IRAQ Preparations continue for the eventual Tal Afar operation, but it’s not clear at this point what the hold up … Continue reading Middle East update: August 12-13 2017
Today is, of course, May Day, whose origins go back to pre-Christian European cultures, but for much of the world it’s also International Workers’ Day and, in some countries, Labor Day. Ironically, for a date chosen to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, May 1 is not the official labor holiday in the United States. America celebrates Labor Day, albeit very reluctantly, on the first Monday in September, a date that probably predates Haymarket in its origins but was selected for the federal holiday in part because May 1 is too workery and internationalist and socialist for American politicians to countenance.
But even in countries that don’t formally recognize May 1 as a day for recognizing organized labor and workers’ rights, the day still carries that connotation for some people. And that means demonstrations, rallies, and celebrations. These sorts of things can sometimes turn violent, particularly when governments, backed by super-national military institutions and the spy agencies of global superpowers, deliberately turn them violent. Speaking of which, let’s consider the 1977 May Day rally in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
With Mosul University in government hands, ISIS’s ability to defend eastern Mosul seems to be collapsing pretty quickly. One of the big changes in the recent course of the battle, in addition to a drastic decline in the number of ISIS suicide attacks, has been that Iraqi forces are no longer having to go back and clean up previously liberated areas two, three, four times. This is undoubtedly reflective of ISIS’s overall collapse, but it probably also reflects the decision to reinforce the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service with regular army and federal police forces that can better hold and secure territory that the CTS has liberated. Mosul airport now seems to be taking fire from Iraqi forces in the south, in advance of an expected move there. If Iraqi forces are able to advance from the south it will force ISIS defenders in western Mosul to defend on at least two fronts.
Two problems continue to plague residents of the city. One, which we’ve covered before, is that civilians are dying and being badly injured in the fighting. Obviously you expect civilian casualties in a battle like this, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that ISIS is directly targeting civilians as it retreats, which is why the rate of civilian casualties in Mosul has been higher than that for a “typical” urban battle. Conversely, Iraqi forces have probably been more careful about civilian casualties than might have been expected, given the way the liberations of Ramadi and Fallujah went, which is part of the reason why the offensive has gone a bit slower than many expected. The second problem involves what to do with all the dead, civilian and otherwise. Giving the dead a proper burial in a war zone is pretty challenging, as you might imagine, and plus many of the casualties are ISIS fighters whom nobody is particularly interested in properly burying. Lots of makeshift graves are going to have to be dug up and attended when the fighting is over.
In the latest turn of the will they/won’t they/what difference does it make saga of the Syrian rebels’ possible attendance at the January 23 Astana peace talks, it seems they will be attending, or at least they’ll be represented by Jaysh al-Islam leader Mohammad Alloush. Well, some of them will be: Continue reading “Conflict update: January 16 2017”
Here’s one terrifying side-effect of the Mosul campaign that, to be honest, I hadn’t really thought much about:
With the launch of the second phase of the Mosul operations Dec. 29, tens of bodies of killed Islamic State (IS) fighters were strewn across the streets in the neighborhoods of al-Salam, al-Intisar, al-Wihda, Palestine and al-Quds in eastern Mosul, as was the case in neighborhoods that were previously liberated.
Residents do not want to bury the bodies for fear of them carrying explosives or being infected with diseases, or for fear of being affiliated with the dead fighters.
The streets of the liberated areas are filled with bodies, some of which are now mere skeletons from dogs feeding off them. The bloated bodies of other fighters have been covered by residents with pieces of cloth. Dead animals that lost their lives in the fighting also lie in the streets.
The smell of death fills the air in eastern Mosul, forcing passers-by to cover their noses while running errands in the markets.
Sounds lovely, really.
At least the smell is hovering over an offensive that looks to be making significant progress again. For the first time in the operation, Iraqi forces today were able to enter the city from the north. That may not seem like much, but it’s a pretty big milestone. The northern front was one of three planned fronts in the east Mosul operation, but it, along with the southern front, had gone nowhere until today, leaving the eastern front to take the brunt of ISIS’s concentrated resistance. If things are moving again in the north, combined with a renewed push from the east and a new push from the southeast, then ISIS is going to be forced to defend on three fronts, and that bodes very well for the Iraqis in the rest of the east Mosul phase of the fighting. Iraqi counter-terrorism forces even felt confident enough to attempt a night raid last night, which seems to have gone well.
