Jim White

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Amid Even More Training Failures, US Frames Syrian Effort as Just Starting. Again.

Alert readers here who have kept their scorecards up to date know that the “secret” US effort to train rebels in Syria actually began as early as November of 2012, more than two and a half years ago, even though Obama did his best to obscure that date once it became expedient to nudge the date of entry for the first graduates of that program. The US later decided to go above-board with the training effort for Syria (after spectacular failures of identifying “moderates”), and last fall approved $500 million to a program to train and arm those elusive “moderates” once again. Despite the huge expenditure authorized for the program, it turns out that the US appears to have overlooked a key detail: the “moderate” rebels whom they seek to now fight only ISIS and not Assad simply don’t exist. We can only presume that those who wish to fight Assad are funneled to the covert program, which appears to have been put into place to topple Assad from power.

Robert Burns of AP has a story today describing how the US program has failed to produce the thousands of trainees that were planned:

Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

/snip/

The main problem thus far has been finding enough Syrian recruits untainted by extremist affiliations or disqualified by physical or other flaws. Of approximately 6,000 volunteers, about 1,500 have passed muster and await movement to training camps in other countries. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon will not say exactly how many are in training. Officials said that as of Friday, the number was under 100 and that none has completed the program.

“We have set the bar very high on vetting,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the Central Command special operations commander who is heading the program, wants volunteers with more than a will to fight.

“We are trying to recruit and identify people who … can be counted on … to fight, to have the right mindset and ideology,” and at the same time be willing to make combating IS their first priority, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on June 17.

“It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria,” Carter said.

Many Syrian rebel volunteers prefer to use their training to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, the original target of their revolution. While IS has been a brutal occupant of much of their country, the rebels see the extremists as fighting a parallel war.

Ah, but fear not, dear US war mongers! Burns reports that when Tammy Duckworth recently asked Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey if this training effort was worth continuing, he had this ringing endorsement of the the program: “It’s a little too soon to give up on it.”

So, we’ve had the covert training going on for 32 months. We approved $500 million for open training nine months ago, but have under a hundred trainees in the program now, with zero graduates. And yet, if you ask the military, training in Syria is just getting started and it’s too soon to give up on it. Recognizing failure is just not possible in the US military.

Angry White Male Terror in US More Deadly Than Jihad Since 9/11

Remember back in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security warned (pdf) against the growth of homegrown terror arising from right-wing extremism? Remember how the howls of protest from the same right-wing politicians who dog-whistle the right-wing extremists into action were so loud that DHS took the report off its website and even disbanded the research unit that produced the report? Here’s Daryl Johnson, who headed the group at DHS that produced the report, talking in 2011:

When the right-wing report was leaked and people politicized it, my management got scared and thought DHS would be scaled back. It created an environment where my analysts and I couldn’t get our work done. DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.

Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism—whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” eco-terrorists, the whole gamut.

Finally, in February of this year, DHS finally got around to mentioning the right-wing terror threat again:

A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.

Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​

The Homeland Security report, produced in coordination with the FBI, counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.

In a jaw-dropping revelation, the CNN article on the report goes on to note that there may be as many as 300,000 adherents to the sovereign citizen extremist movement.

But it’s the white supremacists who now are in the spotlight thanks to the racist terrorism in Charleston last week. And the New York Times is driving that point home by citing a New America analysis of terror attacks in the US since 9/11:

In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

When we go to the New America analysis, we see that half of the deaths from attacks termed jihadist came in a single attack, the one at Fort Hood. There are only seven entries on the list of jihadist attacks since 9/11. On the other hand, there are 19 entries on the right-wing attack list (and the biggest of those, the Oklahoma City bombing, was pre-9/11 and so is excluded from the list).

