U.S.-backed ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ created to fight ISIS, exist only as a name

The New York Times reports: A newly appointed spokesman for the alliance briefed reporters in Syria beneath a yellow banner bearing its name in Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian. But the meeting took place inside a Kurdish militia facility because the alliance does not have its own bases yet, nor flags to put on its cars or a defined command structure, said the spokesman, Talal Sillu.

The combined force is to be commanded by a six-person military council, Mr. Sillu said. But he acknowledged that only one member had been selected so far — Mr. Sillu himself.

Last week, President Obama announced plans to deploy dozens of Special Operations troops to support the new alliance. And before that, American officials said 50 tons of ammunition had been airdropped for Arab fighters with the new group.

But already, things have not always gone as planned. Since the ammunition airdrop, American officials have privately acknowledged that the Arab units it was intended for did not have the logistical capability to move it. So, again, the Kurds were called to help.

An array of smaller groups have allied with the Kurds, including Arab and Turkmen rebels, Christian militias and Bedouin fighters loyal to a sheikh who considered the Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi a friend.

While these groups hate the Islamic State, most are small, and some have been repeatedly routed by the very jihadists the United States now hopes they will defeat.

While the Kurds have become used to securing territory, with uniformed forces and a clear chain of command, their Arab allies often leave teenagers with Kalashnikovs at checkpoints who stop and release cars at random, scaring drivers.

A commander of one Arab group lamented that while Kurdish commanders could simply order their fighters to move, he could only make suggestions and hope his men complied. [Continue reading…]


Syria’s horror shows the tragic price of Western inaction

Natalie Nougayrède writes: t is a rare thing for a high-level official to admit they got something completely wrong. Frederic Hof, the former special adviser on Syria to Hillary Clinton (as secretary of state), has had that temerity – or that kind of despair. He recently wrote an article (for Politico magazine) headlined “I got Syria so wrong”. It is a painful analysis of how early hopes, in 2011, of seeing Bashar al-Assad overthrown by a popular revolt were either naive or blind. It also contains stark criticism of the Obama presidency, which apparently never fully intended to do anything about Syria’s killing fields, preferring to let the problem fester, unaddressed.

It’s tempting to believe that the latest rekindling of international diplomacy over Syria will lead to a brighter outcome. But a few days before ministerial talks were to begin in Vienna, Hof seemed to dash these hopes at a meeting on Syria’s human rights catastrophe in the House of Commons. The walls were covered with photos of tortured bodies smuggled out of Syria two years ago by “Caesar”, a military photographer who believed that if the world could see the slaughter going on in Assad’s jails, it would act. Nothing happened. Now Hof says he can see “no evidence yet of a change of policy” from the US side. Basically, his warning is: don’t be fooled by the new round of talks.

The Obama administration may be sending envoys to talks, and even a special forces unit into northern Syria to fight Isis, but it is nevertheless intent on keeping the Syrian dossier at arm’s length. This is what suits its long-held narrative of withdrawing from conflicts, and it is what the American public wants. There are only 14 months of the Obama presidency left, so the likeliest scenario is that the White House will wait this crisis out. The US has mostly outsourced Syria to regional actors, and all the signs are that it is set to outsource it some more, this time to Russia – whatever the human cost. [Continue reading…]


Why U.S. government officials are so often viewed with contempt

“Public diplomacy – effectively communicating with publics around the globe – to understand, value and even emulate America’s vision and ideas; historically one of America’s most effective weapons of outreach, persuasion and policy.” Jill A. Schuker (former Senior Director for Public Affairs at the National Security Council), July 2004

To be persuasive, you have to be believable. But who, inside or outside the Syrian opposition, thinks that the following pledge holds an iota of credibility?

Syria is an issue on which the Obama administration has never been fully engaged. It has instead been an issue that refused to go away — however persistently it was ignored. Some officials inside the State Department might sincerely claim they are “with” the Syrian opposition, yet the support provided by the U.S. government as a whole, has proved to be less than worthless.

Following nine hours of talks in Vienna on Friday, Josh Rogin says:

European diplomats at the conference told me they were concerned the new U.S.-led diplomatic effort was an empty gesture, to allow the Obama administration to claim it was working in earnest to solve the Syria crisis.

If U.S. diplomacy rings hollow even among America’s closest allies, then it will predictably and reasonably be ignored by every party directly involved in the war in Syria.


