Turkey moves closer to intervention in Syria, Iraq

The Washington Post reports: Turkey’s government edged closer Tuesday to direct intervention in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, bolstering security along its frontier with Syria and asking parliament to authorize a deployment of Turkish troops to the two war-ravaged countries.

Turkey on Tuesday dispatched hundreds of soldiers and tanks to the Syrian border to contain potential violent spillover from an Islamic State siege on the Syrian border town of Kobane.

Its cabinet also sent a motion to parliament that would potentially allow Turkish troops to enter Iraqi and Syrian territory to combat extremists. Parliament is scheduled to vote on the authorization in a closed session on Oct. 2. Proposed by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the motion is considered likely to pass.

In a news briefing after the cabinet meeting, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the proposal would include a wide range of options, including opening Turkish bases to foreign troops and deploying Turkish soldiers to establish safe zones for refugees inside Syria. The government wants the motion to be broad enough to avoid needing another parliamentary mandate for military action, he said. [Continue reading...]

What Turkey is calling “safe zones” or a “buffer zone” is viewed by many Kurds as a euphemism for an occupation — designed to restrict Kurdish autonomy rather than push back ISIS.

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ISIS closes in on Kobane

The Associated Press reports: Militants of the Islamic State group were closing in Monday on a Kurdish area of Syria on the border with Turkey — an advance unhindered so far by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, including one that struck a grain silo, killing two civilians, according to activists.

Islamic State fighters pounded the city of Kobani with mortars and artillery shells, advancing within three miles (five kilometers) of the Kurdish frontier city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Nawaf Khalil, a Kurdish official.

The Islamic extremists intensified their shelling of the border region following U.S.-led strikes Saturday. The aerial assault appeared to have done little to thwart the militants, Kurdish officials and activists said, adding that of anything, the extremists seemed more determined to seize the area, which would deepen their control over territory stretching from the Turkish border, across Syria and to the western edge of Baghdad.

“Instead of pushing them back, now every time they hear the planes, they shell more,” Ahmad Sheikho, an activist operating along the Syria-Turkey border, said of the Islamic State fighters. He estimated he heard a rocket explosion every 15 minutes or so.

Three mortar shells landed in a field in nearby Turkey, the Turkish military said in a statement. After the strike, Turkey’s military moved tanks away from the army post in the area, positioning them on a hill overlooking the border. [Continue reading...]

Today’s Zaman reports: After a visit to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, a leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) called on the Turkish government to support Syrian Kurds’ fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to defend the besieged town near the Turkish border, saying this is a chance to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds.

Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chairman of the HDP, was speaking to reporters on the Turkish side of the border after visiting Kobani.

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Turning point as Kurds push back ISIS at Iraqi-Syrian border

Rudaw reports: In a potential turning point in the fightback against the Islamic State, Kurdish forces on Tuesday said they had retaken the strategic Iraqi town of Rabia that straddles a main road near the border with Syria.

Rabia has provided a road link for the jihadists between their strongholds in Syria and Iraq, including the country’s second largest city of Mosul which IS captured in June.

The loss of Rabia would be the most significant setback for ISIS forces in northern Iraq since the launch of U.S. and allied air strike earlier this month.

A Peshmerga commander, Shiekh Ahmad Mohammad, told Rudaw: “Rabia is under the control of Kurdish forces. We are leaving their bodies behind and picking up their abandoned weapons.”

The YPG, the protection force of the Kurdish-held zone in neighbouring Syria, said the capture of Rabia was a joint operation between them and the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but this was not immediately confirmed by the Peshmerga side.

The YPG has been harassing ISIS forces in the area, while further west, in Rojava, its units have been resisting the advance of ISIS forces against the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobane.

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the border into Kobane on Tuesday in a visit of solidarity. He later called on the Turkish government to support the fight of Syrian Kurds against ISIS. He said this was an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with its own Kurdish population. [Continue reading...]

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Turkey’s clumsy politics and the Kurdish question

Cengiz Aktar writes: As the US-led war on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gathers steam, there has been a great deal of speculation over the role Turkey might play in the campaign. Ankara kept a low profile while 49 of its nationals were held hostage by ISIL in Mosul. Since their release on September 20, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made statements affirming Turkey’s commitment to take part in the campaign.

