Tom Engelhardt: Entering the intelligence labyrinth

Failure is success: How American intelligence works in the twenty-first century
By Tom Engelhardt

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters.  You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities.  Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it.  Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.

You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.  You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order.  You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts.  You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies).  Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt.  Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world.  You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut).  You undoubtedly spy on Congress.  You hack into congressional computer systems.  And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population).  You do everything to wreck their lives and — should one escape your grasp — you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex.

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William deBuys: Love affair in the back country

Without visiting it, the eighteenth-century French natural scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, propounded the theory that the New World was an inferior creation, its species but degenerate versions of European ones. “There is no North American animal comparable to the elephant: no giraffes, lions, or hippopotami,” he wrote. “All animals are smaller… Everything shrinks under a ‘niggardly sky and unprolific land.’” Thomas Jefferson, then-ambassador to Paris, was so incensed that he dispatched a revolutionary war hero and 20 soldiers to New Hampshire to bag a large moose and had it shipped to Buffon. So when Charles Wilson Peale uncovered the giant bones of an antediluvian creature he called a “mammoth” (a mastodon, as it turned out), it was a patriotic moment. No traces of such a giant animal had previously been found on Earth.  Americans clearly had bigger and better to offer than anything a European naturalist could point to. And for all anyone knew, somewhere out in the territories, in that great wilderness still to be explored, such beasts perhaps still roamed.

In the same spirit, while America had no great buildings or cathedrals, the country had something so much more magnificent than the most awesome of Europe’s places of worship. It had nature’s architecture, its “cathedrals,” in a wilderness unmatched in its wonders.

That was one remarkable American tradition. I represented another. Sometime in the spring or early summer of 1962, I decided to light out for the wilderness. Keep in mind that I was a kid for whom the wilderness was New York City’s Central Park and the wilds were the suburbs.  So it was an adventurous, if not daft, thing to do. My best friend and I took our bikes, boarded a train, and headed for Bear Mountain a couple of hours away. So many years later, I have no clue how the idea lodged in our heads or why, for the first serious biking trip of our lives, we chose a place quite openly labeled a “mountain.” Did we have no concept of “uphill,” having grown up in a remarkably flat coastal city? All I remember is that it wasn’t long before we found ourselves wrung out at the side of the road, wondering how we would ever get anywhere near our prospective campground. As so often happens, however, we were saved by the kindness of strangers. Someone took pity on us, stopped his truck or van, tossed our bikes into the back, and drove us to our destination.

We were finally in the cathedral of the woods. That night, we pitched our little tent, made a fire, managed to be scared by a bobcat whose glowing eyes we caught in the beam of our flashlight, and finally retired to sleep on ground crisscrossed by roots, only to be attacked by some giant, truly fearsome bug. (Think Mothra!) Yes, it’s true: in that cathedral I was praying for deliverance as the sun came up.

And don’t even get me started on the beach in California, years later, where I woke up sopping wet from the ocean dew, or the thousands of hopping bugs that advanced on my sleeping bag on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, or that night in a ditch at the side of some road in a scruffy backland when no one would pick up two young hitchhikers. As you’ll see today, TomDispatch regular William deBuys is quite a different kind of American. In fact, at this very moment, he’s on a raft joyously heading down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

And here’s the thing: as someone who wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping one more night in the wild, I genuinely celebrate deBuys and his ilk, who have had such a hand in ensuring that the great natural cathedrals of our American world will be there (we hope) for generations yet to come. His celebration of American nature, based on his own youthful experience lighting out for the territories, ranks among the special pleasures of what I’ve published at TomDispatch. Tom Engelhardt

The Wilderness Act turns 50
Celebrating the great laws of 1964
By William deBuys

Let us now praise famous laws and the year that begat them: 1964.

The first thing to know about 1964 was that, although it occurred in the 1960s, it wasn’t part of “the Sixties.” The bellbottoms, flower power, LSD, and craziness came later, beginning about 1967 and extending into the early 1970s. Trust me: I was there, and I don’t remember much; so by the dictum variously attributed to Grace Slick, Dennis Hopper, and others (that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t part of them), I must really have been there.

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Music: Tigran Hamasyan — ‘A Fable’

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Glenn Greenwald’s Khorasan conspiracy theory misses the point

Washington is often — and justifiably — criticized for viewing the world through a U.S.-centric prism. But many of the U.S. government’s fiercest critics are guilty of the same narrow orientation.

