|Friday, 09 August 2013|
Congratulations to Stephen Fry for speaking out on Russian human rights abuses in regards to their anti-gay laws (Report, 8 August). Considering the $35bn investment the Russians are putting into what for them is a very symbolic event, one wonders whether a larger international boycott could be formed around Moscow's intransigence over the conflict in Syria. As all other diplomatic avenues have failed, this could make Putin think twice about his continued refusal to allow the UN security council to speak in a united voice towards a conflict that has killed over 100,000 people. What is more, we now know that Saudi Arabia offered Russia $15bn worth of deals for them to move on Syria – so perhaps Riyadh could host the Winter Olympics instead.
|Tuesday, 25 October 2011|
(The Guardian) 39,000 soldiers will leave Iraq this year, but US military control will continue in such guises as security and training
Barack Obama has made good on one of his election promises, announcing: "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over." The Iraqis' assertion of their sovereignty – meaning no legal immunity for US troops – was the deal-breaker, and 39,000 US soldiers will leave Iraq by the end of the year.
Jonathan Steele wrote that the Iraq war was over and the US had learned "that putting western boots on the ground in a foreign war, particularly in a Muslim country, is madness". Yet this madness may continue in a different guise, as there is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality surrounding the US departure from Iraq. In fact, there are a number of avenues by which the US will be able to exert military influence in the country.
|Thursday, 12 May 2011|
The Guardian - In the shadow of the clampdowns in Syria far too much focus has been placed on the character and intentions of President Bashar al-Assad.
Too often in the past, US congressman and European parliamentary delegations have returned from Damascus after hours spent with Assad convinced that he is a like-minded reformer. Memorable highlights include Peter Mandelson declaring after such a meeting that he liked Assad who was "a decent man doing a difficult job", and Hillary Clinton's recent surprising faith in the "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months [and] have said they believe he's a reformer".
|Wednesday, 16 March 2011|
(Guardian) Lebanon's role in a UN security council resolution against Libya is evidence of unfinished business between the two countries
In the UN security council on Tuesday, Lebanon tabled a resolution backed by Britain and France for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Libya. The Lebanese ambassador, Nawaf Salam, told reporters: "Measures ought to be taken to stop the violence, to put an end to the situation in Libya, to protect the civilians there."
The move followed a meeting in Cairo on Saturday when the Arab League voted to ask the UN for a no-fly zone – and the task of doing so fell to Lebanon as the only Arab member of the security council.
At one level the Arab initiative might be seen, at least in part, as retaliation from some league members and key individuals for Gaddafi's troublemaking at Arab summits over the years. But in Lebanon's case there are other dimensions too.
|Thursday, 16 December 2010|
Without the two main architects of his policy on Afghanistan, the fundamental flaws in Obama's surge are unavoidable
(The Guardian) A flurry of reports indicate how the US has neither the time nor the ability to defeat the Taliban or build an Afghan state that can deliver real justice to the country.
The failures of General Stanley McChrystal, who resigned in June, and Richard Holbrooke, who died suddenly this week, are symbolic of the crumbling of the twin pillars, both military and civilian, of Barack Obama's counterinsurgency strategy (Coin). The US has now outlasted the Soviet presence of the 1980s and the Afghan war has entered a violent stalemate.
|Saturday, 20 November 2010|
(The Guardian) The Lebanese cabinet dodged a bullet on 10 November by postponing a vote about witnesses who allegedly gave investigators false information on the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The issue has been dominating Lebanese politics amid fears that it could spark an internal conflict similar to that of 2008, when Hezbollah and its supporters took over the streets of Beirut.
The special tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up to try those suspected of involvement in Hariri's assassination, is supported by western governments but Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement, has condemned it as "biased". Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has warned against attempts to "discredit" the tribunal, while William Hague, the British foreign secretary, announced a further £1m funding in support for the tribunal and declared that "justice is the only way to ensure stability in Lebanon".
|Monday, 08 November 2010|
(The Guardian) Over the last week in publicity trailing the release of his autobiography, former president George W Bush admitted that when it came to Iraq he felt a "sickening feeling". Sadly for those looking for greater remorse he was only referring to the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction. But as a man of devout Christian faith it would be interesting to discover what Bush's thoughts are on the fact that one of the consequences of his war is that Iraq's Christian community of 1 million pre-war has shrunk by 60% since 2003, as its members have fled abroad or been killed.
As a minority population living in a country whose mode of politics can only be described as a bloody hybrid of democracy and sectarianism, Iraq's Christians have borne an unfair burden of recent tragedy. Their precarious position was highlighted over the past 10 days by the sentencing to death of prominent Christian and former Ace of Spades most-wanted, Tariq Aziz, and the bloody massacre of 46 worshippers in a Baghdad church near the Green Zone.
|Wednesday, 13 October 2010|
While for many in the Middle East the sum of all fears is an Iranian-inspired nuclear arms race, this terrifying spectre should not distract from the very real scramble for conventional weapons that is already in play across the region. The visit of the Iranian president to Lebanon will refocus attention on the capabilities of Hezbollah, yet Iraq remains the most contested strategic prize with would-be allies in both Tehran and Washington engaged in a high-stakes tug of war.
|Monday, 09 August 2010|
One of the legacies of the Afghan adventure is the blurring of lines between humanitarian and military operations
Non-governmental organisations have faced their fair share of criticism for their role in Afghanistan. Linda Polman, in her book War Games, described how Afghans who having lived through Soviet communism and Taliban Islamism, are experiencing the new dynamic of "NGO-ism".
The chaos of a war zone combined with the financial attraction of an invasion led by the world's remaining superpower has proved a potent mix for a multitude of NGOs to flock to the country.