Yet Ankara’s ISIL policy is not only ambiguous in the eyes of many but appears at odds with its regional Kurdish policy. Conflicting statements made by various Turkish officials do not help either. For instance on September 28, a deputy of the ruling AKP party Yalcin Akdogan declared that he thought the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish group from Turkey, should fight ISIL instead of resting in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan where they are currently based.

Well, it so happens that the PKK has been engaged in this fight for some time, supporting the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds in their battles against ISIL. Not to mention, the irony of a Turkish deputy calling for assistance from a group still designated as “terrorist” by the government – especially when on that same day, the president makes a statement comparing PKK to ISIL. This, despite the “peace talks” Erdogan himself inaugurated in January 2013 to resolve the festering decades-long conflict with the PKK. [Continue reading...]

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Causes of California drought linked to climate change

EurekAlert!: The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change, Stanford scientists say.

In a new study, a team led by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean that diverted storms away from California was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

The research, published on Sept. 29 as a supplement to this month’s issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is one of the most comprehensive studies to investigate the link between climate change and California’s ongoing drought.

“Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region—which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California—is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s,” said Diffenbaugh, associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The exceptional drought currently crippling California is by some metrics the worst in state history. Combined with unusually warm temperatures and stagnant air conditions, the lack of precipitation has triggered a dangerous increase in wildfires and incidents of air pollution across the state. A recent report estimated that the water shortage would result in direct and indirect agricultural losses of at least $2.2 billion, and lead to the loss of more than 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs in 2014 alone. Such impacts prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency, and the federal government to designate all 58 California counties as “natural disaster areas.” [Continue reading...]

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‘Where’s Obama?’ Refugees flood across Turkish border as ISIS steps up attacks on Syrian Kurds

The New York Times reports: Shelling intensified Sunday on Kobani, the Syrian town at the center of a region of Kurdish farming villages that has been under a weeklong assault by Islamic State militants, setting fire to buildings and driving a stream of new refugees toward the fence here at the border with Turkey.

The extremist Sunni militants have been closing in on the town from the east and west after moving into villages with tanks and artillery, outgunning Kurdish fighters struggling to defend the area. The Kurds fear a massacre, especially after recent Islamic State attacks on Kurdish civilians in Iraq. More than 150,000 people have fled into Turkey over the past week.

There were no sounds of jets overhead to indicate to the Kurds that help was coming from the American-led coalition, whose stated mission is to degrade and destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Two airstrikes on the eastern front hit Islamic State armored vehicles on Saturday, but did not appear to halt the advance.

“Where’s Obama?” one Turkish Kurd demanded, watching in anguish near the border fence as the headlights of cars could be seen streaming out of Kobani toward the border, although there was no way to cross it. “Does he care about the Kurds?” [Continue reading...]

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Kurdistan on the horizon

Betsy Hiel reports: In June, as ISIS overran Mosul and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, the Iraqi army melted away. Kurdish forces — the peshmerga, or “those who face death” — raced to secure the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other areas that Kurds have long claimed as their own.

Amid the chaos, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani ordered preparations for a self-determination referendum.

In August, the outgunned, outmanned Kurds pulled back to defend Irbil, leaving scores of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis, a religious minority, to ISIS’ savagery.

Kurds accused Baghdad of withholding weapons and ammunition, including emergency aid from the United States.

ISIS’ defeat of the Kurdish peshmerga, long respected as fierce fighters, left many Kurds rethinking their timeline for independence — but not their ultimate goal.

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish political analyst, considers it “a wake-up call for the Kurds, that what we have today … is not viable to give us complete independence.”

Only America’s airstrikes on ISIS, he said, “came to our rescue.”

Henri Barkey, an international relations professor and Kurdish expert at Lehigh University in Northampton County, predicts that if Kurds held a referendum, “90 percent would say ‘yes’ to independence. Who wouldn’t?”

But “the timing is bad now,” he added, because “ISIS is a real serious danger.”

Barkey, a trustee at American University of Iraq in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, believes the longer Kurds wait, the better their chance of achieving independence: “The more they play that centralizing-glue role, the more they build up chips, the more time they have to consolidate some of (their) positions … for instance, on Kirkuk.”