Iran’s supreme leader: ‘America is the main part of the problem in the region, not part of the solution’

AFP reports: Iran’s supreme leader dismissed Sunday the chances of foreign countries bartering a deal over Syria’s future, suggesting they should focus on securing a halt to fighting that allows fresh elections.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also repeated his ban on direct talks with the United States about turmoil in the Middle East, saying US objectives in the region were utterly at odds with Iranian policy.

The comments, to Iran’s ambassadors and other top diplomats, were Khamenei’s first since his country joined international negotiations on the four-year Syrian conflict.

He said Syria’s people must choose who their leader would be, rather than the US and other foreign powers trying to decide for them.

“The Americans seek to impose their own interests, not solve problems. They want to impose 60, 70 percent of their will,” he said, alluding to the peace talks which took place Friday in Vienna.

“So what’s the point of negotiations?” he said, insisting that military and financial support given to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, principally from Gulf states and the US, must stop if the Syria conflict is to end. [Continue reading…]


How the U.S. government condemns or ignores indiscriminate bombing

Micah Zenko writes: If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.”

Col. Warren went further to castigate Russia for its use of one particular type of ordinance: “You know, there’s been reporting that the Russians are using cluster munitions in Syria, which we also find to be irresponsible. These munitions have a high dud rate, they can cause damage and they can hurt civilians, and they’re just, you know, not good.”

That cluster munitions are “not good,” except as a reliable method for killing noncombatants outside of an intended target field, is a well-known and established fact. According to one UN estimate, the failure rates for cluster munitions vary from between 2 and 5 percent (according to manufacturers) to between 10 and 30 percent (according to mine clearance personnel). They were subsequently banned by the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force in August 2010 and has been endorsed by ninety-eight states parties. Notable states that have refused to sign and ratify the convention include those that consistently uses airpower to achieve their military objectives, such as Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]


A surgeon’s struggle to save the victims in a war the West failed to stop

Dr David Nott writes: In 2014, as in 2013, I worked in Aleppo in two hospitals in an opposition neighbourhood. Many of the medics had fled to Turkey and many hospitals had been bombed. The use of barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime on civilian areas meant the largest proportion of patients admitted to the hospital were women and children. The nature of their injuries was such that often all we could do was try to make their final moments less painful. As a surgeon, I felt close to despair.

I came back to the UK and once again spoke about what was happening in Syria. I called it for what it was – a genocide perpetrated by Assad – but still was met with government apathy. There were efforts made by the US and UK to train some rebel groups and provide assistance to refugees; there was talk of humanitarian corridors and no-fly zones – but ultimately, without a protective military presence, such initiatives would never succeed.

It was vacillation on the part of the US and UK that emboldened not only the Assad regime but Putin too. The first Russian air strikes, against targets in the West of Syria, were an audacious attempt to shore up Assad’s Alawite heartland. They struck far from the Isil zones of control.

That Assad is an effective ally in the battle against Isil is a fiction repeated by many commentators. When the revolution commenced in 2011, Assad emptied Syria’s jails of radical Salafists, who went on to become Isil’s leaders and commanders. It suits Assad to have a villain against which he can defend his regime, and in Isil he has one that he has fed and watered to great effect.

The only way to win this war is to put boots on the ground, and that should have been done two years ago when there was an opportunity to help the Free Syrian Army and actively remove Assad from power and stem the rise of Islamic extremism. Instead there was a lack of insight and leadership from the West.

An oft-repeated line was that all the anti-government protagonists are equally extreme, equally impossible Western allies. I can say that from my experience that they are not. Towards the end of my time there in 2014, I went to visit a Catholic Church in Aleppo. There, having tea with the priest, were a group of Free Syrian Army fighters, their rifles slung across their chests as they chatted amicably. The Church had been protected by the Free Syrian fighters and the priest respected for the kindness he showed to many sick and dying people. In March this year, I was shocked to hear that this kindly priest had been killed. Not by supposed Islamist rebels intent on destroying all those of other religions; but by a barrel bomb dropped by one of Assad’s helicopters.

The West has so far abrogated its moral responsibility to the Syrian people and has paid a price not only in the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees flocking to Europe’s shores but also in Putin’s audacious power play, so that we find ourselves in a situation where Russia, Iran and Hizbollah are leading this brutal dance. [Continue reading…]


If Assad stays on, then Syria will never be saved

H A Hellyer writes: The regime in Damascus has powerful backers in Russia and Iran who are willing to intervene. Opponents of that regime have no such comparable sponsors. The help they receive is limited.