Aid agencies have been accused of chasing contracts – which has resulted in a geographic imbalance of aid with resources focused on those areas suffering from actual conflict while ignoring areas with the security to benefit from sustainable development. This has meant that aid has often failed to adjust to Afghan needs, for example 10-15% of all Afghan land is arable to farming yet despite 80% of Afghans relying upon agriculture only 5% of international aid goes to that sector.
|Friday, 30 July 2010|
The Syrian president's triumphant return to Lebanon after five years comes at a crucially sensitive time for the country
In the maelstrom of rhetoric that swirls around the Middle East the warnings of Hezbollah should ring alarm bells. Concern that the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri will implicate a "Hezbollah commando unit" brought Hassan Nasrallah out to address a press conference where he ominously warned that the Shia movement "know how to defend themselves".
This month has also seen an intensive Israeli military rehearsal of a war with Lebanon in addition to the release of maps and previously classified aerial photographs of what Israel described as a network of Hezbollah weapons depots and command centres in south Lebanon.
Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, Hezbollah's commander in south Lebanon, responded in kind warning that the group has a list of military targets inside Israel that they could attack. The discovery of large-scale gas deposits in the sea near the two countries' shared border simply provided another accelerant to conflict.
Into this simmering cocktail enters the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, returning to Lebanon for the first time since the Hariri assassination in 2005.
Two years into the conflict in Syria and the mask has slipped revealing that Assad is willing to enter the heart of darkness and take down the state along with his regime.
Living in Syria in the period 2005-2007, one was always struck by the blatant contradictions that characterised Assad's rule. In the jasmine-scented alleyways of the Old City of Damascus you never felt threatened by criminality and away from the bustle of the Souk there was a pervading sense of peacefulness -- yet this was a country living in a seemingly infinite state of emergency, with feared secret police forces and infamous prisons. If you wanted to find out about the workings of the State or the actions of its government the very last place you'd go is the Ministry of Information. State newspapers would seemingly report anything but the news. The country was technically at war with Israel but the Golan had been quiet for decades, with tourists to the town of Quneitra treated to an experience similar to visiting a museum rather than a potential flashpoint on the border of contested occupied territory. Beyond the facade of elections Government Ministers and Parliamentarians were mouthpieces for Assad and the Shadow State that kept his regime in power. The ubiquitous poster of Bashar and his father watched down on you everywhere you went -- Big Brother was indeed watching you.
The international community knows that the situation is bad and getting worse but lacks the unity and political capital to do anything about it
(Huffington Post) When will we arrive at a tipping point in Syria? This is the frequently asked question that followed the early momentum of the uprising in 2011, the bloody siege of Baba Amr in March, the double suicide bombing in Damascus and the bloody massacre of children and civilians in Hula in May.
Despite the lack of access for international media the outside world cannot claim to be ignorant of what is happening in the country. True the details are murky and there remain huge questions of whom/what the Shabiha are and the extent of Al Qaeda penetration, but more or less the daily toll of bloodshed is known both in figures and horrific stories. Behind the main headlines I’ve seen videos of people buried alive by men in army uniforms, heard stories of skinned bodies being returned to terrified relatives and attended events where various members of the opposition talk of the desperate plight that sections of the Syrian population are enduring.
Despite a brief lull when the Annan plan was launched the violence has steadily increased and the notion that the cease fire is holding is a tragic testimony to international impotence towards the conflict. Like climate change the vast majority of the global population know that what is going on is bad, but the mechanisms of international governance, and in particular the United Nations charged with the ‘responsibility to protect’, simple cannot respond.
The Annan plan is like the Kyoto Treaty, the best and only game in town but completely unsuited for the scale of what it is trying to address. The world’s major powers are trapped in a comfortable inertia. The Europeans and the Americans are happy to make diplomatic gestures, like throwing out Syrian Ambassadors, and talking about how the Assad regime has lost legitimacy, but their biggest effort to unite the Syrian opposition remains half-baked to say the least. The Chinese and the Russians meanwhile, still smarting from being conned on Libya UNSCR 1973 and with deep strategic and economic ties with Syria, are stonewalling any movement at the United Nations.
(Huffington Post) The heady optimism of 2011 and the rapid fall of the regimes of Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali, has been replaced by disappointment in the new military leadership in Cairo, deep divisions in Libya and of course the continued brutal clampdown against protestors in Syria. Western public's confidence in the Arab Spring, divided from the start between support to the non-violent square seizing revolutionaries and scepticism about the religious slogan chanting Islamists, can be forgiven for wondering what will happen next.
In the interests of creative thinking I suggest that there are a series of interesting parallels with the original Star Wars trilogy (episodes IV-VI) can provide a practical narrative of understanding.
This may appear a little bizarre but it is worth remembering that the original Star Wars films chronicled the story of a hero who represents a crucially important demographic component of what would form the Arab Spring's revolutionary vanguard. Indeed Luke Skywalker was a under-employed young graduate, living at home with high expectations for his future not being met by the Empire's lack of attention to the provincial backwater where he lived. As the Observer's Henry Porter explained, "youth unemployment and the grinding lack of hope are the source of the most serious social and political problems across the Arab world. The unemployment rate among Tunisians under 25 is about 26%. Half of the 60,000 graduates released on to the jobs market every year will not find work".
Skywalker would ultimately be responsible for the destruction of Empire's most fearsome weapon largely due to secret official documents being smuggled to the rebels that he joined. Although it cannot be said to be of the same impact, the smuggled official secret US diplomatic cables, revealed in the Wikileaks documents, highlighted cases of massive corruption in the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes. As the US Ambassador in Tunis wrote "whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumoured to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants".
(Huffington Post) It was not Facebook, Twitter or YouTube that brought down Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian people did that. But this does not mean that social media and internet-based technologies played no role, or that their role was insignificant, as some have alleged. Rather, events in Egypt and countries across the Middle East and North Africa have shown in the 'Arab Spring' that internet platforms and technologies should be seen for what they are: effective tools for the conduct of political campaigns in authoritarian contexts.
This conclusion was reached in a new paper written by Tim Eaton who currently works for BBC Media Action on media development projects in the Middle East. The paper is the product of over a year of research and seeks to analyze the use of online activism in the Egyptian uprisings of January and February 2011, drawing out the lessons learned in addition to applying them to the wider context of the Arab Spring.
(Huffington Post) Four days after the official US troop presence ended, Baghdad has been struck by bombings that are a reminder that for ordinary Iraqis the horror continues.
