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Israel: Netanyahu replies to Officers’ charges of Fascism, makes far Right Lieberman their boss

Thu, 19 May 2016 - 11:26pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bolstered his majority and rid himself of a troublesome voice of conscience Thursday by appointing the extremist Avigdor Lieberman minister of defense. This move strengthened Netanyahu’s hand politically, removing a critic in the form of Moshe Yaalon, the previous minister of defense. But it also sent a signal to Israel’s officer corps, which has been showing distinct unease at Netanyahu’s march of the country into Mussolini territory.

Part of the dispute is over the cold-blooded murder allegedly committed by a 19-year-old Israeli soldier with an extremist background, who was caught on camera killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Abd al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. Sharif had committed a knife attack before being incapacitated and searched. The video showed Azarya rushing back over, shouting angrily, and shooting the prostrate twenty-one year old in the head.

The Israeli officer corps insisted that Azarya be tried for manslaughter, apparently over the objections of Netanyahu, who called the soldier’s parents and expressed sympathy for him. The far, far-right Lieberman led a virulent campaign on behalf of Azarya.

This incident, and the extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians, so alarmed deputy chief of staff 3Maj. Gen. Yair Golan that he went so far as to liken the “sickening” processes he saw taking place in Israel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s (note: not the 1940s, when the Holocaust took place).

Netanyahu rebuked the general, but Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon backed him. He gave his own speech in which he said that Israelis must comprehend the limits of power and “meticulously safeguard our purity of arms and our humanity, not lose our heads, … eradicate racism, violence, verbal and physical attacks on women and exclusion of the other.”

Netanyahu has now replaced Yaalon (a man of the right himself) with Avigdor Lieberman, who has been accused of racism. Lieberman once talked about destroying the Aswan Dam and sweeping 80 million Egyptians into the Mediterranean. He is in favor of expelling Palestinian-Israelis from Israel and taking away their citizenship unless they swear fealty to a Jewish state. He has been shadowed for years by corruption allegations, which even went to trial inconclusively. Lieberman, who wants to move around millions of Palestinians whose families have been living in the area from time immemorial, is a fairly recent immigrant from Moldova. In his youth, there, he worked as bouncer in a club.

This is no ordinary cabinet reshuffle. It is another step taken by the Israeli leadership into the dark side, as even its top generals recognize. Putting the civilian Lieberman, who has no particular military experience, over people like Gen. Golan as their boss sends the signal that the officer corps is to sit down and shut up, and let Netanyahu continue to move Israeli politics in the Mussolini direction.

Israeli journalists are fearful of criticizing Netanyahu. Rivals have accused him of trying to control the media. Human and civil rights in Israel and especially in the Occupied Territories where millions of Palestinians live, stateless, under Israeli military rule or under siege, and worsening by the month.

Netanyahu’s appointment drew forth a lot of hand wringing in the Israeli centrist and left of center press.

BBC Monitoring translated Yossi Verter, who wrote in Haaretz,
“Even in terms of the devoid of shame, morals and reins Israeli politics, the day which began with talk about a regional peace conference conducted by Buji Herzog and ended with the proposal to appoint the neighbourhood thug, Avigdor Lieberman, as defence minister, was one of the maddest and unexpected. The dismissal of Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon from his office at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv can have only one logical explanation: Binyamin Netanyahu’s growing fear of the imaginary axis Ya’alon-Eizenkot-Golan and the rest of the generals at the General Staff, who voice, each in his own turn and style, sane voices that are perceived at the Prime Minister’s bureau and official residence as a threat, defiance and challenging the rule of the imperial family.” (– Haaretz).

Yossi Yahushua wrote in Yediot Aharanot, BBC Monitoring says,
“Now it remains to be seen how Lieberman, who arrives with combative statements, will work with the level-headed officers at the top of the security establishment like Gadi Eizenkot, Yair Golan, Aviv Kochavi and Sami Turgeman… It is not the fear of a civilian defence minister or a right-wing man as the fear of an uncontrolled person who spoke extremely, mostly against the position of the security establishment which he will soon lead. Lieberman’s tuition fees could endanger the lives of all of us.”

Even in the pro-Netanyahu, freely distributed rag funded by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Haim Shine wrote, “In my opinion the appointment of Lieberman as defence minister is not fitting . . . There is no precedent in Israeli history to a defence minister in the image and behaviour of Lieberman. It is very regrettable that we reached this time.”

Source: Quotes package from BBC Monitoring, in English 19 May 16

It is indeed regrettable that we have reached this time.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Netanyahu Pulls Off a Piece of Political Sleight of Hand Worthy of “House of Cards”

Is it ISIL? US Official Says Likely Explosion Happened on EgyptAir Plane

Thu, 19 May 2016 - 11:12pm

TeleSur | – –

EgyptAir said the plane’s emergency devices sent a distress signal at 4.26 a.m. local time, about two hours after the previously stated radar contact.

A senior U.S. Intelligence official familiar with the U.S.’s capabilities in the region told NBC News that infrared and multi-spectral imagers strongly suggest there was an explosion aboard EgyptAir plane, which went missing over the southern Mediterranean earlier Thursday.

However, he stressed that the cause of the crash remains unknown.

Meanhwile, the wreckage of the EgyptAir plane has been found near the Greek Karpathos Island, the airliner said in a statement.

. . . EgyptAir said in a statement Thursday afternoon . . .

“EgyptAir sincerely conveys its deepest sorrow to the families and friends of the passengers onboard Flight MS804. Family members of passengers and crew have been already informed and we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected.

The statement added that an Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with a Greek counterpart are still searching for . . . remains of the missing plane.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Greek official: EgyptAir wreckage not found”

The late great Fourth Amendment: Feds, Police and Intrusive Technologies

Thu, 19 May 2016 - 11:05pm

By Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

Can’t you see the writing on the touchscreen? A techno-utopia is upon us. We’ve gone from smartphones at the turn of the twenty-first century to smart fridges and smart cars. The revolutionary changes to our everyday life will no doubt keep barreling along. By 2018, so predicts Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, more than three million employees will work for “robo-bosses” and soon enough we — or at least the wealthiest among us — will be shopping in fully automated supermarkets and sleeping in robotic hotels.

With all this techno-triumphalism permeating our digitally saturated world, it’s hardly surprising that law enforcement would look to technology — “smart policing,” anyone? — to help reestablish public trust after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the long list of other unarmed black men killed by cops in Anytown, USA. The idea that technology has a decisive role to play in improving policing was, in fact, a central plank of President Obama’s policing reform task force.

In its report, released last May, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasized the crucial role of technology in promoting better law enforcement, highlighting the use of police body cameras in creating greater openness. “Implementing new technologies,” it claimed, “can give police departments an opportunity to fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy.”

Indeed, the report emphasized ways in which the police could engage communities, work collaboratively, and practice transparency in the use of those new technologies. Perhaps it won’t shock you to learn, however, that the on-the-ground reality of twenty-first-century policing looks nothing like what the task force was promoting. Police departments nationwide have been adopting powerful new technologies that are remarkably capable of intruding on people’s privacy, and much of the time these are being deployed in secret, without public notice or discussion, let alone permission.

And while the task force’s report says all the right things, a little digging reveals that the feds not only aren’t putting the brakes on improper police use of technology, but are encouraging it — even subsidizing the misuse of the very technology the task force believes will keep cops honest. To put it bluntly, a techno-utopia isn’t remotely on the horizon, but its flipside may be.

Getting Stung and Not Even Knowing It

Shemar Taylor was charged with robbing a pizza delivery driver at gunpoint. The police got a warrant to search his home and arrested him after learning that the cell phone used to order the pizza was located in his house. How the police tracked down the location of that cell phone is what Taylor’s attorney wanted to know.

The Baltimore police detective called to the stand in Taylor’s trial was evasive. “There’s equipment we would use that I’m not going to discuss,” he said. When Judge Barry Williams ordered him to discuss it, he still refused, insisting that his department had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.

“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” replied the judge, threatening to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer. And yet he refused again. In the end, rather than reveal the technology that had located Taylor’s cell phone to the court, prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence, jeopardizing their case.

And don’t imagine that this courtroom scene was unique or even out of the ordinary these days. In fact, it was just one sign of a striking nationwide attempt to keep an invasive, constitutionally questionable technology from being scrutinized, whether by courts or communities.

The technology at issue is known as a “Stingray,” a brand name for what’s generically called a cell site simulator or IMSI catcher. By mimicking a cell phone tower, this device, developed for overseas battlefields, gets nearby cell phones to connect to it. It operates a bit like the children’s game Marco Polo. “Marco,” the cell-site simulator shouts out and every cell phone on that network in the vicinity replies, “Polo, and here’s my ID!”

Thanks to this call-and-response process, the Stingray knows both what cell phones are in the area and where they are. In other words, it gathers information not only about a specific suspect, but any bystanders in the area as well. While the police may indeed use this technology to pinpoint a suspect’s location, by casting such a wide net there is also the potential for many kinds of constitutional abuses — for instance, sweeping up the identities of every person attending a demonstration or a political meeting. Some Stingrays are capable of collecting not only cell phone ID numbers but also numbers those phones have dialed and even phone conversations. In other words, the Stingray is a technology that potentially opens the door for law enforcement to sweep up information that not so long ago wouldn’t have been available to them. 

All of this raises the sorts of constitutional issues that might normally be settled through the courts and public debate… unless, of course, the technology is kept largely secret, which is exactly what’s been happening.

After the use of Stingrays was first reported in 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other activist groups attempted to find out more about how the technology was being used, only to quickly run into heavy resistance from police departments nationwide. Served with “open-records requests” under Freedom of Information Act-like state laws, they almost uniformly resisted disclosing information about the devices and their uses. In doing so, they regularly cited nondisclosure agreements they had signed with the Harris Corporation, maker of the Stingray, and with the FBI, prohibiting them from telling anyone (including other government outfits) about how — or even that — they use the devices.

Sometimes such evasiveness reaches near-comical levels. For example, police in the city of Sunrise, Florida, served with an open-records request, refused to confirm or deny that they had any Stingray records at all. Under cover of a controversial national security court ruling, the CIA and the NSA sometimes resort to just this evasive tactic (known as a “Glomar response“). The Sunrise Police Department, however, is not the CIA, and no provision in Florida law would allow it to take such a tack. When the ACLU pointed out that the department had already posted purchase records for Stingrays on its public website, it generously provided duplicate copies of those very documents and then tried to charge the ACLU $20,000 for additional records.

In a no-less-bizarre incident, the Sarasota Police Department was about to turn some Stingray records over to the ACLU in accordance with Florida’s open-records law, when the U.S. Marshals Service swooped in and seized the records first, claiming ownership because it had deputized one local officer. And excessive efforts at secrecy are not unique to Florida, as those charged with enforcing the law commit themselves to Stingray secrecy in a way that makes them lawbreakers.

And it’s not just the public that’s being denied information about the devices and their uses; so are judges. Often, the police get a judge’s sign-off for surveillance without even bothering to mention that they will be using a Stingray. In fact, officers regularly avoid describing the technology to judges, claiming that they simply can’t violate those FBI nondisclosure agreements.

More often than not, police use Stingrays without bothering to get a warrant, instead seeking a court order on a more permissive legal standard. This is part of the charm of a new technology for the authorities: nothing is settled on how to use it. Appellate judges in Tallahassee, Florida, for instance, revealed that local police had used the tool more than 200 times without a warrant. In Sacramento, California, police admitted in court that they had, in more than 500 investigations, used Stingrays without telling judges or prosecutors.  That was “an estimated guess,” since they had no way of knowing the exact number because they had conveniently deleted records of Stingray use after passing evidence discovered by the devices on to detectives.

Much of this blanket of secrecy, spreading nationwide, has indeed been orchestrated by the FBI, which has required local departments eager for the hottest new technology around to sign those nondisclosure agreements. One agreement, unearthed in Oklahoma, explicitly instructs the local police to find “additional and independent investigative means” to corroborate Stingray evidence. In short, they are to cover up the use of Stingrays by pretending their information was obtained some other way — the sort of dangerous constitutional runaround that is known euphemistically in law enforcement circles as a “parallel construction.” Now that information about the widespread use of this new technology is coming out — as in the Shemar Taylor trial in Baltimore — judges are beginning to rule that Stingray use does indeed require a warrant. They are also insisting that police must accurately inform judges when they intend to use a Stingray and disclose its privacy implications.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

And it’s not just the Stingray that’s taking local police forces into new and unknown realms of constitutionally questionable but deeply seductive technology. Consider the hot new trend of “predictive policing.” Its products couldn’t be high-techier. They go by a variety of names like PredPol (yep, short for predictive policing) and HunchLab (and there’s nothing wrong with a hunch, is there?).  What they all promise, however, is the same thing: supposedly bias-free policing built on the latest in computer software and capable of leveraging big data in ways that — so their salesmen will tell you — can coolly determine where crime is most likely to occur next.

