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Republic of Armenia Regional Message Board
When the revolution came, just as it did in the Republic of Albania, it came in the minds of individuals before spreading to a diverse collective conciousness which then spread forth to the physical environment, entering the minds of more people still.
When the police came to break up the communes and direct actions, as everyone suspected they would, the people said to them: "Do you not serve and protect the people? Who are we and who are you? Are we not the people? Or do you serve and protect the markets?"
And the police lay down their riot shields and guns, because they were the people too, individually, and those that didn't were overwhelmed in numbers and ideas.
And then the military came, and the Generals said "Beware soldiers! The enemies of the state are armed with ideas!"
But the soldiers who wished to press on soon surrendered or were overcome, because they had only orders, while the people had ideas, and ideas are bulletproof.
And then the government fled, and the US government screamed, the IMF wailed, and the World Bank sobbed, because the poetry in the streets was none that no propaganda of theirs could crush and no sanctions could smash.
"The People are the President!" the poets declared, and the People's Republic of Armenia was born, kicking and screaming and breathing in oxygen.
By Patrick Cockburn
Source: London Review of Books
As the attention of the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) captured a third of Syria in addition to the quarter of Iraq it had seized in June. The frontiers of the new Caliphate declared by Isis on 29 June are expanding by the day and now cover an area larger than Great Britain and inhabited by at least six million people, a population larger than that of Denmark, Finland or Ireland. In a few weeks of fighting in Syria Isis has established itself as the dominant force in the Syrian opposition, routing the official al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, in the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor and executing its local commander as he tried to flee. In northern Syria some five thousand Isis fighters are using tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army in Mosul to besiege half a million Kurds in their enclave at Kobani on the Turkish border. In central Syria, near Palmyra, Isis fought the Syrian army as it overran the al-Shaer gasfield, one of the largest in the country, in a surprise assault that left an estimated three hundred soldiers and civilians dead. Repeated government counter-attacks finally retook the gasfield but Isis still controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. The Caliphate may be poor and isolated but its oil wells and control of crucial roads provide a steady income in addition to the plunder of war.
The birth of the new state is the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War. Yet this explosive transformation has created surprisingly little alarm internationally or even among those in Iraq and Syria not yet under the rule of Isis. Politicians and diplomats tend to treat Isis as if it is a Bedouin raiding party that appears dramatically from the desert, wins spectacular victories and then retreats to its strongholds leaving the status quo little changed. Such a scenario is conceivable but is getting less and less likely as Isis consolidates its hold on its new conquests in an area that may soon stretch from Iran to the Mediterranean.
The very speed and unexpectedness of its rise make it easy for Western and regional leaders to hope that the fall of Isis and the implosion of the Caliphate might be equally sudden and swift. But all the evidence is that this is wishful thinking and the trend is in the other direction, with the opponents of Isis becoming weaker and less capable of resistance: in Iraq the army shows no signs of recovering from its earlier defeats and has failed to launch a single successful counter-attack; in Syria the other opposition groups, including the battle-hardened fighters of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are demoralised and disintegrating as they are squeezed between Isis and the Assad government. Karen Koning Abuzayd, a member of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry in Syria, says that more and more Syrian rebels are defecting to Isis: ‘They see it’s better, these guys are strong, these guys are winning battles, they were taking territory, they have money, they can train us.’ This is bad news for the government, which barely held off an assault in 2012 and 2013 by rebels less well trained, organised and armed than Isis; it will have real difficulties stopping the forces of the Caliphate advancing west.
In Baghdad there was shock and terror on 10 June at the fall of Mosul and as people realised that trucks packed with Isis gunmen were only an hour’s drive away. But instead of assaulting Baghdad, Isis took most of Anbar, the vast Sunni province that sprawls across western Iraq on either side of the Euphrates. In Baghdad, with its mostly Shia population of seven million, people know what to expect if the murderously anti-Shia Isis forces capture the city, but they take heart from the fact that the calamity has not happened yet. ‘We were frightened by the military disaster at first but we Baghdadis have got used to crises over the last 35 years,’ one woman said. Even with Isis at the gates, Iraqi politicians have gone on playing political games as they move ponderously towards replacing the discredited prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
‘It is truly surreal,’ a former Iraqi minister said. ‘When you speak to any political leader in Baghdad they talk as if they had not just lost half the country.’ Volunteers had gone to the front after a fatwa from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. But these militiamen are now streaming back to their homes, complaining that they were half-starved and forced to use their own weapons and buy their own ammunition. The only large-scale counter-attack launched by the regular army and the newly raised Shia militia was a disastrous foray into Tikrit on 15 July that was ambushed and defeated with heavy losses. There is no sign that the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi army has changed. ‘They were using just one helicopter in support of the troops in Tikrit,’ the former minister said, ‘so I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the Iraqi state has bought in recent years?’
Probably the money for the missing 139 helicopters was simply stolen. There are other wholly corrupt states in the world but few of them have oil revenues of $100 billion a year to steal from. The sole aim of many officials has long been to get the largest kickback possible and they did not much care if jihadi groups did the same. I met a Turkish businessman in Baghdad who said he had had a large construction contract in Mosul over the last few years. The local emir or leader of Isis, then known as al-Qaida in Iraq, demanded $500,000 a month in protection money from the company. ‘I complained again and again about this to the government in Baghdad,’ the businessman said, ‘but they would do nothing about it except to say that I could add the money I paid al-Qaida to the contract price.’ The emir was soon killed and his successor demanded that the protection money be increased to $1 million a month. The businessman refused to pay and one of his Iraqi employees was killed; he withdrew his Turkish staff and his equipment to Turkey. ‘Later I got a message from al-Qaida saying that the price was back down to $500,000 and I could come back,’ he said. This was some time before Isis captured the city.
In the face of these failures Iraq’s Shia majority is taking comfort from two beliefs that, if true, would mean the present situation is not as dangerous as it looks. They argue that Iraq’s Sunnis have risen in revolt and Isis fighters are only the shock troops or vanguard of an uprising provoked by the anti-Sunni policies and actions of Maliki. Once he is replaced, as is almost certain, Baghdad will offer the Sunnis a new power-sharing agreement with regional autonomy similar to that enjoyed by the Kurds. Then the Sunni tribes, former military officers and Baathists who have allowed Isis to take the lead in the Sunni revolt will turn on their ferocious allies. Despite all signs to the contrary, Shia at all levels are putting faith in this myth, that Isis is weak and can be easily discarded by Sunni moderates once they’ve achieved their goals. One Shia said to me: ‘I wonder if Isis really exists.’
Unfortunately, Isis not only exists but is an efficient and ruthless organisation that has no intention of waiting for its Sunni allies to betray it. In Mosul it demanded that all opposition fighters swear allegiance to the Caliphate or give up their weapons. In late June and early July they detained between 15 to 20 former officers from Saddam Hussein’s time, including two generals. Groups that had put up pictures of Saddam were told to take them down or face the consequences. ‘It doesn’t seem likely,’ Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadists, said, ‘that the rest of the Sunni military opposition will be able to turn against Isis successfully. If they do, they will have to act as quickly as possible before Isis gets too strong.’ He points out that the supposedly more moderate wing of the Sunni opposition had done nothing to stop the remnants of the ancient Christian community in Mosul from being forced to flee after Isis told them they had to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. Members of other sects and ethnic groups denounced as Shia or polytheists are being persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. The moment is passing when the non-Isis opposition could successfully mount a challenge.