Soft, unprotected civilian targets were hit by co-ordinated, simultaneous attacks that were likely planned prior to Shi’a Prime Minister Maliki’s Monday decision to order the arrest of Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi. The Western press has focused on the potential for larger sectarian bloodletting, the reality is that this bombing fits into a fairly predictable pattern of violence that has been largely ignored by the media. Indeed the average monthly death toll in Iraq exceeds 300 and kidnappings, bombings and shootings are daily occurrences.
The Iraqi security forces are now some 650,000 strong and according to US military trainers becoming more competent by the day. With this in mind a combination of manpower, equipment and checkpoints (in addition to reconciliation efforts that I will come onto) have reduced the frequency of attacks against religious sites and ceremonies, government institutions and in particular against the security forces themselves.
Huffington Post - Bashar al-Assad is the man most likely to bring down his own regime. Why? Because if we trace back both the president's reaction to the protests in addition to his previous ten years in charge, we can see that his attempts at reforms have unwittingly creating the environment in which challenges to the regime continue to flourish.
Assad has undermined the bedrock of his father's coup-proof state by marginalizing the old guard, introducing communications technology and the internet to the country, reducing funding to the military, removing the local power of Baath party committees and the unions, and, in the pursuing his version of the 'Chinese model' of economic reform, exacerbating class differences and forcing large sections of Syrian society to rely on more traditional tribal and sectarian networks.
(Huffington Post) I was recently fortunate enough to visit the sprawling Rocinha favela, one of the largest in Rio, which sits on a stunning hillside in a cove overlooking the Atlantic about a ten minutes drive from Ipanema beach. The Rio Favelas are synonymous in popular fiction with crime and violence, from the epic City of God to the episodes in Modern Warfarethat place the gamer in charge of shooting their way out of the dense and mazelike warren of houses.
As with the slums in Mumbai, the ethics of whether or not to visit the favelas are hotly contested. One of our guides, a friend who has lived and worked in Rocinha for the past year producing a film, spoke of the gaggles of tourists who arrive on organized trips from their hostels to rush through the central street and gawp at the heavily armed traficos that until recently held sovereignty over the population estimated at between 150-300,000 people.
Yet times in Brazil are changing, as the B in the BRIC economies charges up the table of the world's richest countries (it is now 8th) and looks forward to hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics one year later. The favelas are not immune to this transition and according to the UN study "State of the World Cities 2010/2011" Brazil has reduced its favela shantytown population by 16 percent in the last decade, with "an improvement in the living standards of 10.5 million Brazilians." According to the study, the poor living in favelas went down from 31.5 to 26.4 percent of the population.
(Huffington Post) Regime change in Libya has a number of parallels with Afghanistan and Iraq – but have the proponents of intervention embraced the good and avoided the bad of previous campaigns?
1) Aerial Intervention
In both Afghanistan and Libya NATO airpower proved decisive.
In Libya rebel forces were in danger of being routed in Benghazi in March before NATO airpower and 20,000 sorties against Gaddafi’s military made the difference.
In Afghanistan airpower broke a stalemate between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in 2001. The Northern Alliance’s victory was not only down to NATO airpower. Crucially a number of former Taliban allied warlords defected and joined the push to Kabul.
Similarly the Libyan rebels have benefitted from both military and political defections – with the high profile cases of Musa Kosa and the NTC’s leader, the former Gaddafi Justice Minister Mahmoud Jibril.
NATO was very conscious of the propaganda coup that Gaddafi would win if airstrikes resulted in large scale civilian casualties. With this in mind the rules of aerial engagement were considerably tighter than in Afghanistan where B-52s were in action in comparison to Tornadoes armed with more accurate Brimstone missiles. On more than one occasion British aircraft were called off an attack during an 8-hour roundtrip mission due to concerns over civilian casualties.
(New Statesman) The country, largely ignored by the international media, is about to agree to long-term American "occupation-lite".
"Iraq-fatigue" has meant that a series of critical events in the country have been largely ignored. There is, of course, the continued insecurity. June was the deadliest month for Iraqis this year, with 271 people killed and another 35 massacred in a car bombing in Taji at the start of July. Meanwhile, 14 US soldiers also died in June, making it the deadliest month for the US in three years.
(Huffington Post) The Transformers series can simple be seen as teenage fun, complete with battling robots, gorgeous women and shiny sports cars, however beneath the surface Michael Bay blockbusters are a powerful messaging vehicle for the US military. Transformers 2 was the biggest joint Military operation movie ever made and the narrative develops further with the latest instalment.
Indeed hidden within the clash of metal and the rattle of gunfire, the films central message concerns the dangers of America feeling too secure in the post- Bin Laden era and in particular warns against any significant mothballing of the military. Much of the two and a half hours of action could come straight out of military recruitment films. The Pentagon, one of Hollywood’s biggest players, gave Bay access to a host of boy’s toys allowing a tour de force of US military hardware including tomahawk missiles, surveillance drones, Osprey aircraft and of course heroic Navy Seals.
Assad will hope that it’s not three strikes and out after his latest attempt to halt the momentum of protests.
(Huffington Post) Bashar al-Assad did not apologise for the events of the past few months that have left over 1,500 dead, instead he attempted to reassure Syria’s silent majority that he is the caring paternal figure that can guide the state in the right direction by cleansing the country of ‘germs’, protect against external conspiracy and continue his version of a reform process.
As opposed to the talkative Gaffadi who has made regular appearances or statements over the past months, Assad has only appeared three times to speak to the Syrian public. At each occasion the embattled President has offered concessions including the abolishing of the emergency law, granting citizenship to thousands of stateless Kurds and giving incentives to conservative Islamic groups.
However so far he has proved unable to halt or reverse the gathering momentum of active opposition against his regime.
(Huffington Post)The protests in Syria are entering a new phase, with reports of the resistance taking up arms in parts of the country against the security forces and the government promising a 'decisive' response. The West appears impotent to prevent further slaughter. However high-tech tools could expose Syria's brutal underbelly and bring a halt to the crackdown.
