Can the Sadr Movement in Iraq overcome Sectarianism with new Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish Party?

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( Niqash.org) | – –

One of Iraq’s most powerful political groupings, the Sadrist movement, is trying to form a new alliance that may unite secular, Sunni and Kurdish parties. It would be a first for Iraq. But it could also be a trap.

The Sadrist movement has had a busy few months. The Iraqi political movement, which is led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has defected from the larger Shiite Muslim political alliance to which it belongs, withdrawn ministers from government, joined in popular anti-corruption demonstrations calling for political reform and now, it seems, the Sadrists are trying to form a new alliance in preparation for federal elections next year. The most interesting thing about the latter is that the Sadrists appear to want to form an alliance that does not rely on sectarian affiliations – that is, whether one is a Shiite or Sunni Muslim. It may also end up not mattering whether one is religious or not, too.

For several weeks now, the Sadrists have been holding a series of talks with secular political groups. If successful, the alliance would be the first between a religious, Shiite Muslim political group and a secular, civil-minded one.

There are obvious ideological differences between the two groups but they also have some very important things in common.

“The Sadrist movement will be the first to break away from these sectarian alliances,” Ali Shawaileh, an MP for the Sadrist movement’s political party, known as the Ahrar bloc, told NIQASH; the model built on sectarian alliances and quotas for each of them in Iraqi politics has failed, he argued.

“And we have made many concessions in order to be able to do so,” Shwaileh continued. “We withdrew our ministers from the government so that the prime minister [Haider al-Abadi] was able to choose technocrats for ministers. However all the other political parties rejected this and continued to insist on the posts being filled, according to sectarian quotas.”

The meetings between the Sadrists and secular groups involve two major subjects. Firstly, their ability to form a future-proof political movement and how to compete in the next federal elections, slated to be held in 2018, with it. And secondly, how to keep up the pressure with weekly protests that take place every Friday in Baghdad and in other provinces.

There are obvious ideological differences between the two groups but they also have some very important things in common. One of the most vital is their shared enmity for Iraq’s former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Not a week goes by without some senior member of the Sadrist movement criticising al-Maliki. Muqtada al-Sadr himself said in a television interview in mid-May that he would never vote for al-Maliki again because he had sold off the country.

Al-Maliki countered that by criticizing the Sadrist movement for stepping outside the Shiite Muslim alliance and going against what he called the consensus.

The secular groups also dislike al-Maliki. The latter’s hostility towards the organisers of the Friday demonstrations is well known; he used Iraq’s military to disperse the unarmed protestors and arrested many of them.

Shiite Muslim parties have held power in Iraq since 2003, winning a majority of seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, 2009 and 2014. In the past, al-Maliki had said he wanted to lead the country because of his ability to liaise with all sectors of Iraqi politics, including Sunni Muslim parties and the Kurdish ones.

But in 2018, al-Maliki has said he wants to return to power because he is supported by the Shiite Muslim alliance. Some of the Shiite Muslim militias, who started as volunteer fighters against the extremist Islamic State group but who are now a quasi-official force, say they will support al-Maliki. In particular, the militias allied with Iran say they support the former prime minister.

However, if the Sadrist movement do not take part in the existing Shiite Muslim alliance, this would mean the loss of around 30 seats and effectively, a loss of their majority.

Since April 2017, Ahmad al-Sadr, the 31-year-old nephew of Muqtada al-Sadr, has been involved in trying to build new political alliances for the Sadrist movement. During April, the younger al-Sadr has held meetings with most of the other political blocs in Iraq, including Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties. He did not hold a meeting with the coalition led by al-Maliki.

There is no doubt that the Sadrist movement remains powerful. Muqtada al-Sadr is the only Shiite Muslim political leader who is capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis within hours. Other Shiite Muslim parties, especially those with close links to Iran, are unable to do this – they may have power but it is considered to come from outside Iraq. Additionally only the Sadrist movement has leaders who remained inside the country while Shiite Muslims were being terrorized by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim.

Today the Sadrist movement’s strength comes from three different things. Al-Sadr’s ongoing popularity with the poor Shiite Muslims of Baghdad and in the southern provinces, who are inspired by him; the armed forces the Sadrist movement can raise because of this – formerly it was the Mahdi army, now it is the Salam, or Peace, brigades; and the fact that the movement’s political wing, Ahrar, is very active at both federal and provincial level. Despite changes in the political scenery, the Sadrists have remained united.