The Iraqi Shia offer another explanation for the way their army disintegrated: it was stabbed in the back by the Kurds. Seeking to shift the blame from himself, Maliki claims that Erbil, the Kurdish capital, ‘is a headquarters for Isis, Baathists, al-Qaida and terrorists’. Many Shia believe this: it makes them feel that their security forces (nominally 350,000 soldiers and 650,000 police) failed because they were betrayed and not because they wouldn’t fight. One Iraqi told me he was at an iftar meal during Ramadan ‘with a hundred Shia professional people, mostly doctors and engineers and they all took the stab-in-the-back theory for granted as an explanation for what went wrong’. The confrontation with the Kurds is important because it makes it impossible to create a united front against Isis. The Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, took advantage of the Iraqi army’s flight to seize all the territories, including the city of Kirkuk, which have been in dispute between Kurds and Arabs since 2003. He now has a 600-mile common frontier with the Caliphate and is an obvious ally for Baghdad, where Kurds make up part of the government. By trying to scapegoat the Kurds, Maliki is ensuring that the Shia will have no allies in their confrontation with Isis if it resumes its attack in the direction of Baghdad. Isis and their Sunni allies have been surprised by the military weakness of the Baghdad government. They are unlikely to be satisfied with regional autonomy for Sunni provinces and a larger share of jobs and oil revenues. Their uprising has turned into a full counter-revolution that aims to take back power over all of Iraq.
At the moment Baghdad has a phoney war atmosphere like London or Paris in late 1939 or early 1940, and for similar reasons. People had feared an imminent battle for the capital after the fall of Mosul, but it hasn’t happened yet and optimists hope it won’t happen at all. Life is more uncomfortable than it used to be, with only four hours of electricity on some days, but at least war hasn’t yet come to the heart of the city. Nevertheless, some form of military attack, direct or indirect, will probably happen once Isis has consolidated its hold on the territory it has just conquered: it sees its victories as divinely inspired. It believes in killing or expelling Shia rather than negotiating with them, as it has shown in Mosul. Some Shia leaders may calculate that the US or Iran will always intervene to save Baghdad, but both powers are showing reluctance to plunge into the Iraqi quagmire in support of a dysfunctional government.
Iraq’s Shia leaders haven’t grappled with the fact that their domination over the Iraqi state, brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, is finished, and only a Shia rump is left. It ended because of their own incompetence and corruption and because the Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011 destabilised the sectarian balance of power in Iraq. Three years on, the Isis-led Sunni victory in Iraq threatens to break the military stalemate in Syria. Assad has been slowly pushing back against a weakening opposition: in Damascus and its outskirts, the Qalamoun mountains along the Lebanese border and Homs, government forces have been advancing slowly and are close to encircling the large rebel enclave in Aleppo. But Assad’s combat troops are noticeably thin on the ground, need to avoid heavy casualties and only have the strength to fight on one front at a time. The government’s tactic is to devastate a rebel-held district with artillery fire and barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, force most of the population to flee, seal off what may now be a sea of ruins and ultimately force the rebels to surrender. But the arrival of large numbers of well-armed Isis fighters fresh from recent successes will be a new and dangerous challenge for Assad. They overran two important Syrian army garrisons in the east in late July. A conspiracy theory, much favoured by the rest of the Syrian opposition and by Western diplomats, that Isis and Assad are in league, has been shown to be false.
Isis may well advance on Aleppo in preference to Baghdad: it’s a softer target and one less likely to provoke international intervention. This will leave the West and its regional allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – with a quandary: their official policy is to get rid of Assad, but Isis is now the second strongest military force in Syria; if he falls, it’s in a good position to fill the vacuum. Like the Shia leaders in Baghdad, the US and its allies have responded to the rise of Isis by descending into fantasy. They pretend they are fostering a ‘third force’ of moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and Isis, though in private Western diplomats admit this group doesn’t really exist outside a few beleaguered pockets. Aymenn al-Tamimi confirms that this Western-backed opposition ‘is getting weaker and weaker’; he believes supplying them with more weapons won’t make much difference. Jordan, under pressure from the US and Saudi Arabia, is supposed to be a launching pad for this risky venture but it’s getting cold feet. ‘Jordan is frightened of Isis,’ one Jordanian official in Amman said. ‘Most Jordanians want Assad to win the war.’ He said Jordan is buckling under the strain of coping with vast numbers of Syrian refugees, ‘the equivalent of the entire population of Mexico moving into the US in one year’.
The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’ In a speech in London in July, he said the Saudi policy towards jihadis has two contradictory motives: fear of jihadis operating within Saudi Arabia, and a desire to use them against Shia powers abroad. He said the Saudis are ‘deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shiadom’. It’s unlikely the Sunni community as a whole in Iraq would have lined up behind Isis without the support Saudi Arabia gave directly or indirectly to many Sunni movements. The same is true of Syria, where Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence from 2012 to February 2014, was doing everything he could to back the jihadi opposition until his dismissal. Fearful of what they’ve helped create, the Saudis are now veering in the other direction, arresting jihadi volunteers rather than turning a blind eye as they go to Syria and Iraq, but it may be too late. Saudi jihadis have little love for the House of Saud. On 23 July, Isis launched an attack on one of the last Syrian army strongholds in the northern province of Raqqa. It began with a suicide car-bomb attack; the vehicle was driven by a Saudi called Khatab al-Najdi who had put pictures on the car windows of three women held in Saudi prisons, one of whom was Hila al-Kasir, his niece.
Turkey’s role has been different but no less significant than Saudi Arabia’s in aiding Isis and other jihadi groups. Its most important action has been to keep open its 510-mile border with Syria. This gave Isis, al-Nusra and other opposition groups a safe rear base from which to bring in men and weapons. The border crossing points have been the most contested places during the rebels’ ‘civil war within the civil war’. Most foreign jihadis have crossed Turkey on their way to Syria and Iraq. Precise figures are difficult to come by, but Morocco’s Interior Ministry said recently that 1122 Moroccan jihadists have entered Syria, including nine hundred who went in 2013, two hundred of whom were killed. Iraqi security suspects that Turkish military intelligence may have been heavily involved in aiding Isis when it was reconstituting itself in 2011. Reports from the Turkish border say Isis is no longer welcome, but with weapons taken from the Iraqi army and the seizure of Syrian oil and gasfields, it no longer needs so much outside help.
For America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of Isis and the Caliphate is the ultimate disaster. Whatever they intended by their invasion of Iraq in 2003 and their efforts to get rid of Assad in Syria since 2011, it was not to see the creation of a jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria run by a movement a hundred times bigger and much better organised than the al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden. The war on terror for which civil liberties have been curtailed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent has failed miserably. The belief that Isis is interested only in ‘Muslim against Muslim’ struggles is another instance of wishful thinking: Isis has shown it will fight anybody who doesn’t adhere to its bigoted, puritanical and violent variant of Islam. Where Isis differs from al-Qaida is that it’s a well-run military organisation that is very careful in choosing its targets and the optimum moment to attack them.
Many in Baghdad hope the excesses of Isis – for example, blowing up mosques it deems shrines, like that of Younis (Jonah) in Mosul – will alienate the Sunnis. In the long term they may do just that, but opposing Isis is very dangerous and, for all its brutality, it has brought victory to a defeated and persecuted Sunni community. Even those Sunnis in Mosul who don’t like it are fearful of the return of a vengeful Shia-dominated Iraqi government. So far Baghdad’s response to its defeat has been to bomb Mosul and Tikrit randomly, leaving local people in no doubt about its indifference to their welfare or survival. The fear will not change even if Maliki is replaced by a more conciliatory prime minister. A Sunni in Mosul, writing just after a missile fired by government forces had exploded in the city, told me: ‘Maliki’s forces have already demolished the University of Tikrit. It has become havoc and rubble like all the city. If Maliki reaches us in Mosul he will kill its people or turn them into refugees. Pray for us.’ Such views are common, and make it less likely that Sunnis will rise up in opposition to Isis and its Caliphate. A new and terrifying state has been born.