What has been clear since the start of the protests in Syria is that whatever the government is doing, they're not keen for the rest of the world to see. In contrast to the fixed camera positions that looked upon the tens of thousands of protestors and inactive tanks in Egypt's Tahrir Square, the Assad regime quickly cleansed the country of international press and has since embarked on a cat and mouse game against web based communications.
(Huffington Post) Osama Bin Laden once said that he worshipped death, while his enemies worshipped life. Yet Al Qaeda's original Dr. Evil and Global Terror's bête noir did not go out in a blaze of glory at a time of his own choosing, but rather was summarily dispatched by US Navy Seals in his own bedroom.
In the near term and for the next months Western intelligence and security forces will be very concerned by any response to his death. It is highly likely that AQ has been preparing for this eventual scenario, which considering the focus in finding/killing him was always fairly predictable outcome. Governments will be particularly worried that there are potential sleeper cells that have been activated to respond in order to restore the narrative of AQ's potency now that its figurehead rests at the bottom of the sea. A reminder of the continued threat to Europe from AQ came as recently as last Friday, when 3 men were arrested in Germany for posing a "concrete and imminent danger" to the nation.
(Huffington Post) The Syrian protestors, whether they be characterised as 'pro democracy' or 'anti regime', are dangerously isolated and very much in the tank sights of the regime. The promised 'iron fist' is being deployed. Over the past weeks over 400 people have reportedly been killed. Daraa has been quarantined and had its electricity and telephone lines cut, even those with satellite phones are finding it hard to recharge them. The Western press has been barred from the country and joins the rest of the world in depending on amateur YouTube clips to work out what's going on.
Assad's regime, sensitive to the fate of Mubarrak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi, whilst also mindful of their Iranian ally's success in dealing with the Green movements protestors, is attempting to reimpose its monopoly on fear.
Concessions towards the Kurds, the conservative Sunni mercantile elite, abolition of the emergency law and the sacking of parliament have emptied the Syrian political cupboard of all its carrots and all that appears to be left is the trusted stick that saw the regime through the years of internal conflict in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
(Huffington Post) Lebanon, again bereft of a government and with the country split down the middle into pro and anti-Syria camps, now faces the repercussions of instability in Syria.
There is a saying in the Middle East that ‘chaos in Lebanon does not mean chaos in Syria, but chaos in Syria is guaranteed to destabilise Lebanon’.
This Friday all eyes will be on the potential for protests and the government response in Syria. However there is also a flashpoint looming in northern Lebanon where both pro and anti-Syrian regime protests have been planned. Lebanese Security officials in the north have rejected requests for permits to hold the two demonstrations in Tripoli, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears with both protests being advertised widely.
(Huffington Post)The Syrian city of Deraa is rapidly becoming the Tahrir Square of the escalating Syrian revolution, but with the regime promising "no more room for leniency or tolerance", what or who will prevent a repeat of the Hama massacre of 1982?
The Western appetite for intervention, supposedly drained by the fiasco of Iraq and never-ending specter of Afghanistan, came alive at the prospect of the fall of Bengazi and the potential death of thousands. But with momentum in Libya significantly stalled what will the international community be able to do to prevent the Syrian regime from pursuing draconian measures to quell its swelling protests?
This is a very real prospect. Assad Snr biographer Patrick Seale is likely right when he warns that 'the regime has decided to fight back with full force'. Some 200 people have reportedly been killed already, with the death toll from Friday at over 37. Human Rights Activists have said that "the secret police have been rounding up every outspoken figure they can get their hands on" with Fayez Sara, a journalist who was jailed for two-and-a-half years along with 11 Damascus Declaration members and released in 2010, arrested again on Sunday. Reports from Syria suggest that elite Republican Guard snipers have been deployed and Al Jazeera highlighted the closure of roads to Deraa and the construction of earth mounds blocking access to the restive city.
(Huffington Post) Unable to blame foreign powers, Assad's next move is the greatest test of his ability to reform Syria
The modern Syrian republic is a chimera whose mothballed constitution hides the true face of an authoritarian monarchy that legislates through powers granted through a vicious and all consuming emergency law. While Syria appeared initially immune to the revolutionary shockwaves spreading through the region, unrest in Deraa and a cack-handed government response of rotten carrots and bloody sticks has simply served to rally a momentum that has spread across the country.
(Huffington Post) In the shadow of the budget, Libyan assets abroad and captured oil revenues should be used to fund the no fly zone over the country
As Tomahawk missiles costing four libraries a time crash into Colonel Gaddafi’s military infrastructure we should think about new ways to fund our newly empowered responsibility to protect.
According to YouGov Less than half the British public backs military action in Libya. One of the likely reasons for this is not a doubt about the character of Gaddafi and his murderous intentions, but rather whether or not Britain can afford to be the global moral vanguard at this time of austerity.
This week Sweden froze around 10 billion kronor ($1.6 billion) of assets belonging to Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya. Last month Barack Obama directed the US Treasury to block $30bn (£18.45bn) in assets held by Gaddafi and his officials, the largest action ever undertaken by the US, said Treasury officials. At the same time Britain froze the assets of Gaddafi and his five children on Sunday evening at an emergency meeting of the Privy Council at Windsor castle presided over by the Queen. The chancellor, George Osborne, acted amid reports that the Libyan leader had moved £3bn to Britain last week. In a separate cloak-and-dagger operation, £900m of Libyan currency was impounded in Britain.
Much of the debate to date has focused on the mechanisms rather than the morality of this intervention. David Cameron has repeatedly said that the Libyan people should be allowed to determine their own future. In order for there to be sustainable British public support for the no-fly zone and its £70,000 an hour Typhoon bills to continue, then the allies should work to convert Gaddafi’s hidden fortune into the fuel that powers action against him.
(Huffington Post) I think the need for action to prevent a routing of the rebels/population of the East is important at a humanitarian level. But considering the location of Gaddafi's forces does this new alliance have assets in place to prevent the fall of Benghazi? Libya's surprise announcement of a ceasefire and a halt to operations suggests that the resolution has succeeded in warning Gaddafi off risking such a move.
