Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 05:14:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In Boon for EVs, Solar Panels, California will roll back CO2 Emissions to 40% Below 1990 Mon, 29 Aug 2016 05:13:44 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The California legislature worked on a carbon dioxide emissions reduction bill for a year, and is finally sending it to the governor for his signature. It is one of the more ambitious pieces of CO2 legislation by any US state, more resembling policies of the European Union. Reaching its goals will require a massive effort. It seeks to get California emissions to 40% under 1990 levels by 2030. That would pretty much get you back to 1970 levels.

In 2014 California, with a population of about 39 million, put out 441 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. The new goal would aim for only 260 million metric tons by 2010. (Actually that is also way too much for the health of the planet, but it will be difficult enough to achieve with current technology– remember that California’s population, economy and energy use will also grow a good deal by 2030, making cuts even more difficult to achieve.)

A lot of emissions reduction goals are frankly fraudulent. Getting emissions under 2006 levels is frequently proclaimed as an objective. But if you look into it you find that after Kyoto asked for a return to 1990 levels, the countries of the world ramped up their emissions enormously, so by 2006 we were emitting 25% more than in 1990. So then the world abandoned the Kyoto goal of getting below the 1990 levels, and said by 2025 or 2030 we’d get below the 2006 levels. That’s a pledge to increase emissions, not reduce them!

The legislation will require a tightening of state requirements for renewable energy and mandates for more use of electric vehicles and hybrids.

Although California uses almost no coal for electricity generation in state, it imports electricity from nearby states that use coal heavily– so actually the state is powered by as much as 50% by coal. That has to stop, and quickly. But it isn’t clear that the bill we are discussing takes into account out-of-state production.

Pacific Gas & Electric has proposed putting in 7500 fast charge stations in California. That may be too ambitious and they will probably start smaller, but the more chargers are visible the more comfortable people may feel about having an EV.

EV’s are in any case about to take off in a big way, with models like the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla E able to deliver over 200 miles on a charge. Ubiquitous fast charging will accelerate sales of these vehicles. California alone wants to have 1.5 million of them on the road by 2025. (If that kind of thing happens globally, Saudi Arabia and Iran will just have to find something else to do in life).

All this doesn’t even take account of green energy initiatives, mandates and rebates at the county and municipal level in California, where there is a whirlwind of activity. One innovation is that aggregate of customers (in blocs as big as 5 million consumers) could collectively decide to buy electricity from a greener power plant rather than a dirtier one, rewarding green entrepreneurs.


Related video:

Wochit News: ” Solar Energy Is California’s Next Cash Crop”

]]> 1
America’s Syria SNAFU: Pentagon’s Militias fight Turkey & CIA’s Militias Sun, 28 Aug 2016 05:13:03 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Turkish incursion into Syria at Jarabulus was advertised as an attack on a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) stronghold and smuggling station in conjunction with (fundamentalist) remnants of the Free Syrian Army.

But the southern outskirts of Jarabulus had already fallen to the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which are majority Kurdish but have a significant Arab component. The Arab, non-Kurdish SDF brigades such as the Seljuk brigade, the Army of Revolutionaries, and Northern Sun Brigade had fought to liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij, due south of Jarabulus from Daesh. They have an outpost in the village of Amarna just a few miles south of Jarabulus, where they call themselves the Jarabulus Military Council.

The Turkish army, having secured Jarabulus itself with the help of fundamentalist militias, moved down to Amarna, where they met fierce resistance from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are allied with the Kurds. The Turkish air force bombarded the SDF positions in Amarna and the militias responded by destroying two tanks and killing one Turkish soldier. Fighting continues there.

h/t Google Maps

Remember, Turkish forces were supposed to be going in to Syria to fight Daesh. But there they were, engaging in combat at Amarna with the SDF, which is backed by the US Department of Defense, which has 200 US special operations forces embedded with it, and which had itself taken heavy losses kicking Daesh out of Manbij.

These actions help answer the question I posed Thursday, about whether the Turkish incursion is really aimed at stopping the Kurds from consolidating their mini-state of Rojava in northern Syria rather than mainly targeting Daesh.

Kurdish media is saying,

“Furthermore, the Turkish-backed [fundamentalist] Sultan Murad brigade captured three SDF fighters in the Turkmen Yusuf Beg village, publishing a video beating them on camera, calling them ‘PKK dogs’.

Turkey sees the leftist Kurdish YPG militia in Syria as a part of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK in Turkey. The latter is a terrorist organization according to the US, but the YPG is considered a US ally.

Kurdish sources also allege Turkish incursions near Kobane and Afrin. Afrin is the western-most of the three Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, and the Kurds are accusing the Turks of trying to keep it cut off from the others.

US Syrian policy is in disarray despite the victories against Daesh in Manbij and Jarabulus. US allies on the ground– the Turks, the fundamentalist Syrian rebels, and the leftist, pro-US Kurds and their Arab allies– are now actively combatting one another, and a group backed by the Pentagon has just killed a Turkish soldier, which is to say, a NATO soldier.

Related video:

CCTV: “Syria crisis: Fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces intensifies”

]]> 18
The Russian Challenge to U.S. Policy in Africa Sun, 28 Aug 2016 04:25:24 +0000 Gregory Alonso Pirio and Robert Pittelli | Informed Comment | – –

The United States and its Western allies, for the most part, consider the Cold War long over, and with the sanctions levied against Russia in 2014 in response to its confiscation of Crimea from the Ukraine, many in the corridors of Washington tend to discount Russia as a major player on the world stage. However, the current policies of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, aim to re-establish a polarized world as a means of reclaiming Russia’s former influence in the international arena. Under the guise of economic and trade cooperation, President Putin, along with his fellow oligarchs and Russia’s state-owned corporations, appear to be acting in a coordinated manner to achieve geo-political advantage. This process is clearly underway in a number of African countries.

Despite the sanctions levied against the Russian Federation by the West, or perhaps because of them, Russia appears to have methodically accelerated its efforts to build political alliances and make economic trade deals with a number of African countries whose political establishments stand to gain from the promotion of the alternative global order that Putin is promoting. These include fellow sanctioned states like Sudan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea; post-coup Egypt and former Soviet allies such as Angola.