Despite the trillions spent and lives lost in fighting jihadists “over there” so that we won’t have to fight them here, the homegrown threat from angry white males is still stronger than the threat from jihadists inside the country. Just imagine the howls, though, should an extra 300,000 names of sovereign citizen adherents get added to the the Terrorist Screening Database. Meanwhile, panic buying of Confederate flags and guns continues. Angry white males are getting even angrier as they squirm under the spotlight.

Fifty Shades of Fake University Degrees

On Sunday, Declan Walsh delivered a blockbuster report on the vast network of fake univeristies, diplomas for purchase and high-pressure upsales of “validation” credentials for fraudulently purchased diplomas. Remarkably, the company in which these activities were housed, Axact, with headquarters in Karachi and offices throughout Pakistan, had enjoyed a role as a prominent software company billing itself as Pakistan’s biggest software success story. Despite the massive amount of evidence compiled by Walsh and the Times, Axact initially pushed back hard, trying to threaten the Times with legal action and even going after a local Pakistani blog that merely accumulated amusing Tweets relating to the story.

Today, authorities in Pakistan took decisive action, with as many as 45 Axact employees arrested and the seizure of computer equipment and files:

According to Express News, employees were evacuated from the software company’s head office in Islamabad. Further, around 45 employees were rounded up, including HR and PR managers, to be taken to FIA headquarters.

The arrested Axact employees were shifted to FIA’s cyber-crime wing office.

The seven-member FIA team also seized hard disks, computers, other electronic equipment and documents belonging to the IT firm. The bags and mobile phones of department heads in Islamabad have also been seized.

/snip/

The FIA also raided Axact’s call center in Rawalpindi and seized voice call and other devices. Axact’s regional director Colonel (retd) Jamil has been taken into custody.

With “university” names like Columbiana and Barkley, the cynicism of Axact’s scam is breathtaking. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that the new world of online degrees is a very cutthroat place with questionable marketing practices everywhere. Just right here in Gainesville, the University of Florida has raised many eyebrows with its decision this year to admit an extra 3000 students who would not otherwise be admitted and then inform them that they have to complete the first year of studies toward their degree online. But don’t worry, poor little online second class students, because at UF, even if you complete your entire degree online, your diploma won’t reflect that fact. Here’s the very first entry on the FAQ’s for UF online:

UF

It’s a highly competitive world for those online degrees, whether they come from fake diploma mills, for-profit “universities” or traditional universities being forced by backwards legislators to come up with online competition.

Call me old-fashioned, but my concept of a university education involves an actual university with libraries housing real books, laboratories where real experiments can take place, lecture halls where students and professors actually interact face to face and a shared site where a community moves about freely. Sure, fake diplomas from legitimate universities do get penned now and then, but the market for fakery has been enabled greatly by the rapid expansion of online “learning”.

New York Times Finally Admits US Lied About Ending Afghan War

I will go ahead and say it this time. I told you so. Back in December, the Obama Administration tried its best to create the fiction that the war in Afghanistan was coming to an end. I called bullshit then. Finally, four months later, the New York Times has come to the same realization as well:

Months after President Obama formally declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way under the guise of “training and advising.”

In justifying the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have insisted that the troops’ role is relegated to counterterrorism, defined as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who have assumed the bulk of the fight.

But the US military thinks nothing of gaming the system to bring action where they want it:

Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mostly drone missions — and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.

/snip/

“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”

And it’s not just field-level commanders making these decisions to circumvent the conditions laid out by the White House for fighting:

Commenting on the continuing military operations against the Taliban, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, vehemently denied accusations that he was putting troops into harm’s way just to enable more airstrikes.

He has insisted that it is within his purview to target Taliban insurgents who pose a threat not just to American or NATO troops but to any Afghan security forces. And his options on the ground were clear, he said in an interview, even if Washington’s public description of them was not.

“Washington is going to have to say what they say politically for many different audiences, and I have no issue with that,” General Campbell said. “I understand my authorities and what I have to do with Afghanistan’s forces and my forces. And if that doesn’t sell good for a media piece then, again, I can’t worry about it.”

