The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
 TeasersPatrick Cockburn Blogview

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

Turkey is hoping for a quick victory in Afrin, but its soldiers and allied Syrian militiamen are facing counter-attacks by Kurdish forces on villages close to the border. The Kurds are reported to be readying reinforcements to join the battle from their bases in north east Syria where they have thousands of troops who until recently were fighting Isis.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says there would be “no stepping back from Afrin” which means that the campaign, bizarrely named ‘Operation Olive Branch’, will continue. But it will take time to drive the Kurdish YPG paramilitary forces out the Afrin enclave north of Aleppo. So far the Turkish offensive has captured only a few villages close to the border in three days of fighting and there are a total of 350 villages in Afrin.

The population of the enclave is estimated to be 200,000, many of whom will be come refugees if Turkey and Arab militiamen take control.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that there had been a strong Kurdish counter-attack overnight that had recaptured two villages called Shenkal and Adamaly.

Turkey needs a swift success in Afrin because it is diplomatically isolated and there is growing international pressure to end the fighting. France has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the fighting in Afrin and other parts of Syria. Britain said it would look for ways to prevent escalation. But Mr Erdogan said said in a speech in Ankara that Turkey had discussed the Afrin offensive “with our Russian friends, we have an agreement with them.” This probably refers to Russia agreeing to limited Turkish action as warning to the Kurds not to become the permanent proxies of the US in Syria.

Turkish forces and some 10,000 Free Syrian Army militia based in Turkey would be facing even more difficulties if Russia had not allowed Turkish jets to operate in Syrian airspace. Though Turkey is a member of NATO, it has become closer to Russia because of US military support for the Syrian Kurds against Isis since 2014 and Turkish suspicion that the US was complicit in the military coup that almost overthrew Mr Erdogan in 2016.

A clash between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds was always likely once Isis had been defeated. Ankara had hoped that the US would then drop its alliance with the Kurds once Isis had been defeated. But on 17 January, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a speech in which he said that US troops would stay in Syria on an open-ended basis, which in practice means they will remain based in the Kurdish enclave in the north east of the country. He said they would do so to prevent the advance of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and reduce Iranian influence in Syria. This was a dangerous new departure for the US in Syria.

Mr Tillerson said that the continued US presence would stabilise the country but in fact it has done the exact opposite. He himself does not seem to have taken on board that this was wholly predictable since his words would anger Russia, Syria and Iran but, most importantly, would have an even more explosive impact on Turkey.

In effect, the US was underwriting the existence of a permanent Kurdish statelet under US protection and controlled by people whom Mr Erdogan has denounced as “terrorists” and promises to destroy.

Several days earlier the US had said it would train a 30,000 strong border force to be drawn from the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces. This grouping contains Arab fighters, but is essentially run by the Kurds.

Turkey is putting out contradictory signals about how long its operation will last. Mr Erdogan insisted that it will go on as long as necessary, regardless of outside pressure. But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek who oversees economic affairs said: “our investors should be at ease, the impact will be limited, the operation will be brief and it will reduce the terror risk to Turkey in the period ahead.”

There are other dangers stemming from the Turkish intervention. Syria is riven by ethnic and sectarian rivalries and territorial claims with all sides claiming that their community has been displaced recently or in the recent past.

Mr Erdogan has been stirring up these animosities saying at the week-end that “55 percent of Afrin is Arab, 35 percent are the Kurds who were later relocated, and about seven percent are Turkmen. We aim to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.”

This means that If Turkey and its Arab militia allies do occupy Afrin there is the prospect of ethnic cleansing of Kurds living there. Christians and Yazidis are also fearful that they will be targeted by the Arab militiamen fighting alongside the Turkish army.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
🔊 Listen RSS

The first pathetic pieces of wreckage of North Korean fishing boats known as “ghost ships” to be found this year are washing up on the coast of northern Japan. These are the storm-battered remains of fragile wooden boats with unreliable engines in which North Korean fishermen go far out to sea in the middle of winter in a desperate search for fish.

Often all that survives is the shattered wooden hull of the boat cast up on the shore, but in some cases the Japanese find the bodies of fishermen who died of hunger and thirst as they drifted across the Sea of Japan. Occasionally, a few famished survivors are alive and explain that their engine failed or they ran out of fuel or they were victims of some other fatal mishap.

The number of “ghost ships” is rising with no less than 104 found in 2017, which is more than in any previous year, though the real figure must be higher because many boats will have sunk without trace in the 600 miles of rough sea between North Korea and Japan.

The reason so many fishermen risk and lose their lives is hunger in North Korea where fish is the cheapest form of protein. The government imposes quotas for fishermen that force them to go far out to sea. Part of their catch is then sold on to China for cash, making fish one of the biggest of North Korea’s few export items.

The fact that North Korean fishermen took greater risks and died in greater numbers last year is evidence that international sanctions imposed on North Korea are, in a certain sense, a success: North Korea is clearly under severe economic pressure. But, as with sanctions elsewhere in the world past and present, the pressure is not on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who looks particularly plump and well-fed, but on the poor and the powerless.

The record of economic sanctions in forcing political change is dismal, but as a way of reducing a country to poverty and misery it is difficult to beat. UN sanctions were imposed against Iraq from 1990 until 2003. Supposedly, it was directed against Saddam Hussein and his regime, though it did nothing to dislodge or weaken them: on the contrary, the Baathist political elite took advantage of the scarcity of various items to enrich themselves by becoming the sole suppliers. Saddam’s odious elder son Uday made vast profits by controlling the import of cigarettes into Iraq.