Nigeria stands out as an important example of how Russian readiness to supply helicopters and other defense assistance to Nigeria effectively undercut United States efforts to withhold military support to Nigerian security forces as a way of leveraging human rights improvements within the Nigerian military. The U.S. had turned down repeated requests from Nigeria to purchase weapons to fight the violent extremist organization, Boko Haram, blocked the sale of U.S. made helicopters from Israel to Nigeria. Russia took advantage of the arms embargo, offering in late 2014 Abuja a reported billion dollar line of credit that was used to purchase Russian made helicopter gunships and other equipment. Russians also sent military personnel to train Nigerian military in its fight against Boko Haram. By mid-2016, the Obama administration appeared poised to reverse its policy citing actions that the new Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari, had made within the military to clean up its act.

While the US policy toward Africa is founded on a worldview that leads it to promote democratic governance, free markets and the rule of law, Russia, on the other hand, has been courting and furthering the interests of the power elites within various African countries, often through shady deals that enrich those in the political, security and military establishments. In turn, Russian enterprises will often reap lucrative business concessions from these partner governments. As part of these political and economic quid pro quo arrangements, Russia will, on occasion, show its loyalty on the international stage by vetoing UN resolutions that will upset their African friends, as has been the case for Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. In this way, Russian business and political interests become inextricably intertwined, and done in ways that undermine U.S. pro-democracy goals and not infrequently specific foreign policy objectives.

To view Russian trade and investment purely through the lens of business interests is a mistake. These international trade deals and international political maneuvers appear designed to create an emerging bloc of international oligarchs that eschews democratic principles and rule of law. Russia was engaged in this process before the Western sanctions were imposed on it. However, the process of building oligarchical alliances appears to have accelerated since the imposition of sanctions on Russia. These emergent relationships pose a serious challenge to the West’s post-Cold War pro-democracy, human rights and good governance agenda in Africa. The Russian courtship of countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, strategically located near the Red Sea and Suez Canal should be regarded as an effort to can greater political and military influence in a vital geo-political region, as we have argued in a 2015 article.[1]

A common tactic used in the Russian oligarchical system to ingratiate national elites in some African countries has involved the sale of military hardware and other commodities that aim to buy the loyalties of local elites by enriching them. This tactic has been deployed in Angola, Sudan and Zimbabwe. This tactic may have also been deployed in Mozambique, as emerging details of that country’s secret dealings with the Russian state-owned VTB Capital bank seem to suggest.

Vladimir Putin spelled out Russia’s business strategy to rekindle Soviet-era international relationships at a 2012 Russian Federal Security Council meeting on the defense industry. He said, “. . . a major part of Russia’s weapons business includes upgrades and refurbishment of Soviet-era technology and hardware . . . .” Rostec, Russia’s largest state-owned conglomerate, is usually at the forefront of most major overseas economic deals. It regards Africa as an important market for its products, especially military equipment. Rostec officials have argued that Soviet-era weapons are still in use across Africa and require repairs. The company intends to satisfy this demand. Rosoboronexport, a subsidiary of Rostec, is Russia’s key state company executing major foreign arms transactions.

Using arms sales as a point of entry, Russia has been busy reestablishing political, military and business relationships across Africa. Moscow has used this model of arms first, business concession later in Egypt, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries. In 2016, Tanzania and Somalia made requests for Russian military equipment; it is yet to be seen if lucrative concessions will be then made to Russian enterprises.

Russia has always maintained a cordial relationship with Egypt, a one-time Soviet-ally. Since the 2013 military coup that ousted Egypt’s elected government and brought General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power, relations between Russia and Egypt have significantly warmed; while relations with the US have shown signs of cooling. Between, 2014-2016, Russia and Egypt entered into several major, multi-million dollar business deals across various economic sectors. Most notably, Rosatom and Rosneft, both subsidiaries of Rostec, are involved in major development deals involving nuclear energy, oil and natural gas.[2] In 2015, after both countries announced their cooperation in building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, Russia gave Egypt free-of-charge an advanced Molniya class missile cruiser. Later, that same year, Egypt gave its support for Russia’s decision to strike “terrorist” targets in Syria. In 2016, with the nuclear deal secured, President Sisi announced plans to depend on Russia to upgrade its older, Soviet-era, factories, and also concluded another economic deal, giving Russia an industrial trade zone within the Suez Canal zone area.

As for Angola– a staunch Cold War ally of the Soviet Union, in 2013, Rosoboronexport sold the country 18 aging Su-30K fighter jets – as part of $1 billion plus arms deal. Rosoboronexport initially supplied this fleet of fighters to India in the late 1990s, prior to Delhi receiving the more advanced multirole Su-30MKI. India returned the aging fighters to Russia where they had been mothballed before Angola’s purchase of them. The Angolan investigative press has noted that these planes are of little, if any strategic value to Angola, which has no known enemies. Rather, reportedly, the Angolan military establishment, which is a backbone of support for President Eduardo dos Santos who has been president of Angola since 1979, reportedly benefits from hefty kickbacks from military purchases.

The deal also included spare parts for Soviet-made weapons, small arms and weapons, ammunition, tanks, artillery, and Mi-17 helicopters, according to the Russian-language business daily, Vedomosti. Additionally, the two sides agreed to build an ammunition plant in Angola. In 2015, the Angola military was the only African country to send observers to the Russian-sponsored international war games.

The $1 billion plus sale of Russian arms to Angola came when the Angolan state was cash rich, that is, prior to the historic drop in world oil prices in mid-2014 that greatly affected revenues to the oil-dependent Angolan government. Later in 2014, the Russian state majority share bank, VTB Capital PLC, came to the rescue of the newly cash-strapped Angolan government with a loan of US$1.5 billion to finance the state budget.

Russian efforts to promote military and political engagement with Sudan epitomize how U.S. efforts to exert pressure on a country are undermined by Russia. A number of U.S. Executive Orders, applicable laws and implementing regulations impose economic sanctions on the Sudanese government, individuals and business entities. The U.S. justifies its sanctions largely on the basis of Sudanese government’s human rights and war crimes violations in its suppression of the rebellions in its Darfur region.

After the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia in 2014, Sudan and Russia found common ground as fellow sanctioned states. Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, — himself indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur — reportedly stressed to the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, Sudan’s solidarity with Russia. President Bashir noted that Sudan also suffers from sanctions. In turn, the Russian Ambassador to Sudan openly expressed his country’s appreciation of Sudan’s support of Russia on different issues at the United Nations and described their bilateral relations as “distinguished and deeply-rooted.”

