Tag Archives: GWOT

In 2018 the barbarous wars in Iraq and Syria may finally be coming to an end

I spent most of the last year reporting two sieges, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, which finally ended with the decisive defeat of Isis. This was the most important event in the Middle East in 2017, though people are already beginning to forget how dangerous the Isis caliphate was at the height of its power and even in its decline. Not so long ago, its “emirs” ruled an area in western Iraq and eastern Syria which was the size of Great Britain and Isis-inspired or organised terrorists dominated the news every few months by carrying out atrocities from Manchester to Kabul and Berlin to the Sahara. Isis retains the capacity to slaughter civilians – witness events in Sinai and Afghanistan in the last few weeks – but no longer has its own powerful centrally organised state which was what made it such a threat.

The defeat of Isis is cheering in itself and its fall has other positive implications. It is a sign that the end may be coming to the cycle of wars that have torn apart Iraq since 2003, when the US and Britain overthrew Saddam Hussein, and Syria since 2011, when the uprising started against President Bashar al-Assad. So many conflicts were intertwined on the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields – Sunni against Shia, Arab against Kurd, Iran against Saudi Arabia, people against dictatorship, US against a variety of opponents – that the ending of these multiple crises was always going to be messy. But winners and losers are emerging who will shape the region for decades to come. Over-cautious warnings that Isis and al-Qaeda may rise again or transmute into a new equally lethal form underestimate the depth of the changes that have happened over the last few years. The Jihadis have lost regional support, popular Sunni sympathy, the element of surprise, the momentum of victory while their enemies are far stronger than they used to be. The resurrection of the Isis state would be virtually impossible.

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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Middle East


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Lake Chad: The World’s Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster

Chad was named for a mistake. In the eighteen-hundreds, European explorers arrived at the marshy banks of a vast body of freshwater in Central Africa. Because locals referred to the area as chad, the Europeans called the wetland Lake Chad, and drew it on maps. But chad simply meant “lake” in a local dialect. To the lake’s east, there was a swath of sparsely populated territory—home to several African kingdoms and more than a hundred and fifty ethnic groups. It was mostly desert. In the early nineteen-hundreds, France conquered the area, called it Chad, and declared it part of French Equatorial Africa.

A few years later, a French Army captain described Lake Chad, which was dotted with hundreds of islands, as an ecological wonder and its inhabitants as “dreaded islanders, whose daring flotillas spread terror” along the mainland. “Their audacious robberies gave them the reputation of being terrible warriors,” he wrote. After his expeditions, the islanders were largely ignored. “There was never a connection between the people who live in the islands and the rest of Chad,” Dimouya Souapebe, a government official in the Lake Region, told me.

Moussa Mainakinay was born in 1949 on Bougourmi, a dusty sliver in the lake’s southern basin. Throughout his childhood and teen-age years, he never went hungry. The cows were full of milk. The islands were thick with vegetation. The lake was so deep that he couldn’t swim to the bottom, and there were so many fish that he could grab them with his hands. The lake had given Mainakinay and his ancestors everything—they drank from it, bathed in it, fished in it, and wove mats and baskets and huts from its reeds.

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Posted by on December 30, 2017 in Africa, Reportages


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Egypt’s President al-Sisi facing serious questions about strategy to bring Isis hotspot Sinai province under control

The Sinai mosque massacre proves what many have suspected for months in Egypt: that Isis – even without a direct claim yet –  is taking over the peninsula, targeting more and more of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s officers and police.  Thus proving that tactical defeat in Iraq and Syria means for Isis merely a change of location.

The ‘fall’ of Sinai — perhaps even stretching down to Sharm e-Sheikh — the supposedly ‘safe’ tourist resort — would only further undermine al-Sisi’s brash claims after his coup that he would end ‘terrorism’ in Egypt.

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Posted by on November 24, 2017 in Africa


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Osama Bin Laden’s America

Honestly, if there’s an afterlife, then the soul of Osama bin Laden, whose body was consigned to the waves by the U.S. Navy back in 2011, must be swimming happily with the dolphins and sharks. At the cost of the sort of spare change that Donald Trump recently offered aides and former campaign officials for their legal troubles in the Russia investigation (on which he’s unlikely to deliver) — a mere $400,000 to $500,000 — bin Laden managed to launch the American war on terror. He did so with little but a clever game plan, a few fanatical followers, and a remarkably intuitive sense of how this country works.

He had those 19 mostly Saudi hijackers, a scattering of supporters elsewhere in the world, and the “training camps” in Afghanistan, but his was a ragged and understaffed movement.  And keep in mind that his sworn enemy was the country that then prided itself on being the last superpower, the final winner of the imperial sweepstakes that had gone on for five centuries until, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded.

The question was: With such limited resources, what kind of self-destructive behavior could he goad a triumphalist Washington into? The key would be what might be called apocalyptic humiliation.

Looking back, 16 years later, it’s extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions — above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state — came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden’s version of our world.

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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in North America


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By killing Isis fighters instead of bringing them to justice, we become as guilty as our enemies

A profoundly important, unprecedented and dangerous decision has been taken by European leaders in the past few days. It’s not made as explicit as it should be – because our leaders are always careful to erect a bodyguard of verbiage and lies to protect them if something goes wrong – but it’s perfectly clear that they want any foreign fighters in Isis to be killed when they are found. It’s not a question of whether they deserve to live or die – they have cut the throats of innocents, including my journalist colleagues, and they have raped women and enslaved children. We know that, and we are aware that their vicious cult has not yet ended. Isis is still alive.

