Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:10:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ISIL feint toward Kirkuk defeated, but Kills hundreds in Mosul Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:10:47 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Aside from the slow, steady advances being made by the Iraqi army and its allies against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Mosul, the two big stories on Friday and Saturday morning were a diversionary attack on Kirkuk by the fundamentalist organization, and CNN’s discovery that Daesh killed nearly 300 civilians in Mosul, including children.

The attack on Kirkuk by 30 fighters of Daesh was defeated by security forces in Kirkuk, including the Peshmerga or Kurdistan paramilitary. They had attempted to take over the governor’s mansion in the city. Elsewhere in the city three suicide bombers targeted civilians. At least 19 residents of Kirkuk were caught in the fighting and killed.

Some observers believe that the attack was intended to draw away forces of the Peshmerga from the Mosul front.

Meanwhile, Daesh killed nearly 300 civilians in Mosul as its enemies surrounded and besieged it. They appear originally to have been rounded up to be used as human shields in the face of the advances of the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga, but perhaps Daesh decided that feeding and watching these prisoners, some of them children, was too much trouble, as the Iraqi Army and its allies approached.

Also in Mosul news: US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that an agreement in principle had been reached between Iraqi PM Haydar al-Abadi and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan that would allow a role in the push for the Turkish-trained troops at Bashiqa in the conquest of Mosul.

Erdogan appears to be laying down a marker that Turkey has an interest in what happens in Mosul. Previously, Iraqi officials had called on the Turks to withdraw. Some Iraqi sources disputed Carter’s story.


Related video:

CCTV: “At least 24 killed amid ISIL attacks on Kirkuk”

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Khizr Khan campaign ad for Hillary Clinton finishes off Trump Sat, 22 Oct 2016 06:52:55 +0000 Captain Khan | Hillary Clinton

Juan Cole from July 31 at Informed Comment:

Donald Trump lashed out on Saturday against Ghazala and Khizr Khan over their speech Thursday night in which they criticized the casino and hotel moghul for his unconstitutional tirades.

The Khans said at the Democratic National Convention in a speech they crafted, that Trump had ‘sacrificed nothing’ for America. It was read by Khizr because his wife said she would break down if she had to talk about her son Capt. Humayun Saqi Muazzam Khan’s death in action in Iraq. The Khans are originally from Pakistan but came to the US in 1980 from the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistanis make up about 12% of the population. Khizr Khan did a masters in law at Harvard University and works as a legal consultant in Charlottesville, Va. 

In response, Trump said,

“I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

I never see anyone point out that some of those ‘great structures’ have been casinos, which are a way for the rich to steal from poor and middle class people. (Most games in a casino are rigged 8-11% for the house. If you keep playing, over time the house will end up with more and more of your money. Some games are rigged a third for the house. Gambling doesn’t help people– it redistributes wealth upwards, acting like a Robin Hood in reverse. That vast act of theft from people who can’t afford it is what Donald Trump gave as his sacrifice for the country.

Trump’s reply demonstrated that he simply cannot conceive of the idea of sacrifice. His response was about himself. How he worked hard. How many jobs he created. Hotels and casinos he had built. His success. How much he has done.

He did not say what he had sacrificed for the country.

Trump alleged that he avoided being drafted to serve in Vietnam because of a high lottery number. But by then he had had four college deferments and a medical examination that downgraded his eligibility because of a bone spur in his heel.

I don’t think you had to agree with the Vietnam War or want to serve in it to be a patriotic American (I didn’t, either). But I do think that not having served should make you cautious about making blanket criticisms of those who did and do. Trump dismissed Sen. John McCain’s sacrifices as a POW on the grounds that he was captured (implying that McCain is a yuuj loser.)

Trump attacked American Latinos as criminals, but they comprise 11.4% of those on active duty in our armed forces.

Trump, given his four deferments and his alleged bone spur, doesn’t get to do that. He doesn’t get to dismiss the sacrifices of those who did serve and do serve.

He doesn’t get to diss on Muslim-Americans like the Khan family, who gave us their son, Capt. Humayun Khan.

Trump implied that the Khans didn’t write their own speech. He attacked Mrs. Khan for not having spoken, saying maybe her Muslim family had kept her silent. (The Khans replied that she had felt too much grief over her son to speak publicly about his sacrifice, but had been key to crafting the speech). Trump clearly doesn’t know any Pakistani women.

Attacking a grieving mother with an easy racist piece of stereotyping was just about Trump’s speed.

Late Saturday Trump’s handlers managed to convince him to praise Captain Khan as “a hero to our country and we should honor all who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe.”

But Trump has to square that statement with his assertion that Capt. Khan should have been kicked out of the United States or never allowed to come here in the first place, because of his faith.

Trump also remonstrated with Khizr Khan over his allegation that Trump hadn’t read the constitution. Trump insisted that he has.

But Mr. Khan did not say Trump had not read it. He asked Trump if he had read it, and offered to share his own copy.

The Donald still doesn’t get it. Khan is not interested in merely reading the document. He is talking about abiding by it. He was implying that Trump makes one unconstitutional proposal after another, in contravention of the constitution.

The constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Trump wants to torture people with blowtorches to the genitals.

The constitution forbids a religious test for office and forbids Congress from installing or ‘establishing’ an official US religion that would be favored above others. The 14th Amendment mandates equal protection of the law to all Americans. Trump wants to ban Muslims.