The UN had imposed an embargo on arms and military technical assistance to Sudan unless there were to be a guarantee that the assistance would not be used in the Darfur conflict. But in apparent disregard to the spirit of the UN embargo, Foreign Minister Lavrov pledged increased military technical cooperation with Sudan. Indeed, Russian military sales and cooperation have helped to enable Sudan to sustain its position as a regional power player.

In a familiar pattern of Russia using military sales as an entry for greater political and economic relations, Rosoboronexport had sold, from 2011 through 2013, two dozen Mi-24 attack helicopters and 14 MI-8 transport helicopters to the Sudanese government. The sales were not a technical violation of the UN arms embargo against Sudan, as Russia guaranteed that the helicopters would not be used in the Darfur conflict. However, the Russian guarantee appears to have been a slight-of-hand move, as Amnesty International documented that Russian (and Chinese) arms including Russian-supplied Mi-24 attack helicopters were fueling the conflict in Darfur. Sudan has also transferred several of its Russian-made helicopters to the Libyan authorities after the imposition of the UN arms embargo against Libya, without notifying the UN; and that ammunition recovered during seizures have shown the material was produced by the Sudanese State-owned Military Industry Corporation, which is supported through a cooperation agreement with Russia.

Russian support for Sudan’s military ambitions and Russian support for Khartoum in international forums helped pave the way for business concessions. In mid-2015, the director general of Sudan’s Geological Research Authority announced that Russian companies would be given priority in the context of economic cooperation and investment partnerships between the two countries, especially in gold and uranium. Shortly after this announcement, President al-Bashir, presided over signing of an agreement between Sudanese Ministry of Minerals and the Russian Siberian Mining Company Limited, to extract gold in the Red Sea and the River Nile states which was described as the largest investment contract in Sudan’s history in the field of minerals. The government’s claim that the Russian-discovered gold reserve was valued at $1.7 trillion was soon disputed, and others challenged the credentials of the Russian company to carry out the Sudanese project. Nonetheless, in 2016 Sudan’s Minister of Minerals Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Sadiq Al-Karuri stressed Sudan’s intention to build strategic relations with the Russian state for the benefit of the two countries and to continue the existing cooperation at all levels; he also revealed that the largest producer of gold in Sudan was now the Koch Russian Company.

Moscow came to the rescue of Khartoum in 2016 when it sought to limit the impact of a UN panel’s investigation into the role of Sudanese gold in financing the Darfur conflict. Russia, China, and other non- permanent members of the Security Council opposed an attempt by the United States and the United Kingdom to adopt investigative panel’s recommendations of imposing sanctions on individuals and entities that impose illegal taxes on artisanal gold miners as well as those engaged in the illegal exploitation and trafficking of gold. The panel pointed out that between 2010 and 2014, more than $4.5 billion in gold was smuggled from Sudan to the United Arab Emirates.

Sanctions would have had among its targets Khartoum-supported alleged war criminal, Musa Hilal. Russia blocked the release of the confidential UN report that said Hilal was pocketing $54 million a year from gold sales from a mine located in Darfur. Sudan’s Mineral Minister, Al-Karuri praised the Russian support to Sudan in international forums, particularly its cooperation to prevent further sanctions against Sudan.

Zimbabwe is another sanctioned African state with which Russia has been cultivating deep economic and bilateral political relations. Much of this relationship between the two countries appears to rest on satisfying Zimbabwe’s military requirements, even if it is cash short, and creating business alliances between the countries’ military elites. Similar to what it did for Sudan, Russia came to the defense of Zimbabwe at the United Nations in 2008, by opposing the imposition of an arms embargo that was supported by the U.S.

In September 2014, a Russian delegation to Zimbabwe, led by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov and Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, resulted in the signing of a series of key bilateral agreements and several lucrative joint venture business deals. Most notably was the historic US $3 billion platinum mining project in Darwendale that is expected to create jobs and stimulate growth in various sectors of the Zimbabwean economy. The joint venture, named Great Dyke Investments, between Zimbabwe’s Pen East mining company and a Russian consortium made up of three corporations, Rostec (heavily involved in military production and sales), VI Holdings and Vnesheconombank. The platinum mining agreement amounted to the largest joint venture Zimbabwe entered with a foreign investor since its independence in 1979.

The presence of Minister Denis Manturov, who is also Chairman of Rostec’s Supervisory board at the signing (rather than Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources, Sergy Donskoy) caught the Zimbabwe business community by surprise. Manturov’s role fueled speculation that there was an arms deal hidden behind the highly publicized platinum mining joint venture agreement. Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister, Walter Chidhakwa, stated he was not aware of any arms deal, but he did say, “negotiations for this joint venture” (the platinum deal) was in the planning stages since 2005- 2006.

During that earlier period, Zimbabwe was desperate to replenish and upgrade its military forces that were depleted during the Congo-Kinshasa war when Zimbabwe intervened to save the late Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime from insurgents in 1998-2002. However, an arms embargo, which was levied by France and the United Kingdom in 2002 and the US in 2003 in response high levels of political violence, human rights violations and intimidation perpetrated by security forces and the ruling party, hampered President Mugabe’s efforts to rebuild the armed forces.

Despite the arms embargo, China and Russia continued to supply arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe, (but on a small scale). In 2008, the UN Security Council attempted to pass a draft resolution that would have imposed a UN arms embargo on Zimbabwe, but it was vetoed by both China and Russia. In 2012, Rosoboronexport identified Zimbabwe as an African state with which “a promising trade relationship is developing.”

However, by 2013, Zimbabwe was struggling financially and not in any shape to purchase such military equipment or even pay for Russian fighter jets. Some speculated that mineral rich Zimbabwe was paying China in kind with mining concession and farmland for its arms. Then in 2014, probably taking a page out of China’s playbook and not to be outdone, Russia culminated, by signing, the most lucrative joint venture platinum mining deal in Zimbabwe’s history.

