Tag Archives: Syria

The Latest from the Middle East: Terrorists, Rebels and the Geopolitical Clusterf***

I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.

Yesterday, we reported on how the new emergent terrorist group ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city on Tuesday and stole nearly half a billion dollars from the central bank there. All this week the group has been advancing towards Baghdad, taking a number of towns along the way.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Then early this morning, reports came out that the Syrian government, which the United States is trying to overthrow by backing largely Jihadist rebels (the Syrian government calls them terrorists), is coordinating with the Iraqi government (which was put in by, and is still heavily backed by the U.S. government) to fight against Jihadist rebels/terrorists in Iraq.

Are you still following? Feel free to read that last part again- I had to read it at least five times myself. Ok, ready? Let’s continue.

Amidst all of this ridiculousness, Iran (one of the U.S.’s biggest political foes) has offered to help it’s former sworn enemy, Iraq, and its biggest political foe (the U.S.), to fight against the Jihadist rebels/terrorists of ISIS as well.

It’s interesting how quickly all of these countries were able to put their political differences aside as soon as there was a common enemy.

On top of this already massive mound of geopolitical shit, the Daily Beast just reported that ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia: three of the U.S.’s closest allies in the middle east.

Welcome to the geopolitical clusterf***. My brain hurts.

Iraq’s New Major Terrorist Group Just Stole Half A Billion Dollars

As the United States has ramped down their military presence in Iraq, the militant groups have been ramping up their attacks.

One of these groups, ISIS, which stand for The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, is proving to be particularly dangerous. The group captured the city of Falluja, just 40 miles west of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, back in January, and currently control much of northern Iraq.

Fighters from the militant group have also been aiding the rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Their eventual goal is to create an islamic state across the Syrian-Iraqi border.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

This past Monday (6/10/2014) ISIS forces struck the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with nearly 700,000 people. The ISIS attack was unexpected and swift: many of the U.S.-trained Iraqi police forces and troops fled their posts in the face of the advancing militants, some even abandoning their uniforms, according to the Washington Post.

The next day, Mosul’s regional governor announced that the militants had looted the city’s central bank, stealing 500 billion Iraqi dinars (equal to $429 million) in cash. The terrorist group also seized a large amount of gold bullion from the bank.

According to the International Business Times, this makes ISIS now the world’s richest terrorist group. Aside from the cash and gold, the militants also seized a considerable amount of U.S.-supplied military weapons and military equipment. They also freed 1,000 inmates from Mosul’s central prison.

ISIS began after a number of hyper-extreme Al-Qaeda members were kicked out for being too violent. The group is led by the fiery Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a former top man in the Al-Qaeda hierarchy.

The only two known photos of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The one on the left is from his detention five years ago. The one on the right is more recent (Courtesy of DailyMail)

Interestingly enough, Abu Bakr was in American custody just five years ago, at Camp Bucca military detention center in Iraq. Camp Bucca was closed in 2009, however, and sometime after that, Abu Bakr was released.

The details are unclear, but one theory posited by The Telegraph is that he was released and amnestied along with thousands of other prisoners as the U.S. prepared to pull out of Iraq.

Whatever the case may be, ISIS, with Abu Bakr at its head, is becoming increasingly powerful, with a significant presence in both Syria and Iraq now.

A picture posted to Twitter showing ISIS forces in Syria with captured American humvees

However, it seems that many of the Iraqis fleeing Mosul actually prefer the militants over their own government, which they see as corrupt and non-existent when it comes to the problems of the actual Iraqi citizen.

ISIS is taking advantage of this, promoting themselves as the alternative to Iraq’s corrupt government. Despite their reputation for violence against American troops and Iraqi government forces, the group has been fairly gentle with Mosul’s civilians. One woman, asked if ISIS had been harming residents, said,

“No, no, no. On the contrary, they are welcoming the people.”

A police officer from Mosul who abandoned his post after seeing the Iraqi troops flee voiced the worries of many Sunni’s in Mosul: that Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is targeting the Sunnis (Sunnis and Shiites are the two major islamic denominations):

“Maliki wants to end the Sunnis. Can you tell me how many Shiites are arrested on terror charges? Almost all those in prison are Sunnis. He is targeting us. I want to go back to Mosul, but we are afraid we’ll see another Falluja.”

