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Category Archives: Middle East

The War in Five Sieges

The road to Raqqa, once the de facto Syrian capital of Islamic State, looks surprisingly pastoral. As we approached the city across the plain north of the Euphrates we had to stop the car several times: the road was barred by flocks of sheep. It seemed an encouraging sign of returning normality. But local people explained that shepherds were bringing their flocks to graze here for less happy reasons. Before 2011 this was well-irrigated crop-growing land, but now, after six years of war, the irrigation channels are dry or contain only stagnant water: nobody is maintaining them and there is no electricity to pump water from the Euphrates. Giant grain silos stand just off the road but they have been abandoned or damaged by bombs or shells.

The further we drove into Raqqa, the worse the destruction became: most of the few buildings that are still intact have been taken over as command posts by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab army that with the support of US-led airpower captured Raqqa after a four-month siege last October. There are equal numbers of Arabs and Kurds in the SDF, but the commanders we met were all Kurds. Some of the surviving residents of Raqqa, which before the war had a population of 300,000, are returning, but the streets were mostly empty. Behind one SDF guard post an elderly woman was sorting through the debris of a bombed-out building, looking for scraps of metal and plastic to sell. One of her sons had been killed by a mine, she said, and she needed money to buy food for his wife and daughter. All the buildings in the city centre have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair: some took a direct hit from a bomb or a shell; others still stand but have been gutted by bomb blasts and look uninhabitable.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n14/patrick-cockburn/the-war-in-five-sieges

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Posted by on August 17, 2018 in Middle East

 

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A US trade war with Turkey over a little known pastor? Dont believe a word of it

It needs a stroke of genius to soften the heart for poor old Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Those of us who have always believed that Erdogan is a bit off his rocker must still be appalled that a US president infinitely more cracked than the Turkish variety is trying to impoverish Nato’s second largest military ally. True, Erdogan locked up 50,000 Turks – including an American pastor, of whom more later – after the attempted coup against him two years ago, but hasn’t Egypt’s president/field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi broken this record by banging up 60,000 supposed Islamists in his own country’s prisons? And what about Haider al-Abadi’s mass hangings in Iraq? Or that nasty little post-death crucifixion in Saudi Arabia this week, not to mention that horrid war in Yemen where kids seem to get killed all the time? Or the Israeli habit of shooting down scores of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza? Or that chump in North Korea who appeals to Trump’s sense of humour?

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/us-turkey-trump-erdogan-trade-war-a8493956.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East, North America

 

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The Turkey-Erdogan crisis is the first geopolitical disaster in a while that isn’t actually Trump’s fault

It may well appear that little goes wrong in the world today without the malign involvement of Donald Trump. But it would be unfair to lay the blame on the current economic crisis in Turkey wholly at the door of the US president.

It is indeed the case that the sanctions imposed by Washington over the imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical missionary and US national, by Turkish authorities have exacerbated the problem. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Trump of stabbing him in the back, told Turks not to buy American products like Apple iPhones and blamed “foreign attacks” for his country’s woes.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/turkey-financial-economic-crisis-lira-erdogan-trump-us-row-a8491141.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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Even the White Helmets have been rescued from Syria – so are we about to see the final battle of the war?

Will it be the Last Battle? For three years, Idlib has been the dumping ground for all of Syria’s retreating Islamist militias, the final redoubt of every combatant who has chosen to fight on, rather than surrender to the Syrian army and the Russian air force – and to Hezbollah and, to a far smaller degree, the Iranians.

Brigadier general Suheil al-Hassan, the “Tiger” of Syrian military legend and myth – who can quote the poet Mutanabi by heart but prefers to be compared to Erwin Rommel rather than Bernard Montgomery – will surely take his “Tiger Forces” with him for the final reckoning between the Damascus regime and the Salafist-inspired and western-armed Islamists who dared to try, and very definitely failed, to destroy Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/white-helmets-syria-civil-war-rebels-army-assad-trump-putin-a8465066.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?

In the basement of a bombed-out al-Qaeda arms storage building in eastern Aleppo last year, I found a weapons log book from a mortar factory in Bosnia – with the handwritten name of one of their senior officials, Ifet Krnjic, on each page. It was dispatched from the Balkans with a cargo of 500 120mm mortars in January 2016. But now, in the forested heart of central Bosnia, I have found Mr Krnjic, who says his company sent the arms to Saudi Arabia.

Sitting on the lawn of his home south of the weapons-manufacturing town of Novi Travnik, he brings his finger down onto the first page of the log book which I showed him. “This is my signature! Yes, that’s me!” Krnjic exclaims loudly. “It’s a warranty for the 120mm mortar launcher – this is Nato standard. It [the shipment] went to Saudi Arabia. It was part of a supply of 500 mortars. I remember the Saudi shipment well. They [the Saudis] came to our factory to inspect the weapons at the beginning of 2016.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-war-bosnia-saudi-arabia-aleppo-weapons-arms-deals-a8451841.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Europe, Middle East

 

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I traced missile casings in Syria back to their original sellers, so it’s time for the west to reveal who they sell arms to

Readers, a small detective story. Note down this number: MFG BGM-71E-1B. And this number: STOCK NO 1410-01-300-0254. And this code: DAA A01 C-0292. I found all these numerals printed on the side of a spent missile casing lying in the basement of a bombed-out Islamist base in eastern Aleppo last year. At the top were the words “Hughes Aircraft Co”, founded in California back in the 1930s by the infamous Howard Hughes and sold in 1997 to Raytheon, the massive US defence contractor whose profits last year came to $23.35bn (£18bn). Shareholders include the Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. Raytheon’s Middle East offices can be found in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait.