Honey badger John Campbell don’t care about selling a media piece when there are brown people to be droned.

But even this expanded role for US troops over what they are supposed to be doing isn’t helping, as our “trained” Afghan troops continue to lose the war. Buried deep in the article is a leak of classified information that Afghan troop losses this year are running 54% higher than last year’s disastrous level of losses. This will not be sustainable for very long at all. It seems likely to me that sometime this summer (or at the very least no later than next summer), the Afghan military will simply melt away in the face of Taliban wins on multiple fronts.

Brennan’s Addiction to Signature Strikes Killed Weinstein

The US insists that the deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were a “mistake”. Both the New York Times and Washington Post open their articles about the drone strike that killed them with descriptions couched in the language of error. The Times:

The first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was when officers from the C.I.A. saw that six bodies had been pulled from the rubble instead of four.

And in the Post:

After weeks of aerial surveillance, CIA analysts reached two conclusions about a compound to be targeted in a January drone strike: that it was used by al-Qaeda militants and that, in the moment before it was hit, it had exactly four occupants.

But as six bodies were removed from the rubble, the drone feeds that continued streaming back to CIA headquarters carried with them a new set of troubling questions, including who the two other victims were and how the agency’s pre-strike assessments could have been so flawed.

Consider that for a moment. Despite all the blathering from John Brennan about “near certainty” in his infamous drone rules (whose legal basis the government still steadfastly refuses to release), we are dealing yet again with deaths of innocents from a signature strike. In those strikes, the US kills without knowing precisely who the targets are. Instead, the US claims that the pattern of activities by those targeted match those of terrorists intent on striking out against the US. The more cynical among us note that there is hubbub over this strike merely because the innocents who were killed happen to be white instead of brown. But the outcome is the same: making the decision to kill based on incomplete evidence that doesn’t even include the actual identities of those in the crosshairs is bound to result in the collateral deaths of many who are not enemies of the US.

Recall that John Brennan made a power grab in the spring of 2012 to take charge of ordering signature strikes when JSOC told the White House that such strikes were not needed in Yemen. And, of course, Brennan immediately started using this tool as a political cudgel as well as the strategic weapon it was believed to represent. But let’s go for a moment to a part of Greg Miller’s Washington Post article linked above:

The deaths of the hostages follow other recent developments that have revealed divisions among the CIA and other agencies over whether to capture or kill a U.S. citizen.

Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh was recently arraigned in a U.S. court on federal terrorism charges after he was captured by Pakistan and secretly flown to New York. His arrest raised questions about the frequency with which the U.S. government asserts that capturing terrorism suspects is not feasible. The CIA had been pushing to kill Farekh for more than a year before his arrest, current and former U.S. officials said.

Isn’t that interesting? It appears that Farekh was on CIA’s list of targets it would like to have killed in a targeted strike, with part of the justification for killing him being that it wouldn’t be feasible to capture him. And yet the Pakistanis did capture him. And that development points out an even bigger problem with the decision to hit the compound where Weinstein was killed: that compound is in the southern part of North Waziristan. Recall that Pakistan’s offensive to clear the tribal areas of terrorists began last June. See the map embedded in this post where I discussed the beginning of the offensive. Weinstein and Lo Porto were being held in the Shawal Valley, which is at the very southern end of North Waziristan. Miram Shah and Mir Ali, two of the hottest targets for US drone strikes sit in the central part.

Just a little more patience on the part of Brennan and his signature strike shop might have led to a very different outcome. In November, Pakistan’s military claimed that 90% of North Waziristan had been cleared of terrorists. And in the very same week of the strike that killed the hostages, Pakistan noted that the Shawal area was slated for clearing:

During a journalists briefing here, about the current visit of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to Britain, he said operation Zarb-e-Azb was continuing successfully in North Waziristan and many areas including Mir Ali, Mirshah and Dattakhel were cleared of terrorists, many of whom were killed and arrested and their infrastructure was destroyed.