All of these factors mean that if the Sadrist movement does manage to ally itself with civil, Sunni Muslim or Kurdish parties, it will become even more important in the next Iraqi elections – because of its new alliances and also because of its crippling withdrawal from the Shiite Muslim alliance. Any new alliance between the Sadrists and non-Shiite actors will effectively prevent al-Maliki from leading the country again. There’s only one question local analysts are still asking: Could the Sadrist movement be setting up a Trojan horse? Given more historic Sadrist ties to Iran, that possibility is also real – but only time will bring the answer.

Via Niqash.org

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

FRBI: ” Sadr: ‘We are all responsible, but Maliki occupied the apex of the pyramid’”

Posted in Iraq | No Responses | Print |

In Apocalyptic Vandalism, ISIL blows up 800-year-old Nuri Mosque in Mosul

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

al-Hayat (Life) reports that on Wednesday evening around 9:30 pm local time, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) blew up the Nuri Mosque in Mosul.

The destruction of the 800-year-old edifice was undertaken at a time when Iraqi government troops were closing in on this area in Mosul’s Old City, the last remaining bastion of Daesh there, where 3,000 fighters are still keeping some 100,000 people as human shields. That is about a tenth the strength they initially had.

I once called the destruction by the US Air Force of the annex to the Iraqi National Archives where 19th century administrative documents were housed a “cliocide,” a killing of history itself. The razing of the Nuri Mosque is another act of cliocide. Ironically, I also once suggested that the main antecedent for Daesh, of a state that held both Mosul and Aleppo, was the Zangid polity before the rise of Saladin Ayyubi. Daesh emulated the Zangids geographically and now they have wiped out one of their major surviving architectural legacies.

Iraq prime minister Haydar al-Abadi remarked that the terrorist organization was by this act announcing its own defeat.

This is a fair observation. Daesh was proud of having captured Mosul and of having taken that mosque, built in the rule of Nur al-Din Zangi, a Muslim ruler who held Mosul and Aleppo during the era of the medieval Crusades. They would not have destroyed the mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his claim to the caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy) unless they knew they were about to lose control of it.

Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.

But historical consciousness matters, and helps make us who we are. Mosulis were fiercely proud of the great mosque. Its minaret famously leaned, and that seems to have started happening soon after it was built. The medieval traveler Ibn Battuta spoke of seeing a leaning structure at the city’s citadel, and he likely was referring to this mosque.

The siege of Daesh has gone on for months, and the Iraqi counter-terrorism brigades are exhausted. They continue to fight on, and will eventually liberate all of Mosul.

Daesh sought support from sympathizers by falsely claiming that the US struck at the mosque. The US Air Force, however, denied that it was running any bombing raids in that part of Mosul.

We are seeing the slow destruction of Daesh as a territorial state. Eventually West Mosul will fall (though they have put up a more bloody-minded and dogged existence than anyone would have imagined.). Daesh believes that the last days are upon us, and its destruction of the mosque is likely an announcement of the near advent of the Judgment Day in their eyes. But actually we’ll all be around for a while to do ordinary non-apocalyptic politics.

But the grievances that gave rise to Daesh and led to the establishment of this iniquitous city-date are still there. How Baghdad treats post-war Mosul will be crucial.

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Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Iraqi military says ISIS blew up iconic mosque in Mosul”

The Millennial’s Palace Coup in Saudi Arabia: How Dangerous?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The epic battle in the Trump White House between Jared Kushner, the Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, and Steve Bannon, the alt-NeoNazi White House strategist, is hard to top.

But Saudi Arabia just topped it?

Saudi Arabia just topped it.

King Salman just fired the crown prince and made his son, Muhammad bin Salman, heir apparent.

the new crown prince is a foreign policy adventurer and hard liner who said just last month that there can be no compromise with Iran.

The octogenarian King Salman acceded to the throne in January of 2015. He has made several changes in his cabinet since then, but by last year the two most important figures in it were Muhammad bin Naif, 57, his nephew and the crown prince, and Muhammad bin Salman, 32, his son.

