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Total number of comments: 43 (since 2013-11-28 15:36:12)


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  • Top Ten Myths about Israeli Attack on Gaza
    • Yeah, I heard the remark by Jonathan Sacks at the time. I was very surprised. I don't believe the story that he thought he was off air. I felt he thought he was being asked for a political comment on Gaza, rather than a spiritual one (he had just given a brief homily in the series 'Thought for the day') and came up with his personal opinion until shooed back to spirituality by the anchors.

  • Two Canadians Discover the US has become a Police State
    • I heard on the radio this morning that the centre of the contemporary art market is tending to move from New York to London because collectors going to sales are fed up with US border security (the long waits, no doubt).

  • Assange Demands end of US War on Whistleblowers
    • I thought Assange spoke well there. He correctly posed the question of the role of the US. It is up to Sweden to respond.

      I entirely agree that Assange should answer questions about his sexual relationship with the women concerned. Swedish practice allows for investigators to question people outside Sweden, so why not here? Why the insistance on return to Sweden?

      Myself I would say, settle the matter in London, with the Swedish investigators. If Assange did wrong under Swedish law, which could be, it's an offence very close to what is legal, even in Sweden.

      A sentence of imprisonment would not be justified.

      So hold the trial even in his absence. Award the fine, or the sentence of community service, to be parlayed by a fine. He will pay it.

      So is it not really about extradition to the US?

  • Syria: The Battle for Aleppo Begins as Rebels Retreat
    • The point is to concentrate government forces on Aleppo, leaving provincial towns to be liberated without contest.

      By the way, I hear that A'zaz, one of the "liberated" towns north of Aleppo, has imposed shari'a. Another great victory for democracy.

    • The Amnesty report is confused. As often happens with people who don't know the Middle East, the province of Aleppo is being muddled with the city. They are talking about the province - not the city.

      And just look at the photos published by Amnesty - only one is of shell-holes, and they are of holes identified in farmland, not in areas of human habitation.

      I don't think the Amnesty people concerned knew what they were doing.

  • Syrian Rebellion Enters new Stage with Aleppo, Border operations
    • Just to correct myself:

      "Syrian rebels now control one of the three main border crossings between the two countries, with the other two in the hands of the Syrian army.

      Despite heavy shelling by the Syrian army at Albu Kamal, that border point remains in rebel hands."

      link to

    • "If the FSA can take the third crossing from Iraq, at Walid, they can control truck traffic into Syria from Iraq, starving the regime. The border is long and porous, but big trucks need metalled roads, which are few and go through the checkpoints."

      There's no evidence that the FSA have been able to hold on to even one crossing. Abu Kamal was retaken, as far as I know.

      Also, you'd be surprised how used truck drivers there are to driving across flat desert.

  • Free Syrian Army Controls Border Areas
    • The Syrian-Iraqi border is long and open, and the FSA can't close it. The main road from Baghdad to Damascus does not go through Abu Kamal, but through Rutba.

      Even if the FSA is able to hold on to the border posts. It is not certain that they held Bab ul-Hawa yesterday for longer than it took to make the video. The BBC correspondent on the Turkish side of the border later on heard no activity at all (though it is true that the two border posts are separated by 3 km).

  • Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions, Human Rights Outcry, over Pop Music 'European Idol'
    • Yes, I was going to remark on that point of ethnicity.

      The guy looks to me Azeri. But the woman is certainly Russian, northern Russian. I've a Russian student from St Petersburg, who has much her colouring.

  • British PM Anthony Eden and the Persian Poet Hafiz
    • The British governing class's interest in Persian culture was rather limited and specific.

      Mainly it was the way the Mughal empire shared Persian culture that stimulated the interest of British colonial authorities in India. Colonial officials could advance their pay grade if they passed examinations in Persian. Richard Burton was an example. St. John Philby another, who finished his life working for Ibn Saud. They were not numerous, and of course, not the people who made decisions.

      However they supplied the personnel who set up British policy in Iran and Iraq after the First World War.

      Later on, Britain had a policy of training specialist diplomats - the famous 'Arabists', and probably 'Persianists'. People who actually knew the countries they worked in. All that has disappeared, now that all foreign policy is directed from the home country.

      However, none, apart from Anthony Eden, ever made it to the top spot. And he was quite ill at the time of the Suez crisis, unable to make proper decisions.