There were dozens of other used-up identical missile casings in the same underground room in the ruins of eastern Aleppo, with sequential codings; in other words, these anti-armour missiles – known in the trade as Tows, “Tube-launched, optically tracked and wire-guided missiles” – were not individual items smuggled into Syria through the old and much reported CIA smugglers’ trail from Libya. These were shipments, whole batches of weapons that left their point of origin on military aircraft pallets.

Some time ago, in the United States, I met an old Hughes Aircraft executive who laughed when I told him my story of finding his missiles in eastern Aleppo. When the company was sold, Hughes had been split up into eight components, he said. But assuredly, this batch of rockets had left from a US government base. Amateur sleuths may have already tracked down the first set of numbers above. The “01” in the stock number is a Nato coding for the US, and the BGM-71E is a Raytheon Systems Company product. There are videos of Islamist fighters using the BGM-71E-1B variety in Idlib province two years before I found the casings of other anti-tank missiles in neighbouring Aleppo. As for the code: DAA A01 C-0292, I am still trying to trace this number.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-missile-arms-deals-west-us-uk-saudi-arabia-a8459731.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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The Syrian war is a ‘shame to mankind’ says Serbia’s top weapons maker – but I found his instruction books in eastern Aleppo

There’s no doubt about the affection in which Serbia’s Zastava weapons factory is held in the Middle East. Along the wall of Milojko Brzakovic’s managerial boardroom there are tokens of gratitude from the Arab world: plaques from Libya, from the “Public Security Directorate” of Jordan – a smart Hashemite crown above two curved swords – from the Royal Oman Police, even one from “the Palestine Presidential Guard leadership (sic) to Zastava Arms, with great respect and appreciation, 2013”. As for the Syrian war, Brzakovic calls it “a shame to all mankind”.

Nor are the expressions of Arab gratitude mere tokens of esteem. The vast plant behind the boardroom has contracted in its history to produce Kalashnikov rifles, Russian T-72 tanks, the M84 rifle, Hispano-Suiza Spanish anti-aircraft guns and a host of mines and pistols, hand grenades and mountain artillery. In the 19th century – and Brzakovic proudly shows me his state factory’s museum in an old foundry – what was then called the “Technical and Military Works” produced everything from metal church interiors and armoured protection for horses to cannons for the Balkan Wars. Indeed you enter this lethal domain in the old Austro-Hungarian city of Kragujevac across the Plaza of the Cannonmakers.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-civil-war-serbia-arms-weapons-al-qaeda-nusrah-front-a8456041.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Europe, Middle East

 

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For this Iraqi tribe massacred by Isis, fear of the group’s return is a constant reality

“We are very much scared,” says Hamid Aftan al-Hammad, an Albu Nimr tribesman from the city of Hit in western Iraq. “At night we lie on the roofs of our houses with our weapons waiting to be attacked again.”

He fears the return of Isis, which massacred at least 864 members of his tribe when they controlled the area where they live – a city a hundred miles west of Baghdad in the middle of the vast Sunni Arab province of Anbar, which sprawls across western Iraq.

Mr Hammad points to a patch of open ground between the palm trees on the far bank of the Euphrates river, which divides Hit.

“It was there that they killed 45 of our people,” he says, going on to list those members of his immediate family who were murdered, including two teenage cousins executed in the main square of the city and two uncles who tried to escape into the desert but have disappeared and are assumed to have been captured and killed by Isis.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-tribe-isis-massacre-war-hit-albu-nimr-baghdad-sunni-a8431466.html?amp

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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Catastrophic drought threatens Iraq as major dams in surrounding countries cut off water to its great rivers

“I once rescued a friend from drowning when he was swept away by the force of the current as we were swimming in the Diyala river,” says Qasim Sabti, a painter and gallery owner in Baghdad.

“That was 50 years ago,” he recalls. “I went back there recently and the water in the Diyala is so shallow today that a man could walk across it with his dog.”

The rivers of Iraq, above all the Tigris and Euphrates, are drying up. The country is becoming more arid, and desertification is eating into the limited amount of agricultural land.

Dams built upriver in Turkey, Syria and Iran since the 1970s have reduced the flow of water that reaches Iraq by as much as half and the situation is about to get worse.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-water-rivers-shortage-drought-baghdad-war-isis-a8426766.html?amp

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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Iraq isn’t as dangerous as it was – but many still live in fear

Iraq was until recently the most dangerous country in the world. When sectarian killings were at their height 12 years ago, a hundred people were being slaughtered every day. Young men were particularly vulnerable and would sometimes have a small symbol, such as an olive tree, tattooed on their skin so that their bodies could be identified even if their faces were mutilated beyond recognition by their killers.

Gruesome memories are still fresh in the minds of Iraqis: as recently as 2014, columns of Isis fighters who had just captured Mosul were advancing speedily towards Baghdad, posting online revolting videos of their massacres to terrorise and demoralise anybody resisting them.

It is scarcely surprising that people in Baghdad are only slowly readjusting to the swift ebbing of violence since the recapture of Mosul and the defeat of Isis a year ago. Iraq is now suffering less violence than at any time since the US invasion of 2003. Better still, the country may be coming to the end of a 40-year period of foreign and civil wars.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/iraq-danger-recovery-isis-war-us-syria-jihadis-a8422571.html?amp

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Middle East

 

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