Such technology holds out the promise of allowing law enforcement agencies to deploy their resources to areas that need them most without that nasty element of human prejudice getting involved. “Predictive methods allow police to work more proactively with limited resources,” reports the RAND Corporation. But the new software offers something just as potentially alluring as efficient policing — exactly what the president’s task force called for. According to market leader PredPol, its technology “provides officers an opportunity to interact with residents, aiding in relationship building and strengthening community ties.”

How idyllic! In post-Ferguson America, that’s a winning sales pitch for decision-makers in blue. Not so surprisingly, then, PredPol is now used by nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and investment capital just keeps pouring into the company. In 2013, SF Weekly reported that over 150 departments across the nation were already using predictive policing software, and those numbers can only have risen as the potential for cashing in on the craze has attracted tech heavy hitters like IBM, Microsoft, and Palantir, the co-creation of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

Like the Stingray, the software for predictive policing is yet another spillover from the country’s distant wars. PredPol was, according to SF Weekly, initially designed for “tracking insurgents and forecasting casualties in Iraq,” and was financed by the Pentagon. One of the company’s advisors, Harsh Patel, used to work for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm.

Civil libertarians and civil rights activists, however, are less than impressed with what’s being hailed as breakthrough police technology. We tend to view it instead as a set of potential new ways for the police to continue a long history of profiling and pre-convicting poor and minority youth. We also question whether the technology even performs as advertised. As we see it, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is likely to best describe how the new software will operate, or as the RAND Corporation puts it, “predictions are only as good as the underlying data used to make them.”

If, for instance, the software depends on historical crime data from a racially biased police force, then it’s just going to send a flood of officers into the very same neighborhoods they’ve always over-policed. And if that happens, of course, more personnel will find more crime — and presto, you have the potential for a perfect feedback loop of prejudice, arrests, and high-tech “success.” To understand what that means, keep in mind that, without a computer in sight, nearly four times as many blacks as whites are arrested for marijuana possession, even though usage among the two groups is about the same.

If you leave aside issues of bias, there’s still a fundamental question to answer about the new technology: Does the software actually work or, for that matter, reduce crime? Of course, the companies peddling such products insist that it does, but no independent analyses or reviews had yet verified its effectiveness until last year — or so it seemed at first.

In December 2015, the Journal of the American Statistical Association published a study that brought joy to the predictive crime-fighting industry. The study’s researchers concluded that a predictive policing algorithm outperformed human analysts in indicating where crime would occur, which in turn led to real crime reductions after officers were dispatched to the flagged areas. Only one problem: five of the seven authors held PredPol stock, and two were co-founders of the company. On its website, PredPol identifies the research as a “UCLA study,” but only because PredPol co-founder Jeffery Brantingham is an anthropology professor there.

Predictive policing is a brand new area where question marks abound. Transparency should be vital in assessing this technology, but the companies generally won’t allow communities targeted by it to examine the code behind it. “We wanted a greater explanation for how this all worked, and we were told it was all proprietary,” Kim Harris, a spokeswoman for Bellingham, Washington’s Racial Justice Coalition, told the Marshall Project after the city purchased such software last August. “We haven’t been comforted by the process.”

The Bellingham Police Department, which bought predictive software made by Bair Analytics with a $21,200 Justice Department grant, didn’t need to go to the city council for approval and didn’t hold community meetings to discuss the development or explain how the software worked. Because the code is proprietary, the public is unable to independently verify that it doesn’t have serious problems.

Even if the data underlying most predictive policing software accurately anticipates where crime will indeed occur — and that’s a gigantic if — questions of fundamental fairness still arise. Innocent people living in or passing through identified high crime areas will have to deal with an increased police presence, which, given recent history, will likely mean more questioning or stopping and frisking — and arrests for things like marijuana possession for which more affluent citizens are rarely brought in.  Moreover, the potential inequality of all this may only worsen as police departments bring online other new technologies like facial recognition.

We’re on the verge of “big data policing,” suggests law professor Andrew Ferguson, which will “turn any unknown suspect into a known suspect,” allowing an officer to “search for information that might justify reasonable suspicion” and lead to stop-and-frisk incidents and aggressive questioning. Just imagine having a decades-old criminal record and facing police armed with such powerful, invasive technology. 

This could lead to “the tyranny of the algorithm” and a Faustian bargain in which the public increasingly forfeits its freedoms in certain areas out of fears for its safety. “The Soviet Union had remarkably little street crime when they were at their worst of their totalitarian, authoritarian controls,” MIT sociologist Gary Marx observed. “But, my god, at what price?”

To Record and Serve… Those in Blue

On a June night in 2013, Augustin Reynoso discovered that his bicycle had been stolen from a CVS in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. A store security guard called the police while Reynoso’s brother Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and two friends tried to find the missing bike in the neighborhood. When the police arrived, they promptly ordered his two friends to put their hands up. Zeferino ran over, protesting that the police had the wrong men.  At that point, they told him to raise his hands, too. He then lowered and raised his hands as the police yelled at him. When he removed his baseball hat, lowered his hands, and began to raise them again, he was shot to death.

The police insisted that Zeferino’s actions were “threatening” and so their shooting justified. They had two videos of it taken by police car cameras — but refused to release them.

Although police departments nationwide have been fighting any spirit of new openness, car and body cameras have at least offered the promise of bringing new transparency to the actions of officers on the beat. That’s why the ACLU and many civil rights groups, as well as President Obama, have spoken out in favor of the technology’s potential to improve police-community relations — but only, of course, if the police are obliged to release videos in situations involving allegations of abuse. And many departments are fighting that fiercely.

In Chicago, for instance, the police notoriously opposed the release of dashcam video in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, citing the supposed imperative of an “ongoing investigation.” After more than a year of such resistance, a judge finally ordered the video made public. Only then did the scandal of seeing Officer Jason Van Dyke unnecessarily pump 16 bullets into the 17-year-old’s body explode into national consciousness.

In Zeferino’s case, the police settled a lawsuit with his family for $4.7 million and yet continued to refuse to release the videos. It took two years before a judge finally ordered their release, allowing the public to see the shooting for itself.

Despite this, in April 2015 the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved a body-camera policy that failed to ensure future transparency, while protecting and serving the needs of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).  In doing so, it ignored the sort of best practices advocated by the White House, the president’s task force on policing, and even the Police Executive Research Forum, one of the profession’s most respected think tanks. 

On the possibility of releasing videos of alleged police misconduct and abuse, the new policy remained silent, but LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, didn’t. They made it clear that such videos would generally be exempt from California’s public records law and wouldn’t be released without a judge’s orders. Essentially, the police reserved the right to release video when and how they saw fit. This self-serving policy comes from the most lethal large police department in the country, whose officers shot and killed 21 people last year.

Other departments around the country have made similar moves to ensure control over body camera videos. Texas and South Carolina, among other states, have even changed their open-records laws to give the police power over when such footage should (or should not) be released. In other words, when a heroic cop saves a drowning child, you’ll see the video; when that same cop guns down a fleeing suspect, don’t count on it.

Curiously, given the stated positions of the president and his task force, the federal government seems to have no fundamental problem with that. In May 2015, for example, the Justice Department announced competitive grants for the purchase of police body cameras, officially tying funding to good body-cam-use policies. The LAPD applied. Despite letters from groups like the ACLU pointing out just how poor its version of body-cam policy was, the Justice Department awarded it $1 million to purchase approximately 700 cameras — accountability and transparency be damned.

To receive public money for a tool theoretically meant for transparency and accountability and turn it into one of secrecy and impunity, with the feds’ complicity and financial backing, sends an unmistakable message on how new technology is likely to affect America’s future policing practices. Think of it as a door slowly opening onto a potential policing dystopia.

Hello Darkness, Power’s Old Friend

Keep in mind that this article barely scratches the surface when it comes to the increasing numbers of ways in which the police’s use of technology has infiltrated our everyday lives.

In states and cities across America, some public bus and train systems have begun to add to video surveillance, the surreptitious recording of the conversations of passengers, a potential body blow to the concept of a private conversation in public space. And whether or not the earliest versions of predictive policing actually work, the law enforcement community is already moving to technology that will try to predict who will commit crimes in the future. In Chicago, the police are using social networking analysis and prediction technology to draw up “heat lists” of those who might perpetuate violent crimes someday and pay them visits now. You won’t be shocked to learn which side of the tracks such future perpetrators live on. The rationale behind all this, as always, is “public safety.”

Nor can anyone begin to predict how law enforcement will avail itself of science-fiction-like technology in the decade to come, much less decades from now, though cops on patrol may very soon know a lot about you and your past. They will be able to cull such information from a multitude of databases at their fingertips, while you will know little or nothing about them — a striking power imbalance in a situation in which one person can deprive the other of liberty or even life itself.

With little public debate, often in almost total secrecy, increasing numbers of police departments are wielding technology to empower themselves rather than the communities they protect and serve. At a time when trust in law enforcement is dangerously low, police departments should be embracing technology’s democratizing potential rather than its ability to give them almost superhuman powers at the expense of the public trust.

Unfortunately, power loves the dark.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor with the American Civil Liberties Union. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly. He is a TomDispatch regular.

Jay Stanley is senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He is the editor of the ACLU’s “Free Future” blog and has authored and co-authored a variety of ACLU reports on privacy and technology topics.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Matthew Harwood and Jay Stanley

Via Tomdispatch.com

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT America: “FISA court never turns down NSA or FBI surveillance requests”

Baghdad takes Rutba from ISIL: Jordan-Iraq Commercial Route to Reopen

Thu, 19 May 2016 - 12:29am

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraqi forces have taken Rutba in al-Anbar province, hundreds of kilometers west of the provincial capital, Ramadi, which is also now in government hands (though much of its population is displaced). Only a few dozen Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) forces were in Rutba in the end and Iraqi armor and artillery forced them out.

BBC Monitoring translated from al-Mada,
“Al-Anbar police chief, Gen Hadi Rozaij, announced on 17 May that all areas located in Al-Rotba district of Al-Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, were completely recaptured and that the Iraqi flag was raised on its buildings, privately-owned Al-Mada Press news website reported.

He said that tens of Islamic State group (IS, also ISIS/ISIL) were killed and that the forces started to comb the residential areas for any explosive devices left by the extremist group, Al-Mada Press said.”

Jordan has announced that it is now preparing to reopen the border crossing with Iraq. Authorities in the kingdom are especially eager to reopen the land route between Basra and al-Zarqa’, so as to bring petroleum to the refinery in the latter.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations is the Jordan doesn’t want the guards on the Iraqi side to consist of members of the Shiite militias or popular mobilization units. Jordan is a Sunni country (10% of its population is Christian), and its leaders view Shiite Islam with distrust. They consider the Shiite militias to have committed atrocities against Sunni populations, so they don’t want them right on their border. Given the bad security situation in Baghdad these days, with another big loss of life from multiple Daesh bombings on Tuesday, it is not clear that the government can spare the troops for border duty hundreds of kilometers from the Iraqi capital.

The road from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad has been an economic lifeline for both countries for decades. During the heavy US/UN sanctions of the 1990s, Jordanian truckers and smugglers helped Iraq sidestep the economic boycott. Jordan’s own economy, with few profit centers, benefits from trade with Iraq.

One of the casualties of the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in 2014 in western and northern Iraq was precisely this commerce between Jordan and Iraq. Jordan, overwhelmed with Syrian refugees and struggling economically, is desperate to see the road to Baghdad reopened.

The Jordan Times reported in April, “Jordan’s exports to Iraq in 2015 stood at $690 million compared to $1.16 billion in 2014. . .” And 2014 had already seen a sharp drop in trade because of the fall of Mosul and al-Anbar Province to Daesh.

Jordan only has a nominal GDP of about $35 billion, so a gain in trade of half a billion or perhaps as much as a billion dollars is quite significant for its prosperity.

The question is whether, given the parliamentary infighting and governmental paralysis in Baghdad, the Iraqi government can keep the road clear of Daesh elements.

=====

Related video:

Newsbeat Social: “Iraq Recaptures Rutba from ISIS”

Saudi bombing, Rebel Shelling leave 7 Million in Yemen Food Insecure

Wed, 18 May 2016 - 11:32pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage | (Inter Press Service) | – –

John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2016 (IPS) – The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is very seriously deteriorating, said Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Operations Director John Ging.