The bureaucrats in charge of UN sanctions in Iraq always pretended that they prevented Saddam rebuilding his military strength. This was always a hypocritical lie: the Iraqi army did not fight for him in 1991 at the beginning of sanctions any more than it did when they ended. It was absurd to imagine that dictators like Kim Jong-un or Saddam Hussein would be influenced by the sufferings of their people.

These are very real: I used to visit Iraqi hospitals in the 1990s where the oxygen had run and there were no tyres for the ambulances. Once, I was pursued across a field in Diyala province north of Baghdad by local farmers holding up dusty X-rays of their children because they thought I might be a visiting foreign doctor.

Saddam Hussein and his senior lieutenants were rightly executed for their crimes, but the foreign politicians and officials who were responsible for the sanctions regime that killed so many deserved to stand beside them in the dock. It is time that the imposition of economic sanctions should be seen as the war crime, since it involves the collective punishment of millions of innocent civilians who die, sicken or are reduced to living off scraps from the garbage dumps.

There is nothing very new in this. Economic sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is being done. A difference is that such sieges used to be directed at starving out a single town or city while now they are aimed at squeezing whole countries into submission.

An attraction for politicians is that sanctions can be sold to the public, though of course not to people at the receiving end, as more humane than military action. There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them.

An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions…makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible.”

People should be just as outraged by the impact of this sort of thing as they are by the destruction of hospitals by bombing and artillery fire. But the picture of X-ray or kidney dialysis machines lacking essential spare parts is never going to compete for impact with film of dead and wounded on the front line. And those who die because medical equipment has been disabled by sanctions are likely to do so un-dramatically and out of sight.

Embargos are dull and war is exciting. A few failed rocket strikes against Riyadh by the Houthi forces in Yemen was heavily publicised, though no Saudis were killed. Compare this to the scant coverage of the Saudi embargo on Houthi-held Yemen which has helped cause the largest man-made famine in recent history. In addition, there are over one million cholera cases suspected and 2,000 Yemenis have died from the illness according to World Health Organisation.

PR gambits justifying sanctions are often the same regardless of circumstances. One is to claim that the economic damage caused prevents those who are targeted spending money on guns and terror. President Trump denounces the nuclear deal with Iran on the grounds that it frees up money to finance Iranian foreign ventures, though the cost of these is small and, in Iraq, Iranian activities probably make a profit.

Sanctions are just as much a collective punishment as area bombing in East Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul. They may even kill more people than the bombs and shells because they go on for years and their effect is cumulative. The death of so many North Korean fishermen in their un-seaworthy wooden craft is one side effect of sanctions but not atypical of their toxic impact. As usual, they are hitting the wrong target and they are not succeeding against Kim Jong-un any more than they did against Saddam Hussein.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Economic Sanctions, Iraq, North Korea 
🔊 Listen RSS

The US-Iran confrontation is already destabilising parts of the Middle East that were starting to settle down after the defeat of Isis in the second half of last year. “The escalating American threats against Iran mean that the Iranians will be more vigorous in safeguarding their position in Iraq and Syria,” said a former Iraqi minister who did not want his name published.

He warned that senior US officials, particularly those with a military background, “will do everything short of war against Iran”. They had convinced themselves that Iran’s clerical government was weaker than was really the case. “They believe that they just have to kick the system and it will collapse,” he said. This wishful thinking has been encouraged by the protests that have broken out in Iranian cities since 28 December.

US-Iran tensions increased last Friday when President Donald Trump said he had signed a waiver on the reimposition of draconian US sanctions on Iran for the last time. He would not do so when the issue comes up again in 120 days unless the nuclear deal agreed with Iran two years ago is substantially modified, something that is unlikely to happen. The uncertainty about sanctions has already cut the economic benefits to Iranians stemming from the agreement because foreign banks and companies do not want to risk spending money doing business in Iran and then find that they have to stop because of sanctions.

Nobody in the region is certain about how seriously they should take Mr Trump’s belligerent rhetoric, but Iran will inevitably take precautionary measures to guard against a worst-case scenario. “The Iranians are under the impression that others want to topple them and this is understandable,” the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told The Independent in an interview in Baghdad last October. “To protect themselves they have to fight outside their borders.” They generally do this through the use of proxies and skilful manipulation of local forces.

Iraq has been enjoying its least violent period since the US and British invasion of 2003 – but the unaccustomed peace is still fragile, as was shown on Monday when two suicide bombers killed 38 people and injured dozens more in an explosion in a market in Baghdad. This was the worst attack in the capital since the Iraqi security forces, backed by US airpower, captured Mosul in July after a nine-month siege – a major victory over Isis.

The US and Iranian relationship in Iraq has long been an unstable mixture of open rivalry and hostility, combined with covert and grudging cooperation. Both Mr Abadi and his predecessor as prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, were approved by both Washington and Tehran before being appointed.

This curious relationship between Iran and the US is tenuous, depending on both countries having similar aims, a recent example being the war against Isis. Iraqi governments try to balance between the two powers without becoming wholly dependent on either.

The US periodically hopes to establish a pro-American government in Baghdad, but the former Iraqi minister said that in present circumstances Iran would be determined, more than ever, to prevent this happening. He believed that American officials underestimate Shia solidarity and exaggerate the significance of the very real differences between Shia clerical leaders in the two countries. “At the end of the day the marjaiya [the vastly influential Iraqi Shia hierarchy] would stand with Iran,” he said.

A further complication arises if the US seeks to reimpose severe economic sanctions on Iran, because Iraq will become a centre for Iranian commerce and banking transactions. On the border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan there are three legal crossings and 13 illicit ones, according to the Iraqi interior ministry.

