Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 28, 2012

Sarkozy, Bouvier And Responsible Behaviour

A bad day for Sarkozy is a good day for the rest of the world.

Today is such a day.

The French Constitutional Council judged a recent law punishing negation of the Armenian genocide to be unconstitutional:

The Council said it wished "not to enter into the realm of responsibility that belongs to historians."

Sarkozy had pressed for the law to snap up more votes from the Armenian and the pro-Israel constituency in the upcoming presidential election.

A second defeat for Sarkozy came when he had to retract his earlier announcement today that the French journalist Edith Bouviers had been smuggled from Syria to Lebanon. We have looked into the somewhat murky circumstances of the allegedly wounded Edith Bouviers.

While Bouviers' current location is unknown one of the journalist who was with her, the British photographer Paul Conroy, was confirmed to have been smuggled to Lebanon.

Bouvier as well as Conroy had twice rejected to be evacuated by the Syrian Red Crescent which people took the risk to drive into the combat zone to rescue them as well as others.

Conroy and the Syrian opposition claim that several people were killed when the group smuggling him out came under fire.

I wonder what Conroy's conscience will tell him about putting them to this risk. By irresponsibly rejection the proven ability of the Syrian Red Crescent to get him out it is he who is responsible for their death.

As for Sarkozy we hope that he will, as looks increasingly likely, lose the presidential election. The world will be, in my view, better off without this farce of a would-be Napoleon.

Posted by b on February 28, 2012 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (140)

February 27, 2012

Recent Events In Afghanistan

An outline of the recent events in Afghanistan:

  • Some U.S. officer, an idiot and/or evangelical nut, ordered a truckload of Qur'ans and other religious writings to be burned
  • Some locals saw that and intervened, risking their health and their jobs to save their holy scriptures
  • The event went public and was the catalyst for wide raging protests against the occupation forces over several days all over Afghanistan
  • The outrage also triggered two green on blue events in which U.S. troops were killed by Afghan security personal
  • One of these events was by a Tajik, not a Pashtun Taliban, against two U.S. officers within a high security environment
  • This led to the shut down of all mentoring wherein western forces embed with Afghan forces to teach them how we do stuff in our, not their, culture
  • The original plan to leave from the lost war in Afghanistan was to train a fig leaf of Afghan security and administrative structure before declaring victory and leaving through the backdoor
  • The military also planned to keep forces in Afghanistan for continued U.S. control of the wider strategic area
  • Without the mentoring those plans are mute - without it there is only one option - leave immediately in an orderly, planned way
  • The U.S. election process does not allow for such an immediate retreat
  • For lack of political feasible alternative the mentoring fig leaf plan will be reinstated
  • Another trigger event like the Qur'an burning is inevitable
  • A now still possible orderly retreat may then turn into a route where every leaving truck will come under fire by this or that incensed Afghan

As Kipling versed in The Young Britush Soldier

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Posted by b on February 27, 2012 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

February 26, 2012

What Is Edith Bouvier's Role In Sarkozy's "Humanitarian Corridors" Plans

The French President Sarkozy is pressing for "humanitarian corridors" into Syria. These would of course have to guarded by foreign soldiers and would likel lead to an escalation.

The French journalist Edith Bouvier is in Homs, Syrian and is said to be injuried and in need of evacuation.

The role of one Khaled Abu Saleh in this gives reason to believe that she is probably not injuried at all and her case is made only to increase the pressure for Sarkozy's corridor towards regime destruction.

The nuggets for this post were found by commentator ZOO at Prof. Joshua Landis' blog Syria Comments.

The pic is out of a (90° rotated) screenshot at 0:13 into a 1:01 long video uploaded by live19820 to Youtube on February 6.

The video is headlined in Arabic. The narrative in the video is that this guy is laying on the ground in a room and seriously wounded. He has an infusion drip visible on his right arm and his left hand is slightly bandaged. He says something in Arabic which I do not understand (please translate the Arabic in the comments).

This pic is out of a screenshot at 0:04 into a 0:51 long video uploaded by Souria2011archives to Youtube on February 16.

The guy is standing next to a burning pit with a large amount of oil on fire. His left hand is heavily bandaged. The headline of the video is "Syria Dictator Blows Oil Pipeline at Baba Amr -Activist Khaled Abu Saleh Reports 2-15-12 Homs". The guy gives a very energetic rant and he does not appear to be a recent reconvalecent from any serious wounding.

This pic is out of a screenshot at 0:36 into a 2:20 long video uploaded by Syria Free Voice to Youtube on February 19.

The narrative in the video is that the guy is seriously wounded and was "targeted in fronts of the hospital while he was covering a large number of wounded" as the English subtitles say. His left hand is slightly bandaged and rests in a professional sling. The guy later starts into a rant. Then appears another allegedly seriously wounded guy introduced by a person clothed as a doctor as "great international (photographer "wael")" who also starts a rant.

The "Injury activist Khaled Abu Saleh" also features at the end of this short propaganda video which was distributed with a logo and under the name of some Omawi News and uploaded to Youtube on February 8. 

I believe the first and third and fourth videos are fake in that the persons pretending to be seriously wounded are, if at all, only slightly injured and otherwise actors.

The guy was honored with an Al Jazeerah Khaled Abu Salah Live Blog which receive only one rather meaningless post 12 days ago (Feb 13).

Now it gets interesting.

This pic is out of a screenshot at 5:11 into a 6:31 long video uploaded by syrbouazizi5 on February 23. The video is also available on the French website "Dans Actus 20minutes, le 23 Février 2012".

On the French website the video is headlined "Blessée à Homs, la journaliste Edith Bouvier appelle à l’aide" - wounded in Homs the journalist Edith Bouvier is asking for help.

The first part of the video presents the French journalist Edith Bouvier laying on a couch with her body covert with a blanket. She allegedly has a twice broken femur but neither her legs nor a cast is ever shown in the clip. She talks into the camera in French. In between a person clothed as a doctor explains her broken leg in Arabic which gets translated to English by a person off the screen. That person says that Bouvier is in dire need of care because a blood clog could appear in her broken leg. Bouvier is smiling and seems to be joking with him. At 2:10 she is asked but unsure of which of her legs is broken. The doctor has to tell her "it's the left". She has obviously no pain at all.

Another French journalist, a photographer, appears and talks first in French about the difficulty of the situation and the need for transport. Then comes the guy above and he talks in Arabic. The translator says that "Khalid is asking the French government and the Red Cross for help and evacuation."

We obviously see the same guy in all five videos and his business seems to be to create propaganda videos involving fake wounded persons and to distribute these under various Youtube (and Facebook) accounts.

Since November last year the French president Sarkozy is pressing for "humanitarian corridors" into Syria which the Turks so far rejected.

Such a "humanitarian corridors" would of course violate Syria's sovereignty and would likely have to be implemented by military force which would then result in a full blown war and "regime/state destruction". We saw Sarkozy playing that dirty trick in Libya.

Sarkozy recently again pressed for such corridors:

"The idea of humanitarian corridors that I previously proposed, to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres, should be discussed at the Security Council," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France Info radio.

Now we have a (maybe) wounded, pretty French journalist in Homs in a video made by folks who are seriously into the propaganda business, with routinely presenting injuried persons there, asking for her evacuation. The video is distributed by French TV stations. Would that not be a good reason to press even more for Sarkozy's "humanitarian corridors"?

It was reported (by AFP!) yesterday that the Syrian Red Crescent attempted to evacuate the wounded journalists including Edith Bouvier:

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said negotiations with the authorities and opposition groups to resume evacuations from Baba Amr, where two wounded Western journalists are trapped along with the bodies of two killed colleagues, failed.
Nadir Husseini, an activist in Bab Amr, said people in the neighbourhood were suspicious of the ICRC's local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and did not want to work with a group "under the control of the regime".

The ICRC denied this, saying the Syrian Red Crescent was an independent organisation.
A journalist involved in Saturday's negotiations told the AFP news agency that ambulances entered rebel stronghold Baba Amr twice in the afternoon but were blocked by the Free Syrian Army.

"At one point they said they could not allow more evacuations, including those of foreign journalists, because nine people evacuated on Friday had been arrested," she said on condition of anonymity.

She said the ICRC investigated the rebel claim and reported that the charge that evacuees had been arrested "were totally false".

Talks have resumed over the issue but it is still the militia that is blocking the Red Crescent access.

Assad would certainly not arrest wounded foreign journalists. It would mean additional international trouble for him which he does not need at all. He would very likely let them go. There is no good reason why the militia should keep them.

But if one wants to press for "humanitarian corridors" which must of course be watched over by foreign military forces one can not allow for the evacuation of the wounded French journalist by the Syrian Red Crescent. Besides - the Red Crescent folks would probably also find that Edith Bouvier's twice broken leg is not that broken at all.

Her role in this lets me wonder if she is a journalist at all or if she is using that profession as a cover for her real job.

Posted by b on February 26, 2012 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

February 25, 2012

The Saudi King's "Unnamed Hands"

On Friday the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud welcomed a delegation of female suffragists of the Wahhabi order. The king lauded their efforts to promote their modern dress code to their sisters in the Syria though he lightly scolded one of the women for appearing "practically naked".


In a televised address the King also said that “unnamed hands” targeting Islam and the Arabs are behind recent events in the region. The address followed an earlier appearance by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal who said that arming the rebels fighting the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad is “an excellent idea.”

