The US responded this week to the Syria Kurds' declaration of autonomy, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "We've...made it clear to these Kurdish forces [in Syria] that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones." He added that Kurdish forces in Syria "should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it's returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to—so that all displaced people can return there." This is a barely veiled reference to accusations that Syrian Kurdish forces are engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen in areas liberated from ISIS. But not only are these charges dubious, but Toner's statement ignores that often the only "civilian authorities" are in fact those of the Kurdish autonomous administration. More ominously, he warned that the US is in close dialogue with Turkey on the question and understands Ankara's "concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria." (This as Turkey is wagng a brutal counterinsurgency against Kurdish rebels within its own territory, to Washington's silence.) Ironically, he added that the Kurdish militias in Syria "are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East.
Supposed antagonists Bashar Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are both in the process of reducing cities to rubble: Aleppo in northern Syria and Cizre in eastern Turkey. The world is just starting to take note of the disaster in Cizre, which has been laregly invisilbe but won a flurry of coverage this week with the release a report by Turkish human rights group Mazlumder (PDF) finding that army campaigns turned the predominantly Kurdish city into a "war zone," with over 200 people killed and more than 10,000 homes destroyed over the past months. Officially, the troops were there to enforce a round-the-clock curfew in place between December and March, but it quickly became a counterinsurgency war to pacifiy (or destroy) neighborhoods under control of PKK youth organizations. "Cizre has witnessed unprecedented destruction following clashes which took place during a curfew lasting over 78 days, and unlike in curfews before, the curfew in Cizre saw mass killings," Mazlumder said. The worst single incident was the Feb. 19 massacre, in which some 150 Kurds sheltering in basements burned to death when the buildings were set on fire by military forces. Lawyers from the local bar association told Mazlumder that "following the deaths in the basements in Cizre, there was no crime scene investigation and no judicial authority was allowed to enter the basements." (BBC News, May 23; DW, May 18)
Presidential election results in the Philippines came in May 10, with bombastic anti-crime hardliner Rodrigo Duterte emerging the victor. Ruling-party candidate Mar Roxas quickly conceded defeat. Duterte is the mayor of Davao City in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao—which has been hit by a wave of death-squad terror in recent years. The paramilitaries are ostensibly a response to crime and narco networks on the island, but ecology activists and peasant leaders have also been targeted. Duterte has been named as a mastermind of the paramilitaries, and certainly makes no bones about his intolerant position on drug use. "All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," he Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."
The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...
At a summit in Vienna this week, world powers agreed to supply arms to Libya to fight ISIS, and to seek an exemption from the UN arms embargo on the country. But few media accounts are emphasizing that Libya now has three rival governments (not counting ISIS and various militia-controlled enclaves), and the "recognized" one is by far the weakest. Attending the summit was Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). An official statement said: "The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and is charged with preserving and protecting Libya's resources for the benefit of all its people." (Anadolu Agency, EuroNews) A sobering analysis in the Times of Oman, "Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue," calls the GNA "a 'Potemkin Village' lie of epic proportions," noting that it consists of a handful of men ensconced in a naval base outside Tripoli, controlling no territory and commanding no troops. The closest thing to an army it has is "an assortment of militias of varying shades of extremist" that have announced a tenuous recognition of its authority, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.
The ongoing terror in Iraq that has now become so routine as to win little note from the world media, today's entry was so horrifc as to win headlines and high Google rankings. Four car bombings in Baghdad claimed at least 88 lives, by the most recent count. The deadliest blast hit the Shi'ite district of Sadr City, killing at least 60 and wounding more than 100. The target was apparently a beauty salon in a crowded market, and most of the victims were women. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks via social media. (Al Jazeera) The escalation of terror may be a response to the fact that ISIS is losing ground. On the same day as the blasts, the Iraqi government announced that ISIS-controlled areas have been reduced to 14% of the country's territory—down form 40% after the Islamic State's initial irruption in 2014. Over the past year, ISIS has lost control of the cities of Ramadi, Tikrit, and Hit. (Reuters) "As we have seen as the enemy loses more and more terrain, they resort to these more desperate attacks," Maj Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of combined joint land forces for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters at the Pentagon. (Daily Beast)
Tell us again how the "mainstream media" are prejudiced against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad? Regime warplanes again hit Syria's divided largest city of Aleppo and neighboring rebel-controlled towns May 8. The Reuters headline is straight-up regime propaganda: "Syrian warplanes counter-attack rebels near Aleppo." First, these are populated towns that are being bombed, and we can assume that civilians and their homes are being hit at least as much as (if not more than) any "rebel" targets. Second, the word "counter-attack" is used, with the explanation that the strikes came "as the government tried to push back a [sic] insurgent advance in the area." How many things are wrong with this? First and foremost: the insurgents are advancing in the face of ongoing regime terror of precisely this nature. The word "counter-attack" makes it sound like the rebels started the fighting arbitrarily. This is like Israel framing each new bombardment of Gaza as a "counter-attack" to Palestinian rocket-fire. Second, while we know that Reuters has to maintain its "objectivity," it is a little late in the day to be flattering the outlaw regime of Bashar Assad with the label "government." As we've said before: At this point, Assad controls only some 20% of the country. Assad is just Syria's most well-armed (and bloodiest) warlord, with powerful foreign patrons—but nothing more. Third (although it seems petty to mention it), Reuters could use a proof-reader.