The US can stir the pot in Iraq but not achieve any decisive breakthrough in rolling back Iranian influence. In Syria, the American position is even more complicated because it relies, for leverage, on its alliance with the Syrian Kurds – the two million-strong minority that controls a great swathe of territory across northern and eastern Syria. The US has about 2,000 specialist soldiers in Syria, but its military strength depends on the use of airpower in support of Kurdish ground troops who belong to the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been waging a guerrilla war in Turkey since 1984.

This is not a stable political or military platform from which the US could try to diminish Iranian influence in Syria. Alliance with the Syrian Kurds means hostile relations with Turkey, as shown in the last few days when the US said it was supporting a 30,000-strong force to patrol the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan furiously denounced the US move, saying “a country we can call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our border. What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it is even born.”

The US does not appear to have decided on its long-term policy in Syria. It could use its local assets to try to keep President Bashar al-Assad weak, which might be feasible, but it would be at the cost of chaos in at least part of Syria – and Iran has shown itself to be more adept than the US at exploiting chaotic situations.

Some observers say reassuringly that Mr Trump’s aggressive rhetoric is frequently accompanied by prudent action and often by no action at all. But in the Middle East threats are taken seriously and, even when empty, may provoke a brutal counter-reaction. This is what happened in 2003 when US Neo-Conservatives spoke of following up the capture of Baghdad with regime change in Tehran and Damascus. The Iranians and Syrians became determined that the US and Britain would never stabilise their occupation of Iraq. If Mr Trump does succeed in capsizing the Iran nuclear deal, the US may soon regret reigniting a series of conflicts likely to end badly for them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Iran, Iraq 
🔊 Listen RSS

President Trump is trying to kill off the nuclear deal with Iran, but at the same time make the Iranians take the blame. Once again today he is expected to waiver re-imposing strict sanctions on Iran, but will threaten to pull out next time round unless Congress and European countries improve the terms of the agreement from the US point of view. He will also announce sanctions against individual Iranian officials for alleged corruption and human rights abuses during the recent street protests in Iran.

But the real aim of US opponents of the nuclear deal signed by President Obama and others in 2015 is to make sure that Iran gets no “peace dividend” out of the agreement and is provoked into walking away from it. Probably, Iranian leaders are too clever to fall into the trap, but Iranian policy is the product of competing power centres in Tehran so what they will decide is neither certain nor necessarily very smart.

The hostility to the deal expressed by Trump already means that foreign banks and companies are deterred from doing business in Iran for fear that sanctions might be slapped back on at any moment. Whatever benefit ordinary Iranians thought they would get out of the deal by way of jobs and an improved standard of living has never happened.

Nor is it likely to: having denounced the deal so often since the presidential election campaign as “the worst in history” Trump is boxed in by his own rhetoric – not that he has ever shown the slightest discomfort at this. He is seeking unilateral changes in the terms of the deal on the US side and a radical re-negotiation on the part of the Iranians and Europeans, neither of which he is likely to get.

Whatever happens in the short term, the Iranian nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA) as it is called, is beginning to resemble the stricken Iranian oil tanker currently adrift and blazing between China and Japan, which will sink or become a burnt-out hulk of no use to anyone.

But, just as Iran looks as if it is going to draw less and less economic benefit from the JCPOA, its political gains from agreement are increasing at home and abroad. President Hassan Rouhani can blame austerity, rising prices and unemployment squarely on Trump and the US. Spontaneous protests inspired by economic grievances that erupted across Iran in the days after 28 December can be demonised as plotted by or playing into the hands of foreign foes since the chief foe, in the shape of Trump, is cheering them on.

Another potential political benefit for Iran has become more evident in the last few days as the issue of the Iranian nuclear deal returns to the top of the news agenda. European states had put a lot of effort since Trump won the presidential election in 2016 into pretending that he was not “the mad woman in the attic” who had somehow taken control of the White House. There were hopes that Trump would simmer down or the great American ship of state would sail on under its own momentum, regardless of the weirdness of the new man at the helm. Foreign governments half-convinced themselves that if you held your nose and pretended that Trump was like other American presidents then he might become like one or else people would not notice that he was not.

But the pretence is getting pretty thin. Just how thin was visible this week as European foreign ministers met with their Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Brussels with the supposed purpose of persuading Iran to curtail its destabilising activities in the Middle East that impact on the nuclear deal. But it did not look like that: if Zarif was indeed being held to account, he was showing no sign of discomfort as he sat beaming at the British, French and German foreign ministers and they beamed back at him. It looked much more as if Iran and the powerful European states, aside from Russia, which is already in the Iranian corner, were presenting a common front against the US in defence of the nuclear deal. “Strong consensus in Brussels today,” tweeted Zarif cheerfully. “Iran is complying with JCPOA.”

Trump may eventually sabotage the nuclear deal, but the US will pay a heavy political price. The Europeans are embarrassed by being pushed into the Iranian corner along with Russia and China, but they do not have a lot of choice on the JCPOA and, increasingly, on other issues. Reluctantly, they are deciding that Trump is the great destabiliser and a far more potent threat to the international order than any danger posed by Iran.

Remember that all those officials gathered in Brussels will all have spent part of their time in recent days reading in full, or in serialised excerpts, Michael Wolff’s devastating book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which cites Trump’s senior aides as saying that he has the all-embracing egotism of a child seeking immediate gratification of its wishes and is incapable of doing his job as president of the US. It may be that the book, based on interviews with Trump’s intimates, will have less influence than it should in the US because the country is already so divided into pro and anti-Trump camps. But in the rest of the world, where there were still waverers who detected some method in Trump’s madness, the conviction is gelling that, as a spreader of chaos, Trump is unsurpassed and is more dangerous to the international peace than anything to be found in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing.