Posted by b on February 25, 2012 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Joby Warrick Could Probably Become A Journalist

Someone up in the U.S. intelligence services has ordered to stop the current nuclear Iran frenzy.

The LA Times headlined yesterday: U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb

As U.S. and Israeli officials talk publicly about the prospect of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, one fact is often overlooked: U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb.

The NY Times repeats that today on page 1 and above the fold: U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

The simple fact that the intelligence agencies do not believe that Iran wants to build nukes is of course nothing new. They said so repeatedly since the 2007 NIE. But it is interesting that in mid of the recent onslaught of pro-war anti-Iran reports and editorials someone decided to push the press into emphasizing the actual intelligence. I regard this as an attempt to pull gas prices back out of recession territory. But to really do that will require to lift sanctions on Iran. Otherwise this self inflicted wound will fester.

But the campaign has yet to reach the Washington Post where today Judith Miller Joby Warrick again spews pure propaganda: U.N. sees spike in Iran’s uranium production

Iran dramatically boosted its production of a purer form of nuclear fuel in recent months, with much of the increased output coming from a newly opened plant built inside a mountain bunker, U.N. officials said Friday, further exacerbating worries about Iran’s march toward nuclear-weapons capability.
The shift to underground bunkers and a larger stockpile of the highly enriched uranium, however, could shorten the amount of time needed for Iran to develop a weapon, U.S. officials and nuclear experts say.

Iran would probably have to take additional steps, including kicking U.N. inspectors out of the country, before it is able to assemble a bomb.[emph. add.]

Mr. Warrick thinks that one would only probably need to put a motor on a bicycle to turn it into a motorcycle. Or that one would only probably need to take additional steps to turn shit into gold. Thereby Iran would only probably have to take additional steps to turn low enriched Uranium into nuclear bombs.

Sure. Who knows? Maybe the Mahdi will reappear in Iran and miraculously further enrich its Uranium, convert it into metal and form it into a working bomb. So probably additional steps are indeed not needed there.

But it is not only probable but certain that Jody Warrick would need to take additional steps before being able to produce actual journalism.

Posted by b on February 25, 2012 at 06:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

February 23, 2012

Landis On Syria - The Regime Will Survive

Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment just published a long essay in the journal of the Middle East Policy Council on Syria: The Syrian Uprising of 2011: Why the Asad Regime Is Likely to Survive to 2013.

It is a detailed analysis and, in my view, quit fair in its factual description of the situation. I find only one point that is missing, especially in the economic analysis, which is the one million or so Iraqi refugees who are still a burden for Syria.

Landis finds that:

  • the Assad regime is militarily strong and will likely stay so
  • the opposition is weak and divided
  • an overt outside intervention is unlikely
  • the economic situation is quite problematic and might become the decisive issue

In conclusion he writes:

Collapsing institutions and the state's inability to provide basic services should play into the hands of the opposition. The regime gave the business elites and middle class a piece of the pie and stability. Today, it can offer neither incentive. All the same, the Baathist regime will be a tough nut to crack. Alawis and religious minorities view the failure of the regime with great apprehension. So do Sunni Baathists and those who fear chaos.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is the opposition. Its lack of leadership was an asset during the first months of the revolution, but today it is a liability. Without it, the opposition will have difficulties inspiring more Syrians to take the sorts of risks and exhibit the courage of those already protesting.

So far, however, there is no force that has the might, unity or leadership to bring down the regime, at least none that is yet discernible. One must conclude that the Asad regime will remain in power until such a force emerges.

While I mostly agree with that analysis and the general conclusion I do not understand, and Landis does not explain, why Assad should only survive, as his headline claims, until 2013.

I do expect the insurgency to be mostly defeated within the next six month. By then Syria will also have a new elected multi-party and more diverse parliament which will calm the mood of many Syrian people. This or that event will by then divert western attention to some different country and issue. The Syrian economy will re-orientate from its more European fixture towards its immediate neighbors and the BRICS countries and will slowly heal.

Why then should the regime fall at all? Why wouldn't Assad then stay until the end of his term as president in 2014 or why should he not try, and probably even win, another term? In April 2011, when the situation first escalated and the first rebel attacks on Syrian military occurred, I assessed that the regime will survive. I continue to do so.

Posted by b on February 23, 2012 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (113)

February 22, 2012

Khamenei Reconfirms Fatwa Against Nuclear Weapons

In a speech to nuclear scientists Ajatollah Ali Kahamenei today reconfirmed his Fatwa against nuclear weapons:

On numerous occasions, the Iranian people and government officials have announced that they do not seek to develop nuclear weapons and that nuclear weapons have no place among the needs of the nation and the military system of the country. We believe that using nuclear weapons is haraam and prohibited and that it is everybody’s duty to make efforts to protect humanity against this great disaster. We believe that besides nuclear weapons, other types of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons also pose a serious threat to humanity. The Iranian nation which is itself a victim of chemical weapons feels more than any other nation the danger that is caused by the production and stockpiling of such weapons and is prepared to make use of all its facilities to counter such threats.
Reading the whole speech and understanding the logic of Kahmenei's judgement may be worth your time.

Posted by b on February 22, 2012 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (45)

February 21, 2012

The Fake Election In Yemen

After a year of bloody protests the people of Yemen could today enjoy the Saudi/US arranged elections for a new president.

Ballot for today's election in Yemen


Despite the demand in the Yemeni constitution that there must be, at least formally, several candidates, the sole candidate is Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who has for 17 years served as vice-president under President Saleh. There isn't even a Yes and No vote to gauge his support. The only candidate is Hadi, the only vote is a Yes and there is no way that he will not win by a 100% majority.

Then again, is there really much difference for policy choices in presidential elections in the U.S.?

The dictator Saleh, who ruled for 33 years, got immunity for all his crimes as part of this election deal. He is currently as a U.S. guest in New York but will be back after the election to "attend the inauguration" of the new president and he will certainly keep pulling the strings. His son and his nephew are still controlling major parts of the security establishment in Yemen.

Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said “Yemen has proved ability to move from the past to the present via ballot boxes”. Unlike me, Einstein might have had ideas why moving from the past to the present would not have happened without this sham election.

In a letter to Hadi Obama said that Yemen has become a model for peaceful transition in the Middle East. He did not mention the thousands of people maimed and killed during the last year up to this fake change no one can believe in.

The southern separatist, who were betrayed by the southerner Hadi when he joined Saleh to be made vice-president, the defected general Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar and his tribe, the Salafist and AlQaeda groups in the south and the Houthi tribes in the north boycotted the election. Some polling stations were attacked and at least 4 people were killed today.

The U.S. missed the chance to use the movement against Saleh for some real transition in Yemen. This will come back to bite it.

Posted by b on February 21, 2012 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

February 20, 2012

Six Years Late - The Free Baluchistan Act Arrives

In a Moon of Alabama post on April 6 2005 I wrote about Free Baluchistan, the independence fight of the resource rich south-western province of Pakistan:

But the strategic interest of the U.S. does differ from Pakistan's. A completely U.S. controlled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Baluchistan pipeline would be nice. To advert an Iran-Baluchistan-India pipeline would help U.S. interests against Iran and to deny China access to the Arabian sea checks the upcoming competitor.
I now expect a "Free Baluchistan Act" to be on next years congressional agenda.

I was wrong with that expectation but only by six years.

As Jim White writes at emptywheel:

[Congressman Dana] Rohrabacher now has teamed up with intellectual titans and foreign policy experts Steve King (R-IA) and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) to submit H. Con. Res. 104 on Friday, calling for an independent Balochistan.

Jim finds that the Pakistanis ain't happy with that.

There is also news about that pipeline from Iran through Baluchistan which the U.S. does not want to be build. Russia's Gazprom is now offering to finance and build it. That threat will help Rohrabacher to find more co-sponsors for his bill.

As the U.S. still needs Pakistan in Afghanistan their Rohrabacher's resolution may well fail, but I am certain that the issue will one day be back on the agenda.

Posted by b on February 20, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Iran Sanctions Push Oil Prices Into Recession Territory

IAEA inspectors are back in Tehran for talks about Iran's nuclear program. The outcome will not really matter. The U.S., and the people who pull its strings, is not aiming for an Iran that has no nuclear capabilities but for an Iran that does what it says, especially with regards to Israel. To achieve that necessitates regime destruction by force.

The sanctions on Iranian oil and financial transfers by the U.S. and the EU stooges are preparations for that. The hope is that they will provoke Iran to attack first or to at least make Gulf of Tonkin like incident, probably involving the 40 year old USS Ponce, plausible.

But the sanctions create a big problem. They will tank the world economy. Back in December I wrote how the Iran sanctions will become a "self-inflicted wound":

Those western countries that will move away from Iranian oil will have to pay higher prices as the possible sources for their purchase will be reduced. This will put more pressure on their economies none of which are in good shape. With less flexibility will also come a higher risk should some event, like an explosion at Saudi facilities, reduce the production available to them.

In total the markets will be more nervous and the risk premium included in oil prices will go up. Iran and the other Persian Gulf countries will make more money. Everyone else will have to pay more for oil with the price increase for the west likely much higher than for the east.

