Middle East update: January 18 2018

MIDDLE EAST

ISIS

Airwars.org has published their 2017 year-end analysis, and if you’re a big fan of America killing civilians in the name of the War on Terror, then you’ll want to check it out:

Across Iraq and Syria, casualty incidents tied to likely Coalition strikes more than tripled compared to the year before. To date, the Coalition has conceded 93 events in which it confirms having killed or injured civilians during 2017 – up from 58 such confirmed events for 2016. An additional 673 civilian casualty incidents were classified by Airwars researchers as ‘Fair’ for 2017. An event is assessed as fair when it has two or more uncontested credible sources, and where the Coalition has confirmed it carried out strikes in the area.

 

Overall, between 3,923 and 6,102 non-combatants were likely killed in these 766 events in 2017 – a 215% increase on the 1,243 to 1,904 civilians estimated as likely killed by Coalition strikes in 2016. At least 2,443 additional civilians were reportedly wounded in these 766 events over the course of 2017, a significant increase from the year before.

Civilian deaths from American airstrikes outnumbered civilian deaths from Russian airstrikes for the year, something we should all keep in mind the next time we criticize Russia over this issue while swallowing the Pentagon’s horse shit about its deep concern for avoiding civilian casualties.

I don’t know how much of this increase you can lay at the feet of the Trump administration’s obvious indifference to civilian casualties, but undoubtedly that bears at least some responsibility for these numbers. At the same time, the fact that the fighting moved in 2017 into heavily populated areas like Mosul and Raqqa means that civilian casualties were bound to go up somewhat.

SYRIA

While Turkey walks back its plans to attack the YPG in Syria, the US is also walking back its talk of putting together a new “border security force” in YPG-held parts of the country:

The force “was not properly described,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Vancouver, B.C.

 

“It’s unfortunate that entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people misspoke,” he said. “We are not creating a border security force at all.”

 

Rather, he said, the U.S. military will provide training to local elements to help secure areas that were liberated from the Islamic State, with U.S. assistance, over the past three years.

See? It’s not a border security force! It’s a force that’s intended to provide security to protect the borders of…wait, let me start again. It’s a security force that will ensure the borders of…shit, I thought I had it that time. Anyway I’m sure you get the idea.

Should the Turks change their minds again and decide to start attacking the YPG after all–and it should be noted that they are still asking for Moscow’s permission to do so–Damascus says it will shoot down Turkish planes in Syrian airspace. Nice to see everybody getting along like this.

IRAQ

Iraqi leaders are considering postponing the general election scheduled for May in order to allow time for more displaced Iraqis to return to their homes in order to vote where they used to and hopefully will again live. The US embassy in Baghdad doesn’t like that idea, mostly because it sets a bad precedent for breaking the schedule for future elections. What would set a good precedent for future elections at this point, it seems to me, would be for the Iraqis to tell the US embassy to pipe down and, imagine this, let Iraqis run Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also opposes a postponement on account of his popularity is really high right now, but it’s not entirely up to him either.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani might be exploring the possibility of a political alliance to target current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to Al-Monitor. They’re in the very early stages of that exploration, the two men have a fairly troubled personal history so that could complicate things, and both Maliki and Barzani are pretty toxic public figures right now so who knows if it would even matter if they did get together. But the idea would be to put Barzani back in charge of the Kurdistan Regional Government (not great) and Maliki back in the premiership (total catastrophe).

JORDAN

The Jordanian government says that Israel has apologized for an incident in July in which a guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman shot and killed two Jordanian nationals. Israel claims that the guard was attacked by one of the Jordanians (the other, at least, was a bystander), and the dispute over the shooting resulted in the closure of Israel’s embassy with personnel being quickly recalled to Israel. The Jordanians say they won’t allow the embassy to be reopened until the Israeli government pursues a criminal investigation against the guard.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli forces broke up what they say is a Hamas cell in Jenin, in the West Bank, on Thursday, killing at least one member of the cell in the process. The cell is believed to have carried out a drive-by shooting earlier this month that killed a settler leader.

The Trump administration is now quite literally taking food out of refugees’ mouths because they’re mad:

The United States will not provide $45 million in food aid for Palestinians that it pledged last month as part of the West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal led by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

 

The State Department had said on Tuesday that Washington would withhold a separate $65 million it had planned to pay the U.N. agency that serves the Palestinians, saying UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

 

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert denied the withholding of the $65 million was to punish Palestinians, who have been sharply critical of Trump’s announcement last month that he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Oh, of course it’s not to punish them! We just want Palestinian refugees to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps! Or we would, if they had enough money to buy boots! Nauert went on to say that the US wants other countries to contribute more to the UNRWA, arguing that the US is “the most generous country on the planet,” which is a bald-faced lie. America spends more money on overseas development assistance than any other nation, it’s true, but as a percent of national income (i.e., a fair measure of generosity) we don’t crack the top 20.

EGYPT

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn went to Cairo on Thursday, where Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told him of Egypt’s “extreme concern” about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and its related impact study. A study is needed to determine how to build the dam and fill its reservoir with minimal impact on the flow of the Nile River, which would keep Egypt happy. But the two countries can’t agree on who should conduct the study, so they can’t even get to the part where they disagree on the outcome of the study.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi authorities ended the country’s 35 year ban on showing movies in cinemas this week, and in what is either a sublime troll or an attempt to get people to demand a new 35 year ban, the first two films they screened (in a makeshift theater in Jeddah) were…The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants. I don’t even know how to make a joke about this. It’s as if all restaurants were banned for half a century and then they were finally legalized again but the first one to open was Outback.

IRAN

The family of one of the people who died in custody after being arrested in connection with the recent wave of protests in Iran is blaming the government for the death. The family hasn’t been identified for obvious reasons, but they claim that their relative and other detainees were forced to “take pills that made them sick” by Iranian authorities.

Finally, former State Department adviser Robert Einhorn argues that there are ways to try to improve the Iran nuclear deal, but that what the Trump administration is doing isn’t one of them:

There is a better way to overcome the JCPOA’s shortcomings. It is to work with the Europeans, Russians, Chinese and others to build on the JCPOA and discourage the Iranians, through a combination of pressures and incentives, from engaging in activities that threaten regional and international security.

 

It would involve persuading the Iranians that they are better off meeting legitimate reactor fuel requirements without pursuing a large-scale enrichment program. It would also involve relying on a combination of methods, including missile defenses, sanctions, export controls and Iranian restraints (e.g., capping missile range at 2000 kilometers), to reduce the threat from Iran’s missile program.

 

The United States has considerable leverage to reinforce the JCPOA in these ways. However, that leverage comes not from threatening to blow up the deal, but from the ability to mobilize strong international and domestic support for supplemental arrangements that serve the same goals the Trump administration is trying to achieve with its more confrontational approach.

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Author: DWD

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