The connection between the platinum deal and the military connection is clear. The Pan East mining company, the Zimbabwe partner in the platinum mining joint venture, has links to the Zimbabwe’s military. And in 2012, the Kommersant, a Russian business daily, reported that Russia secured an inter-government agreement from Zimbabwe on “stimulating investment and defense,” under which Rostech would supply military helicopters in exchange for mineral rights to platinum deposits in Darwendale. The board chairman of Pan East mining company is an individual with strong ties to the Zimbabwean military; he is retired Colonel Tshinga Dube, who is also the chair of Marange Resources and general manager of Zimbabwe Defense Industries. Dube has been involved with Pan East dating back to 2005 when the platinum mining deal was just in its planning stages.

Coincidentally, in September 2014, during the week when the Russian delegation was finalizing the joint venture deals, Rostec’s subsidiary Rosoboronexport and Russian Helicopter Company were conducting an arms expo in Pretoria, South Africa where they showcased the latest military and multi-purpose helicopters and other military equipment. Representatives from more than 25 African countries, including Zimbabwe, were present. Unconfirmed reports mentioned that some representatives, from Zimbabwe, behind the scenes were reinforcing reports that the platinum deal involved an arms agreement. However, it remains to be seen if any Russian military equipment or any high end military items – such as attack helicopters, or jets, or tanks, etc., have arrived in country, openly or hidden from view.

The Russian-Zimbabwe deal will likely yield a good return on the Russian investments. It underscores the importance to the oligarchs of ensuring profitability before investing. In the case of Zimbabwe, this meant cultivating strong relationships with the military establishment and ensuring that members of that establishment also receive their share of the profits.

What is apparent, from the above analysis, is that U.S. policy toward Africa and Russia has to take into account the rise of African power elites who are fueled by the Russian business oligarchs seeking political influence and profits. These new relations undermine a lot of U.S. post-Cold War approaches to African governments that often placed human rights and pro-democracy conditionality on its developmental and military cooperation with African states. The apparent bending of the rules on human rights in the case of Nigeria, for example, suggests that Washington is likely to weaken its stance on human rights and pro-democracy conditionality in order to avoid losing its political, and possibly economic, influence among a substantial group of African nations.


[2] These transactions build upon the earlier Egyptian military financing of a surveillance satellite, that Russia’sRSC Energia developed and launched in 2014. EgyptSat 2 reportedly provided the Egyptian government with high-resolution imagery of Earth for environmental, scientific and military purposes. However, the satellite malfunctioned in 2015. The Russian companies, NPO Mashinostroenia and Roskosmos, developed and launched into orbit the South African earth observation satellite Kondor-E, which provides South Africa’s armed forces with daily high-resolution imagery. In addition, the satellite is an integral part of Project Condor, a joint satellite system, between Moscow and Pretoria, that reportedly provides surveillance of the entire African continent.

Gregory Alonso Pirio, Ph.D. is the author of The African Jihad and The African Jihad: Bin Laden’s Quest for the Horn of Africa (Red Sea Press) and is president of EC Associates.

Mr. Pittelli is a retired US Air Force and Department of the Army Civilian military intelligence and information operations analyst with an emphasis on Africa.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

SABC from last Fall: “Trade and economic ties between South Africa and Russia”

]]> 4
French Court lifts Municipal Burkini Ban; & Why should you care what other people wear? Sat, 27 Aug 2016 05:28:52 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Nicolas Cadène, in an interview at L’Express analyzes the French court ruling issued Friday that struck down the ban by the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet on Muslim women wearing modest clothing at the public beach. The ban was on the burkini, invented by a Lebanese fashion designer to allow observant Muslim women to go to the beach with their families. But women wearing loose street clothes at the beach have also been bothered by police.

Cadène is a rapporteur at the “Secularism Watchdog” (l’Observatoire de la laïcité), a Ministry of Education body that advises the French government on the implementation of the secularism provisions of the French constitution.

The Counsel of State found that wearing a Burkini creates no trouble for public order and is simply not illegal in current French law. In response, the French right wing has demanded that the National Assembly enact anti-Burkini legislation. L’Express worries that the French executive, or at least the ministry of interior, might be inclined to appease the Islamophobic and anti-immigrant right wing on this issue.

L’Express asked Cadène for his reaction. He said he wasn’t surprised and was very pleased that the court had upheld rights in such a clear way. He said that the court had reaffirmed the principle that secularism cannot be invoked to forbid wearing a piece of clothing in a public space, which creates no actual difficulty with regard to public order. And they found that the Burkini doesn’t generate any such disturbances.

L’Express pointed out that the logic of rights is not particularly visible in the realm of politics, since several members of parliament have already called for anti-Burkini legislation.

Cadène said that it is disquieting to see these reactions. He pointed out that August 26, the date of the verdict, is the anniversary of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. Article 10 says, “10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” He said the members of the National Assembly just are not reacting in accordance with the Rights of Man, which has constitutional force.

L’Express pointed out that the court did not address the question of whether the Burkini is “ostentatious” or not.

Cadène said that “ostentation” is a political judgment, not a legal one, and there are no laws forbidding it.

He instanced only three pieces of French legislation that observers have attempted to relate to this case, and dismissed all three as irrelevant.

There is the 2004 ban on wearing religious paraphernalia in K-12 schools. There, the rationale is to protect minors from any sort of pressure, so as to allow them to study in peace. He implied that such a rationale could not be invoked with regard to adults in public spaces.

There is also a prohibition on clothing that covers the face, but this provision, he said, is simply a matter of security, since it prevents the identification of the person who wears it. Again, this issue does not arise with regard to the Burkini, since it leaves the face bare.

He added that, third, government officials must avoid expressing their religious opinions. But this prohibition came about because they are representatives of the state and so must be neutral.

L’Express pointed out that some commenters look at the issue in the frame of women’s rights, seeing this beachwear as retrograde, and wanted to know if this debate can be pursued in the wake of the ruling.

Cadène said that the decision has affirmed the law that is in effect. It doesn’t forbid debating ideas. It should be decided whether this clothing is retrograde for the condition of women. But in a state based on the law, you can’t just prohibit things you don’t like with no legal basis.

I think Cadène’s location of choice of clothing as an expression of one’s opinion, and therefore protected under Article 10, is brilliant. In the US, this sort of issue would likely be decided in the light of our First Amendment.

Government laws dictating how people dress are called “sumptuary laws.” Although some delegates to the US constitutional convention wanted to specify such laws as a prerogative of the federal government, in the end they did not. (Some wanted to forbid aristocratic dress inappropriate to a republic). In the end, the federal government doesn’t have any right to tell us how we can dress. Local governments often pass decency legislation, but those laws typically mandate that people cover up, not that they uncover.