Osman believes the problem “is what kind of independence do we want?”

The “makeup of ISIS, the demographic and the geopolitics of ISIS, do not suggest that ISIS is going to end anytime soon,” he explained. “ISIS is a Sunni Arab problem — Kurds and Shias cannot end them; Sunni Arabs have to.

“My worry is that with the continuation of ISIS where they are, we will end up with a Taliban-style state just to our south. … We could become a strong-security state, ruled by an elite that isn’t accountable.

“When security kicks in, democratic values (can) be sacrificed,” he said. “That is what we really don’t want.

“Defending Kurdistan is one thing, but turning (it) into a security state is my biggest fear.” [Continue reading...]

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First airstrikes hit ISIS in Kobane outskirts

Rudaw reports: The US-led anti-Islamic State coalition launched airstrikes targeting militant strongholds on the outskirts of the beleaguered Kurdish city of Kobane for the first time early Saturday, according to local officials.

The strike follows a weeklong Islamic State (IS or ISIS) offensive that has driven over 140,000 Syrian Kurds across the Turkish border.

Ahmed Sulaiman, an official of the Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, told Rudaw that the mission targeted ISIS militants based in Jim-Hiran, Ali-Shar, Mirde Smill, and southern sections of Sheran, all villages east of Kobane, the unofficial capital of the autonomous Kurdish vilayets in Northern Syria.

The bombings began at approximately 6am, according to witnesses, and continued through the morning.

This is the first time that coalition airstrikes targeted the vicinity of the embattled Kurdish city, arriving after a week of desperate pleas from local residents and opposition militias for the coalition to intervene.

ISIS fighters retaliated by shelling the city from positions 10 kilometers away.

Residents reported five major explosions inside the city at 3:30pm. This is the first time the city itself has come under attack. [Continue reading...]

Middle East Eye adds: The US-led coalition overnight and this morning also expanded its campaign against militants in eastern and central Syria, hitting the Homs province for the first time on Saturday, and also targeting the town of Minbej, near the western limit of IS control, the Observatory said.

Further attacks were also unleashed on Raqqa, which Islamic State have made their headquarters, the Britain-based monitoring group said, while adding that IS-held oil fields had also come under attack from the air.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the targets hit in Homs province were far away from the front line with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who control Homs city, Syria’s third largest.

“The US-Arab coalition has for the first time struck IS bases in the eastern desert of Homs province,” Abdel Rahman said, adding that the positions were in the area of Al-Hammad, east of ancient city Palmyra.

Washington has been keen not to let Assad’s forces exploit the air campaign against IS to take the upper hand in the more than three-year-old civil war.

However, speculation about increasing cooperation between Assad and the coalition is growing. [Continue reading...]

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David Sheen on Israeli incitement to genocide

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How Israel silences dissent

Mairav Zonszein writes: On July 12, four days after the latest war in Gaza began, hundreds of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv to protest the killing of civilians on both sides and call for an end to the siege of Gaza and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. They chanted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Hamas had warned that it would fire a barrage of rockets at central Israel after 9 p.m., and it did.

But the injuries suffered in Tel Aviv that night stemmed not from rocket fire but from a premeditated assault by a group of extremist Israeli Jews. Chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists,” they attacked protesters with clubs. Although several demonstrators were beaten and required medical attention, the police made no arrests.

The same thing happened at another antiwar protest in Haifa a week later; this time, the victims included the city’s deputy mayor, Suhail Assad, and his son. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no statement condemning the violence, even though he had previously stated his primary concern was the safety of Israeli citizens. [Continue reading...]

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‘Their fight is our fight’: Kurds rush from across Turkey to defend Kobani

The Guardian reports: In the village of Yumurtalik, just over two miles west of the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish side of the border, picnic blankets dot a pistachio orchard; groups of men and women sit around eating and chatting. Some distribute flatbreads, olives and cheese, while others stand at the edge of a field, pointing at the barbed wire that separates the two countries.

“This border has no meaning for us,” says Rahman, 40. “We are all of the same blood. The pain in Kobani is our pain, and their fight is our fight.” Every now and then the thuds of missiles can be heard in the distance. The frontline between Islamic State (Isis) and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defence Units (PYD) has steadily crept closer to Kobani over the past week.