Khan’s emphasis on the constitution shows that he thinks the idea of America is rooted in a rule of law. It is rooted in duty to country. It is rooted, as well, in principled dissent, as he demonstrated in his speech.

Trump dismisses the rule of law. Indeed, he is a serial scofflaw, as with his phony university and other scams. Trump displays no sense of duty to country and never has. He clearly wants to be president to stroke his own ego. And, Trump’s discourse is at the level of a self-absorbed five-year-old, so he wouldn’t recognize principled dissent if it ran him over in a Mack truck.

The Muslim Khans are a thousand times better Americans than Trump will ever be, because they understand what America is about, and because one of their own made the ultimate sacrifice. If we have to expel somebody, as Trump insists, I know which I’d choose.

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White College Students Angry they originated in Africa Sat, 22 Oct 2016 06:29:56 +0000 TeleSur | – –

A group of white students at Texas State University stormed out of anthropology class Friday after the professor explained all humans were descended from Africa.

The walkout caused heated debate with the remaining students chanting “Black lives matter” and criticizing the racist attitude of their classmates.

According to the students, Professor R. Jon McGee opened his class with a discussion on race, which then developed into an overview of the Black Lives Matter movement and the conclusion modern humans evolved in Africa.

Justine Lundy, a student present, told International Business Times that the discussion was met with derision by many, with a fellow student sarcastically replying “sure.”

This incident comes amid a wave of police killings against unarmed Black men. According to a Washington Post study, in 2015 alone around 965 people were fatally shot by U.S. police—with Black and Latino people disproportionately the victims.

Via TeleSur

P.S. Snopes disputes some of these details but it does not seem to me it disproved the story. – JC


Related video added by Juan Cole:

UCSD: “CARTA: Origins of Genus Homo – Steven Churchill: Southern Africa and the Origin of Homo”

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Failing Libya Sat, 22 Oct 2016 04:24:56 +0000 By Alison Pargeter | ( OpenDemocracy) | – –

If peace and national unity in Libya seem remote five years after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, western powers and the international community bear much of the responsibility.

On 20 October 2011, former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi was dragged out of his sewage-pipe hideout to meet his inglorious end. Five years on and things in Libya couldn’t be much worse. There is still no centralised authority; killing, abduction and torture are rife; the economy is almost on its knees; and the country has fragmented beyond repair. The triumphalism that accompanied Qadhafi’s removal from power can hardly have been more misplaced.

Much of the chaos that has enveloped the country is down to the Libyans themselves. The blame for the incessant squabbling and local turf wars that have eclipsed all sense of a national good must be laid squarely at the door of Libya’s new powerbrokers. There is also the legacy of forty years of rule by a ruthless dictator whose uncompromising vision of the state stripped the country of functioning institutions and its population of a political culture. In addition, the sudden toppling of a highly centralised authority was always going to mean that the country would struggle to get back on its feet. 

But the international community has played a poor game too and must shoulder some of the responsibility for what has gone wrong since 2011. Aside from the rights and wrongs of the Nato intervention itself, western states since the ousting of the former regime have pursued a muddled and shortsighted policy that has made a bad situation worse.

From its pushing for parliamentary elections to be held less than a year after Qadhafi’s collapse, in a country where there were no established political parties let alone institutions to support the instruments of government; to its turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by the hotchpotch of newly empowered revolutionaries that had ejected Qadhafi; to its courting of local powerbrokers while simultaneously supporting the rebuilding of a centralised authority – the international community has done little to help Libyans either reconcile with their past or build a state (see “Libya: tests of renewal“, 2 June 2012).
Where the international community has arguably done most damage, however, is through its backing of a clunky and ill-conceived peace process, the culmination of which has been the imposition on the country of a “consensus” government that is anything but.

A flawed peace process

The United Nations-sponsored peace process was launched in September 2014 after Libya had split into two competing political authorities. In the west of the country was the General National Congress that was supported by an array of militias from Misrata, the capital and other western towns. These forces, many of them Islamist in orientation, had come together in the summer of 2014 to force their opponents out of the capital. In the east was the newly elected House of Representatives, which was recognised internationally as Libya’s legislative power and that had allied itself to a retired army officer, Khalifa Haftar, who had gathered a ragtag collection of forces around himself and who was slugging it out against Islamist militants in Benghazi. Both the House and the Congress insisted that they were the country’s sole legislative authority and battled it out for control of Libya’s resources and national institutions.

The UN peace process that was meant to bring these competing forces together may have been well-intentioned, but it was flawed from the start. Most importantly it pulled in the wrong actors, holding endless dialogue sessions between representatives of the House of Representatives and the General National Congress despite the fact the neither of these institutions had any real clout on the ground. Rather, both were always at the behest of the military and revolutionary powers that were driving the conflict. 

In addition, throughout the long and fraught negotiation process, the UN appeared to flip-flop between the two sides, seemingly favouring one party and then the other. It repeatedly amended the text of the political agreement in line with the wishes of whichever side was threatening to boycott the process at any one time. While this was simply a reflection of the UN’s desperation to get a deal signed, as the number of draft agreements piled up, it was accused by both sides of being partisan.

The UN didn’t help itself either when in October 2015 and in a bid to meet its own deadline, it tried to pull the rug from under both parties by announcing a unity government of its own. Predictably enough its doing so provoked angry accusations that it was violating national sovereignty and it was forced to retract.  