In these troubled areas, militants had set up infrastructure, training and call centres and they were making phone calls to people in other parts of the country for ransom, he added. Before start of the North Waziristan operation, Pakistan informed Afghanistan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), so that they could take action against terrorists who cross over the border.

Operations were continuing along the border areas with Afghanistan, with whom Pakistan had improved its relations and both countries were sharing intelligence, he added. He said in the next few months the remaining areas including Shawal would be cleared.

Although Pakistan’s military is not particularly noted for protecting citizens during these clearing actions in the tribal areas, it still stands out that Weinstein and Lo Porto were killed in Shawal on January 15 and Pakistan announced on the 18th that Shawal was next up for clearing. Would Pakistani forces have rescued the hostages? We will never know.

Even worse, Brennan was supposed to have stopped signature strikes in Pakistan. Returning to the Times article:

The strike was conducted despite Mr. Obama’s indication in a speech in 2013 that the C.I.A. would no longer conduct such signature strikes after 2014, when American “combat operations” in Afghanistan were scheduled to end. Several American officials said Thursday that the deadline had not been enforced.

Brennan will never give up his prized signature strikes. Greg Miller does note, though, that this strike was one of the last ones for “Roger”, who headed the counterterrorism center and was Brennan’s right hand man for signature strikes. But I’m pretty sure that we can count on Brennan to get Roger’s replacement up to speed on his prized tool very quickly.

US Shocked That Islamic State Capable of Military Training

From the context provided in Prothero's article, the guy in the middle is a suicide bomber even though he looks to me more like a member of a ZZ Top tribute band.

From the context provided in Prothero’s article, the guy in the middle is a suicide bomber even though he looks to me more like a member of a ZZ Top tribute band.

The US has been mired in its failed training of “troops” in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long that analysts have now been watching one of the latest Islamic State videos in awe. It turns out that IS has actually managed to institute a few basic military disciplines into its troops and to capture footage of that expertise in action. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero talked to a number of these analysts and collected their comments. As a long-time critic of US training in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was intrigued by what the analysts would consider “good” training and how that would differ from the farces that have been perpetrated by US trainers. My cynic’s eye immediately went to this paragraph:

In several scenes that were filmed under fire, for example, Islamic State fighters moving into the Baiji refinery complex appeared to be employing textbook infantry tactics. They also were carrying not only sufficient ammunition for a military operation but also backpacks stuffed with additional supplies, including water – a sign that the Islamic State has a well oiled logistical network for supporting front-line fighters.

What a shock! Troops fighting in a desert have the foresight to enter battle with water bottles in their backpacks! Now why didn’t the US think of that in training the Iraqis?

Snark aside, though, one of the main points of the article is that IS has managed to develop a logistics network that puts the Iraqis to shame. It turns out that in Iraq (and Afghanistan, for that matter), the “government” that the US has set up is too corrupt and inept for a supply chain to work properly:

The military experts said the video provided a disconcerting comparison with Iraqi government troops. They noted, for example, that the scenes of packs filled with ammunition and food contrast with constant complaints from Iraqi troops that the government regularly fails to deliver ammunition to combat forces and often leaves them in the field to fend for themselves for food and water, a circumstance that can lead to the looting of civilian homes and shops.

It seems pretty clear that Prothero feels that the inability to deliver supplies is at least partly due to corruption. From his Twitter feed last night:

As for where those supplies for IS come from, I’ve seen at least one report of IS stealing and redistributing supplies from relief agencies. It seems logical that if they are doing this, those supplies would also find their way to IS fighters as well as civilians.

Prothero also notes that IS has learned to cover their heavy artillery so that it is harder to see from the air:

The video also revealed that the Islamic State appears to have adapted to American airstrikes. Most of the images of artillery, rocket launchers and even heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on the beds of trucks include a level of camouflage designed to mask the weapons’ positions’ from the air.