“We have come here to protect Kobani and to watch over this border,” Nasrettin, 47, says. “We don’t trust Turkey to do this right. They would be happy if Isis wiped Kurdistan from the map.”

Like the majority of Kurds here he firmly believes that Ankara is actively supporting Isis with heavy weaponry, medical care and money – a charge that the Turkish government vehemently denies. Facebook pictures and YouTube videos that appear to back up their suspicions are eagerly shared among the picnickers, and continuous attacks by Turkish security forces on Kurdish activists gathering in border villages is proof enough for most that Turkey does not want the Kurds to prevail in Kobani. [Continue reading...]

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As a matter of law, we do not need the UN’s permission to attack ISIS

As parliament is about to debate whether Britain should go to war with ISIS, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson writes: Isis is a group of international criminals, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity with genocidal intent, and the right – arguably the duty – to protect their victims does not depend on Russian approval in the Security Council.

Isis has been killing innocent civilians because of their religion and issuing blood-curdling incitements to kill “all non-believers”. They have been executing without trial, recruiting children as soldiers, taking and killing hostages. They are, in the Latin phrase used in international law, hostis humanis generis, the enemies of humankind. As with the pirate, torturer and slave trader, no UN approval is necessary for law-abiding states to use force against such barbarity.

But our complicity in the invasion of Iraq has cast a long shadow; Ed Miliband, for example, has evinced a “preference” for a Security Council resolution. This is unnecessary and in fact undesirable – action in humanitarian emergencies should not be vulnerable to the veto of the Chinese, or of President Putin. A resolution was necessary for the invasion of Iraq – a sovereign state where there was no basis for humanitarian intervention. President Bush expressly excluded this justification for his (and our) war. As for last year’s proposal to bomb Syria, it was a one-off punishment reprisal of questionable legality and doubtful purpose and it was sensibly rejected by Parliament (and people). [Continue reading...]

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In open letter to ISIS, Muslim scholars denounce its ideology

Religion News Service: More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine. [Continue reading...]

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Despite reported airstrikes, ISIS edges toward Kobani

Syria Direct reports: The Islamic State appeared to be closing in on the Kurdish-majority city of Ain al-Arab in northern Aleppo Wednesday despite unconfirmed reports of airstrikes against IS positions in the area the night before.

Reports on the ground indicate that the Islamic State is anywhere from 10 to 15 kilometers from Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

Meanwhile, conflicting accounts cast doubt on the reported airstrikes against IS positions in Ain al-Arab.

The primary source of the report, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that an airstrike Tuesday night hit IS supply roads 35 kilometers west of Kobani.

The monitoring group could not confirm that the plane was part of the American- led coalition, but did add that the aircraft was not Syrian and came from the direction of Turkey.

Arabic and Kurdish news agencies also reported the airstrikes Tuesday night.

“According to local sources…airplanes with the international alliance hit IS positions west of Kobani,” Ara News, a pro-opposition Syrian news agency, was quoted as saying.

Kurdish reactions to the airstrikes against IS in Syria appear to be positive, even if confusion remains as to whether the strikes around Ain al-Arab actually took place.

“There was a state of joy and satisfaction [amongst the Kurds] following the strikes,” Baz Ali Bkari, a Kurdish journalist based in the Turkish side of the border, told Syria Direct Wednesday, “because it means saving the Kurdish people from a genocide at the hands of IS.”

“The Kurdish people are with the American strikes against IS,” according to Radwan Biza, another journalist based in the Kurdish city of Tal Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border.

“US-led airstrikes targeted IS strongholds in Kobani at the Turkish border,” said Kurdish news agency Rudaw Wednesday.

Turkish officials, however, denied that Turkey was involved in the attack, saying that neither Turkish airspace nor airports were used in the operation. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas weighs alternatives to Palestinian unity government

Adnan Abu Amer reports: As Cairo’s indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians started on Sept. 23 toward a cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian negotiations between Fatah and Hamas also kicked off on files related to the reconciliation reached in April.

The Palestinian dialogue comes amid tensions between Fatah and Hamas that escalated immediately after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza Aug. 26, due to disputes regarding the reconstruction of Gaza and the unpaid wages of former government employees.

