Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
War Watch May 24 - 25 , 2014 -- Syria in focus......US-Armed Rebels Shell Syrian Election Rally, Killing 39 Rebels Say Rallies 'Very Provocative' , Syria Direct Updates ( Syria government forces close in on Aleppo Central Prison / Kurd turn off water in Hasaka - NE Syria / ICC prosecutions sougt by Syria alleged moderates ) .......... Iran in focus -- IAEA Confirms: Iran Sharply Reducing Uranium Stockpile 20 Percent Enriched Uranium Almost Used Up ........ Afghanistan in focus - violence ahead of the June run off vote , CICA Summit widely covered , Wikileaks discloses widespread recordings of Afghan calls
Syria’s rebels have made no bones about their opposition to the upcoming Syrian election, and met today’s election rally in the southern city of Deraa with mortar fire,killing at least 39 people, many civilians, and wounding over 200 others.
The US-armed Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed credit for the attack, saying they considered campaign rallies a “very provocative” move and had warned civilians not to take part.
As the election campaign picks up across the government-held parts of Syria, rebels seem likely to try to disrupt such events, but the large number of civilian deaths sparked criticism from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The US has not addressed today’s attack, but has repeatedly hyped its increased weapons provision to the FSA as “carefully vetted” rebels. It is unclear if the mortar bomb used in today’s attack was provided by the US, or one of the other nations backing the rebels.
Syrian government forces reached the outskirts of Aleppo Central Prison on Thursday, with conflicting reports emerging on whether the army has actually entered the regime-held prison, which since early 2013 has been encircled by rebel groups.
“Regime forces and loyalist fighters were able to enter Aleppo Central Prisonearly this morning,” reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Thursday. Pro-opposition Halab News denied the reports, but acknowledged Wednesday that the Syrian army had advanced to within striking distance of the prison, claiming the town of Hailan, “the last point separating [the regime] from Aleppo Central Prison.”
Opposition activists echoed the denial that the prison itself had fallen. “They absolutely haven’t entered the prison,” said Ahmed al-Ahmed, an independent activist in Aleppo who claims to be in contact with sources in and around the prison. “Some are saying the army has reached the prison, others say they haven’t,” Mohammad al-Hadi, an Aleppo-based correspondent with the pro-opposition Sham News Network told Syria Direct.
Since early last year, the government facility has been encircled by a coalition of rebel groups headed by the Islamic Front, Jabhat a-Nusra and Jaish al-Mujahideen. The rebels are seeking to liberate hundreds of government prisoners and consolidate control over an alternate supply road from the city of Aleppo into northern Aleppo province.
Government forces have reached the outskirts of rebel-encircled Aleppo Central Prison. Photo courtesy of @eldorar1.
Kurds reportedly turn off water in Hasaka
Kurdish fighters reportedly cut the water supply to the entire northeastern Syrian city of al-Hasaka on Thursday, according to the independent al-Hasaka News Center (HNC), as fighting continued for a second consecutive day between Kurdish militias and the pro-Assad National Defense Forces.
Kurdish militias “stopped the flow of water to all of al-Hasaka city,” reported the HNC on its Facebook page Thursday, without explaining how it happened. The news comes after Kurdish fighters claimed control of the provincial capital’s water management center during clashes with NDF forces on Tuesday.
The news coincided with reports from Kurdish media Thursday that an improvised explosive device had targeted a school in the neighborhood of a-Salihiya. The fighting, which began Tuesday in east al-Hasaka neighborhood, spread Wednesday to residential areas north and south of the city, according to Attiyeh al-Attiyeh, a pro-Assad journalist based in al-Hasaka.
Fighting between the Kurds and pro-Assad forces has been rare despite the Kurds’ growing military profile, as both sides battle ISIS for control of Syria’s northeast.
Coalition wants ICC prosecutions
The Syrian National Coalition announced Wednesday that it had penned a letter to the United Nations endorsing a Security Council resolution, signed by 58 countries and slated for a vote Thursday, to refer Syria’s civil war to the International Criminal Court. “The Syrian people demand justice, and they look to the Security Council to help fulfill it,” reads the letter signed by Dr. Najib Ghadbian, the Coalition’s Special Representative to the United Nations.