      Even so, reading Hafiz or Omar Khayyam in translation did not make a connection in their minds between the brilliance of medieval Iranian civilisation and the modern day country. I'm reminded of a predecessor here in the Sorbonne, who detests the 'Arabs', but was quite ready to spend a good many years teaching Islamic Art.

      The disconnect between their attitude towards medieval Islam and the modern day doesn't seem to bother the orientalists who were brought up in the colonial period, but it does bother me. My classes are full of references between the medieval past and today.

      Evidently British policy in Iran was decided by imperial requirements. The experts didn't have much to say, except on rare occasions where they were listened to. Things haven't changed much today.

    • Anthony Eden had a degree in Oriental Studies (i.e. Persian), the only British Prime Minister (and only Western leader), ever to have had a training in the Islamic World.

      It didn't stop him ordering Suez though.

  • Is Anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic Campaign Rhetoric fomenting Antisemitism in France?
    • It was the same gun, and the same scooter, so we are not talking about an Islamist, rather a right-wing extremist, of the Breivik kind.

  • The Dilemma over Syria
    • I am against demonising the Asads. As an academic (and one who knows Syria well), I think it is important to try to detect the truth under the weight of propaganda now being disseminated.

      The Asads are not a very nice regime; my Syrian students have spoken in the past of their fear of the Mukhabarat (the security services). Unelected, it is a mafia family, of which Bashshar is the acceptable face. He speaks nicely, always talking of compromise, but unable to enforce it (reminds one of Obama, doesn't it).

      Nevertheless, they are still supported by a large proportion of the Syrian population. It is difficult to say how large, I wouldn't for a moment believe the so-called polls. But not far from half. A declining proportion, as many who support them are doing so for security and stability.

      They have done good things: they received Iraqi refugees without limit, whereas Jordan closed its borders.

      In the present affair, they shot from the start. I've had reports of resentment at the deaths of relatives in Dar'a. But as far as I can detect, the use of weapons was limited to light arms until recently. Tanks present but not firing. It must be the "nice man", Bashshar, who insisted on not destroying his country. But now he's lost out, and the relatives are insisting.

      Suddenly two days ago, the videos of Homs started showing destruction by bombardment. Never before. Even now it's only destruction by relatively light weapons, perhaps mortars. Certainly not heavy artillery, or 2000 lb bombs.

      Me, I think that if the Syrian regime wants to suppress the revolt definitively, they should go all out, and use all weapons.

      They have not wanted to do so, and I think, for that, they are going to lose.

  • Israeli Mossad Agents allegedly Impersonated CIA in fostering Baluch Terrorism against Iran
    • Personally, I find present Israeli policy bizarre. It's not going too far to describe it as Masadist, though with the aid of the world's greatest power, the USA.

      I remember, some thirty years ago, when I was writing my doctorate, reading an academic article which argued that the Masada rebels were really liberal democrats. I don't remember the reference, but it stuck in my mind. In the 1970s, that was what one said. Today one wouldn't say that.

      Of course Israel holds its graduation ceremonies for the army on the summit of Masada, saying "Never again". But the present policy is very similar. Go to extremes, and never mind the future.

  • Gascoigne: Syria, the Invisible Massacre
    • Mr Burgess

      It is wonderful of you to drink the Kool-Aid and not to trust what you, or I, can see with our own eyes in the videos. No.Destroyed.Buildings. Despite the endless claims.

    • "Oddly, even professional media coverage is relatively lacking, certainly compared to the interest in, say, Egypt."

      Yes, that is bizarre. Syria is in the media every day; there is a heavy concentration on what is going on. Particularly in Britain, where the writer comes from.

      I see also that Gascoigne swallows whole, without question, the figures for casualties given by opposition sources, e.g. Avaaz.

      There is a lot of evidence now that the opposition have been exaggerating their reports. For example, the daily accusations of shelling: they have never been able to come up with a video showing the results of government shelling. Machine-gunning, yes; artillery, no. The buildings are all complete. The nearest I have seen was a photo of a room with two 20 mm cannon shell holes.

  • Is Syrian Regime Preparing a Massacre of Homs?
    • I've only seen one video of a room with two shell-holes, not very big, probably 20-30 mm cannon.

      Of course this means that in fact the army is only using light weapons on the opposition. One of my Syrian students confirmed it to me that it is the practise.

      Of course the opposition claims they are being shelled by artillery, but it is not the case.