The French mayor wanted to make French women wear revealing bathing suits on the grounds that they are republican and secular, whereas Burkinis or loose street clothes on the beach are an ostentatious sign of a woman being pious and religious– inappropriate in the public spaces of a republic. This attitude comes out of the French conception of laïcité or secularism, which isn’t like the American. French in the strong republican tradition see religion as a little like we now view smoking, as something that is probably bad for people and which should be discouraged, but which is too popular to be banned. So banning a Burkini for the public good would be viewed by them as like banning cigarettes in public. But there are real problems with giving the state the right to regulate what is essentially a manifestation of private opinions on the part of a citizen, as was pointed out above.

Sometimes Islamophobic conservatives express outrage that Western progressives support Muslim rights that the conservatives want to curb. But progressives also support Sikhs, Haredi Jews and others who want to be different, as long as their being different doesn’t harm anyone. (Thus, Sikh construction workers have to wear a hard hat or they would cost everyone a lot of money in health care; and Haredi bus drivers can’t exclude women or girls because that would be a form of discrimination and a tort). The reason progressives support these groups is that we believe being different is an extension of the First Amendment. Conservatives have passed a raft of state and federal laws protecting religious groups from government interference, but they define religion as only evangelical Christians and they ignore the issue of actual harm religious practices can do (thus business people claimed the right not to serve African-Americans on religious grounds back in the 1960s and 1970s). In short, the progressive position is principled, the conservative one hypocritical and arbitrary.

Let me also point out that the French Third Republic was founded in 1870, and that this swimsuit for women was proposed in 1893 in the French specialty publication, the Fashion Monitor (Le Moniteur de la mode : journal du grande monde):


And here’s Edouard Manet, “On the Beach,” 1873:

You can say that wearers of Burkinis are harking back to early days of the Third Republic. You can’t say they are behaving in unprecedented ways for citizens of the Republic.

]]> 24
ISIL sends families out of Mosul as Kurdish, Shiite Forces advance Fri, 26 Aug 2016 04:43:15 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraqi military forces have taken the strategic town of al-Qayarah near the major city of Mosul from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Mosul is the last major city in the hands of the apocalyptic, brutal cult as it has lost almost all the territory it took in 2014.

Al-Qayarah is 60 km from Mosul. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, commander of Iraqi land forces, told France24, “we have established domination over the city from every side and have expeditiously cleared out pockets within it.” He added, “Military engineers are currently clearing the town of improvised explosive devices.”

The counter-terrorism units of the Iraqi army led the charge as they began their assault on al-Qayyarah on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi welcomed the victory, calling it an important step toward the liberation of Mosul. He looked forward to the day when Mosul would be rescued from the criminal gangs now terrorizing its population and would be returned to the bosom of the Iraqi nation.

The air above al-Qayarah turned black as Daesh saboteurs set fire to its oil wells.

Al-Quds al-Arabi reports that in the wake of the Iraqi military’s rapid advance into al-Qayarah and the beginning of the assault on Mosul itself, a source inside Mosul maintains that Daesh fighters took the unusual step of sending hundreds of their family members, as well as widows and orphans of those Daesh guerrillas killed at al-Qayyarah, out of the city with fake i.d.s. Most of these family members made it to al-Raqqa in eastern Syria over secret routes, or to Kirkuk, Salahudddin Province or even slipped in among the refugees headed for the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Aljazeera reports that as the Mosul campaign gears up there is increasing tension between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

One source of tension was a communique issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s ministry of Peshmerga, which said that the Peshmerga would not obey orders from the Iraqi defense establishment.

PM al-Abadi ruffled feathers recently when he said that the Peshmerga would not be permitted to enter Mosul city.

Iraqi Kurdistan began with three Kurdish-majority provinces (Iraq had 18 provinces), but in summer of 2014, it unilaterally annexed the more mixed province of Kirkuk, subjecting its Arab and Turkmen populations. Kurdish nationalists have expressed a desire for Mosul, and it is controversial among Arab populations to have Kurdish fighters lead the charge.

Meanwhile, Rudaw is reporting that Usama al-Nujayfi, a prominent Mosul politician, is heading to Turkey for consultations at the end of this month. Sunni politicians are restive about their future place in Iraq once Daesh is rolled up as a territorial force.

Related video added by Juan Cole

EuroNews: Iraq forces retake key town south of Mosul

]]> 5
The Great Mexican Wall Deception Thu, 25 Aug 2016 04:32:31 +0000 By Todd Miller | ( | – –

At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession — 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

On and on it goes, day-in, day-out. Like so many meals served in fast-food restaurants, 750,000 prison sentences of this sort have been handed down since Operation Streamline was launched in 2005. This mass prosecution of undocumented border crossers has become so much the norm that one report concluded it is now a “driving force in mass incarceration” in the United States. Yet it is but a single program among many overseen by the massive U.S. border enforcement and incarceration regime that has developed during the last two decades, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Sarabia takes a half-step forward. “My infant is four months old,” he tells the judge in Spanish. The baby was, he assures her, born with a heart condition and is a U.S. citizen. They have no option but to operate. This is the reason, he says, that “I’m here before you.” He pauses.

“I want to be with my child, who is in the United States.”

It’s clear that Sarabia would like to gesture emphatically as he speaks, but that’s difficult, thanks to the shackles that constrain him. Rateau fills her coffee cup as she waits for his comments to be translated into English.

Earlier in April 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, still in the heat of his primary campaign, stated once again that he would build a massive concrete border wall towering 30 (or, depending on the moment, 55) feet high along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican border. He would, he insisted, force Mexico to pay for the $8 billion to $10 billion barrier. Repeatedly throwing such red meat into the gaping jaws of nativism, he has over these last months also announced that he would create a major “deportation force,” repeatedly sworn that he would ban Muslims from entering the country (a position that he regularly revises), and most recently, that he would institute an “extreme vetting” process for foreign nationals arriving in the United States.

In June 2015, when he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential campaign, among his initial promises was the building of a “great” and “beautiful” wall on the border. (“And no one builds walls better than me, believe me. I will do it very inexpensively. I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”)  As he pulled that promise out of a hat with a magician’s flair, the actual history of the border disappeared. From then on in Election 2016, there was just empty desert and Donald Trump.