Now the search is on for a compromise solution to the crisis in Syria. But the motives have little to do with the civilian body count, which is now in excess of 200,000 since the start of the crisis. The impetus also has little to do with the destruction of much of Syria’s civilisational heritage either. Rather, the critical factors are the flow of refugees to Europe and the threat of ISIL spreading. Bearing these factors in mind, it’s entirely possible Mr Al Assad will get something of a free pass.

But the compromise solution is not the extension of Mr Al Assad’s rule in Damascus. A full solution in Syria would be the radical reform of the regime structure in the country – a full reform of the apparatus, so that not only would Mr Al Assad leave, but the Baathist edifice would change. That wouldn’t necessitate the destruction of the edifice in the same way as in Iraq, but it would mean more than the departure of Mr Al Assad. A compromise, therefore, that includes Mr Al Assad, is not a compromise in the slightest.

But judging from the moves that are currently being entertained in Europe and the US, it may be that any solution that sees the reduction of refugee flows, and increased activity against ISIL, will be deemed as acceptable. [Continue reading…]


U.S. signals Bashar al-Assad can take part in political transition in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports: On Thursday, Thomas Shannon, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be undersecretary of state, said Mr. Kerry is seeking to ascertain whether Russia and Iran are prepared “to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process, he will have to go.”

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Shannon said Mr. Kerry “thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff.”

The U.S. diplomacy is placing the Arab states and Turkey in a bind, as many of them have provided significant arms and funding to the largely Sunni rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, has publicly criticized Russia’s military intervention in Syria, arguing it could strengthen Mr. Assad and Shiite-dominated Iran, his closest Middle East ally.

Still, Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to oppose the new round of diplomacy because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy military investment in Syria. Saudi officials have been holding their own direct talks with the Kremlin and have also pressed for a clear time line for when Mr. Assad would be forced to stand down, senior Arab officials said.

Mr. Obama’s position in the early days of Syria’s civil war was that Mr. Assad had to step down immediately as part of any resolution to the conflict, but that position shifted as the regime held together and the spread of Islamic State has become a higher priority.

The administration’s primary aim now is to get warring parties to abide by a cease-fire, so the U.S. can more effectively zero in on Islamic State and give new momentum to the stalled fight.

As a result, the administration’s view is Mr. Assad’s future can be dealt with later.

Current and former U.S. officials say the White House’s acceptance of Russian and Iranian demands on keeping Mr. Assad in power at least temporarily will make it hard — if not impossible — for the administration to get the different rebel factions fighting the regime to sign on to a cease-fire. [Continue reading…]


U.S. to send dozens of special forces to Syria as first boots on ground

Reuters reports: U.S. officials disclosed plans on Friday to station the first American boots on the ground in Syria in the war against Islamic State fighters, saying dozens of special forces troops would be sent as advisers to groups fighting against the jihadists.

The announcement of the small ground force came as diplomats from more than a dozen countries held talks over Syria, which for the first time in the more than four-year-old civil war were attended by President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Iran.

In a rare hint of diplomatic progress, Tehran signaled it would back a six-month political “transition” period in Syria followed by elections to decide Assad’s fate, although his foes rejected the proposal as a trick to keep the president in power.

The Vienna talks ended without a specific conclusion apart from an agreement to reconvene in some form next week, delegates said. In addition to Assad’s fate, key sticking points have long included the question of which rebel groups should be considered terrorists and who should be involved in the political process. [Continue reading…]


How four federal lawyers paved the way for Obama to order the execution of Osama bin Laden

The New York Times reports: While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a “covert” action, officials said.

If the SEALs got Bin Laden, the Obama administration would lift the secrecy and trumpet the accomplishment. But if it turned out that the founder and head of Al Qaeda was not there, some officials thought the SEALs might be able to slip back out, allowing the United States to pretend the raid never happened.

Mr. Preston wrote a memo addressing when the administration had to alert congressional leaders under a statute governing covert actions. Given the circumstances, the lawyers decided that the administration would be legally justified in delaying notification until after the raid. But then they learned that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, had already briefed several top lawmakers about Abbottabad without White House permission.

The lawyers also grappled with whether it was lawful for the SEAL team to go in intending to kill Bin Laden as its default option. They agreed that it would be legal, in a memo written by Ms. DeRosa, and Mr. Obama later explicitly ordered a kill mission, officials said. [Continue reading…]


After a U.S. shift, Iran has a seat at talks on war in Syria

The New York Times reports: Just a few weeks ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United States were forbidden. He described the United States as a persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution, and said that despite the nuclear agreement, it needed to be kept at a distance.

But participating in the multination Syria talks does not contradict Mr. Khamenei’s dictums, some Iranian analysts say.

