Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Assad Still Confident That He Can Control Syria

January 14, 2013

Washington Post
Liz Sly

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains confident that he can ride out the maelstrom engulfing his country, casting into doubt prospects that intensified efforts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed can succeed, according to Syrians familiar with the thinking of the regime.

Although Assad isn’t winning the fight against the rebels, he isn’t losing, either — at least not yet, or by enough of a margin to make him feel he needs to abandon his efforts to crush the rebellion by force and embark on negotiations that would end his hold on power and expose his loyalists to the threat of revenge, the Syrians and analysts say.

It is hard to imagine Assad ever being in a position to restore his authority over the many parts of Syria that have slipped beyond his control. The rebels seeking to topple him have steadily been gaining ground, most recently seizing control of a strategically important airbase in the north of the country, and if the current trajectory continues, the eventual demise of the four-decade-old Assad family regime seems all but inevitable, analysts say.

But concerns are growing about how long that might take, and at what cost, prompting many Syrians to question whether Assad’s confidence might not be merited, given the realities of a conflict so brutally complex, so finely balanced and so entangled in global geopolitical rivalries that there is still no clearly identifiable endgame in sight nearly two years after the uprising began.

“From Day One, Bashar al-Assad was underestimated by the opposition and by the international community,” said Malik al Abdeh, a Syrian journalist based in London who is one of a number of opposition activists growing increasingly gloomy about the prospects that an end to the bloody conflict could be near. “He is playing a high-stakes game, he’s playing it pretty smart and he seems to be winning because of the simple fact that he is still in power.”

When Assad delivered a defiantly uncompromising speech to supporters last week, the State Department condemned him for being “out of touch with reality.” But many Syrians wonder whether it isn’t the United States and its allies who are out of touch for continuing to press for a negotiated settlement to a conflict Assad still has reason to believe he can win, Abdeh said.

Though the Syrian army has been degraded by thousands of rank-and-file defections and heavy casualties, it is still fighting. Key units comprising members of Assad’s own Alawite sect, an obscure and little-understood offshoot of Shiite Islam, remain fiercely loyal.

Defections from his government have been few and far between. The rebels have been systematically overrunning government positions in many locations, but they have not demonstrated the capacity to make headway against the tough defenses ringing Damascus, the capital, and the key prize for whoever claims to control the country.

His allies Russia and Iran have shown no sign that their support is wavering, and they have their own reasons not to cede ground in the struggle for influence over a country whose strategic location puts it at the crossroads of multiple regional conflicts. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its view that Assad’s departure should not be part of any negotiated settlement.

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France fails to free intelligence agent held in Somalia; Paris sends more troops to Mali

January 14, 2013

PARIS — As France reinforced its intervention forces in Mali with additional aircraft and soldiers, Frenc commandos launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa in a vain attempt to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

The unsuccessful overnight rescue attempt, in the Somali town of Bulomarer, was separate from President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamist guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months.

But both operations seemed to propel France into a position of new prominence in Western efforts to prevent Islamist terrorist groups from establishing themselves — as they did in Afghanistan and Somalia — in countries without solid state institutions that could become launchpads for attacks on European or U.S. interests in Africa or elsewhere around the world.

The failed rescue in Somalia, which cost France the lives of at least two people, dramatized the dangers facing the French military as it takes on the Islamist groups in hostile regions of northern Africa where they have taken root. The Mali-based extremists, for instance, hold seven French hostages and threatened retaliation for Hollande’s willingness to dispatch French soldiers to help restore Malian state authority.

Four French hostages captured in September 2010 at a northern Niger uranium mine and two abducted in northern Mali in November 2010 are held by the region’s main Islamist group, the mainly Algerian al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A seventh French citizen was taken into custody two months ago on the Mali-Nigeria border by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an AQMI spinoff.

Some of their families have questioned Hollande’s resolution to support the government in Mali, fearing it could lead to the execution of their loved ones. But Hollande has consistently replied that the threat of international military action was the best means of pressure on the hostage takers.

Failure in Somalia

The Somalia rescue operation was designed to liberate Denis Allex, the official identity of an agent of the French intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). Allex and a colleague were abducted by Somali Islamists in July 2009, soon after the pair, posing as journalists, checked into a hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

In fact, reports at the time said, they were assigned by the DGSE to train the close protection squad of Somalia’s beleaguered transitional government as part of a French military aid program. Allex’s colleague escaped his captors a month later, but Allex remained in the Islamists’ hands in what the Defense Ministry described as “inhumane conditions.”

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that “everything indicates” Allex was killed by his captors as DGSE commandos assaulted his place of imprisonment at Bulomarer, an Islamist-controlled town about 70 miles southwest of Mogadishu.