I think that the decision does has legitimacy. The Arab League sponsored Lebanon's tabling of the motion and at the Security Council it has received 10 votes in favour with none against.
Arab support and the fact that Arab aircraft will surely play a part in the operations mean that the decision cannot be seen as the West imposing its will on the Middle East. In addition the fact that China and Russia choose not to veto (considering their traditional oil/weapons concerns) is evidence of the regional nature of support for placing a break on Gaddafi's counterattack in what has clearly become a civil war. I don't think that oil/weapon sales is the reason for the Western powers supporting the decision. I thought it was very interesting that the Americans played a supporting rather than leading role at the United Nations (this may have also impacted the Chinese, Russian veto decision), I was equally disappointed that the Germans shattered any sense of European unity by abstaining.
So Cameron is correct when he says that UNSCR 1973 reflects 1) demonstrable need 2) regional support 3) strong legal basis
(Huffington Post) World leaders cringe at archive footage of them embracing Colonel Gaddafi. Staff at the London School of Economics resign or eat humble pie as a consequence of their relations with Libya. Has engagement with authoritarian states and their leaderships been proven to be a fool’s errant?
This week’s battle for Bregga may be one day seen in hindsight as the transitional moment from Libya’s revolution to Libya’s civil war. The evolving physical conflict has meant that the debate will naturally focus on talk of military interventions and sanctions. However, more complex than theories of liberal interventionalism is the question about how the West can be expected to configure its day to day relations with countries which possess few freedoms and poor human rights records.
For example should BP and the other Western oil companies, who are currently hedging their bets as whether or not to leave the Libya, be placed under the same level of scrutiny as the academics of LSE and politicos of Westminster? YouGov polling showed that half the public (51%) actually backed British companies operating in Libya to extract oil, with only 21% thought it was wrong. LSE’s Sir Howard Davies resigned over embarrassment concerning a £2.2m deal to train hundreds of young Libyans, yet YouGov polling on the British public’s view on Libya showed that a large majority (69%) thinks Britain was right to help Libya with education and training.
After five years of brutal conflict in which half the population has been forced from their homes, there is still no end in sight to the war in Syria.
One of the reasons behind this longevity is that Syria has become a post-factual conflict and it is that dynamic that fundamentally undermines any political solution.
So what does it mean to be a post-factual conflict?
(The New Arab) The bombing of a bank in Beirut earlier this month, led some commentators to point out how important credit lines from Lebanese financial institutions will be, when the time comes to begin rebuilding Syria.
(The Young Arab) Tunisia's recent history shows the power of globalised violence to inspire and inflate the actions of an individual at the expense of the vast majority. For a country that is still coming to terms with its post-revolutionary politics, it remains in the crosshairs of IS and its tourist sector is in urgent need of genuine international support.
The first killer
In April 2002 a suicide attacker detonated a huge explosion outside a synagogue on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 14 German tourists, four Tunisians and a French tourist. The synagogue was gifted to Jews who had fled Roman persecution by the Berbers in 6th century BC, and as a marker of tolerance and generosity towards others it was an obvious al-Qaeda target. Despite the Bin Laden inspired movement promising 'more to come', Tunisia was largely quiet for almost the next decade.
Then the actions of another individual - Mohamed Bouazizi - sparked the fires of revolution and upheaval across the region. His self-immolation and death in 2011 triggered Tunisia's revolution that saw the end of Ben Ali's 23 years in power. The revolution did not however provide an instant panacea to the country's problems, nor did it immunise it against the global appeal born out of the rise of IS.
Tunisia is reported to have provided the single largest number of foreign fighters who have rallied under the black flag in Syria and Iraq. Discontent among many young, unemployed Tunisians is often cited as one of the reasons behind this, and IS has every reason to want to maintain this. Another arguably more powerful factor is the disintegration of the Libyan state and the subsequent civil conflict and chaos that emerged to Tunisia's east. Weapons, safe spaces to train and porous borders combine into a potent mix for a trans-national 'Caliphate' interested in expansion.
(Al Jazeera) British photojournalist John Cantlie has been in ISIL captivity since 2012. But rather than appearing as a passive object of captivity, he has emerged as a media tool for the group to pursue its wider aims.
New footage released this month, taking place against the backdrop of the busy streets of Mosul, was the first seen in more than a year. It was the seventh film of a series titled Lend Me Your Ears, in which a rather unenthusiastic and increasingly thin-looking Cantlie regurgitates standard rhetoric from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) about how great they are and how corrupt and ineffective their enemies are.
In this case, Cantlie bemoaned the waste of $5bn of US taxpayers' money spent bombing innocuous ISIL "media kiosks". The imagery and detail in the series has painted a very different picture from Mosul and Aleppo from that covered in the mainstream press.He also has a column in the slick online ISIL magazine, Dabiq, in which he made headlines when he floated the idea that "a truce with Western nations is always an option in Shariah law". Unlike his video appearances we can be even less sure that the writing in Dabiq is Cantlie's, although there is no doubting the shift in his value from hostage to an intimidated asset of a very different sort.Indeed, while he initially appeared in the bright orange Guantanamo inspired jumpsuits, in his later films he is seen simply in black, ISIL's shade of choice.
Stockholm syndrome, sometimes known as capture-bonding, describes how hostages can come to sympathise and develop positive feelings towards their captors. It is no surprise that after years in detention Cantlie is adjusting to do whatever he needs to do to survive.
(Al-Araby) It was over twenty years since the forces of Bosnian-Serb General Mladic slaughtered some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims from the town of Srebrenica. I recently visited the graveyards that mark the victims, the mortuaries and laboratories that continue the search for the missing. I met those who lost their entire family and others who hid bleeding amongst the dead but managed to escape and tell their stories.
Two decades on the country's wounds are still open and the social divisions frozen, rather than healed. Meanwhile in Syria, the peace talks and cessation of hostilities have given the country a moment of calm following five years of slaughter. Whilst the present remains unstable, Syria's future is likely to be tumultuous and, for that matter, it's worth learning the lessons from other countries that have endured brutal civil conflict, massacres and splitting of society along ethnic and sectarian lines.