All this meant that when a political agreement was eventually signed in December 2015, it was not only missing the endorsement of the powers that mattered, it was viewed as something that had been imposed from the outside. Plus, in the interests of actually getting something signed, the agreement had put the thorniest issues conveniently to one side. 

The Daesh factor

Yet at this point western powers hardly seemed to care. The emergence of Daesh, which took over Sirte in February 2015, had created a new imperative in western policymaking circles and the overriding preoccupation became how to establish some sort of consensus government that could sanction foreign military intervention against the group. Thus getting an agreement in place was more important than the agreement itself.

To some Libyans, this was perplexing. Despite all the hysteria in the western media about Daesh in Libya, the reality was that while certainly repugnant, the group was limited to a small area and was proving unable to expand in any meaningful way. Indeed, there was a series of structural and societal factors in Libya, including the country’s tribes, which were always going to impede Daesh’s growth. For many Libyans, therefore, Daesh was the least of their problems.

Yet the international community persisted, and railroaded Libya into signing the December 2015 political agreement and establishing a new government, or at least a Presidency Council that could endorse its intervention. But this Presidency Council was not fit for purpose. Comprising a group of weak and bitterly divided individuals, chosen by virtue of which region of Libya they came from rather than what they could offer the country, this council had absolutely no power or credibility on the ground. Little surprise, therefore, that when it arrived in Tripoli in March 2016 this Council was already dead in the water.

Since then its legitimacy has been eroded further as it has proved utterly incapable of getting a grip on the morass of militias that still call the shots. It has been unable, too, to tackle the myriad of problems facing ordinary Libyans such as the lack of services, fuel shortages, price hikes and the non-payment of salaries. In October 2016, even the Council’s own Presidential Guard revolted against it in protest at not having received their wages. The Guard conspired with other hostile forces in the capital, including the head of the Congress’s government, Khalifa Ghweill, to take over all government buildings.  

It is little wonder that the Presidency Council has been plagued by accusations that it is ignoring the needs of Libyans in order to serve a foreign agenda that has prioritised combating Daesh at the expense of the Libyan state.

Empowering whom?

As far as the fight against Daesh is concerned, the international community is on the way to achieving its objectives. The group is almost defeated in Sirte and its days in Libya are clearly numbered. However, through this battle, western states have ended up empowering an array of militias who may have been willing to harness themselves to the Presidency Council, but who certainly are not under its control. These militias have been willing to fight on the Presidency Council’s behalf in what has been an opportunistic bid to consolidate their own power and gain recognition as Libya’s official state forces. Notably, some of these forces that have been bolstered in this way are themselves militant Islamist in orientation. While their ideology may not be as extreme as that of Daesh, they adhere to an extremist agenda nonetheless.

But that’s not all. Through its fight against Daesh, the international community has also strengthened the regional power of Misrata, which has led the struggle against the group. This has fed directly into regional tensions that cut right to the heart of the Libyan conflict. Indeed, the main powers in the east, namely Haftar and the eastern tribes that support him, are still rejecting the political agreement and the Presidency Council it has spawned. By continuing to back the Presidency Council without these important forces on board, the international community looks as though it is backing one side in Libya’s conflict. The situation is made worse by the fact that the House of Representatives has yet to give its official backing to the political agreement, meaning that in the eyes of many, the Presidency Council is not yet a legal entity.

However, the international community’s policy is even more muddled than the above would suggest. All the while that it has been chiding Haftar and his associates for rejecting the political agreement and calling on them to give it their backing, certain western states have been providing them with covert military assistance in their bid to quash Islamist militants in Benghazi. France has openly acknowledged that it has military personnel stationed in the east of Libya, while there have been numerous reports of British and American special forces present there too. This means that the international community has ended up facilitating Haftar’s fight against Islamist militants in the east of Libya, while simultaneously supporting Islamist militias in the west.

It is little wonder that there are growing calls inside Libya for an end to foreign intervention and for a purely Libyan-Libyan peace process. While these demands may be little more than bluster by some of the parties in the conflict, they reflect the damage that the international community has done to its own credibility in Libya. Indeed, its shortsighted policy has fuelled perceptions that it is duplicitous and self-serving, and that it has failed the people upon whose behalf it claimed to have intervened in 2011.

A Libyan tragedy

But the tragedy for Libya is that as this peace process has dragged on, the country has descended into ever deeper chaos and despair.

It has also found itself dragged back down the path of military rule. Over recent weeks, Haftar, who seized control of four eastern oil ports in September, has moved to consolidate his power by appointing military commanders to replace elected local councils. He has also appointed military men to take over the running of a number of state-owned companies. And in a media interview at the end of September, Haftar, who has often been accused of fashioning himself on Egypt’s president, Abdulfattah Al-Sisi, and who is clearly positioning himself as the strongman who can save Libya, declared: “Military people who were elected to lead their country achieved remarkable success.”

In response to this militarisation in the east, the militias and military councils in the west of Libya are sharpening their swords, preparing themselves for the possibility of another big showdown with Haftar’s allies in the capital. For all the peace process of the past year, therefore, Libya is still caught in the bind of the same old forces that brought the country to its knees in the summer of 2014. Thus while Libya may be on its way to defeating Daesh, it is certainly no nearer to peace, let alone to the civil state that so many dreamed of when they rose up against Qadhafin in 2011.  