A case in point is an analysis provided by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept yesterday: “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.”

Up until last week, hardly anyone, including seasoned Syria watchers and Syrians themselves, had heard of an outfit called the Khorasan Group and so sober warnings from high officials in the U.S. government that this group poses a greater threat to the U.S. than ISIS, were received by some observers with a measure of skepticism.

The Intercept analysis traces the recent evolution of the Khorasan narrative as presented by the servile American media and reaches this conclusion:

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.””

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify American wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. Government was trying not to talk about all of this – too secret! – but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerged only when it’s impotent.

The first problem with this conspiracy theory — its claim that the Khorasan Group was invented for domestic propaganda purposes — is that such an invention would largely be redundant.

Having successfully presented ISIS as worse than al Qaeda, why muddy the narrative by introducing into the picture a previously unheard of group? If a pretext for bombing Syria was being fabricated, why not posit an “imminent” threat to the U.S. coming from ISIS itself?

The actual story here is one that is somewhat more complex than appeals to conspiracy theorists like Glenn Greenwald and Alex Jones and it requires giving as much attention to what is happening in Syria as to what is happening behind closed doors in the capital of the Evil Empire.

The invention of the Khorasan Group — which is to say, the creation of the name — seems to have been necessitated not by the desire to find a pretext for bombing another Muslim country, but instead the desire to avoid headlines which would identify the target of a cluster of airstrikes by its real name: Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).

I dare say that the average American is no more familiar with the name Jabhat al-Nusra than they are with the Khorasan Group, so why construct a distinction between the two?

This actually has little to do with how expanding the airstrike targeting beyond ISIS would be perceived in the U.S. and everything to do with how it would be seen in Syria.

As was noted in a 2013 report “Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment,” by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland Security Project chaired by Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, Jabhat al-Nusra is “widely acknowledged as the most effective fighting force in the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

Unlike ISIS, JN has pursued a strategy designed to avoid alienating Syrians who oppose the Assad regime yet do not support JN’s Islamist ideology. The Syrian fighters at its core, having learned from the mistake of alienating the local population while they were fighting in Iraq as members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor of ISIS), made some strategic adjustments for JN.

As a Quilliam Foundation report notes, JN opted for:

  • predominantly military rather than civic targets, with no bombing of shrines and careful use of suicide bombs to minimise civilian casualties,
  • downplaying JN’s rhetoric concerning sectarianism and kuffar (labelling Alawites, Shiites and Sufis as non-Muslims)
  • the decision to use a different name to avoid preconceptions associated with Al Qaeda.

If the Obama administration chose for debatable reasons to target a unit inside JN and wanted to explain itself to the American public, it didn’t need to concoct a new name for this unit. It could simply present the same assertions about plots to attack the homeland and say that they emanate from Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

After all, Mohsin Al-Fadhli who in recent reports has been described as the leader of the Khorasan Group has also been referred to as the de facto leader of al Qaeda in Syria.

An Arab Times report in March this year said:

Al-Fadhli lives in north of Syria, where he is in control of al-Qaeda. He entices and recruits jihadists from among the European Muslim youths, or from those who embrace Islam. After choosing the youths, he trains them on how to execute terror operations in the western countries, focusing mostly on means of public transportation such as trains and airplanes. His activities were also focused on directing the al-Qaeda elements to execute operations against four main targets, which are Assad’s military, the Free Syrian Army, the ‘Islamic Front’ and ‘Da’esh’ [ISIS]. Sources revealed that Al-Fadhli supports ‘Al-Nusra Front’ against ‘Da’esh’, especially after the Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad Al-Joulani declared his loyalty to al- Qaeda group in April last year.

The decision taken by [Al Qaeda leader] Al-Zawahri to support ‘Al-Nusra Front’ to face ‘Da’esh’ was made after Al-Fadhli provided information about what is happening in Syria. Sources stressed that such a decision indicates the confidence al-Qaeda leadership has in Al-Fadhli. It also confirms that Al-Fadhli is the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Syria, even though it has not been officially announced over fear of exposing him.

If the leader of the so-called Khorasan Group had such a central position in JN, why should the Obama administration see fit to try and educate the American public about some finer details in the organization’s internal structure?

It didn’t. The distinction between the Khorasan Group and Jabhat al-Nusra appears to have been contrived in a vain effort by Washington to fool Syrians rather than Americans. The U.S. hoped it could chop off one of JN’s limbs without appearing to strike its body.