Following a trip to the Middle Eastern country, Ging revealed the severe impacts of the conflict and the international community’s inaction on Yemeni civilians.

“Yemen was an impoverished country before this latest conflict…so therefore the effect of the conflict, the effect of the restrictions on access have been very devastating for the population,” he said during a briefing here Tuesday.

According to OCHA, more than 21 million people in Yemen, equivalent to 82 percent of the population, need some form of humanitarian assistance. This includes 7.6 million who are severely food insecure.

Ging stated that the level of food insecurity in the country is just a step below famine according to the international food security index.

“It’s a very fragile situation,” he noted.

In addition to hindering access to populations in need, the one year-long conflict has also damaged key infrastructure including health facilities, further limiting access to much needed resources.

Over the span of just three months, three different hospitals supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came under attack, resulting in the deaths and injuries of numerous health personnel and patients.

“We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without health care for weeks,” said MSF’s Director of Operations Raquel Ayora following a hospital attack in January 2016.

Such attacks are not isolated to hospitals. Human Rights Watch reported one case where two Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes hit a crowded market in northwestern Yemen, killing at least 97 individuals including 25 children. HRW said that the attacks constitute “war crimes.”

In total, over 3000 civilians have been killed over the course of the war.

The ceaseless violence has in turn exacerbated displacement, causing over 2 million people to flee. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), this accounts for 25 percent of conflict-related displacement globally.

Many Yemenis are therefore dependent on the international community for basic needs including food, health services, and shelter, Ging stated.

However, despite the scale of humanitarian needs in the country, Ging noted that Yemen is not receiving sufficient focus.

“Although [the crisis] is growing in severity and its impact on the population…the humanitarian component is not getting the international attention that it deserves,” he stated.

This is reflected in “shockingly” low donor funding, he added.

Of a $1.8 billion UN appeal for Yemen, only 16 percent has so far been funded.

Ging stated that the core issue is not simply a deficit of funding, but rather a “deficit of humanity” which is leading to a horrific loss of life and suffering around the world.

He pointed to global military expenditures as an example.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the international community spend approximately $1.6 trillion on the military in 2015, equivalent to 2.3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Ging noted that if half of one percent of global military spending was allocated to humanitarian action, there would no longer be a deficit.

“We want a new approach to this which thinks about the consequences, because it’s not that the world doesn’t have the money available, it is that it’s not making the right decisions about where it sends the money that is available,” he told the press.

“We are only asking for the minimum that is required to keep people alive in these awful circumstances,” he continued.

Ging noted that the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) represents a “moment of reflection” in order to “refocus” and “reengage” in a more active way. He expressed his hope that the meeting will particularly translate to a political reflection and call for action.

“[Yemenis] have endured way too much, for far too long,” Ging stated.

“As an international community, we have to and must do much more in terms of meeting the basic needs of the population while they’re caught up in this situation,” he concluded.

The WHS kicks off in Turkey on May 23, bringing together political leaders, private sector, and civil society to discuss the world’s dire humanitarian situation. Among the key topics for discussion during WHS is humanitarian financing.

OCHA has classified Yemen as a level 3 crisis, a UN designation for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “An exclusive report from the village of Attan Fort near the Yemen capital Sanaa”

Marketing & Terrorism: Is ISIL’s vaunted ‘brand’ actually weak and vulnerable?

Wed, 18 May 2016 - 11:10pm

By Brendan Canavan | (The Conversation) | – –

[The so-called] Islamic State (IS) is the most notorious terror group in the world. Its name and values are known and feared globally, and it provokes, inspires and incenses to an extent most terrorist groups can only dream about. It owes a lot of that power to what superficially seems like a strong and consistent “brand” – a collection of recognisable cues that define and control the group’s identity and embody its appeal to its chosen audience.

But scratch the surface of the IS brand, and its deep flaws soon become clear. Its appeal is limited to the marginalised and already likeminded, and it is deeply vulnerable to any competitor with the wherewithal to dismantle and ridicule it powerfully enough. The problem is that no-one has managed to do this yet.

So what does the IS brand really consist of, and how can it be taken apart? We can answer that by applying what’s called the “brand nexus”.

The brand nexus.
Brendan Canavan, University of Huddersfield

This is a simple tool used by marketers to assess a brand based on four overlapping aspects: narrative, values, ambition, and elements. Together, these make up a brand’s overall proposition to the consumer, and determine its promise, appeal and image.

Narrative: A brand’s backstory is essential to establishing its purpose. IS uses tales of heroism and barbarism to inspire admiration and fear, and write itself a narrative of militaristic, world-beating success. No hiding in dank caves like al-Qaeda for these fighters.

More recently, however, the outside world has noted a shift in emphasis towards day-to-day persecution, utopianism and civil administration, perhaps reflecting the inevitable diminishing-returns curse of “shockvertising” and a need to disassociate from changing realities on the ground.

Values: What does the brand stand for, and do customers want to get on board with this? From a marketing perspective, religions are some of the most enduring and profitable brands. All of which tend to be based on variations on familiar marketing themes of expressing or repressing human desires. The global food and diet industries owe a lot to the indulgences and asceticism of Catholicism, for example. IS is no different.

Presentation of ruggedly handsome fighters, promises of captured virgins, and so forth. This is all about sex. It nearly always is.

Ambition: A successful brand needs to have ambition, which provides direction and sets goals for employees and impresses customers. IS ostensibly aims for a global Islamic caliphate returning us to a Dark Ages-style state of grace, the destruction of the West and the abandonment of democracy. But there needs to be an element of realism – the contradictions of overambition will only confuse and demotivate stakeholders over time. And just as success can be contagious, so is failure. The stunning impact of capturing Mosul, after all, was two years ago.

Elements: Elements are all of those tangible things that make up a brand. The group’s black and white flag has a certain grab, grounded as it is in a disputed tale from the life of Mohammed, but it’s hardly original. The same goes for the group’s ninjaesque black outfits.

Even with all the militaristic, masculine impact of these tangibles and their resonances with Koranic apocrypha, it’s telling that IS still asserts the primacy of its own elements not by sheer visual impact, but by banning and attacking all alternatives within its territory. Clearly, the group has limited confidence in the power of its visual appeal.

Limited appeal

All in all, IS’s brand elements match the unoriginality, contradiction and undesirability that distinguish the group itself. Its brand narrative is very fragile, rife with contradictions and vulnerable to accusations of irrelevance. Its brand values are an inarticulate mess of resentments, a manifesto for angry loners unable to handle their own insignificance.

And while there are perhaps many out there who share such frustrations, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to point out that explicitly sanctioning rape and sexual enslavement (including the rape of children) narrows the group’s appeal to a very small niche.

That is borne out by the reality of the group’s performance in the Middle East. That tens of thousands of jihadi fighters have flocked to Syria to join IS sounds impressive – until you consider that there are more than a billion followers of Islam globally. This is a microscopic fringe from a gigantic population. According to independent polling, a maximum of 5% of Saudi Arabians express support for IS – and since 2011, only an estimated 3,000 Saudis are thought to have gone to fight in Syria, out of a population of nearly 29m.

Yes, IS still clocks up enormous mileage in the media, and strikes fear into the hearts of audiences everywhere. But while the disproportionate fear and coverage generated by this relatively tiny group somewhat belies the reality of its size and appeal, it’s also somewhat self-fulfilling. A brand can only be successful if its components are more compelling for its target consumers than those offered by competitors.

Put another way, a brand as vulnerable as IS’s can only persist if it’s allowed to by the competition, in this case the forces allied to stop the “caliphate” from expanding its borders. This is not so much IS’s success as the rest of the world’s failure to offer something more appealing.

Current anti-terrorism brand strategies have clear limitations. Better marketing is urgently needed. A very strong start would be serious efforts to tackle rising inequality, falling social mobility, institutional racism, and hypocritical foreign policies – the very things that marginalise and disillusion the people that the likes of IS need to recruit.

IS is the final port of call for the frustrated and the failed, lurking in the recesses of the internet, grooming the vulnerable and impressionable. It shouldn’t be hard to counteract such a flawed brand, but the rest of the world has failed to make a sufficient mockery of its flaws. That is a glaring missed opportunity.

Brendan Canavan, Lecturer in Marketing, University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “‘Thousands of bodies in ravine’: ISIS mass execution site reportedly discovered in Syria”

This is America! Man Facing Jail For Ripping Veil Off Muslim Woman

Wed, 18 May 2016 - 11:02pm

Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“A man in North Carolina has pleaded guilty to ripping a hijab off of a woman’s head as they were on a flight. Gill Parker Payne faces one year in prison and a possible fine for religious obstruction. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down. Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

“A North Carolina man ripped off a Muslim woman’s hijab and screamed “This is America!” during a Southwest Airlines flight late last year, court documents revealed Friday.

Gill Parker Payne, 37, of Gastonia, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in a New Mexico federal court Friday to a misdemeanor hate crime charge of using force to intentionally obstruct the woman’s free exercise of her religious beliefs…

Near the end of the flight, Payne, who acknowledged that he knew the hijab is of religious significance to Muslims, walked up the aisle of the plane and stood next to the Muslim woman, whom he did not know, and whom prosecutors have identified only as “K.A.”

Payne then said something along the lines of “Take it off! This is America!” before pulling the hijab off K.A.’s head.”

Prosecutors said K.A. felt violated and quickly put her hijab back on.”*

The Young Turks: “Man Facing Jail For Ripping Hijab Off Muslim Woman”

Give Syria’s Survivors a Voice

Tue, 17 May 2016 - 11:20pm

By Hadeel al-Shalchi | ( Human Rights Watch ) | – –

Twelve days ago Fatema Qaitani, a 35-year-old mother of four, was sitting in a tent teaching her daughter how to read when her life was changed forever. Fatema’s tent, one of many that sprang up in a camp for displaced Syrians on the outskirts of Idlib, had been her family’s home for two months. The camp sheltered 4,500 fellow Syrians who fled their homes but could not flee their country, after Syria’s border with Turkey was slammed shut.
People stand near the damage after air strikes on May 5 hit a camp for internally displaced people in Syria’s Idlib province near the Turkish border, May 7, 2016.
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People stand near the damage after air strikes on May 5 hit a camp for internally displaced people in Syria’s Idlib province near the Turkish border, May 7, 2016.
© 2016 Reuters

As Fatema and her daughter poured over a verse from the Quran together, an airstrike hit the camp causing an explosion near their tent. Fatema was injured in the head, chest, and stomach.

It was hard to reach Fatema. For two days, I searched for the camp’s wounded via our network of activists and doctors. Finally, I got hold of Fatema on the phone as she lay on her hospital bed in a hospital in Antakya, inside Turkey. She spoke clearly and strongly about her ordeal, but the shock in her voice was palpable.

“All of a sudden there was dust and rocks flying all over the place and I saw my children fly in the air from the impact of the explosion,” Fatema told me. “I was able to pick myself up and when I looked around I saw my son without a head and my daughter was also torn up with no limbs. The other two were bloody and looked dead so I left them where they were. I was shocked and I started to scream and scream and then lost consciousness. The next time I woke up, I found myself in the hospital.”

Idlib is a long way from Vienna, where some big players are meeting this week to figure out what to do about Syria. The International Syria Support Group, including the United States and Russia, are trying to revive a ceasefire that crumbled last month, but had at least briefly afforded the first semblance of peace for parts of Syria after five long years of conflict.

People like Fatema and her children need to be at the center of efforts to stem the atrocities in Syria. And the protection of civilians, still targeted in government airstrikes or by shelling from opposition armed groups, should be everyone’s priority.

Hadeel al-Shalchi is a Syria Researcher. @hadeelalsh

Via Human Rights Watch

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV from last week: “At least 28 civilians killed by air strikes on Syria displaced camp”

Why does Iran fear Kim Kardashian is a 007 Targeting Tehran?

Tue, 17 May 2016 - 11:12pm

Joya Mia Italiano and Elliot Hill | (TheLipTV2 Video Report) | – –

“Iranian officials have reportedly accused Kim Kardashian West of working for Instagram as a secret agent. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp accused Kardashian West, during a news program Sunday night, of working with the social network’s CEO as part of a secret plot to target young people and women by corrupting them with sexy selfies that depict an un-Islamic lifestyle, according to a report from Iran Wire. Is Kim Kardashian a spy? We look at Iran’s crackdown on Instagram models on the Lip News with Joya Mia Italiano and Elliot Hill.”

The LipTV 2: “Is Kim Kardashian a Secret Agent For Instagram? Iran Thinks So”

What Next for Turkey After President’s Power Play?