Given the constant barrage of US bombs, it’s not too surprising that IS would figure out that they should hide their weapons from jets and drones. Although I’m hardly a weapons expert, one thing that stood out to me about these heavy weapons, though, was the failure to brace against recoil. It seems impossible that IS would have had any kind of accuracy in targeting with the degree of recoil seen in these weapons as shells were fired.

In the end, though, one thing stands out. This propaganda video, for all its purported slick production values and military expertise on display, covers a military operation that eventually failed in the face of those unrelenting US bombs.

New York Times Comes Tantalizingly Close to Admitting “Training” in Iraq Doesn’t Work

Never forget the ass-kissing little chickenshit who has been the driving force most failed training of Iraqi troops.

Never forget the ass-kissing little chickenshit who has been the driving force for most of the failed training of Iraqi troops.

In today’s New York Times, Rod Nordland speaks to a number of US troops currently deployed to Iraq yet again to train Iraqi troops. Shockingly, Nordland comes very close to explaining that the current deployment is likely to be meaningless since the repeated failures of earlier training make it likely that the current round of training also is likely to fail:

The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.

Yes, indeed. We already know that all of the previous rounds of training Iraqi troops failed miserably. That indisputable fact allows Nordland to pose the question of whether this new round of training could be expected to somehow be successful after all those failures. Since the article offers no description of any changes in strategy or methods in this new round of training, it’s hard to see how the answer is anything other than a strong probability that this round of training also will fail.

The catastrophic demise of Iraq’s forces is staggering with the numbers Nordland presents. At its peak, the Iraqi military numbered 280,000. And yet once ISIS advanced, the melting away of multiple whole divisions of troops whittled Iraq down to a force that perhaps was as low as only 50,000. This current training effort, being carried out by 3000 US forces, is expected to add, at best, 30,000 Iraqi troops. Nordland admits, however, that the number is likely to be “far fewer”. Despite this depressing math, Nordland doesn’t get around to pointing out just how little impact such a small increase in Iraqi forces is likely to have even if their training somehow turned out to be successful.

But don’t despair. Our intrepid Speaker of the House is on duty to make sure that we continue repeating our training failures:

Boehner blamed “artificial constraints” on the 4,500 American trainers and advisers to the Iraqi army, suggesting that a slight increase in U.S. troops could occur if the Pentagon’s commanders suggested they were needed to help direct fighting against Islamic State forces. “They’re only there to train and advise the Iraqi army, and the fact is it’s just that – training and advising,” he said, dismissing fears that his proposal would lead to tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops locked in another bloody ground war.

“There’s more that we can do, with limited risk, and it wouldn’t require that many more people,” the speaker said.

“Please,” Boehner seems to be saying, “Let’s get back to a full war in Iraq, but without calling it war.” Presumably because the last one worked out so well.

Postscript: Marcy has been the one tracking maneuvers around the issue of an AUMF (even as recently as yesterday), but the Boehner quote above comes from a larger article about a possible new Iraq AUMF. Boehner is fighting Obama’s proposed AUMF. But he’s fighting it because he doesn’t want Obama to give back some of the unlimited war powers of the Executive:

“Until the president gets serious about fighting the fight, until he has a strategy that makes sense, there’s no reason for us to give him less authority than what he has today, which is what he’s asking for,” Boehner told a group of reporters Tuesday, following his trip with lawmakers to several Middle East hot spots during the congressional recess.

Take that, Mr. President. We won’t give you authority for this war until you ask for even more unfettered power than we already grant you!

Iran’s Description of Incident at Saudi Airport Changes

I’ve been following the recent PR battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran as they square off over Yemen and their other proxy battles across the greater Middle East. Of particular interest has been the accusation by Iran that two Iranian teenage boys were sexually assaulted at an airport as they returned from visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The incident apparently took place in March but took a while to achieve the level of attention it is now commanding. Although Iran now has actually cancelled Umrah trips to Mecca and Medina (these are the lesser trips to the holy sites; Hajj this year will be in September), Iran’s description of the incident has evolved away from certainty that sexual assault took place down to stating that sexual assault was only attempted.

