Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
Missiles and mortar rounds were fired into a crowd of demonstrators in central Benghazi's al-Keesh Square, killing six and injuring at least 35. The pro-secular protest was called to oppose proposals, now being heard in the UN-brokered peace dialogue, for a new unity government that would include leaders of the Islamist factions that now control Tripoli. (BBC News, Libya Herald, Oct. 24) One of the protesters, 32-year-old architect Salwa, told Middle East Eye: "We went out today to tell [head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Bernadino] Leon that he does not have the right to propose that terrorists and leaders of militias should be part of a government for Libya, and we protested even though we knew there was a threat from ISIS, who claim that they are revolutionaries." She added: "But I did not expect their brutality to reach this level. They bombed areas where there were innocent people—women and children—who just wanted to try and have a say in the fate of their homeland."
There was brief media splash last month after Germany's ZDF TV reported that the US is planning to replace 20 nuclear bombs deployed at Büchel airbase. According to the reports, the current B61 bombs are to be replaced this year with B61-12s, a newer version that is said more accurate and less destructive (potentially making their use more "thinkable"). Alarmingly, reports indicated that the new variants can also be fired as missiles, while B61s had to be dropped from aircraft. Moscow of course immediately responded by threatening "countermeasures"—including deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles to Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. (The Telegraph, Reuters, Sept. 23; Washington's Blog, Sept. 23)
An oft-noted failing of the dreaded "mainstream media" is their tendency to bogus neutrality—as when they give climate-change denialists equal weight with representatives of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. We hope we don't smell something similar in coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wildly fictional comments asserting that the idea for the Nazi Holocaust originated not with Adolf Hitler but the Mufti of Jerusalem. Here is the offending text, according to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office:
South Sudan's fragile peace deal is in jeopardy as opposition leader Lam Akol today joined with 18 political parties to bring a legal challenge against President Salva Kiir's order to expand the number of states in the country from 10 to 28. "That order actually violates the constitution and it also contravenes the peace agreement," he said, refering to the pact that Kiir and the head of the armed opposition, Riek Machar, signed in August. "Our people are yearning for peace, so nobody should tamper with this peace agreement." he said. The leadership of rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) also said the plan threatens to unravel the peace agreement. (Sudan Tribune, VOA, Oct. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 29) Not surprisingly, control of oil seems the critical issue here. A commentary for Kenya's The East African (online at AllAfrica) charges that Kiir "has basically deprived rebel leader Riek Machar of all the oil resources he was to preside over in the transitional government by unilaterally creating 18 new states. The increase of the states...through a presidential decree has placed areas with the highest concentration of oil resources in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile in the hands of President Kiir's Dinka community. This has created tension between the Nuer, Shiluk and Dinka in Unity and Upper Nile States, with the first two communities accusing President Kiir of carving out the oil-rich areas for his community."
This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.
The aftermath of the Oct. 10 Anakara massacre—in which some 100 were killed in a double suicide attack on a peace rally—has been a study in the Orwellian. Authorities have arrested at least 12 sympathizers of the Kurdish PKK rebels, who are accused of tweeting messages indicating foreknowledge of the attack. But the actual tweets indicate they were warning of a potential ISIS attack on the rally. "What if ISIL blows up?!," one tweeted. Another voiced fear of an ISIS "intervention" at the event. This was an all too legitimate speculation, given the similar terror attack on a gathering of leftist youth in the southern town of Suruc just three months earlier. In fact, Turkish police have named one of the Ankara bombers as Yunus Emre Alagöz, the brother of Sheikh Abdurrahman Alagöz, the ISIS operative who blew himself up in the Suruc attack. (The Guardian, Oct. 15; Anadolu Agency, Oct. 14)
US Air Force C-17 cargo planes air-dropped arms and other supplies to Syrian rebels on Oct. 13—as Russia continued to carry out air-strikes on Syrian rebels. Media reports are vague on whether the US is dropping aid to the same factions that Russia is bombing. But the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) have announced a new alliance with militias affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight ISIS in the country's northeast. The Pentagon has now officially dropped its failed $500 plan to train a Syrian rebel proxy force, and will instead use those funds for air-drops to already existing rebel forces.