In January I followed up on that:

Since then the price of oil has increased from some $104 per barrel Brent crude to $113/bbl today. Considering that in 2006, with most economies humming, Brent was around $70 and that unlike then major economies are now still in recession the price hike is enormous. Iran is clearly showing that it too can play the economic sanctions game. Since mid December it increased its oil export income by $22.5 million per day which further damages "western" economies.
More sanctions may well come. But they will hurt western economies more than Iran. They will be responded to by Iran tit for tat with ever increasing oil prices. Iran has already announced more maritime maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. When those and the accompanying propaganda have passed the price of Brent crude may well be at $120/bbl and the U.S. economy on its way into another downturn.

Just one month later we are there.

The EU decided that it will stop oil import from Iran by July 1. Iran responded yesterday by stopping oil sales to Britain and French. As those sales are minimal the stop is only significant as a sign of seriousness from Iran to its south European customers who have been told to either commit to long term oil purchase agreements with Iran by March 21, thereby breaking the EU sanctions, or to be cut off by then. For the bancrupt Greece, Italy and Spain, which each import significant amounts from Iran, that would create great problems.

When the EU announced its decision to stop imports from Iran the propaganda claimed that the Saudis would make up for any lack of crude oil and somehow hold oil at $100 per barrel. That was some wishful thinking:

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest crude producer, reduced oil output and exports in December from November when it produced the most in more than 30 years, according to the Joint Organization Data Initiative.
The figures Saudi Arabia’s government submitted to JODI for December’s crude oil output were close to those estimated by the International Energy Agency. The IEA said in its January monthly report that Saudi output was pegged at 9.85 million barrels a day. The IEA estimated January’s output for Saudi Arabia to be the same as December’s. The Paris-based agency estimated Saudi Arabia’s spare capacity for December at 2.15 million barrels a day, which makes about 75 percent of OPEC’s effective spare capacity during the month.

There are doubts over the extend to which this Saudi "spare capacity" really exists. Sure the Saudis have some old wells they could probably restart but those do not produce light sweet crude but rather nasty stuff that is difficult to refine. Another question is how long that spare capacity brought into production would be sustainable.

The oil traders know that these questions exist:

Oil prices jumped to nearly 105 dollars a barrel - a nine-month high - in Asia today, after Iran said it halted crude exports to Britain and France in a dispute over its nuclear programme.

Benchmark crude was up 1.75 to 104.99 dollars a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the day it rose to 105.21, the highest since May. The contract rose 93 cents to settle at 103.24 a barrel in New York on Friday.

Brent crude was up 1.52 at 121.10 dollars a barrel in London.

Note that the benchmark WTI price of $105, which is set at the pipeline hub in Cushings Oklahoma, is currently distorted. Cushings is oversupplied and lacks pipelines that could transport the oil from the U.S. midwest to the coasts. The Brent crude price is therefore what sets the consumer price for gasoline in large parts of the U.S. as well as in Europe.

Brent at $120 a barrel is global recession territory. The Chinese, who just renewed their long term contract with Iran, will likely get their oil cheaper than that.

So we are right there where I predicted sanctions would lead.

Sanctions increase oil prices and the west screws itself over with them by pushing itself back into a deep recession. A war with Iran would make the situation even worse. That is likely why the U.S. as well as the UK are telling Israel to hold still and to not plan some mischievous stunt.

As with Syria the west, mainly Obama, has painted itself into a corner. What is the way out?

Orders could go to the IAEA to exculpate Iran's nuclear program and to declare that everything looks solvable and fine. Negotiations could be held, probably with the help of the Chinese, and the threat of "all options are on the table" and regime change could be withdrawn. In a tit for tat Iran would agree to stop the 20% enrichment for the Tehran Research Reactor at a certain amount like two reload charges and some sanctions would be removed. An agreement to implement the IAEA's additional protocol in Iran would be the next step with more sanctions removed. An "clean" label from the IAEA would follow, all sanctions would be removed and normal relations with Iran would be restored.

But the chances that Obama will be willing and/or able to go that way seem very small to me. So what will it be? An illegal war of aggression against Iran and a huge recession? No war, sanctions and a recession? No sanctions and peace in our time?

Your guess is a good as mine. Whatever it may be, unlike the west, Iran is prepared for the worst.

Posted by b on February 20, 2012 at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (40)

February 19, 2012

China Comes To Syria's - And the West's Rescue

With regard to Syria the west has painted itself into a corner.

 A significant part of the lauded democratic and peaceful protester the west intensely promoted turned out to be brutal sectarian fighters who, if they win, are likely to turn around and fight against western interests.

Now China is offering its help. It has prepared the ground for finding a solution very well. If it really can pull this off we are witnessing a major change in international Middle East policies with the role of the west diminished and with China established there as a new significant, though for now only "soft", power.

Al-Qaeda's role in Syria is increasing with the founding of a new al-Bara’ ibn Malik Martyrs Brigade ready for suicide killings. It uses the al-Qaida flag and its historic name points to anti-Shia sectarianism:

In the latter part of the Battle of Yamamah, when the opposition forces led by Musaylimah (referred in Islamic historiography as al-Kadhab or the Liar) were beginning to lose the battle they hid behind a gated garden. Prior to launching an assault on the garden, al-Bara’ ibn Malik stated: “يا أهل المدينة، لا مدينة لكم اليوم، إنما هو الله، والجنة” or “Oh People of al-Madinah, there is no al-Madinah for you after this day. There is only Allah, then Paradise.” Ibn Malik was hoisted upon a fellow soldiers shield to try and jump over the gate, which he succeeded. He sustained wounds, but was able to break open the gate allowing the rest of the Muslim army to defeat Musaylimah’s men. The episode would later refer to the “Garden of Death.”
There are three key points that should be highlighted from the above description of al-Bara’ ibn Malik: (1) he had an important role in defeating “apostates;” (2) his quote from above shows his willingness for martyrdom in the face of tough odds; and (3) he fought against the Persian Empire, which although Persians were not Muslims or Shi’a for that matter at that time one can imagine the symbolism of Ibn Malik fighting against the Persians.

This happened even after James Clapper, director of U.S. national intelligence, warned that the recent suicide bombings in Syria were done by al-Qaida. It is therefore likely that there are now several such groups, probably independent from each other, operating in Syria. Some in the western media are waking up to what we discussed here even nine month ago. The Torygraph's Peter Osborne warns the British government:

Think about it. Ten years ago, in the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, we invaded Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda. Now the world’s most notorious terror organisation wants to join a new “coalition of the willing” in Syria (not just al-Qaeda: yesterday the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir staged a march through west London in support of their Syrian brothers and the establishment of the Khilafah state).
Yet, in recent public pronouncements David Cameron has repeatedly spoken of the conflict in Syria as a struggle between an illegal and autocratic regime at war with what he likes to call “the people”. Either he is poorly briefed, or he is coming dangerously close to a calculated deception of the British public. For the situation is far more complicated than he has admitted. It is far from obvious, for example, even that a majority of Syrians are opposed to the Assad regime. Russia calculates that perhaps two thirds of Syrians are still broadly supportive, and it is worth recalling that Russia was a more accurate source of information in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq than either Britain or the US.
I hope that the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, William Hague, know what they are doing as they allow Britain to be dragged closer towards further intervention in the Middle East. But judging from their public remarks they may be playing a game whose rules they do not fully understand.

But Cameron and others have painted themselves into the corner. After demanding regime change how can they now turn around and support Assad who is in the best position to fight the danger Peter Osborne is warning of?  They will need help to get out.

There are signs that some western politicians now finally understand this. After the UN veto by Russia and China a "Friends of Syria" group was planned to be founded to prepare for unilateral regime destruction by proxy-force or direct attack. Those plans seem to have changed.

Tunisia, which will host the groups first meeting on February 24, invited not only the western and Arab League members but also Russia and China who had vetoed the regime change resolution at the UNSC. The exile regime change group, the Syrian National Council was not invited. It is unlikely that Tunisia would have done this without western agreement.

But who will solve the mess the west, by supporting an Salafi uprising disguised as democracy promotion, has navigated itself into. Russia is seen as pro-Assad and therefore not judged to be a fair negotiator in Syria.

In come the Chinese. They are surely seeing a role for themselves in solving this conflict. They prepared the field even several weeks ago:

Wu Sike, the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, visited Syria recently and exchanged views with Syrian officials and opposition groups.

China also received a Syrian opposition delegation on Feb. 6-9.

Those meetings were followed this weekend by a visit of the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Syria where he did not only talk with Bashar Assad:

Zhai also met with representatives of concerning opposition groups in Syria, namely Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, Popular Front for Change and Liberation and Syrian State Building Movement.

The representatives, who met Zhai respectively on Saturday, told the Chinese delegation that they value the important role that China has played in solving the Syrian issue, and is willing to maintain close communication with the Chinese side.

They also introduced to the Chinese envoy their propositions in solving the Syrian issue and said that they are against violence and external intervention.

It seems that Chinese foreign diplomats, who now suddenly appear on AlJazeerah, do not only speak better Arabic than the western ones but are also much more knowledgeable about who to talk to and how to find a compromise.

If China can somehow find a solution here then we have seen a major change in general Middle East policies. The French, British and the U.S. have for the last century been the decisive powers in the Middle East. With regard to Syria the west has painted itself into a corner by supporting the wrong side of a conflict. It can not escape from that corner but by waging a war that would be against its own interest or by letting the Chinese solve the problem.