The division of Yugoslavia from one country to six with further divisions came at the cost of over 100,000 dead in Bosnia in the space of some three years. Europe, a continent that said 'never again' after the Holocaust, witnessed the re-emergence of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Civil society activists in Sarajevo, a city that endured the longest siege of modern times - 47 months, spoke of how quickly society disintegrated and how neighbours turned against each other. Survivors of the Srebrenica killings, recognised by the international courts as genocide, talk of how their favourite teacher became their callous jailer and torturer. Time has healed much of the hatred but with those who perpetrated much of the killings in denial and accountability partial at best, division remains, stymieing the development of a country that some are now calling a 'failed state'.
Despite 2015 seemingly dominated by violence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, tourism in the Middle East saw a 3% increase in visitor numbers. As the spread of ISIS’s targets reach out into tourism hot spots like Turkey and Egypt cautious tourists are left asking is there any safe place to visit in the region?
Oman, nestled at the foot of Arabia, is home to 3.6 million people and some of the most beautiful geography in the region. Blessed with some 3,165 kilometres of coastline and stunning mountain ranges, the Sultanate has succeeded in that rare task of keeping out of the Middle East’s headlines.
The country has a peace first approach that sees itself act as a mediator of some of the toughest politics in the region. Being situated between Iran and Saudi Arabia perhaps forces such an approach and the country walks a delicate line keeping good relations with both. Indeed the country played a key role as host to the Iranian nuclear talks, has been involved in bringing together the parties to the Syrian conflict and has managed to avoid getting sucked into the fighting to its direct west in Yemen.
Senior Omani civil servants describe their country’s role as that of ‘the quiet diplomat’ avoiding large scale publicity at expense of getting a grip to some of the region’s toughest problems. Such a problem solving approach has also extended beyond the region with the Sultanate’s willingness to accept prisoners from Guantanamo Bay a huge part of Obama’s attempt to close the camp before the end of his presidency.
Yet security is not the country’s biggest challenge, rather the nosedive in oil prices that has forced some serious changes to the economy and a concerted attempt to diversify, with tourism nearing the top of that list of priorities. However the Oman’s strategy is not to replicate mass resorts such as those of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt or on Turkey’s Mediterranean cost, but rather offer a more refined, exclusive and expensive experience for smaller numbers of richer tourists.
So far many of the visitors have come from by word of mouth with repeat visitors from Germany and Britain leading the way as well as steady numbers from the nearby Gulf. New hotel infrastructure and a new airport are all in development and Oman will need to think about visitor experiences in the stifling summer and perhaps adopt a more pragmatic policy towards the hard to get alcohol licenses going forward. The country’s state of the art museum, facing the Sultan’s palace in the centre of Muscat, is soon to be opened and the capital’s Opera House was finished in 2011 complete with Italian marble and Austrian chandeliers.
According to UN figures Oman has developed more in last 40 years than any other country on planet and the Muscat skyline is dominated by cranes and construction. Meanwhile halfway down the coast the free zone of Duqm, once a small fishing village, is nearing completion complete with a new port, airport and hotels expected to host some 30,000-40,000 tourists a year. Whilst Dubai and the Gulf offer incredible skylines and record breaking architecture, the Omanis focus on low rise and more subtle demonstrations of their country’s highlights. The largest single tourist site is probably the Muscat Grand Mosque complete with a 14m chandelier and space for 8,000 worshippers. But perhaps the hidden jewel in the hidden Sultanate is the offer of not only getting up early to see the first sunrise in the Gulf, but also to witness the life cycle of turtles, creatures who predate humanity and who nest in the several of the county’s beaches.
Beyond the geography and the sights what I took away from a recent trip to the country was the incredibly warmth and hospitality of the Omani people. An official said to me that Oman sees itself as an Indian Ocean state that faces out not a Gulf state that faces in, as secrets go I’d imagine its not long till many more know about what the Sultanate has to offer.
(Al Jazeera) Nobody should doubt the tactics that the Syrian regime and its allies will countenance in order to win this war. The horror of Madaya has been told in the pictures of emaciated children and the stories of people forced into eating cats, dogs, grass and whatever else they can find to survive. Starvation can be added to a list that includes chemical weapons, barrel bombs, massacres and indiscriminate artillery use on built-up urban areas.
Madaya had previously seen a single food distribution on October 18 before a stranglehold took place that has now seen huge suffering for an estimated 40,000 residents. In Madaya, 25 miles away from Bashar al-Assad's presidential palace, 23 Syrians, including children, starved to death last month. Others risk landmines and sniper fire to do whatever they can to keep their families alive.
Seen in isolation, the story of Madaya could appear as just another tragic chapter in the story of Syria's bloody civil war. However, the tactics of starvation have both context and history, while lessons can be learned about how media attention and pressure have led to access being promised for aid and desperately needed relief.
(Al Araby al Jaded) Next month, we will mark five years of unrelenting, grinding conflict in Syria. What was a relatively under-reported country is now better known as a place of chemical weapon use, famine and massacres.
Syria has become a byword for chaos and complexity, its layered conflicts featuring local, regional and international dimensions in a blood-soaked Rubik's Cube that appears unsolvable. Instead, as people pick up the pieces of their lives away from destroyed homes and lost relatives, some cling to the hope that all conflicts end, eventually, and that the future must be better than a present so desperate and tragic for all those touched by it.
So is there hope for the year ahead or will the grim roll call of statistics - a quarter of a million dead, half the country forced from their homes - simply keep building?
2015 saw a number of significant moments in the conflict. The arrival of Russia as a serious military player into the conflict, the rise and apparent decline of IS - the world's new public enemy number one - and finally a peace process that saw enemies and allies sit around a table in Vienna and decide that the conflict in Syria was far too important to be left to the Syrians.
The Vienna process and its timetable of ceasefires, talks and constitutional progression is a sliver of light in the darkness and represents the best chance out of the downward spiral of violence.
