US war on IS: Real target is Syria

By Ameen Izzadeen
Cartoonists in the United States and Britain are giving a spit and polish to Barack Obama’s claim that there won’t be American boots on the ground. One cartoonist depicted two Iraq-bound US soldiers in conversation while they were putting a pair of new golf shoes on, with one soldier exclaiming, “Golf shoes” while the other responds, “President Obama promised there won’t be boots on the ground in Iraq.”
The cartoon highlights how forked-tongue politicians circumvent their own words that spell out highest idealistic principles to implement their sinister plans. This reminds us of the story of a king who told besieged enemy troops that if they surrender he would spare their heads. Believing his words, the enemy force surrenders. But the wicked king orders his soldiers to stab the prisoners of war in their chests. When the surrendees asked the king why he was reneging on his promise, the king said, “Well, as I promised, I am sparing your head, but I did not say I will not stab you in the chest.”
Fables apart, realpolitik reeks of double-dealings and double-standards. In May 1961, President John F Kennedy sent 400 troops as advisors to Vietnam to prop up the pro-West regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. But when the war reached its peak in the mid-1970s, there were half a million US troops in Vietnam fighting against Vietnamese freedom fighters or Ho Chi Minh’s barefoot warriors.
President Obama was emphatic in his recent speeches that US troops would not get involved in combat operations either in Iraq or Syria. They would play the role of advisors. Early this month, some 400 US military advisors were despatched to Iraq. This number has since increased fourfold and is likely to go up in the weeks and months to come.
Yet Obama is drawing criticism from neoconservative hardliners who accuse him of not heeding President George W. Bush’s advice and prematurely withdrawing US troops from Iraq in December 2011.
Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen told Fox TV last week that Iraq was in a mess today because Obama did not heed Bush’s warning.
President Bush, who apparently built on the sandcastle of ‘might is right’, had believed that withdrawing troops before US commanders gave the green light would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States.
In a 2007 warning, Bush had said a premature withdrawal “would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
Bush hardliners may strut about saying ‘didn’t we say so” but will not see that Bush himself was in a way acknowledging that it was US policies and invasions that had given rise to groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State a.k.a. Islamic State in Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL).
There was no al-Qaeda presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In fact, the Iraqi dictator Bush ousted after the 2003 invasion loathed political Islam whether it came from the Shiite community or the Sunni community to which he belonged.
It was only after the American soldiers committed excesses in Iraq’s Sunni areas such as Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi that there emerged in Iraq an al-Qaeda presence led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
There are two theories regarding the emergence of the IS – both pointing towards the US. One is that the IS was created by the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq, just as Ronald Reagan’s mistakes — arming Arab fighters during the Afghan war from 1979 to 1989 — created al-Qaeda. The other theory claims that the neoconservatives and their Zionist friends engineered events to create a monster so that the US and Israel could achieve their political objectives.
Whatever the truth is, the IS by acting barbarically and committing crimes such as beheading three westerners supplies the excuse the US has been waiting for to enter the Syrian war and to re-establish a military presence in the Gulf region.
The Obama administration is getting Congressional support to arm and train Syrian rebels to take on IS. For the same purpose, Washington is also building up a coalition. Already the six Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – and Iraq and Egypt are in the coalition that also includes US allies such as France, Britain and Australia. If the fight is against the IS, one may ask why not rope in Iran and even Syria itself? After all, Iran and Syria are also against the IS. Besides, Iran has said it is willing to extend support for the war against IS, though Teheran also believes that the IS would not have come to such prominence and strength, had it not been for Saudi money and US arms.
But Washington would have none of it. Because, the ultimate aim of the coalition is not the IS. It is Syria and probably Iran itself. Questions are being asked why the US airstrikes on IS so far have not been on the scale of Washington’s notorious Shock-and-Awe bombings that demolished Saddam Hussein’s military might. Is the US handling the IS with kid gloves?
The US military attacks on IS targets in Iraq appear to be a cosmetic exercise. The real action will be when the US targets IS positions in Syria. Surely there will be provocation when US fighter jets, ostensibly on a mission to attack IS positions, fly over Syrian military installations. Already unidentified surveillance planes are flying over Syria. On Monday, the Associated Press quoted senior Obama administration officials as saying that the US would attack Syrian air defences if they fired on US warplanes. If this happens, soon we will see the US and its allies implementing the same strategy that got rid of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi – providing air support to the rebels to march towards Damascus. But unlike Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria has strong friends such as Russia and Iran – friends who are willing to come to the defence of Syria. All this portends that dangerous times are ahead for the region.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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War on IS the mystery monster

By Ameen Izzadeen
Thirteen long years after the terror attacks on the United States, it appears that the war on terror will go on till kingdom come. Well, President George W. Bush said so when he started the war on terror in September 2001 – and on Wednesday President Barack Obama indicated the same.
Addressing the nation, Bush on September 20, 2001 – nine days after the 9/11 attacks – said, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated ….
“This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
“Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.”
Now from the Bushspeak that came in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda terror to Wednesday’s Obamaspeak:
“They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage… Such barbarity can bring only one response. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL {the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Levant} through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy…. I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq…. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
Sounds like Bush, doesn’t he? The Obama speech indicates that the US has not veered from the Bush’s war-on-terror policy. Far from being seen as a president who wanted to go down in history for ending Bush’s wars, Obama appeared on Wednesday as another agent who wanted to execute the strategy devised by the neoconservatives and pursued by Bush.
Or has Obama the Nobel peace laureate fallen prey to the neoconservatives’ trap? If this is so, it leads to another question: Is the Islamic State the creation of the neoconservatives or a secret intelligence group which Obama knows little or nothing about? A conspiracy theory, one may say. But the history of international politics is replete with secret plans and manipulations. Did not Bush, a big-time neoconservative, blurt out in his speech that covert operations were a part of the war on terror?
