Phillip Smyth writes: Armed men posing with severed heads, massacres of mosque-goers during Friday prayers, massive reliance on transnational jihadists — these are crimes that are usually associated with the Islamic State (IS). However, they’re also the actions of some of Iraq’s growing Shiite militia organizations, which are playing an increasingly prominent role in fighting the Sunni jihadists. These groups, many of which have deep ideological and organizational links to Iran, are sweeping away what is left of any notion of the Baghdad government’s authority — and represent a massive challenge to President Barack Obama’s stated goal of working with an inclusive Iraqi government to push back IS.
Over 50 Shiite militias are now recruiting and fighting in Iraq. These groups are actively recruiting — drawing potential soldiers away from the Iraqi army and police and bringing fighters into highly ideological, anti-American, and rabidly sectarian organizations. Many of these trainees are not simply being used to push back Sunni jihadists, but in many cases form a rear guard used to control districts that are supposedly under Baghdad’s control.
Shiite militias have embedded themselves within the structures of the Iraqi government, which has become far too reliant on their power to contemplate cracking down on them. Together, they have committed horrifying human rights abuses: In early June, Shiite militias, along with Iraqi security forces, reportedly executed around 255 prisoners, including children. An Amnesty International report from June detailed how Shiite militias regularly carried out extrajudicial summary executions, and reported that dozens of Sunni prisoners were killed in government buildings. [Continue reading...]
IranWire reports: It’s been a tense, worrying time for Iran’s “Happy” group, the seven young men and women arrested in May for posting their version of Pharrell Williams’ music video on YouTube. Over the last few days, they’ve been pacing up and down the hallways of the Tehran courthouse where their trial was due to take place , making sure all their legal papers were in order.
Today their lawyer, Farshid Rofugaran, told IranWire that six of his clients had been sentenced to six months in prison and 91 lashes. One of them was given a sentence of one year in prison and 91 lashes. “Fortunately,” said Rofugaran, “the sentences were suspended.” But he was quick to point out that, until he received official notification, he could not be 100 percent sure of his clients’ situation.
“A suspended sentence becomes null and void after a certain period of time,” Rofugaran said. For the Happy Group, that period will be three years. “When it’s a suspended sentence, the verdict is not carried out, but if during this period a similar offense is committed, then the accused is subject to legal punishment and the suspended sentence will then be carried out as well.” [Continue reading...]
I expect that among the anti-imperialist left, this story will pass without comment or perhaps without even being noticed — don’t expect it to be covered by Press TV.
Iran’s credentials as a resolute critic of American hegemony along with its vocal opposition to Zionism, means that for some in the West, the Islamic republic’s failings can mostly be forgiven.
There is in such an attitude a perverse contradiction.
On the one hand the West is viewed as fundamentally undemocratic, operating a system of rule in which the masses are pacified with distractions and trivial freedoms while their lives are controlled by corporate and political interests that are indifferent to the common good. But at the same time, political oppression in a state like Iran is largely ignored — as though, depending on the circumstances, oppression can be justified in the name of a noble cause.
What to my mind is inexcusable is that anyone, anywhere, should find it excusable that someone could be threatened with imprisonment and lashing because they were “guilty” of dancing and failing to follow a dress code.
If this kind of harmless self-expression is not viewed as a human right, it calls into question the very notion of human rights.
Afua Hirsch writes: Britain has a problem with terrorism. Nothing focuses the mind more than the image of an apparently British man addressing the world in high definition as he brutally beheads a fellow Brit. But while the numbers of violent extremists are, by all accounts, relatively small, the issues underlying their reasons for turning towards terrorism are widespread.
I’ve been talking to young Muslims for a documentary on the root causes of extremism, and it’s clear there are a series of common complaints. Primarily, even though David Cameron may have said the killers of David Haines “are not Muslims, they are monsters”, young Muslims still have a profound and consistent sense of being demonised by society, and as creating a source of fear.
Further, many people still fail to distinguish between the different motivations for Brits travelling to the Middle East. It struck me how many young Muslims want to travel to Syria to help with the desperate humanitarian situation, or to join rebels trying to bring down President Assad – a goal that until recently was in line with Britain’s own foreign policy. However, the people I spoke to fully expected to be welcomed back to the UK by being arrested, slapped with a TPim and stripped of their passport.