Muhammad bin Naif had become the minister of the interior, a position his father had also filled at one point, and was known as master of the deep state. He had taken the lead in the war on terror in 2003-2006 when al-Qaeda launched a concerted attempt to undermine the kingdom through terrorism. He was known for his iron fist policy and for filling jails with suspects. US CIA director Mike Pompeo recently gave him an award.

Muhammad bin Salman did not have much of a resume before his father made him minister of defense. In spring of 2015 he launched a devastating air war on the Houthi guerrilla group in northwest Yemen believing it was a slam dunk. It is still dragging on with no end in sight. The war has disregarded humanitarian considerations and deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure. At one point after he launched the war, Muhammad bin Salman went off on vacation to the Maldives and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter couldn’t get hold of him despite the urgency of the situation.

Both men seem to have supported the Yemen War. Muhammad bin Naif had a longer history in the Syrian conflict, but both seem to have backed Salafi jihadis like the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and the later formation of an alliance of the Freemen of Syria with the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra).

Muhammad bin Salman was identified in addition with a scheme to cut pensions and benefits for government workers and to begin privatizing the state owned petroleum giant. The king undid the pension and benefits cuts just before making his son the crown prince, and gave him the credit for the change.

It isn’t clear that the two cousins had any strong ideological differences with one another, but they just did not like one another. Muhammad bin Salman seems to be as ambitious as he is sloppy, and wanted to move his cousin out of the way.

Saudi Arabia had been using an agnatic succession model, where the brother of the king is given preference over the son of the king.

The Third Saudi kingdom was founded by Ibn Saud in 1902. He and his ancestors had an alliance with the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics. He initially only had Najd in the interior, but in 1913 he added Shiite Eastern Arabia (where the oil turned out to be), and in 1924-6 added the Sunni Hejaz on the Red Sea littoral. In 1932 a united Saudi Kingdom was announced. Ibn Saudi died in 1953. One of his many wives, Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, had given him 7 sons, the largest bloc of men eligible for the throne, who tended to support each other vis-a-vis other branches. From the 1930s, Saudi Arabia struck oil and the royal family became fabulously wealthy. Sometimes some members of it have caused scandals with how they have spent it.

Salman is a Sudairi, as are Muhammad bin Naif and Muhammad bin Salman; the latter were the first of Ibn Saud’s grandsons to have a shot a the throne.

Muhammad bin Salman is also the first Millennial (born in 1985) to have the prospect of succeeding to power. His father is advanced in age.

The new crown prince is known to be both reckless and sloppy. His irrational hatred for Iran could well lead to a military confrontation. His Yemen and Syria policies are in tatters. He has fallen out with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He is trying to squash the independence of neighboring Qatar. Some European investment firms are afraid he will upset the world’s apple carts so much it will hurt all our retirement accounts.

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Related video:

Bloomberg: “Saudi Arabia Names Mohammed Bin Salman as Crown Prince”

Russo-US dog fights over Syria?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Yara Bayoumi at Reuters reports on the complicated minuet being danced by Russia, the Syrian Air Force, and the United States.

The Syrian Air Force was bombing positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US euphemism for the leftist Kurds of the YPG. The US Air Force shot down the plane (apparently the pilot was able to eject and survive). The US is depending on the Syrian Kurds to take Raqqa city, where they already hold a few neighborhoods. It is the so-called capital of ISIL (ISIS, Daesh). Of all the military forces in the region, only the Kurds have been willing to provide ground forces to roll up ISIL in eastern Syria, with the help of US and coalition air support. If the US proved unable to protect the YPG Kurdish fighters from the regime and from ISIL, they would peel off.

The Kurds are generally considered neutral as between the Bashar al-Assad regime and the mostly Sunni fundamentalist rebels challenging him. The Syrian Kurds want at the least more ‘states’ rights,’ from the regime, but for the moment they enjoy semi-autonomy given that the regime is weak and bogged down in the fight against the rebels. The YPG Kurds have some Arab allies, but most of the fundamentalist Arab militias hate them, partly for being Kurds and partly for being secular leftists.

It is not clear why the Syrian regime chose to bomb the Kurds. It likely fears that the latter are taking over Raqqa province permanently, despite its large Arab population. After ISIL is defeated, Damascus is not going to be sanguine about an expanding Kurdistan that permanently detaches large swathes of Syria from its government. The US military may be sanguine about a Kurdish semi-autonomous zone stretching south from Hasaka all the way down to the borders with Jordan and Iraq. But this development is not acceptable to the Syrian regime.