If their diplomacy finds a good solution for Syria the Chinese will have won major standing with regards to future conflicts in the Middle East. They could then even help to find a way to tame U.S. aggression against Iran, another conflict where the west also paints itself into a corner and is on verge to launch a major catastrophic war against its own interests.

Posted by b on February 19, 2012 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

February 18, 2012

Open Thread 2012-05

News & views ... (Please note, some longer comments may currently not appear immediately due to a defect in the spam-filters. I will release those comments manually as soon as I log-on.)

Posted by b on February 18, 2012 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (67)

February 17, 2012

Anthony Shadid Was A Fine Reporter

Anthony Shadid died yesterday of asthma triggered by an allergy against horses while traveling on a smuggling route between Syria and Turkey. Shadid was one of the most objective reporter on the Middle East in the western media. I read every piece I stumbled upon that carried his byline.

Shadid was nearly killed some 10 years ago. But not by an allergy. The American Journalism Review wrote about it back in 2002 and the story captures Shadid's human qualities quite well:

On a gray Sunday, Boston Globe reporter Anthony Shadid made his way to the epicenter of one of the world's hottest stories--the Israeli assault on Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Shadid wore a white flak jacket emblazoned with "TV" in bold red letters, the universal symbol for the press in conflict zones.
Around 5 p.m., Shadid tucked away his notebook and began the trek back to the hotel.
Shadid felt pleased with his day's work, particularly making it past Israeli Defense Forces troops dug in around Palestinian Authority headquarters. He was walking down the middle of a deserted street, talking with a colleague, as someone in the shadows took aim. The high-velocity bullet tore through his left shoulder, missing his spine by a centimeter.

The reporter crumpled into a heap, unable to move his arms or legs. "At first I thought I was hit by a stun grenade because my whole body locked up," recalls Shadid, 33, a veteran Middle East reporter. Suddenly, the white flak jacket was soaked with blood. The bullet entered at the edge of the protective gear and exited through his right shoulder, leaving two gaping wounds.

Israeli medics administered morphine and stopped the bleeding. They put Shadid on a stretcher and wheeled him across the street to the Arab Care Hospital. His ordeal was far from over.

That same evening, Israeli soldiers raided the Arab Care Hospital where Shadid had been taken. In a stupor from painkillers, he focused on heavily armed soldiers standing in his room, barking questions in Hebrew. "I said, 'Hold on, I'm a journalist.' One of them said in English, 'Put your hands up.' " It was two hours before he would see a doctor again.

The next morning, the IDF arranged a military escort out of the war zone for the wounded journalist, who had spent five years reporting for the Associated Press in Cairo before signing on with the Globe. Shadid insisted that his Palestinian colleague be allowed to leave with him. "The Israeli military was not keen about the idea," he says. "I knew if Said didn't come with me, he would never get out."

The two drove off in an ambulance headed toward Ramallah's main square. Suddenly Shadid was told by the army that he was being transferred to an armored personnel carrier and that his colleague could not go. "I said, 'Forget it. We'll go back to the hospital,' " the reporter recalls. During the return trip the ambulance driver and Ghazali decided to head straight for a checkpoint. For the second time in less than 24 hours, Shadid faced Israeli gunfire.

"We didn't run into any problems until we got to the checkpoint. At first, we thought they were shooting at us," says Shadid. "We could actually hear the bullets ricocheting off the pavement. I was lying on a stretcher helpless. I remember thinking, 'This could be a bad ending.' I felt more fear than when I was shot." Instead, the Israelis were firing at Palestinians hurling rocks.
The wounds have healed, but 12 razor-sharp pieces of shrapnel remain embedded in his body. Still, Shadid has one goal in mind: "I will go back. It's not like a cowboy thing. I don't get high on an adrenaline rush. This is an important story, one that I have been involved with for a long time."

There were more stories he deemed important and wrote about The families of people who vanished in Iraq, the death people in Lebanon during the 2006 war and the revolutions in the Middle East. Here is a good piece that captures some aspects of the situation in Syria: “In Assad’s Syria, There Is No Imagination” and his most recent piece from Libya: Libya Struggles to Curb Militias as Chaos Grows.

The world needs more reporters like Shadid.

Posted by b on February 17, 2012 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 16, 2012

How The Profit Motive Drives U.S. Policy

Jeremy Scahill story on Yemen provides insight into the mechanisms that drives U.S. policies.

There is no moral aspect in it. The mechanism is solely driven by an ideology of profit for the few which gets implanted into its various clients with the intent to provide a motive for more of the same.

The privatization in prisons in the U.S. is one example. If you have a private prison you want to further indictments to get it filled to, in the end, make more profit.

If you are hired for fighting terrorism you want it to stay, or even to increase, to continue your income.

The United States “funds the Political Security and the National Security [forces], which spend money traveling here and there, in Sanaa or in the US, with their family. All the tribes get is airstrikes against us.” He adds that counterterrorism “has become like an investment” for the US-backed units. “If they fight seriously, the funds will stop. They prolonged the conflict with Al Qaeda to receive more funds” from the United States.

That, in a nutshell, is how many Yemenis see the US role in their country. The United States “should have never made counterterrorism a source of profit for the regime, because that increased terrorism,” asserts Iryani. “Their agenda was to keep terrorism alive, because it was their cash cow.”

If an analyst in Yemen can figure this out why can't the U.S. electorate?

Posted by b on February 16, 2012 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

February 15, 2012

Iran Sanctions Europe, Uses Self Made Fuel And Returns To Talks


The sanctions against Iran are a self inflicted wound for the west as they increase economic pain on Europe.

The decision of the EU to no longer buy Iranian oil starting in July was ridiculous. Oil will become more expensive for those who sanction Iran and cheaper for those who do not, primarily India and China. Iran will not feel any significant pain over this.

But the U.S. is still pressing for even more sanctions. All banks in the word use the technical telecommunication provider SWIFT to exchange data between them. The U.S. now wants to cut Iran out of that. This is quite extreme economic warfare:

Representatives from SWIFT are scheduled to meet with European Union officials this week, according to US official familiar with the talks. The meeting is expected to result in the EU ordering SWIFT to expel at least some of its sanctioned banks. It is unclear, however, whether the order will extend to Iran's Central Bank.

It would be crazy for the EU to allow such a precedent. SWIFT has never been used for sanctions as it is simply a technical exchange. What is next? Stopping all telephone lines to Iran or anyone the U.S. doesn't like?

But two can play the game. Iran will not wait until July to stop oil delivery to Europe:

In response to the latest sanctions imposed by the EU against Iran's energy and banking sectors, the Islamic Republic has cut oil exports to six European countries.

Iran on Wednesday cut oil exports to six European countries including Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

The southern European countries, if they can get crude oil from other sources at all, will have to reconfigure their refineries significantly to be able to process other than Iranian crude. It is likely that this immediate stop of Iranian oil delivery will lead to shortages of gasoline in those countries. That will come on top of anti-austerity riots and high unemployment in the southern European countries and will certainly hurt their stability.

Iran also announced today that it put its first self-made 20% enriched fuel elements into the Tehran Research reactor and that it sent a letter to the EU "welcoming" the P5+1, the UN Security Council veto members plus Germany,  readiness to return to the negotiating table.

This three part message, pressure on Europe through Iran's own sanction, success with its civil nuclear program despite sanctions from Europe and the readiness for new talks might soften the European position towards Iran.

This could be a chance for the EU to stop the stupid urge of some of its politicians to follow U.S. bellicosity against Iran. Publicly rejecting to push further sanctions on Iran through manipulating SWIFT would now be the right thing to do. But will the EU politicians understand that?

UPDATE: Iran oil ministry denies state media reports on EU oil stop
(Reuters) - Iran's Oil Ministry denied state media reports on the Islamic state stopping its crude exports to six European countries on Wednesday.

"We deny this report ... If such a decision is made, it will be announced by Iran's Supreme National Security Council," a spokesman for the ministry told Reuters.

Hmmm - and who told Press TV the opposite? Who is playing this psy war?

Posted by b on February 15, 2012 at 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (84)

February 14, 2012

Rieff On Liberal Interventionism

This polemic by David Rieff against liberal interventionism is spot on: Save Us from the Liberal Hawks

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of (humanitarian) war. That, at least, is what much of the U.S. policy elite seems to be pushing for these days in Syria.
What is surprising, though, is that despite the disaster of Iraq, looming withdrawal in what will amount to defeat in Afghanistan, and, to put it charitably, the ambiguous result of the U.N.-sanctioned, NATO-led, and Qatari-financed intervention that brought down Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, is how nearly complete the consensus for strong action has been even among less hawkish liberals, whether what is done takes the form of the United States and its NATO allies arming the Free Syrian Army, opening so-called humanitarian corridors, or encouraging Turkey and a coalition of the willing within the Arab League to do so.
Nothing is wrong with intervention, it seems (just as there is nothing wrong with drone strikes), just as long as it is done by good U.N.-loving, multilateralism-oriented Democrats from the coasts, rather than by ignorant, war-worshipping, vulgarly nationalistic Republicans from flyover country.
It is this religious quality to the support for R2P that helps account for the odd reaction among those who believe that something must be done to stop the Assad regime's war against much of its own people despite the Russian and Chinese vetoes.
Safely out of government, Slaughter was able to go further, demanding that the United States and its allies do something to bring the carnage in Syria to an end. Otherwise, she wrote, R2P would be exposed as a "convenient fiction for power politics or oil politics."  [...] Like the iconic U.S. officer in Vietnam who told a reporter that his troops had been obliged to burn the village in order to save it, Slaughter seems to be willing to undermine the structural foundations of international order, which, for better or worse, is based in large measure on the Security Council, in order to further it. Peace is war; war is peace. George Orwell, call your office.
Meanwhile, despite the astonishing propaganda barrage in the media (for once, CNN, the BBC, and Al Jazeera were all on the same page!) that for all intents and purposes endorsed the claims about dead and wounded made by the anti-Assad insurgents (the disclaimers tended to come at paragraph three or four of a print piece, or the tail end of a video segment), the reality on the ground in Syria was far more complicated. [...] These nightmare scenarios are anything but far-fetched. What is taking place in Syria may have begun in part as a democratic insurrection, but it has become a low-level (at least for the moment) interconfessional civil war.
But in the brave new world of R2P, this does not seem to matter very much to a born-again liberal interventionism eager to flex its muscles.