What do we think about the current crisis of Iraq?
by Kurdish Anarchists Forum - KAF
Tuesday June 24, 2014 21:25
The Iraq crisis has been continued for decades while it has been under the power of Saddam Hussein or under the “current democratic Regime” since the invasion of 2003. There were no freedom, no social justice; no equality and also little opportunity for those who were independent from the political parties who were in power. In addition to existing brutality and discrimination against women and the ordinary people a very big gap was created between the rich and poor, making the poor even poorer and the rich richer.
The current crisis is nothing far from what has been said above. In fact it is the continuation of the same situation of what was happening decades ago. The only differences are the names and the power of the political parties in power.
Politicians and the mass media love to tell us that the current struggles are the continuation of the old struggles & conflict between the two main Islamic religion doctrines: Shia and Sunni that they have a bloody background almost since the birth of the Islam religion.
If we look into history of the nations, countries and their people, their history was always struggling between the powerful people and the powerless, between the exploiters and the exploited, between the occupier and the occupied people, between the invader and the people who have fought back against powers, against authorities and states. In short it was a war for more capitals and profits.
What is happening in Iraq today under the name of “the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Syria), Isis” far from what the mass media portrayed and tells us. The facts are:
1st the Isis advance is a tiny minority aided by Sunni factions disillusioned with Shia leadership in Baghdad, Sunni tribal leaders, Ba’ath party members, old army officers and factions of the former insurgency all came together to plan how to take the fight to the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki . When the Isis marched towards Mosul, the third biggest city in Iraq, and occupied, they were less than 2,000 while around 60,000 people from police, soldiers to intelligent forces and security were existing in the town. This army was equipped heavily with the fighter Jets, tanks and different types of powerful weapons, but this army has collapsed and fled from the Isis group and the other militant with very little resistance or no resistance.
2nd What was happening more likely was a plan by Turkey, Gulf countries and Kurdish Region Government “K.R.G” with the knowledge of US and UK.
3rd It is very difficult to know exactly what will be happening in the end, as most of the time it depends on the interest of US and western countries that will measured any uprising or movement whether it gets help or not through their interest. Until now both the US &UK insist on the unity of people in Iraq to live together under the same system. If they know that their interests are under threat they do not mind to divide Iraq in to 3 Simi-states between Kurd, Sunni and Shia.
4th This situation has pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war, especially after issuing a Fatwa by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, one of Shia Islam’s most revered cleric, for citizens to bear arms and sign up for the military.
5th We are very much sure that there is a hidden agenda here as well. We think one of the aim of this war is surrounding and strangling the democratic mass movement of the Kurdish people in west of Kurdistan (Syria’s Kurdistan) and there local administration. The mass movement there proved that there has been alternative to the nation state, old/neo-liberal system and its government. It also proved that the movement of people do not have to follow the “Arab Spring” that ended up in establishing an Islamic government. In addition to that this movement showed the uprising of people should not be supported by US, EU and their agents. It has proved that the revolution has to be started from the bottom of the societies, not from the top as this can be achieved by building the local groups that making most of the decisions by themselves and for themselves. This movement is clearly not in the interest of the politicians and neo-liberalism, so the next step is to attack the west of Kurdistan and their mass movement.
In view of the above we (KAF) denounce this war that has been launched and imposed on Iraqi people and we believe in organizing people outside of the political parties, the supporters of the war and outside of the institution of the states and the governments but in their work places, in their neighborhood, in their schools, universities and on the streets to unite and fight back against war, injustice, poverty, starvation, inequality, and suppression that have been imposed by this brutal system through their State, Corporation, finance institution , neo-liberal mass media and the institution of their spies & agents.
Kurdistan Anarchist’s Forum
The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes
Kurdish "Terrorists" Rescue Yezidis
by PaulB - WSM
That's embarrassing - PKK 'terrorists' rescue Yezidis before US Special forces arrive
The PKK are officially on the US and EU “terrorist” lists and the autonomous Syrian region defended by the YPG is subject to blockade by ISIS to the South and West, Turkey to the North and the corrupt Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) regime in Kurdish Northern Iraq to the East.
The US special forces finally sent to Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq to assess a mission to rescue the threatened Yezidis this morning [Thursday 14 August], reported that most of the displaced population had already been rescued in the previous days. What is not being widely reported is the identity of the Kurdish forces who secured the northern side of the mountain and opened a safe passage for the threatened Yezidi civilians, through the Syrian territory they control to Dohuk in the north of the Kurdish Autonomous region in Iraq.
Embarrassingly for the US, arriving on its white charger to save the day, only to discover they are far too late, the saviours of the Yezidis are the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and their Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) allies. The PKK are officially on the US and EU “terrorist” lists and the autonomous Syrian region defended by the YPG is subject to blockade by ISIS to the South and West, Turkey to the North and the corrupt Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) regime in Kurdish Northern Iraq to the East. The PKK’s pariah status dates from the war which it fought in the 1980s and 90s against the Turkish state, first under the the dictatorship, then the civilian government, for independence for the mainly Kurdish region of South East Turkey. Since late 2012 peace talks began with the Turkish government and a ceasefire was declared in March 2013.
The Yezidis are an ancient, mostly Kurdish-speaking, religious minority living for centuries in the northern Mesopotamian land between the upper Tigris and Euphrates known as al Jazira (“the Island”). Subject to much suspicion by the adherents of the major religions of Islam and Christianity around them, unjustly accused of being “devil-worshippers”, the Yezidis have survived centuries of persecution by concentrating in small communities mostly in Nineveh in Northern Iraq, with smaller enclaves in Armenia, Georgia and Syria. The town of Sinjar in northern Nineveh, on the mountain of the same name near the Syrian border, has been a Yezidi centre for centuries.
Until 3 August Sinjar was under the protection of the KRG president Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) soldiers (known as the Peshmerga). What exactly happened on the morning of Sunday 3rd August is in dispute. The PKK allege that the Peshmerga basically did a runner and left the Yezidis defenceless, despite Barzani’s past guarantee of protection. Regardless of the actual details, it’s undisputed that the forces of the Islamic State (IS - previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and ash Shams/Syria, ISIS) were able to advance into the town of Sinjar without a fight. The terrified population, fearing massacre at the hands of IS, reputedly holding the view that exterminating the “devil-worshippers” is a religious duty, fled up onto the mountain, where they have remained without food water or shelter until these last days, as has been widely reported in the media.
By last Friday 8 August, the plight of the Yezidis was not the priority of the KRG government in Erbil. IS forces had taken a number of border towns in the KRG, control of the Mosul dam and seemed poised to drive into Erbil itself. The much-hyped KRG Peshmerga (Kurdish: “those who face death”) had failed to hold back the IS advance, allegedly in many cases deserting in a similar fashion to earlier at Sinjar. Well-attested reports speak of a wave of panic seizing the KRG with the fear of the imminent fall of Erbil to the IS. It was at the height of this panic that Barzani begged his US patrons for air support and military intervention.
But despite the desultory 14 bombs since dropped by the US airforce, the main effort to stop the IS advance and put backbone back into the Kurdish defence came from PKK and YPG fighters declaring common cause with the Peshmerga in the defence of “Southern Kurdistan” (the common Kurdish name for Kurdistan in Northern Iraq) despite the serious repression they have faced at the hands of the KRG in the past.
The connection between the West’s support, until now, for al-Maliki, Barzani and beyond them the Saudi and Turkish policy that has produced the ISIS Frankenstein monster, is as reprehensible as it is simple. Consistently, for the last decades if not longer, the US and the previous imperialist powers of Western Europe, have chosen the most corrupt, most venal local leaders as a bulwark against other political forces in the region. This from the simple calculation that they could be easily bought off and expected to repress their local populations and deliver oil to Western petroleum corporations as cheaply as possible.