That apart, conflicts and commotions help the neoconservatives to achieve two main objectives: the US domination of resource-rich West Asia and ensuring that Israel’s interests are well taken care of. Those who authored the neoconservative document ‘The Project for New American Century’ are also hardline Zionist supporters. Israel dreams of annexing the whole of Palestine — and much more. The neoconservative-Zionist plan can come to fruition, only if the Arab world is in turmoil, with the Arabs killing each other, while the Arabs are not allowed to think intelligently and act independently.
Ever since the Islamic State drew the world’s attention with its astounding victories first in Iraq and then in Syria, analysts and academics even in the Arab world have begun to question what the IS agenda is and who is behind it. They ask how eagled-eyed officials in the National Security Agency (NSA) failed to notice the rise of IS. After all, the fugitive US spy technician, Edward Snowden, has revealed that leave alone a terrorist, the highly sophisticated secret surveillance system does not take its eyes off even a friend.
Adding to the mystery is the manner in which the well-trained Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts and allowed a few thousand lightly armed IS militants to acquire the Iraqi Army’s US-supplied weapons and capture one third of Iraq. Another question that remains unanswered is: How come more than 500 British Muslims left the country to join the IS without being detected by the British intelligence?
This is why some analysts suspect that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a US, British and Israeli agent. A photograph widely circulated these days on the social media shows former Republican presidential candidate and Senator John McCain posing with Jihadi militants, whom the Americans then called the “good al Qaeda”. Most of these so-called good al-Qaeda in Syria are now with the IS after receiving US military training at camps in Jordan.
Some analysts claim that the West supported the IS and allowed it to make gains to get as many jihadists to rally around the IS, so that the US can enter the war at the right time and finish off all the jihadists. According to Obama, the time has come to kill the IS monster before it becomes a problem of a Frankenstein magnitude. The beheading of two American journalists by IS has generated enough revulsion among Americans for the IS.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Arab countries act according to the neoconservative-Zionist script.
After keeping mum during the IS’ early gains, the Saudis are now condemning the group, notwithstanding the fact that the IS, like the Saudis, follows the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The Saudis now call the IS leaders the Takfiris – a derogatory term used for the self-righteous who see only themselves as good Muslims and brand all the other Muslims as ‘infidels’ who can be killed.
Prior to this change of stance, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states had tolerated the IS or supported the group on the sly. This was because their primary target was to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and they did not care how it was done or by whom.
Now suddenly, the IS is being dehumanised, projected as a monstrous and murderous group that should be done away with. Probably, the stage is being set for the US to enter the Syrian war. Obama last year backed out of the war option even though the Syrian regime had crossed the red line the US had drawn – the use of chemical weapons. He did so because US public opinion was overwhelmingly against another war. But now, the Americans are backing their president for a war on IS. They may soon see that, like Bush, Obama also misled them, when this war on IS becomes a war on Assad.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Pakistan: The politics behind Imran’s bouncers

By Ameen Izzadeen
(September 5, 2014) – Imran Khan appears to be in a mighty hurry to form a government in Pakistan, though undemocratically. The speed with which he tries to topple the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invokes memories of his heydays as a much feared and highly respected pace bowler. But as a politician Khan, who heads the Pakistan Teherik e-Insaf (Justice Movement or PTI), is bowling one too many illegal deliveries.
True, as an opposition leader, he has a role to play. But he should not do it at the cost of causing chaos, which may deal a severe blow to a process that seeks to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
One of the fundamental features of a functioning democracy is a vibrant opposition. It is to the opposition that the people turn to when a democratically elected government shows authoritarian tendencies, misuses political power and betrays the trust that the people have placed on it. A vibrant opposition, which is seen as the alternative government, reminds the people that there is a viable alternative to the ruling party which is corrupt or indulging in nepotism and abuse of power.
But democracy demands that an opposition party should play its role within the bounds defined by democracy. It should try to come to power by means of elections – and not through the back-door by engineering a coup or organising people’s power uprisings in collusion with armed forces, as the case may be in Pakistan.
The ongoing protests aimed at toppling the Sharif government are seen by most independent analysts as being uncalled for and untimely. The government is still new. Sharif was elected to office in May 2013 following what is hailed as the first ever democratic transition in Pakistan’s history — with the outgoing government completing its full term without being ousted by the military. At a time when democratic institutions are beginning to blossom in Pakistan, an attempt to topple the democratically elected government appears undemocratic, however strong the allegations against the prime minister are.
Protest leaders — Khan and firebrand cleric and former law professor Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has launched a campaign to cleanse politics of corruption — allege that Sharif’s election was rigged and demand he should resign forthwith and the electoral process be reformed. They also call for a probe on the killing of 14 supporters of Qadri in police shooting in Lahore in June.
A democratically elected government should not be subjected to overthrow by an unruly mob if there is provision in the constitution to challenge the legality of the government in courts. It is only when the constitutional avenues are denied that there is justification for the overthrow of the government through a people’s power revolution.
Instead of seeking redress in courts, Khan and Qadri have resorted to protests which appear to be an attempt to come to power via a short cut, probably with the support of the military, and therefore lack legitimacy. Besides, they do not enjoy countrywide support. There is hardly any anti-government uprising in provincial capitals, including Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, ruled by Khan’s party. Even a generous estimate would not put the crowd strength at the Islamabad protest yesterday at more than 2,000. Their protests lose steam as Sharif stands put and wins the support of both the houses of parliament — with former president and leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari also backing him.