Some optimists hold that Trump may be just as much of a crackpot as his detractors believe, but the silver lining is that he is too chaotic and episodic to impact the world as much as he would like. They claim that, for all the foaming rhetoric coming out of the White House in 2017, the real damage done by Trump was less than many feared. This is a risky argument and, in the Middle East, neglects the fact that powerful people and countries who do not know what they are doing are manipulated and generally led up the garden path by others who know just what they want. For instance, Wolff says that “the president, ignoring if not defying foreign policy advice, gave a nod to the Saudis’ plan to bully Qatar.”

Sins of omission as well as commission have had a disastrous impact, such as the US failing to pressure Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen. All these ill-considered actions and inactions by Trump and his coterie pale in significance compared to the prospect of stoking a military confrontation with Iran. This would be a more serious war than the US and British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Trump may not want a war with Iran or anybody else, but nobody is more likely than he to flounder into one through ignorance and wishful thinking.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, EU, Iran 
🔊 Listen RSS

Israeli jets and ground-to-ground missile attacks on targets in the outskirts of Damascus are a mark of Israel’s heightened concern as President Bashar al-Assad comes close to winning the civil war in Syria. Israel’s security cabinet has held meetings several times in recent days to discuss how it should respond to the “day-after” the war as Syria returns to Mr Assad’s control and to Iran’s expanded influence in Syria according to Israeli television reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s policy was to stop Hezbollah moving “game-changing weapons” out of Syria into Lebanon. “We back it [the policy] up as necessary with action,” he added. Israel has carried out more than 100 air strikes against Syrian Army and Hezbollah arms depots and military facilities in the past six years.

The strikes are a sign that Israel is trying to adjust to likely new developments in Syria in 2018: as the end of the civil war comes in sight, Hezbollah and the Syrian armed forces, both battle hardened by the war, will no longer be tied down by fighting and could be deployed to confront Israel.

The Syrian war is by no means over, but the success of the coalition that includes Iran, Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia forces means that the balance of power in the region is swinging against Israel.

The Syrian Army is advancing swiftly without much resistance into the largest remaining rebel enclave in province of Idlib south west of Aleppo, in an offensive launched a week ago. Backed by artillery and air strikes, Syrian units are fighting Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as the al Nusra Front and once the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, which is dominant in the province. Other rebel groups complain that HTS is refusing to cooperate with them in holding back government forces.

The Syrian Army and air force are also battering Eastern Ghouta, the other large rebel enclave just east of Damascus, the capture of which would give Mr Assad full control of the capital and the area round it, something he has not enjoyed since 2011.

Although the long-term success of Syrian government forces looks inevitable, it will take them time to re-establish central control. The Syrian Kurds – who captured Isis’s de facto capital Raqqa in October backed by US-led air strikes – control a great swathe of territory east of the Euphrates. They need to keep US support, including several bases in Kurdish-held territory, as a guarantee against Turkish military intervention or an offensive by Syrian forces. At the same time, they look to a long-term agreement with Damascus which would guarantee their autonomy.

Israel is concerned about the return of the Syrian Army to parts of southern Syria close to Israel as it tries to reopen the road to Jordan. There is a US-Russian agreement arranged by President Vladimir Putin that Hezbollah and Iranian backed forces will not approach within 25 miles of the Israeli-Syrian front line in the Golan.

But Mr Assad is likely to be less reliant on the support, and more independent of the wishes, of his two main allies, Russia and Iran, as he gets close to victory.

The latest Israeli air strikes and the angry Syrian response show that both sides are muscle-flexing. But, while the Israelis have an interest in preventing Hezbollah acquiring a substantial arsenal of long-range missiles that could reach far into Israel, neither side has an interest in going to war which would cause a lot of destruction but produce no winner, as in 2006 when Israel fought Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel has received vociferous backing from President Trump and the US but the Israelis must wonder – along with the rest of the world – how much Mr Trump’s supportive tweets are really worth. Even his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not an unalloyed gain for Israel since it changes nothing much on the ground, but it has put the Israeli-Palestinian issue back at the top of the political agenda in the Middle East to a degree not seen since 9/11 and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Israeli air strikes are not necessarily a precursor to a wider military conflict, but they do show that Israel believes it can no longer stay on the margins of the Syrian war. As the conflict comes to an end that is bound to be messy, Israel wants to be a leading player in shaping its final outcome.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel, Middle East, Syria 
🔊 Listen RSS

The international media has a poor record in reporting protests and uprisings in the wider Middle East since 2011. These complex struggles were presented as simple battles between good and evil, like a scene out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Surprise and anguish were expressed when the supposed dawning of freedom and democracy in Libya, Syria and Yemen instead produced savage civil wars while Egypt and Bahrain became strikingly more authoritarian and repressive than before.

Whatever the causes of the failure of news organisations to understand developments in these countries, they had clearly got something very wrong about what was happening.

The recollection of being so very wrong about the likely direction of the Arab Spring should make the foreign media warier in reporting the demonstrations in Iran; which started in the city of Mashad on 28 December and swiftly spread all over the country. The Iranian government claims that its security forces have suppressed the protests or they are fizzling out, but there is evidence of fresh outbreaks, though at a reduced level. The slogans shouted and the limited number of interviews with protesters suggest that they are motivated by poverty, unemployment, rising prices and reduced subsidies for food and fuel, combined with rage against the greed and corruption of the ruling elite.

Many commentators downplay the protests as unlikely to have a long-term effect on Iran, on the grounds that they have no leadership, organisation, plan or coherent set of demands. But journalists tend to overrate the need for such neat organisational structures in order to confront the state; they are frustrated by the absence of identifiable leaders and spokespeople whom they can quote and interview.