Tue, 17 May 2016 - 11:09pm

By Efe Kerem Sozer | (GlobalVoices.org) | – –

Ahmet Davutoglu was disliked by many in Turkey. [Even after] he step[pped] down as Turkey's Prime Minister amid an apparent confrontation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he will fail to distance himself from the grave human cost of the government military operation in Eastern Turkey and a crackdown on media and the opposition.

But it is what happens next, with President Erdogan likely to be even less restrained than he was prior to Davutoglu's exit, which is of most concern.

On Davutoglu's watch?

Under the pretext of the “fight against terror” and the outlawed militant organisation PKK, PM Davutoglu's cabinet ordered month-long curfews and heavily armed assaults on Kurdish towns in the country's southeast, which cost at least 338 civilian lives and forced at least 355,000 people to flee their homes in the last eight months, according to a report by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

Til now, at least 338 civilians lost their lives under #curfews in #Turkey!https://t.co/LWrWjDGPMo
Enough of blood! pic.twitter.com/OndfKx23xn

— TİHV-HRFT (@insanhaklari) April 20, 2016

Also under Davutoğlu's government — formed in August 2014 — four newspapers and a national news agency were appointed with ‘government trustees’ before being shut down, while about 20 TV channels were removed from satellite and digital platforms following “terror propaganda” accusations.

Dozens of websites and news articles from mainly Kurdish news agencies, dailies and other media outlets, along with hundreds of Twitter accounts belonging to reporters and dissidents were blocked by the government on “national security” grounds.

A Judge in Turkey blocked access to 130 Twitter accounts with a decision lacking any justification. Pure censorship. pic.twitter.com/sOIq2h3oz1

— Yaman Akdeniz (@cyberrights) January 18, 2016

93% of world's court-ordered Twitter censorship requests come from Turkey

(Jul-Dec 2015) https://t.co/d18aNoq1DL pic.twitter.com/YFdCL2dtVx

— Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett) April 23, 2016

Also during this time, more than 1,845 people, including journalists, were sued for “defamation” of the president, some of whom have already received jail sentences.

As of this writing, there are 33 journalists in Turkish jails, most of whom are Kurdish reporters in pre-trial detention for “terrorism propaganda” charges.

On May 6, the daily Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief was sentenced to more than five years in jail for “revealing state secrets” in their news reports covering evidence of Turkey's intelligence agency shipping arms illegally to Northern Syria.

Several freelance reporters have been jailed and deported since the last summer, and now growing number of foreign correspondents and reporters are being denied entry into Turkey.

Giorgos Moutafis deported from TR back to Athens! Authorities said he's on no-entry list!@GiorgosKosmop @CarmenDpnt https://t.co/OusPncGlfD

— Begum Basdas (@BegumBasdas) April 24, 2016

Der Spiegel's correspondent was last year pulled out of the country after receiving death threats and having his press card not renewed, Sputnik's Turkey bureau chief meanwhile was deported to Moscow and had his press card seized.

Access to Sputnik — a Russian news website whose propaganda has increasingly come to focus on Turkey since Ankara downed a Russian military jet used in operations over Syria last November– is predictably blocked in Turkey.

Another quartet of reporters were denied entry into the country in the last week of April.

Foreign journos denied entry to Turkey in past week
1.Volker Schwenck
2.Tural Kerimov
3.Giorgos Moutafis
4.D.Lepeska
(Ebru Umar can't leave)

— Howard Eissenstat (@heissenstat) April 25, 2016

Both the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Index on Censorship has published detailed timelines of Turkey's press freedom violations, which provided the pretext for a significant drop in Turkey's Reporters Without Borders‘ ranking.

On this World Press Freedom Day 2016, Turkey could be the fastest deteriorating environment. #WPFD2016 https://t.co/APzumI8XZl

— Marina Petrillo (@alaskaHQ) May 3, 2016

The Prime Minister is gone, long live the President

But, while Davutoglu was constitutionally more empowered than ally-turned-rival Erdogan, few believe that he was the driving force behind the crackdown on media and political opposition.

Erdogan, who came into power as a reformist Prime MInister in 2003, initially promised to direct the country towards full EU-membership and the rule of law.

In 2009 he initiated a courageous peace policy, the ‘Democratic Initiative,’ that involved negotiations with the PKK leadership to end Turkey's decades-long Kurdish rights problems and forge a political solution that PKK leaders were also ready to accept.

But when the EU membership talks stalled around 2010, Erdogan began an autocratic turn, with the Kurdish political movement hit hardest.

By 2012, there were as many as 100 critical journalists in jail, while a leading TV channel and its sister newspaper were seized by the government and sold to a company controlled by Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak in a bid to bring media ownership into the hands of a few government-friendly business partners.

(Albayrak is now Turkey's Energy Minister and one of several potential candidates for prime minister.)

Following the 2013 Gezi protests Erdogan and the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) asserted ever more control over Turkish society.

The December 2013 graft probe that touched the Erdogan family as well as several of his ministers ended with a purge of police chiefs and prosecutors involved in the investigation.

Today's sweeping online censorship and disproportionate police violence against mass protests can be traced back to legislative amendments that followed these political developments.

Throughout this time, Davutoglu was Erdogan's foreign policy advisor and later his Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then, when Erdogan was elected as President in August 2014 — vacating the office of Prime Minister — Davutoğlu was his loyal successor.

But Davutoglu reportedly grew uneasy over some of Erdogan's more extreme authoritarian tendencies, with one outlet reporting the pair had as many as 20 significant disagreements — roughly one disagreement per month — during his premiership.

Changes on the horizon

But the controversies which will define Turkey's immediate future will now exclusively be associated with the unassailable Erdogan.

The president is currently demanding more powers for his office through a new constitution, and an even broader definition of terrorism as he seeks to suppress political dissent.

And as the opposition talks of a ‘palace coup’, pro-Erdogan columnists are already sounding the death knell for the parliamentary system in Turkey.

Erdogan loyalist Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag is the favourite to replace Davutoglu, at least until an expected referendum on lifting parliamentary immunities — a move that AKP MPs literally fought over — which will allow the government to jail opposition MPs.

And as the EU and Turkey haggle over the lives of millions of refugees – a deal that may be harder to implement without Davutoglu around — Turkey's own people appear increasingly like boat-bound captives, too.

But Turkey's boat does have a captain, and no-one doubts his name.

Via GlobalVoices.org

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Turkey to vote on abolishing MP immunity | DW News

Can Iran sue the US for Coup & supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?

Tue, 17 May 2016 - 11:03pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iranian members of parliament have approved the details of a bill that insists US compensate Iran for its crimes against that country.

The bill comes as a result of a $2 billion judgment against Iran entered by a US court and backed by an act of the US Congress, on behalf of the families of Marines killed in a Beirut bombing in 1983. Iran was allegedly behind the attack, though responsibility for it was attributed to a fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite splinter group that was a predecessor of Hizbullah.

BBC Monitoring translated from the website of the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) in Persian 0622 gmt 17 May 16:

“The bill is entitled “Requiring the government to pursue compensation for damages incurred as a result of US actions and crimes against Iran and Iranian nationals”.

It was unveiled following a controversial US Supreme Court ruling that allows the use of nearly two billion dollars from Iran’s frozen assets as compensation for US “victims of terrorist acts sponsored by Iran”.

Of the 203 MPs present at the open session, 131 voted “Yes”, 10 “No”, and nine abstained.

Details of the bill

Article 1 of the bill, which was passed on 17 May, lists the following nine events as instances of “US crimes”:

“1) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the 1953 coup d’etat [that removed popular democratic leader Mohammad Mossaddeq from power];

“2) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Nozheh [Nojeh] coup d’etat [a foiled attempt in 1980 by a group of armed forces personnel that sought to topple the newly formed Islamic Republic];

“3) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Imposed War [Iran’s name for the 1980s war with Iraq];

“4) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of over 223,000, and the self-sacrifices of another 600,000 (war prisoners and war disabled) [still referring to the Iran-Iraq war];

“5) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of 17,0000 assassinated martyrs [no elaborations provided];

“6) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the attacks on oil rigs [during the Iran-Iraq war];

“7) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of anti-Iran espionage conducted, sponsored or supported by the United Sates;

“8) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of blocking, seizing or interfering with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assets and finances – including those of government and public organisations and institutions, as well as Iranian officials;

“9) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the actions undertaken, as well those which will be undertaken in the future, by the usurping Zionist regime – which have been carried out with the support or partial role of the US;”

The differences are not moral or legal high ground, but practical. Iran just doesn’t have possession of US assets that it can sequester. In contrast, the US froze billions in Iranian accounts in the US after the 1979 revolution. (This is Iran’s money and the US has no legal right to it, contrary to what Donald Trump keeps alleging).

It is not in fact clear that Iran was responsible for the 1983 bombing, though allies of Iran were.

But it certainly is the case that the US overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953 and imposed a brutal dictatorship on the country, so as, in part, to dictate to Iran the terms on which it could export petroleum. And, it certainly did trillions of dollars of harm to Iran as a result.

It is also the case that the Reagan administration sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran, supplying Iraq with weaponry and intel and even precursers for biological and chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were used on Iranian troops at the front. When Iran sought to have Iraq condemned for chemical weapons use at the UN Security Council, the Reagan administration ran interference for Saddam Hussein and prevented a UNSC condemnation of Baghdad.

Just to show that hypocrisy never goes out of style, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was cited as a casus belli by the George W. Bush administration for its war of aggression in 2003.

So, yes, I think the harm the US did Iran during the Iran-Iraq War could well also be worth trillions. The blocking of a UNSC condemnation of Iraqi chemical weapons use alone would be worth that.

Iran won’t see a dime.

But it is the case that in a world where courts are making claims for universal jurisdiction, the US should be careful about litigating past political and military conflicts. Washington’s list of crimes is so long that sooner or later it will boomerang on the US elites.

——

Related video:

PressTV: “Iran MPs want US to pay for damage inflicted since 1953”

Middle East – The Mother of All Humanitarian Crises

Mon, 16 May 2016 - 11:34pm

By Baher Kamal | (Inter Press Service) | – –

ROME, May 16 2016 (IPS) – When, in March 2015, delegates from the Middle East met in Amman for their regional consultations round in preparation for the May 23-24 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, most likely what they had in mind is the fact that their region was –and still is– the dramatic set of “the mother of all humanitarian crises.”

Nevertheless, as a sort of reminder, the United Nations told them again: “millions of people, from Libya to Palestine, from Yemen to Syria and Iraq, have had their lives completely overturned by violence.”


In March 2016, a mother walks though misty weather with her two sons along train tracks in Idomeni, Greece. Credit: ©UNICEF/UN012794/Georgie

They were also reminded that the huge numbers of people affected by conflict, violence and displacement did little to convey the real trauma experienced.

The Facts

The United Nations reported “more people are displaced by conflict than at any time since 1945.” Figures are self-explanatory. There are currently an estimated total of 60 million forcibly displaced people –either at home or abroad— across the globe.

Of these:

— 5 million Palestinian refugees are still dispersed mostly in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA);

— 1,5 million people are practically besieged in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in a permanent humanitarian crisis;

— 4 million Syrian civilians so far had to flee war as refugees seeking safety in the region and in Europe, as an immediate consequence of the Syrian five-year long conflict, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates;

— 1 million Syrians have been forcibly displaced from their homes in their own country, according to the United Nations;

— 1 million Libyans are victims of uncontrolled armed fights in their own, unstable state. “There is alarming information coming from Libya about grave acts that could amount to war crimes,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned on 6 March 2016;

— 5 million Iraqis have been sentenced to the condition of being either refugees abroad or ‘refugees’ at home. Already in July 2015, the top UN humanitarian official in Iraq declared as “devastating” the closure of life-saving services in Iraq for people in need, citing the most recent shut-downs of basic health care will directly impact more than one million people, including some 500,000 children who now will not be immunised, spreading risk of a measles outbreak and resumption of polio;

— 1 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon. The UN reported six months ago that some 70 per cent of these refugees were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon;

— 2 million civilian Yemenis fled to even another war long-hit country–Somalia as result of the on-going armed conflict. More than 15.2 million Yemenis lack access to health care services, well over half the war-torn country’s total population, yet there is a 55 per cent gap in requested international funding to address the crisis, according to the World Health Organisation.

In other words—the Middle East is both the origin of and/or home to 1 in 3 refugees and displaced persons in the whole world.

These major figures refer to the known as ‘traditional’ Middle East region, comprising 22 Arab countries and Israel.

The data go much further when it comes to the so-called “Greater Middle East”, which also include armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The extended region would be in this case origin and home to additional 10 million refugees and displaced persons, this making nearly half of their total numbers all over the planet.