Both Khan and Qadri are said to be enjoying the blessings of Pakistan’s politically powerful military. Elements in the military probably fear that with democratic institutions gaining strength, they would gradually lose their power – the power to define Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies and run multi-billion rupee business ventures.
This was not the first time that Khan and Qadri have made headlines with their protest rallies.
It happened in October 2011 when the PPP government was midway through its term. The military, which did not like both the PPP and the Muslim League which Sharif leads, was looking for a third force — and Khan fitted in well. With a PPP defeat certain, the military, according to analysts, believed that only Khan’s PTI could prevent a Sharif landslide. So Khan had a massive rally in the Sharif stronghold of Lahore – with more than 100,000 people taking part. “Imran Khan’s ‘tsunami’ sweeps Lahore,” screamed the headline in the Express Tribune.
A year later in December 2012, Qadri, returning from a seven-year sojourn in Canada, organised what he called a million-man march to Islamabad, but only 50,000 turned up for this anti-corruption rally targeting the PPP government. Yet they failed to stop a Sharif victory, though Khan’s party emerged a third force in Pakistan’s politics.
It was expected that Sharif, once in office, would be more cautious than any other previous prime minister had been, when it comes to dealing with the military. In 1999 his move to dismiss the then military chief General Pervez Musharraf led to a military coup. Undeterred, Prime Minister Sharif took some calculated risks in confronting the military this time also. One such risk was the appointment in November 2013 of Raheel Sharif – no relative of the premier – as the military chief of staff, bypassing two other generals who were senior to him. Then he called for peace talks with the Taliban and better ties with archrival India and pursued the treason trial against military strongman Musharraf, much to the annoyance of the military.
But this act of a civilian prime minister exercising authority over the military raised alarms in the army. In moves seen as challenging the authority of the Prime Minister, the military shot down his peace bid and launched an all-out war against the Taliban. Sharif’s bid to revive the stalled talks with India also suffered a setback when Pakistani soldiers fired at Indian soldiers across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
It took a Khan-Qadri protest for Sharif to realise how weak he is as Pakistan’s prime minister. Humbled, he turned to the Army Chief for advice, as the protesters, vowing not to budge, laid siege to parliament and the prime minister’s residence.
Premier Sharif could have ordered the police to take necessary measures to disperse the protesters, but he feared that his action may give the military the pretext it was looking for to launch a coup.
The army, probably disappointed by the poor crowd at the protest rallies, has denied it is meddling in civilian affairs, and is now calling for a political resolution.
Yesterday, after three weeks of intransigence, the protest leaders, having failed to prompt a military coup, agreed to discuss their demands with the government. This may be a victory for Sharif, but it is also a wake-up call to reset his relations with the military.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Libya: Whither goest this Nowhere Land?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Libya is fast sliding down a political abyss — with world leaders not knowing whom to contact or who is in control of the country. Foreign governments are in confusion as to the status of the Libyan mission in their countries. Which of the two governments does the Libyan mission represent? Is it the one in Tripoli or the one in Tobruk?
It was only three years ago that the United States cited Libya as an example where it had achieved a regime change without American boots on the ground — at least officially. Following the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and famously flashed a V sign to the world cameras declaring a major foreign policy victory for the United States.
But what has happened in the three years since this vulgar display of US triumphalism that symbolised the use of a sledgehammer to kill a crippled fly – the Pentagon calls it “Shock and Awe and the Israelis call it Gaza – is a regime-change experiment gone awry. Barack Obama playing for the history books as a second term US president apparently wants to be known as a president who brought troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan — and not as the President who put the lives of US soldiers in harm’s way. This policy was in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor George W. Bush, who showed little respect for the United Nations or international law.
Yes, Obama wants to be different. Why shouldn’t he be? After all, the Nobel peace medal awarded to him — not for his achievements in peacemaking, but on a preposterous presumption that he would be a peace builder — adorns his White House corner stand. Unlike Bush, he believes in collective military response – let NATO fight the US war. So when the Arab Spring revolts spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya, the Obama administration seized the opportunity and rallied behind the NATO flag to oust Gaddafi even though the Libyan leader had opened up to the West following the 9/11 attacks. This was because the Libyan leader was still unpredictable and had not given up on his grand vision for Africa. Gaddafi was against US military expansionism in Africa and was promoting a common African currency and a development bank. Many transnationals saw him as an impediment to their plunder of African resources. Hence the need for his removal. And the Western governments did it, not by sending troops to Libya, but by arming anti-Gaddafi rebels and providing them air support. The strategy worked. Gaddafi was killed, perhaps in keeping with the wishes of the United States’ West Asian allies. Libya got a new government, a parliamentary democracy, and recognition as a ‘civilised nation’ as opposed to a pariah nation under Gaddafi.
The US cited Libya as a case that bears testimony to its “Smart Power” – a philosophy that, apart from unleashing relentless air attacks on an enemy which is usually a minnow by the US standards, advocated skullduggery to mislead other world powers. In the case of Libya, it was Russia and China that were deceived.
Three years after Clinton’s famous V flash in Tripoli, Libya today is a hellhole of anarchy with two governments, two parliaments and scores of armed groups with areas of control, different ideologies and tribal affiliations. Since the overthrow of Gaddafi, half a dozen governments have come and gone and one prime minister has run away from the country while militants have stormed parliament to dictate who should hold which post and demand more money for their survival.
As the country hurtled towards lawlessness, some rebel groups even tried to sell oil, bypassing the government authority. Adding to the chaos are regional power games, with reports this week claiming that the United Arab Emirates together with Egypt carried out air attacks on Islamic militants in a vain attempt to prevent them from taking control of the Tripoli Airport. More about this later.