Speaking at a celebration organized by the International Union of Muslim Scholars on Sept. 21, before the Cairo talks, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, said: “As soon as the Gaza war ended, the attack against Hamas started. This aims at stirring a hostile media campaign. Hamas has no time to waste on secondary battles. We have priorities, most important of which is the issue concerning the reconstruction of Gaza. We will not tolerate negligence in any issue and we will not accept the cancelation of any part stipulated in the reconciliation.” [Continue reading...]

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Syrian Kurds call for more targeted strikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: The chaos in a town near Turkey’s Syrian border intensified after U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday, prompting Kurdish leaders to call on Washington to give them a role in coordinating the fight against the jihadists.

Kurdish leaders said that after U.S. warplanes hit Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the insurgents redeployed men and heavy weaponry closer to Kurdish areas. The officials said the jihadist onslaught around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, known in Kurdish as Kobani, continued through Tuesday, as shells fell on the city and surrounding villages were seized.

Turkey’s government said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the jihadist advance rose to 150,000, while the United Nations relief agency warned the number could reach 400,000.

Panic over Islamic State’s advance led to fresh clashes at the border between Turkish security forces and angry Kurdish protesters who cursed the absence of Turkey—a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member with a major U.S. air base—from the Washington-led coalition. Speaking to reporters in New York, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could give military or logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition, but stopped short of offering any firm commitments.

The Syrian Kurdish militia, which fights under the banner of the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, on Tuesday asked to join President Barack Obama’s coalition.

“We welcome the airstrikes but they didn’t help Kobani. The U.S. should coordinate with us,” said Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman. “We fear that the airstrikes may even push their fighters to concentrate on Kobani, endangering the city even more.” [Continue reading...]

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Does Turkey still remain hostage to ISIS?

Cengiz Candar writes: Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington and an opposition member of parliament, a leading figure in foreign policy issues, sees the “deal with IS” as scandalous, which could place Turkey’s relations with the Western world on a more problematic course. He asked the government: “There are serious allegations that IS has been supplied with tanks and weapons and that these were carried by train to Tell Abyad. The government must respond to these allegations. What is meant by a ‘diplomatic deal’ is the freeing of IS militants detained in Turkey. How many? Why were they detained? For example, on March 25, 2014, three IS terrorists were arrested for killing three citizens at Ulukisla-Nigde. Are they part of the deal?

“Erdogan’s remarks on an exchange are scandalous, showing that he recognizes IS as an interlocutor to make diplomatic deals with. Social media close to IS reported 150 IS militants, 50 of them women, detained in Turkey were released. Sources close to the PKK allege Turkey has supplied IS with tanks and other weapons. Finally, IS could have been assured that Turkey will remain outside the coalition.”

There are many indicators that Turkey, even after the hostage release, does not have a free hand vis-a-vis IS. While it has rescued its hostages, it still remains hostage to IS. [Continue reading...]

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Why U.S. airstrikes in Syria may be bad for the planet

The Washington Post reports: The United States and its partners expanded its war against Islamic State on Tuesday, with airstrikes against the extremist group striking within Syria for the first time. It’s a dramatic escalation: Strikes in Syria have been a subject of heated debate for months, and a lesser-known but widely feared group linked to al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan, is being targeted for the first time.

The strikes in Syria are clearly a big deal. It’s also possible, however, that they may overshadow an issue with an even wider importance.

On Tuesday, more than 120 world leaders were gathering at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for an unusual one-day summit on climate change. While there have been some notable absences, the scale of the event is hard to ignore: It’s one of the largest one-day meetings of world leaders in history, and it’s certainly the largest-ever summit on climate change.

However, despite a push for publicity from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a huge climate change march in New York City on Sunday, it’s hard not to feel like attention is elsewhere at the United Nations.

In the U.N. Correspondents Lounge, much of the talk focuses on the strikes in Syria, and while President Obama is due to speak at the summit later, his comments on the Syria strikes were dominating the news during the mid-morning.

Online data seem to confirm that the strikes in Syria are winning the war for attention: According to social analytics firm Topsy, the number of people tweeting about “Syria” on Tuesday morning was twice the number tweeting about “climate change.” Google Trends shows a spike of search traffic for Syria, but topics related to climate change are not mentioned. [Continue reading...]

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