While no one is pretending that dealing with Libya is easy, the international community should at least be asking itself some difficult questions about the role it has played. 

About the author

Alison Pargeter is a North Africa and Middle East expert who has a particular focus on Libya, Tunisia and Iraq, as well as on political Islamist movements. Her latest book is Return to the Shadows: The Muslim Brotherhood and An-Nahda since the Arab Spring (Saqi, 2016). She is a senior research associate at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and a senior associate at global consultancy firm, Menas Associates. Her previous books include The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition (Saqi, 2010 / 2013); The New Frontiers of Jihad: Radical Islam in Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); and Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (Yale University Press, 2012)


Read On

Alison Pargeter, Return to the Shadows: The Muslim Brotherhood and An-Nahda since the Arab Spring (Saqi, 2016)

Alison Pargeter, Libya: The Rise and Fall of Qaddafi (Yale University Press, 2012)

Peter Cole & Brian McQuinn eds., The Libyan Revolution and its Aftermath (C Hurst, 2015)

Alison Pargeter, The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition (Saqi, 2010 / 2013)

The Tripoli Post

Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)

Libya Herald

John Wright, A History of Libya (C Hurst, 2012)

Dirk Vandewalle, A History of Modern Libya (Cambridge University Press, 2005) 

Africa Confidential

Hisham Matar, The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between (Random House, 2016)

Luis Martinez, The Libyan Paradox (C Hurst / Oxford University Press, 2007)

Via OpenDemocracy


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJE: “Jason Pack AJE Libya Political Process”

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Will Turkey, Iran & Iraq make the Mosul Campaign a Land Grab? Fri, 21 Oct 2016 06:24:23 +0000 By James Miller | ( RFE/RL ) | – –

We may be witnessing the end of the extremist group, the [so-called] Islamic State [group] (IS), as we know it.

Over the weekend, the coalition of Turkish military soldiers and Syrian rebel groups, backed by a small number of U.S. Special Operations Forces and air support, captured the Syrian city of Dabiq from IS. In and of itself, this would be an important battle. The Turkish-led coalition is now set to advance toward Al-Bab, IS’s westernmost stronghold in northern Syria, a position that lies on the most important road that runs between Aleppo city and Turkey.

Perhaps even more importantly, IS’s propaganda states that Dabiq is the city from which the apocalypse will start. The city is so important to the extremist group that its English-language magazine, one of IS’s most important recruiting tools beyond the physical borders of its "state," shares the city’s name.

And yet, there was no epic battle for Dabiq. The last 100 IS militants withdrew without a fight. There will be no apocalypse, it seems.

But that wasn’t even the main headline. On the morning of October 17, the world awoke to find that a full-throated effort to dislodge IS from its most important stronghold in Iraq, Mosul, had been launched by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi military, bolstered by U.S. air strikes and Special Operations Forces.

An animation made by LiveUAMap shows how IS’s easternmost flank began crumbling in just a few hours. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani told Al-Jazeera that the operation had captured over 200 square kilometers of territory from IS on Day 1. Al-Jazeera also reported that this included nine villages outside the main city. Progress on Day Two was slower, but still steady.

Simply put, the "dawla," the state controlled by IS, is collapsing. To be sure, the fight for Mosul will be very tough. Videos taken by international media organizations like CNN show IS fighters dug in. One fighter is seen jumping out of a hole and shooting Peshmerga fighters in an ambush before blowing himself up in an unsuccessful suicide attack. IS also launched several waves of car-bomb attacks against the Peshmerga front lines. Despite the hopes of many in the anti-IS coalition, it seems the extremists are going to fight for the villages outside Mosul, and everyone seems to fear that the fighting inside the city will be even worse.

But Mosul will fall. The crumbling of the dawla is now inevitable.

Turkish forces are rolling across IS’s territory in Syria in the west, the battle rages in Mosul in the east, and at IS’s center, Kurdish forces, backed by the United States, are within 50 kilometers from the extremist group’s headquarters, Raqqa.

A World War II Land Grab

This situation has a historic parallel. In 1944 and 1945, the defeat of the Axis powers was already nearly guaranteed. In Europe in particular, what transpired then was a race between competing interests to capture as much territory as they could before the war came to a close. The Soviet Union stormed into German-occupied territory from the east, the allied powers of the United States, United Kingdom, and a coalition of fighters from across the world pushed from the Atlantic Ocean in the west. After the war was over, the United States sought to shape the territory it controlled through the Marshall Plan, a bid to rebuild and unify Western Europe in order to prevent future conflicts there and stop the spread of communism. The Soviets in the east were less subtle, opting to directly control the territory they had captured in the hopes of advancing their own imperial goals. The result of the final days of the war with Germany thus shaped the entire future of geopolitical and regional power dynamics, which resonate to this day.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces advance to the east of Mosul to attack IS militants on October 17.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces advance to the east of Mosul to attack IS militants on October 17.

With such grand consequences, it’s easy to forget that all of this was determined inch by inch, foxhole by foxhole, region by town by neighborhood, by the actions and reactions of individual soldiers and commanders on both sides.

In the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq are all competing for power, but so, too, are various sectarian groups — Sunnis, Shi’a, and Kurds. What may appear like a united front to end IS is really a fractured coalition of powers, each with competing interests.