It is no accident that Nouri al-Maliki, who the US and even Iran are now agreed to try and oust, is the most corrupt of all possible Iraqi Shia leaders. He was chosen specifically for that very quality. Above all he was chosen to keep out the potential “loose cannon” Muqtada al-Sadr, who despite his undoubtedly sectarian Shia base, had called on Iraqis to resist the US occupation on a nationalist rather than sectarian basis.
Similarly Barzani and his KDP’s unique selling point to the West was their promise to keep the PKK out of Iraqi Kurdistan. While this was not entirely possible given the tens of thousands of refugees from the Turkish state’s war on the Kurds in refugee camps dotted around the KRG, Barzani has done his best to repress both the PKK and, since the emergence of a Kurdish liberated zone across the border in Syria, their YPG allies. To enforce the blockade on “Rojava” (Kurdish: “The West”, for Western Kurdistan, i.e. the part of Kurdistan in Syria) the Erbil regime even went so far as to dig a ditch along the very Sykes-Picot border that Kurds generally have always rejected.
In the last days, first, somewhat sheepishly, first the US, then France and now even Germany, have said they are ready to arm “the Kurds” in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan. On past record the suspicion must be that those weapons will not be destined to the PKK and YPG forces that stopped the IS “barbarians at the gate”, preventing the collapse of the Erbil regime, but rather the KDP forces whose corruption led to the near-collapse in the first place. This because the KDP are seen as “reliable”, not in the sense of being any military use against the IS, but “reliably” anti-PKK.
Herein lies the contradiction at the heart of Western policy in the region. The continual policy of supporting only the most corruptible forces has lead to the current situation where the “official” Western-backed military forces of the region are completely incapable of holding back the relentless IS advance, and the only forces capable of resisting the Wahhabi-fascist war machine are officially designated as “terrorists” - enemies of the West. Unlike the source of the Wahhabi fascist ideology in the first place - our “ally” Saudi Arabia.
If internationalists or those who reject both the Sunni sectarian Wahhabite fascism of the Islamic State and the venal, corrupt Shia sectarianism of the al-Malikis and the faceless non-entity currently lined up as his replacement, were able to make demands of the governments of the EU and US then the first one would have to be for an end to the blockage of Rojava by both Turkey and the KRG. Secondly, an end to the proscription of the PKK and its Syrian ally the Democratic Union Party (PYD - the political wing of the YPG), and recognition of the Rojava autonomous region. It is an international scandal that the last line of defenders against genocide in Northern Iraq are officially castigated as terrorists by the international community.
Activists in Berlin are calling a demonstration demanding that the US arm the PKK instead of dropping the odd bomb. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but “why the hell not?” is still a good question rather than some clever-clever “transitional demand”. After all if all the weapons handed out to the private militias of corrupt local proxies end up being abandoned by troops who run away at the first sign of trouble. Isn’t arming these useless proxies just arming the Islamic State by the back door? The jihadis of the Islamic State are now cruising back and forth over the illusory Sykes-Picot line in brand new Humvees and Abrams tanks courtesy of the American taxpayer. Isn’t it time somebody asked why?
On Recent Events in Mosul and Other Cities in Iraq
by فلاح علوان Falah Alwan
Jun 15 2014
Mosul and other cities in Iraq are experiencing dramatic, dangerous, and fateful changes.
The media, especially that which is allied with the Iraqi government and western states, has been focusing on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIS) and its control over several Iraqi cities, provoking its audiences against the militant group. Indeed, ISIS terrorist groupings do exist among armed groups there and its influence in the recent events is clear. However, it is also true that Iraqis generally reject ISIS, whether in the central or southern regions of Iraq or in parts of the country that are no longer under government control: the so-called "Sunni" areas or the "Sunni Triangle," a term that intelligence services, particularly the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), devised as part of a plan to engineer sectarianism in Iraq. At the same time, Iraqis generally reject Maliki's regime and its policies, built as they are on an ethno-sectarian basis. This is especially the case in urban areas where sectarian discrimination is most concentrated, wherein the government treats ordinary people as political enemies.
The fall of several Iraqi cities in the hands of armed groups does not represent the dreams of the people who live there. Their demands to be rid of sectarianism are clear and direct. They expressed them through nonviolent sit-ins, but armed terrorist groups took advantage of this environment to take power. The people's demands against discrimination and sectarianism are just and fair, whereas Maliki's policies are reactionary and discriminatory, and are therefore rejected. In the meantime, ISIS' control of cities and people poses a serious threat to everyday life and to society.
Popular demands have morphed into a tool for reactionary forces to divide up the political pie, from the terrorists of al-Qa’ida, the Ba'th Party, and tribal leaders to the Shi'a religious leadership that has called for open warfare and the Kurdish nationalist forces that have achieved military and political gains. This all comes at a moment when Iraq has clearly become divided according to the wills of dominant political forces, whereas the will of the Iraqi people remains ignored.
Regional forces that benefit from Iraq's disintegration—especially Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—operate in their own way to achieve political gains. All the while the US government—the prime cause of these problems to begin with—prepares to intervene however it chooses. President Obama has so far expressed his concern over Iraqi oil twice when talking about recent events. He has not shown any regard or concern for the fate of two million people now under the control of ISIS, or for the women who have started committing suicide in Mosul as a result of ISIS gangs. The working class in Iraq is the common force that exists across the county, from the north of Kurdistan to the furthest points south. It is this force whose very existence and survival depends on the eradication of discrimination and the unification of the Iraqi people. This is the only force that can end fragmentation and division.
We reject US intervention and protest President Obama's inappropriate speech in which he expressed concern over oil and not over people. We also stand firmly against the brazen meddling of Iran.
We stand against the intervention of Gulf regimes and their funding of armed groups, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
We reject Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian and reactionary policies.
We also reject armed terrorist gangs and militias' control of Mosul and other cities. We agree with and support the demands of people in these cities against discrimination and sectarianism.
Finally, we reject the interference of the religious institution and its call for indiscriminate warfare.
We aim to stand with those who represent the interests of the people and to empower them in the face of this dangerous and reactionary attack. We call for a clear international position to curb the deteriorating situation as well as regional interference, and to support the people of Iraq.
Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq
13 June 2014
[This statement originally appeared on Jadaliyya in Arabic and Ali Issa translated it into English.
War in Iraq: A Voice From Inside Mosul
18 June 2014
Interview by the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), with an Iraqi human rights defender (“QC”) from Mosul – the 18th of June 2014.
What is the situation now in the city of Mosul?
QC: In terms of the security situation, there is no fighting or bombing. The roads are open, but there is a shortage of basic goods and services. For example there is no electricity or Internet, and water, as well as gas cylinders and fuel are in short supply. Food prices are high, too. While the hospitals are still functioning, other government institutions have shut down.
Is it possible for non-governmental organizations [NGOs] and human rights defenders [HRDs] to work in Mosul?
QC: No, it is not possible for NGOs and HRDs to work freely. Insurgents, especially extremists, do not accept civil society, and if I said I wanted to work in Mosul they would punish me. They call it “Had”; it is punishment according to Sharia law. Organizations must operate secretly in order to send reports about the situation. I also prefer to keep my name unknown for this interview. Civil society in our cities must work in alignment with the government, otherwise you will be accused of supporting the militants. But at the same time, the insurgents also reject any independent role for civil society.
What about the displaced — are there people displaced from Mosul? How large are the numbers?
QC: There are many families — as many as one hundred thousand — who fled to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq [KRG]. We are talking about perhaps five hundred thousand people, the majority of whom are children and the elderly. The KRG authorities did not allow most of them to enter because they require that those who enter have a guarantor from the Kurdish region. Many of these now internally displaced persons [IDPs] are being kept in very basic camps. The crisis of the IDPs is immense and urgently requires the assistance of humanitarian organizations. The crisis is growing worse, especially after the battles in the city of Tal Afar, which created thousands of newly displaced civilians.