Vienna's ambitions are high and the potential for events to destabilise them is great. We've already seen how peace envoy De Mistura's work on local ceasefires has seen IS-linked fighters evacuated from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, but only after the killing by the regime of an opposition leader had put the whole deal in jeopardy.
Who'd be in charge of Iraq, a country where state institutions are barely functioning and continued civil conflict rages with an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 active IS fighters in the country?
Electricity supplies remain strained, corruption is so bad that protests are frequently and violently put down, and a breakdown in the sewage infrastructure recently saw an outbreak of cholera.
(Al Jazeera) Russia's dramatic escalation in Syria's civil war has been rightly described by the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini as a "game-changer". Yet the focus on the rights, wrongs and long-term impact of Moscow's new role shouldn't distract from a coming together of some of the conflict's political tectonic plates that open up a range of new potential scenarios.
The rise and rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the realisation that Syria's refugee crisis will not be contained within the country or the region, with more than 710,000 migrants entering the EU in first 9 months of 2015, have pushed Syria right up the political agenda in Western capitals.
(Al Jazeera English) US President Barack Obama's offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) takes place at a time of heightened chaos across the region. The strategy is both complex and risky. It requires multilateral cooperation, to date unseen competence on the part of the Iraqi military and politicians, and for an ISIL response to be contained. Yet, the rewards for all parties concerned could be worth the investment in this new "coalition of the willing". In short, everyone could be a winner, excepting those civilians stuck in the middle.
Why is this? To date, the rapid emergence of ISIL has been characterised by those who have so obviously lost. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi military and the unfortunate hostages who've met gruesome deaths, stand out. But the brutality of ISIL and its willingness to tear down conventional norms of what the state should look like in the Middle East, place it in the crosshairs of almost all the players in the region. This confluence of interests in destroying or at least significantly marginalising ISIL was effectively shown in an infographic published this week in the Economist, put simply - everyone hates ISIL.
What does this mean in more detail? For Iraq, the fight against ISIL is a chance for the new prime minister, Haider al-Abbadi, to deliver a genuine and legitimate national unity government that brings Iraqis together rather than forcing them apart on the basis of sect or ethnicity. With the might of US air power, logistics and intelligence behind him, Abbadi will have the chance to fashion a vision of Iraq for all Iraqis that balances a traditional Baghdad-centric nationalism with the realities of federal demands from across the country and in particular from the Kurds and the Sunnis. Resource sharing, political recognition, and national reconciliation are the priorities for Abbadi with the threat of ISIL attacks being used as a common enemy going forward.
(Al-Jazeera) Tonight, US President Barack Obama will announce the latest chapter of US military intervention in the Middle East. The president is a reluctant interventionist with his foreign policy to date defined by caution and an attempt to distance himself from the conflicts started by his predecessor. However, the dramatic rise of the self-styled Islamic State group, which the world woke up to in June when they captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has forced his hand.
The Mount Sinjar crisis, which raised real concerns that the Kurdistan Region could fall, and the horrific executions of US journalists are all milestones in the run-up to the new strategy Obama will announce to the American people on prime-time tonight from Washington.
Unlike last year's aborted Syria intervention, the president appears to have the backing of Congress and the US public. Polling this week showed that 71 percent of all Americans support airstrikes in Iraq - up from 54 percent three weeks ago. Meanwhile, Obama has the lowest personal ratings in his entire presidency and last month candidly admitted that the US didn't have an Islamic State strategy.
(Majalla) The Syrian government’s capture of Homs, the so-called ‘capital of the revolution,’ and Bashar Al-Assad’s inevitable victory in the upcoming presidential “election” appear to put the regime in a stronger position than ever before—but have these short-term victories come at a long-term cost?
Events in Homs last week raised questions about Assad’s future—questions that few have thought to ask so far. While Syrian state media wanted people to focus on the removal of the rubble, the reopening of the city’s shops, and the tourism minister’s bizarre claims that thousands would now flock to visit the city, deadly clashes broke out between two pro-Assad militia groups, the National Defense Forces and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. While the story barely registered with the international press, who’ve grown more accustomed to reporting on the infighting that has come to characterize the opposition, it is worth exploring for the light it sheds on the possible future direction of the country.
While Assad’s father was able to fully restore his full authority across the country following the crushing of the uprising in Hama in 1982, there is no guarantee that Bashar will be able to put the country back together again. Indeed, the fighting in Homs may be a sign of things to come, and the consequence of Assad’s ‘outsourcing’ of the defense of his regime to groups from both inside the country and across the region. These famously include between 4,000–5,000 members of Hezbollah, in addition to Iraqi militiamen and senior commanders from the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Syrian regime has also sought to empower informal—and notorious—local militias known as Shabiha(“ghosts”), as well as 60,000 members of the paramilitary ‘National Defense Force,’ whose role in a future Syria is debatable, to say the least.
Majalla - The worst violence in six years defined the backdrop for the Iraqi elections in April. The vote, the first to take place since the US troop withdrawal in 2011, briefly pushed the beleaguered country back onto the news agenda. Before then it seemed that only particularly bloody days would register in the Western press. How did it come to be that the mass Western investment of blood and treasure into the country in 2003 has transformed into such indifference?
Iraq has become a family secret, the hideously malformed child hidden away in the attic, whose presence is only acknowledged on rare and awkward occasions. In the UK this is particularly true with the Chilcot Inquiry, ongoing since 2009, testing the patience of the prime minister as to when it will reveal its findings. Iraq’s state of permanent chaos, of market bombings and assassinations, has turned it into a toxic issue which politicians avoid, one which bores the public and which the media struggles to contain into a coherent narrative.
(Open Democracy) Last week the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reported from the Geneva II peace talks that while no substantive progress had been reached so far "ice was being broken". Visions of what the conference aimed to achieve were vastly divergent from the start. The opposition hoped to implement the terms of the Geneva I agreement concerning a transition of power, while the regime framed the meetings within a narrative of support against counter-terrorism. In the absence of likely agreements as to either side’s primary aims there is hope that common ground can be found on securing humanitarian access to the beleaguered country.
