ended Rafsanjani’s leadership of the body in 2011.

The Assembly selects the Supreme Leader and has the nominal authority to replace him. However, its significance is more in symbolism than a role in policy: the election of its head marks out the factions and individuals who are “winning” the internal political contest. [Continue reading...]

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First Look Media — trouble at’ mill

The Intercept calls this “The Inside Story Of Matt Taibbi’s Departure From First Look Media,” and it can rightly be called an exercise in public laundering more to the embarrassment of Pierre Omidyar than anyone else. Still, the real inside story would have to come from Taibbi himself and it’s hard not to wonder whether Greenwald et al were wanting to preempt that story.

And even if Omidyar can justifiably be criticized for micro-managing the operation he’s funding, those who thought he was going to be their media mogul sugar daddy seem to have had the attitude that the combination of his money and their creative genius was all it would take to create a new media business.

The conundrum they face might be this: is it possible to build an organization around individuals who don’t want to be part of an organization?

To view things like “which computer program to use to internally communicate, [and] mandatory regular company-wide meetings” as “trivial” is to confuse the trivial with the mundane. The mundane is often boring but that doesn’t make it unimportant or unnecessary.

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Where are the West’s female leaders?

Minna Salami writes: A report this week has exposed how progress towards gender equality is slowing down in the west. The Global Gender Gap Report showed that Europe has undergone the smallest change in terms of closing the gender gap. In terms of political empowerment, from Britain to Austria to Spain, in only nine years, women’s rankings have sunk sharply.

By contrast, the region with the largest positive change is Latin America where, just last weekend, Brazil re-elected a woman president, Dilma Rousseff. Also known as the world’s most powerful feminist, Rousseff will lead the world’s seventh-largest economy and fifth-largest nation for another four years. Voters in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean have also done a better job of electing women presidents and prime ministers. Today, only three of the 22 female heads of government are in the west (Germany, Denmark and Norway).

It’s commonly perceived that the western world is at the forefront of the campaign for women’s rights. State bodies such as the British Department for International Development, organisations such as the Cherie Blair Foundation and celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie all invest in women’s empowerment in the developing world, which is often seen as lagging well behind. But in truth, as the survey shows, when it comes to having women at the top levels of political leadership, industrialised western countries actually lag behind developing ones. Of 142 countries, Britain came just 63rd for the number of women in parliament and 75th for the number of women in ministerial jobs. The US was 83rd and 25th. [Continue reading...]

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Only top legislators informed of White House computer attack

Reuters reports: An attack by hackers on a White House computer network earlier this month was considered so sensitive that only a small group of senior congressional leaders were initially notified about it, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The officials said the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives and the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, collectively known as the “Gang of Eight,” were told last week of the cyber attack, which had occurred several days earlier.

Security experts said this limited group would normally be informed about ultra-secret intelligence operations and notifying them of a computer breach in this way was unusual. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Sona Mohapatra — ‘Aaja Ve Aaja Ve’

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With little warning, Egypt destroys 800 homes displacing 10,000 people in security operation

The New York Times reports: With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier.

The demolitions, cutting through crowded neighborhoods in the border town of Rafah, began with orders to evacuate on Tuesday and were part of a sweeping security response by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to months of deadly militant attacks on Egyptian security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula, including the massacre of at least 31 soldiers last Friday.

That assault was the deadliest on the Egyptian military in years, and a blow to the government, which has claimed to be winning the battle against insurgents. The resort to a harsh counterinsurgency tactic — destroying as many as 800 houses and displacing up to 10,000 people to eliminate “terrorist hotbeds,” as Mr. Sisi’s spokesman put it — highlighted the difficulties the military has faced in breaking the militants as well as the anger that operations like Wednesday’s inevitably arouse.

“Our house in Rafah is more than 60 years old,” Hammam Alagha wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, detailing his family’s eviction in a series of widely shared posts. After an army officer told the family to evacuate — and Mr. Alagha said he refused — the officer “said tomorrow we will bomb it with everything in it.”

Mustafa Singer, a journalist based in Sinai who was near the border on Wednesday, said that while residents had met with officials in recent weeks to discuss compensation, the evacuation order on Tuesday — delivered over megaphones — took people by surprise. [Continue reading...]

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Kobane gets reinforcements in fight against ISIS

Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, explains why they have only sent a small peshmerga force to Kobane:

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Turkish military blocks locals from joining Peshmerga mission to Kobane

Rudaw reports: The Turkish military is holding Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers seven kilometers from the Turkish border to Syria, delaying their mission in the besieged city of Kobane, Peshmerga officials told Rudaw.

A Peshmerga commander says his troops are in the town of Pirsus, guarded by Turkish military to prevent enthusiastic locals from joining the Iraqi Kurdish unit. The Iraqi Kurdish troops will provide artillery support to the Syrian Kurdish militia defending the city.