The telltale signs of Libya’s slide into chaos were visible within a year of the death of Gaddafi on October 20, 2011. On September 12, 2012, US ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by militants of the Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah. In a futile bid to defend the Smart Power philosophy which the Obama administration touted as a success story that got rid of an evil system to bring about Utopia, Secretary Clinton made the biggest blunder of her political career – a blunder that haunts her White House bid in 2016. She linked the killing of Stevens to the angry Muslim reaction to the YouTube movie “Innocence of Muslims” – a movie that sought to defame the character of the Prophet Muhammad. But subsequent investigations revealed that Stevens died in a deliberate attack on the US consulate in Benghazi by Ansar al-Shariah militants who alleged that the consulate building was being used as a spy centre.
Following this incident, the US and its Western allies tried their best to prop up the Libyan regime and bring about stability in the country. But parliament was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who were seen as anti-West. Every effort the West took to stabilise Libya only worsened the crisis, with armed groups running the regions making a mockery of the central government’s control of the country.
With Libya’s Islamists becoming a law unto themselves, a renegade military commander and CIA lackey took upon himself the task of bringing order to the country. Of course, General Khalifa Haftar had the blessings of the US and the US-backed government in Tripoli when he began his war against Ansar al-Shariah in Benghazi. But instead of defeating the Islamists, his all-out military campaign codenamed Operation Dignity pushed various Islamist groups with different viewpoints to strike unity under the umbrella group Fajr or Dawn. This they did to ensure that what happened to the Brotherhood in Egypt would not happen to them in Libya.
In another development prior to General Haftar’s misadventure, the Libyan crisis exploded in neighbouring Mali. With weapons freely flowing from Libya, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organisation fighting to make Azawad (Northern Mali) an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, was on the verge of capturing the capital, Bamako. It was only after French military intervention that the rebels – who were also Islamists — were pushed back.
This week, after months of heavy battles against the Zintan militia allied to Gen. Haftar, Dawn backed by the militia from the Misurata region captured Libya’s international airport in Tripoli. The group is now in control of all major airports in Libya. In the absence of a political leadership, the Libyan military is rudderless, with some officers backing General Haftar and others backing various armed groups based on their ethnic or regional affiliations.
Probably sensing the victory of the Islamists, the United States as early as last month evacuated its diplomats and their families under heavy security escort and moved them to Tunisia across the border, using land transport. Several other Western countries also did the same or kept only the essential staff at their embassies.
Following the capture of the airport and effectively the capital city, Operation Dawn restored the previous Islamic-dominated parliament, which was voted out in June this year in violence ridden elections won by secular and liberal candidates who have come under a loose alliance called the National Forces Alliance. The Islamists’ move has prompted the NFA to convene its parliament in Tobruk, an eastern city 1,000 miles away from Tripoli. Though away from the capital, the NFA still enjoys the West’s support as indicated by Wednesday’s vote in the UN Security Council. The council passed a unanimous resolution to impose sanctions on Islamists and accused them of fuelling Libya’s escalating war.
The crisis in Libya cannot be viewed in isolation. It is in effect an extension of the political chaos in neighbouring Egypt and the cold war between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt on the other. While Qatar supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, Saudi Arabia and the UAE financed the coup that ousted the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi Government and brought in military strongman Abdel Fateh al-Sisi as the new Egyptian president.
The Saudi-UAE-Egypt alliance wants to prevent a Brotherhood-friendly Islamist government in Libya. This was probably why UAE aircraft with Egyptian help carried out air attacks on the Islamists. Both the UAE and Egypt have denied reports that they launched the air attacks. The New York Times which broke the story quoting US officials, however, is yet to retract it. The cold war between the Gulf oil kingdoms also manifests itself in other conflicts in the region. Qatar is seen as a supporter of Hamas while the Saudi-UAE-Egypt alliance loathes the Palestinian group which this week interpreted the ceasefire deal with Israel after 51 days of relentless air attack, bombardment and suffering as a moral victory. In Iraq and Syria, too, the Gulf oil kingdoms back different rebel groups.
The crisis in Libya is not only between secularists and Islamists or feuding tribes. It involves regional and big power politics. True Gaddafi was a tyrant, but he was also loved by a section of the Libyans and a vast majority in Africa. In hindsight, Libya under Gaddafi was a much better place to live in than what it is today. This is the case with pre- and post-invasion Iraq. Many Iraqis now say they wish Saddam Hussein had been in power. Whether it is Smart Power or Shock and Awe, the US foreign policy only disturbs world peace and causes chaos wherever Washington intervenes, as the Libyan crisis shows. Don’t they say that capitalism thrives in chaos?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Ukraine puzzle: Who’s fitting the pieces?

By Ameen Izzadeen
As Ukrainian troops rapidly advance towards the heartland of pro-Moscow rebels, it is becoming clear that Russia is making a rapid retreat from its hardline position and unlikely to intervene to prop up the ailing rebellion.
Probably Russia believes that if it cannot twist the hand of the enemy then it must kiss it. Yes, the Ukrainian crisis has shown Vladimir Putin that his Russia is still not in a militarily, politically or economically strong position to confront the West in a new Cold War setup.
Last week, tension rose to a new high when confrontation between the Russian and Ukrainian troops became inevitable. This happened when Russia decided to send an aid convoy to Eastern Ukraine to help the besieged people there. But Ukraine and its Western backers alleged that that Russia was using the aid convoy as a Trojan horse to send in advanced weapons to the pro-Russian rebels. It was one such weapon, the West alleges, that brought down the Malaysian airline flight MH 17 with 298 passengers and crew last month, though some analysts now point their finger at the Ukrainian military and say this is why the West has lost interest in the investigation into the air tragedy.