The development is also not acceptable to Turkey, which has also bombed the Kurds allied with the US, despite Turkey being a member of NATO and a US ally. It is possible that Ankara and Damascus are coordinating in hopes of rolling back up the Kurdish fighters as the war winds down and the US becomes restless and leaves.

The problem with the US shooting down that Syrian plane is that the Syrian air Force is allied with the Russian Federation, and the Russian Aerospace forces often fly alongside the Syrian pilots.

The Russians complain that the US did not warn them before bombing in east Syria, and they should have under the agreement between Washington and Moscow.

And, Russia announced that it would possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria.

Those are about the most dangerous words I’ve heard in decades, since the era of the Cuban missile crisis or the dark Cold War film Fail Safe (1965) .

BBC Monitoring translated a statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“Regarding what is happening ‘on the ground’ in Syria, it is necessary to completely respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. So any actions ‘on the ground’ – and there are many participants, including those who conduct military operations – must get Damascus’ approval.” Source: TASS news agency, Moscow, in Russian 0555 gmt 19 Jun 17.

For its part the US military issued a statement saying it has no ambitions in Western Syria, doesn’t intend to fight there, and is not intent on ousting Bashar al-Assad:

The US said late Monday that it would try to reestablish “deconfliction” with the Russians. A lot is riding on whether they do.

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Related video:

CNN: “Russia: US planes in Syria are ‘targets'”

Habitual Labor abuser Saudi Arabia elected to UN body Promoting Workers

By Brian Whitaker | ( Al-Bab.com ) | – –

In a grotesque development earlier this week, Saudi Arabia – a world leader in the exploitation of migrant workers – won a seat on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The ILO is a United Nations agency “devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognised human and labour rights”, according to its website. It promotes “decent work for all women and men” and looks into complaints about violations of international labour rules.

As a member of its governing body, Saudi Arabia will be involved in setting ILO policies and establishing its budget and programme of activities.

On Monday, at the organisation’s annual conference in Geneva, the kingdom was elected for a three-year term with 168 votes out of a total of 253 votes cast.

This adds a further notch to Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in branches of the UN which are supposed to be protecting people’s rights.

Last October, despite its long history of abuses, the kingdom was re-elected to the Human Rights Council for a third three-year term. The British government was among those suspected of supporting its nomination.

In April, Saudi Arabia was also elected to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women – with support from at least three EU countries. The commission is described on its website as “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has a long history of institutionalised discrimination against women and is one of the world’s worst offenders in that respect.

In 2015 it was reported that Saudi Arabia, not content with being an ordinary member of the Human Rights Council, had begun lobbying to become its chair. The kingdom later abandoned this attempt but, in what some saw as a backroom appeasement deal, was instead appointed head of a panel that selects the experts reporting to the UN on various rights issues.

As far as labour rights are concerned, the kingdom has recently been trying to boost employment opportunities for women (usually under segregated conditions) but its overall record is dire – especially in regard to the vast numbers of foreign workers that its economy depends upon.

Many of the problems stem from the iniquitous kafala (sponsorship) system used in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. The International Labour Organisation has long been campaigning for kafala to be abolished or reformed.

One result of the kafala system is that foreign workers’ residence in the kingdom is tied to their employment, and in recent years hundreds of thousands have been summarily expelled – sometimes in mass deportations.

Yemeni migrants <a href="http://www.yementimes.com/en/1662/news/2150/Change-in-labor-law-in-Saudi-could-leave-300000-Yemeni-migrants-out-of-work.htm">rounded up for deportation</a> from Saudi Arabia in 2013

Last year tens of thousands of foreign workers became stranded in the kingdom, with no means to support themselves, after their employers – mainly in the construction industry – ran into financial difficulties and stopped paying their wages. The two biggest firms involved, Saudi Binladin and Saudi Oger, had depended heavily ongovernment contracts.

Saudi Oger, part of the Lebanese Hariri family’s business empire, is now on the point of closing down, according to Agence France Presse:

An angry ex-employee, who asked to be identified only as Robert, told AFP that he understands Saudi Oger’s last day of existence will be June 30. 

“In two weeks, we will no longer talk of Saudi Oger,” he said. “I have lost my future.”