He declined to provide further details about the location and timing of their passage to Kobane, but confirmed that the Islamic State had intensified attacks in expectation of their arrival and the US-led coalition planned targeted airstrikes to facilitate a safe crossing.

They will be the first foreign soldiers to be dispatched to the Syrian Kurdish border town, which has been under siege by ISIS for more than 40 days. Local Kurdish fighters have held out with backing from US-led airstrikes.

This comes a day after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said 200 its fighters had entered Kobane at the request of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian-Kurdish force that has been defending the city against an ISIS takeover. [Continue reading...]

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Occupy Democracy is not considered newsworthy. It should be

David Graeber writes: You can tell a lot about the moral quality of a society by what is, and is not, considered news.

From last Tuesday, Parliament Square was wrapped in wire mesh. In one of the more surreal scenes in recent British political history, officers with trained German shepherds stand sentinel each day, at calculated distances across the lawn, surrounded by a giant box of fences, three metres high – all to ensure that no citizen enters to illegally practice democracy. Yet few major news outlets feel this is much of a story.

Occupy Democracy, a new incarnation of Occupy London, has attempted to use the space for an experiment in democratic organising. The idea was to turn Parliament Square back to the purposes to which it was, by most accounts, originally created: a place for public meetings and discussions, with an eye to bringing all the issues ignored by politicians in Westminster back into public debate. Seminars and assemblies were planned, colourful bamboo towers and sound systems put in place, to be followed by a temporary library, kitchen and toilets.

There was no plan to turn this into a permanent tent city, which are now explicitly illegal. True, this law is very selectively enforced; Metropolitan police regularly react with a wink and a smile if citizens camp on the street while queuing overnight for the latest iPhone. But to do it in furtherance of democratic expression is absolutely forbidden. Try it, and you can expect to immediately see your tent torn down and if you try even the most passive resistance you’re likely to be arrested. So organisers settled on a symbolic 24-hour presence, even if it meant sleeping on the grass under cardboard boxes in the autumn rain.

The police response can only be described as hysterical. Tarpaulins used to sit on the grass were said to be illegal, and when activists tried to sit on them they were attacked by scores of officers. Activists say they had limbs twisted and officers stuck thumbs into nerve endings as “pain compliance”. Pizza boxes were declared illegal structures and confiscated and commanders even sent officers to stand over activists at night telling them it was illegal to close their eyes. [Continue reading...]

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Ann Jones: The missing women of Afghanistan

From the beginning, it was to be “Russia’s Vietnam.”  First the administration of President Jimmy Carter, then that of President Ronald Reagan was determined to give the Soviet Union a taste of what the U.S. had gone through in its disastrous 14-year war in Southeast Asia.  As National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would later put it, “On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the [Afghan] border [in 1979], I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.'” And with that in mind, the CIA (aided by the Saudis and Pakistanis) would arm, train, and advise extreme Islamist factions in Pakistan and dispatch them across the border to give the Soviets a taste of what Washington considered their own medicine, Vietnam-style.

It worked in a major way. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would later call Afghanistan “the bleeding wound” and, in 1989, a decade after the Red Army had crossed that border, it would limp home to a fading empire on the edge of implosion.  It was a classic Cold War triumph for Washington, the last needed before the Soviet Union stepped off the edge of history and disappeared… oh, except for one small thing: those well-armed extremists didn’t conveniently go away.  It wasn’t mission accomplished.  Not by half.  A taste of Vietnam for the Russians turned out to be only the hors d’oeuvre for a main course still to come.  And the rest of the disastrous history of what Chalmers Johnson would term “blowback,” even before it fully blew back not just on devastated Afghanistan, but on New York City and Washington, is painfully well known and not yet over.  Not by half.

As a result, when the Bush administration launched America’s second Afghan war in October 2001, whether it knew it or not, it was prescribing for itself a taste of the medicine it had given the Soviets back in the 1980s.  Think of it as the worst possible version of do-it-yourself doctoring.  Now, another 13 years have passed.  We’re three and a half decades beyond Brzezinksi’s urge to Vietnamize the USSR in Afghanistan and that Central Asian country is a basket case.  The Taliban insurgency is back big time; the Afghan army and police are taking horrific casualties, and you can bet that, with one eye on the collapsed Iraqi army the U.S. trained and armed, there are plenty of anxious people in the Pentagon when it comes to those Afghan security forces into which the U.S. has sunk at least $60 billion.  In the meantime, the “democracy” that the U.S. promised to bring to the country has experienced a second deeply fraudulent presidential election, this time with a vote so contested and filled with questionable balloting practices that the final count couldn’t be released to the country.  A new government was instead cobbled together under Washington’s ministrations in a way that bears no relation to the country’s constitution.