Moscow has vowed to vetothe French-drafted resolution, with Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin calling the vote “simply a publicity stunt which will have a detrimental effect, unfortunately, on our joint efforts in trying to resolve politically the crisis in Syria.”
Many of the contents of the IAEA report on Iran were already leaked the day before it came out, and the good news of Iran abiding by the P5+1 interim nuclear deal was as expected. There’s more to the report, however.
One of the biggest pieces of data in the report shows Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, the highest level they made, has sharply fallen as the nation continues to convert it into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
Though 20 percent is far short of the level needed for nuclear weapons, it was repeatedly pushed by the US as a “threat,” and Iran stopped enriching at that level at the start of the nuclear deal. Only about 40 kg are left to be converted to fuel rods, a trivial amount.
The Tehran Research Reactor, built by the US in 1967, provides materially all of the medical isotopes in Iran. The aging facility will eventually be replaced with a modern one using unenriched uranium, but in the meantime Iran has created what seems to be all of the fuel rods it can use for the conceivable lifespan of the facility.
Iran is now only enriching to 3.5 percent, the level used in the Bushehr Power Plant. Iran is in talks with Russia to build more power plants in the nation, with a deal for as many as 8 reported to be close.
Taliban take dozens of Afghan police hostage
Officials say the armed group has kidnapped 27 policemen in a siege in the northeastern Badakhshan province.
Last updated: 22 May 2014 19:52
Taliban fighters have kidnapped 27 police officers during a siege in northeast Afghanistan, officials say.
The 27 officers who were captured on Thursday were hiding in a cave during the Taliban attack on Wednesday in Yamgan district, General Fazeluddin Ayar, the police chief in Badakhshan province, said.
The Taliban took the officers hostage and police have launched an effort to try and find them, Ayar said. Some 50 other officers in the district hiding in the area escaped, he added.
The armed group claimed responsibility for the attack in a message to media. The fighters routinely execute security forces they capture. Taliban's summer campaign
The fighting started late on Tuesday and lasted into Wednesday. Reinforcements were sent to the site, but the police were forced to pull back from the area and were fighting the Taliban forces from surrounding mountains as army helicopters flew overhead, said the general.
He added that five fighters were killed, and three policemen were wounded. The Taliban said its fighters had raised the movement's white flag above the district headquarters. Fighting and attacks by the Taliban intensifies every year as the weather in the region becomes better.
However, the interior minister said that the warmer weather was advantageous to both sides: "The summer season is not only suitable to the enemies but to Afghan forces as well. They don't need tents, sleeping bags or heaters."
Badakhshan province nestled in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges and bordering China, is one of the most remote areas in the country. It is also where a recent landslide in the province killed hundreds in a rural village.
The Taliban have pledged to disrupt voting as Afghans prepare for a second round of presidential elections on June 14. The first round was relatively peaceful, but no candidate won a majority forcing a runoff vote between the top two candidates - Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
WASHINGTON--(ENEWSPF)--May 23 - The National Security Agency has been recording and storing nearly all the domestic (and international) phone calls from two or more target countries as of 2013. Both the Washington Post and The Intercept (based in the US and published by eBay chairman Pierre Omidyar) have censored the name of one of the victim states, which the latter publication refers to as country "X".
Both the Washington Post and The Intercept stated that they had censored the name of the victim country at the request of the US government. Such censorship strips a nation of its right to self-determination on a matter which affects its whole population. An ongoing crime of mass espionage is being committed against the victim state and its population. By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimisation, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere. Pre-notification to the perpetrating authorities also permits the erasure of evidence which could be used in a successful criminal prosecution, civil claim, or other investigations.
We know from previous reporting that the National Security Agency’s mass interception system is a key component in the United States’ drone targeting program. The US drone targeting program has killed thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law. The censorship of a victim state’s identity directly assists the killing of innocent people.