Some compare the demonstrators negatively, in terms of size and potential impact, with the mass rallies and marches in Tehran in 2009. This may be true, but the absence of an organised structure also makes suppression more difficult for government security forces, who find it easier to arrest opponents who are properly labelled and identifiable.

On the contrary, I find the lack of organisation, unpredictability and geographically widespread nature of the outbreaks of unrest a persuasive sign that they are genuine and express widespread discontent. Had they really been organised by the CIA and Mossad using Saudi money, as alleged by the Iranian chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, journalists would probably be dealing with a slick PR operation producing graphic images of police brutality and injured protesters.

As it is, there are many videos taken by smartphones in dozens of provincial cities and towns showing angry crowds chanting anti-government slogans. But the pictures I have looked at are mostly blurry and it is impossible to tell what sort of people are protesting, their numbers or even if they are men or women. This amateurism is convincing evidence for me that we are not dealing with a put-up job, because those who fabricate or manipulate video film often give themselves away because the images they produce are too compelling to be true.

If one was looking for signs of the involvement of the CIA, or of exiled Iranian opposition groups connected to foreign intelligence services, one would find their footprint in a more professional handling of publicity. I was in Tehran in early 2011 when there were some demonstrations seeking to emulate the Arab Spring, but they never gained momentum. In my hotel I could bring up plenty of exciting film on YouTube of protesters throwing stones at the security forces, but when I went out they were nowhere to be seen. I complained about this to local Iranian journalists who worked for the foreign media but had had their press credentials suspended by the government. They laughed and said the protests had dwindled to nothing because of the massive presence of riot police, but even if they had been allowed to report this, they would not have been believed because the carefully edited videos being pumped out by exile groups were setting the agenda.

It was mid-winter in Tehran, but some film of rioting had trees in full leaf in the background. One should not be naive about this and assume it is just opposition groups that get up to such tricks: government intelligence agencies in the Middle East certainly try to discredit video evidence of dissent by posting demonstrably phoney film of demonstrations.

Genuine difficulties frustrate journalists reporting popular protests and uprisings which are, by their very nature, incoherent and ignite suddenly in unexpected places. Visas for journalists to stay in Iran are difficult to obtain, and, once there, there are restrictions on travelling around the country. A vacuum of information is created which, at a moment of intense international interest, is going to be filled with dubious stories from partisan sources. Governments hypocritically claim that they are being unfairly demonised when it is they themselves who have created the vacuum being used by their enemies.

There may be no evidence on the ground of a hidden American or Saudi hand behind the demonstrations at this stage, but they will presumably try to take advantage of them. The former US ambassador to the UN and neo-conservative John Bolton says firmly that “our goal should be regime change in Iran”, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in the past called for intervention inside Iran.

President Trump is draining the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran of any benefit for the Iranians and is unlikely to recertify next week that Iran is sticking by its terms. He is trying to use the protests to justify toppling the deal, but the crudity of his anti-Iranian tweets may make it difficult for him to garner support when the UN Security discusses the protests on Friday afternoon.

It is right to criticise journalists who overstrain the evidence when it comes to Syria, but their sins are nothing compared to “experts” in think tanks or universities who this week were happily joining up dots that may not even exist and drawing broad conclusions on the strength of a few slogans shouted by some anonymous figure on a video of unknown provenance. For instance, one chant of “No Gaza, no Lebanon, our lives for Iran,” and another of “Leave Syria alone, think about us” immediately led some talking heads to conclude that Iranians in general oppose intervention abroad.

Such conclusions are dangerous because they are based on no real evidence, and the news that the rising Iranian regional superpower has feet of clay is exactly what many in the US and Saudi governments would like to hear. It is doubly welcome because it comes at the very moment when Iran’s allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are in the ascendant and have emerged victorious from six years of war.

Governments should ask – as they did not do in Iraq, Libya or Syria – if the academic or think tank specialist so sure about what is happening in Iran has recently visited the country or knows much about it. They should recall that only a few years ago similar experts were predicting the break-up of Iraq and the inevitable fall of President Bashar al-Assad.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, Iran 
🔊 Listen RSS

Iran is seeing its most widespread protest demonstrations since 2009. They are still gaining momentum and some 15 people are reported to have been killed, though the circumstances in which they died remains unclear. The motive for the protests is primarily economic, but many slogans are political and some directly attack clerical rule in Iran which was introduced with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

The demonstrations began with one against rising prices on Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and the site of its most holy shrine, a place which is traditionally seen as a stronghold for clerical hardliners. It may be that these conservatives initiated or tolerated the protests as a way of undermining President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a political moderate, who was re-elected by a landslide last year. If so, the protests have swiftly spiralled out of the control of the conservatives and are erupting all over Iran, strong evidence of a high level of discontent everywhere in the country and possibly a sign of covert organisation by anti-government groups.

Donald Trump threatened last year to support domestic anti-government resistance in Iran, though this does not necessarily mean that his administration has done anything about this as yet. His latest tweet accuses Iran’s leaders of turning the country “into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos”. The US and Saudi Arabia may also be tempted to fund ethnic groups like the Iranian Kurds who are already alienated from the central government.

Belligerent rhetoric like Mr Trump’s will be used to discredit protesters as the pawns of foreign powers.

Iran has been divided politically since the fall of the Shah, but the most immediate cause of unrest over the past five days is economic and social discontent. In many respects, grievances are similar to those in other oil states where there is long-suppressed anger against corruption and inequality. Youth unemployment was 28.8 per cent last year. The nuclear deal with the US and other major powers in 2015 reduced sanctions, but has not produced the benefits that many expected. A 50 per cent increase in the price of fuel was announced in the budget in December. Egg and poultry prices recently rose by 40 per cent.