Inside Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga are clearly making a power play, asserting its military might while wrangling for political — and perhaps physical — territory. Iraq’s Kurds have wanted greater autonomy or independence from Baghdad for a very long time, and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq granted them that opportunity. IS poses an existential threat to that autonomy, but it also presents a great asset. By the end of this campaign, the Kurds will have played a major role in the reestablishing of order in the country, and they will have proven their military effectiveness.

Against this backdrop, the besieged government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is struggling to win the narrative. Abadi has been locked in a prolonged battle with those who oppose his reform agenda, including his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, who has undermined him at nearly every opportunity. But Abadi has also had to placate Shi’ite militiamen, many loyal to the infamous Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who are frustrated at the lack of reforms and Abadi’s desire to free Iraq from sectarian politics, which hard-line sectarians like Sadr blame for the growing influence of the Kurds and the previously unchecked power of IS: Sunni militants. Abadi has attempted to stress the involvement of Iraq’s military in the victories over IS. In reality, Shi’ite militias played a major role in the victory over IS in Fallujah and are likely to be heavily involved in the Mosul campaign, as well. While the extent of the ties between the various Shi’ite militia groups and Iran is a complicated issue, clearly Iran is also seeking to increase or at least maintain its own level of influence in Iraq through Shi’ite dominance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's gamble in Syria has produced exactly the results he had hoped.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's gamble in Syria has produced exactly the results he had hoped.

Further complicating the picture: the involvement of Turkey in both the Syrian and Iraqi fronts. In August, just one month after a failed coup attempt aimed to topple the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish forces crossed the border into Syria to launch their own offensive against IS. At the time, however, I wrote that Turkey’s primary motive was obviously not the fight against IS. After all, Turkey has shared a border with IS for two years. Instead, Turkey was reacting to U.S.-backed Kurdish groups that were rapidly advancing deep into IS territory, occupying space that was once controlled by moderate Syrian rebel groups that Turkey has supported for years.

Not only was Turkey watching its proxies lose territory to IS and the coalition that supports the Syrian government, Erdogan was also watching one of his principal rivals — Kurdish groups with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — fill that vacuum.

In the short term, Erdogan’s gamble in Syria has produced exactly the results he had hoped. IS is retreating, almost without a fight. The Kurdish groups have withdrawn from some of the territory right on Turkey’s border.

About one month ago, I sat down with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek on the sidelines of the Yalta European Strategy meeting in Kyiv. He was enthusiastically bragging about Turkey’s intervention in Syria and broke the news to me that U.S. special operations forces were assisting the mission, dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield. But in comments made during a panel earlier that day, Simsek stressed that the Erdogan government is beset by enemies on all sides — IS and Kurdish extremists had both ramped up terrorist attacks in the months preceding the coup, and then there was the coup itself. Simsek stressed the narrative that followers of Fethullah Gulen had infiltrated all levels of the Turkish government and the crackdown on dissenters and the purge of suspected Gulenists that many in the West claimed was authoritarian was really the reestablishment of democratic values.

Journalists and experts present for Simsek’s comments were rightfully skeptical. Still, the exchange was a clear illustration of the central issue in Turkish politics: Many aspects of Turkish society — from the economy to the security situation to Turkey’s regional standing — have been challenged in recent years. Turkey’s intervention in Syria, and the Turkish government’s purge of suspected Gulenists, are Erdogan’s attempt to reestablish some element of control, at least over the narrative, if nothing else.

RFE/RL spoke with Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish analyst and journalist based in Washington, D.C., who stressed that Erdogan is busy creating a narrative.

"The economy is doing terribly," Tanir said. In order to distract from Turkey’s problems, Erdogan, much like Putin, has created external crises for him to fight, whether that be Gulenists and the Kurdish PKK at home, or IS and the Kurdish groups affiliated with the PKK beyond Turkey’s borders. One consequence of the coup, Tanir explained, is that the Turkish media have either been targeted by the postcoup purge or are now echoing the Turkish government’s party line.

"There is no critical media left in Turkey, and so whatever Erdogan says right now goes straight to the public," he said.

Erdogan, however, will soon face another problem with this narrative: His intervention in Syria is literally running out of room. With Dabiq having been liberated from IS, Turkey will set its sights on Al-Bab, a large and strategic town on a key road that runs from Aleppo city to the Turkish border. However, once Al-Bab is in Turkish control, Erdogan will have a new problem: In order to advance to IS’s next stronghold, Raqqa, Turkey may have to move through territory currently controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish groups or by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At the moment, neither of those options is attractive to Turkey as they could broaden the conflict and alienate either Russia or the United States — or both. There may be nowhere to go.

In other words, if Erdogan is dependent on external crises to serve his political needs, he may run out of crises. It is for this reason that Erdogan wants the Turkish military to get involved in the fight for Mosul.

On October 18, Erdogan said that Turkey has a "historical responsibility" in Mosul and Kirkuk, as they were both historically Turkish land, therefore, "If we say we want to be both at the table and in the field, there is a reason."

Iraqi men use a shoe to hit a picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they gather outside the Turkish consulate in the southern city of Basra to protest against the continued presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq on October 14.

Iraqi men use a shoe to hit a picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they gather outside the Turkish consulate in the southern city of Basra to protest against the continued presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq on October 14.