Suddenly, there hadn’t been a bipartisan government effort over the last quarter-century to put in place an unprecedented array of walls, detection systems, and guards for that southern border. In those years, the number of Border Patrol agents had, in fact, quintupled from 4,000 to more than 21,000, while Customs and Border Protection became the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country with more than 60,000 agents. The annual budget for border and immigration enforcement went from $1.5 to $19.5 billion, a more than 12-fold increase. By 2016, federal government funding of border and immigration enforcement added up to $5 billion more than that for all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Operation Streamline, a cornerstone program in the “Consequence Delivery System,” part of a broader Border Patrol deterrence strategy for stopping undocumented immigration, is just one part of a vast enforcement-incarceration-deportation machine. The program is as no-nonsense as its name suggests. It’s not The Wall, but it embodies the logic of the wall: either you crossed “illegally” or you didn’t. It doesn’t matter why, or whether you lost your job, or if you’ve had to skip meals to feed your kids. It doesn’t matter if your house was flooded or the drought dried up your fields. It doesn’t matter if you’re running for your life from drug cartel gunmen or the very army and police forces that are supposed to protect you.

This system was what Ignacio Sarabia faced a few months ago in a Tucson court.  His tragedy is one that plays out so many times daily a mere seven blocks from where I live.

Before I tell you how the judge responded to his plea, it’s important to understand Sarabia’s journey, and that of so many thousands like him who end up in this federal courthouse day after day. As he pleads to be with his newborn son, his voice cracking with emotion, his story catches the already Trumpian-style of border enforcement — both the pain and suffering it has caused, and the strategy and massive build-up behind it — in ways that the campaign rhetoric of both parties and the reporting on it doesn’t. As reporters chase their tails attempting to explain Trump’s wild and often unfounded claims and declarations, the on-the-ground border reality goes unreported. Indeed, one of the greatest “secrets” of the 2016 election campaign (though it should be common knowledge) is that the border wall already exists.  It has for years and the fingerprints all over it aren’t Donald Trump’s but the Clintons’, both Bill’s and Hillary’s.

The Wall That Already Exists

Twenty-one years before Trump’s wall-building promise (and seven years before the 9/11 attacks), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to replace the chain link fence that separated Nogales, Sonora, in Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, in the United States with a wall built of rusty landing mats from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. Although there had been various half-hearted attempts at building border walls throughout the twentieth century, this was the first true effort to build a barrier of what might now be called Trumpian magnitude.

That rusty, towering wall snaked through the hills and canyons of northern Sonora and southern Arizona forever deranging a world that, given cross-border familial and community ties, then considered itself one. At the time, who could have known that the strategy the first wall embodied would still be the model for today’s massive system of exclusion.

In 1994, the threat wasn’t “terrorism.” In part, the call for more hardened, militarized borders came in response, among other things, to a never-ending drug war.  It also came from U.S. officials who anticipated the displacement of millions of Mexicans after the implementation of the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which, ironically, was aimed at eliminating barriers to trade and investment across North America.

And the expectations of those officials proved well justified. The ensuing upheavals in Mexico, as analyst Marco Antonio Velázquez Navarrete explained to me, were like the aftermath of a war or natural disaster. Small farmers couldn’t compete against highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. Mexican small business owners were bankrupted by the likes of Walmart, Sam’s Club, and other corporate powers. Mining by foreign companies extended across vast swaths of Mexico, causing territorial conflicts and poisoning the land. The unprecedented and desperate migration that followed came up against what might be considered the other side of the Clinton doctrine of open trade: walls, increased border agents, increased patrolling, and new surveillance technologies meant to cut off traditional crossing spots in urban areas like El Paso, San Diego, Brownsville, and Nogales.

“This administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders,” President Bill Clinton said in 1996. “We are increasing border controls by fifty percent.”

Over the next 20 years, that border apparatus would expand exponentially in terms of personnel, resources, and geographic reach, but the central strategy of the 1990s (labeled “Prevention Through Deterrence”) remained the same. The ever-increasing border policing and militarization funneled desperate migrants into remote locations like the Arizona desert where temperatures can soar to 120 degrees in the summer heat.

The first U.S. border strategy memorandum in 1994 predicted the tragic future we now have. “Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border can find themselves in mortal danger,” it stated.

Twenty years later, more than 6,000 remains have been found in the desert borderlands of the United States. Hundreds of families continue to search for disappeared loved ones. The Colibri Center for Human Rights has records for more than 2,500 missing people last seen crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In other words, that border has become a graveyard of bones and sadness.

Despite all the attention given to the wall and the border this election season, neither the Trump nor Clinton campaigns have mentioned “Prevention Through Deterrence,” nor the subsequent border deaths. Not once. The same goes for the establishment media that can’t stop talking about Trump’s wall. There has been little or no mention of what border groups have long called a “humanitarian crisis” of deaths that have increased five-fold over the last decade, thanks, in part, to a wall that already exists. (If the people dying were Canadians or Europeans, attention would, of course, be paid.)

Although wall construction began during Bill Clinton’s administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) built most of the approximately 700 miles of fencing after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. At the time, Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of that Republican-introduced bill, along with 26 other Democrats. “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in,” she commented at one 2015 campaign event, “and I do think you have to control your borders.”

The 2006 wall-building project was expected to be so environmentally destructive that homeland security chief Michael Chertoff waived 37 environmental and cultural laws in the name of national security.  In this way, he allowed Border Patrol bulldozers to desecrate protected wilderness and sacred land.

“Imagine a bulldozer parking in your family graveyard, turning up bones,” Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., of the Tohono O’odham Nation (a Native American tribe whose original land was cut in half by the U.S. border) told Congress in 2008. “This is our reality.”

With a price tag of, on average, $4 million a mile, these border walls, barriers, and fences have proven to be one of the costliest border infrastructure projects undertaken by the United States. For private border contractors, on the other hand, it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. In 2011, for example, the DHS granted Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, one of our “warrior corporations,” a $24.4 million upkeep contract.

In Tucson in early August, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence looked out over a sea of red “Make America Great Again” caps and t-shirts and said, “We will secure our border. Donald Trump will build that wall.”  He would be met with roaring applause, even though his statement made no sense at all.