Rieff should have extended it to the western Europeans where many such liberal internventionist have their home in the green and the former social-democratic parties. Typically they have no experience in anything military, but call for bombing this or that country as soon as someone there kicks a cat around.

Humanitarians they are not.

Posted by b on February 14, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (28)

February 13, 2012

How Will Israel Respond To The Bombs In India And Georgia?

Today someone put a bomb onto an Israeli embassy car in India which then wounded the wife of a diplomat and a driver. A simple handgrenade in a bag was found under an Israeli embassy car in Tbilisi, Georgia, and defused. A reported third bomb attempt in Amsterdam is unconfirmed.

Within less than an hour the Israeli prime minister Netanyahoo blamed Iran for these assassination attempts. Others blame Hizbullah who's deputy chief Imad Mughniyah was killed by Israel about four years ago. One must also consider the possibility of an Israeli false flag operation.

Independent of who did this the Netanyahoo and his fascist side-kick Lieberman will feel the need to do something about it.

So will they again bomb Gaza as they did when Egyptian Bedouins, completely unrelated to Gaza, attacked a group of Israeli soldiers on its boarder to Egypt? Or will they start another war against Hizbullah in Lebanon? A Hail Mary attack on Iran?

Your guess is a good as mine.

But whatever might happen the temperature in the Middle East just increased another few degrees and that is not encouraging.

Posted by b on February 13, 2012 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

The West Should Help Assad

The western media are finally starting to report the fact that the uprising in Syria is sectarian and led by salafi forces.

This was obvious to independent observers at least since April 10 2011 when first attacks on the military were reliably reported. Then western media claimed that these were soldiers shot by the government which was not a convincing explanation.

Now a much clearer picture of the danger of this conflict evolves and it becomes clear that Assad's claims of foreign terrorist involvement are true.

Foreign fighters have been streaming into Syria for some time:

Iraqi officials told reporters on the weekend that for the past four months, there has been a stream of Iraqi fighters and weapons flowing into Syria from Iraq to support the anti-Assad movement.

The fighters and weapons “are being smuggled from Mosul through the Rabia crossing to Syria, as members of the same families live on both sides of the border,” said Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi.

“We have known about the jihadists’ role for months,” said Alastair Crooke, the Beirut-based director of Conflicts Forum. “People have just chosen to turn a blind eye to it.”

Jihadi forums claim that these are coming from all over the Middle East:

The page also referred to the death of Abu al-Buraa al-Sulti in Aleppo, saying he was the first fighter who came from Jordan to fight in Syria.

"The first (jihadist) who died was Abdullah Dulaimi," known by the nickname Abu Tabarik, in the area of Abu Kamal, a city in Syria near the Iraqi border, the page said. The Dulaim are a major Sunni tribe in western Iraq.

The page also referred to "the arrival of Abu Hudhaifa al-Kuwaiti in Al-Sham, where the ground was blessed with his soul, from his country (Kuwait)."
Abu Abdullah al-Makhzumi said on the same page that "the fight has come and the doors of heaven are open. Let's go to jihad, let's go to jihad."

The Libyan AlQaeda leader Belhadj has met the expat Syrian National Council and some Libyan salafis were also killed in Syria.

Weapons are flowing freely:

The man said he was selling mortars, grenades and rifles, and that his contact in Syria was also an Iraqi.

The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood is openly calling for Jihad in Syria:

“Supporting the Syrian people and Free Syrian Army is a duty, as they are facing the injustice and oppression of the regime,” the group said on its Web site.

U.S. intelligence services believe that AlQaeda was responsible for the suicide attacks in Aleppo and other places. Al Qaeda's leader Zawahiri has released a video message titled “Onward Oh Lions of Syria”.

With all these data points finally coming out into the open one wonders what the reaction of the west will now be to this.

Will the Senator for Israel Joe Lieberman continue to argue for arming these jihadis? Will the neo-conservative Zionist mouthpiece Michael Weiss continue to call for a western military attack on the side of the salafis against the Syrian government?

The threat now is not regime change in Syria but regime destruction as has happened in Libya. A Syrian state crumbling under terror followed by large sectarian slaughter and refugee streams with certain spillover of fighting into all neighboring countries. That can not be in anyone's interest.

It is time for the west to not only step back from this cliff but to turn around and to help Assad to fight the terrorists that want to bring down his country.

Posted by b on February 13, 2012 at 07:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

February 11, 2012

The State Department Lies With Its Satellite Pictures Of Syria - No Artillery "Deployed"

There is A note from Ambassador Ford on recent events in Syria which shows a satellite picture of Homs, Syria, titled "Security Operations Escalate in Homs" and "Bab Amr Neighborhood". The picture was allegedly taken on February 6, 2012 though the copyright mark says "© 2011 Digital Globe".

A deeper look at the ambassador picture reveals that it does not show what its labels say. In fact the picture shows only ambiguous stuff from the very border edge of Bab Amr not from within the city.

There are additionally satellite pictures at the State Department's website allegedly showing "operational deployment" of Syrian artillery.

Analysis of the State Departments satellite pictures, which were promoted by news agencies and various papers, clearly shows that these pictures of artillery guns "operational deployed against XYZ" were all taken of guns training within military barracks or well known training areas and not in active deployment.

(A Google Earth KMZ file with the localities of the State Department pictures and the military areas marked is provided below.)

There is so far no proof that any artillery has been deployed at all though it is known that mortars have been used by the rebel side. The State Department obviously knows what the pictures really show but is trying to use the lie of artillery deployment against the rebels as a pressure argument for military intervention.

The ambassador's picture:


Certain areas of the picture are marked as "Fires", "Military vehicles" and "Smoke". But when one compares the bigger version of the picture with older pictures of those places from Google map and Google Earth all marked areas seem to be outside of Bab Amr and depict nothing that is obviously of military nature.

The place marked as "Fires" is actually at a bend of canal outside of the city and what the picture shows as burning seem to be on or, away from the city, right next to a canal (Note: the north adjustment in the picture as well as the following ones shown by the north arrow is different from the Google maps where north is always towards the top. One has to use Google Earth or ones brain to correct for that.) in a agricultural zone with a bit of industry. I can not identify any building that could be burning there so that might as well be trash or some agricultural stuff that is going up in flames.

The part marked "Military vehicles" points into an agricultural area with few houses and only small roads. The magnification actually shows a place some 750 meters north-west of there on the M1 highway crossing "Homs Western Entrance". There are clearly some twelve trucks standing in a row on the highway in the ambassador's picture but it is not clear why these are supposed to be military especially as some of them seem to be of light color and not camouflaged.

The part labeled "Impact craters", "Burning Buildings" and "Smoke" do not seem to show such. The "Impact craters" are on the south site of a red-brownish mud soccer field and even the largest magnification and comparison to earlier pictures in Google Earth shows no differences between them and no obvious craters there. The alleged "burning building" on the north-east side of the soccer field seems to be no building at all but smoke coming up from the parking lot north and next to the "Vegetables and Fruit market". Is someone burning the daily trash?

All three places marked in the ambassadors satellite picture (yellow pins) are well outside and on the western edge of the actual build up area of Homs and of Baba Amr. They show no obvious "security operations". Why they should be relevant in a million people city is not comprehensible.


The State Department has an additional set of pictures labeled Artillery Support To Government Security Operations. The first is the map that shows the geographic position of the eight satellite pictures of Syrian artillery positions that follow.


Using the State Department map and Google Earth, which latest pictures of those areas are generally from March 2010, I tried to find out where the eight pictures of artillery positions state provided were actually taken.

The first position marked Graphic 2 is some 10 kilometers south-south-west of Al Zabadani. I can not identify the equipment (badly) shown in it. The position seems to be on this hilltop, probably at this bend (mentally turn that 90° to the right to adjust for north to the right as in Graphic 2). This seems to be part of an older military position and training place as the old dug out position and impact craters in the area show.

The position marked Graphic 3 and Graphic 4 are some 15 kilometers south of Al Zabadani. The older pictures in Google Earth/Map show an obvious military training ground just in that place. There are dug out field positions typical for tanks or artillery. These positions have no obvious common orientation and are therefore likely just training positions.