He also warned Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, which have been accused of anti-Sunni atrocities, to not get involved in the fight. As of right now, however, the government in Baghdad has rejected Turkey’s request to join the fight in Mosul, and on October 18 thousands protested outside the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad against a Turkish military presence in Iraq. Two of Turkey’s best-known media organizations, Daily Sabah and Anadolu, said that the protests were "dangerous" and had been organized by Muqtada al-Sadr.

If Turkey is not allowed to intervene in Mosul, will it try to anyway? Will Turkey attack Kurdish forces in Syria, even if it angers the United States?

"What’s going on in Iraq and Syria is a land grab," Tanir told RFE/RL. Various factions — the Kurds, the Turks, the Shi’a — are all using the fight against IS to advance their own causes. And just like how the 1945 land grab in Europe and Asia set the stage for the Cold War, so, too, will the events in the Middle East impact the power struggle in the region for years to come.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Los Angeles Times: “Battle for Mosul: One the front line near Nawaran, Iraq”

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Polls: Capt. Trump aiming GOP Flight 2016 at nearest mountain Fri, 21 Oct 2016 05:55:09 +0000 David Faris | (Informed Comment) | – –

In weighted opinion polls, Hillary Clinton crushed Donald J. Trump in Wednesday night’s debate, with a 10 to 13 percent spread.

On Wednesday night, an accomplished, intelligent woman with painstakingly constructed plans for the future of American society and a wonk’s grasp on policy once again spent 90 minutes on stage “debating” a serial sex assaulter who spent the evening unfurling a long banner of unrepentant lies, outrageous distortions, racial hysteria and delusional flat-Earthism across the stage. Once again the Republican nominee and his crack team of Molotov Cocktail-hurlers turned the proceedings into daytime television by inviting the Ghosts of Clinton Past and a squadron of grieving mothers in front of the cameras in a pitiful and desperate bid to rattle the world’s most unshakeable woman. And once again, the whole deplorable spectacle failed miserably for him.

This is not new. Clinton soundly defeated Trump in the first two debates, and it has shifted public opinion accordingly, reversing the mid-September tightening of the race and making Republicans nervous about a full-scale election night wave. It did not help that Trump spent the three weeks following the first debate having a long, painful and very public emotional meltdown topped off by a series of revelations that he enjoys sexually assaulting women.

Yet in the third and final debate, Clinton didn’t just defeat Trump. She methodically dismantled him, first cornering him on policy and then getting so far under his skin that the sniveling, unmoored character from the first debate returned and promised not to accept the results of the election. That Trump was coming unglued should have been obvious from the very first moments of the debate, when he used his opening remarks to complain about how Ruth Bader Ginsburg was mean to him and said that after a Clinton presidency we would have a “very, very small replica” of the second amendment. What it would mean for the country to be left with a hobbyist’s miniature of a constitutional amendment was thankfully left unsaid. Imagine the tiny militias! And it was in those opening remarks too that he made his first outrageous claim of the night, and one that will probably be lost amid the kerfuffle over his craziest behavior – the idea that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t get to choose the cases they hear. This is, how shall we say, not how it works.

Still, you might initially have mistaken this for a normal debate. The outline of the first few exchanges was an almost comforting rehash of the past back-and-forths between Republicans and Democrats on guns and abortion that we didn’t even realize we were wistful about, like when you go home to visit your parents and you fall back into old adolescent rhythms and start crying when you pour yourself a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats (which you never even eat anymore!). For a hot minute or so, you might even have thought this was a draw, when Clinton started talking somewhat strangely about how too many toddlers are dying of gun violence and Trump name-checked Chicago as his stand-in for the kind of urban hellholes in which he will never again be able to successfully operate a business after this election. But even in these seemingly mundane early minutes, Trump was starting to do some weird things. The sniffing was back. He talked about late-term abortion as a process wherein someone tries to “rip a baby out of the womb,” a needlessly graphic and cringe-inducing and of course completely inaccurate phrase that will still be ringing painfully in the ears of the tens of millions of women he needs to win over to have a chance next month. He slipped directly from this unforced error into his jaw-dropping comment that “bad hombres” are pouring across the southern border to menace the good people of New Hampshire with opiates. It was at this point that everyone at RNC headquarters began shaking their damn heads.

It was here also that Clinton began to diverge from her earlier performances. Even in the first third of the contest, it was clear she had decided to stop playing nice and to dig her knife into the hollow cavity where most people host their policy knowledge or their hearts and where Trump probably keeps a little black book of notes on his sexual conquests. There were fewer moments where she stared off into space, silently stifling her screams and taking the high road while he man-ranted incoherently. And by pushing back forcefully, Clinton managed to stand her ground as the high road candidate while simultaneously firing off a series of sick burns. She calmly gutted Trump by noting that he used undocumented labor in his businesses. This ploy caused Trump to veer off-script and talk about how many millions of people Obama has deported. He refused to distance himself from the Wikileaks espionage, which in addition to being a problematic policy position, makes no campaign sense either. The Wikileaks Podesta dumps could be compiled into the world’s dullest ebook tomorrow morning. No one cares and it’s not for lack of trying. Earlier this week CNN breathlessly did a segment about the “revelation” that Nancy Pelosi was reluctant to endorse Clinton. I’m sure there was total bedlam at Clinton Headquarters about this huge scoop.