Who controls Mosul? Are there now sanctions or reprisals against civilians?
QC: The situation in Mosul has been very bad since militants seized control of the entire city. The city’s immediate future is not clear. People do not know whether there will be a military strike, or if we will remain under the rule of the gunmen who seized power (who are not themselves ruled by law), or if they will form a government in these areas. Until now there have been no acts of revenge or collective punishment of civilians. We heard that a new governor has been appointed, a former army officer named Hashim Aljmas.
Who are the gunmen who entered Mosul?
QC: There was a mixture of armed groups who entered Mosul: some Islamic extremists (from ISIS) and other rebels (or nationalists) some of whom are former members of the army and some Ba’athists. In Mosul there are now different groups that are in control of each neighborhood. Generally, these groups do not discuss their future plans for the city, and they do not allow the media to operate in the city.
What do the people of Mosul feel about what has happened? Why do they think that the city fell?
QC: The main reason for the fall of the city of Mosul – the second largest city in Iraq – is that the Maliki government did not respond to the demands of the citizen protestors who demonstrated in Mosul, Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Hawija over a year ago and so the citizens did not support the Iraqi army.
The policy of the Iraqi government headed by Nouri al-Maliki has been totally sectarian in the way it has operated in the Iraqi provinces. The government has almost totally excluded representatives of the Sunni population from the sovereign ministries, or left them with no real authority. Even the new Iraqi army was formed on this basis.
How is the Iraqi army viewed by the sons of the city of Mosul?
QC: The Iraqi army unfortunately does not support a doctrine of loyalty to the homeland (or an Iraq that is inclusive of all people); instead it is loyal to the Madhhab or Shia doctrine. It deals with citizens according to their religious sect. The armed forces have attacked people in the cities of Mosul, Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Hawija. They have carried out arrests, torture and extortion. There have also been many cases of rape by members of the army, both outside and inside prisons.
But Mosul contributed to the recent elections, wasn’t that a sign of hope for change through peaceful means?
QC: The last election was frustrating. Most of the political blocs accused the Prime Minister of rigging the election for the purpose of securing a large number of seats (93) in the Iraqi parliament. This has raised a fear among many politicians and citizens that Nouri al-Maliki would return for a third term as prime minister of Iraq, which would essentially amount to the creation of a new dictatorship. Everyone is aware how he has attempted during his two terms in power to increase his control over all aspects of political life, especially the “independent” commissions including the Electoral Commission and the Human Rights Commission. He accused his opponents in Parliament of crimes and had many arrested and imprisoned. Now the state security institutions are largely dominated by one sect (Shia) and are constantly fed sectarian ideology.
I think the insurgents planned this current invasion of the provinces to coincide with the announcement of final election results, which was an excellent time for them to suggest to the citizens that their revolution would rid the Sunnis of the sectarian Maliki government, which is now trying to control the state for a third term. Maybe this is why rebels received a warm welcome from some citizens in the provinces where the insurgents took over. When the gunmen entered the city of Mosul, the military was very weak due to fear of reprisals from the community (since most of the community hates the army). This explains why military commanders fled, and why the army was unable to defeat what was only a small number of insurgents.
Do you want the army to “free” the city of Mosul?
QC: I think the solution must be a political one first. The Iraqi army, if it acts professionally and patriotically, and works in collaboration with the people of the city, is capable of freeing Mosul from the insurgents. But there must be a military plan that takes into account the population of the city and ensures the safety of Mosul’s civilians. There are a million civilians who may now be at risk. Aerial bombardment would be especially catastrophic for them.
What will help the civilians in Mosul? What is the role for the U.S. in the future of Mosul?
QC: I think we need to guarantee and strengthen the capacity and the activity of civil society, so that it becomes a link between the government and society, so that citizens are empowered to play a greater role in identifying and implementing solutions to problems in the future.
I think that recent events are the beginning of the division of Iraq into three regions (Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite). This is increasingly considered by many politicians to be the solution to political and armed conflict among the different groups in Iraq. The Kurdish authorities and the leaders of the insurgents seem to have agreed that this is what will happen. Iraqis were once unified, but the experience of the past eight years and the likely continuation of the current political situation makes it almost impossible for our cities to go on like this.
I think that America understands what is happening and that it will push for the division of Iraq. The US will not necessarily send its military to Mosul or Iraq, but it will clearly play a role in what will be agreed upon. People here want civilians to rule the city so we can solve our problems ourselves. We want the extremists to leave and we want the end of military activities and the presence of weapons. But at the same time we don’t want to return to sectarian rule in any way.
Understanding the Civil War in Ukraine – Domestic roots of the conflict and foreign interventions
4 August 2014
The Ukrainian conflict, like most political phenomena, is multi-dimensional and highly complex. As such, it calls for a holistic – dialectical, if you wish – approach. But to judge by American and NATO spokespersons and by their mass media, there is only one really decisive factor that explains everything: Russia’s imperialism, Vladimir Putin’s determination to dominate and further dismember the Ukraine as part of his plan to restore the Soviet empire. In this simplistic view, Ukraine, with benevolent support from the West, would be quite capable of dealing with its problems and would soon be on its way to becoming a prosperous, Western-style democracy.
My view is quite the opposite: the roots of the Ukrainian conflict are domestic and profound; outside intervention, while significant, is a secondary factor. Given limitations of space, I will, therefore, focus on the internal situation. But I will necessarily, if more briefly, also address the international dimensions of the conflict. This is also the more necessary since the Canadian government has been particularly zealous in its support for the Ukrainian government and in condemning Russia as solely responsible.
My goal is to offer a framework that can help in understanding and evaluating the mass of information about the conflict coming from governments and the media.
A Deeply Divided Society
Ukraine is a deeply divided society – along lines of language, culture, historical identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, attitudes to Russia, as well as real and perceived economic interests. Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, these divisions have been manipulated and fostered by corrupt economic and political élites with the aim of distracting popular attention for their criminal activities and to gain advantage in intra-élite competition. This manipulation, on the background of widespread poverty and economic insecurity, has prevented popular forces from mobilizing to oppose this oppressive ruling class, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, who have run the economy into the ground while fantastically enriching themselves. Since independence, Ukraine has lost over 13 per cent of its population, down to 45 million. Of those, several million are working abroad as cheap labour in Russia and the EU.
About half of Ukraine’s population speaks Ukrainian in everyday life; the other half – Russian; and practically everyone can speak both languages well enough. The three western, overwhelmingly ukrainophone, regions joined the rest of Ukraine in the 1940s after two centuries under oppressive Austro-Hungarian, then Polish, rule. The southern and eastern parts first became part of Ukraine at the end of the Russian civil war in 1920. Until 1991, Ukraine had never existed as a state, except for a very brief period during the civil war.
The population of the western regions is deeply nationalistic; and at the centre of that nationalism at present is a profound fear, mixed with hatred, of Russia and, to varying degrees, of Russians. The eastern and southern regions, mostly russophone, have strong cultural and ethnic affinities, as well as political sympathies and economic ties, with Russia. The situation in the centre is mixed. Historical memory plays a big role in the divisions: the heroes of the west collaborated with the German occupation in World War II and participated in its crimes; the heroes of the east and south fought against fascism and for the Soviet Union. In fact, there is hardly any major historical event or figure going back centuries upon which the two poles agree. There are also economic interests: the east is more industrial and closely integrated with the Russian economy, by far Ukraine’s leading trading partner; the western is dominated by small towns and is more agrarian.