Graphic 3 shows four tracked howitzers probably 2S1 M-1974 Gvodzika (Carnation) 122-mm Self-Propelled Howitzer of which Syria has some 400. Its exact position can be identified. It is clearly within the military training ground. The exact position of Graphic 4, which shows four field guns, can also be identified. Graphic 4 is labeled "Artillery Operationally Deployed Towards Az Zabadani". But these guns are on a military training ground. They are probably D-30 2A18M 122-mm Towed Howitzer of which Syria has some 500 pieces. The towing trucks needed to move these guns and their ammunition are not visible in the picture and there are no ammunition pits next to them.

The D-30, like the S21 Gvodzika, has a maximum effective range of 15.3 kilometers. The grounds they are standing on is 15 kilometers away from Al Zabadani. No military would operationally deploy artillery pieces with a maximum range of just 15+ kilometer against a target that is 15+ kilometers away. One wants to be much nearer to the target to have a better chance of actually hitting something and some flexibility to range beyond the target when needed. These are thereby very likely artillery units which are just training on their regular training grounds, NOT units deployed against Al Zabadani.

Graphic 5 is supposed to depict an area 7 to 8 kilometers south of Halbun. Oh, how convenient, that is the north eastern edge of another huge military complex though this time with barracks and parking lots for trucks and other equipment. The complex is north of the city Qudssaya. The current sat picture shows the guns between young trees. As the Google Earth pictures I am working with are older I can not find those young trees and the exact position of these guns.

Onto Graphic 6 some 10 kilometers south-south-east of and "Operationally Deployed Against" Rankus. That depicted place is right here (like always adjust for north orientation) in the mid of a military area which includes barracks, parking lots, repair shops, training areas and ammunition depots. The barrel shaped roof on one building in the picture is easy to identify. The "two legged" guns in the State photo are likely M-46 130mm Towed Guns of which Syria has some 750 pieces. The State photo shows four of them set up in a row but just some 10 meters apart from each other.

If one wants to shoot such guns one does not deploy these just next to each other on a flat parade ground. The muzzle blast (and noise) these guns make is pretty big and loud and any military manual will say that the minimum distance between deployed-for-fire guns should be 50+ meters. This also because any counter fire or simple misfiring should hit just one gun and not also blow up its neighbor. The guns in the picture are hauled out for inspection, basic operation training or maintenance. The are not "operationally deployed" artillery.

Graphic 7 is some 12-13 kilometers east-south-east of Rankus. Fly there with Google Earth and you land right in the mid of, yes, another military installation just north of the town of Heleh. (If you wonder why there are so many military bases around remember that the ones so far are all around the capital Damascus and that Syria has an aggressive neighbor not so far away from there.) The position shown in Graphic 7 is here and even two year old satellite pictures Google provides shows tank tracks on the well used grounds. A sign that it is very, very normal to have those vehicles driving and standing there.

Graphic 8 is supposed to show a Stalin organ type of truck in an area 10 kilometers south east of Homs. Oh wait, there is a big military installation there which has hundreds of trucks. The actual place where the sat pic shows the truck is here which seems to be a workshop or dry training area. (Note the north orientation given in Graphic 8 is a bit off. The north arrow should point towards the bottom right, not to the right.)

Last but not least Graphic 9 mapped as some 15 kilometers east-south-east from Homs.

In fact it is just 100 yards north from where Graphic 8 was taken and within the same barracks and training complex.


Graphic 9 clearly shows a military training ground. There are many dug out U-type emplacements that shield from the front and the sides and allow to pull out to the back. They point into various directions. There are also blast holes in the ground likely from the earlier use of training ammunition in the area. The guns shown are out in the open, not camouflaged and with no ammunition stacks or the like visible nearby.

Lucky guys, these Syrian artillery soldiers. They always seem to "operationally deploy" just a few hundreds yards away from their barracks and without doing any of the laborious digging and ammunition hauling that needs to be done on real deployments.

So while the State Department says these picture are showing guns "operationally deployed against XYZ" I say that's a lie and bullshit. As a former tank officer who has trained on shooting ranges together with tracked and towed artillery I am pretty sure that all those artillery pictures shown by the State Department are pictures of regular military training and maintenance missions on military barracks and training grounds and not pictures of "operational deployment" against anyone.

It seems that the State Department simply ordered unclassified satellite pictures from Digital Globe, checked the well known training grounds of the Syrian military and where they found inevitably some small artillery units doing their regular training made up the story that those guns are "operationally deployed" against Syrian rebels.

The pictures out of Homs so far showed only indirect mortar fire, not heavy artillery fire from big guns. The suppressed report (pdf) by the Arab League Observer Mission said that the rebels used mortars against the regular Syrian troops and that it were such mortars that killed a French journalist.

44. In Homs, a French journalist who worked for the France 2 channel was killed and a Belgian journalist was injured.
It should be noted that Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.

There is so far zero proof that the Syrian government has deployed any artillery at all against the rebels. The State Department satellite pictures are surely no such proof and the pictures of damage in the cities as shown in the various videos or pictures are so far not of a level that would be consistent with the use of heavy artillery.

For those interested in checking my analysis here (right click and save file) is a KMZ file for Google Earth with the various places mentioned above marked under StateDepSyriaSat.

Posted by b on February 11, 2012 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (56)

February 10, 2012

Syria, Nir Rosen And Ignoring Ideologies

As the Angry Arab, Professor As'ad AbuKhalil, wrote:

Western media (of course you can add Saudi and Qatari media) are involved in the biggest propaganda spectacle that I have ever seen.
Have you read one report in the Western press about the political orientations of the rebels and the Free Syrian Army? (I am sure that Nir Rosen would soon tell you that they are not really Salafites but that they are all Marxist-Leninists with deep feminist principles).

Shortly after that Nir Rosen, just back from Syria, publishes at the Qatari Al Jazeera: The battle for Homs - Government forces appear determined to regain control of opposition-held areas in restive Syrian city.

Well - in my view that is what government forces are supposed to do. Would the U.S. leave Denver in the hands of hostile armed religiously extreme revolutionaries?

In his report Nir say's nothing about the ideological background of the fighters among which he reports. Why not?

But there is an interesting detail in his generally pro revolutionaries tale:

Members of the Revolutionary Council said fighters in the Homs province had taken advantage of the presence of Arab League monitors in December and January to reinforce themselves and bring supplies in from Lebanon, knowing the regime would be limited in its ability to obstruct them at that time.

Fighters announced that they attacked security forces in Rastan, expelled them from Talbiseh, and took control of more territory in Homs city, launching two attacks on the State Security and Military Security headquarters.

The terrorists, after 28 dead and many more wounded in car bomb attacks in Aleppo today I am more willing to call them such, have used the visit of Arab League monitors to get more arms and salafi Libyan fighters into the country. That is of course a good argument for the Syrian regime to never again allow such an Arab League or similar mission. The report of that last mission was suppressed by the western and Arab media because it admitted that the terrorist gangs the Syrian government complained about did exits and killed people all around. Nir quotes some of those folks:

"Homs will not surrender. They are bombing us from a distance, they don't dare to enter the city. They think they will destroy our will and resistance.

"We are waiting for them and we will defeat them in our neighbourhoods. Finally they will enter the city. We are waiting for them."

Did they ever hear of Grozny?

Posted by b on February 10, 2012 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

U.S. Welcomes Another Puppet-Dictator

Maldives President and Climate Advocate Forced at Gunpoint to Step Down

Maldives leader Mohamed Nasheed, called the “world’s most environmentally outspoken president” because of his calls for drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions, was forced to resign—at gunpoint, he claimed. He had used stunts such as an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight his island nation’s vulnerability to sea-level rise.

His resignation followed weeks of protests and was apparently motivated by internal politics unrelated to his environmental views.

In 2008 Mohamed Nasheed was elected president. The coup against him was by the military and a former president.He is calling for outside intervention to restore democracy.

What is the U.S. reaction one might ask? What is "democracy promoter" Obama going to do about this?

Yeah. You guessed that right. He recognizes the new military supported dictatorship:

The United States on Thursday recognized the new government of Maldives President Mohamed Waheed as legitimate and urged him to fulfill a pledge to form a national unity government.
Nasheed, the Indian Ocean country's first democratically elected president who has hunkered down at his modest family home in the capital Male since losing the presidency on Tuesday, has appealed for urgent foreign help.

The United States is "also encouraging him, as we encouraged President Waheed that this needs to settled now peaceably through dialogue and through the formation, as the new president has pledged, of a national unity government," Nuland said.

Posted by b on February 10, 2012 at 04:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

February 09, 2012

Three Must-Reads On The Political Economy

A World Flying Blind - Andy Xie - Caixin Online  

The outlook for the global economy is gloomy and leaders lacking vision are to blame. Eventually, this will come back to haunt all of us

At the annual World Economic Forum in Davos we again saw familiar faces from the West, but some different characters from emerging economies. Some of the last year's bunch went to jail amidst the revolutions engulfing the Middle East. They were discussing how to fix capitalism. Apparently, the same people who blew up the world and got their governments to bail them out are now again making millions and talking about how to fix things. Not many people see the irony in this. The tragedy of the global financial crisis is that it didn't sweep away the old order.
The world is a dangerous place because it is being led by the wrong people like the Davos crowd. Monetary and fiscal measures merely prolong the stagnation and stoke inflation down the road. This muddling-through equilibrium will blow up in our faces when inflation causes social turmoil.