The Ire of Nature

But not only wars and conflicts hit the Middle East–natural disasters do more damage, last longer, and in many places recur before people have even had a chance to recover, according to the United Nations.

So, while all the above is a consequence of armed conflicts, there are other dramatic facts the make of the Middle East ‘the mother of all humanitarian crises’.

Just some examples:

— The Middle East risks to become an ‘uninhabitable’ region due to the impact of climate change

— 2 in 3 Arab countries already suffer from acute water shortage, while the remaining third is considered water unsafe nations;

— The United Nations predicts 40 per cent water shortfall by 2030. The Middle East is expected to be one of the most impacted.

In short, a whole region of nearly 400 million people is already victim of man-made disasters, be these wars and violence or simply the expected response of nature.

“We see it, we live it,…”

The Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit will focus on five key areas: to prevent and end conflict; to respect the rules of war; to leave no one behind; to work differently to end need, and to invest in humanity.

When announcing the Summit, top UN officials, headed by the secretary general Ban Ki-moon, have repeatedly warned that the world is living the worst ever-humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit, recently wrote in IPS “We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two.”

“We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades,” Verhoosel said.

This makes a total of 400 million victims, the equivalent to some 80 per cent of the entire European population.

Verhoosel gave specific figures: more than 20 billion dollars are needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts.

“Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.”

The situation has hit home, Verhoosel said. “We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards.”

“We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.”

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Architects of Failure: 100 years of Sykes-Picot

Mon, 16 May 2016 - 11:22pm

By Akil N. Awan | ( History Today) | – –

How an agreement signed in 1916 became shorthand for western treachery, greed and the impact of colonial machinations on the lives of local peoples.

One of the most striking observations, when comparing a map of Europe with one of the Middle East or North Africa, is how different they are. The borders of most European nation states are wonderfully convoluted, following organically ‘natural’ contours designated by geography, ethnicity, language, religion or culture. The borders of Middle Eastern or North African nations, by stark contrast, look positively artificial. Straight lines abound, with parallels, perpendiculars and even right angles all glaringly conspicuous, even to the casual observer. It is almost as if someone had taken a pencil and ruler and arbitrarily decided on the shape and placement of their garden allotment, rather than engage in the serious business of demarcating colonial borders that would inevitably impact the lives of the millions of inhabitants unfortunate enough to reside there.


Map of the Sykes-Picot AgreementMap of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

May 16th 2016 is the 100th anniversary of one particularly notorious example of this colonial practice. In 1916, in the midst of the First World War, the French and British empires, greedily eyeing their spoils of war in the shape of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, signed the secret Sykes-Picot agreement.

The attitude of Sir Mark Sykes, an ill-informed British diplomat, tells us a great deal about the capricious and callous nature of colonial rule at the time. When asked by the British Foreign Secretary what sort of boundary agreement he would like to have with the French, Sykes declared:

I should like to draw a line from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk.

Ponder upon the absurd arbitrariness of that statement for a second. It would almost be comical were it not for the seriousness of its consequences. This arbitrary line in the sand, based on a cartographer’s typesetting on a colonial map, established the boundaries between the British and French spheres. The French would claim everything to the north of the line and the British to the South. Following the war, this bizarre line in the sand would go on to become the border between Iraq, Syria and Jordan and laid the foundation for demarcating the borders of these new artificial states in subsequent treaties, such as those signed during and after the San Remo Conference in 1920.

In doing so, the new artificial borders painfully split existing communities in some places, while in others, they casually shoehorned together distinct groups, previously separated along religious, ethnic and linguistic lines, to now live cheek by jowl in strange new political unions. Of course, as Benedict Anderson stated, all nations are imagined communities in some sense and, as Ernest Renan argued, getting one’s history wrong is part of being a nation. In the case of Europe, however, nations often had the choice and desire to create these contrived political identities or, at the very least, the time to contest, negotiate and ultimately reconcile themselves to these manufactured borders and identities, over the course of many decades, if not centuries.

Not so for the case of Iraq, where a bankrupt postwar Britain, attempting to do empire on a budget, artificially cobbled together an administratively expedient new political entity, from parts of three distinct Ottoman provinces: the Northern Sunni Kurdish areas; the central Sunni Arab areas around Baghdad; and the Southern Shiite Arab areas around Basra. The inherent volatility of this political chimera allowed the British Empire to deploy its infamous ‘divide and rule’ strategy, promoting religious and ethnic differences, while simultaneously playing off various communities against one another, in order to prevent them from becoming too powerful.

Mark Sykes (left) and François Georges-PicotMark Sykes (left) and François Georges-Picot

What makes the Sykes-Picot Agreement all the more contemptible, is that it was agreed clandestinely, precisely because the British had already decided on the outcome for some of these territories when they pledged to support the establishment of an Arab state over all of the territory to the West and South of Iraq. This had not been a sign of British magnanimity, largesse or support for Wilsonian aspirations of self-determination, but rather, shrewd realpolitik. King Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca was promised the future Arab state in return for rising up against the Ottoman Turks in the Arab Revolt, which T.E. Lawrence had helped to organise. As many readers familiar with David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, will be aware, the Arabs lived up to their side of the bargain, fighting valiantly and managing to secure key victories for the Allies at places like the port city of Aqaba and even helped to capture Jerusalem itself.

As if betrayal of their loyal Arab allies was not enough, the British further compounded their duplicity the following year with the Balfour declaration of 1917. Here the British pledged to also support the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, in efforts to secure the support of world Jewry.

So by this stage, the British had now promised roughly the same territory to both Arabs and Jews, while simultaneously double-crossing both parties, by secretly dividing up the land between the French and themselves.

Rather awkwardly for the British, their cunning plan was exposed within weeks of the Balfour Declaration. The Imperial Russian government, which had also approved the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was removed from power following the tumultuous events of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The new Bolshevik leaders discovered the text of the secret agreement in the state archives and serving as the whistleblowers of the day, promptly published it.

When the Arabs learned of the conspiracy, they were understandably outraged, with even T.E. Lawrence lamenting that he had become ‘the chief crook of our gang’ for his inadvertent part in the whole affair. The treacherous nature of these agreements planted terrible seeds in Arab relations with the West for decades to come. More problematically, local populations never quite freconciled themselves to the arbitrary colonial divisions of the land, or managed to forge robust national identities that might efface the structural faultlines of pre-existing sectarian identity.

The legacy of broken pledges, betrayal and colonial interference continue to haunt us today. Most recently, the emergence of the so called Islamic State has been predicated largely on the idea of restoring sublime Muslim unity fractured by nefarious western intervention. Following the declaration of the establishment of its caliphate in June 2014, the self-anointed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended the pulpit of the Grand mosque in Mosul. Addressing the congregation, he congratulated his fighters on their spectacular successes in staking claims to large swathes of territory straddling Syria and Iraq, before declaring: ‘This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy.’ Later that same month, ISIS released a video, The End of Sykes-Picot, in which bulldozers symbolically levelled part of the border between eastern Syria and northern Iraq. This was also accompanied by a savvy social media campaign with the hashtag #Sykespicotover. The agreement and its claimed dissolution has taken on a symbolic nature for the group, allowing ISIS to attempt to position themselves as the only viable post-colonial, post-national, even post-Arab polity.

Sykes-Picot today is certainly less important than many commentators would like to believe, but it does usefully serve as shorthand for western treachery, conspiracy, greed and the impact of colonial machinations on the lives of local peoples. It also goes some way towards explaining why Iraq and Syria are mired in terrible violence and turmoil today. Of course, the shocking unravelling of both countries is not simply a direct result of a 100 year old colonial agreement, but rather is also largely contingent on the recent history of disastrous western intervention in the Middle East, particularly the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the litany of chronic failures that followed.

It is surprising just how much of our inconvenient history we wilfully forget, often feigning ignorance at the harmful influence the West has had at times on the rest of the world. But it is crucial that we recognise the role it has played. Whether a century ago, or a decade ago, western meddling in the Middle East means it has frequently been the architect of disaster, sowing the seeds for future violence, instability and failure that the peoples of the region are now reaping. Only by accepting the historic debt of responsibility the West owes to them, might it begin to find lasting solutions.

Akil N. Awan is Associate Professor in Modern History, Political Violence and Terrorism, Royal Holloway, University of London

Republished from History Today with the author’s permission.

PCBS: “Israel Controls More than 85% of the Land of Historical Palestine”

Mon, 16 May 2016 - 11:15pm

By Saed Bannoura | PCBS/ IMEMC | – –

Excerpted for IC

This is a special statistical bulletin by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) on the 68th Anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.

The number of Palestinians worldwide has multiplied about nine-fold — Israel Controls More than 85% of the Land of Historical Palestine

The Nakba: Ethnic cleansing and displacement of the population

Nakba in literary terms means a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake, volcano, or hurricane. However, the Nakba in Palestine describes a process of ethnic cleansing in which an unarmed nation was destroyed and its population displaced to be replaced systematically by another nation.

Unlike a natural catastrophe, the Palestinian Nakba was the result of a man-made military plan with the consent of other states, leading to a major tragedy for the Palestinian people. The subsequent occupation of the remaining land of Palestine in 1967 resulted in an additional tragedy.

In 1948, 1.4 million Palestinians lived in 1,300 Palestinian towns and villages all over historical Palestine. More than 800,000 of the population were driven out of their homeland to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, neighboring Arab countries, and other countries of the world.

Thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes but stayed within the Israeli-controlled 1948 territory. According to documentary evidence, the Israelis controlled 774 towns and villages and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns and villages during the Nakba . . .

The Demographic Reality: Palestinian population has increased 9-fold since the Nakba

The Palestinian world population totaled 12.4 million by the end of 2015. This indicates that the number of Palestinians worldwide has multiplied about nine-fold in the 68 years since the Nakba.

According to statistics, the total number of Palestinians living in historic Palestine (between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean) by the end of 2015 was 6.2 million and this number is expected to rise to 7.1 million by the end of 2020 based on current growth rates.

Statistical data also show that refugees constitute 42.8% of the total Palestinian population in Palestine. UNRWA records showed that there were 5.59 million Palestinian refugees registered at the beginning of 2015. Around 28.7% of Palestinian registered refugees live in 58 refugee camps, of which 10 are in Jordan, 9 in Syria, 12 in Lebanon, 19 in the West Bank, and 8 in the Gaza Strip.

These estimates represent the minimum number of Palestinian refugees, given the presence of non- registered refugees. These estimates also do not include Palestinians who were displaced between 1949 and the 1967 war, according to the UNRWA definition, and do not include the non-refugees who left or were forced to leave as a result of the 1967 war.

The number of Palestinians who remained in their homeland in the 1948 territory after the Nakba was estimated at 154 thousand persons, but estimates for 2015 show that it has grown to 1.5 million on the 68th anniversary of the Nakba.

In the 1948 territories, the sex ratio is 102.2 males per 100 females, while 34.8% of the population are below 15 years of age and 4.2% are aged 65 years and over, based on available statistics relating to Palestinians living in Israel in 2014.

This illustrates that the composition of the Palestinian population in the 1948 territory is young, as it is in Palestinian society as a whole.

The number of Palestinians in Palestine was estimated at 4.8 million at the end of 2015: 2.9 million in the West Bank and 1.9 million in Gaza Strip. The number of Palestinians in Jerusalem Governorate at the end of 2015 was around 423 thousand, of whom 62.1% live in the areas of Jerusalem forcibly annexed by Israel in 1967 (J1).

The fertility rate in Palestine is high compared to other countries. The total fertility rate in the period 2011-2013 was 4.1 births (3.7 births per woman in the West Bank and 4.5 births per woman in Gaza Strip).

Population Density: Gaza Strip the most crowded place in the world

The population density in Palestine at the end of 2015 was 789 individuals per square kilometer (km2): 513 individuals/km2 in the West Bank and 5,070 individuals/km2 in Gaza Strip. In Israel, the population density of Arabs and Jews in 2015 was about 391 individuals/km2.

Settlements . . .

There were 413 illegal Israeli constructions in the West Bank (including 150 settlements and 119 outposts) by the end of 2014. Furthermore, during 2015, the Israeli occupation authorities approved the building of over 4,500 housing units in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank in addition to the units approved in Jerusalem.

Still, these same authorities deny the Palestinians the right to build and lay obstacles, which undermine any potential urban expansion especially for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Area “C” which is under full Israeli control.

It should be noted that Area “C” represents over 60% of the West Bank area. Israel also erected its Expansion and Annexation Wall, which isolates behind it more than 12% of the West Bank land. Data indicated that the total number of settlers in the West Bank was 599,901 at the end of 2014, 286,997 of whom in the Jerusalem Governorate (they represent 48% of all settlers in the occupied West Bank).