In the meantime, Afghanistan is rife with corruption of every imaginable sort and, worst of all, its only real success story, its bumper crop, is once again the opium poppy.  In fact, last year the country raised a record opium crop, worth $3 billion, beating out the previous global record holder– Afghanistan — by 50%!  On America’s watch, it is the planet’s preeminent narco-state.  And keep in mind that, in line with the history of the last 13 years of the American occupation and garrisoning of the country (with a possible 10 more to go), the U.S. put $7.6 billion dollars into programs of every sort to eradicate poppy growing.  So, once again, mission accomplished!  Today, TomDispatch regular Ann Jones, author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, looks back at what those 13 years of “America’s Afghanistan” meant to the women whom the Bush administration so proudly “liberated” on invading the country.  And given its success in poppy eradication, how do you think Washington did on that one? Tom Engelhardt

The missing women of Afghanistan
After 13 years of war, the rule of men, not law
By Ann Jones

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different — not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

[Read more...]

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Cognitive disinhibition: the kernel of genius and madness

Dean Keith Simonton writes: When John Forbes Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, schizophrenic, and paranoid delusional, was asked how he could believe that space aliens had recruited him to save the world, he gave a simple response. “Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.”

Nash is hardly the only so-called mad genius in history. Suicide victims like painters Vincent Van Gogh and Mark Rothko, novelists Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway, and poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath all offer prime examples. Even ignoring those great creators who did not kill themselves in a fit of deep depression, it remains easy to list persons who endured well-documented psychopathology, including the composer Robert Schumann, the poet Emily Dickinson, and Nash. Creative geniuses who have succumbed to alcoholism or other addictions are also legion.

Instances such as these have led many to suppose that creativity and psychopathology are intimately related. Indeed, the notion that creative genius might have some touch of madness goes back to Plato and Aristotle. But some recent psychologists argue that the whole idea is a pure hoax. After all, it is certainly no problem to come up with the names of creative geniuses who seem to have displayed no signs or symptoms of mental illness.

Opponents of the mad genius idea can also point to two solid facts. First, the number of creative geniuses in the entire history of human civilization is very large. Thus, even if these people were actually less prone to psychopathology than the average person, the number with mental illness could still be extremely large. Second, the permanent inhabitants of mental asylums do not usually produce creative masterworks. The closest exception that anyone might imagine is the notorious Marquis de Sade. Even in his case, his greatest (or rather most sadistic) works were written while he was imprisoned as a criminal rather than institutionalized as a lunatic.

So should we believe that creative genius is connected with madness or not? Modern empirical research suggests that we should because it has pinpointed the connection between madness and creativity clearly. The most important process underlying strokes of creative genius is cognitive disinhibition — the tendency to pay attention to things that normally should be ignored or filtered out by attention because they appear irrelevant. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Sona Mohapatra — ‘Dil Aaj Kal’

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Brazil plans to lay trans-Atlantic cable free from NSA surveillance and U.S.-made technology

Bloomberg reports: Brazil is planning a $185 million project to lay fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean, which could entail buying gear from multiple vendors. What it won’t need: U.S.-made technology.

The cable is being overseen by state-owned telecommunications company Telecomunicacoes Brasileiras SA, known as Telebras. Even though Telebras’s suppliers include U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Telebras President Francisco Ziober Filho said in an interview that the cable project can be built without any U.S. companies.

The potential to exclude U.S. vendors illustrates the fallout that is starting to unfold from revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on international leaders like Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Angela Merkel to gather intelligence on terror suspects worldwide.

“The issue of data integrity and vulnerability is always a concern for any telecom company,” Ziober said. The NSA leaks last year from contractor Edward Snowden prompted Telebras to step up audits of all foreign-made equipment to check for security vulnerabilities and accelerated the country’s move toward technological self-reliance, he said. [Continue reading...]

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U.S., Iran relations move to détente

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration and Iran, engaged in direct nuclear negotiations and facing a common threat from Islamic State militants, have moved into an effective state of détente over the past year, according to senior U.S. and Arab officials.

The shift could drastically alter the balance of power in the region, and risks alienating key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates who are central to the coalition fighting Islamic State. Sunni Arab leaders view the threat posed by Shiite Iran as equal to or greater than that posed by the Sunni radical group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Israel contends the U.S. has weakened the terms of its negotiations with Iran and played down Tehran’s destabilizing role in the region.

Over the past decade, Washington and Tehran have engaged in fierce battles for influence and power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan fueled by the U.S. overthrow of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and the Arab Spring revolutions that began in late 2010. U.S. officials still say the option of military action remains on the table to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

But recent months have ushered in a change as the two countries have grown into alignment on a spectrum of causes, chief among them promoting peaceful political transitions in Baghdad and Kabul and pursuing military operations against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to these officials.

The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry , negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.

U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly tipped off Lebanese law-enforcement bodies close to Hezbollah about threats posed to Beirut’s government by Sunni extremist groups, including al Qaeda and its affiliate Nusra Front in Syria, Lebanese and U.S. officials said. [Continue reading...]

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