Although, for reasons of source protection we cannot disclose how, WikiLeaks has confirmed that the identity of victim state is Afghanistan. This can also be independently verified through forensic scrutiny of imperfectly applied censorship on related documents released to date and correlations with other NSA programs (see http://freesnowden.is).
We do not believe it is the place of media to "aid and abet" a state in escaping detection and prosecution for a serious crime against a population.
Consequently WikiLeaks cannot be complicit in the censorship of victim state X. The country in question is Afghanistan.
The Intercept stated that the US government asserted that the publication of this name might lead to a ’rise in violence’. Such claims were also used by the administration of Barack Obama to refuse to release further photos of torture at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
While one might seriously question the moral exceptionalism which would deny another nation and its people the right to react to a mass rights infringement in a manner of its own choosing, such claims of risk by the US government have in any event consistently fallen short.
WikiLeaks has years of experience with such false or overstated claims made by US officials in their attempts to delay or deny publication.
In 2010, the US State Department falsely claimed that WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables would "place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals." The Pentagon also repeatedly made such false claims.
To this day we are not aware of any evidence provided by any government agency that any of our eight million publications have resulted in harm to life.
In 2013 US officials admitted under oath that they had been unable to find any such evidence. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that the US government’s reaction to our publications had been "significantly overwrought".
The United States government’s claims to the media lack credibility. Not only has it not bothered to contact WikiLeaks pre-publication in this matter, it has been aware of the material obtained by Edward Snowden for almost a year. Almost every office in Washington DC has specifically been aware of the material relating to the censored victim country since at least March 18, 2014, when the Washington Post issued a front page story on the subject (with the identity of Afghanistan censored). It is the US government’s "responsibility" to protect its assets. It has had an egregious amount of time to do so. Given the above we believe any ongoing perceived risks to be fanciful or willfully embraced by the US goverment. But we also reject the implication that it is the role of the international press to protect US assets from arrest for the mass infringement of the rights of another nation’s people.
BEIRUT // Bashar Al Assad’s troops broke a year-long rebel siege of Aleppo’s main prison on Thursday, cutting a main insurgent supply line and vowing to press on and recapture the whole of Syria’s biggest city.
State television showed soldiers inside the prison after they routed Al Qaeda and other Islamist forces who had tried several times in recent months to break into the jail and free thousands of prisoners.
The military gain comes 12 days before a presidential election widely expected to deliver a landslide victory — and seven more years in power — for Mr Al Assad, whose forces have been cementing his control over the centre of the country.
The military said the fighting around the prison, about 8 kilometres north-east of Aleppo, had cut a supply line linking the rebel-dominated rural hinterland with the contested city.
“It represents a heavy blow to these groups that were using the countryside as a base to target Aleppo and its population,” the military said.
The military command was determined to “hit the terrorist groups with an iron fist and restore security and stability to Aleppo city and every inch of the country”.
Mr Al Assad’s forces and rebels have been fighting for two years in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub before the start of its three-year civil war, and the countryside around it.
Television pictures from inside the prison complex showed dozens of bearded and weary soldiers, who had held out against 13 months of rebel siege, standing behind grey sandbags and celebrating the arrival of the relief troops.
They also showed prisoners, men and women, behind bars in long rows of cells.
Rebels, including fighters from Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra, have tried repeatedly to storm the prison, breaching its outer walls with huge bombs but failing to take full control.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 3,000 inmates were held at the Aleppo jail, including Islamists and other political prisoners as well as common criminals.
It said the air force continued to bombard rebels near the prison with barrel bombs on Thursday, a third day of heavy fighting after they launched an offensive on Tuesday to push back the insurgents.
The Britain-based, pro-opposition Observatory, which monitors the violence in Syria through a network of activists and medical and military sources, says more than 162,000 people have been killed in the civil war, which grew out of protests against Mr Al Assad’s rule in March 2011.
Mr Al Assad’s forces, backed by Shiite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, have pushed back rebels around the capital Damascus and the city of Homs, strengthening his hold over a chain of cities running along Syria’s north-south axis.