It was when Clinton, again calmly, noted that Vladimir Putin wants a puppet as the American president that things really deteriorated for Trump. He churlishly shouted “You’re the puppet! You’re the puppet!” at Clinton while she was still talking. He started calling her Hillary. The sniffing accelerated, as if he was wearing Kramer’s wool sweater from Seinfeld. Clinton killed America with competence for several minutes about jobs, and Trump pivoted, completely bizarrely, back to demanding extortion money from NATO countries like Tony Soprano in a terrible suit. He repeatedly used the menacing phrase “pay up” to describe our expectations of other sovereign countries. It does not help that he has mobster hair. He ranted strangely about how we will “have more free trade than we have now,” but that it will somehow be more fair. Clinton spiked the volleyball by noting that Trump had used Chinese steel (the horror!) to build his hotel in Vegas.

He walked right into another trap by repeating his odd claim that Clinton has achieved nothing in 30 years and allowing her to basically read her long and amazing resume to the American people. He responded to Wallace’s question about accusations of sexual assault by saying that they had been “largely debunked” and then moving on, implicitly admitting of course that some of the accusations were true and reminding America that he didn’t even apologize to Melania and now let’s change the subject please. When Clinton observed that Trump basically said he only rapes pretty girls, Trump added interrupting to the sniffing to complete his transformation back into the unhinged weirdo from the first debate that we can now be confident is who this guy actually is. And happily, Clinton made the case about why Trump’s behavior is wrong more comprehensively and eloquently than in the second debate. She said, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere that doesn’t know what that feels like.” The whole exchange about sexual assault ended with Trump absurdly saying that “nobody has more respect for woman than I do,” the audience breaking out into shocked laughter and Trump launching into a diatribe about Clinton’s emails.

After goading Trump some more by noting the six-foot portrait of himself that he bought with Trump Foundation money, Clinton had set Trump up perfectly for the only moment from this evening that anyone will truly remember. Wallace asked Trump point blank whether he would accept the legitimacy of an election that he is now poised to lose by double digits, and Trump said, “I will look at it at the time.” This stunning refusal to abide by even basic norms of democratic decency will dominate headlines for the next ten days. It forced Chris Wallace to explain to this boorish imbecile what a peaceful transfer of power looks like in democratic countries. Trump’s final reply? “I’ll keep you in suspense.” At this point, he was so out of his mind that when Clinton needled him about Tweeting that the Emmy’s were rigged against him, he leaned into the microphone and said “Should’ve gotten it.” For serious, Brian Fallon and Robbie Mook could have written the transcript of this debate themselves, and it could not possibly have gone any better for her.

At this point, the debate was comprehensively over. It was Trump’s last chance to prove to America that he is a remotely sensible and competent person who can at least pretend to be an adult on national television for 90 consecutive minutes. He failed this minimal test in a hundred ways. This is a man who is more gullible than my 5-year-old nephew. You could walk into his office in Trump Tower and tell him they’ve decided to cancel Christmas this year, and his eyes would go wide with shock and he’d immediately send out 13 Tweets about the War on Christmas. The man is a Snopes article with a ragged pulse.

Who knew that of all people, it would be Fox’s Chris Wallace who brought some semblance of order to these proceedings. Since the Commission released the details about the debate moderators, Democrats have worried that Wallace would try to throw the final debate to Trump before the election. And indeed, as many have noted, his questions were almost always posed with a right-wing narrative frame. This is a problem that needs to be addressed by the Commission, because this wasn’t the only debate where that was true. But otherwise he was the only moderator who both stayed largely on substantive issues and kept Trump in line. His predecessors in the role either embarrassed themselves by getting talked over (Lester Holt in the first tilt and Elaine Quijano in the Vice Presidential Debate) or impersonating a Politico reporter by fixating on campaign arcana (Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper). He even tried to shut the crowd up. Four stars out of five.

I can only imagine the panic in Republican campaign offices across the country. At the debate, Trump locked himself into the cockpit of GOP Flight 2016 and aimed the plane directly for the nearest mountain, while Reince Preibus and Paul Ryan still sat calmly in first class sipping champagne instead of banging desperately on the door. The conclusion most people drew, finally, last night was this: The Republican Party has nominated a complete asshole to be the President of the United States and we don’t want that. The GOP is now headed for the electoral massacre that they have so richly deserved for the past six years.

And we deserve it too. This obscene election has now been going on for more than 14 months, since the 16-member red-shirted Republican Away Team beamed into Cleveland to debate Donald Trump on August 6th, 2015. In defiance of all punditry and political science wisdom, Trump dispatched these challengers one by one, ritually humiliating them before forcing nearly all of them to disavow their attacks on him and come crawling back, their dignity in tatters, in the hopes that there might be a place for them in a Trump Justice Department that will never exist. In the endless, torturous, psychological damaging months that have followed, we have run out of ways to be offended, of nightmares to be haunted by, of things to conclude about Trump and Trumpism. After a thousand think pieces about Trump voters, the pens have largely run out of ink. The Dream Palace of the Trumpians is utterly impenetrable. Mostly we just want to go to sleep.