Moreover, 210,420 of these illegal settlers live in Jerusalem J1 (that part of Jerusalem, which was forcefully annexed by Israel following its occupation of the West Bank in 1967).

In demographic terms, the proportion of settlers to the Palestinian population in the West Bank is around 21 settlers per 100 Palestinians compared with 69 settlers per 100 Palestinians in Jerusalem governorate.

Historical Palestine: Israel controls more than 85% of its land

The area of the historical land of Palestine totals about 27,000 km2. Israeli Jews utilize more than 85% of the total area of land. The Palestinians comprise 48% of the total population and utilize less than 15% of the land.

Water: Israel controls more than 85% of Palestinian Water

Palestine suffers from scarcity of water and resources. The situation is further complicated by the prolonged Israeli occupation, which controls most of the existing water sources (85%) and prevents the Palestinians from their right to access their water sources or any alternative sources.

Consequently, the Palestinians are compelled to buy water from the Israeli Water Company (Mekorot), purchasing around 63.5 million m3 in 2014.

The Israeli occupation controls the majority of renewable water resources totaling 750 MCM, while Palestinians receive only about 110 MCM.

The Palestinian share from the three ground water aquifers should be 118 MCM according to Oslo Agreement. This share was supposed to increase to 200 MCM by the year 2000 had the Interim Agreement been fully implemented.

The daily allocation per capita from consumed water for domestic purposes is 79.1 letter/capita/day (l/c/d) in the West Bank in 2014. Where it is 79.7 l/c/d in Gaza Strip in 2014 compared to 91.3 l/c/d in 2013, this shortfall is due to reduced pumping from ground water wells in Gaza Strip because of Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip.

However, 97% of drinking water in the Gaza Strip does not meet the World Health Organization (WHO) standards and is also less than the minimum quantities recommended by WHO (100 l/c/d) . . .

Detainees

Data from the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Ex-detainees show that Israel has arrested about a million Palestinians since 1967: more than 95 thousand were arrested since the Al-Aqsa Intifada. There are around 7,000 Palestinians in detention.

Of these, 68 are female, more than 400 are children. More than 750 Palestinians are held under administrative detention (without trial) and 500 detainees are serving life sentences. Israel arrested 6,830 detainees during 2015: 225 detainees are female and 2,179 are children. Israel has arrested nearly two thousand detainees since the beginning of the current year.

Jerusalem 2015 . . .

While the Israeli occupation authorities keep demolishing Palestinian houses and denying Palestinians the right to build any new houses, they grant permits to build thousands of housing units in the Israeli settlements in and around Jerusalem. Only in 2015, they authorized the building of over 12,600 housing units in the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, in addition to 2,500 hotel rooms.

Moreover, the Israeli occupation authorities ratified regulations to replace the original Arabic names of the streets in the old town of Jerusalem by Hebrew ones.

Health

Statistics for 2014 showed that the number of physicians per 1,000 population registered in the Physicians’ Union in the West Bank was 1.3 and 2.2 in the Gaza Strip. In addition, there were 2.1 nurses per 1,000 population in the West Bank and 4.1 nurses per 1000 population in Gaza Strip. There were 80 hospitals in Palestine in 2014: 50 hospitals in the West Bank and 30 in Gaza Strip.

These include 26 governmental hospitals, 34 non-governmental, 16 private, 3 hospitals run by military institutions, and one run by UNRWA. There were 5,939 hospital beds: 1.3 beds per 1,000 population and allocated as 3,502 beds in the West Bank and 2,437 in Gaza Strip. There were 604 primary health care centers in the West Bank in 2014 and 163 centers in Gaza Strip.

This inscribes in Israel’s ongoing policy of Occupation of Jerusalem and falsification of its history and geography not to mention the imposition of new demographic facts on the ground.

The Israeli occupation authorities demolished about 152 Palestinian buildings (houses and establishments) and sent hundreds of demolition orders to owners of other buildings; moreover, the Israeli occupation authorities confiscated 546 Dunams of the Palestinian land in the Issawiya locality and Shu’fat camp to establish a national park and dumping site for wastes from illegal Jewish settlements.

Buildings: Demolish of Housing Unit and Establishment

On the fortieth remembrance of the Land Day, the Israeli occupation violations against the Palestinians continue, in terms of land confiscation, demolition of buildings (housing units and establishments) and forcible displacement of residents. Israeli occupation authorities usurped 6,386 Dunams of Palestinian land in the various governorates of the West Bank in 2015.

Furthermore, they demolished 645 building (houses and establishments), forcibly displacing 2,180 person in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 1,108 of whom are children.

They also threatened to demolish 780 building, at a time when the needs of housing units for Palestinian increase. In figures, about 61% of households in Palestine need to build new housing units over the next decade according to the reported data survey of housing conditions in 2015 (one residential unit or more).

Environment: Continuing Degradation

Israeli settlements cause direct damage to the Palestinian environment. They actually discharge 40 million cubic meters (mcm) of wastewater annually into Palestinian valleys and agricultural land.

Only 10% of such water is treated. If compared to the wastewater produced by Palestinians in the West Bank, which stands at 34 mcm per year, the Israeli settler produce five times the Palestinian. Moreover, the Israeli authorities prevent Palestinians from building their own wastewater treatment plants.

On another level, they allocated part of the Palestinian land in Jordan Valley to an Israeli dumpsite of industrial waste. Consequently, Palestinian agricultural land endured enormous damage not to mention impact on health animals and biodiversity, in addition to the Israeli authorities bulldozed and burned more than 15,300 trees of Palestinian farmers during the year 2015.

Tourism: Israeli Monopoly

The Israeli narrative is based on falsification of the culture, civilization and history of Palestine. Therefore, the occupation authorities alter Palestinian national treasures and monuments of ancient times. In figures, 53% of the archeological sites in Palestine are in Area “C”, which is under full Israeli control.

The Israel occupation prevents any excavating or restoration of these sites for the building of recreational and tourist attractions.

They also create obstacles to prevent Palestinian tourism agencies from organizing proper visits of the Holy Land. With these restrictions, they give a competitive edge to the Israeli companies that market the Nativity Church in Bethlehem and Deir Quruntol in Jericho, for instance, as part of tourism in Israel.

By granting more facilities to Israeli companies, tourists are ‘advised’ to stay in Israeli hotels as Palestinian areas are ‘denounced as unsafe’. With these measures, Palestinians are deprived of over 75% of potential touristic services revenues.

Labor Market 2015

The labor force participation rate in Palestine in 2015 was 45.8%: 46.1% among refugees and 45.6% among non-refugees. The participation rate in the West Bank was 46.1% (46.8% among refugees and 45.8% among non-refugees) compared with 45.3% in Gaza Strip (45.5% among refugees and 45.0% among non-refugees).

The unemployment rate in Palestine was 25.9% (32.3% among refugees and 21.4% among non-refugees). The unemployment rate in the West Bank was 17.3% (18.7% among refugees and 16.8% among non-refugees) compared with 41.0% in Gaza Strip (41.8% among refugees and 39.4% among non-refugees).

Education

According to the results of the Education data for the 2015/2016 scholastic year, there were 2,897 schools in Palestine: 2,193 in the West Bank and 704 in Gaza Strip. These were distributed in terms of their supervisory authority as follows: 2,135 governmental schools, 353 UNRWA schools and 409 private schools.

The total number of students in these schools exceeded 1.2 million, of whom 596 thousand were male and 604 thousand female. There were 788 thousand students enrolled in governmental schools, 299 thousand enrolled in UNRWA schools, and 113 thousand enrolled in private schools.

The illiteracy rate among Palestinians aged 15 years and above was 3.3% in 2015, distributed as 1.5% of males and 5.1% of females. It was 2.9% among refugees and 3.6% among non-refugees.

In the field of higher education, there are 14 universities: five universities in the Gaza Strip and nine universities in the West Bank, in addition to 18 colleges that grant bachelor’s degrees: 6 in Gaza Strip, and 12 in the West Bank. There are 20 community colleges: 13 in the West Bank and 7 in Gaza Strip.

Consumer Price Index during 2015

The Palestinian Consumer Price Index increased by 1.43% in 2015 compared to 2014: by 1.29% in the West Bank, 0.33% in Jerusalem (J1), and by 1.77% in the Gaza Strip. In comparison with the base year of 2010, the Consumer Price Index in Palestine increased by 10.99%: by 13.89% in the West Bank, 14.02% in Jerusalem (J1), and 4.97% in Gaza Strip.

Trade: Limited Palestinian exports

Both imports and exports of goods increased in 2014 over 2013. In 2014, the value of imported goods totaled USD 5.68 billion, an increase of 10.1% compared to 2013.

The total value of exports was USD 943.7 million, and increased by 4.8% compared with 2013. As a result, the net trade balance in goods recorded a deficit of about USD 4.74 billion in 2014, an increase of 11.2% compared to 2013.

The results indicate that 87.3% of exports were destined to Israel, while only 12.7% of total exports were exported to other countries excluding Israel. The limited value of exports to other countries was due to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian exports, especially from the Gaza Strip.

via IMEMC

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

New China TV: “68 years of displacement…… 82-year-old Palestinian refugee yearns for home return”

British PM Cameron’s tiff with Trump over Muslims: The Hypocrisy Factor

Mon, 16 May 2016 - 11:08pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

When Donald Trump announced his monstrous and yet daffy plan to exlude Muslims from the United States (what with being, himself, both monstrous and yet daffy), British Prime Minister David Cameron called him out. The plan, he said, is “divisive, stupid and wrong.”

Trump gave an interview with Piers Morgan on British TV on Monday in which he threatened the United Kingdom with retaliation.

“It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship. Who knows, I hope to have a good relationship with him but it sounds like he’s not willing to address the problem either . . . Number one, I’m not stupid, okay? I can tell you that right now. Just the opposite. Number two, in terms of divisive, I don’t think I’m a divisive person, I’m a unifier, unlike our president now, I’m a unifier.”

Thereby proving that Cameron was right on all three counts. The prime minister’s office said he stood by his remarks. (Good on him!)

But what shouldn’t be lost in all this is that Cameron himself hasn’t exactly been good on Muslim issues in the UK. He’s been supercilious, condescending, and tone deaf. And he’s made some stupid and divisive proposals, as well.

Britain has a population of about 64 million. Of those, about 3.1 million are Muslims, about 5 percent of the population. In 2015, 13 Muslims were elected to the British parliament, six of them women, and three of them in Cameron’s party.

The US has more Muslims, but is a much bigger country, so their percentage here is much smaller, about 1% or maybe more depending on how many exactly there are (no one knows– the estimates range from 3 to 6 million).

Obviously, Trump’s discourse about Muslims is a much bigger thing in the UK, where the proportion of Muslims is similar to the proportion of Asian-Americans in the US.

Cameron wants to Muslims who don’t learn English well enough to pass a test within 2 and a half years of arrival. Asked if he would split up families by, e.g., sending out a mother of children and wife resident with her husband, he said there could be no guarantee of staying if the person kept failing the English test.

This proposal is just about as objectionable as Trump’s own ideas. There are millions of people in the US who don’t have very good English, or any at all. If Trump had threatened to arrest and deport them and break up families, even if they were legal immigrants, wouldn’t that be as outrageous as some of the other things he has said?

Cameron maintained that the reason for which a few tens of thousands of recently immigrated Muslim women did not know English was because their husbands are backward and controlling and keeping them isolated. That they might be busy raising children and running households and that they might not have avenues into British society– or even that they might not be good at languages– doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

Then there was Home Minister Theresa May’s daffy allegation that there there was a sophisticated Salafi plot to take over 21 Birmingham schools in poor, disproportionately Muslim, areas. It was based on what is now widely considered a fraudulent letter. An investigation didn’t find any such plot. It found some problems at five of the schools, not surprising given that they are in extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Cameron and his cabinet were so enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s brutal assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014 that his only Muslim cabinet member, Lady Sayeeda Warsi, felt she had no choice but to resign.

So the idea of Cameron as a defender of Western Muslims or a condemner of Islamophobia is downright weird.

What the exchange shows is that the paternalistic, paranoid and casually insulting discourse of the Cameron crew about Muslims has been overshadowed by the truly monstrous and daffy Trump.

—-

Related video:

New York Daily News: “Donald Trump to David Cameron: I’m not stupid, ok?”

Trump’s Politics of Whiteness and the CIA tip that Jailed Nelson Mandela

Mon, 16 May 2016 - 12:21am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency provided the tip to the Apartheid South African government that led to Nelson Mandela’s arrest should come as no great shock, though the public confirmation is perhaps surprising.