Washington Post
Edward Cody

 

Henningsen on RT: ‘Syria is a gangster’s paradise right now’

January 9, 2013

21st Century Wire and UK Column’s analyst Patrick Henningsen discusses with RT about how NATO’s recent deployment of missile defense batteries in neighboring Turkey is nothing more than a chess move to prepare for western/NATO airstrikes at some point further down the timeline, and also how Syria’s so-called ‘opposition’ are using the chaos in the country to steal land, businesses and profit from the new black market that has replaced the previous economy.

Saving Private Face: Manning ‘awarded’ 112 days off potential life sentence

January 9, 2013

Private Bradley Manning, accused of sharing classified US army files with the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, will get a 112 days cut from his eventual sentence. The victory for his defense team comes after a judge ruled that Manning’s 9 months in prison amounted to pre-trial punishment and was excessively harsh. Retired colonel Morris Davis told us the military is just trying to spare its blushes.

Assad: War in Syria between ‘nation and terrorists’

January 6, 2013

Syria’s president has outlined a plan to end the country’s conflict, starting with a halt to international support to “al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.” The solution proposes a new constitution and government, as well as national reconciliation

NATO Deploys Missiles & Troops On Syrian Border

January 6, 2013

NATO has begun deploying surface-to-air missiles and troops on Turkey’s border with Syria. The Alliance approved the reinforcements last month, after Ankara requested support. NATO claims the move is to help defend its member from the conflict in Syria. But Moscow said the deployment will only serve to escalate tension in the region. Germany and the Netherlands are preparing to ship six more Patriot batteries early next week, they’ll be operational by the end of January. However, Jeremy Salt, a Middle Eastern history and politics professor from Bilkent University says NATO is actually now realizing who it’s supporting, and losing its appetite for direct action in Syria.

Is Al – Jazeera Fair And Balanced ?

January 6, 2013

Washington Post
Micheal Peel

ABU DHABI — Qatar’s al-Jazeera television station provided a great ringside seat for the “day of rage” in Cairo almost two years ago that offered the first clear sign of the threat to the rule of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

While many western media organizations were scrambling to ramp up coverage of Egypt’s nascent revolution, al-Jazeera had gripping reports of an extraordinary protest that ended with the ruling party headquarters ablaze and the army on the streets.

Yet, mirroring the progress of the Arab uprising itself, the 16-year-old Doha-based broadcaster’s Cairo triumph has since given way to a more complicated life, as it seeks to extend its international influence by buying into the U.S. television market.

Long recognized in the Middle East for its daring and sometimes groundbreaking reporting in a politically repressive region, al-Jazeera described its purchase this week of former vice president Al Gore’s Current TV network as a “historic development” in a market where it has long coveted expansion. The station, which has a respected English language arm and is already seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries, plans to start a U.S.-based news channel available to 40 million American households.

While al-Jazeera is celebrating its U.S. plans, it faces tough questions about its coverage and whether it is as independent of Qatar’s autocratic ruling monarchy as it claims to be. The broadcaster is partly funded by the government of Qatar, and the country’s increasingly prominent political role in the region’s turmoils has intensified scrutiny of al-Jazeera’s coverage.

“With the Arab Spring, al-Jazeera’s reach and credibility have grown in the West,” said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow in the Middle East division of Chatham House, the London-based think tank. “But certainly, it has become more criticized in the Arab world – or, at least, become seen as more politicized.”

Although the popular revolts that swept the Arab world and brought down regimes from Tunisia to Yemen have presented al-Jazeera with an extraordinary opportunity to expand its audience, they have thrown up growing problems of perception.

And while the English channel is seen as enjoying a high degree of leeway, some analysts say Doha’s foreign policy positions — including support for armed rebels in Libya and Syria — are reflected in the tone of coverage, particularly on the flagship Arabic channel. Critics say Islamist movements with which Qatar has tried to achieve good relations have received over-sympathetic attention, with airtime given to wild allegations that opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, are agents of foreign powers.

Some observers say al-Jazeera is cautious about reporting sensitive stories in Qatar, such as the fire at a Doha nursery last year that killed 13 children and six adults, although the channel denies it was slow to cover the tragedy.

“Al-Jazeera is generally a free network, but it works within the political constraints as understood in Qatar,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute Qatar think tank.

Al-Jazeera dismisses suggestions its coverage shows any bias, including toward fellow Persian Gulf states allied to Qatar. The broadcaster says that, far from following official agendas, it often sets them. “We were covering Syria, for example, long before outside governments took great interest,” it said.