      It's one reason why the army has not won. If it had been old Hafez, he would have used bombs and artillery without hesitation.In fact Bashshar is being too nice to win, but not getting any media benefit. I am sure what a colleague said to me yesterday is right: to do a Hama today would provoke a foreign intervention.

  • Iran Displays Drone, Complains to UN
    • I have to support Juan here.

      The drones have been overflying Iran for years, according to the accounts published. But they have never found anything illegal. We would have heard about it, if anything had been found. But we have not.

      It is a significant set-back for the war-mongers. Possibly fatal. This is a major issue. Years of oversight and they can't find the least evidence. Plus the agents on the ground.

      Yet the supposedly damning IAEA report was not more than suggestive. It is not going to look good, if Israel does actually attack.

  • State of Alert in Egypt after Breach at Israeli Embassy
    • No, they are not the Egyptian version of British soccer hooligans. It was not mindless violence, there was a political point - you've just said it: "but have strong distaste for Israel’s actions in Palestine."

      Mind you, I've seen two blog posts now from 'nice' middle/upper-class Egyptians, distancing themselves from these events. They're being a bit fastidious.

      It's not like that among British soccer hooligans; there are plenty of middle-class soccer hooligans in Britain. They don't have to be denominated as to be shunned. One former hooligan is called David Cameron, though I don't think he was interested in soccer.

      Finally, who do you think carries out all political violence, all over the world? Precisely the type of young male seen here. Sometimes they join the army, and kill legally, sometimes they have another allegiance.

    • It is the whole embassy staff who have left, leaving one person in place as acting ambassador.

      I think that fact makes one think that matters are more serious than Israel is suggesting.

      According to them, it was "only the consulate" that was breached, and "only" leaflets were thrown out of the window. Egyptian reports say that documents marked "confidential" were seen.

      Some spin there! In order to pretend that it wasn't a big thing, which in reality it evidently was.

  • Israeli Likud Gov't Buffeted by Turkish Suit, Massive Protests
    • I think you're misunderstanding the point, Andras.

      A judgement by the ICJ will not be compulsory. I'm sure the Turks understand that.

      But then the Palmer report judgement has no legal value either. That has not bothered Israel.

      I should think the Turks are thinking in the same way. At least the opinion of the court has more value than a UN commission which was put together ad hoc, with members potentially biassed.

      To suggest that the Turks don't know what they are doing seems to me strange. There are people to tell them whether what they are doing will work or not, before they reach the point of making a public announcement.

  • Fall of Tripoli Echoes Loudly in Damascus
    • No, Abu Muslim's revolt against the Umayyads took place in what is today Turkmenistan, in Merv.

      But it is true that the Umayyads were very similar stylistically to the Saudi royal family today, even down to the ancient equivalent of gold-plated bath-taps (the palace of Qasr Hisham in Jericho), and the fact that many of the caliphs were the sons of one patriarch, Abd al-Malik.

      I once mentioned this last point in a lecture in Damascus. It nearly provoked a diplomatic incident, so shocked were they.

  • Iraq Bombings unlikely to Change Minds on US Troop Withdrawal
    • An old canard used by the NeoCons that was disproved years ago. The three vilayet organisation was only invented 30 years before the 1WW. In medieval times Iraq extended from the Gulf as far north as Tikrit.

      Frontiers change. The USA of 1776 didn't include California.

      By the way I've heard people starting to talk in the same way about Syria. Syria is said to be an artificial country invented by the French. I guess some crazies must be planning to break up Syria too.

  • Clinton: al-Asad has lost Legitimacy after Mobs Storm US, French Embassies
    • which Syria decried as an infringement against Syrian sovereignty and interference in local affairs.

      So you don't really think the visit to Hama was interference in internal politics? It certainly was, and quite gross.

      If the Syrian ambassador to the US had done the same thing in reverse, he would have been thrown out of the US.

      Of course, many commentators are saying that the visit to Hama was mainly intended for domestic consumption in the US, after the Republican criticism of Ford.

      It is a good laugh that here the US is supporting the same Sunni fundamentalists that they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Iraq's Christians Urged to Flee, al-Maliki Says they Should Stay, and Everyone Wonders where the Government Is
    • Are you surprised there is a feeling among Muslims that Iraqi Christians have a special relationship with the West, when all the injured from the church attack are invited to Paris for medical treatment? Muslim Iraqis don't get that.