David Graeber’s Debt: My First 5,000 Words - Aaron Bady - The New Inquiry

[I]f “debt” doesn’t seem simple and quantifiable and reducible to numbers, some of the more irreducibly complex moral vocabularies that other human societies have used to think about the problem start to come into view. Another world isn’t just possible, but other worlds have happened, almost nothing but other worlds. And this is, I think, the richest and most engrossing part of the book (and to which I must, by necessity, give shortest shrift), Graeber’s survey of the vast anthropological record which is available to us, but so often unread, describing or at least suggesting how different human societies have considered these questions, human societies who did not believe that paying one’s debts or facing the consequences was the very highest of moral imperatives.

Valediction - on saying farewell to Tony Judt - G.J. Meyer - LA Review Of Books

Towards the end of Thinking the Twentieth Century’s last chapter, Judt suggests the chillingly plausible possibility that we are, perhaps, in the process of becoming China: of becoming, that is, “an unfree capitalist society” in which the government stays out of the economy except at the loftiest strategic levels (eliminating competition from outside, for example) while remaining brutally repressive politically, systemically corrupt, and, yes, indifferent to injustice. He notes that American voters, in expressing their preferences at election time, seem to be indicating that they prefer the Chinese model not only to European social democracy but even to the genuinely democratic achievements of their own still-recent past.

That, Judt says, is what he finds “terrifying.”


The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement - Yves Smith - Naked Capitalism

Here are the top twelve reasons why this deal stinks:
  1. We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents. It’s $2000 per loan. This is a rounding error compared to the chain of title problem these systematic practices were designed to circumvent. The cost is also trivial in comparison to the average loan, which is roughly $180k, so the settlement represents about 1% of loan balances. It is less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust. It is a fraction of the cost of the legal expenses when foreclosures are challenged. It’s a great deal for the banks because no one is at any of the servicers going to jail for forgery and the banks have set the upper bound of the cost of riding roughshod over 300 years of real estate law.
As we’ve said before, this settlement is yet another raw demonstration of who wields power in America, and it isn’t you and me. It’s bad enough to see these negotiations come to their predictable, sorry outcome. It adds insult to injury to see some try to depict it as a win for long suffering, still abused homeowners.

Posted by b on February 9, 2012 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

February 07, 2012

The Western Logic Of Intervention In Syria

1. China and Russia vetoed the recent western UN Security Council resolution because they feared that the west's intention, despite denials, was regime change in Syria by force.

The west has now decided to disprove their "disgusting" fears wrong by attempting regime change by force in Syria.

2. It is feared that a prolonged internal struggle in Syria could create problems in countries surrounding Syria.

The west must therefore act to intensify and prolong the struggle in Syria by destabilizing countries surrounding Syria.

3. The best way to better human rights in a multi-faith country ruled by a secular plutocracy is to weaponize those backward religious forces that will provide for the most savaging sectarian-dictatorial rule possible.

Posted by b on February 7, 2012 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Further Embassy Downsizing In Iraq - Is H.R. Clinton The Problem

When in October 2011 the total retreat of U.S. military from Iraq was officially confirmed plans continued for a massive embassy and several consulates with some 10,000 staff and some 5,000 security personal. I found that unlikely:

But that embassy is a fixed target which can easily be harassed with by rocket and mortar fire. Its logistic lines of communication are also open to permanent challenges. The mercenaries guarding it will have severely restricted rules of engagement and will not be able to prevent attacks.

Aside from those problems I find it dubious to believe that Iraqi politicians and government functionaries are willing to talk to all those diplomats. Why should they?

In the end most of the diplomats will sit in their offices with nothing to do but to be ready to jump up and head to the bunkers when the next rocket alarm goes off. Additonally there is pressure from Congress to reduce the State Department's budget.
A year from now that presence may very well come down to more normal levels of just a few hundred people.

Security, logistics, Iraqi officials resisting, no one to talk to, costs were the reasons I foresaw.

A first reduction of the gigantic plans was announced a week later to a total of some 5-10,000. I insisted that the numbers would go down further.

It now seems that this was right:

Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.
[T]he Americans have been frustrated by Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
Convoys of food that were previously escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing.
At the Kirkuk airport, an Office of Security Cooperation, which handles weapons sales to the Iraqis and where a number of diplomats work, is frequently attacked by rockets fired by, officials believe, members of Men of the Army of Al Naqshbandi Order, a Sunni insurgent group.

All the problems I saw coming are there. They will continue to be there and will lead to further reductions, much more than now planned, until the embassy staff reaches a normal level of maybe 50-100 people.

But if an amateur writer on the Internets with no experience in diplomacy or Iraq could predict this why couldn't the U.S. State Department?

More: Is there anything the State Department got right during the last years? That "reset" with Russia where the Cyrillic inscription on the button Clinton presented actually spelled "overload" and which was no reset at all? The humiliation Israel provided Obama? The catastrophic relations with Pakistan? The recent UNSC debacle?

Asked differently: Is Hillary Clinton the worst (and thereby probably most dangerous) Secretary of State Obama could have chosen?

Posted by b on February 7, 2012 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

February 06, 2012

Libyan Salafis Killed In Syria

Borzou Daragahi is the Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times. He just tweeted:

borzou Borzou Daragahi
Wow - Misurata revolutionaries announce combat deaths of three #Libyan fighters in #Syria

This is the first confirmation of what former CIA agent Philip Giraldi reported back in December:

Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army.

Giraldi, without naming any sources, also claimed:

French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.

The obvious attempt of regime-change the U.S., its European followers and its Arab stooges are engineering in their service to Israel, could eventually push Syria into the direction of a civil war. The Israelis believe that a weakened Syria will be good for them.

But, like nearly always, the blowback of such a campaign is likely larger than the gain and in the end will disappoint the instigators.

Posted by b on February 6, 2012 at 12:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (41)

UN: "More Afghans Got Killed" - ISAF: "Good News!"

UN: Afghan Civilian Deaths Up for 5th Straight Year (VOA, Feb 4)

A United Nations report says more than 3,000 civilians died in Afghanistan's conflict last year, the worst annual toll in the decade-long war.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Saturday that 3,021 civilians were killed in 2011, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, and the fifth year in a row that the death toll has risen.

News: ISAF commander encouraged by UNAMA report findings (DVIDS, Feb 6)

KABUL, Afghanistan - Gen. John R. Allen, commander, International Security Assistance Force, welcomes the latest report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that shows a reduction in coalition-related civilian casualties.

“Every citizen of Afghanistan must know ISAF will continue to do all we can to reduce casualties that affect the Afghan civilian population. This data is promising but there is more work to be done,” said Allen.

Posted by b on February 6, 2012 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

China On Pollution Taxes - A Reverse NIMBY

Hypocrisy is a typical characteristic of all kinds of governments. So it is no wonder to find that the Chinese government can be just as inconsistent in its behavior and words as any western one.

A top headline on the Chinese official English language paper, the Chinese Daily, today is: Airlines barred from EU carbon scheme:

BEIJING - China's airlines are not allowed to pay a charge on carbon emissions imposed by the Europe Union (EU), and neither to hike freights nor to add other fees accordingly without government permission, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said Monday.

The CAAC said in a statement that it had been authorized by the State Council, China's Cabinet, to notify the ban to all domestic airlines.
"China objects to the EU's decision to impose the scheme on non-EU airlines, and has expressed its concerns over the scheme through various channels," the statement said.

While the Chinese governments expects its carrier's planes to be welcome in Europe, it does not want them to pay a pollution tax for the dirt they produce there.

But on the same day it publishes this decision, the China Daily official editorial recommends that: Polluters should pay the bill:

The cadmium polluting the Longjiang River in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has highlighted the issue of who should pay for pollution cleanups and the damage they cause to the environment.
It is common sense that the party responsible for the pollution, usually the companies that discharge the pollutants, rather than public money should pay the cleanup costs and any compensation.
The ingrained belief that polluters should pay the bills and it is dauntingly costly to discharge pollutants not only forces the enterprises to consistently adopt new cleaner technologies, but also promotes the development of a green economy.

So what is it? Should polluters pay for the mess they make or should they not? The Chinese positions seems to be reverse NIMBY one. If the mess they make is not-in-my-backyard they shall not pay. Otherwise they must. That not a consistent position and also not a sustainable one.

Posted by b on February 6, 2012 at 07:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

February 04, 2012

Text Of The UNSC Draft On Syria With Russian Changes

Updated below.

There is supposed to be a hot discussion today about a UN Security Council with regard to Syria. To support it the Syrian rebel's Human Rights mouthpiece in London had reported a huge attack by government forces on Homs with alleged over 200 killed. That totally unconfirmed report was widely repeated in the western press but will have little to do with UNSC outcome.

The western countries at the UN Security Council want a hard resolution against Syria. Russia, China and other states fear that a resolution, if not formulated very well, could eventually be interpret as a demand for regime change in Syria or as permission to use of force against the Syrian government.

After a Russian draft resolution was earlier rejected a one draft was put forward officially by Marocco. But in fact the new draft had been edited by a member of the British UN delegation.

This draft refers to a plan by the Arab League that demands Assad to step down and to give the power to his vice president who would then head a somehow installed "unity government".  A few month ago Saudi Arabia had put forward a similar plan for Yemen which was eventually officially agreed to but which predictably ended in chaos. The Arab League plan is the main point where Russia and others object. The current western draft is "in accordance with" the Arab League plan. Russia wants the resolution to refer to the Saudi plan only as "taken into account."