Two boys stand beside a burnt-out car in Mosul while the fighting rages not far off (Image: Reuters)

With no reason to trust the Iraqi government, which has proved it can’t even protect citizens in its second largest city, Iraqi citizens have to be realistic about their options- often times tolerating the militants offers the best chance of survival

But don’t be fooled though. ISIS’s Mr. Nice Guy routine probably won’t last for very long.

They recently distributed a leaflet in Mosul, which detailed a number of new rules to be implemented in the coming days, including forbidding alcohol and cigarettes and requiring women to, “stay home and not go out unless necessary.” It also stated that anybody working with the government would be killed unless they sought “repentance.”

And yesterday, the terrorist group tweeted this picture of a decapitated Iraqi police officer, with the caption: “This is our ball. It’s made of skin #WorldCup”

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

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Global Humanitarian Response 2014: United Nations Largest Ever Humanitarian Plan (12.9 Billion Dollars)

Earlier this month (Dec. 16), the United Nations and its partners launched their humanitarian plans for 2014. The appeal for this year was the highest ever at $12.9 billion. The budget is to be used to support 52 million people in 17 countries with essential, life-saving aid, with over half of this funding going to humanitarian efforts in the war-ravaged region of Syria and neighboring countries.

UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos clearly stated that,

This [$12.9 billion] is the largest amount we have ever had to request at the start of the year. We count on the continued support from our partners as we work to save lives and support the millions of people caught in crisis.”

Check Out this visual overview of the “Global Humanitarian Response 2014” (click image to see full size).

UNhumanitarian plans for 2014

$6.5 billion of the total funds are going to efforts in Syria and neighboring countries affected by the current crisis. This is the most expensive appeal ever for a single crisis. Some $2.3 billion of this $6.5 billion is for the Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) for people inside Syria. The remaining $4.2 billion is for the Regional Response Plan 6(RRP6), which helps Syrian refugees and communities in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Other significant portions of the budget are going to the Philippines for continued Typhoon Haiyan relief, and also to the Central African Republic.

It Snowed In Egypt Today for the First Time in Over 100 Years (Slideshow)

A severe winter storm moved over the Middle East today (December 13), bringing snow to Egypt for the first time in over a hundred years.

In nearby Israel, over 3 feet of snow fell in Jerusalem, closing a number of roads and compelling the Israeli military to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their vehicles.

What did the Middle Easterners do? Naturally, they went outside, made snowmen and snow-angels, had snowball fights and generally had a great time. It was a pretty cool reminder that despite all of our differences, be they regional, cultural, religious or otherwise, we’re really not all that different.

Read the full story here.

Washington Post: Media analysts in Syria debate have ties to defense contractors

Washington Post: Media analysts in Syria debate have ties to defense contractors

(click the link above for the full story)

Are you surprised? Corporate interests have been playing puppeteer in the government and the mainstream media for decades, and the Military Industrial Complex is one of the largest and most influential: military spending is currently around $700billion annually, and comprises around 20% of the federal budget. But you can’t keep manufacturing weapons indefinitely if you’re not using them, so the MIC “takes care” (ie. campaign funding, business opportunities/connections, etc) of the politicians and media moguls who tow their line.

This lobbying practice isn’t much different than the lobbying done by other industries (oil and gas, tobacco, pharmaceuticals etc.), but it is of more concern for two main reasons.

Firstly, the majority of these industries are PRIVATE, so while they can pull strings to get legal/political/economic conditions slightly more favorable for themselves, they are not getting their money directly from the federal government (excluding subsidies, which are usually a small portion of these companies’ revenue). The Military Industrial Complex, on the other hand, is comprised wholly of government contracts and funding. This means that, rather than voting on a bill concerning pollution regulation (which would have an effect on the oil/gas industry), for example, politicians are voting directly on whether or not to fund the military; and nobody wants to be the politician who, “doesn’t care about keeping America safe”- even if that politician disagrees with every other part of the bill, the portion about funding the military will, at the very least, cause him/her to think very seriously about how to vote on the measure.

This brings me to my second point: you can’t put a price on safety. So, whereas there is some sort of ceiling for almost every other kind of federal spending, the military budget is virtually unchecked. Think of it this way: if the government is funding a program that helps keep a river clean, for example, there will be some upper limit (of the cost of the project) at which they will say that they can no longer justify spending more on the program. Can you imagine a politician saying this about protecting the country?