Last week as the West feared that Russia would make use of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the war-affected Eastern Ukraine to justify a military intervention, European stock market indices took a nosedive. But Moscow wriggled out of the crisis in the face of warnings from the West that tougher sanctions would be imposed if Russia resorted to military action. The 260-truck aid convoy is still stuck at the border as the Ukrainian forces take the upper hand in the four-month conflict, which, according to the United Nations, has killed an estimated 2,086 people, including civilians and combatants.
Russia’s compromise suggests that it has backed down from its rhetoric that it would not hesitate to send troops to protect ethnic Russians irrespective of whether they lived within or outside Russia.
Ethnic Russians form more than a third of the population in Ukraine’s east where a majority of the people irrespective of ethnicity prefer closer ties with Russia than with the European Union.
With Putin now pussyfooting to intervene directly in Ukraine as the rebels lose stronghold after stronghold in the defence of their self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, questions are being asked whether Russia’s turnaround was a tactical move.
Political realism demands that a nation must demonstrate its power only if it is certain that such demonstration will enable it to enhance its power. Putin is not unaware of this simple logic in power politics, although Russia’s need for intervention in the Ukrainian crisis is overwhelming and crucial for Moscow’s survival as a world power. If Russia takes a hands-off policy in Ukraine, Nato will be on Russia’s border in a matter of years, if not months. This will be a major threat to Russia, a nuclear power.
Prior to the Ukrainian crisis, Putin mistakenly believed that there was an understanding with the West that neither Russia nor the West would mess around in each other’s regions of influence. Russia kept a close watch on countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, taking whatever steps necessary to keep these countries from getting closer to the West, especially the United States. They included military, political and economic measures. Russia intervened militarily in Georgia in 2008. Seen as a move to punish Georgia for trying to become a Nato member, Russia’s military intervention removed South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the direct control of Georgia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been recognised as independent states by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
If this was a military measure by which Russia asserted its authority over its backyard, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation became a political means by which Moscow brought together four key Central Asian states in a security pact which also includes China. On the economic front, Russia promoted a customs union with its immediate neighbours and wanted Ukraine to become part of it. But the wily West, especially the US, spent millions of dollars to engineer a coup against Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych in February this year and installed a pro-Western regime in Kiev.
In this power game, the West seeks to create a Russia stripped of its nuclear arsenal and economically dependent on the West.
Against this backdrop, Russia’s compromise appears more a tactical move. But this retreat could be costly and perhaps irreversible, too. The ground situation shows that the pro-Russian rebels’ military defeats have also created political turmoil in the rebel leadership and it is only a matter of weeks before the Ukrainian troops will declare victory and an end to the rebellion.
The resignations of Alexander Borodai, the prime minister of the rebel territory, and Igor Strelkov, the territory’s military commander, have sent shockwaves across the rebellions’ rank and file. But the two leaders who together had formed the rebels’ leadership against Ukrainian troops since the rebellion began in April this year, would not have done so without Russia’s consent or command. They are ethnic Russians and their resignations have fuelled fears that ethnic Russian fighters may abandon the insurgency to make it an all-Ukrainian affair.
Thus some analysts believe that the chaotic situation offers Putin a face-saving exit from the Ukrainian quagmire. Even some rebels, according to a Reuter story, see the command changes following the resignations of the two leaders as an attempt by Moscow to distance itself from the conflict. Reeling under tough Western sanctions, Moscow, of late, has been saying that it is seeking a negotiated settlement to the crisis that was triggered by the February coup. As an initial response to the coup, an angry Russia annexed Crimea, but stopped short of doing the same when pro-Russian people in Ukraine’s Donetsk’s region declared independence following a referendum and expressed willingness to become part of Russia. Instead, Moscow armed and trained the rebels in a calculated confrontation with the West.
Moscow is now taking a different line, giving more weight to diplomacy, as the situation in Eastern Ukraine deteriorates with street-to-street fighting in some key cities, including Lugansk, the fall of which will be seen as a major victory for Kiev in its fight against the rebels. Buoyed by the victories, Ukraine’s nationalist politicians urge the government not to heed Russia’s proposal for a ceasefire. Finish the rebels, irrespective of the war’s humanitarian cost, they urge President Petro Poroshenko. But it will not be that easy.
Putin and Poroshenko will hold face-to-face talks next week at Minsk in Belarus as part of a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at finding a win-win situation or a road map to end the civil war and normalise relations between Russia and a new Ukraine that has decided to economically and militarily align with the West, much to the chagrin of Moscow.
Ahead of the Belarus summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Kiev tomorrow to facilitate a solution, which if it works out, will benefit her country immensely as it was German companies which have been hit hardest by the sanction war between the West and Russia. On Monday, Germany’s Bundesbank warned that global tensions, such as the crisis in Ukraine, were putting “earlier assumptions about the strength of the country’s growth at risk.” Germany depends on Russia for a third of its energy supplies.
Last Sunday, foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France met in Berlin to work out a solution to the Ukrainian crisis. Russia called for greater devolution to the regions as part of a solution but Kiev has insisted that Ukraine would remain a unitary state. “Ukraine is and should remain a unitary, democratic and European state and second, Ukraine should follow a European course…” said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlov Klimkin. Kiev also urged Russia to stop arming and training the separatists and insisted that the rebels should lay down their weapons before any talks. The rebels say they are ready to talk but refuse to disarm. They also say that Kiev should recognise their independent state.
A diplomatic solution may give Russia some respite and EU countries may be more than happy to lift the sanctions which are hitting them also. But the whole exercise raises a question regarding Russia’s ability to prevent countries in its backyard from drifting towards the West.