A showdown was planned for last week when the Foreign Ministers of France, the UK and the United States showed up a SC to push their resolution through. The planned party went awry as the Russian foreign minister did not show up as the west had planned for. Lavrow, travelling down under, simply did not pick up the phone for over 24 hours when Clinton tried to call him to demand his attendance.

The western resolution has been discussed for several days now but Russia and China still promise to veto it in its current form. Russia has now put forward changes it demands before it to sign onto it. Below I show parts (the complete text can be found here) of the western resolution in green and the changes Russia is demanding as strike-outs or in red. Judge for yourself if they are justified.

The Security Council,

pp1 Recalling the presidential statement of 3 August 2011,


pp11 Welcoming the engagement of the Secretary-General and all diplomatic efforts aimed at addressing the situation, and noting in this regard the offer of the Russian Federation to host a meeting in Moscow, in consultation with the League of Arab States,

pp11b Expresses support for the broad trend of political transition to democratic, plural political systems in the Middle East,

1. Condemns the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, such as especially the use of force against civilians., arbitrary executions, killing and persecution of protestors and members of the media, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence, and ill-treatment, including against children;
2. Demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, protect its population, fully comply with its obligations under applicable international law and fully implement the Human Rights Council resolutions S-16/1, S-17/1, S-18/1 and the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/176;


3. Condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and in this regard demands that all parties in Syria, including armed groups, immediately stop violations of humanrights, all violence or reprisals, including intimidation of civilians and attacks against State institutions, in accordance with the League of Arab States’ initiative;

3b. Calls for all sections of the Syrian opposition to dissociate themselves from armed groups engaged in acts of violence and urges member-states and all those in a position to do so to use their influence to prevent continued violence by such groups;

4. Recalls that all those responsible for human rights violations, including acts of violence, must be held accountable;

5. Demands that the Syrian government, in accordance with the Plan of Action of the League of Arab States of 2 November 2011 and its decision of 22 January 2012, without delay:

(a) cease all violence and protect its population;

(b) release all persons detained arbitrarily due to the recent incidents;

(c) withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks in conjunction with the end of attacks by armed groups against state institutions and quarter of cities and towns;

(d) guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations;

(e) allow full and unhindered access and movement for all relevant League of Arab States’ institutions and Arab and international media in all parts of Syria to determine the truth about the situation on the ground and monitor the incidents taking place; and

(f) allow full and unhindered access to the League of Arab States’ observer mission;

6. Calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism, and aimed at effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's people, without prejudging the outcome;

7. Fully supports in this regard the League of Arab States’ 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States’ auspices, in accordance with taking into account the timetable set out by the League of Arab States, without prejudging the outcome;

8. Encourages the League of Arab States to continue its efforts in cooperation with all Syrian stakeholders;

9. Calls upon the Syrian authorities, in the event of a resumption of the observer mission, to cooperate fully with the League of Arab States’ observer mission, in accordance with the League of Arabs States’ Protocol of 19 December 2011, including through granting full and unhindered access and freedom of movement to the observers, facilitating the entry of technical equipment necessary for the mission, guaranteeing the mission’s right to interview, freely or in private, any individual and guaranteeing also not to punish, harass, or retaliate against, any person who has cooperated with the mission;

10. Stresses the need for for armed groups not to obstruct the mission’s work and calls upon all to provide all necessary assistance to the mission in accordance with the League of Arab States’ Protocol of 19 December 2011 and its decision of 22 January 2012;


US Ambassador Susan Rice has called the Russian amendments "unacceptable."

I see no problem with them unless of course the west is really aiming for regime change by force. What do readers here think of it?


Now that was fast. The west did not even negotiate about the Russian demanded changes and called for a vote on its version. Russia and China both vetoed the resolution.

Many thanks to UN watchdog Matthew Russell Lee at InnerCityPress who obtained the documents and made them available.

Posted by b on February 4, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Open Thread 2012-04

News & views ...

Posted by b on February 4, 2012 at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)

February 03, 2012

An Example Of NYT Reporting On Iran

As the New York Times reported: C.I.A. Says Iran Makes Progress On Atom Arms:

A draft Central Intelligence Agency report on Iran concludes that the country is making progress on a nuclear arms program and could develop a nuclear weapon ...
But Iran's leaders deny interest in developing a nuclear weapon. "We have no need for nuclear weapons," Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Mohammad Besharati was quoted as saying on Iran's official radio on Friday. He described press reports that Iran was planning to acquire nuclear weapons as "a lie and a plot."
But the report, which goes further than the last formal estimate on Iran, is expected to be fiercely contested when it is reviewed for approval by the nation's other intelligence agencies this week. The earlier report, written late last year, concluded only that at least some of Iran's revolutionary leaders were intent on developing nuclear weapons, but that the program was disorganized and in an early stage of development.
Another example of the current dispute centers on a classified Pentagon overview of Iran's military buildup that concludes that by the end of the decade, Iran will have enough naval equipment to "dominate" Persian Gulf waters and threaten commerce through the Strait of Hormuz, according to Administration officials familiar with the report.

The report, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency late last summer, also concludes that over the next eight years, Iran will double the number of tanks and armored vehicles in its arsenal and try to service and even build tanks itself. The country is expected to replace its aging American warplanes with the same number of some of the most advanced planes and related weapons systems from Russia and China, to buy more missiles from China and North Korea and to increase its chemical weapons stockpiles.

But parts of the report are viewed as overblown by other Pentagon experts, who say that the naval buildup is being matched by the gulf Arab states, and that the most Teheran might be able to do by 2000 is to threaten -- but not dominate -- the region.

Posted by b on February 3, 2012 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

February 02, 2012

Leak Of Sanitized Afghanistan Report Points To Ulterior Motives

The big headlines yesterday were U.S. military says Taliban set to retake power: report and Pakistan helping Afghan Taliban - Nato. Center of those pieces was a report by the U.S. Special Forces Task Force 3-10 in Bagram. Its assessment is allegedly based on 27,000 interrogations of more than 4,000 captured Taleban operatives and civilians. The report describes the opinions caught "Taliban" and civilians have about their fight. It "leaked" to the London Times and the BBC.

When the news appeared yesterday I asked myself who was "leaking" this to what purpose. The answer came with today's headlines: U.S. to Shift Afghan Role in '13, Panetta: U.S., NATO will seek to end Afghan combat mission next year and NATO Focuses on Timetable for Afghan Withdrawal.

I am pretty sure that the "leaking" of the report yesterday was intentional and was done in preparation for Panetta's announcement of an earlier than planed partial retreat from Afghanistan. Interestingly there are signs that the "leaked" report has been cleansed ar sanitized likely to allow for an argument of a permanent stay of some U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

General Allen, accompanying in Panetta's press conference that generated today's headlines, makes clear that while the U.S. wants to stop the counterinsurgency fight it still wants to stay in Afghanistan:

As the president has said, we're committed to an enduring presence there. We have the missions we're going to be involved with -- those CT operations. We'll be involved with training, advising and assisting, not only the Afghan forces, but we'll continue to have to provide enabling forces for ISAF as well as Afghanistan. And there'll be a large civilian presence there involved with development. So there clearly is going to be a continuing presence in Afghanistan for the long term, and that's something, you know, we'll want to discuss again at this ministerial.

Parts of the original report which "leaked" to the BBC and the Times have been published on the site of London Times reporter Jonathan Boone. Notice the motives:

In the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from GIRoA members, in joining the insurgent cause. Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taleban governance over GIRoA, usually as a result of government corruption, ethnic bias and lack of connection with local religious and tribal leaders. The effectiveness of Taleban governance allows for increased recruitment rates which, subsequently, bolsters their ability to replace losses.

Later in the report it looks on "Why the Taleban Fight":

The Taleban will not accept any government which is perceived to exclude the Pashtuns, who constitute the largest tribe among the Afghan population. GIRoA corruption, abuse of power, and suspected lack of commitment to Islam continue to provoke significant anti-government sentiment.

The Taleban will be hostile to any government that appears to act as an agent of foreign powers to instill “Western” values. The Taleban do not fight for financial gain.

The eventual overthrow of GIRoA remains their primary motivator.

As Kate Clark of the Afghan Analyst Network points out that these descriptions of motives are astonishingly incomplete:

What the report appears to be silent on is the other huge factor driving the war, the ten year foreign occupation – as many Afghans, whether they welcome international forces or not, call it. Night raids, killing civilians, detentions - even when all three of these actions may be legal and/or militarily necessary - upset people. Then there was the torture, mainly by US forces, in the first couple of years and the support the international military gives to abusive Afghan actors. Curiously, there is no mention of this - did the detainees not mention the foreigners?

We can make a safe bet that the prisoners did make the point that the occupation itself, the night raids, killing, detention and torture of compatriots, are a rather large motivation for them to fight and for civilians and Afghan government agents to support them. The seems to intentionally leave out the major motives of the fighters and their supporters.

The "leak's" purpose was to support the now announced decision of the Obama administration to cut short the planned continuation of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. But if it had included the major motive for the Taliban to fight it could have been used to argue against the planned continuation of the counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, which will require a continued occupation by some 30,000 U.S. soldiers, and to support the necessary total retreat from the country.

To "leak" a sanitized version of the report shows that the whole splash of "retreat from Afghanistan" announced now is likely a mere election ploy to deceive some anti-war liberals into again electing Obama.

Posted by b on February 2, 2012 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)