Since resigning from Oger in January Robert no longer has a residency permit to stay legally in Saudi Arabia, and he can’t pay his children’s school fees.

He says he hasn’t received his salary since July last year and is owed 160,000 riyals (almost $43,000/39,000 euros).

AFP says that following negotiations between France and the kingdom, the Saudi government agreed to pay the equivalent of nine months’ salary to more than 200 French citizens employed by Saudi Oger, but it adds that thousands of Asian employees have not been paid.

London Mosque attack: Did Trump’s Tweets embolden Bigots?

by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A man driving a white van swerved just after midnight early Monday morning into a crowd of Muslims coming out of Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, severely injuring British Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain called it a “violent manifestation of Islamophobia.” The organization asked for more security for British mosques.

As of this writing, one man was dead and 10 others wounded.

One eyewitness told the Telegraph, “We are shocked when we heard the news because we were just having a good time. We were praying for peace and for Grenfell Tower.”

It is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and worshipers often go to mosque late in the evening to pray extra, supererogatory prayers.

An eyewitness interviewed in Arabic on Al Jazeera said that the man was “white,” was cursing the Muslims and spoke with a working class accent.

He was also careful to say that Finsbury Park is an ethnically mixed area with good relations among the races and that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin lives near the mosque and has made friendly visits to it. (I lived there one summer myself and remember the ethnic kaleidoscope).

Another interviewee, for the BBC, said that the man was shouting “I want to kill all Muslims!”

Finsbury Park Mosque Attack: “We held him (attacker) to the ground” – BBC News

Locals wrestled him to the ground and held him until the police came (some half an hour to forty minutes later). One said he asked them to kill him.

The attack seems pretty surely a response to the attack at the London Bridge by three ISIL militants

Finsbury Park Mosque: Man dies as van hits mosque crowd – BBC News

Unlike the London Bridge atrocity, this act of white terrorism will not be given the wall-to-wall coverage treatment on cable news.

Whoever the murderous bigot is that carried out this cold-blooded murder has fallen for ISIL’s (ISIS, Daesh) strategy, which is to polarize people of Christian and Muslim heritage and create hatred and insecurity between them. ISIL, which is rapidly losing its territory in Iraq and Syria, hopes to come west and embed itself in European and American Muslim communities. The problem for Muslim extremism is that very, very few Western Muslims are interested in extremism. Almost all of them appreciate the benefits of Western democracy and ways of life.

So ISIL does not have much hope of recruiting more than a handful of marginal personalities– petty thieves and losers. (For some reason it also only has any success in getting a few troubled young men of the second immigrant generation to join up. First generation and third generation immigrants are not interested. Apparently being in between worlds is alienating).

So what ISIL wants to do instead is to recruit white people of Christian heritage to beat up Muslims and terrify them and make them insecure. And then ISIL thinks its recruiters can show up in Muslim communities and promise people protection and security. This modus operandi was typical of how they took over so much of Sunni Iraq. They had been hitting Shiites with terrorist attacks and provoking Shiites to lash out at Sunnis.

Britain, a country of 65 million, has some 3 million Muslims, and it would be a very, very bad mistake to fall into ISIL’s trap.

ISIL and other extremists want us to be afraid. The only proper response is to refuse to be afraid.

ISIL and other extremists want us to hate. The only proper response is instead to love.

ISIL and other extremists want us to lash out violently. The only proper response is nonviolence.

When ISIL attacks, people of Christian and Jewish heritage should find a Muslim and be spontaneously nice to them.

Studies show that Muslims in the West who attend mosque are much less likely ever to become radicals. Attacking mosque congregations is an attempt to undo that good work.

So we come to the question in my headline. Donald J. Trump is one of the chief dupes of ISIL strategy, and his election as president last November gave him a very loud megaphone with which to broadcast hate and polarization. He is aided in this by the worst person in the world, alt-Neo-Nazi Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist, who is working toward Catholic-Muslim polarization of a sort some fear could lead to blood in the streets.

During his campaign, Trump whipped up irrational hatred of Muslims, which some call Islamophobia. He said “I think Islam hates us.” He announced that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

After the London Bridge attack at the beginning of June, Trump tweeted that it vindicated his Muslim ban. It did no such thing, since you can’t blame all the Muslims in 6 countries for crimes committed by one or two people from that country. Besides, many acts of terrorism are committed by citizens, as was true of the one today.