Before we rest, though, the message sent to Trump and his supporters on November 8th must be unequivocal: there is no place for this kind of ugliness in our politics. If Trump loses by 4 or 5 points, Republican elites might come to a different conclusion. They might surmise that attached to a candidate who can avoid rage-Tweeting from a Golden Toilet at 3 a.m., these positions – mercantilism, ethnic cleansing, nativism, the sexual domination of women – might be electoral winners. A 10 or 12-point loss in a country that is close to evenly divided politically, on the other hand, sends a signal that even Mitch McConnell can’t misinterpret. It says that we can have sharp disagreements about economic and social issues. We can have a conversation about the boundaries of our political community, and to whom we should extend membership. We can struggle bitterly over the direction of health care policy and the Supreme Court. We don’t even have to like each other while we’re doing this.

But we cannot have one party whipping up its followers into a frothing racial mob. We cannot have one party delegitimizing the instruments of democracy, calling for the assassination or jailing of opponents. This kind of cynicism and hatefulness is corrosive to the piping of democracy. It must be repudiated in large enough numbers to leave no doubt whatsoever about what has transpired. It looks increasingly like this will happen. But if and when the Democrats do win this election, it will not feel particularly good.

It will feel like we all survived a plane crash.

David Faris is chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. His books Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt (2013) (Here) and Social Media in Iran: Politics and Society After 2009 (Here) (with Babak Rahimi) focus on the use of digital media by social movements.​


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: “Nate Silver Explains Just How Bad Donald Trump’s Night Actually Was”

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Hillary Clinton Roasts Donald Trump At 2016 Al Smith Dinner Fri, 21 Oct 2016 04:37:29 +0000 Fox 10 Phoenix | (Video) | – –

“Hillary Clinton isn’t holding back against Donald Trump at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York. Clinton joked that if Trump didn’t like what she was saying, then he could “shout `wrong.”‘ She added that she was surprised Trump let her go second because “I didn’t think he’d be OK with a peaceful transition of power.” And she said Trump “looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a four.” During Trump’s remarks, he drew boos from the crowd as he described Clinton as “crooked.” Clinton joked, “After listening to your speech, I will also look forward to listening to Mike Pence deny that you ever said it.” Clinton also took some shots at herself. She opened by saying she had taken “a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here.”

Fox 10 Phoenix: “FULL: Hillary Clinton Roasts Donald Trump At 2016 Al Smith Dinner”

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Trump Campaign: The Donald’s 5-Point Plan to Defeat Islam Fri, 21 Oct 2016 04:23:17 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald J. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, went on MSNBC touting the Republican candidate’s “5-point plan to defeat Islam.” She later clarified that she meant “radical Islamic terrorism.” But in fact her candidate has often spoken as Islam in general as his target, as when he said “Islam hates us.”

Kellyanne Conway on Trump’s plan to “defeat Islam”

It is a little mysterious what Trump’s 5-point plan to defeat Islam might be. Here are some things he’s suggested, though, and many of these steps do concern all Muslims in a blanket fashion, not just radicals.

1. Ban Muslims from coming to the United States

2. Put mosques under surveillance

3. Put all Muslims in a Federal database

4. Torture Muslims suspects; I mean, not just waterboarding, but really really torturing them.

5. Take Muslim family members hostage to ensure good conduct.

These policies are unconstitutional. The First Amendment forbids the Federal government from establishing a state religion (despite the continued yearning of some Evangelicals for such an enforced theocracy). Discriminating against one religion is therefore illegal. Spying on Muslims not proven to have done something wrong is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Torture is a violation of the 8th amendment and of the 5th amendment promise of due process. Kidnapping and threatening innocents isn’t just unconstitutional, it is a Federal crime.

Islamophobes in the US often hide behind weasel words like “radical Islamic terrorism” when they actually intend to target all Muslims. Besides, that phrase is clearly just propaganda, since it is redundant and hyperbolic. Could there be “moderate” terrorism? If not, then “radical” is superfluous. And the problem is Muslim terrorism, not “Islamic terrorism,” since Islam forbids terrorism. And if the problem is terrorism done by Muslims (defined as targeting civilians for violence in order to coerce public policy), then why is that so much worse than terrorism done by Christians, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus, or just by white supremacists (the main terrorism threat inside the United States)?

Conway’s “slip” was probably more revealing than she would have wanted it to be.

Since Americans are often insular and poorly informed by their ramshackle school system and shoddy mass media (and you have to wonder if the corporations like it that way), they may not realize that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world out of 7.4 billion human beings, i.e. about 1 in every 5 persons is Muslim. Only one in every 24 is an American. While the US is a rich and powerful country, it isn’t richer and more powerful than a fifth of humankind, and if those are the terms of struggle, then the US will lose.

But of course those aren’t the terms. Despite what many Republican politicians say, Muslims are mostly allies of the United States. Turkey is a NATO ally. Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Pakistan and others are designated non-NATO allies.

But if people like Trump keep targeting ordinary Muslims as opposed to al-Qaeda and ISIL, then those alliances could easily shift way from the US.

As for Muslim radicalism, we didn’t hear much about it decades ago. You have to ask where it came from. Reagan stirred it up in Afghanistan to bother Moscow. And then Bush illegally invaded and occupied a major Arab Muslim nation, destabilizing it for the long term.

The best five point plan to defeat Muslim radicalism would be to stop using Muslim radicals (as the US is still doing in Syria) and to stop screwing Muslims over.

But those steps wouldn’t be the Trump Way.

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