It is too early to say how far the protests are a threat to the government and to Iran’s political stability. The size and motivation of demonstrations is murky because of a lack of reliable eyewitness reporting. This is in part because of government restrictions on news coverage by Iranian and foreign news outlets which creates a vacuum of information. In the past, this vacuum has often been filled by exiled opposition groups who become a source of exaggerated or fabricated accounts of protests.

I was in Tehran in early 2011 when there were genuine demonstrations in the north of the city, but they were often of a smaller size than skilfully edited film shown on YouTube. Pictures of protesters tearing down a picture of Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might indicate a radical anti-regime turn in the protests or might be a one-off that tells one little about the direction of the movement. The same is true of slogans praising the Shah or criticising Iran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

So far President Rouhani and his administration have reacted in a low-key way to the protests, appealing for calm and saying people have the right to demonstrate, but not to destroy property or engage in violence. The government is clearly hoping that the demonstrations will run out of steam, but so far the opposite seems to be happening. The number of arrests is still low – 200 in Tehran by Sunday – but Mr Rouhani must be under pressure to crack down and not to appear weak.

This he may do eventually, but well-publicised suppression of protests might increase public support for them in Iran and would certainly lead to the US and West Europeans jumping to the defence of human rights in Iran with an enthusiasm they have failed to show in countries such as Yemen where a Saudi-led blockade has brought eight million people to the edge of famine.

Bloody suppression of protests might also push the West Europeans towards Mr Trump’s aggressive posture towards Iran and fatally undermine the nuclear deal. This would, in turn, strengthen the hand of the hardliners who can say that Mr Rouhani’s more accommodating posture to the outside world and more liberal policies at home have failed.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Iran, Iran Sanctions 
🔊 Listen RSS

I spent most of the last year reporting two sieges, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, which finally ended with the decisive defeat of Isis. This was the most important event in the Middle East in 2017, though people are already beginning to forget how dangerous the Isis caliphate was at the height of its power and even in its decline. Not so long ago, its “emirs” ruled an area in western Iraq and eastern Syria which was the size of Great Britain and Isis-inspired or organised terrorists dominated the news every few months by carrying out atrocities from Manchester to Kabul and Berlin to the Sahara. Isis retains the capacity to slaughter civilians – witness events in Sinai and Afghanistan in the last few weeks – but no longer has its own powerful centrally organised state which was what made it such a threat.

The defeat of Isis is cheering in itself and its fall has other positive implications. It is a sign that the end may be coming to the cycle of wars that have torn apart Iraq since 2003, when the US and Britain overthrew Saddam Hussein, and Syria since 2011, when the uprising started against President Bashar al-Assad. So many conflicts were intertwined on the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields – Sunni against Shia, Arab against Kurd, Iran against Saudi Arabia, people against dictatorship, US against a variety of opponents – that the ending of these multiple crises was always going to be messy. But winners and losers are emerging who will shape the region for decades to come. Over-cautious warnings that Isis and al-Qaeda may rise again or transmute into a new equally lethal form underestimate the depth of the changes that have happened over the last few years. The Jihadis have lost regional support, popular Sunni sympathy, the element of surprise, the momentum of victory while their enemies are far stronger than they used to be. The resurrection of the Isis state would be virtually impossible.

But the defeat of Isis in its heartlands has not produced the rejoicing that might have been expected. This is partly because people are uncertain that the snake is really dead and rightly fearful that Isis can kill a lot of people in its death throes. I was in Baghdad in October and November where there are now fewer violent incidents than at any time since 2003. Compare this with upwards of 3,000 people blown up, shot or tortured to death in the capital in a single month at the height of the Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war in 2006-7. At that time, Iraqi young men would have their bodies tattooed so they could be identified after death even if they were badly mutilated. Only 18 months ago, a bomb in a truck in the Karada district of Baghdad killed at least 323 people so Baghdadis are understandably wary of celebrating peace prematurely.

Yet there is a good chance the period of wars and emergencies that have battered Iraq for the last 40 years are coming to an end. There is no home-grown insurgency powered by foreign states in the offing. Beyond its borders, the northern tier of the Middle East between Iran and the Mediterranean, stretching through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon appears to be stabilising.

The new area of instability in the Middle East today is further south in the Arabian Peninsula where turmoil rapidly escalated in 2017. The stalemated war in Yemen is now the bloodiest and cruellest in the region, with eight million Yemenis facing famine because of the Saudi-led blockade; there are over one million suspected cholera cases, the biggest outbreak of the disease in modern history.

Much of the destabilisation of the Arabian Peninsula stems from the proactive foreign and domestic policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) which have made the Saudi Kingdom, once staunchly cautious and conservative, the regional “wild card”. Some of his actions, such as the reported detention and enforced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harari, have a comic opera aspect to them, but others are more serious.

When President Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May, MbS must have felt that the winds of change were blowing in his favour. But few things have worked out as expected: Trump pleased his Saudi hosts by blaming all the troubles of the Middle East on Iran, but so far the anti-Iranian thrust of US policy has remained largely rhetorical. The main Saudi initiative in the Gulf has been the blockade of Qatar which has so far achieved little for the Kingdom and the UAE, aside from pushing Qatar towards Turkey and Iran. This confrontation has produced some light relief with furious exchanges between the UAE and Turkey, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeting the UAE foreign minister: “When my ancestors were defending Medina, you impudent [man], where were yours?” On the Red Sea side of Saudi Arabia, Sudan is considering withdrawing its troops from Yemen where they have provided many of the ground forces for the Saudi-backed coalition.

The US and the West Europeans treat Saudi Arabia as if it was a regional hegemon in the making. Their motives are self-interested and they obviously want to go on selling arms to the Kingdom and its remaining Gulf allies. But events in the Arabian Peninsula over the last year illustrate a general truth about oil states: their money may buy them power and influence up to a certain point, but their operational capacity is much more limited than they imagine. This is true of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Iraq and even little Iraqi Kurdistan which unwisely aspired to be a new oil-rich emirate.