These differences express themselves in opposing political positions, in which irrational fears play a not insignificant role. The population of the west, with some support in the centre, has generally been more active politically and has sought to impose its culture, which it considers the only truly Ukrainian, on the rest of the country. People from the western regions constituted a disproportionate part of the Maidan protesters. Opinion surveys consistently show the Ukrainian population to be split on major issues, although most, both east and west, have perceived the successive governments as corrupt and dominated by oligarchs. The major issue of contention has been the legitimacy of the central government. The one formed after Victor Yanukovych’s overthrow has strong support in the west and, to a significant degree, also in the centre, which has seen a nationalistic upsurge; the population in the east and south widely despises and fears the government, which it considers illegitimate.
What was Maidan?
The initial issue in the Maidan protest was the fate of an economic agreement that the then President Yanukovych had been negotiating with the European Union. Yanukovych, who was identified with the russophone east and south, decided (wisely in my view) to suspend the negotiations and accept Russia’s offer of a $15-billion loan. But when he resorted to repression against the protesters, the protest was transformed into a protest movement against the government itself, its repressive, corrupt nature. Armed neo-fascist elements from the West increasingly became involved, further radicalizing the protest, attacking police, occupying government buildings, and finally convincing Yanukovych to flee on February 21.
A provisional government was then formed by not altogether constitutional means. It consisted exclusively of politicians identified with the western, nationalist regions and included several neo-fascists. Politicians identified with the west, including some oligarchs, were put in charge of eastern regions, whose population widely viewed the new government as hostile.
Copying the Maidan protest and earlier actions in the western regions that had been directed against Yanukovych’s government, groups of local Donbass citizens already in February began to occupy government buildings, calling for a referendum on the region’s autonomy and possibly its secession and annexation to Russia. These groups were initially unarmed, nor were they for the most part separatist. As their compatriots in the west had done earlier against Yanukovych, they were demanding local autonomy as a measure of protection against a hostile central government.
Kiev’s reaction only confirmed the worst fears and prejudices of the Donbass population. Under the impression of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and spurred on by its own fervent nationalism, the new government in Kiev made no serious effort to reach out to the population of the east. Instead, almost immediately it declared the protesters “terrorists” and launched a so-called “anti-terrorist operation” against them. There was no genuine desire to negotiate, but to crush militarily. And since the Ukrainian army was a mess and had little taste for fighting its own people, the government created and armed a National Guard, consisting of poorly trained volunteers that included ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists. As if that were not enough to confirm the fears of the easterners, some 45 anti-government protesters were massacred in Odessa on May 2, a crime for which Kiev blamed the protesters themselves, as well as unidentified Russian provocateurs.
None of this changed fundamentally after the presidential elections of early May. President Petro Poroshenko has also made no serious effort to negotiate an end to the conflict. The indiscriminate shelling of civilian centres in Donbass by the government only confirmed its illegitimate, alien nature in the eyes of the local population.
There is not much that is known for sure – at least by myself – about the relations between the local population and the armed insurgents in the Donbass. Moreover, these relations undoubtedly evolved over time. But it is clear that the insurgents were, and still are, in their majority local people and that, at least until relatively recently, they enjoyed varying degrees of sympathy among the population, most of whom, however, did not want to separate but only a measure of self-rule. I imagine that today the local population mostly wishes only for an end to the fighting and a measure of physical security.
The insurgency itself underwent radicalization over time, especially with the influx from Russia of Russian nationalists. In any case, although the government in Kiev has made an offer of amnesty to those who have not committed serious crimes, the militias no doubt fear only the worst if they were to surrender.
The Central Government
Ukraine’s political regime differs from Russia’s in that in Ukraine the oligarchs dominate the state and the mass media. In Russia the regime is ‘Bonapartist’, that is, the political élite dominates the oligarchs, even while serving their interests. That is essentially why there has been more political pluralism in the Ukraine. Whether that has been more beneficial to Ukraine’s working-class is another question. As for the economic and social situations, Ukraine is basically Russia but without oil and gas.
A glance at the political career of president Poroshenko, billionaire owner of a confectionary empire and auto plants, offers some idea of the nature of the regime. Poroshenko was a founding member of the Party of Regions in 2000, the political machine that eventually brought Yanukovych to power in 2010. But a year later, Poroshenko left the party to become a leading financial backer of Our Ukraine, a party closely identified with the western regions and with Ukrainian nationalism. He backed the so-called Orange Revolution at the end of 2004 that brought to power Viktor Yushchenko, a staunch pro-West Ukrainian nationalist. Poroshenko became his Foreign Minister, advocating NATO membership (a position rejected by a strong majority of the population). But he lost his job in 2010 when Yanukovych won the presidential elections. Poroshenko nevertheless returned in 2012 to serve Yanukovych as Minister of Trade and Development. But he left that post after eight months to return to parliament as an independent. In short, this is the career of an inveterate political opportunist, who, like the rest of his class, subscribes to the Russian adage: “Where my fortune lies, there lies my heart.”
Poroshenko, to the extent he has principles, does not belong to the more extreme wing of Ukrainian nationalism, although he has called the Donbass insurgents “gangs of animals.” (Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, beloved by Western governments, has called them “subhumans.”) But in any case, Poroshenko shares power with a cabinet and parliament that include extreme right-wing elements. And because of the army’s weakness, he has had to rely heavily on ultra-nationalist paramilitary forces to prosecute the war. For example, the cease-fire, to which he agreed to on June 21 and apparently wanted to prolong while pursuing negotiations, was cut short after a demonstration by so-called “volunteeer” battalions, recruited largely from ultra-nationalist far-right elements. Then there are people like the multi-billionaire governor of Dnepropetrovsk region, Igor Kolomoiskii, who payrolls his own army, the Dnipro Battalion; or the increasingly popular parliamentary deputy, the right-wing populist thug, Oleg Lyashko, who has personally commanded volunteer battalions in the Donbass. Poroshenko also has to consider the upsurge of nationalist sentiment in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the massive propaganda campaign against Russia in the oligarch-controlled media that has gone well beyond the typically nationalist elements of Ukrainian society. Finally, the war and national emergency are needed to distract popular attention from very harsh austerity measures that are really only in their first stages.
Although the conflict is fundamentally a civil war, external forces have played a significant role. The “West” (U.S., EU, NATO) bears a heavy responsibility for its unflinching support and encouragement of the Ukrainian government in its pursuit of an exclusively pro-Western political and economic orientation. In view of Ukraine’s deep internal divisions, that policy is fatal to the integrity of the state and the peaceful development of the society. Moreover, from the moment the internal divisions assumed the form of an armed confrontation, the West has unflinchingly supported both the actions and the propaganda of the Kiev government. That propaganda portrays the Russian government as solely responsible for the conflict and is silent about Kiev’s own intransigence, its serious war crimes against the non-combatant population of Donbass and the serious economic suffering it is imposing on the entire population.
An analysis of Western interests and motives is beyond the scope of this presentation. But it is quite obvious that since the fall of the USSR, the U.S., with more or less active support from Europe, has followed a course aimed at maximally limiting Russia’s geopolitical influence and at surrounding it with unfriendly states. Despite solemn promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev, these states have been integrated into NATO, from which Russia is excluded. Where integration into NATO has not been possible or desirable, regime change has been pursued. That has been the West’s policy in Ukraine. The EU’s association proposal, which was at the origins of this crisis and which contained clauses pertaining to defence policy, forced this deeply divided country to choose between Europe and Russia. (A national poll from December 2013 found that 48 per cent agreed with Yanukovych’s decision not to sign and 35 per cent disagreed. In western Ukraine, however, a full 82 per cent disagreed.)
The Russian government saw the very open and active support for the Maidan protests and then for the provisional government and its policies as being in direct line with that policy of “containment.” The annexation of Crimea, that does not appear to have been long in the planning, was, at least in part, a message to the West: only so far!