The problem with a frontal attack on Jabhat al-Nusra is that this would inevitably be perceived in Syria as an attack on part of the opposition which has been on the frontline of the fight against ISIS and the regime — an attack that can thus only provide additional help to Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama says that the fight against ISIS will require ground forces drawn from the Syrian opposition, but by attacking JN the U.S. has swiftly alienated itself from the very fighters — the so-called moderates — on whose support the U.S. supposedly depends.

The ploy of inventing the Khorasan Group didn’t succeed in deceiving Syrians who knew that the men being killed in airstrikes in north-west Syria all belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus, by the end of last week instead of there being popular rallies welcoming a campaign to destroy the much-despised ISIS, ordinary Syrians were taking to the streets to protest against the U.S. airstrikes.

They already had reason to question American motives, given that Assad can be blamed for far more carnage and destruction than ISIS has wrought, and now it seems their worst fears have been confirmed — whether by design or sheer incompetence, the U.S. despite its oft-stated desire to hasten Assad’s departure seems to be doing more to ensure that he remains in power.

As for whether the U.S. truly has the desire to destroy ISIS remains far from clear. So far it has demonstrated a greater interest in destroying empty buildings than responding to desperate calls to block the ISIS assault on Kobane, the Kurdish city in northern Syria that truly faces an imminent threat to its survival.

Least of all is there any evidence that Obama has anything that barely resembles a coherent strategy.

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ISIS fighter says U.S. airstrikes aren’t effective

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How the U.S. lost its latest war within hours

Scott Lucas writes: Wednesday morning’s statement from US Central Command was — unsurprisingly — buoyant. The US and allies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan had launched attacks the previous day inside Syria, with 14 airstrikes and 47 Tomahawk missiles. Multiple targets of the Islamic State had been hit in northern and eastern Syria, including “fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks, and armed vehicles”.

Central Command promised, “The U.S. military will continue to conduct targeted airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as local forces go on the offensive against this terrorist group.”

Behind the confident assessment, Central Command did not point to — and presumably did not recognize — reality: with those initial strikes, the US had probably already lost its belated intervention in the 42-month Syrian conflict.

The military did not mention that the greatest casualties of the first night’s attacks had not been suffered by the Islamic State, which had moved most of its forces before the arrival of the warplanes. Instead, the US had struck hardest on two locations of the Islamist insurgents Jabhat al-Nusra, killing more than 70 fighters and civilians in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces. [Continue reading...]

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Turkish military forces quietly watch while ISIS advances on Kobane

Reuters reports: Turkish tanks and armoured vehicles took up positions on hills overlooking the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday as shelling by Islamic State insurgents intensified and stray fire hit Turkish soil, a Reuters correspondent said.

At least 30 tanks and armoured vehicles, some with their guns pointed towards Syrian territory, were positioned near a Turkish military base just northwest of Kobani. Plumes of smoke rose up as shells hit the eastern and western sides of Kobani and sporadic bursts of machinegun fire rang out.

“We have taken the border under full control. We have ramped up our security measures in the Suruc region,” Interior Minister Efkan Ala told reporters in Istanbul, referring to the area on the Turkish side of the border with Kobani.

A local official inside the besieged town said Islamic State continued to bombard it from the east, west and south and that the militants were 10 km (6 miles) from the outskirts.

“From the morning there have been bomb shellings into Kobani and not one rocket, but maybe about 20 rockets,” Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister in the Kobani canton, said by telephone.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors Syria’s civil war, said at least 15 mortar rounds had landed on Kobani on Monday, killing at least one person. He said Islamic State fighters had advanced to within 5 km of the town. [Continue reading...]

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Protests against ISIS’s Kobane siege continue across Turkey

Today’s Zaman reports: Demonstrators have gathered in cities across Turkey to protest the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) siege of the strategic Syrian town of Kobane, which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Kurds.

An all-female protest including women from some 36 civil society organizations gathered in İstanbul to protest against ISIL over the weekend, marching towards the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) headquarters in Kadıköy.

The group included women activists from civil society organizations such as the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The group chanted slogans, saying, “If there is no Rojava [the Kurdish-populated region of northern Syria], there won’t be peace,” “Women’s solidarity against ISIL” and “Murderer ISIL, collaborator AK Party.”

