Addressing the UN Security Council yesterday, Angelina Jolie Pitt said: In 2011, the Syrian refugees I met were full of hope. They said “please, tell people what is happening to us”, trusting that the truth alone would guarantee international action.
When I returned, hope was turning into anger: the anger of the man who held his baby up to me, asking “is this a terrorist? Is my son a terrorist?”
On my last visit in February, anger had subsided into resignation, misery and the bitter question “why are we, the Syrian people, not worth saving?”
To be a Syrian caught up in this conflict is to be cut off from every law and principle designed to protect innocent life:
International humanitarian law prohibits torture, starvation, the targeting of schools and hospitals – but these crimes are happening every day in Syria.
The Security Council has powers to address these threats to international peace and security – but those powers lie unused.
The UN has adopted the Responsibility to Protect concept, saying that when a State cannot protect its people the international community will not stand by – but we are standing by, in Syria.
The problem is not lack of information – we know in excruciating detail what is happening in Yarmouk, in Aleppo and in Homs.
The problem is lack of political will.
We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent. [Continue reading…]
Angelina Jolie to UN: In Syria the Security Council has refused to use its powers to protect and defend the innocent
Amnesty International: The killing of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, and the injury of thousands during the relentless Saudi Arabian-led campaign of airstrikes across Yemen must be urgently investigated, said Amnesty International, one month after the strikes began.
“The month-long campaign of air strikes carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies has transformed many parts of Yemen into a dangerous place for civilians,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“Millions of people have been forced to live in a state of utter terror, afraid of being killed at home. Many feel they are left with no choice but to move away from their destroyed villages to an uncertain future.”
According to the UN more than 550 civilians have been killed including more than 100 children since the military campaign began on 25 March.
Amnesty International has documented eight strikes in five densely populated areas (Sa’dah, Sana’a, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Ibb). Several of these strikes raise concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.
The Guardian reports: Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.
“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.
The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.
Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill. [Continue reading…]
Viet Thanh Nguyen writes: Thursday, the last day of April, is the 40th anniversary of the end of my war. Americans call it the Vietnam War, and the victorious Vietnamese call it the American War. In fact, both of these names are misnomers, since the war was also fought, to great devastation, in Laos and Cambodia, a fact that Americans and Vietnamese would both rather forget.
In any case, for anyone who has lived through a war, that war needs no name. It is always and only “the war,” which is what my family and I call it. Anniversaries are the time for war stories to be told, and the stories of my family and other refugees are war stories, too. This is important, for when Americans think of war, they tend to think of men fighting “over there.” The tendency to separate war stories from immigrant stories means that most Americans don’t understand how many of the immigrants and refugees in the United States have fled from wars — many of which this country has had a hand in.
Although my family and other refugees brought our war stories with us to America, they remain largely unheard and unread, except by people like us. Compared with many of the four million Vietnamese in the diaspora, my family has been lucky. None of my relatives can be counted among the three million who died during the war, or the hundreds of thousands who disappeared at sea trying to escape by boat. But our experiences in coming to America were difficult.
When I first came to this country, at age 4, I was taken from my parents and put into a household of American strangers who were supposed to care for me while my parents got on their feet. I remember a small apartment, or maybe a mobile home, and a young couple who did not know what to do with me. I was sent on to a bigger house, a family with children, who asked me how to use chopsticks. I’m sure they meant to be welcoming, but I was perplexed and disappointed in myself for not knowing how to use them.
As for Vietnam, it is both familiar and strange. I heard much about it as I grew up in San Jose, Calif., in a Vietnamese enclave where I ate Vietnamese food, went to a Vietnamese church, studied the Vietnamese language, and heard Vietnamese stories, which were always about loss and pain. My parents and everyone I knew had lost homes, wealth, relatives, country and peace of mind. Letters and photographs in Par Avion envelopes, trimmed in red and blue, would arrive bearing words of poverty and hunger and despair. My parents had left behind my older, adopted sister, whom I knew only through one black-and-white photograph, a beautiful girl with a lonely expression. I didn’t remember her at all. I didn’t remember the grandparents who passed away one by one, two of whom I never met because they had stayed in the north while my parents had fled to the south as teenagers in 1954. [Continue reading…]
Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai write: A highly regarded member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family recently repeated assertions that Riyadh will want the same capabilities that Iran is allowed under a final agreement on its nuclear program. The Saudi stance, articulated most recently by former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, has raised fears that a nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran will produce a regional domino effect that could spread civilian nuclear programs across the Middle East and increase the number of nuclear weapons states in the region.
Although such a possibility can’t be dismissed entirely, a close analysis of probable scenarios suggests that a final Iranian nuclear agreement is unlikely to trigger a regional nuclear weapons cascade.
On their own, civilian nuclear programs do not necessarily imply a military threat. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), member countries are allowed to pursue civilian nuclear programs. Because of a growing energy demand, many countries in the Middle East are exploring nuclear power as part of their energy mix. While some, including the United Arab Emirates, have succeeded in starting civilian nuclear power programs, others face serious financing and technical capacity issues. Developing a nuclear program is neither easy nor cheap. Nuclear power plants cost $4 billion to $10 billion each, and acquiring nuclear technologies requires significant financial and scientific investment and, for most countries in the Middle East, foreign help. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”
The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.
The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.
But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets. [Continue reading…]
Henri J. Barkey writes: The state as we know it is vanishing in the Middle East. Strife in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, foreign intrusion from states within the region and outside it, and dreadful rule by self-serving elites have all contributed to the destruction of societies, infrastructure and systems of governance. Nonstate actors of all kinds, most of them armed, are emerging to run their own shows. Generations of mistrust underlie it all.
It is difficult to see how Humpty Dumpty will ever be put back together again. To be sure, many Middle Eastern states were mostly illegitimate to begin with. They may have been recognized internationally, but their governments exercised authority mostly through repression and sometimes through terror. They relied on a political veneer or constructed narrative to justify the rule of ethnic or sectarian minorities, mafia-like family clans or power-hungry dictators. In most countries, the systems that were built were never intended to create national institutions, so they did not.
The Arab Spring shook some of these societies to the core, precipitating their disintegration. But it was the rise of the Islamic State, and the ease with which it spread through Syria and Iraq, that truly laid bare the incoherence of the existing states. [Continue reading…]
Claudia Gazzini and Issandr El Amrani write: The United Nations is walking a tightrope in Libya. Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the latest non-state actor to emerge in the current chaos. Because of this threat, pressure is mounting on the UN to relax a four-year-old international arms embargo to allow weapons to be delivered to the Libyan military to fight the group.
This would be a terrible move: It almost certainly would scuttle ongoing talks brokered by Bernardino Leon, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya; dash any hope of a peaceful solution; and create fertile ground for jihadi groups to flourish.
Libya is fragmented between a parliament elected in June 2014, based in the eastern coastal town of Tobruk, and the previous one in Tripoli, each with its associated government and militia forces. There is no Libyan military worthy of the name.
What calls itself the Libyan National Army, loyal to the Tobruk parliament and headed by Khalifa Haftar, a former army general who in early 2014 announced his ambition to stage a coup against the then-unified government, is little more than a coalition of militias just as one finds on the other side.
In this chaos, Islamist militant groups have thrived. Some, like Ansar al-Sharia, were born from the revolutionary groups that took up arms in 2011, received NATO backing and have further radicalised since. [Continue reading…]
Iraqi military ‘kills 250 Isis fighters’ and re-takes swathes of territory in fierce battle for Anbar
The Independent: A senior commander in the Iraqi army claims his forces have killed hundreds of Isis militants and re-taken swathes of territory in Anbar province, where the extremist group launched a counter-offensive in recent weeks.
Lieutenant General Abdul Amir al Shammari told Sky News his forces had killed “more than 250 terrorists in the past few days”.
He said this had been achieved with assistance from the Iraqi air force, military helicopters and coalition airstrikes. “The coalition strikes provided cover for our troops to push forward.”
Ronald Grigor Suny writes: Turkey, like many other nations, celebrates its founding moments as a heroic struggle against internal and external enemies. The perpetrators of atrocities imagine themselves instead to be victims.
After Pope Francis reminded the world that the centenary of the greatest atrocity of World War I was approaching and the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s continued efforts to conceal, distort and evade the facts, Mr. Erdogan responded by claiming that the Turks had experienced “far more suffering than what the Armenians went through,” while his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accused European lawmakers of anti-Turkish racism.
Such obstinate refusal to come to terms with history’s darker chapters is not unique to Turkey. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has refused to acknowledge and apologize for what Imperial Japan did during its colonial annexation of Korea or in China in the 1930s and during World War II. Russians agonize over but repeatedly temper their assessments of Stalin’s crimes; Poles and Ukrainians turn away from the brutalities of the anti-Semitic pogroms before and during World War II.
Americans, Australians and Israelis shy away from confronting the foundational crimes that were committed against those living on the territory that they coveted but which they wanted emptied of indigenous people. It is often forgotten that former victims can easily become perpetrators in their drive to make a nation.
There are examples of straightforward recognition and public repentance. After the Holocaust and much soul-searching, a democratic Germany acknowledged what the Nazis had done. The record of fascist atrocities is now taught in schools and memorialized throughout the country without relativizing the horrors by referring to what Germany’s enemies did.
As Pope Francis put it, “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” Courageous Turkish and Kurdish historians have long realized this, and they have defied the government by challenging the traditional nationalist account that blames Armenians for their own destruction.
These historians have sought to reconstruct what happened in 1915 and examine why the Young Turks convinced themselves that Armenians were an existential threat to the future of their empire. Their thankless but necessary task is to lay the groundwork for honest scholarship that involves the uncovering of the pain that governments would prefer to bury forever. [Continue reading…]
Fred Kaplan writes: There may be no messier spot on the planet than Yemen, and too many nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf states, Iran, and the United States, too — are making it still messier by cramming it into the framework of the most divisive regional politics and then hoping, against all reason and history, that bombing its cities will settle its problems.
The Saudi air force commenced bombing on March 25 — and has since been joined by the United Arab Emirates, with the United States providing logistics and intelligence — in an attempt to oust Houthi rebels, who have taken over the Yemeni capital of Sana after ousting President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Houthis are Shiite and have reportedly received some arms from Iran; Hadi is Sunni and thus was viewed as a “stabilizing” force — a bulwark against Iranian incursions — on Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
But in fact, this framework distorts the true picture — it’s a Procrustean bed that chops off the root causes, and plausible ways out, of Yemen’s conflicts — and we should abandon our role as enabler as quickly as possible. President Obama seems to be doing just that, pressuring the Saudis to halt the bombing. They briefly complied, putting out the cover story that they’d accomplished their military objectives — but soon after resumed the airstrikes.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday that his country would continue to stop Houthi advances in Yemen, but this suggests that the Houthis are alien invaders. In fact, they are, and have been for centuries, the dominant tribe of northern Yemen, which was an independent state until 1990, when it merged with southern Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen. The north had been, and still was, predominantly Shiite (mainly Houthi); the south was, and is, predominantly Sunni. And after unification, the southern Sunnis ruled, marginalizing the northern Shiites — thus almost inevitably siring revolt, especially since Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab countries, has few resources to share in the first place. [Continue reading…]
Bill Law writes: It must have seemed a very good idea at the time. The young, ambitious son of an aged king launching a war against a rebellion in a troubled country to the south.
Ignore the fact that the tribe you are attacking is in fact a useful buffer against an even greater threat. Ignore that this tribe badly beat your country’s forces just a few years previously. Ignore the disquiet of old friends because it’s your moment and you have just been appointed the minister of defence.
You are bristling with new weapons, billions of dollars’ worth of them, you have a powerful older rival and you need to prove your mettle both to your supporters and to him. Go to war, young man, go to war and win a quick, decisive victory that confirms your stature as a great military leader.
And so when Mohammed bin Salman, sixth and favourite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, launched Operation Decisive Storm on 26 March, and orchestrated an air war against the Houthis of Yemen, he did so no doubt convinced of an easy win.
This would be a breeze, especially as the Egyptians would commit ground troops and if not them than the Pakistanis. After all, both countries have received billions of dollars in aid and interest-free loans from the Saudis over the years. But the Egyptians proved to have long memories. In the 1960s, 20,000 of their soldiers died in Yemen fighting a futile war that came to be known as Egypt’s Vietnam.
And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan who, it is frequently said, owes his life to the Saudis, proved shrewd in referring the matter to parliament that then universally rejected it. No doubt the MPs were annoyed that the Saudis had previously and rather pompously announced Pakistan had joined the fray, without bothering to ask them. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Senior U.S. officials pressed Saudi leaders in a series of messages to quickly wrap up their air campaign in Yemen for fear of making matters worse, people familiar with the matter said, before Riyadh declared Tuesday it was ending the offensive.
Yet on Wednesday, Saudi airstrikes resumed in several parts of the country after Iranian-linked Houthi militants took over a military brigade in the southern city of Taiz, provincial security officials said. There was no sign of peace talks, though the Saudis had said they were shifting to a mostly political phase of their effort to respond to the chaos in the impoverished Arab country on its southern border.
Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir said his country would continue to use force in response to Houthi aggression.
“When the Houthis or their allies make aggressive moves, there will be a response,” he said. “The decision to calm matters now rests entirely with them.” [Continue reading…]
An April 17 UN report says: Civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, damaged and disrupted as a result of the fighting, including at least five hospitals (Sana’a, Al Dhale’e and Aden), 15 schools and educational institutions (Aden, Al Dhale’e, and Sana’a), the three main national airports (Sana’a, Aden and Hudaydah), and at least two bridges, two factories and four mosques in Al Dhale’e. Reports have also been received of damage to local markets, power stations, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in Aden, Hajjah and Sa’ada. Civilians’ private homes are being directly affected by airstrikes and armed clashes, particularly in the south.
The Daily Beast reports: “It was pitch black. We were groping our way through the forest, hoping to hear water soon. I’d seen the maps and spoken to others who had done the journey before—I knew that once we reached the river, we would nearly be in Greece.”
This was no orienteering exercise. It was a long-awaited attempt to enter Europe.
In 2014, 23-year-old Yousef made the perilous overland journey from Turkey to Germany, fleeing Syria, where he had been imprisoned for organizing peaceful protests. Many people make this journey with the help of paid smugglers, but Yousef had spent the months beforehand poring over maps of Europe, filling his camera phone with screenshot aerial views of the terrain and learning village names by heart.
“I had no money. I couldn’t afford the smugglers’ fees, so I had to rely on myself for a lot of the journey,” he told The Daily Beast at his new home in central Germany. “I spoke to everyone I could to hear how they had done it, and studied really hard.”
At the Greek border, the waters of the Evros River that separates Greece from Turkey were flowing fast. “I’m a fairly good swimmer, but I still believed I’d be washed away. We waited until sunrise so we could see more clearly, and then I jumped in with a rope tied around me. I thought, ‘That’s it, Yousef, you’re going to drown here.’ But somehow I made it to the opposite bank and tied the rope to a tree so others could cross more easily.”
After less than half an hour, however, Yousef and his three other companions were caught by Greek police. Forced into a car, they were instantly returned to Turkey.
Today, over 3.8 million Syrians have fled the brutality of the Syrian war zone. Many have sought sanctuary in neighboring countries, but countless others are desperately attempting to reach European soil. With European Union states granting formal entry to only a handful of refugees (at 30,000, Germany has been by far the most “generous”) many have resorted to seeking asylum after illegal entry. Currently, the bulk of those attempting to reach Europe illegally are Syrians. [Continue reading…]
Yesterday’s announcement by Saudi Arabia of the end of the month-long air campaign, “Decisive Storm,” resulted in lots of news reports claiming that the bombing of Yemen had ended. Indeed, that’s what some Saudi officials seemed to think:
“The focus will now shift from military operations to the political process,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said, adding this transition was at the request of Yemen’s Western-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
But if operation “Renewal of Hope” is supposed to mark a shift away from military operations, there’s no indication when that might happen.
“We are not talking about a cease-fire,” Saudi coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told the Saudi-owned television network Al Arabiya, adding that the next phase of the operation “has a military component.”
“Members of the coalition have reiterated their commitment to restore Yemen’s security and stability without any foreign interference,” the spokesman said.
Mohammed al-Basha, Yemen’s chief representative in Washington, yesterday provided this assessment of the situation:
I will be honest, I have no idea what's going on ! #Yemen
— Mohammed Albasha (@Yemen411) April 21, 2015
In an analysis for Middle East Eye, Simona Sikimic and Mary Atkinson write:
With the violence still apparently raging on the ground, and the future aims of the coalition marred in uncertainty, many commentators and analysts have been left wondering why now?
“I was not sure that they [the coalition] had set out any goals in the first place,” said [Charlene] Rodrigues [a journalist focusing on Yemen]. “There did not seem to be any plan so I cannot say what has been achieved apart from destruction. The Houthis until now had shown no signs of giving up and they were still fighting.”
According to Simon Henderson, the director of the Washington Institute’s Gulf Programme, “The fighting had appeared to be stalemated for at least the past two weeks.”
“Although the announced outcome is being depicted as a military success, it is unclear how it fits into a Saudi strategy to reinstate the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, currently in exile in Riyadh, though the statement spoke of a political solution,” Henderson wrote on the think tank’s website.
Dawsari likewise stressed that the situation remained fragile.
“The decision to end Decisive Storm was a surprise to many people,” he said. “The storm started abruptly and ended abruptly. There is a lack of clarity in the announcement. It’s likely that there have been some negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it’s hard to say.”
The Saudis and Hadi had rebuffed Iran’s offers of mediation just a day before announcing the end of Operation Decisive Storm. Yet, hours before the coalition press conference, the Iranians were dropping hints that a deal was on the horizon.
Kim Ghattas writes: almost every conversation with Saudis about the Yemen military operation leads to a wider discussion about the region, the kingdom’s new role as the leader of a military coalition and in many cases, people’s desire to see this translate into action elsewhere.
At a bowling alley in Riyadh one evening, I met a young couple enjoying an evening out. The man was in the military so he would only give his name as Hamed. His eyes lit up when I asked him whether he supported the war.
“We support the king’s decision to go to war 100%, it’s long overdue. Hopefully, we will move to help Syria next, and bring down President Assad who has been causing so much death and destruction for his people,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has accused regional rival Iran of arming the Houthis – a charge both the Houthis and Iran have denied.
Saudis and Sunnis in general feel they have been taking a beating by Shia Iran across the Middle East as Tehran tries to solidify its influence from Baghdad to Beirut.
The victim narrative is an odd one considering the power of countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in general and the fact that an overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world are Sunni.
So there is an interesting wave of patriotism on display in the kingdom these days and a sense of pride that Saudi Arabia, under new King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, is asserting itself in a way it has not in the past.
“Saudi Arabia is a reference and a leader for the Arab and Muslim world and we are proud of that,” said Hamed.
Some Saudis do quietly express concern about the country entering into a war with no apparent end game. But no-one wants to be openly critical as they ponder the possibility it could all wrong and the kingdom could find itself in a long protracted war. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in neighbouring Yemen shows that the Sunni monarchy will stand up to Iran and that Arab states can protect their interests without U.S. leadership, the kingdom’s ambassador to Britain said.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf also said that the Saudi-led coalition that has waged four weeks of air strikes against Shi’ite Houthi fighters in Yemen had met its goals and could be a model for future joint Arab action. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: When Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq last summer, the Sunni al-Lehib tribe welcomed them as revolutionaries fighting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. But less than a year later, the tribe is bitterly split between those who joined the extremist group and those resisting its brutal rule.
The tribe hails from a village just south of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which was captured by the IS last year. Like many Sunnis in northern Iraq, they initially welcomed the Islamic State group as liberators.
“We were happy when Daesh came,” tribal leader Nazhan Sakhar said, using an acronym for the extremist group. “We thought they were going to Baghdad to establish a government. But then they started killing our own people. It turned out they were the same as al-Qaida.”
Now he leads a group of around 300 fighters who have reluctantly allied with Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces to fight the IS group — and fellow tribesmen who still support the extremists.
Iraq’s Sunnis have complained of discrimination and abuse since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led dictatorship and replaced it with an elected government dominated by the country’s Shiite majority. That discontent fueled the rise of the Sunni IS group and paved the way for its takeover of much of northern and western Iraq last year.
The government is now trying to rally Sunni support, which will be key to defeating the IS group. But for many Sunnis that poses a dilemma, forcing them to choose between extremists who reserve their worst brutality for suspected traitors, and what many see as a sectarian government with a history of broken promises. [Continue reading…]