Should Trump actually win, how could he build something that already exists? Indeed, for all practical purposes, the “Great Wall” that Trump talks about may, by January 2017, be as antiquated as the Great Wall of China given the new high-tech surveillance methods now coming on the market.  These are being developed in a major way and on a regular basis by a booming border techno-surveillance industry.

The twenty-first-century border is no longer just about walls; it’s about biometrics and drones. It’s about a “layered approach to national security,” given that, as former Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher has put it, “the international boundary is no longer the first or last line of defense, but one of many.”  Hillary Clinton’s promise of “comprehensive immigration reform” — to be introduced within 100 days of her entering the Oval Office — is a much more reliable guide than Trump’s wall to our grim immigration future. If her bill follows the pattern of previous ones, as it surely will, an increasingly weaponized, privatized, high-tech, layered border regime, increasingly dangerous to future Ignacio Sarabias, will continue to be a priority of the federal government.

On the surface, there are important differences between Clinton’s and Trump’s immigration platforms. Trump’s wildly xenophobic comments and declarations are well known, and Clinton claims that she will, among other things, fight for family unity for those forcibly separated by deportation and enact “humane” immigration enforcement.  Yet deep down, the policies of the two candidates are far more similar than they might at first appear.

Navigating Donald Trump’s Borderlands Now

That April day, only one bit of information about Ignacio Sarabia’s border crossing to reunite with his wife and newborn child was available at the Tucson federal courthouse. He had entered the United States “near Nogales.”  Most likely, he circumvented the wall first started during the Clinton administration, like most immigrants do, by making his way through the potentially treacherous canyons that surround that border town.

If his experience was typical, he probably didn’t have enough water or food, and suffered some physical woe like large, painful blisters on his feet. Certainly, he wasn’t atypical in trying to reunite with loved ones. After all, more than 2.5 million people have been expelled from the country by the Obama administration, an average annual deportation rate of close to 400,000 people.  This was, by the way, only possible thanks to laws signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 and meant to burnish his legacy.  They vastly expanded the government’s deportation powers.  

In 2013 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out 72,000 deportations of parents who said that their children were U.S.-born. And many of them are likely to try to cross that dangerous southern border again to reunite with their families.

The enforcement landscape Sarabia faced has changed drastically since that first wall was built in 1994. The post-9/11 border is now both a war zone and a showcase for corporate surveillance.  It represents, according to Border Patrol agent Felix Chavez,  an “unprecedented deployment of resources,” any of which could have led to Sarabia’s capture. It could have been one of the hundreds of remote video or mobile surveillance systems, or one of the more than 12,000 implanted motion sensors that set off alarms in hidden operational control rooms where agents stare into large monitors.

It could have been the spy towers made by the Israeli company Elbit Systems that spotted him, or Predator B drones built by General Atomics, or VADER radar systems manufactured by the defense giant Northrup Grumman that, like so many similar technologies, have been transported from the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq to the U.S. border.

If the comprehensive immigration reform that Hillary Clinton pledges to introduce as president is based on the already existing bipartisan Senate package, as has been indicated, then this corporate-enforcement landscape will be significantly bolstered and reinforced. There will be 19,000 more Border Patrol agents in roving patrols throughout “border enforcement jurisdictions” that extend up to 100 miles inland. More F-150 trucks and all-terrain vehicles will rumble through and, at times, tear up the desert. There will be more Blackhawk helicopters, flying low, their propellers dusting groups of scattering migrants, many of them already lost in the vast, parched desert.

If such a package passes the next Congress, up to $46 billion could be slated to go into more of all of this, including funding for hundreds of miles of new walls. Corporate vendors are salivating at the thought of such a future and in a visible state of elation at homeland security tradeshows across the globe.

The 2013 bill that passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives also included a process of legalization for the millions of undocumented people living in the United States. It maintained programs that will grant legal residence for children who came to the United States at a young age and their parents. Odds are that a comprehensive reform bill in a Clinton presidency would be similar.

Included in that bill was, of course, funding to bolster Operation Streamline. The Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson would then have the capacity to prosecute triple the number of people it deals with at present.

After taking a sip from her coffee and listening to the translation of Ignacio Sarabia’s comments, the magistrate judge looks at him and says she’s sorry for his predicament.

Personally, I’m mesmerized by his story as I sit on a wooden bench at the back of the court. I have a child the same age as his son. I can’t imagine his predicament.  Not once while he talks does it leave my mind that my child might even have the same birthday as his.

The judge then looks directly at Sarabia and tells him that he can’t just come here “illegally,” that he has to find a “legal way” (highly unlikely, given the criminal conviction that will now be on his record).  “Your son,” she says, “when he gets better, and his mother, can visit you where you are in Mexico.”

“Otherwise,” she adds, he’ll be “visiting you in prison” — not exactly, she points out, an appealing scenario: seeing your father in a prison where he will be “locked away for a very long time.”

She then sentences the nine men standing side by side in front of her for periods ranging from 60 days to 180 days for the crime of crossing an international border without proper documents. Sarabia receives a 60-day sentence.

Next, armed guards from G4S — the private contractor that once employed Omar Mateen (the Pulse nightclub killer) and has a lucrative quarter-billion-dollar border contract with Customs and Border Protection — will transport each of the shackled prisoners to a Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Florence, Arizona. It is there that Sarabia will think about his child’s endangered heart from behind layers of coiled razor wire, while the corporation that runs the prison makes $124 per day for incarcerating him.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s United States doesn’t await his presidency. It’s already laid out before us, and one place it’s happening every single day is in Tucson, only seven blocks from my house.

Todd Miller, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Homeland Security. He has written on border and immigration issues for the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, and the NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog Border Wars. You can follow him on twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at 

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Todd Miller


]]> 13
Is Turkey’s incursion into Syria about Daesh, or about the Kurds? Thu, 25 Aug 2016 04:20:10 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkish military sources told the Anadol news agency that Wednesday’s military attack on the Syrian border town of Jarabulus, held for years by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), involved hitting 82 targets. The objective, Ankara said, was to secure the Turkish border and to support the US-led Coalition in its war on Daesh and guarantee the unity of Syrian territory.

The Turkish military chief of staff and his deputy said they followed the course of the operation from their operations room in Ankara.

Daesh fighters withdrew from much of Jarabulus and surrounding villages, heading south to al-Bab, now the northernmost Daesh outpost in Syria.