Six and a half million Syrians are now internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands are stuck within a number of besieged areas of the country where reports suggest that starvation is being used as a weapon of war. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the suburbs of Damascus, home to an estimated 20,000 people, things are getting desperate. While a record-breaking number of press credentials (+1,000) were issued at Geneva II, there are no journalists reporting from inside Yarmouk, where stories are emerging of people being forced to eat stray animals in the face of massive food shortages.
(Progress) After eight months of planning and nearly three years of war, the ‘Geneva II’ peace conference finally got started last week. Bringing representatives of the regime and the broad opposition together in the same city and subsequently in the same room has been a tortuous process while the conflict continues to drain the country to the tune of an estimated $109m a day. The start of the peace process was very much the equivalent of a ‘shotgun wedding’ – with all sides begrudgingly attending at the request of their international and regional allies. The key lesson to take away so far is that we have to be prepared for, and the British government should be ready to support, a long road to peace rather than an immediate grand bargain.
The actual launch of the conference was political pantomime at its best with a heady mix of unpredictability, high emotion and a media horde standing by to pick up on every moment. Things didn’t start well for the Syrian opposition delegation when its plane was grounded in Athens over a dispute over sanctions and refuelling. The set-piece launch of the event would prove more embarrassing for the United Nations secretary general. After Ban Ki Moon instructed the regime representative, Walid Muallem, to speak for ten minutes, he then proceeded to speak for thirty and just before wrapping up told Mr Ban ominously that ‘Syria always keeps its promises’.
(Progress) As we hurtle towards the third year anniversary of the conflict in Syria it is time to address how extremists are increasingly centre-stage.
Let us consider two moments in the conflict in Syria. Last September, when it looked to the entire world that the United States was about to strike the country, Senator Ted Cruz criticised President Barack Obama’s efforts saying the U3S military shouldn’t be ‘al-Qaida’s air force.’ Last week Syrian rebels issued a plea to the West to supply them with arms and supplies. However what made this plea different from the numerous previous ones was that the weapons were requested to fight al-Qaida linked groups.
The presence of ‘extremists’ within the rebel opposition has been a critical factor in the arguments of the regime, its allies and those in the west who warn that the conflict has no good guys and is best avoided. The price of inaction is well known, over 120,000 dead, over half a million wounded and almost half the country displaced from their homes. Today there are almost more Syrians living outside of Syria than in the country. It’s time to acknowledge that the narrative born largely of the ‘War on Terror’ continues to dominate the British public’s view of the Syrian Opposition and therefore options around our greater involvement in the conflict.
(Majalla) Monday marked the 1,000th day of the conflict in Syria. The day itself saw stories of the regime on the offensive near the border with Lebanon, refugees struggling with the worsening winter, extremists kidnapping nuns, and continued pessimistic debate over whether the upcoming Geneva II peace conference will be a success. Meanwhile, Washington’s place in this tragic narrative increasingly seems to be on the sidelines.
On the same day, at a conference in Bahrain, the country’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, warned that US President Barack Obama’s administration would lose influence in the region if it persisted with its “transient and reactive” foreign policy. Through a bizarre coincidence, another story was about to be broken by the renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that claimed to show US policy on Syria in its most reactive light to date. Hersh claimed, based largely on off-the-record interviews with US defense officials, that the Obama administration had cherry-picked intelligence surrounding the sarin gas attack in Damascus in August. His article claimed that the US knew that the radical Al-Nusra Front also had access to such weapons but that the regime was blamed as part of a decision to intervene militarily against it. This decision was then undermined by a lack of international support and domestic opposition in the States that led the US to embrace the face-saving agreement to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Sadly, Hersh’s story is unlikely to be corroborated and may join the increasingly long list of shadowy stories concerning US intelligence and Middle East weapons. What the story does conform to, however, is the widely held view of the Obama administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict as being reluctant and tactically responsive, rather than a strategic approach aimed at achieving a clearly articulated set of goals.
Majalla - The latest chemical attack, which allegedly killed hundreds in Damascus, will worsen the humanitarian disaster in Syria. Last week, the UN registered the one millionth Syrian child refugee. Earlier in the month, the UN also confirmed what many already suspected—that over 100,000 people have now died in the battle for Syria. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, responded with a phrase which could encapsulate the conflict, stating that “it is not enough to be appalled.”
As international intervention looms, the humanitarian crisis worsens and the boundaries of civilized behavior continue to crumble, it is important to understand that it is not just the Syrian regime’s tanks, aircraft, or possible use of chemical weapons, nor the opposition’s motley array, of weaponry that are killing people. Bureaucracy, both inside and outside the country, is increasingly acting to accentuate the fallout from the conflict, with a host of deadly consequences. It has become a weapon of war, manifested through paperwork, checkpoints and sieges, which are resulting in the denial of access to lifesaving medical care.
(Foreign Policy Centre) Speaking at a recent Chatham House event former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked her predictions for the Middle East. Ignoring the continued flux of both the Arab Spring the bloody civil war in Syria Albright responded that the modern relationship between Turkey and the Kurds is evidence of how “things you think will never change – change”.
Against the backdrop of the current round of bloodletting that is wracking the region, the Kurdish success story continues to establish itself. In Turkey before the headlines became dominated by the street protests one of the biggest story’s of the year was the deal made in the decades old conflict between Ankara and the PKK. The negotiated agreement that saw hundreds of PKK fighters moving into the borderland of Iraqi Kurdistan followed a sustained improvement in relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraqi Kurdistan. The landlocked KRG have steadily looked to connect their two greatest assets, energy supplies and stability, through to Turkey. Albright would never have predicted that Turkey, previously so opposed to Kurdish autonomy, would develop such close economic relations with the nearest thing to a state-like entity that the World’s largest stateless people have ever had. As Iraq endures its most violent period in five years, with over 1,000 people killed in May according to the UN, those media that visit the north of the country run out of superlatives to describe the contrast. The standard headlines involves variant around the word ‘boom’ or ‘booming’.