Ukrainian and Western claims notwithstanding, Putin does not aim to further dismember Ukraine, nor does he plan to recreate the Soviet empire. While it may not be his preference, he is prepared to accept Ukraine’s neutrality and its closer economic ties with Europe. What he does not want is a hostile, exclusively Western-oriented Ukraine. European Russia, which has the bulk of its population and industry, shares a 2500 kilometer border with Ukraine. Given the history of the twentieth century, Russia’s sensitivity to this question should not be too hard to understand, even apart from the deep historical, cultural, ethnic, family and economic ties that bind the two societies.
But Russia is not without its own responsibility in this conflict. I take issue with some on the left (including the Russian left), who support the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s involvement in the civil war as justified anti-imperialist policies. Meanwhile, others on the left have taken the opposite position, essentially embracing Kiev’s version of the conflict.
It goes without saying that Western condemnation of the annexation of Crimea is profoundly hypocritical in view of the West’s longstanding and continuing history of imperialist aggression and disregard for international norms. One thinks of the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia and the invasion of Iraq, as only two recent examples of this. There is, moreover, no doubt that the vast majority of the population of Crimea, which never felt itself to be Ukrainian, was happy, many even overjoyed, with the annexation. Local Crimean governments have wanted as far back as 1992, only to be rebuffed by Russia. In every national election, Crimeans have voted overwhelmingly for pro-Russian Ukrainian parties.
As a citizen of Canada, a NATO member with a right-wing government that has been a zealous cheerleader for Kiev, I admit that my first instinct was to support Putin as acting in defense of his country’s national interests against Western aggression. But that is a mistaken position.
If the annexation of Crimea was not part of a master plan to restore the Soviet empire, neither was it motivated primarily by legitimate concern for Russia’s national interests. Indeed, one has to wonder what might constitute a national interest in a class-divided society where vast wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few and which is dominated by a corrupt, authoritarian government.
In any case, Putin himself has not explained the annexation in terms of geopolitical interest. In his speech in March dedicated to Crimea and in another in early July at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he referred instead to the duty to protect Russian populations outside Russia’s borders. This is an appeal to ethnic nationalism. And it (as with the wars against Chechnya and Georgia before) has been extremely successful in boosting Putin’s popularity, at the same time as it narrowed the already limited space for opposition to his regime.
But even from the point of view of geopolitical interest, the annexation of Crimea appears incredibly short-sighted and harmful to Russia. The annexation, along with Putin’s justification, gave a major boost to anti-Russia nationalist paranoia in Ukraine. At the same time, it encouraged the armed resistance in Donbass to Kiev. So while Russia, sincerely I believe, has consistently called for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement, the annexation, in fact, has fed the armed conflict. And Russia is also directly contributing to the conflict, since the groundswell of nationalist sentiment in Russia forces Putin to allow an unofficial, limited flow of combatants and arms to the Donbass, even while Putin has no intention of intervening in force to rescue the militia. (I could be proved wrong but I strongly doubt it.)
And so instead of protecting the Russian population of Donbass, Putin has in fact contributed to the deterioration of its situation and has undermined Russia’s ability to effectively defend its interests.
But the annexation has also been very injurious to Russia’s own situation in the world. By giving a major boost to anti-Russian nationalism and the government in Kiev, Putin ensured that Ukraine will henceforth be firmly within the Western camp and hostile to Russia. He has also helped to solidify NATO as a hostile alliance aimed at containing a supposedly expansionist Russia. And he has deprived Russia of what had been its fundamental argument against U.S. and NATO aggression: respect for the international norms of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and for their territorial integrity.
Some make the argument that Putin had to secure Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol. But the threat was only potential – although over the years high Ukrainian officials have spoken of handing it over to NATO – and its securing hardly outweighs the geopolitical damage to Russia incurred from the annexation. (Putin seems to have miscalculated Europe’s, especially Germany’s, willingness to follow the U.S. in a crusade against Russia.) Moreover, if Sevastopol were really threatened, the base could have been moved to Russia’s Black Sea port in Novorosiisk. The cost of the move would probably not be much greater than the losses that will be incurred from the Western sanctions.
The solution, in principle, has always been evident: a cease-fire monitored by international observers, followed by negotiations, on the sole condition of acceptance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The subject of negotiations would be the delegation of power to regional and local elected governments. This is the famous “federalization,” supported by Russia and most of the population of Donbass but rejected by Kiev and the West, who claim it is merely a cover for separation of Ukraine’s east and its annexation by Russia.
But in so deeply divided a society, federalism can, in fact, be an effective measure against separatism. (If Canada were not a federal state, Quebec would have separated years ago.) But things might have probably already gone too far. Kiev, backed by the West, will not hear of a cease-fire. It wants a full surrender or decisive military victory. And, although unlikely, domestic pressures might finally convince Putin to intervene directly. In any case, the future does not appear bright for a unified Ukrainian state. •
* From The Bullet. Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 1025. August 24, 2014.
* David Mandel teaches political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal and has been involved in labour education in the Ukraine for many years.
NATO steps up anti-Russian moves as ceasefire begins in Ukraine
By Jordan Shilton
6 September 2013
As a ceasefire took hold in Ukraine on Friday, NATO leaders, concluding their two-day summit in Wales, intensified pressure on Russia with more threats and new military plans.
The ceasefire came into force at 18:00 local time after agreement was reached between the Kiev regime and pro-Russian separatists at a meeting in Minsk. An exchange of prisoners was agreed as well as the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians in combat zones.
The agreement, which involves Ukrainian forces removing artillery from populated areas, was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and is to be overseen by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Talks on the status of the areas controlled by separatists in the east are to take place at an unspecified later date.
While “cautiously” welcoming the deal, NATO officials continued to denounce Russia. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that Moscow had a record of using such agreements as a “smokescreen.” The White House formally welcomed the ceasefire and then proceeded to attack Russia for its “flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking shortly before the ceasefire was finalised, urged the US and the European Union (EU) to act as guarantors of the pause in fighting, implying that a breakdown should result in direct military support for Kiev from the major powers.
As the ceasefire came in to force, three loud explosions were reported in Donetsk. Clashes also continued between separatists and government forces near the town of Mariupol, the target of a major advance by rebel forces.
Any pause in the fighting will be used by the US and other NATO powers to strengthen Ukraine’s military capacities and their own presence in the region in preparation for future conflict with Russia. Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses over recent weeks, forcing them to retreat in several areas.
One of the items discussed at the Wales summit was a joint plan by Britain and Germany to assist with the modernisation of command and control structures within the Ukrainian armed forces. NATO advisers are also to be involved.
“We have agreed a comprehensive and tailored package of measures,” Rasmussen said, “in order that Ukraine is better able to ensure its own security.” The €15 million promised to Kiev by Rasmussen on Thursday is to be divided into four separate funds, according to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Plans were also finalised for NATO’s rapid response capabilities. The “readiness action plan” included the formal approval of a force of 4,000 troops referred to as the “spearhead,” capable of deployment within two days. A NATO press release noted that leaders had “agreed to maintain a continuous presence and activity in the air, on land, and at sea in the eastern part of the alliance, on a rotational basis.”
Britain is to provide a major part of the troop contingent, with a plan unveiled for 1,000 of the 4,000 soldiers to come from the UK. A further 3,500 British troops will engage in exercises in Eastern Europe by 2015.
The rotation of troops is aimed at avoiding an overt breach of NATO’s 1997 agreement with Russia foregoing the permanent stationing of NATO forces in the Baltic states or Poland. But there was no attempt at the summit to conceal that Moscow is the target of the moves, whose aggressive purpose was spelt out by Rasmussen. “This decision sends a clear message,” he declared. “NATO protects all allies at all times. And it sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.”