The YPG leftist Kurds alleged that Turkey is using fighting Daesh as a pretext to destroy what it called the Democratic project of Rojava (the Kurdish mini-state in northern Syria). Aranews said, “the co-head of the Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD) Salih Muslim said that Turkey is entering a Syrian quagmire, and ‘will be defeated as Daesh’.”

However, the YPG leftist Kurdish forces that recently took Manbij away from Daesh is said to have withdrawn to the east of the Euphrates and is considering taking al-Bab as their next target. US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Ankara, asked the YPG to withdraw from west of the Euphrates. The YPG is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, among whom some 200 US special operations troops are embedded. They have been effective in attacking Daesh but have an ulterior motive in wanting to establish their own Kurdish mini-state in northern Syria, which they call Rojava. They have 400 km of the 500 km border region that they envision for Rojava. Jarabulus would have been part of it, but they have now been blocked by the Turkish incursion into that zone (with 10 tanks).

A spokesman of the Kurdish YPG or People’s Protection Units, Reidar Khalil, said that the Turkish military incursion into Syria constituted a naked act of aggression and intervention into the internal affairs of Syria. He claimed that it derived from an agreement among Turkey, Iran and the Syrian government.

(Khalil is alleging that all three of these regional powers have large Kurdish populations and none wants to see the emergence of another Kurdish mini-state, this time in Syria, since that might encourage further Kurdish separatism ).

Khalil said that “Turkish demands that the YPG withdraw to the east of the Euphrates cannot be acquiesced in, except by the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition supported by the United States.”

For its part, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus condemned the Turkish incursion, deploring “the crossing of Turkish tanks and armor of the Syrian border and into Jarabulus under air cover by the American coalition” and describing it as “a stark violation of Syrian sovereignty.”

A spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry said, “combating terrorism on Syrian soil, no matter who does it, needs to be coordinated with the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army, which has been engaged in these battles for five years now.”

He added, “you can’t fight terrorism by expelling Daesh and replacing it with other terrorist organizations directly supported by Turkey.”

Syria views the Muslim-Brotherhood-linked remnants of the Free Syrian Army as terrorist organizations, while the US CIA maintains that it has vetted some 30 of them and found no sign of terrorist activities or ties. (This CIA line is clearly at least somewhat inaccurate, since some “vetted” groups have cooperated on the battlefield with al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani (who now leads the Army of Conquest but has not renounced his pledge of allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks).

So to sum up: The YPG Kurds are upset about being blocked from going into Jarabulus, which would have allowed them to knit together the cantons of Afrin and Kobane and finally achieve Rojava. However, they likely will in fact withdraw east of the Euphrates, since they value their alliance with the US and Washington has asked them to do this.

The Syrian government says it upset that Turkey is not coordinating with it and that Turkey is bringing in fundamentalist militias to run Jarabulus. (Damascus appears to have long valued Daesh as a distraction from its own use of torture and its reckless endangering of civilian populations. The Syrian Arab Army has seldom fought Daesh head on). So I don’t think Ankara is likely all that upset about Daesh losing Jarabulus, but it might be apprehensive about what comes next.


Via France 24: ” Syria: Turkey launches vast military operation to retake Islamic state stronghold of Jarablus ”

]]> 8
Top 6 Reasons Turkey is Finally attacking ISIL in Syria’s Jarabulus Wed, 24 Aug 2016 05:44:06 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey and coalition allies launch air strikes Wednesday morning against the Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) stronghold of Jarabulus, on the Syrian side near the Turkish border. At the same time, Turkish artillery on the ground pounded the town. With Manbij in the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Jarabulus is the last town affording a smuggling route for men and arms from Turkey into Syria’s al-Raqqa, the HQ of Daesh in the country. Turkey has left Jarabulus alone for years and winked at the Daesh smugglers. Why is it acting now?

1. There was a danger that if Turkey did not help Syrian Arab fundamentalists in the remnants of the Free Syrian Army take Jarabulus, it would also fall to the Syrian Democratic Forces over time. The core of the US-backed SDF is the leftwing Kurdish nationalist YPG militia, which Turkey fears is a violent separatist movement linked to the PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party, a notorious terrorist group. If the YPG took Jarabulus, it would be in a position to close the gap between two Kurdish cantons in the north of Syria and create a united strip of Kurdish control along the Turkish border, which Syrian Kurds refer to as Rojava. Turkey is desperate to halt that attempt at Syrian Kurdish consolidation of territory. And, indeed, there are reports that Turkey also shelled Syrian Kurds even as it finally went after Daesh.

2. The bombing on Sunday in Gaziantep was probably an Daesh operation, but in any case there have been a string of Daesh bombings, in Ankara and elsewhere, over the past year. Turkey’s tourism industry has been deeply hurt, and the government risks public opprobrium if it can’t provide security. The Justice and Development (AKP) government’s earlier insouciance toward Daesh is no longer viable as a policy.

3. President Tayyib Erdogan’s outreach to Russia requires that Ankara step up to take on Daesh, which has a strong Chechen contingent of which the government of Vladimir Putin is deeply afraid.

4. Vice President Joe Biden is in Ankara bearing several messages for Erdogan. They include assurances that the Obama administration was not behind the July 15 coup attempt and a plea to cease the massive government crackdown and purge that has put tens of thousands of people in jail or out of work. But they also involve a continued request that Turkey step up to do its part against Daesh, a group that seemed to worry Ankara not at all even as the Turkish air force concentrated on bombing PKK and YPG positions. The latter airstrikes were considered especially unhelpful by Washington, since the YPG is a US ally against Daesh.

5. Turkey is likely eager to take advantage of the renunciation of al-Qaeda by the Nusra Front, now rebranded the Syrian Army of Conquest, to encourage the fundamentalist Sunni militias to unite and try to hold territory in northern Syria. Turkey seems to have given up on trying directly to overthrow the Syrian government, but it does want to keep the pressure up against secular strong man Bashar al-Assad, whom the Turks want to force out of office. Establishing a Turkey-backed FSA enclave at Jarabulus that is teflon against Western criticism because it is also anti-Daesh is a way to kill a dozen birds with one stone.

6. Daesh militants in Jarabulus had sent mortar shells on Turkish territory last week, prompting a strong Turkish response.


Related video:

Turkey shells positions in northern Syria | DW News

]]> 6