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Posted by on October 31, 2017 in Middle East


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I’m all for war crimes trials in The Hague – so long as we agree to prosecute every possible war criminal

I like the idea of war crimes trials. Make an example of the monsters, is what I say. “Collar the lot,” as Churchill demanded in a somewhat different context. And if Nuremberg was victors’ justice, I’d prefer the imperfect trials they did hold than the version we would have got if Hitler had won and Roland Freisler, State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice, was still running the Nazi People’s Court.

Right now, it’s becoming quite the thing to demand war crimes indictments all over the place. In the past week, we’ve had TRIAL International demanding that the Swiss judicial authorities act against Rifaat al-Assad for massacres at Palmyra prison in 1980 and at Hama in 1982. Rifaat is the brother of the late Hafez and uncle of Bashar, against whom Amnesty and the UN Commission on Syria would also like to level war crimes charges (according to Carla del Ponte, at least). And now the UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution to collect evidence against Isis for “acts that may amount to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Middle East


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Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists?

VERA MIRONOVA rides Humvee shotgun through Mosul’s shattered cityscape. It is late January 2017. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has just declared east Mosul liberated from three years of rule by Islamic State, or ISIS. Most jihadist fighters are dead or captured, or have crossed the Tigris to the west, digging in for a final stand. Left behind, biding their time, are snipers and suicide bombers.Much of the population has fled to refugee camps on the outskirts. Those who stayed look lost and dazed. Men pull corpses out of houses destroyed by air strikes. Others cobble together street-corner markets, selling meat and vegetables imported from Erbil, 80 kilometres and another world away.Few women are visible. Mironova stands out, dressed in combat trousers and a Harvard sweatshirt, wisps of blonde hair escaping her blue stocking hat. Despite travelling in an armoured car, she’s clearly not a combatant. She’s a social scientist, and her job is not to fight, but to listen, learn and record.

Source: Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists? | New Scientist

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Posted by on September 26, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Isis is stepping up its attention-grabbing atrocities to counterbalance its defeat in Iraq and Syria, where the vast majority of terror victims are

Isis is the most likely inspiration for the bomb explosion on the tube train at Parsons Green station. The attempted mass killing is similar to the attacks in Barcelona, Manchester and London earlier this year in that it aimed to murder the maximum number of civilians in the most public way possible.

Isis is stepping up its attention-grabbing atrocities to counterbalance its defeats on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria. It aims to show strength, instil fear and dominate the news agenda at a time when it has lost the savage nine-month-long struggle for Mosul in Iraq and is being defeated in the battle for its last big urban centres in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa in Syria. The caliphate that Isis declared after its capture of Mosul in 2014, once the size of Great Britain, is today reduced to a few embattled enclaves in the deserts of eastern Syria and western Iraq.

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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Europe, Middle East


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We need to talk about the Spanish and Catalan reactions to the Barcelona attack – even if it’s not a nice conversation

Unless you were a Catalan – or a Spaniard – you might have missed the signs of grave political division behind the Barcelona massacre. International reporting almost willfully dodged the tricky bits of the story. We were invited to gape at the horror, fear and sorrow created by Islamist murderers – without contemplating for a moment that some of the reactions to this act of barbarism were quite different from the stories of national and international “unity” that Europe and the world were supposed to share.

There was a guilty clue to all this when the first reports emphasised the “unity” of the Barcelonan and Spanish people, merely mentioning the 1st October referendum on Catalan independence which the Madrid government claims is illegal. Terrorism, ran the message, could heal such divisions. Indeed, the subliminal story was thus quite simple: some things – terror, murder and pain – could not be beaten by notions like regional independence and freedom from central government control.

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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in European Union


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Yo sí tengo miedo

No diré que no tengo miedo, porque lo tengo.No diré que no tengo rabia, porque la tengo.No diré que no me siento impotente, porque así me siento.No diré que no estoy triste, porque desde el jueves estoy muy triste.¿Y saben qué otras cosa no haré? Hablar de religión, de civilización, de “nuestros” valores, de libertad y convivencia. Y lo que no voy a hacer de ningún modo es hablar de los peligros de la islamofobia. Con los cuerpos de las víctimas aún calientes no entraré en esto, no dejaré que la paranoia que ellos mismos han sembrado me haga trazar una línea inexistente, una separación que ya he borrado desde hace tiempo entre ‘nosotros’ y ‘vosotros’. Los terroristas forman un ‘nosotros’ suyo hecho de odio y muerte. Mi ‘nosotros’ es el de la persona y no van a conseguir que, de nuevo, empiece a fijarme en los rostros de quienes me rodean para averiguar si me miran de un modo distinto. Porque hay dos tipos de personas: los que rechazan y los que no, y a los primeros no les hacen falta terroristas para justificar sus posiciones. Ahora sacan toda la bilis porque tienen la oportunidad y se sienten legitimados, pero no se equivoquen, son los mismos de siempre.

Source: Yo sí tengo miedo, por Najat El Hachmi

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Posted by on August 27, 2017 in European Union


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