The recent history of these states illustrates a general rule: possession of great revenues from oil, gas or any natural resources such as minerals breeds arrogance and self-destructive ambition. When King Idris of Libya was told in the 1960s that oil companies had found oil in his country, he is reputed to have replied: “I wish you people had found water. Water makes men work. Oil makes men dream.” The quotation is a little too pat, but everything that has happened in the Middle East and North Africa over the last half-century has underlined the truth of his remark. Oil money can achieve only so much: it can buy expensive modern weapons, but it cannot win wars as we are seeing in Yemen. It can buy allies but they do just as little as they can for their pay and their loyalty ends just as soon as the money runs out.

The good news for 2018 is that the barbarous wars in Iraq and Syria may finally be coming to an end. Not only do Iraqis and Syrians and their neighbours benefit from this; what happens in the region soon has repercussions for the rest of the planet, as we saw when the invasion of Iraq in 2003 turned al-Qaeda into a mass movement and finally produced Isis, a militarised cult of demonic savagery. Whatever else happened in the world in 2017, the destruction of the Isis caliphate has made it a good year.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq, ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Syria 
🔊 Listen RSS

A single stupid remark by a political leader can suddenly illuminate deep and destructive ignorance about important issues. This has happened to me twice recently, the first time during the confrontation between Britain and the EU about the status of Northern Ireland and the Irish border after Brexit. I saw prominent Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith explaining that the Irish government was hanging tough on negotiations because “the presidential election is coming up”. This caused hilarity in Ireland because there is no presidential election in the offing there. The rest of his analysis of what was happening in Ireland, delivered in a self-confident and patronising tone, was equally ill-informed.

Duncan Smith’s remarks were significant because they showed that the Brexiteers knew as much about Ireland as they did about Samoa. It never figured in their referendum campaign in 2016 and they have not thought much about it since. For all their supposed devotion to British history, they have forgotten, if they ever knew, that the Irish question has been a central preoccupation of modern British governments from 1880 to 1922 and again from 1968 to 2007. Already there were signs that this issue – the cause of the bloodiest and longest guerrilla war in Western Europe since the Second World War – beginning to re-emerge when Theresa May did a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to give her a majority after the general election. She casually abandoned the British government’s neutrality between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, which was essential to its role as a mediator between the two sides.

There is a flippancy about the way in which the Brexiteers saw through branches, both Irish and European, on which Britain is sitting. A striking feature of Duncan Smith’s ill-informed words was not just his ignorance of the facts, but the tell-you-a-thing-or-two-old-boy tone in which they were uttered. A conservative historian, Sir Lewis Namier, once wrote that “strictly logical conclusions based on insufficient data are a deadly danger, especially when pride is taken in the performance.” This is very much the stance of the proponents of Brexit who dispose of uncomfortable facts as if they were so many English archers shooting down French knights at Agincourt.

The dispute with Ireland and the EU appeared to disappear when agreement was reached on moving on from the present phase of Brexit in December. But this only happened because Britain has issued post-dated political cheques to the EU, Irish government and nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland that cannot all be honoured. If Britain does not want a hard border, then it will have to stay within the single market and customs union and vice versa. Presumably, the Brexiteers acclaimed a series of climb-downs because they do not intend to stick to the agreement and want to get to Brexit day on 29 March 2019 without their project going visibly on the rocks. Britain will then be free of the shackles of the EU and able to ignore past promises as it makes its way in the wider world.

But the advocates of Brexit have made extraordinarily little effort to find out what this wider world is like. On the contrary, their view of it is constructed out of gobbets of propaganda and wishful thinking, which make it impossible to have any realistic view of Britain’s real strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with any nation seeking self-determination or greater control of its future, but the leaders of such a movement owe it to their followers to get their calculations right.

Since I write mostly about the Middle East I am very conspicuous of how British failures there since 2003 have been rooted in a refusal to view the political landscape objectively. This lack of knowledge was crystallized for me recently by a remark by the new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson which does not, at first, look as if it has much to do with Britain’s international status.

He said in an interview that British terrorists should be hunted down and killed on the grounds that “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain”. But who does he think decides who is a terrorist in Syria and Iraq? Does he imagine that there is some fair-minded judicial process before “terrorist” suspects are jailed, tortured, shot in the head or tossed off the top of the nearest tall building? His words could be dismissed as a crude bit of bombast by a politician demonstrating that he is tough on terrorists. But what he is really doing is giving license to the lynching of anybody with a British passport or with even the most remote British connections in the vast war zone that stretches from the western frontier of Iran to the Mediterranean and from Turkey to Yemen. There are far more innocent but vulnerable Britons in this area than there are British Isis fighters. Declaring open season on them is cruel and irresponsible.

Possibly Williamson imagines that “terrorists” will be identified and hunted down by British forces in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, but the picture he paints of Britain’s role in these conflicts is exaggerated to the point of fantasy. Such pretensions are the province not just of the Conservative right, but of British politicians and pundits in general. Remember the great debate in Parliament in 2015 about British military intervention in Syria in which Hilary Benn won Tory cheers by comparing British intervention to 1940 and other iconic periods in British history?

This was nonsense: nine months later it emerged that the RAF had carried out just 65 air strikes on the ground in Syria because we had no allies on the ground though David Cameron had claimed that there were as many as 70,000 moderate fighters on our side. This was admitted by General Mark Carleton-Smith, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff who said that in Syria the UK was “marginally engaged, from the air only, across a much less homogenous battlefield, where the identification of the multifaceted parties, agencies and militias is much more difficult to determine.” In other words we can’t tell friend from foe, yet in this chaotic battlefield Gavin Williamson believes that British Isis fighters can be identified and eliminated.