For a passionate teenager, watching the suffering in Syria and believing that they are barred from contributing because of double standards driven by Islamophobia can create extreme feelings of alienation. And for those who are converted to extremism, there are usually other factors: contact with a seductive and effective hate preacher, indifference towards or a desire for violence, a sense of purposelessness – in some cases the same factors that attract young people to criminal gangs.
For a generation of non-Arabic speaking Muslims for whom the complexities of their faith can be lost in translation, recruiters from groups such as Islamic State (Isis) can play on this vulnerability. [Continue reading...]
Alex Andreou writes: Very few political issues have made me vacillate as much as the Scotland independence referendum. I started as an instinctive no, but by the end of the campaign significant strands of my thinking had moved so completely over to yes that I woke up this morning feeling both relieved and disappointed. There are, however, reasons to be universally cheerful, even for people who campaigned for and voted yes.
1. Hope is a vote-winner
Some have concluded that the result means that “fear works”. The truth is quite the opposite. Remember, this was supposed to be a cake-walk for the Better Together campaign. Instead, the government had to cobble together a contingency-plan in a panic two weeks ago. For a message of optimism to have narrowed the gap to that from 20 points a year ago is a tremendous victory. In fact, Better Together only pushed against that momentum when they themselves made positive promises for future devolution. It is a vision for the future, not fear, that ultimately worked.
2. Wider political engagement is possible
The unprecedented turnout of 85% – but also the astonishing sophistication of the debate at every level – means that the voting public are neither congenitally apathetic nor impenetrably thick, as the ruling classes would have us believe. Apathy results from the choices on offer being indistinguishable from each other and an electoral system where individual votes do not matter. [Continue reading...]
“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?”
The question comes from a British journalist, John Cantlie, who has been a prisoner of ISIS for most of the last two years and who has now been compelled to become the organization’s spokesman.
In a newly released video he continues:
I’m going to show you the truth behind these systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the western media, the very organisation I used to work for can twist and manipulate that truth to the public back home.
There are two sides to every story – think you’re getting the whole picture? And I’ll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other every other European country.
They negotiated with the Islamic state and got their people home while the British and Americans were left behind.
It’s very alarming to see where this is all headed and it looks like history repeating itself yet again. There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public act now. Join me for the next few programmes and I think you may be surprised by what you learn.
ISIS is frequently credited for its media sophistication, but its use of a prisoner to serve as a spokesman shows how impoverished the organization must be when from among its thousands of Western recruits apparently there aren’t any fit to represent and articulate the cause they are all fighting for. (Individuals like Moner Mohammad Abusalha from Florida might accurately represent the Western face of ISIS, but they also undermine the organization’s credibility.)
When we are told that several European governments successfully negotiated with ISIS and “got their people home,” no mention is made of ransoms being paid.
While ISIS’s latest message tries to leverage antiwar sentiment in the West, no one should mistake this as a wise warning whose purpose is to forestall another military misadventure.
Put most simply the message is: hold fire, pay up, or John Cantlie will meet the same fate as James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines.
Other commentators have argued that ISIS’s use of beheading videos has been designed to bait the West — to draw the U.S. and its allies into another unwinnable war — but the latest video seems to confirm what I have said repeatedly: ISIS wants to consolidate and expand its caliphate since its success in doing that serves as a much potent magnet for recruits than the prospect of being targeted in U.S. airstrikes.
In response to the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, ISIS seems to have focused most of its efforts beyond America’s current reach by making gains in Syria.
Even though President Obama says he is ready to order airstrikes in Syria, there seems little reason to believe that these are imminent, and ISIS wants to use the intervening period to its full advantage.
The Cantlie video is the second ISIS releases this week.
“Fighting has just begun” declares the “trailer” for its Hollywood-style “Flame of War,” but as it did in its other video release this week, Alhayat Media Center is addressing the public, rather than Western governments, in an effort to increase war fears more than war fever.
Shortly before President Obama unveiled his strategy for defeating ISIS (aka Daesh), NotGeorgeSabra wrote: Obama is expected to announce a grand strategy to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh) one year after he sold Syria’s rebels down the river and betrayed his own self-imposed “red line.”
This strategy will be billed as comprehensive, encompassing all elements of American imperialism’s tremendous national power — military, economic, diplomatic, political — but there are unresolved contradictions with the Syrian aspect of this grand strategy that, taken together, will add up to the kind of strategic and political incoherence that Daesh will surely exploit to survive and persist in their Syrian safe haven for years, a safe haven created by Obama’s do-nothing-but-stupid-shit policies.
The central problem with Washington’s policy from the standpoint of ending Daesh is the U.S. goal of a negotiated settlement between the revolution and the counter-revolution in Syria, one that removes Bashar al-Assad from the presidency but preserves the state he and his father built intact.
Why is this a problem? Judge a policy by its results — a ruinous, intractable war that has resulted in the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the century, a weak and divided rebel movement starving for weapons and money, a militarily robust failed state in the making headed by a man who doesn’t hesitate to gas his own people, and Daesh, a fascist organization that wields state power in one-third of both Syria and Iraq whose thousands of veteran fighters have years of combat experience and Western passports!
How did America’s preference for a negotiated, peaceful settlement in Syria lead to endless war and bloodshed?
Simple: the U.S. (tandem with its regional allies) provided rebel forces with just enough weapons to keep fighting but not to win. [Continue reading...]
(H/t Scott Lucas)
Matthew Barber writes: The plight of thousands of Yazidi women, kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) during its August 3 attack on Iraq’s Sinjar mountains and in the following weeks, has received some media attention, but most people are unaware of just how far-reaching this disastrous phenomenon is. Boko Haram kidnapped girls in the hundreds, prompting international outcry and an online campaign demanding that they be freed; IS has kidnapped Yazidi women and girls in the thousands in a sexually-motivated campaign that has rent apart countless families and wrought unimaginable levels of pain and destruction.
During the Syria conflict there have been numerous allegations of forced jihadi marriages that have been difficult to confirm, and widely denied by IS supporters online. Many of those stories were dropped, lacking credible evidence. As the past few years in Syria have demonstrated, rumors run rampant in contexts of conflict, and the initially difficult-to-confirm cases of kidnapped Yazidi women of this summer have been treated with appropriate caution.
Despite this initial caution, the sheer scale of the kidnapping of Yazidi women and the firsthand reports of escaped survivors—and those still in captivity via telephone—have made details of the phenomenon, and its sexual motivations, certain.
Having stayed in northern Iraq all summer, I can confirm the assertions of the journalists who have written about the problem. I have worked directly with those involved in rescue efforts and have personally interacted with families whose daughters have been kidnapped and are now calling their relatives from captivity.
I have no trace of doubt that many women have been carried off and imprisoned; the question that remains is about the numbers. Restrained estimates have posited numbers of kidnapped Yazidi women in the hundreds. However, the reality is likely to be in the thousands. [Continue reading...]
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports: ISIS have taken over 21 villages inhabited by Kurdish civilians, in the western and eastern countrysides of Ein al-Arab “Kobane” after a massive attack using heavy artillery and tanks, confirmed reports of losses in both of YPG and ISIS sides, in addition to human losses in Kurdish civilians, the area is witnessing a migration of civilians into areas nearby, amid fears of committing massacres by ISIS in these areas in case it broke into it, the clashes continue between the two sides near these areas.
SOHR also reports: Reliable resources have confirmed to SOHR that 162 people have joined to IS military camps in the northern eastern and eastern countryside of Aleppo since September 10 and after the President Barack Obama’s speech where he has declared war on the Islamic States. Among those who have joined in the past seven days, 15 fighters from different Arab and foreign nationalities, including 4 Australian persons entered to Syria through Turkish territory and 147 ex- Syrian combatants of al Nusra Front and the Islamic battalions.
It is worth mentioning that reliable resources reported to SOHR that 6300 fighters joined to the training camps of the Islamic State in the two cities of Aleppo and Al Raqqa in the last July in 2014, where this is considered the widest process of recruiting fighters in the Islamic State’s ranks since the declaration of establishment in April/2013 in the city of Al Raqqa until it transferred to the Islamic State in the late of June/2014.
ABC (AU) reports: Police say a large-scale anti-terrorism raid in Sydney this morning has foiled a plot to “commit violent acts” in Australia, including a plan to behead a member of the public.
More than 800 officers launched the raids as part of Operation Appleby in suburbs across Sydney’s west and north-west, with a further 70 police involved in raids on properties in Brisbane’s south.
Police said 15 people had been detained in Sydney as part of the operation between NSW officers, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.
Court documents are expected to reveal that the raids, at 25 different properties, were aimed at a cell which planned to behead a member of the public in Sydney.
The documents are expected to say that the plan involved snatching a random member of the public in Sydney, draping them in an Islamic State group (IS) flag and beheading them on camera. [Continue reading...]
There is a ruthless logic in terrorism: it always aims to produce the maximum effect from the minimum amount of resources.
At a time when increased security measures have made international plots aimed at bombing or hijacking aircraft especially difficult, it is easy to see why beheading is becoming the preferred technique through which an organization such as ISIS can terrorize its enemies.
No need for any expertise or hard-to-acquire materials — all that is required is a knife, a camera, a YouTube account, and someone willing to murder a helpless victim.
Up until recently, we might have imagined that executioners of this kind would be hard to find, but unfortunately we are learning otherwise.
The Independent reports: Over one hundred Muslim leaders today make an unprecedented joint appeal to the kidnappers of Alan Henning to release the aid worker unharmed or commit the “worst condemnable sin” against Islam.
The joint statement to The Independent has been signed by dozens of Imams from across the UK as well as community leaders and other prominent Muslims. It has been passed on to Mr Henning’s family.
Among those signing the letter are representatives of all strands of Islam from Shia to Sunni to Salafi, Sufi, and Deobandi.
The Muslim Council of Britain an umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations including mosques, charities and schools is also a signatory. [Continue reading...]
BuzzFeed reports: One of Egypt’s most prominent activists has been granted release on bail, but still faces a lengthy judicial process that could see him sent back to prison.
Alaa Abdel Fattah was tried in absentia and handed a 15-year prison sentence in June over charges that he violated new laws that severely curtail protests. He was arrested along with several other activists on the steps of the courthouse immediately after the verdict, and a court has ordered that he be retried now that he is no longer in absentia.
“The court ordered the release on bail of Alaa Abdel Fattah and two other detainees,” Abdel Fattah’s defense lawyer, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, said outside the court in comments broadcast on Egyptian television. “The court also recused itself because of the defendants’ lack of respect for it.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Militia justice is simple, the fighters explained.
“We break into an area and kill the ones who are threatening people,” said one 18-year-old fighter with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite militia that operates as a vigilante force around Baghdad.
Another 18-year-old fighter agreed. “We receive orders and carry out attacks immediately,” he said, insisting that their militia commanders had been given authority by Iraqi security officials. That free hand has helped make Asaib Ahl al-Haq the largest and most formidable of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that now dominate Baghdad.
Once a leading killer of American troops, the militia is spearheading the fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL. That means Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the United States military are now fighting on the same side, though each insists they will not work together.
But the power and autonomy of Asaib Ahl al-Haq and other Shiite militias also pose a central challenge to the creation of a more just and less sectarian Iraqi government. President Obama has said that the new American military offensive depends on such an inclusive Iraqi government, to undercut the appeal of the Sunni extremists and avoid American entanglement in a sectarian war.
Even while many Iraqi Shiites view the militias as their protectors, many in the Sunni minority say they fear the groups as agents of Iran, empowered by the Baghdad government to kill with impunity.
After a decade of support from Iran and a new flood of recruits amid the Islamic State crisis, the Shiite militias are also now arguably more powerful than the Iraqi security forces, many here say, limiting the ability of any new government to rein them in.
“The militias have even bigger role now that they are said to be fighting ISIS” said Alla Maki, a Sunni lawmaker. “Who will control them? We have no real Iraqi Army.”[Continue reading...]
Matthieu Aikins writes: The dawn found them sprawled like corpses around the cramped station room, atop a collection of soiled floor mats and a metal bunk that listed heavily to one side. They lay close together, some still wearing their uniforms from the night before. On a typical day in Aleppo, they would soon be woken by the sound of helicopters and jets roaring in to drop the first bombs on the rebel-held side of the city, which the regime has sought to pound to dust. But it was quiet this morning, and so they slept.
Standing outside his office next door, Khaled Hajjo, leader of the Hanano Civil Defense team, dragged on the first of many Gitanes and surveyed his small domain. The one-story, cinderblock station house was set in the corner of a large concrete lot the size of a soccer pitch, its perimeter hemmed by a 12-foot stone wall. At the far end of the lot was a mass of stacked old tires and a broken-down lifting crane. It had once been a car impound, but like so many buildings in Aleppo it had been repurposed for the war.
The station wasn’t particularly sturdy. The neighborhood it was in, Hanano, was close to the front line and exposed not only to bombing but to artillery fire. Even a mortar round would probably cave in the roof, never mind the big howitzer shells that sometimes crashed into the lot. But the station had its advantages: It was set on a rise, with only a few low buildings surrounding it, and from here they could quickly spot the telltale smoke and dust pillars that mark the sites of bombs, and then rush to the rescue. They had been in this station since the very beginning, more than a year ago, when the team was first formed, and they had stayed in it through the long winter of massacres, through the worst times when the population had desperately fled the city, so that now Bashar al Assad’s bombs fell as often as not on abandoned buildings. This was their home. [Continue reading...]
In the video below, Aikins describes being inside a building when a bomb destroyed the building next door:
The Daily Beast reports: Critics of President Obama’s latest pledge to arm the moderate Syrian rebels are trumpeting a report of a supposed deal between the opposition forces and ISIS, but Syrian opposition leaders are fighting back with what they say is overwhelming evidence that no truce exists.
The September 12 Agence France-Presse report stating that that moderate and Islamic rebel brigades in the southern Damascus suburbs had signed a “non-aggression” pact to focus efforts on fighting the Assad regime are not only false but are easily disproved by evidence that ISIS and the moderate rebels are still fighting each other in that region, according to rebel commanders on the ground and activists supporting the Syrian opposition.
“The only report we have received on anything resembling a ceasefire was that ISIS and Sons of Golan, an FSA brigade outside Damascus, halted fighting for 24 hours to collect bodies before hostilities resumed. However, this report also confirms that there is substantial fighting between the two groups that is leading to fatalities,” said Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, director of government relations for the Syrian American Council, a Washington NGO that works with the Syrian opposition and the FSA. “It is fantastical to think that rebels outside Damascus would expend lives and resources to rout ISIS from the Damascus suburbs; besiege the group for over a month; wait until two days after Obama announces he will aid the rebels to fights ISIS; and then sign a deal with ISIS (the first ever) while the group was besieged in its last holdout.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Iraq’s national security adviser briefed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on efforts to counter Islamic State on Tuesday, Syrian state media reported, the first such meeting since the United States launched air strikes on the radical group in Iraq.
The United States and other Western governments have dismissed the idea of cooperating with Syria in the fight against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria. Western governments see Assad as part of the problem and say he must leave power.
But the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, together with Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been important allies for Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted in 2011. Shi’ite Iraqi militias have fought on Assad’s side against the insurgency spearheaded by Sunni Islamists.
The meeting between Faleh al-Fayad, the Iraqi national security adviser, and Assad indicated that the Iraqi government aims to maintain those ties. It also points to the scope for possible indirect cooperation between Syria and the West in the fight against Islamic State via third parties such as Iraq. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: In their first public briefing since President Barack Obama laid out his new strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the nation’s two top defense officials on Tuesday provided few details of their plans and no guarantees of success.
Instead, in response to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out a litany of likely obstacles to the president’s plan that were daunting in their breadth.
There is no guarantee that Iraqi military forces can be reconstituted to become an effective force against the Islamic State, they said. There’s no certainty a U.S.-trained Syrian force will choose to fight the Islamic State ahead of the government of President Bashar Assad, they said.
Indeed, the chances of success are far less in Syria than in Iraq, Dempsey said, as Hagel nodded agreement. “Five thousand alone is not going to be able to turn the tide,” Hagel said, referring to the number of Syrian rebels likely to be trained under a proposed U.S. program.
Even the pledge that no American soldiers would engage in ground combat operations seemed tenuous. Dempsey said he could foresee circumstances where American advisers would join Iraqi troops, for example, if the Iraqis tried to recapture Mosul, in what he called “close combat advising.”
“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told the committee. [Continue reading...]
Daily Sabah reports: Turkey’s military is studying the prospect of establishing a buffer zone along its border with Syria and Iraq amid the escalating threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quoted as saying yesterday. The government will evaluate the plans and decide whether such a move is necessary, Turkish television stations quoted Erdoğan as telling reporters on his plane as he returned from an official visit to Qatar.
A presidency official confirmed that Erdoğan had made such remarks but did not specify where along the border the zone might be established and gave no further details. “The general staff is carrying out inspections on whether a buffer zone could be viable, but there is nothing concrete yet,” an official said on the condition of anonymity. Turkey, a NATO member and Washington’s key ally in the region, has been reluctant to take part in combat operations against ISIS, or allow the U.S.-led coalition to use its airbases for strikes against the extremists because the group is holding 49 Turkish nationals hostage, including diplomats and children. [Continue reading...]