For example, here is the Mehr News announcement of cancellation of Umrah linked above:

In an order to Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati suspended Umrah to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia in protest to sexual assault attempt against two teenage Iranian boys by Jeddah airport security forces.

“I have ordered the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization to suspend the Umrah pilgrimage until the criminals are sentenced and punished,” Ali Jannati asserted.

The airport security agents harassing two Iranian young Hajj pilgrims are kept in custody, Jannati said, adding that Saudi officials had promised to exert maximum punishment on the perpetrators behind the assault at Jeddah airport.

Contrast that description of “sexual assault attempt” with this language from a PressTV article dated April 8:

Iran has submitted a note of complaint to the Saudi government over sexual abuse of two teenage Iranian pilgrims by Saudi officers at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

/snip/

While performing body search on passengers, Saudi officers allegedly took the 14- and 15-year-old teenagers away citing suspicion, sounded off the alarm at the gate, and subjected them to the immorality.

Afkham said Saudi authorities had voiced disgust at the abuse and said its culprits would face religious and legal punishment upon establishment of their crime.

On April 8, then, we have frank “sexual abuse”, but only three days later it went down to the point that PressTV said the boys were “sexually harrassed” rather than abused:

Saudi officers sexually harassed two Iranian teenage boys at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah two weeks ago, prompting Tehran to submit a note of complaint to the Saudi government, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham.

We then go from the April 11 “sexually harrassed” to today’s downgrade to attempted sexual assault. AP’s report on the situation yesterday afternoon noted that just what actually took place is unclear:

The alleged abuse, the details of which have not been publicly disclosed, sparked unauthorized protests at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Saturday. Public anger has grown over the incident, with President Hassan Rouhani ordering an investigation and Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoning a Saudi diplomat for an explanation.

But what actually happened remains unclear. On Monday, a representative of Iran’s top leader on hajj affairs downplayed the case, saying the pilgrims weren’t abused, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

“In the incident, no abuse has happened and the two policemen who attempted abuse were identified and detained by Saudi police,” Ali Ghaziasgar was quoted as saying.

Isn’t it interesting that Iran’s description of the incident didn’t soften until the very day that the “unauthorized” protests took place? Although described as unauthorized, the protests were mentioned by the major Iranian news outlets I scan, so Iran clearly intended to use them to portray Iran as victimized by the Saudis in the incident. But now that the protests have taken place and gotten their attention, we are finding out that no sexual assault likely even took place and the Saudis have placed the two policemen under arrest for attempted assault. It will be very interesting to see what happens at any trial these policemen might face and how each side will portray the outcome.

Given Call for War, Pakistan’s Parliament Chose Peace. Will US Congress Ignore Call for Peace, Choose War?

As Congress here in the US creeps ever closer to amassing a veto-proof margin for war with Iran by keeping sanctions in place even after a final P5+1 agreement would end them, it comes as especially refreshing that Pakistan’s Parliament has expressed clear sentiment against committing troops to a foreign exercise in folly. Especially remarkable is that this blunt refusal in the face of the Saudi request for Pakistani troops in Yemen comes only 13 months after the Saudis were found to have been the source of a critical $1.5 billion infusion of support when Pakistan’s economy was teetering.

Tim Craig gives us the essentials of Parliament’s move:

Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously Friday to remain neutral in the conflict in Yemen, a major blow to Saudi Arabia as it seeks to build support for its offensive against the surging Houthi rebels there.

The parliament’s decision came after five days of debate in which lawmakers expressed major concern that Pakistan’s 550,000-man army could become entangled in an unwinnable conflict.

On Monday, Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said Saudi Arabia had requested that Pakistan send troops, warships and fighter jets to help it battle the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. But several Pakistani political leaders were strongly opposed to the request, saying the crisis in Yemen didn’t pose an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia.