“Our leader has banned the bilateral relations between Iran and America or any negotiation aimed at resuming relations,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a political analyst in Tehran considered close to the ayatollah. “Case-by-case negotiations or finding solutions for regional problems on a multilateral basis is all right.”

So, while publicly siding with the hard-liners, the Supreme Leader may well be giving more negotiating room to President Hassan Rouhani, who has advocated more open engagements with the rest of the world. There has already been an unspoken cooperation between Iran and the United States in Iraq, where both are fighting the Islamic State.

“We should thank President Rouhani for his efforts in reaching out to the international community, and the nuclear deal,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government in Tehran. “Now we are seeing the rewards: We are playing an increasing active role in the international arena.”

That role is something that Iran has desperately sought: Diplomatic weight and respect that bolsters its claim that it, not Saudi Arabia, is the most influential power in the region. “It’s very important because it shows that, following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East,” Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator who now teaches at Princeton, said in a telephone interview. “I’m not surprised, because the leader had said that if the deal were done fairly, with face-saving for all parties, Iran would agree to next steps on other issues. This is a big step forward.”

Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist and chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington political consultancy, said that given Russia’s recent intervention in Syria to support Mr. Assad, it was clear he would remain in charge for a while, which meant Iran would be attending the Vienna talks from a position of strength.

Still, Mr. Kupchan said in an email, “as U.S.-Iran contacts spread to a broader array of issues, it will be harder and harder for Iranian conservatives to quarantine cooperation.” [Continue reading…]


Sentenced to be crucified in Saudi Arabia

Nicholas Kristof writes: Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed, told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and the blockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.” [Continue reading…]


Why is the Center for American Progress hosting Benjamin Netanyahu?

Ali Gharib writes:  When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to town next month, he’ll meet with President Obama at the White House for the first time since the right-wing Israeli led a failed campaign to block the liberal Democrat’s nuclear deal with Iran. During the course of his long, no-holds-barred fight against diplomacy with Iran, Netanyahu took a stand with congressional Republicans against the White House, attracting minimal Democratic support for his position against Obama’s signal foreign policy achievement. Three years ago, Netanyahu all but endorsed Obama’s opponent in the presidential race, Mitt Romney. And Netanyahu’s own behavior at home — most notably the modus operandi of his successful reelection bid this year, which included anti-Arab bigotry and a vow to block a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — strained relations further.

So it was altogether fitting that Netanyahu, during his swing through Washington, would be given an award by the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank close to the Republican Party that never strays too far from Netanyahu’s ideological home turf. Though Israel — and its most influential DC lobby group, AIPAC — has traditionally garnered bipartisan support, neoconservatives don’t give a whit about it; they have long thought Democrats, and especially today’s Democrats, were insufficiently hawkish to give Israel the kind of support it needed in the Middle East. And Netanyahu has more than made clear where his allegiances lay on the American political spectrum: with the Republicans, and especially the neoconservatives among them.

It was jarring, then, to see the news yesterday that Netanyahu would be invited to address the liberal Washington think tank Center for American Progress, a group that serves the purpose of fueling the Democratic Party with progressive policies and ideas. The Israeli embassy approached CAP, the Huffington Post reported (in an article in which I was quoted), and asked for an opportunity to speak. “He’s looking for that progressive validation,” a former CAP staffer told the news website, “and they’re basically validating a guy who race-baited during his election and has disavowed the two-state solution.” [Continue reading…]


Do Tehran and Moscow still believe Assad’s political survival depends on mass murder?

Frederic C. Hof writes: In Syria consent for the country to be used as a supply and training base for Hezbollah is limited to Assad-Makhluf family and its enablers. Popular consent in Syria is the last thing Tehran wishes to facilitate.

What Iran might be willing to consider, however, is — with the support of Moscow — obliging its client to suspend indefinitely the worst aspects of his mass homicide political survival strategy. Assad will not conduct mass casualty events — barrel bombing, artillery barrages, aircraft strafing, or Scud missile assaults on apartment blocks — if Iran and Russia instruct him not to do so. If so ordered, Assad will direct the lifting of sieges and the unrestricted passage of United Nations humanitarian assistance convoys to people desperately in need of food and medical treatment.

The key question here is whether Tehran and Moscow will persist in believing that mass terror is essential to their client’s political survival. For some four years they have believed so. To the extent that the Supreme Leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had reputations worth preserving, they have jeopardized them by facilitating the ability of the Assad regime to conduct war crimes and crimes against humanity with absolute impunity. As they evaluate the Syrian situation now, in October 2015, do they still believe that Assad’s political survival must rest on mass homicide?