Nor is it unconnected to the popularity of Donald Trump, who is proposing a new Apartheid regime with regard to American Muslims.

Mandela went on to lead South Africa in the 1990s toward a racially inclusive new model of democracy.

Although the allegation is that the CIA was worried Mandela was a Communist controlled by the Soviet Union, the actual subtext was that white, racially-segregated South Africa was seen by many in Washington as a good thing. The US firmly supported the Apartheid regime despite its massive human rights abuses, right into the 1980s under Reagan. That it was an ally against Communism was all to the good. But part of what defeating Communism entailed was repressing economically exploited, working class groups like Black South Africans.

Until 1964, much of the US (and not just the Deep South) was itself governed by Apartheid laws that demeaned African-Americans and often denied them the vote, so there was fellow-feeling between elements in Washington and those in Pretoria.

Americans have a fairy tale that they tell themselves, that they have been a force for democracy and human rights. But in fact, sometimes they haven’t. A lot of the time they haven’t. The US has made coups against elected governments (1953 in Iran) and supported dictators instead, when it suited Washington elites. The US has supported the repression and statelessness of the Palestinians. And often fears about uppity working classes are racialized in American discourse.

Donald Trump’s politics are to a degree about racial hierarchies and the restoration of the pecking order that obtained before the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, they hearken back to the days of American Apartheid.

He has questioned the US citizenship of our first African-American president, attempting to paint his eight years in office as illegitimate. Birtherism is a little bit like those Rambo movies of Sylvester Stallone, which relitigated the Vietnam War. If white America was in fact defeated by Asian Vietnam, at least the former could have its victory in the fantasyland of Hollywood. Likewise, Birtherism was a way of imagining that McCain and Romney were the rightful presidents, because the Black guy was actually from Africa and not American at all.

Likewise, Trump’s intimation that Latino Americans are for the most part criminals (this is not true), his allegation that China is walking all over the US with regard to trade, and his proposal to exclude Muslims from coming to the US, are all reasertions of the primacy of white America. They are ways of denying that the US is on the way to becoming a majority non-white country (Asians, Latinos, African-Americans are already the majority in California, the most populous state). They are ways of denying that China is a rising world power or that the Muslims world is flexing its muscles in the aftermath of decolonization.

Political Scientist Robert Vitalis has argued that racial hierarchy was at the core of International Relations theory in the US academy in the first half of the 20th century:

” Racism and imperialism are the twin forces that propelled the course of the United States in the world in the early twentieth century and in turn affected the way that diplomatic history and international relations were taught and understood in the American academy. Evolutionary theory, social Darwinism, and racial anthropology had been dominant doctrines in international relations from its beginnings; racist attitudes informed research priorities and were embedded in newly formed professional organizations . . . Within the rigidly segregated profession, the “Howard School of International Relations” represented the most important center of opposition to racism and the focal point for theorizing feasible alternatives to dependency and domination for Africans and African Americans through the early 1960s.”

The jailing of Mandela for much of his adult life came about because he took direct action against a regime that deprived him and his people of their right to vote, of their right to be equal to other citizens, and even in the case of the Bantustans, of their citizenship rights. These actions were taken by people who thought of themselves as “white” against people they categorized as “Black.” They were taken on the grounds of racial prejudice and discrimination. The United States of America sided with the operators of the Apartheid state. There isn’t any doubt where Trump would have stood in those days, either.

But those days are over, and Trumpism is not the wave of the future; it is a pitiful nostalgia for a shameful imagined past.

——

Related video:

Nelson Mandela on Oprah Winfrey’s show from 2000

The Biggest threat to the Mideast isn’t ISIL, it’s bad, Corrupt Governance

Sun, 15 May 2016 - 11:42pm

By Marwan Muasher | (Project Syndicate) | – –

WASHINGTON, DC – A recent survey of 100 Arab thought leaders conducted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace revealed a sweeping consensus about what underlies many of the region’s problems: a lack of good governance. Indeed, those polled emphasized domestic problems resulting from that failure – authoritarianism, corruption, outdated education systems, and unemployment – over regional concerns, including the threat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) or interference by regional heavyweights or outside powers.

This is not new information. The Arab Spring uprisings brought to the fore the inadequacy of the region’s outdated social contracts in the face of current political and economic challenges. Yet Arab governments still seem not to have gotten the message.

Five years after the uprisings erupted, Arab citizens have little – in some cases, even less – voice in running their countries’ affairs. Moreover, they depend on rentier economies that are unable to create enough jobs for their young, educated populations. And they face an alarming absence of the rule of law, leaving them with no assurances that they will be treated equally, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, or religion.

But poor governance today does not mean the Arab world is doomed to failure. Tunisia serves as a beacon of hope. After the 2011 revolution, it pursued a consensual, inclusive process to develop a new social contract that upholds all of its people’s individual and collective rights.

While Tunisia still faces serious economic and security problems, the national dialogue that the country has undertaken is the crucial first step toward resolving them. Other Arab societies now must undertake similar dialogues, with the ultimate goal of creating economies and institutions that meet their people’s needs.

History has taught us that such transformational processes take time. The long-suppressed ideas and energies unleashed by events like the Arab Spring must mature before having their full effect on society.

Consider the uprisings in Europe in 1848, in which citizens protested against authoritarian, feudal systems and the lack of economic opportunity. By the end of that year, status quo forces managed to retake the reins of power, and the uprisings appeared to have been all but crushed.

But something had changed. Taboos had been broken, and during the subsequent decades, technological advances enabled the spread of new ideas. It was not long before feudalism began to dissolve; liberal and democratic values gained traction; women secured greater rights; and economic systems emerged that could boost productivity, achieve high growth rates, and improve living standards.

A similar process is unfolding gradually in the Arab world, with citizens (especially young people) who lack trust in their governments seeking alternative sources of information and new ways to survive economically. This shift has so far gone largely unnoticed by governments, a reflection of just how disconnected they are from their own people. But it will soon be impossible to ignore.

All of this comes at a time when another important development is underway: Oil-based rentier systems are rapidly diminishing, owing to the steep decline in energy prices over the last two years. In particular, Saudi Arabia has been forced to initiate a shift toward an economic model that emphasizes investment and productivity as the main drivers of economic growth. Other countries in the region will have to follow suit and reform their economic systems, or face the wrath of their increasingly disgruntled citizens.

One important element of economic-reform strategies will be technology. Already, 240 million Arabs – largely young people – have access to the Internet through mobile phones; by 2020, it is estimated that all Arab youth will be connected. Technology is facilitating the creation and sharing of knowledge, in a region that has historically lagged in this area, and technology start-ups are on the rise.

This is not to say that technology is a panacea for the region. After all, ISIS is also using technology, but in a sinister way: to spread gruesome propaganda and recruit new members. But technology can speed up the Arab world’s social and economic progress, even as countries build a modern institutional framework capable of supporting it.

Nowadays, no country can evolve without developing effective and credible institutions, establishing a meaningful system of political checks and balances, and diffusing control over decision-making. These elements are vital to enable countries to offer their citizens an adequate quality of life.

In time, the Arab world will have them. While the international community is focused on ISIS or Iran’s destructive role in the Middle East, most Arabs are focused on improving their lives. Their governments should encourage them.

Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, is Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Carnegie Live: “Supporting Tunisia’s Imperiled Transition”

Nakba (Catastrophe)! Where did all the Palestinians Go?

Sun, 15 May 2016 - 11:18pm

AJ+ | (Video report) | – –

“In 1948, around 80% of Palestinians were forced out of their homes during the creation of Israel. That event is known as the Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.” So where did they go? And how many Palestinians are there around the world now?”

AJ+: “Where Did The Palestinians Go?”

No US Troops on the Ground in Iraq & Syria . . . until there Were

Sun, 15 May 2016 - 11:11pm

By Peter Van Buren | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

One of the most popular apps these days is Snapchat. It allows the sender to set a timer for any photo dispatched via the app, so that a few seconds after the recipient opens the message, the photo is automatically deleted. The evidence of what you did at that party last night is seen and then disappears. POOF!

I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that the Iraq-Syria War against the Islamic State (ISIS) is being conveyed to us via Snapchat. Important things happen, they appear in front of us, and then… POOF!… they’re gone. No one seems to remember them. Who cares that they’ve happened at all, when there’s a new snap already arriving for your attention? As with most of what flows through the real Snapchat, what’s of some interest at first makes no difference in the long run.

Just because we now have terrifyingly short memories does not, however, mean that things did not happen. Despite the POOF! effect, events that genuinely mattered when it comes to the region in which Washington has, since the 1980s, been embroiled in four wars, actually did occur last week, last month, a war or two ago, or, in some cases, more than half a century in the past. What follows are just some of the things we’ve forgotten that couldn’t matter more.

It’s a Limited Mission — POOF!

Perhaps General David Petraeus’s all-time sharpest comment came in the earliest days of Iraq War 2.0. “Tell me how this ends,” he said, referring to the Bush administration’s invasion. At the time, he was already worried that there was no endgame.

That question should be asked daily in Washington. It and the underlying assumption that there must be a clear scope and duration to America’s wars are too easily forgotten. It took eight long years until the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Though there were no ticker tape parades or iconic photos of sailors smooching their gals in Times Square in 2011, the war was indeed finally over and Barack Obama’s campaign promise fulfilled…

Until, of course, it wasn’t, and in 2014 the same president restarted the war, claiming that a genocide against the Yazidis, a group hitherto unknown to most of us and since largely forgotten, was in process. Air strikes were authorized to support a “limited” rescue mission. Then, more — limited — American military power was needed to stop the Islamic State from conquering Iraq. Then more air strikes, along with limited numbers of military advisers and trainers, were sure to wrap things up, and somehow, by May 2016, the U.S. has 5,400 military personnel, including Special Operations forces, on the ground across Iraq and Syria, with expectations that more would soon be needed, even as a massive regional air campaign drags on. That’s how Washington’s wars seem to go these days, with no real debate, no Congressional declaration, just, if we’re lucky, a news item announcing what’s happened.

Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed. Recall, for instance, those weapons of mass destruction that justified George W. Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq, the one that turned into eight years of occupation and “nation-building”? Or to step a couple of no-less-forgettable years further into the past, bring to mind the 2001 U.S. mission that was to quickly defeat the ragged Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. That’s now heading into its 16th year as the situation there only continues to disintegrate.

For those who prefer an even more forgotten view of history, America’s war in Vietnam kicked into high gear thanks to then-President Lyndon Johnson’s false claim about an attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The early stages of that war followed a path somewhat similar to the one on which we now seem to be staggering along in Iraq War 3.0 — from a limited number of advisers to the full deployment of almost all the available tools of war.

Or for those who like to look ahead, the U.S. has just put troops back on the ground in Yemen, part of what the Pentagon is describing as “limited support” for the U.S.-backed war the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched in that country.

The new story is also the old story: just as you can’t be a little pregnant, the mission never really turns out to be “limited,” and if Washington doesn’t know where the exit is, it’s going to be trapped yet again inside its own war, spinning in unpredictable and disturbing directions.

No Boots on the Ground — POOF!

Having steadfastly maintained since the beginning of Iraq War 3.0 that it would never put “American boots on the ground,” the Obama administration has deepened its military campaign against the Islamic State by increasing the number of Special Operations forces in Syria from 50 to 300. The administration also recently authorized the use of Apache attack helicopters, long stationed in Iraq to protect U.S. troops, as offensive weapons.

American advisers are increasingly involved in actual fighting in Iraq, even as the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers to an air base in Qatar before promptly sending them into combat over Iraq and Syria. Another group of Marines was dispatched to help defend the American Embassy in Baghdad after the Green Zone, in the heart of that city, was recently breached by masses of protesters. Of all those moves, at least some have to qualify as “boots on the ground.”

The word play involved in maintaining the official no-boots fiction has been a high-wire act. Following the loss of an American in Iraqi Kurdistan recently, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter labeled it a “combat death.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest then tried to explain how an American who was not on a combat mission could be killed in combat. “He was killed, and he was killed in combat. But that was not part of his mission,” Earnest told reporters.

Much more quietly, the U.S. surged — “surge” being the replacement word for the Vietnam-era “escalate” — the number of private contractors working in Iraq; their ranks have grown eight-fold over the past year, to the point where there are an estimated 2,000 of them working directly for the Department of Defense and 5,800 working for the Department of State inside Iraq. And don’t be too sanguine about those State Department contractors. While some of them are undoubtedly cleaning diplomatic toilets and preparing elegant receptions, many are working as military trainers, paramilitary police advisers, and force protection personnel. Even some aircraft maintenance crews and CIA paramilitaries fall under the State Department’s organizational chart.