The next paragraphs provide sharp contrast between the US Congress and Pakistan’s Parliament:

Instead, the resolution approved by Pakistan’s parliament warned that the Yemen crisis “could plunge the region into turmoil” if a negotiated peace and settlement was not reached soon.

“This bombing needs to be stopped because, as long as this is happening, the peace process can’t be launched,” Mohsin Khan Leghari, a Pakistani senator, said on the floor of parliament Friday.

A unanimous resolution against involvement in a foreign conflict that points out that Pakistan’s involvement “could plunge the region into turmoil”. Just wow. The US has sown turmoil on so many fronts throughout the Muslim world recently and yet Congress not only doesn’t see their own role in that turmoil but instead are doing their best to overcome the one opportunity we have there of establishing a peace process. I can’t think of a more damning indictment of Congress now than to put this move by Pakistan’s Parliament alongside Congress’ attempt to derail the Iran nuclear agreement. Given a call for war, Pakistan’s Parliament chose peace. Given a call for peace, the US Congress may still choose war.

For more details on the various forces at play in Yemen, this piece by Sophia Dingli at Juan Cole’s blog lays things out clearly.

The full text of the resolution can be found here.

Iran, P5+1 “Succeeded in Making History”

It has been a very long road since the announcement in November of 2013 that a preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations had been made on Iran’s nuclear technology. There have been extensions along the way and times when a permanent deal appeared imminent along with times when no such deal seemed possible. Despite tremendous pressure from Israel and the neocon lobby who lust after a war with Iran, the outlines for a permanent deal are now in place. What remains is to nail down the details by the June 30 deadline when the extensions of the interim agreement expire. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin capture the historic significance of what has been achieved:

We have “found solutions,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif first proclaimed on Twitter on April 2, “Ready to start drafting immediately.”

We have “succeeded in making history,” Zarif said at a press conference here April 2. “If we succeed, it is one of the few cases where an issue of significance is solved through diplomatic means.”

We have “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US President Barack Obama said from the White House rose garden after the deal was announced April 2.

What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable. Jonathan Landay interviewed a number of nuclear experts on the agreement:

On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.

The Agreement

The version of the agreement as released by the US can be read here. Let’s take a look by sections.

The first section addresses the general concept of uranium enrichment. Although hardliners in the US want all enrichment in Iran stopped, it was clear that Iran would never have agreed to stop. But what has been achieved is staggering. Iran will take two thirds of its existing centrifuges offline. Those centrifuges will be placed in a facility under IAEA inspection, so there is no concern about them winding up in an undisclosed facility. Further, only Iran’s original IR-1 centrifuge type will be allowed. That is a huge concession by Iran (everybody knows the IR-1’s suck), as they had been developing advanced centrifuges that are much more efficient at enrichment. Many critics of a deal with Iran had suspected that advanced centrifuges would be a route that Iran would use to game any agreement to increase their enrichment capacity if only the number and not the type of centrifuge had been restricted. Further, Iran will not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years. And the stockpile of 3.67% uranium will be reduced by 97%, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction also will apply for 15 years. This section also carries an outright statement of targeting a breakout time of 12 months to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb. [But as always, it must be pointed out that merely having enough enriched uranium for a bomb does not make it a bomb. Many steps, some of which there is no evidence Iran has or could develop under intense international scrutiny, would remain for making a bomb.]

The next section of the agreement is titled “Fordo Conversion”. Iran’s Fordo site is the underground bunker built for uranium enrichment. Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium at Fordo or to have uranium or any other fissile material present for 15 years. While many have advocated a complete shutdown of Fordo, the agreement provides a very elegant alternative. Fordo will now become a research site under IAEA monitoring. Had the site shut down, where would all of the scientists who work there now have gone? By keeping them on-site and under IAEA observation, it strikes me that there is much less concern about those with enrichment expertise slinking into the shadows to build a new undeclared enrichment facility.

The section on the Natanz facility follows Continue reading

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