      Even for Archbishop Dawood to call for Christians to flee, implies that there is somewhere for them to go. Like a visa for the west. All Muslims can do is go to Damascus, and even that is difficult these days, I imagine.

  • Could Wikileaks leave Iraq without a Government?
    • I'm sure you're right. It's a big problem.

      Though naturally the international media play on the Iraqi faults. How much else is there which is not being publicised?

      I wonder how it's going to play in Iraq. The Iraqis have known this kind of behaviour for thirty years. The supporters of Maliki may well shrug their shoulders, and say, "Well, now it's our turn".

      It depends upon who has been tortured. If it is only Sunnis, there's no problem. If he has tortured Shi'a, or others that he hopes will support him, then it's a problem.

  • The Rumors of Multiculturalism's death Are Exaggerated (Against Merkel)
    • It is normally the women who don't learn the language; the men have to, in order to work.

      It has always been like that in Britain; Bangla Deshi women don't learn English and depend on their children. Even true of my ex-wife's grandmother, who was Latvian, and came after WW2.

      It didn't mean that the British Prime Minister made racist remarks about the end of multi-culturalism. Though lesser politicians did.

  • On 10th Anniversary of Afghan War, US Stymied in Pakistan, Forced to Negotiate with Taliban
    • I see that NATO is now denying that there is any problem for supplying forces in Afghanistan. Things must be getting serious....

  • 4th Attack on Trucks Near Quetta, Pakistan
    • This is going in the direction of Cambodia.

      Of course the US can bomb any country it wants. Bombing a country like Pakistan, where opinion is already divided, can only lead to the collapse of the country. Imagining that a few bombs, and diplomatic pressure, will bring them to order, is frankly stupid.

      For the US, the problem is in Afghanistan. Thinking that the problem will be resolved, if the friends over the border are dealt with, is wrong. Better to rethink the Afghanistan policy.

      Frankly, the collapse of Pakistan into chaos gives me fear. The US suggests that it has control over Pakistani nuclear weapons. I doubt it. Nuclear weapons in the hands of extremists, as a result of current policy, seems to me a very likely scenario.

  • Ahmadinejad as Cyrus the Great?
    • Iran doesn't want the Cyrus cylinder back, because, of course, it never belonged to Iran. It is Iraqi, found in Babylon. The text is, one supposes, a copy of an Iranian original.

      The origin of the row is that the Iranians wanted to borrow the cylinder, and some in the British Museum didn't believe Iran would return it. Not surprising, given the demonisation of Ahmedinejad. The problem is in London, not in Tehran.

  • Iraqi Military Acts Swiftly to Avert Minibus Bombing at Rusafa HQ
    • There was a really excellent Iraqi sniper a couple of years ago. Fighting for the resistance of course. I've still got a lot of videos of him shooting down US soldiers. But I guess they don't get like that in the Iraqi army.

    • Or, if the official Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman speaking to the BBC is to be believed, the US did not actually take part at all. There are no Americans in the video.

      Six of one and half a dozen of the other.

  • Iraqis differ in Reactions to US Combat Troops' Departure
    • It seems that your commenters don't believe that the US is going to withdraw. It might be a good moment to explain why it is that the US is withdrawing.

    • The reasoning given by the Iraqis cited has not changed much in three years or so: that the US is a more reliable protector against depredations than the Iraq government. They were saying the same things in 2007, maybe even 2006.

      Mainly Sunnis, but also Tariq Aziz, and the communist mentioned above. Not the Shi'a. (And the Kurds are another matter altogether - their reasoning for the US to stay is different.)

      A lot of it is Sunni distrust of the Shi'a - the kind of thing that Israel and the US tried to stoke up among the Jordanians and Saudis. Sometimes it genuinely seems irrational - ancient histories going back to the Abbasid period, completely without any basis. But the Israelis have not had as much success as they like to pretend: that is my impression.

  • Last US Combat Units withdraw from Iraq
    • It is entertaining that the videos of the last US troops leaving show them leaving by night. Shades of Paul Bremer's departure!

    • I couldn't agree more.

      ... And the more US troops leave, the more the remainder will be hostages, if the US attacks Iran.

  • Book of the Day: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara
    • I’m glad you contributed to this publication. The idea from Gabi Ashkenazi that the Israelis are going to use snipers to shoot down unarmed resisters in a future event disgusts me. The British in 1948, unarmed, risked, and were, thrown overboard. If the Israelis shoot, in such a future event, I can't imagine an event more cowardly, and more lacking in moral quality, than that.