Already Russia is feeling the pinch, with Nato reinforcing its East European bases with more troops and equipment. Next month’s Nato summit in Wales will, among other matters, discuss preparations for a war on Russia. Ahead of this summit, US President Barack Obama will visit Baltic states in Russia’s neighbourhood to reaffirm Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the mutual defence of Nato and its allies.
If Russia abandons Ukraine, countries such as Georgia, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan may be emboldened to strengthen their economic and military ties with the West. Will Russia let itself fall into a situation like a helpless wretch?
Unlikely. Russia may go for a diplomatic solution now, but will not abandon Eastern Ukraine. It will bide its time, awaiting an opportunity to strike back militarily. Nato chiefs see this a strong possibility. If not militarily, Russia can strike economically. This is because Russia still has the ability to choke Ukraine economically – either by blocking gas supplies or by refusing to sell gas at concessionary prices. Already Ukraine owes Russia more than US$ 4.5 billion on account of gas purchases. But gas deals bind the two nations in a symbiotic relationship. Just as Ukraine depends on Russia for much of its energy needs, Russia depends on Ukraine to send its gas and oil to Europe via pipelines. Thus the Ukrainian crisis is much more than meets the eye or the rebellion in Eastern Ukraine.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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In hijacking Islam, whose interest is IS serving?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Islamic State (IS), whose desert juggernaut is sweeping across Iraq and Syria, is neither Islamic nor a state. It is a terror group whose victims are not only the hapless minorities in Iraq but also Muslims and Islam itself.
From womb to tomb, everything that involves people is politicised. Thus it comes as no surprise when religion is used as a political tool by groups such as IS and states such as Israel to achieve demonic objectives. In the name of religion, these groups and states adopt terror as a policy to perpetrate injustice, colonialism, illegal land grabs, and mass killings. They forget that the spirit of religion upholds justice, peace and security and its morals try to humanise politics.
Although little is known about IS or its agenda, the lack of effective early action by the Western powers to check its excesses has given rise to speculation that the group, either knowingly or unknowingly, serves the West’s interests or those of Israel.
The more powerful IS becomes, the more it serves the interests of Israel which seeks to balkanise the Middle East and establish Greater Israel that stretches from the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates – a state that will include parts of Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the whole of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and, of course, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The dream of establishing Greater Israel or Eretz Israel will not be impossible if the Arab world is reduced to bits of mutually hostile Bantustans which will hardly have any military strength or political will to stop Israel’s march toward that goal.
The process of balkanisation of the Arab world began with the “Great Arab betrayal of the Ottoman Empire” one hundred years ago. The Arabs were Ottoman subjects, enjoying regional autonomy. But the Brits manoeuvered the Arabs, just as some hidden hands are manoeuvering IS today. The Arab legions deserted the Ottoman Army and fought alongside the British against the Ottomans during World War I. The Ottomans lost the war and their hold on the Middle East and North Africa, but the Arabs lost the peace. The end of the war saw the implementation of the first phase of the Zionist project of balkanisation of the Arab world, with war victors Britain and France – the facilitators of the World Zionist Movement — creating a half a dozen new states from the conquered Ottoman land.
Today, another major phase of the Zionist’s balkanisation project is taking shape – with not only Iraq, but also Libya, Syria, Lebanon and several other Arab nations in political turmoil and hurtling towards the further splintering of the Arab world.
The Western powers have the wherewithal to go after what they perceive as a threat to their strategic interests. But in the case of IS, they are either silent or take only limited action. In effect, they have allowed IS to go on rampage in Iraq and Syria, making one wonder whether the West sees IS as a useful tool to achieve its strategic goals. Or probably, the West is facilitating the Zionists’ balkanisation project. Even as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed fears about a possible genocide of Iraq’s Yazidi minorities, who are fleeing from the fanatic fighters of IS led by the self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the United States yesterday tried hard to build up a case for not putting troops on the ground. The Yazidis are a Kurdish speaking ethnic group which follows a religion that is linked to ancient Zoroastrianism and Islamic Sufism. However, IS describes the Yazidis as devil-worshippers.
A Reuter news agency report yesterday said a US mission to evacuate the Yazidis trapped on a mountain was far less likely after a US assessment team sent there on Wednesday found the humanitarian situation not as grave as feared.
In an earlier statement, the White House said even if the US had to send American ground forces to Iraq in an operation to rescue the trapped Yazidis, the troops would not engage in combat with IS.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the 130 military advisors the US sent to Erbil would not play any combat role.
He noted that US President Barack Obama had repeatedly ruled out “reintroducing US forces into combat on the ground in Iraq.”
Even the US airstrikes early this week on IS targets were not aimed at dealing a crushing blow to the group. Rather they were aimed at preventing al-Baghdadi’s forces from marching towards Baghdad and Erbil (or Arbil), the capital of oil producing Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region which maintains close relations with Israel and the US. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly promoted Kurdistan’s independence from Iraq.
President Obama in a statement authorising the airstrikes said the US would take whatever steps were necessary to protect its interests in Erbil and Baghdad. In other words, he permits the IS’s territorial gains provided the group stops short of capturing Erbil and Baghdad. Such a stance indicates that the US endorses the status quo or the likely break-up of Iraq into three small states, while it encourages IS to carry out more carnage. Ironically or otherwise, IS fighters are also helped by US weapons that, against many odds, have fallen into the hands of al-Baghdadi’s soldiers following their battles with Iraqi forces and US-armed Syrian rebels.
Adding to the conundrum is the political chaos in Iraq with the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki going to courts to challenge the presidential action of nominating Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite like Maliki, as the next prime minister. Maliki in a petition to Iraq’s Supreme Court claimed that as the leader of the biggest bloc in the parliament, it was he, not Abadi, whom the president should invite to form a government.