Then Trump accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of playing down the seriousness of the attacks, as a person of Muslim heritage. The mayor in fact had simply said that there would be extra police on the streets of London and that the public should not be alarmed by their presence. Trump twisted his words to imply he wasn’t taking the attack seriously.

Trump has admirers in the fringe British Islamophobic groups, including in UKIP, and his demonization of all Muslims for the acts of a few has emboldened militant bigots on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trump and Bannon are not savvy, strong Western politicians bravely standing up to the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” They are behaving precisely as the radicals want. They are dupes.

And they are making other people dupes.

This polarization strategy, and the people that fall for it, leads to catastrophe, as we saw with ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Don’t go down that path.

Putin’s End Game in Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian press is watching Oliver Stone’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and likes what it sees. Syria’s al-Watan (The Nation) reports that Putin’s Syria policy is the complete restoration of central government authority over the entire country, in preparation for a pull-back of Russian military forces to the Humaymin Air Base and Tartus on the Mediterranean.

He doesn’t appear to envisage that the Syrian military is capable, however, of taking all the country’s territory back, no matter how much air support Russia gives. Instead he sees a negotiation process, helped along by outside players such as the United States, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey willing to negotiate at Astana, Kazakhstan. He says he is asking them for “constructive cooperation.”

Putin believes that all the major players can agree that terrorism must be stopped.

Putin admits the need for “dialogue” between the opposition and the regime, including the armed opposition. (If Putin is sincere about this, he should be aware that Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly refused to talk to armed rebels, dismissing them as terrorists.)

Asked if it is necessary to partition Syria to resolve its crisis, Putin strongly disagreed and argued for the necessity of maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and attaining a resolution of the various conflicts going on in the country.

He points out that partitioning Syria might only result in the mini-states fighting wars with one another.

Putin said that Russia was willing to support those Sunni rebel groups that fought ISIL (Daesh, ISIS) and the Nusra Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate). He revealed that al-Assad is OK with that.

The end game, Putin says, will be the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of new presidential elections under watchful international supervision, as soon as possible.

In the meantime, in his phoner with the press on Thursday, Putin gave some less noble reasons for his involvement in the Syrian war, according to BBC Monitoring:

“The experience that the Russian military have gained in Syria is priceless, President Vladimir Putin said, speaking at his annual phone-in as shown live on official state TV Rossiya 1 on 15 June.

“We can say that the experience of using our Armed Forces in combat while employing modern weapons is absolutely priceless, I am saying this without any exaggeration. You know, our forces have even gained an absolutely different quality,” Putin said.

Combat experience also gave a chance to military engineers to test and tune the weapons on site, he added.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

That sounds about right. The Russian military-industrial complex isn’t less than anyone else’s.

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Related video :

CGTN: “Putin: Russia aims to strengthen Syrian military”

In March for 1st Time, 10% of US Electricity came from Wind and Solar

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I’ve been a booster of renewable energy for years and years. I can remember when readers would taunt me that only one percent of US electricity came from non-hydro renewables.

So here we are in 2017 and this March for the first time wind and solar accounted for ten percent of US electricity production.

In Iowa, 37 percent of the electricity comes from wind alone all year around.

There are now over 800,000 jobs in green energy in the US.

Solar jobs are growing 17 times faster than the general economy in the US.

After Trump reneged on the Paris Climate Accord, dozens of US cities have pledged to go 100% green in their energy consumption, with Santa Barbara being only the latest.

The Federal government isn’t the only player here, and anyway, large parts of it, such as the Pentagon, continue to favor renewables.

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Related video:

KCCI Investigates: Could wind energy power all of Iowa?

Trump to Send 4,000 More US Troops to Afghanistan as Mattis admits ‘Not Winning’

TeleSur | – –

The Trump adminstration plans to deploy 4,000 more troops, extending the nearly
The official says troops will train Afghan soldiers, and fight Taliban and Islamic State group forces.

The Pentagon is planning to send almost 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, an official said anonymously Thursday. There are already around 8,400 U.S. ground troops stationed in the country.

The decision could be officially announced next week. On Wednesday, President Trump authorized Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to adjust the deployment level to Afghanistan.

According to the official, most of the soldiers will be assigned to train and advise Afghan forces, with some also devoted to ongoing military operations against the Islamic State Group, and the Taliban.