  • Kurdish General Again Insubordinate, Angles for US to Remain in Iraq
    • I quite agree with the post. Zebari was presenting the Kurdish point of view, not the Iraqi, and he was being insubordinate. He should have been sacked.

      Reidar Visser has good figures on the oil production (which no doubt you would have given had you had them to hand). The Kirkuk field produces only 50-60,000 barrels per day; the remainder of Iraq's 1.5 million bpd comes from the south. This point explained to me why my Iraqi students don't much care whether Kurdistan goes independent, even with the Kirkuk oil field.

      However the Kurdish land-grab is an important issue, and will be fought, whoever turns out to be the Iraqi prime minister.

      With regard to the Kurdish "Taiwan", I find their economic revival ephemeral. Kurdish economic success depends upon keeping Baghdad weak. If Baghdad gets its act together, which it will one day, then the Kurdish position is going to be much weaker than it is today. It is a zero-sum game: Baghdad weak -> Kurdistan strong. Baghdad strong -> Kurdistan weak.

      The Kurds understand this very well. They have every interest in keeping Baghdad weak. That is why every time you hear of a bomb in Baghdad, which will of course be attributed to al-Qa'ida, you should ask yourself whether it was not in fact the Kurds.

      There is another point. The results of the election did not show much of a vote for Kurdish parties, probably proportional to their percentage of the population. But much weaker than the position they held in the previous government, and still do without a new government. They don't have much of a hand. So what to do? Best solution is to try to postpone the formation of a new government.

  • Lockerbie Bomber released for Sake of BP Libya Drilling Rights
    • The Times story is an old one, from January 2009. It was never conclusively demonstrated that oil issues were involved in the decision to release Megrahi. Rather it seems to have an independent decision of the Scottish courts, who stood on their independence.

  • On Fourth of July, Let Iraq Go
  • Taliban Attack Qandahar Airfield; Parliament goes on Strike
    • Evidently it didn't reach the US media, but the attack upon Kandahar airbase prevented a delegation of British ministers from visiting.

      Three British cabinet ministers, led by Foreign Secretary William Hague, were due to visit the Kandahar base later but were forced to change their plans at the last minute because of the attack. (BBC)

      That might seem trivial, but it is not. Those ministers are evidently on an evaluation mission for the new British administration of Cameron. At the same time a major programme of reforms at home is going to be announced on Tuesday. How many of the threatened economies are actually going to be enacted, remains uncertain. You probably heard the joke about the treasury minister leaving a note on his desk for his successor: "Sorry, there's no money left. Best of luck."

      It is obvious that the value of British participation in Afghanistan is being questioned.

      So the Taliban chose well to disrupt the visit.

  • US Troop Withdrawal in Iraq on Track
    • I was very pleased by your post, and I entirely agree.

      However, the elements of the military that you cite, are not the only ones to want the US to stay. The Kurds too, as I've said before on this line.

      I was very struck, back in January, at a meeting at UNESCO on Iraqi heritage, by the way that the Kurdish minister insisted on being treated as an equal of the Iraqi minister, or rather as a superior, as he gave his final speech after the Iraqi.

      It is a basic principle of Iraqi-Kurdish relations that for things to go well in Erbil, they have to go badly in Baghdad. If they go well in Baghdad, Erbil is in danger. The Kurds need US protection. If they don't have it, they fear a renewal of Saddam's policies.

      There have been contacts between the Kurds and Odierno, who is sympathetic to them. It is not as simple as one might think.

      There are others who are interested in bombing Baghdad back into instability, though I have difficulty in identifying them, the Sunni rebellion being pretty much dead. Rare foreign al-Qa'ida, certainly a possibility; you don't need many to place a bomb.

      Some of the last year's bombs were placed by the Kurds, I'm certain, but the present situation is less clear. I'm sorry that Maliki has lost the clarity of his position. At one time, it was clearly nationalist. One knew where one was going. Now I'm less certain, and I'm sure the extremists take the same view, and the bombs come from all quarters.

  • Shiite Parties Form Largest Coalition in Iraq; Ayatollahs to choose PM; Win for Iran
    • It looks like the Shi'a don't want to loose. It would have been astounding if Iraqiyya had won, and in a sense brought back the Sunnis. I think it is that that is provoking this new coalition.

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