As defence minister, Maliki has appointed loyalists to top positions in the army. Will his army officers stay loyal to him or switch allegiance to Abadi who is backed by not only the US and Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis, but also by Iran? Maliki has urged the military, which has not recovered from its earlier defeats in battles with IS, to stay out of politics. However, Maliki’s supporters have taken to the streets in a show of strength.
But the confusion that reigns in Iraq only works to the advantage of al-Baghdadi, whose forces are committing acts which are as horrendous and barbaric as Israel’s war crimes in Gaza in recent weeks. Incidentally, we are yet to see a mainstream news report that IS has condemned Israel’s massacre of innocent civilians in Gaza. However, a statement purportedly issued by a spokesman for IS appeared on an Israeli website (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/182751#.U-yGUJvlphg). The IS spokesman had said the time was not right for a confrontation with Israel.
Such vague statements create suspicion about the group’s Islamic credentials and add credibility to the claims that Israel created IS and supports it. Among those who subscribe to such theory is Iran’s Army Chief of Staff Hassan Firouzabadi who insists that Israel has dealings with IS, especially with regard to the war in Syria, where other rebels groups, including the battle-hardened al-Qaeda franchise al-Nusra, are disintegrating unable to confront the heavily armed IS.
Meanwhile, the group’s actions that tarnish the image of Islam have drawn the ire of Muslims worldwide. They point out that al-Baghdadi’s actions go contrary to the teachings of Islam. During the early days of Islam some 14 centuries ago, the non-Muslim people of the vast Persian Empire saw the Muslim Caliph as a liberator and invited his army to invade their country to liberate them from the yoke of feudalism and slavery. There was no forced conversion as it went against the teachings of Islam. In sharp contrast to the early caliphs, the self-styled new caliph threatens at gunpoint Iraq’s Yazidis and Christians to convert to Islam. What’s more? They slaughter Muslims on a daily basis in Iraq and Syria. Among those killed by IS in Iraq was a Muslim professor who publicly opposed the group’s persecution of Christians.
The mainstream Western media see little newsworthiness in condemnations that IS draws from Muslims around the world. The group’s actions, especially its threat to the Yazidis and Christians, have been squarely denounced by Imams from Turkey to Indonesia as acts of terror which are un-Islamic and morally repugnant. In Britain, more than 100 Sunni and Shiite religious leaders in a joint statement decreed IS as an illegitimate, vicious group which did not represent Islam in any way.
Yet the group, which controls one third of Iraq and one third of Syria, continues its carnage regardless of these condemnations from across the Muslim world. It earns more than US$ 3 million from oil and gas sales daily and boasts of a currency reserve of US$ 2 billion, while little is known about its 15,000-strong fighting force which has militants from scores of countries. Whatever it is, the group serves the West’s interests in Syria and Israel’s balkanisation programme in Iraq. It is seen as the only group that can eventually topple the Assad regime. So until this objective is achieved, the Western powers may go soft on IS which has hijacked Islam to commit crimes in its name.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Hiroshima, shock and awe and a plan to annex Gaza

By Ameen Izzadeen
The rules of ancient warfare were apparently more humane than the laws that govern modern day warfare. Though we call ourselves civilised laws and truth become the first casualties in times of war, as evident in the Gaza conflict and in wars launched by the United States, or, for that matter, any country.
Till about the 14th century, when two armies met, a tradition known as ‘single combat’ preceded or prevented an all-out war. Single combat is a duel between two champion warriors representing the two opposing armies. Such duels, which took place in no-man’s land, offered the losing side the last opportunity to accept the winning sides’ conditions and avoid an all-out war which was costly in terms of human lives and socio-economic factors.
The Jews know and speak a lot about the single combat story of David and Goliath.
If there had been a single combat prior to the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza, it could have saved more than 1,870 Palestinian lives and 66 Israeli lives. Wishful thinking one may say, but shouldn’t members of the United Nations promote the single combat concept to save civilian lives? Shouldn’t they propose a one-on-one fight when they see preparations for another Israeli attack on Gaza? Well, Israel won’t agree to single-combat on equal terms. Because it knows that the oppressed Palestinian warrior has an advantage; he is morally right and armed with willpower to fight for a just cause. On the contrary, the Israeli warrior, however strong he is physically, will be fighting for an immoral cause.
The Israelis know that even with their hi-tech weapons and protective gear, their soldiers could not crush the morally superior Palestinians fighters. If the Israelis had continued the ground offensive for another week and moved deeper into Palestinian territory, their army would have lost hundreds of soldiers. This probably was one reason why Israel ended its ground offensive and pulled out troops.
“Our fighters fought Israeli soldiers face-to-face and killed them. The Israelis responded by bombing sleeping civilians in their houses. Where is the honour of Israel?” asked Palestinian farmer Abdel-Sattar Ismail, when he was interviewed by Reuters in Beit Hanun, which has been reduced to rubble. A month ago, Beit Hanun was known as Gaza’s land of lemons and oranges.
Gaza today resembles what Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked like 69 Augusts ago, when the United States dropped human history’s first two atomic bombs in a horrendous war crime that remains unpunished. It was only yesterday that a UN tribunal found two Khmer Rouge leaders guilty of committing war crimes in Cambodia in the 1970s. That there has been hardly any attempt to bring the US before a war crimes tribunal for genocide committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only underscores the immoral political philosophy ‘might is right.’ The failure to haul the US before a war crimes tribunal has encouraged it to commit more war crimes as and when it pleases. The US used chemical weapons – Agent Orange being one such weapon — during the Vietnam War and the people in Vietnam are still suffering from its ill effects. The US killed more than 3,000 civilians during the air attacks that preceded the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Similar air attacks prior to the ground invasion of Iraq in 2003 killed more than 6,000 civilians. The lives of thousands of Pakistani villagers have been snuffed out in never-ending US drone attacks, which have been condemned by human rights activists as war crimes.
Just as partners in crime learn from each other’s criminal tricks, the United States and Israel learn from each other’s experiences. The two countries take cover behind the so-called war on terror to justify violations of international humanitarian law with a culture of impunity. They carry out indiscriminate air attacks on civilian targets and describe civilian deaths as “collateral damage” because they claim that the enemy is using civilians as human shields. But what is reprehensible is that the US shouts foul if other countries cite the same reason for attacks on enemy targets in civilian areas. To eliminate double standards in wars, perhaps, the UN — with help from the US and Israel – should work towards an international treaty that permits the killing of civilians if they are used as human shields. The US and Israel are perhaps the only countries that continue to practise targeted killings, which have been condemned by the world’s human rights community as nothing but extrajudicial killings.
The United States and Israel believe in a military doctrine known as ‘Shock and Awe’. This doctrine –developed by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade of the National Defense University of the United States in 1996 — advocates the use of overwhelming power to paralyse the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight. In this doctrine, there is little concern for civilians who are called collateral damage when they are killed.
In comparison to the single-combat tradition of the past, Shock-and-Awe is a cowardly act. It resembles the action of a person who lacks the courage to face his opponent face-to-face on equal terms. The coward hides behind a well-protected wall at a safe distance and throws a knife at the enemy’s back.
Stabbed in the back, the lone Gaza warrior today stands tall atop the mountain of rubble, his head held high and his will power strong, having fought not only Israel, the world’s tenth most powerful military, but also its staunch backers –the United States and its western and Arab allies.
Not only that; the lone Palestinian warrior — wounded, homeless, jobless, foodless, waterless and electricity-less — also faced another enemy: The truth killers or the Zionist-backed media which have no qualms about showing the Palestinian freedom fighter as a terrorist. They took pains to paint a humanitarian picture of Israel’s criminal acts and showed them as acts needed to ensure the security of the Zionist state.
However, in the social media, the lone Palestinian hero was cheered on by tens of millions of young and educated people. Among his supporters are young Americans. PEW and Gallop polls conducted in the US show that more than 50 per cent of those in the age group of 18-29 saw Israel as an aggressor in the Gaza crisis while only 25 per cent supported Israel. However, the overall results of the two polls show that a large majority of the Americans support Israel or are still incapable of comprehending what is justice.
Little do a majority of the Americans who support Israel realise that they are being dehumanised by the Zionist-controlled media to such a dangerous level that they cannot understand what justice is or are incapable of standing up for justice. They lack the ability to question the Zionist-backed media which give big play to Israel’s lies that Hamas fighters were using civilians as human shields, that Hamas’ rockets threaten Israel’s security, and that Israel launched the war to destroy Hamas’ network of tunnels. Missing in the mainstream media narrative are the facts that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land illegally for the past six decades with US help; that Israel is an oppressor and that the Palestinians are only fighting to liberate their land.
However, with social media becoming a powerful tool in the fight against injustice, such lies nowadays have a short shelf life.
A short letter published in the Guardian and is being widely circulated in the social media exposes the double standards of the Zionists. Written by reader Judi Oshowole the letter says:
“Didn’t the Jews under siege in the Warsaw ghetto dig a network of tunnels? Wasn’t their attempt at resistance and survival a source of pride to Jewish people everywhere? Aren’t there books such as Mila 18 hailing their ingenuity and bravery in building the tunnels and defying the Gestapo attempts to control them? How can Israel now justify all the destruction and deaths because the Palestinians have also dug tunnels after being under siege for seven years? When will the world take on Israel’s hypocrisy and double standards and stop this slaughter?”
With Gaza looking like the Hiroshima of 1945, the question that arises is: Will the 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire – which expires this morning – be extended? While pressure mounts on Israel to prolong the ceasefire, Hamas sticks to its condition that Israel’s seven-year-long siege of the Gaza strip should end if there is to be a meaningful ceasefire deal.
Will Hamas succeed in winning this demand? Very unlikely, given Israel’s secret agenda which seeks to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip and annex the territory. A glimpse of this plan appeared in the Facebook page of Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline Likud Party. In his message which has got more than 2,000 Facebook likes, he has called for concentration camps in Gaza and ‘the conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters’.
Based on what Feiglin wrote on his Facebook page, the British Daily Mail carried an article. According to this report, Feiglin, in a letter to Netanyahu, has laid out a detailed plan for the destruction of Gaza — which includes shelling of the territory with maximum fire power, shipping its residents who volunteer to be deported to other countries and issuing special blue identity cards – a second class Israeli citizenship – to those who refuse to leave, and exterminating others who resist the annexation by Israel. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2715466/Israeli-official-calls-concentration-camps-Gaza-conquest-entire-Gaza-Strip-annihilation-fighting-forces-supporters.html)
This plan cannot be dismissed as a pipe dream of a maverick politician. The rapidly shrinking Palestinian map shows that this plan is already under way.
This is all the more reason for the people with conscience to double their efforts to support the Palestinian cause and help them achieve a permanent solution. The appeal is made to the people with conscience, especially those in the United States and other Western capitals, because their leaders are playing politics with Palestinian lives while the severely handicapped United Nations has miserably failed in its responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilians, especially the children, more than 400 of whom perished in the Israeli attack on Gaza in the past four weeks.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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