“Thanks to the vigilance and skill of the U.S. military and our many allies and partners, horrors on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been repeated on our shores,” said a White House statement authorizing the adjustment of deployment levels.

“However, the danger continues to evolve and that danger requires a commitment to defeat terrorist organizations … we will achieve victory against the terrorists abroad, protect our borders at home, and keep America safe,” the statement continued.

The announcement comes shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted that things weren’t going well for U.S. operations in the country.

Describing the Taliban as “surging,” Mattis said “we are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision would be the largest military deployment of President Trump’s term so far.

U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan 16 years ago, on October 7, 2001, mere weeks after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.

The U.S. operation in Afghanistan, originally called “Infinite Justice,” but later changed to “Enduring Freedom,” for fear that the former name was offensive, reached a peak in 2010, with the U.S. forces reaching around 100,000 after the administration of former President Barack Obama ordered a 33,000 troop deployment.

U.S. deployment levels in Afghanistan have steadily declined since 2012, and in 2014 Obama made plans for a complete military withdrawal. Troops have been at their current level since Obama left office.

The ongoing U.S. operation in Afghanistan has taken a heavy toll. It is estimated that at least 31,000 civilians have been violently killed in the country during the operation, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University.

The Institute acknowledges however, that civilian deaths are very often not reported by the U.S. military, making it difficult to arrive at a precise figure of the ongoing war’s death toll. The estimate also does not include those who have been affected by the exacerbated poverty, malnutrition, and lack of health care access that has resulted from the operations.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA News: “Mattis: US ‘Not Winning’ in Afghanistan”

Putin offers Comey Asylum, likens him to Snowden

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

BBC Monitoring translates the remarks of Russian President Vladimir Putin broadcast on Rosiyya 1 TV on Thursday.

He responded to the remarks last week of former FBI director James Comey in his testimony before the senate, deploring Comey’s assertion, without offering any proof, of Russian interference in the US election.

Putin misrepresented the allegations against Russia as simply the broadcast of the Kremlin’s views, saying “We have our own opinion and we are expressing it openly. It’s not some underground undermining activity, but we are expressing our opinion.”

What is being alleged is that Russian government outlets such as RT and Sputnik deliberately spread largely false but damning stories about Hillary Clinton, which were picked up by fellow travelers such as Breitbart and other alt-Neonazi websites and then spread around to millions of unsuspecting voters via Facebook and Twitter, especially in states that might be close. The hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails and those of Clinton campaign director John Podesta was in service of generating these negative stories, and is alleged to have been coordinated with Russian intelligence if it wasn’t actually directed by it. There was, in short, a Russian government-directed disinformation campaign that aimed at voter suppression through discouraging Democrats from going to the polls.

It is a complex theory of disinformation cascade and may or may not be true. But it cannot be refuted by simply insisting on Russia’s right to broadcast the views of the Kremlin.

Putin then tried the typical propaganda trick of changing the subject, charging that the US is constantly doing propaganda abroad and funding non-governmental organizations. He said that in private conversations with world leaders, everyone complained about US interference in their politics.

The idea that the US funds non-governmental organizations to make revolutions is a conspiracy theory. The US AID and other funding agencies like NGOs because of the theory that emerged during and after the 1989 East Bloc revolutions that societies with numerous NGOs are more likely to turn and remain democratic. The local version of the Girl Scouts is not being funded in hopes they will make a coup.

Besides, Putin’s charge that the US interferes in other people’s elections (which is not untrue) does not address the questions of whether or how Putin interfered in the 2016 American election. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Putin said he found the idea that Comey wrote down his conversations with Trump and then found a way to leak them via a friend to the press “very strange. “What is the difference between the FBI head and Mr Snowden then? In this case, he is not the special services’ head, but a rights activist who defends a certain position.”

Putin then joked, “By the way, if he is persecuted in this relation, we will be ready to give him too political asylum in Russia. He should know this.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

It is amusing to think of Comey, an information hardliner who called Ed Snowden a traitor, as himself a whistle blower. He tried to strong arm Apple into unencrypting all our phones, opening us to hackers. In this regard, Putin makes a fair point. But the rest of his remarks on this issue came across as sleazy.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

RFE/RL: “Putin Compares Comey To Snowden, Offers Asylum”