Rasmussen announced that to “facilitate reinforcements,” significant logistical resources and military hardware would be redeployed to Eastern Europe. In addition, a commitment was made to “step up intelligence sharing, upgrade defence plans and hold more short-notice exercises.”
Such measures dovetail with US President Barack Obama’s declaration during a state visit to the Baltic region on Wednesday that the US would provide “eternal assistance” to the Baltic states. In a press conference at the conclusion of the summit on Friday, Obama denounced what he termed Russian aggression against Ukraine. He said the summit had shown that NATO has “the will, the resources and the capabilities” to counter it.
The man who has presided over imperialist wars and subversion in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, as well as hundreds of drone assassinations in a number of countries, went on to say, “Big countries can’t just stomp on little ones, or force them to change their policies or give up their sovereignty.”
In line with the non-stop propaganda by the US, NATO and the Western media, Obama ignored the fact that the US and Germany precipitated the Ukraine crisis by engineering a coup, in league with ultra-nationalist and fascist forces, to overthrow the elected, pro-Russian government in Kiev and replace it with a rabidly anti-Russian, pro-Western regime.
Issuing a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama demanded that Russia return to the group of nations that supposedly “respects international law.” Otherwise, he continued, “We mean what we say when we talk about our article 5 commitments,” referring to the collective defence clause of the NATO charter that requires all member nations to come to the defence of any one member country that is attacked.
Obama referred to the escalation of sanctions by the European Union and US against Russian state companies. The sanctions have been broadened to include energy and defence companies, having previously applied only to banks. According to the Financial Times, the sanctions would ban Russian gas firms from European capital markets. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had sought to push through the sanctions agreement prior to the NATO meeting, but smaller EU members, including Hungary, Slovakia and Cyprus, had resisted this.
Also on Friday, Germany, Poland and Denmark announced plans to double their contingent of soldiers in the Polish town of Stettin from 200 to over 400. The multi-national northeast corps would host NATO combat troops in the event of an attack on the alliance and is part of the package of measures agreed to strengthen the Ukrainian regime.
In addition, the Rapid Trident military exercise is set for September 16-26 near Ukraine’s border with Poland, and the US is moving tanks and 600 troops to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for manoeuvres in October.
Demonstrating NATO’s renewed focus on Eastern Europe, Poland announced it would host the next NATO summit, scheduled for 2016. Warsaw has taken the lead in pursuing a hard line with Moscow.
Assistance is to be provided to speed up Georgian membership, and a decision is due on whether to invite Montenegro to join next year. In his Friday press conference, Obama held out the prospect of NATO membership to Georgia and Moldova. Such a development would continue the encirclement of Russia systematically pursued by the imperialist powers through NATO expansion.
While NATO is still not officially supplying arms to Kiev, Poroshenko revealed in comments after a meeting at the summit that at least one NATO member was providing his government with high precision weapons.
Media reports noted that the ceasefire may take some time to implement, due to what was referred to as “complicated chains of command on both sides.” Alongside regular army units, the Kiev regime has mobilised volunteer battalions composed overwhelmingly of members and supporters of the fascist Right Sector group, which played a central role in the coup in February. The reference to chains of command was a backhanded acknowledgement that Kiev does not exercise full control over these forces.
A leading role in the fighting around Mariupol has been played by the neo-Nazi Azov battalion. Speaking to the Guardian, the battalion’s commander, Andriy Beletskiy, declared, “What talk can there be of a ceasefire when the enemy is on our land?”
The Underrated Saudi Connection: Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed
by PATRICK COCKBURN
August 21, 2014
There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.
But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.
The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.
By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Using the al-Qa’ida Label
The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.
In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”
Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east. The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.
The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.
Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia
Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources, and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Subsequently, al-Qa‘ida’s name became primarily a rallying cry, a set of Islamic beliefs, centering on the creation of an Islamic state, the imposition of sharia, a return to Islamic customs, the subjugation of women, and the waging of holy war against other Muslims, notably the Shia, who are considered heretics worthy of death. At the center of this doctrine for making war is an emphasis on self-sacrifice and martyrdom as a symbol of religious faith and commitment. This has resulted in using untrained but fanatical believers as suicide bombers, to devastating effect.
It has always been in the interest of the U.S. and other governments that al-Qa‘ida be viewed as having a command-and-control structure like a mini-Pentagon, or like the mafia in America. This is a comforting image for the public because organized groups, however demonic, can be tracked down and eliminated through imprisonment or death. More alarming is the reality of a movement whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere.
Osama bin Laden’s gathering of militants, which he did not call al-Qa‘ida until after 9/11, was just one of many jihadi groups 12 years ago. But today its ideas and methods are predominant among jihadis because of the prestige and publicity it gained through the destruction of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, and its demonization by Washington as the source of all anti-American evil. These days, there is a narrowing of differences in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa‘ida central.
Unsurprisingly, governments prefer the fantasy picture of al-Qa‘ida because it enables them to claim victories when it succeeds in killing its better known members and allies. Often, those eliminated are given quasi-military ranks, such as “head of operations,” to enhance the significance of their demise. The culmination of this heavily publicized but largely irrelevant aspect of the “war on terror” was the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011. This enabled President Obama to grandstand before the American public as the man who had presided over the hunting down of al-Qa‘ida’s leader. In practical terms, however, his death had little impact on al-Qa‘ida-type jihadi groups, whose greatest expansion has occurred subsequently.
Ignoring the Roles of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
The key decisions that enabled al-Qa‘ida to survive, and later to expand, were made in the hours immediately after 9/11. Almost every significant element in the project to crash planes into the Twin Towers and other iconic American buildings led back to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite, and his father had been a close associate of the Saudi monarch. Citing a CIA report from 2002, the official 9/11 report says that al-Qa‘ida relied for its financing on “a variety of donors and fundraisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.”
The report’s investigators repeatedly found their access limited or denied when seeking information in Saudi Arabia. Yet President George W. Bush apparently never even considered holding the Saudis responsible for what happened. An exit of senior Saudis, including bin Laden relatives, from the U.S. was facilitated by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11. Most significant, 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report about the relationship between the attackers and Saudi Arabia were cut and never published, despite a promise by President Obama to do so, on the grounds of national security.
In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. But despite this private admission, the U.S. and Western Europeans continued to remain indifferent to Saudi preachers whose message, spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube, and Twitter, called for the killing of the Shia as heretics. These calls came as al-Qa‘ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq. A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads: “Saudi Arabia: Anti-Shi’ism as Foreign Policy?” Now, five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.
Pakistan, or rather Pakistani military intelligence in the shape of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the other parent of al-Qa‘ida, the Taliban, and jihadi movements in general. When the Taliban was disintegrating under the weight of U.S. bombing in 2001, its forces in northern Afghanistan were trapped by anti-Taliban forces. Before they surrendered, hundreds of ISI members, military trainers, and advisers were hastily evacuated by air. Despite the clearest evidence of ISI’s sponsorship of the Taliban and jihadis in general, Washington refused to confront Pakistan, and thereby opened the way for the resurgence of the Taliban after 2003, which neither the U.S. nor NATO has been able to reverse.
The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The U.S. did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasion purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon.
The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11. Since then, the U.S., closely followed by Britain, has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and adopted procedures normally associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial, rendition, torture, and domestic espionage. Governments wage the “war on terror” claiming that the rights of individual citizens must be sacrificed to secure the safety of all.
In the face of these controversial security measures, the movements against which they are aimed have not been defeated but rather have grown stronger. At the time of 9/11, al-Qa‘ida was a small, generally ineffectual organization; by 2014 al-Qa‘ida-type groups were numerous and powerful.
In other words, the “war on terror,” the waging of which has shaped the political landscape for so much of the world since 2001, has demonstrably failed. Until the fall of Mosul, nobody paid much attention.
This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books. The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch, where this originally appeared.