It says that — while it takes a “good portion” of its funding from the Qatari state — it is a private not-for-profit company with other sources of income, such as advertising. And though Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al Thani, al-Jazeera’s director-general, is a member of Qatar’s ruling clan, the broadcaster says he has “no definable relationship” to the country’s ruler and is part of a “professional management who have steered Al Jazeera to success regardless of their nationalities or surnames”.

Perhaps the most unpredictable tension now facing al-Jazeera springs from Qatar’s political scene, which appears increasingly at odds with the broadcaster’s preferred image as a fearless network “dedicated to telling the real stories from the Arab street.” The Qatari authorities sentenced a poet to life imprisonment in November for insulting the emir in a widely-circulated work about the Arab Spring that criticized the “repressive elite”.

But al-Jazeera gives short shrift to the notion that its reputation might be threatened by the Qatar government’s intolerance of opposition at home. “Our journalists have never been told to cover or not cover a story due to pressure from outside this organization,” the broadcaster said.

Abeer Allam of the Financial Times in Cairo contributed to this story.

Best of 2012 Double Standards with Afshin Rattansi

January 1, 2013

One of the best current affairs shows on TV bar none, but sadly shut-down by the the EU and the UK government agencies for purely political reasons…

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Chris Hedges on Obama’s NDAA: ‘The Final Battle’

December 27, 2012

Chris Hedges
Truth Dig
Dec 27, 2012

Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pushed through the Senate an amendment to the 2013 version of the NDAA. The amendment, although deeply flawed, at least made a symbolic attempt to restore the right to due process and trial by jury. A House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, removed the amendment from the bill last week.

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement issued by her office. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The House approved the $633 billion NDAA for 2013 in a 315-107 vote late Thursday night. It will now go before the Senate. Several opponents of the NDAA in the House, including Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., cited Congress’ refusal to guarantee due process and trial by jury to all citizens as his reason for voting against the bill. He wrote in a statement after the vote that “American citizens may fear being arrested and indefinitely detained by the military without knowing what they have done wrong.”

The Feinstein-Lee amendment was woefully inadequate. It was probably proposed mainly for its public relations value, but nonetheless it resisted the concerted assault on our rights and sought to calm nervous voters objecting to the destruction of the rule of law. The amendment failed to emphatically state that citizens could never be placed in military custody. Rather, it said citizens could not be placed in indefinite military custody without “trial.” But this could have been a trial by military tribunals. Citizens, under the amendment, could have been barred from receiving due process in a civil court. Still, it was better than nothing. And now we have nothing.

“Congressional moves concerning the NDAA make it clear that Congress as a whole has no stomach for the protection of civil liberties,” said attorney Bruce Afran, who along with attorney Carl Mayer has brought the lawsuit against President Obama in which we are attempting to block Section 1021(b)(2).

The only hero so far in this story is U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District Court of New York. Forrest in September accepted all of our challenges to the law. She issued a permanent injunction invalidating Section 1021(b)(2). Government lawyers asked Forrest for a “stay pending appeal”—meaning the law would go back into effect until the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in the case. She refused. The government then went directly to the Court of Appeals and asked it for a temporary stay while promising not to detain the plaintiffs or other U.S. citizens under the provision. The Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in January, granted the government’s request for a temporary stay. The law went back into effect. If the Court of Appeals upholds Forrest’s ruling, the case will most likely be before the Supreme Court within weeks.

“President Obama should never have appealed this watershed civil rights ruling,” Mayer said. “But now that he has, the fight may well go all the way to the Supreme Court. At stake is whether America will slide more toward authoritarianism or whether the judicial branch of government will stem the decade-long erosion of our civil liberties. Since 9/11 Americans have been systematically stripped of their freedoms: Their phone calls are monitored under [George W.] Bush and Obama’s warrantless wiretapping program, they are videotaped relentlessly in public places, there are drones over American soil and the police control protesters and dissenters with paramilitary gear and tactics. As long as Obama and the leadership of both parties want the military to police our streets, we will fight. This is unacceptable, un-American and unconstitutional.”

Read more here

The Quality of Washington’s Plan to Drag Iran Into a Third World War

December 27, 2012

Fraternity Boy gone wrong: where did Patrick Clawson harvest all of his neo-conservative ideas?

21st Century Wire

They’re like school kids playing war games.

Listen to this supposedly qualified academic talking head, Patrick Clawson of the influential neo-con think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Studies – muse on about what underhanded stunts the US could hope for in kicking off WW3 in Iran.

Shameful, yet, someone is paying this guy good money to degraded American credibility abroad.

This is the quality of the garbage currently spewing out of most prestigious Washington think tanks. Clearly, they have lost touch with reality and should be treated as extensions of the international criminal class.

Q: How many other psychopaths are currently nibbling away at our liberties in these so-called ‘think tanks’?

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