The new story in Iraq and Syria when it comes to boots on the ground is the old story: air power alone has never won wars, advisers and trainers never turn out to be just that, and for every soldier in the fight you need five or more support people behind him.

We’re Winning — POOF!

We’ve been winning in Iraq for some time now — a quarter-century of successes, from 1991’s triumphant Operation Desert Storm to 2003’s soaring Mission Accomplished moment to just about right now in the upbeat third iteration of America’s Iraq wars. But in each case, in a Snapchat version of victory, success has never seemed to catch on.

At the end of April, for instance, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesperson, hailed the way American air power had set fire to $500 million of ISIS’s money, actual cash that its militants had apparently forgotten to disperse or hide in some reasonable place. He was similarly positive about other recent gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Hit, which, he swore, was “a linchpin for ISIL.” In this, he echoed the language used when ISIS-occupied Ramadi (and Baiji and Sinjar and…) fell, language undoubtedly no less useful when the next town is liberated. In the same fashion, USA Today quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying that American actions had cut ISIS’s oil revenues by an estimated 50%, forcing them to ration fuel in some areas, while cutting pay to its fighters and support staff.

Only a month ago, National Security Adviser Susan Rice let us know that, “day by day, mile by mile, strike by strike, we are making substantial progress. Every few days, we’re taking out another key ISIL leader, hampering ISIL’s ability to plan attacks or launch new offensives.” She even cited a poll indicating that nearly 80% of young Muslims across the Middle East are strongly opposed to that group and its caliphate.

In the early spring, Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, took to Twitter to assure everyone that “terrorists are now trapped and desperate on Mosul fronts.” Speaking at a security forum I attended, retired general Chuck Jacoby, the last multinational force commander for Iraq 2.0, described another sign of progress, insisting that Iraq today is a “maturing state.” On the same panel, Douglas Ollivant, a member of former Iraq commander General David Petraeus’s “brain trust of warrior-intellectuals,” talked about “streams of hope” in Iraq.

Above all, however, there is one sign of success often invoked in relation to the war in Iraq and Syria: the body count, an infamous supposed measure of success in the Vietnam War. Washington spokespeople regularly offer stunning figures on the deaths of ISIS members, claiming that 10,000 to 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been wiped out via air strikes. The CIA has estimated that, in 2014, the Islamic State had only perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters under arms. If such victory statistics are accurate, somewhere between a third and all of them should now be gone.

Other U.S. intelligence reports, clearly working off a different set of data, suggest that there once were more than 30,000 foreign fighters in the Islamic State’s ranks. Now, the Pentagon tells us, the flow of new foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria has been staunched, dropping over the past year from roughly 2,000 to 200 a month, further incontrovertible proof of the Islamic State’s declining stature. One anonymous American official typically insisted: “We’re actually a little bit ahead of where we wanted to be.”

Yet despite success after American success, ISIS evidently isn’t broke, or running out of fighters, or too desperate to stay in the fray, and despite all the upbeat news there are few signs of hope in the Iraqi body politic or its military.

The new story is again a very old story: when you have to repeatedly explain how much you’re winning, you’re likely not winning much of anything at all.

It’s Up to the Iraqis — POOF!

From the early days of Iraq War 2.0, one key to success for Washington has been assigning the Iraqis a to-do list based on America’s foreign policy goals. They were to hold decisive elections, write a unifying Constitution, take charge of their future, share their oil with each other, share their government with each other, and then defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later, the Islamic State.

As each item failed to get done properly, it became the Iraqis’ fault that Washington hadn’t achieved its goals. A classic example was “the surge” of 2007, when the Bush administration sent in a significant number of additional troops to whip the Iraqis into shape and just plain whip al-Qaeda, and so open up the space for Shiites and Sunnis to come together in an American-sponsored state of national unity. The Iraqis, of course, screwed up the works with their sectarian politics and so lost the stunning potential gains in freedom we had won them, leaving the Americans heading for the exit.

In Iraq War 3.0, the Obama administration again began shuffling leaders in Baghdad to suit its purposes, helping force aside once-golden boy Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and pushing forward new golden boy Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to — you guessed it — unify Iraq. “Today, Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said as Abadi took office.

Of course, unity did not transpire, thanks to Abadi, not us. “It would be disastrous,” editorialized the New York Times, “if Americans, Iraqis, and their partners were to succeed in the military campaign against the Islamic State only to have the politicians in Baghdad squander another chance to build a better future.” The Times added: “More than 13 years since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, there’s less and less reason to be optimistic.”

The latest Iraqi “screw-up” came on April 30th, when dissident Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters broke into the previously sacrosanct Green Zone established by the Americans in Iraq War 2.0 and stormed Iraq’s parliament. Sadr clearly remembers his history better than most Americans. In 2004, he emboldened his militias, then fighting the U.S. military, by reminding them of how irregular forces had defeated the Americans in Vietnam. This time, he was apparently diplomatic enough not to mention that Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese 41 years ago on the day of the Green Zone incursion.

Sadr’s supporters crossed into the enclave to protest Prime Minister Abadi’s failure to reform a disastrous government, rein in corruption (you can buy command of an entire army division and plunder its budget indefinitely for about $2 million), and provide basic services like water and electricity to Baghdadis. The tens of billions of dollars that U.S. officials spent “reconstructing” Iraq during the American occupation of 2003 to 2011 were supposed to make such services effective, but did not.

And anything said about Iraqi governmental failures might be applied no less accurately to the Iraqi army.

Despite the estimated $26 billion the U.S. spent training and equipping that military between 2003 and 2011, whole units broke, shed their uniforms, ditched their American equipment, and fled when faced with relatively small numbers of ISIS militants in June 2014, abandoning four northern cities, including Mosul. This, of course, created the need for yet more training, the ostensible role of many of the U.S. troops now in Iraq. Since most of the new Iraqi units are still only almost ready to fight, however, those American ground troops and generals and Special Operations forces and forward air controllers and planners and logistics personnel and close air support pilots are still needed for the fight to come.

The inability of the U.S. to midwife a popularly supported government or a confident citizen’s army, Washington’s twin critical failures of Iraq War 2.0, may once again ensure that its latest efforts implode. Few Iraqis are left who imagine that the U.S. can be an honest broker in their country. A recent State Department report found that one-third of Iraqis believe the United States is actually supporting ISIS, while 40% are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.

The new story is again the old story: corrupt governments imposed by an outside power fail. And in the Iraq case, every problem that can’t be remedied by aerial bombardment and Special Forces must be the Iraqis’ fault.

Same Leadership, Same Results — POOF!

With the last four presidents all having made war in Iraq, and little doubt that the next president will dive in, keep another forgotten aspect of Washington’s Iraq in mind: some of the same American leadership figures have been in place under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and they will initially still be in place when Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump enters the Oval Office.

Start with Brett McGurk, the current special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. His résumé is practically a Wikipedia page for America’s Iraq, 2003-2016: Deputy Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran from August 2013 until his current appointment. Before that, Senior Advisor in the State Department for Iraq, a special advisor to the National Security Staff, Senior Advisor to Ambassadors to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Christopher Hill, and James Jeffrey. McGurk participated in President Obama’s 2009 review of Iraq policy and the transition following the U.S. military departure from Iraq. During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq, then as Special Assistant to the President, and also Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 McGurk was the lead negotiator with the Iraqi Government on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement to govern the presence of U.S. forces. He was also one of the chief Washington-based architects of The Surge, having earlier served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority from nearly the first shots of 2003.

A little lower down the chain of command is Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland.  He is now leading Sunni “tribal coordination” to help defeat ISIS, as well as serving as commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force. As a colonel back in 2006, MacFarland similarly helped organize the surge’s Anbar Sunni Awakening movement against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

And on the ground level, you can be sure that some of the current colonels were majors in Iraq War 2.0, and some of their subordinates put their boots on the same ground they’re on now.

In other words, the new story is the old story: some of the same people have been losing this war for Washington since 2003, with neither accountability nor culpability in play.

What If They Gave a War and No One Remembered?

All those American memories lost to oblivion. Such forgetfulness only allows our war makers to do yet more of the same things in Iraq and Syria, acts that someone on the ground will be forced to remember forever, perhaps under the shadow of a drone overhead.

Placing our service people in harm’s way, spending our money in prodigious amounts, and laying the country’s credibility on the line once required at least the pretext that some national interest was at stake. Not any more. Anytime some group we don’t like threatens a group we care not so much about, the United States must act to save a proud people, stop a humanitarian crisis, take down a brutal leader, put an end to genocide, whatever will briefly engage the public and spin up some vague facsimile of war fever.

But back to Snapchat. It turns out that while the app was carefully designed to make whatever is transmitted quickly disappear, some clever folks have since found ways to preserve the information. If only the same could be said of our Snapchat wars. How soon we forget. Until the next time…

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the “reconstruction” of Iraq in his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. His next work will be a novel, Hooper’s War.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Peter Van Buren

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News from last week: “American Soldier Killed by ISIS in Iraq”

Top 3 Signs Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself to “give” the Palestinians a State

Sun, 15 May 2016 - 12:31am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday claimed “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” and maintained that he secured an agreement, which the Palestinians turned down. In fact, no such text was ever presented to the Palestinian side, and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak kept flaking out on commitments previously made, leaving the Palestinian negotiators with nothing to agree to. Negotiator Aaron Miller later admitted, “There was not a formalized, written proposal that covered the four core issues. There was no deal on the table. None of the issues were explained enough in detail to make an agreement, though the Israelis made an interesting argument on Jerusalem.”

No time here to go into the paternalist and colonial language about “giving” the Palestinians a state. They are a stateless people because they are unrecognized; they would get a state by recognizing them as such, not giving them anything.

Here are signs Clinton didn’t put himself out that much:

1. From the time Clinton presided over the handshake between Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1993 to the end of Clinton’s term, the number of Israeli colonists on the Palestinian land from which Rabin had pledged to withdraw just about doubled. In 1993 there were between 95,000 and 116,000 Israeli squatters in the West Bank and Gaza. By 1996 there were 147,000. By 2000 there were about 200,000. These numbers do not include the squatters in East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed in contravention of the UN charter. This stab in the back by the Israelis of the Palestine Authority undermined the possibility of a Palestinian state. Did Clinton kill himself stopping this vast expansion of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land? No. Did he do anything at all about it? No.

2. Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from the West Bank by the end of 1998. It did not. Its troops are still there, guarding sometimes murderous or vandalizing Israeli squatters who are trying to displace the Palestinians from their homes. Did Bill Clinton kill himself to get the Israeli troops out of Palestine? No. Did he do anything at all about this collapse of Oslo process commitments on Israel’s part? No.

3. Donald Neff writes that in
“March, 1995 . . . President Clinton invoked the [UN Security Council] veto after all 14 other members approved a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to rescind a decision to expropriate 130 acres of land in Arab East Jerusalem.23 The Clinton administration exercised two more vetoes in 1997, both of them on resolutions otherwise unanimously supported by the 14 other Security Council members. The draft resolution was critical of Israel’s plans to establish a new settlement at Har Homa ⁄ Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem in the midst of Palestinian housing.”

So did Bill Clinton kill himself stopping Israeli large scale theft of Palestinian land while he was supposedly being an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians? No.

Clinton was the most partisan President for Israel in our country’s history, and was anything but even-handed in his approach to the Palestinians. The Palestinians complained that they’d get an Israeli proposal, reject it, then get the same one from the Americans; there wasn’t really any difference between the positions of those two.

Clinton also defended the brutal Israeli assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014, blaming it on Hamas and suggesting that they had craftily manipulated world media into blaming the Israelis for killing nearly 2000 Palestinians. Mr. Clinton did not address the issue of proportionality, the key one for critics of the assault. Nor did he address the Occupation, the displacement of Palestinian families to Gaza by the Israelis, or the siege of Gaza, contravening the Geneva Conventions if 1949.

Bill Clinton’s partisanship for the Israeli side and refusal to act as an honest broker, refusal to stop squatter settlements, refusal to let the UN Security Council demand of Israel that it stop contravening international law, and failure to get an actual text to which Palestinian negotiators could assent, all these defects doomed the Oslo process and doomed the world to more turmoil coming out of this interminable conflict. It also encouraged the Israeli side to think they could get away with anything and so warped them into a Likud far-right regime and an Apartheid state.

Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself getting a Palestinian state. His one-sided approach to the negotiations ensured that there would be none. Ever.

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Related video:

Bill Clinton: ‘I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state