This is the question that could conceivably produce a new answer from Tehran. Speaking privately in track two settings, senior non-governmental Iranians have expressed regret over and disgust with Assad regime behavior toward defenseless civilians. Can Tehran reconcile the protection of civilians in Syria with its own national security interests? This — rather than some manner of political grand bargain over Syria — would be worth a serious discussion in Vienna. [Continue reading…]


Obama weighs moving U.S. troops closer to front lines in Syria, Iraq

The Washington Post reports: President Obama’s most senior national security advisers have recommended measures that would move U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria, officials said, a sign of mounting White House dissatisfaction with progress against the Islamic State and a renewed Pentagon push to expand military involvement in long-running conflicts overseas.

The debate over the proposed steps, which would for the first time position a limited number of Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria and put U.S. advisers closer to the firefights in Iraq, comes as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter presses the military to deliver new options for greater military involvement in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The changes would represent a significant escalation of the American role in Iraq and Syria. They still require formal approval from Obama, who could make a decision as soon as this week and could decide not to alter the current course, said U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are still ongoing. It’s unclear how many additional troops would be required to implement the changes being considered by the president, but the number for now is likely to be relatively small, these officials said. [Continue reading…]


New allies in northern Syria don’t seem to share U.S. goals

McClatchy reports: After the failure of its $500 million program to stand up a Syrian volunteer force to battle Islamic State extremists, the Obama administration has begun an effort to enable Arab militias to fight alongside a Kurdish force that has gotten U.S. air support for the past year.

The stated U.S. aim is to oust the Islamic State from its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. But if the Shammar tribal militia, the biggest in Hasaka province, is any example, many Arab forces on the ground have a different agenda. For that matter, so does the Kurdish People’s Protection Force, or YPG, which dominates this area and has worked closely with the United States since the siege last year of the border town of Kobani.

The road to the palace of Sheikh Humaydi Daham al Hadi, the head of the Shammar tribe, winds through vast wheat fields in this isolated corner of eastern Syria, past checkpoints manned by YPG fighters, and then by his own guards.

Hasaka, an oil, gas and grain producing area, is now part of what the YPG calls Jazera, one of three cantons that comprise Rojava, or west Kurdistan, a 200-mile-long corridor on Syria’s border with Turkey. The Syrian government, which still has troops in at least two cities, has acquiesced to YPG control.

Because Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group and has closed its borders because of the YPG’s affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the only way into Rojava is by a ferry across the Tigris River from Iraq and hours of driving on secondary roads.

Welcoming visitors in his vast reception room, Sheikh Humaydi says his goal is to lead a Shammar tribal uprising against the Islamic State “to liberate Syria, Iraq and beyond.” But he also wants to carry on a 2-century-old struggle against conservative Wahabi Islam, which he said destroyed the last Shammar emirate, and he favors the breakup of Saudi Arabia, where the puritanical sect dominates. “We are already working on that,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Iran invited to participate in international talks on Syria’s future

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported: “European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke in favor of including Iran. ‘All relevant actors, regionally and internationally should be involved,’ she said. ‘I hope that Iran can be part of this common effort.’ ”

But US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “For the moment Iran is not at the table. And there will come a time perhaps where we will talk to Iran but we are not at the moment at this point of time.”

That was Friday, now it’s Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports: Iran has been invited to participate for the first time in international talks over Syria’s future, U.S. officials said Tuesday, a shift in strategy for the United States and its allies as they seek to halt the four-year civil war and eventually ease President Bashar Assad out of power.

Iran has yet to reply, the officials said.

The next diplomatic round starts Thursday in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats attending.

Washington had held out the possibility of Iran joining the discussions in future, but is only now offering Tehran a seat after days of behind-the-scenes negotiation, particularly with its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Russia extended the invitation. [Continue reading…]


Drone warfare is self-defeating

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The sweeping language in the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) has empowered both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to interpret their counterterrorism mandate broadly, to include targets ranging from the Taliban to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and other Al-Qaeda affiliates around the world.

The U.S. drone program, which aims to eliminate high-value targets from these organizations and disrupt imminent terrorist plots against the United States, has been a key component of their efforts.

However, critics have questioned the program’s effectiveness for some time. For example, U.S. officials didn’t always know whom they were killing or what group the targets belong to — let alone whether or not they committed any grievous crime or posed a meaningful threat to U.S. personnel or interests. Moreover, those killed in the drone strikes were generally not high-value targets, but low-level militants, a term denoting any military-aged male killed in the campaign. [Continue reading…]