PBS Newshour did a major piece a couple of days ago on the disappearance of men and boys from refugee camps around Mosul. In an effort to ensure that no ISIS fighters are escaping by joining the displaced, Iraqi forces are picking up male refugees for investigation. This seems…almost reasonable, actually, except that there seems to be virtually no transparency to the process, to the families of these people are forced to surmise what’s happened and hope that they get to see their loved ones again. And with the number of people fleeing Mosul, the Iraqi justice system is taking weeks to investigate each case, and with the lack of transparency about detainees’ whereabouts comes a similar lack of transparency about the investigative process. Nobody knows what kind of evidence is being considered and who is considering it. There are many men and boys who remained in Mosul without signing on to fight for ISIS, and many others who were forced to join ISIS and who may have done little or nothing to tangibly contribute to the group’s war effort, so it’s fundamentally important, not to mention just, that they all get a fair hearing and due process.
World War III
Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.
The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.
That top Russian officials were happy to see Trump elected doesn’t really prove much of anything, but the fact that this stuff is being leaked to the press suggests that the intelligence community may already be retaliating against Trump. Buckle up.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who may soon need to fall back on his old training as a babysitter if he wants to make ends meet, was questioned again by Israeli fraud police at his home today–this time for five hours. And I thought Monday’s three hour interrogation seemed long. Netanyahu continues to insist that it’s all much ado about nothing, because apparently Israeli police are inclined to spend eight hours questioning the most powerful guy in Israel just for shits and giggles.
In other Israel news, two people have been arrested for threatening violence against the military judges who recently convicted IDF soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter. Azaria, if you’re unfamiliar with the case, summarily executed an already-incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron in March, then admitted doing so before backing off of that admission at trial and trying to argue, simultaneously, that the man he killed was still a threat and also already dead from his other wounds. Clearly it’s the judges who are the problem here. Azaria’s case has become a cause for right-wing Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, who would like to see him pardoned mostly because it would be politically popular (Netanyahu, who took a very negative view of Azaria’s actions when they were first reported, has been particularly craven with respect to this case). The power to issue pardons lies with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who may actually be sane enough to understand that you can’t pardon a guy just because he “only” executed a Palestinian, but we’ll see.
I’m hoping this will be a short one tonight, but I never know until I actually start writing. It’s like … Continue reading Conflict update: January 4 2017
In my opinion (I realize these things are subjective), the biggest/worst story of the past five days has been the New Year’s Eve terror attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul. A single gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus and armed with a Kalashnikov opened fire in the crowded club, killing 39 people and sending another 69 to the hospital. The shooter is still at large as of the time I’m writing this, but images of him have been circulated and at one point it was believed he was a 28 year old Kyrgyz national who may have actually fought with (and therefore been trained by) ISIS in Syria. However, I’m not sure whether the Kyrgyzstan connection still holds, because the Kyrgyz national who was initially fingered by Turkish authorities seems to have been cleared of any potential involvement. Because this is Turkey, where wide dragnets are the norm (I’m expecting to be picked up in connection with July’s failed coup any day now), 14 people have already been arrested in connection with the attack–though, again, the shooter himself isn’t among them. The Turkish Parliament has responded to the attack by extending a state of emergency that was imposed in July, and then renewed in October, for another three months.
ISIS claimed credit for the attack, saying that it had targeted “Christians” celebrating an “apostate holiday.” The idea that only Christians were celebrating in that nightclub is almost certainly a lie, but while NYE is not a religious holiday per se, on the Islamic/Hijri calendar it’s also not actually the new year. The commemoration of an important date on a different calendar could be painted as apostasy by somebody looking for an excuse to go kill people.
But the real purpose of this attack was to destabilize the Turkish state politically. Continue reading “ISIS gets involved in Turkish politics”