The group said in a statement made during the protest that the ISIL attacks are also targeting the settlement process in Turkey, which aims to solve the Kurdish problem in the country, and called on the international community to take action for Kobane. The statement said the Turkish government should not allow ISIL members to cross into Syria from Turkey.

The protesters also stressed that they do not want a buffer zone in Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has insisted that a buffer zone to protect Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, as well as a no-fly zone over Syria, must be established. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear at a Pentagon news conference that the US is not actively considering a buffer zone. [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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U.S-led raids hit grain silos in Syria, kill workers

Reuters reports: U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and wounding militants, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The aircraft may have mistaken the mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij for an Islamic State base, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There was no immediate comment from Washington.

The United States has targeted Islamic State and other fighters in Syria since last week with the help of Arab allies, and in Iraq since last month. It aims to damage and destroy the bases, forces and supply lines of the al Qaeda offshoot which has captured large areas of both countries.

The strikes in Manbij appeared to have killed only civilians, not fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory which gathers information from sources in Syria.

“These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people,” he said. He could not give a number of casualties and it was not immediately possible to verify the information. [Continue reading...]

A CENTCOM news release said the airstrikes “struck an ISIL training camp and ISIL vehicles in a staging area next to an ISIL-held grain storage facility near Manbij that ISIL was using as a logistics hub and vehicle staging facility.”

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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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Scientists got it wrong on gravitational waves. So what?

Philip Ball writes: It was announced in headlines worldwide as one of the biggest scientific discoveries for decades, sure to garner Nobel prizes. But now it looks likely that the alleged evidence of both gravitational waves and ultra-fast expansion of the universe in the big bang (called inflation) has literally turned to dust.

Last March, a team using a telescope called Bicep2 at the South Pole claimed to have read the signatures of these two elusive phenomena in the twisting patterns of the cosmic microwave background radiation: the afterglow of the big bang. But this week, results from an international consortium using a space telescope called Planck show that Bicep2’s data is likely to have come not from the microwave background but from dust scattered through our own galaxy.

Some will regard this as a huge embarrassment, not only for the Bicep2 team but for science itself. Already some researchers have criticised the team for making a premature announcement to the press before their work had been properly peer reviewed.

But there’s no shame here. On the contrary, this episode is good for science. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Tigran Hamasyan — ‘Erishta’

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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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Iranian president gives qualified support for Western action against ISIS

The Guardian reports: The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, gave qualified support to western military action against Isis inside Iraq, saying a concerted campaign could be successful as long as it was requested by the Iraqi government.

Speaking to journalists in New York while attending the UN general assembly, Rouhani appeared to draw a sharp distinction between Syria, where the Assad regime had not been informed of US air strikes, let alone asking for them; and Iraq, where the new government has formally called for military assistance.

He criticised western states for responding late to Iraq’s call for help, claiming Iran had been the first to come to its defence and helped prevent Irbil and Baghdad falling to Isis. He also questioned the value of relying on aerial power alone. [Continue reading...]

AFP adds: Iran will attack ISIS inside Iraq if they advance near the border, ground forces commander General Ahmad Reza Pourdestana said in comments published Saturday.

“If the terrorist group (IS) come near our borders, we will attack deep into Iraqi territory and we will not allow it to approach our border,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Pourdestana as saying.

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Secret Service fumbled response after gunman hit White House residence in 2011

The Washington Post reports: The gunman parked his black Honda directly south of the White House, in the dark of a November night, in a closed lane of Constitution Avenue. He pointed his semiautomatic rifle out of the passenger window, aimed directly at the home of the president of the United States, and pulled the trigger.

A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground. At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn.

President Obama and his wife were out of town on that evening of Nov. 11, 2011, but their younger daughter, Sasha, and Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, were inside, while older daughter Malia was expected back any moment from an outing with friends.

Secret Service officers initially rushed to respond. One, stationed directly under the second-floor terrace where the bullets struck, drew her .357 handgun and prepared to crack open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, standing just 20 feet from where one bullet struck, scanned the South Lawn through their rifle scopes for signs of an attack. With little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter, it was up to the Secret Service officers on duty to figure out what was going on.

Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down,” a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.

That command was the first of a string of security lapses, never previously reported, as the Secret Service failed to identify and properly investigate a serious attack on the White House. [Continue reading...]

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Music: Tigran Hamasyan — ‘Gypsyology’

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