Britain is a minor player in Syria and the major player in Northern Ireland, but makes similar mistakes in both places. This is why the off-the-cuff remarks of senior politicians like Williamson and Iain Duncan Smith are significant. In both cases there is the same unblushing ignorance of the facts. This is compounded by an exaggerated idea of Britain’s real power and influence.

This does not mean that Britain is becoming a failed state. “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” as Adam Smith famously pointed out. But nations do fail all the same if they consistently misjudge their place in the world around them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Britain 
🔊 Listen RSS

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of Saudi Arabia is the undoubted Middle East man of the year, but his great impact stems more from his failures than his successes. He is accused of being Machiavellian in clearing his way to the throne by the elimination of opponents inside and outside the royal family. But, when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s position in the world, his miscalculations remind one less of the cunning manoeuvres of Machiavelli and more of the pratfalls of Inspector Clouseau.

Again and again, the impulsive and mercurial young prince has embarked on ventures abroad that achieve the exact opposite of what he intended. When his father became king in early 2015, he gave support to a rebel offensive in Syria that achieved some success but provoked full-scale Russian military intervention, which in turn led to the victory of President Bashar al-Assad. At about the same time, MbS launched Saudi armed intervention, mostly through airstrikes, in the civil war in Yemen. The action was code-named Operation Decisive Storm, but two and a half years later the war is still going on, has killed 10,000 people and brought at least seven million Yemenis close to starvation.

The Crown Prince is focusing Saudi foreign policy on aggressive opposition to Iran and its regional allies, but the effect of his policies has been to increase Iranian influence. The feud with Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE play the leading role, led to a blockade being imposed five months ago which is still going on. The offence of the Qataris was to have given support to al-Qaeda type movements – an accusation that was true enough but could be levelled equally at Saudi Arabia – and to having links with Iran. The net result of the anti-Qatari campaign has been to drive the small but fabulously wealthy state further into the Iranian embrace.

Saudi relations with other countries used to be cautious, conservative and aimed at preserving the status quo. But today its behaviour is zany, unpredictable and often counterproductive: witness the bizarre episode in November when the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, not allowed to depart and forced to resign his position. The objective of this ill-considered action on the part of Saudi Arabia was apparently to weaken Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon, but has in practice empowered both of them.

What all these Saudi actions have in common is that they are based on a naïve presumption that “a best-case scenario” will inevitably be achieved. There is no “Plan B” and not much of a “Plan A”: Saudi Arabia is simply plugging into conflicts and confrontations it has no idea how to bring to an end.

MbS and his advisers may imagine that it does not matter what Yemenis, Qataris or Lebanese think because President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, are firmly in their corner. “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” tweeted Trump in early November after the round up and confinement of some 200 members of the Saudi elite. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!” Earlier he had tweeted support for the attempt to isolate Qatar as a supporter of “terrorism”.

But Saudi Arabia is learning that support from the White House these days brings fewer advantages than in the past. The attention span of Donald Trump is notoriously short, and his preoccupation is with domestic US politics: his approval does not necessarily mean the approval of other parts of the US government. The State Department and the Pentagon may disapprove of the latest Trump tweet and seek to ignore or circumvent it. Despite his positive tweet, the US did not back the Saudi confrontation with Qatar or the attempt to get Mr Hariri to resign as prime minister of Lebanon.

For its part, the White House is finding out the limitations of Saudi power. MbS was not able to get the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a US-sponsored peace plan that would have given Israel very much and the Palestinians very little. The idea of a Saudi-Israeli covert alliance against Iran may sound attractive to some Washington think tanks, but does not make much sense on the ground. The assumption that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the promise to move the US embassy there, would have no long-term effects on attitudes in the Middle East is beginning to look shaky.

It is Saudi Arabia – and not its rivals – that is becoming isolated. The political balance of power in the region changed to its disadvantage over the last two years. Some of this predates the elevation of MbS: by 2015 it was becoming clear that a combination of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey was failing to carry out regime change in Damascus. This powerful grouping has fragmented, with Turkey and Qatar moving closer to the Russian-backed Iranian-led axis, which is the dominant power in the northern tier of the Middle East between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean.

If the US and Saudi Arabia wanted to do anything about this new alignment, they have left it too late. Other states in the Middle East are coming to recognise that there are winners and losers, and have no wish to be on the losing side. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called a meeting this week in Istanbul of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to which 57 Muslim states belong, to reject and condemn the US decision on Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia only sent a junior representative to this normally moribund organisation. But other state leaders like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, King Abdullah of Jordan and the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, among many others, were present. They recognised East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and demanded the US reverse its decision.

MbS is in the tradition of leaders all over the world who show Machiavellian skills in securing power within their own countries. But their success domestically gives them an exaggerated sense of their own capacity in dealing with foreign affairs, and this can have calamitous consequences. Saddam Hussein was very acute in seizing power in Iraq but ruined his country by starting two wars he could not win.

Mistakes made by powerful leaders are often explained by their own egomania and ignorance, supplemented by flattering but misleading advice from their senior lieutenants. The first steps in foreign intervention are often alluring because a leader can present himself as a national standard bearer, justifying his monopoly of power at home. Such a patriotic posture is a shortcut to popularity, but there is always a political bill to pay if confrontations and wars end in frustration and defeat. MbS has unwisely decided that Saudi Arabia should play a more active and aggressive role at the very moment that its real political and economic strength is ebbing. He is overplaying his hand and making too many enemies.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
Patrick Cockburn
About Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. He was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.


Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr