Bill Weinberg

Syria: CIA-armed rebels vs. Pentagon-armed rebels?

That's the delicious claim in the Los Angeles Times headline of March 26: "CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria." Obviously, it is getting lots of circulation on Facebook, with its imputation of imperial incompetence. This refers to the fighting between the Kurdish YPG militia and FSA-aligned factions at Azaz and elsewhere in Aleppo governorate. There is no doubt that the Pentagon has aided the YPG. As the story notes, there are some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The story doesn't mention widespread reports that the Pentagon has established an air-base ar Rmeilan, Hasakah governorate, to coordinate aid to the SDF. But we have questioned how much (if any) CIA aid has reached the FSA—and especially the Islamist factions at Azaz. There the article is short on specifics, asking us to accept that these factions are "CIA-armed" on tautological grounds. If everyone says it, it must be true.

Palmyra: not a 'liberation'

The Assad regime has announced the taking of Palmyra and its adjacent archaeological site from ISIS, though Russian air-strikes appear to have been the decisive factor. Russian state media (RT, Sputnik) shamelessly crow of the city's "liberation." The Western media have hardly been less ebullient. Daily Mail displays footage released by the regime, showing no sign of damage to the ancient ruins, but bloodstains on the wall of the amphitheater, which was used for public executions. (In fact, temples were destroyed at the site.) But Muzna al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK spoke on British TV in much darker terms about the city's transfer. She called Assad and ISIS "two faces of the same coin," and said she spoke to activists in the city who told her "nothing has changed." She pointed out that even before ISIS took the city last May, artifacts were looted by Assad's Shabiha militia. She recalls that Palmyra was the site of a regime prison where many have been tortured to death and hundreds massacred over the years. She says that 50% of city's neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime's cluster bombs in recent days. She calls the city's change of hands part of a "propaganda game" by both Assad and ISIS. The city "was handed to ISIS," and the threat to its ancient artifacts exploited to get international attention; now its recovery "is being used for the same thing." She protests that people in the West seem "more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground." (Via Facebook)

Karadzic conviction sparks protests in Belgrade

It was certainly convenient for Serbian ultra-rightist Vojislav Seselj that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chose to convict his buddy Radovan Karadzic of genocide on March 24—the same day that Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, began in 1999. Seselj—leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a former paramilitary warlord, himself facing charges before The Hague-based tribunal—had already planned a rally in downtown Belgrade that day to commemorate the anniversary. Of course it became a rally in support of Karadzic, wartime leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic. "The criminal Hague, the false court of the Western powers, has condemned Karadzic to 40 years," Seselj railed to hundreds of gathered supporters. "They convicted him when he was innocent, only because he led the Serb people in Bosnia during a crucial moment." In another case of fascist pseudo-anti-fascism, he compared the European prisons holding Karadzic and other accused Serb war criminals to "Hitler's camps." To make it even better, many of his supporters bore the flag and regalia of the Chetniks—the World War II-era Serbian nationalist movement that collaborated with the Nazis after the German occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941. (The Independent, Radio B92)

Horn of Africa water wars leave Somalia dry

Somali news site Mareeg reports March 23 that Ethiopia has for the first time actually halted the flow of water into Somalia by closing the gates on irrigation dams along the Shabelle River. The river, which flows from the Ethiopian highlands, now no longer reaches Somali territory, where banana plantations (one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange) have long depended on it. A photo with the report shows vehicles driving through the completely dry river bed. It also claims that impoundments on Ethiopia's Genale River have significantly reduced water levels in Somalia's Jubba River, into which it flows. Mareeg accuses Ethiopia of "taking advantage of its hydro-hegemony" at the expense of Somalia. 

Is Obama really helping Cuban dissidents?

Just hours before Obama arrived in Cuba March 20 for the historic first visit by a US president since the 1959 revolution, a pro-democracy march was broken up in Havana, with over 50 detained. (Havana Times) Among those arrested was the famous activist graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, nicknamed "El Sexto," who according to the New York Times had increased pressure on the regime to open democratic space in the preceding days by streaming live broadcasts from the newly unveiled wifi spots around Havana. Activists whose hopes had been raised both by reconciliation with the US and the regime's recent moves to allow greater Internet access were disappointed by the repression. "We thought there would be a truce, but it wasn't to be," Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the NY Times.

Brussels terror boon to GOP

The terror attacks on the airport and a subway station near the European Union headquarters in Brussels have left at least 34 dead, and some 170 injured. Amaq News Agency, an ISIS propaganda organ, issued a claim of responsibility. (Long War Journal) This was of course good news for the Republican presidential contenders in the US, helping to shift the debate from domestic economic suffering to the international jihadist threat. Ted Cruz wasted no time, saying in a statement: "We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." This was of course a call for bringing back the NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslims before it was shut down in the wake of outcry and litigation. It was all the more galling that Cruz made his comment on a visit to New York City, where he was quickly blasted by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "If he's that short-sighted, I can understand why the American public would repudiate his efforts to run this great country," said Bratton. (Daily News)

No, Clinton is not to 'right' of Trump on Israel

"Hillary Clinton gets to Donald Trump's right on Israel." That's the dead, dangerously wrong headline in a March 21 Washington Post op-ed by Paul Waldman. The fodder for this falsehood is Clinton's address before AIPAC, where she dissed Trump's recent statement that he would be "neutral" between the Israelis and Palestinians. In utterly predictable verbiage, she said: "Yes, we need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything's negotiable." Responds Wladman: "In Trump's defense (yes, I just wrote those words), when this subject comes up he’ll say as loudly as anyone else how 'pro-Israel' he is, but when he used that term he was talking about being an arbiter in negotiations."

War criminal Erdogan calls for Assad trial

In a move of towering cynicism and hypocrisy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 20 called for the prosecution of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad by the International Criminal Court. Speaking to state TV, Erdogan demanded that Assad be charged with "state terrorism," saying he is responsible for the death of 500,000 people, and rhetorically asked how the Syrian dictator can receive "red carpet treatment" in Russia while killing his own people with barrel bombs. (Jurist, March 31) This from the guy who is waging his own vigorous campaign of state terror against the Kurds of Turkey's east, even burning civilians alive in Diyarbakir, and all too clearly esclatintg towards a genocidal threshold.

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