Baghdad’s irregular Hashd al-Shaabi militia has joined with the National Defense Forces, one of the Assad regime’s paramilitary militias, to conduct “sweeps” along the Iraqi-Syrian border for remnant ISIS cells. These are both sectarian Shi’ite formations backed by Iran. The use of such sectarian militias has been concomitant with widespread abuses of the Sunni population of the region. Human Rights Watch is now urging the Iraqi government to reject a plan for the indefinite detention of whole families with suspected ISIS affiliations. Under the plan, up to 300,000 could be interned in camps in the desert. (Photo: Defense Post)
The final defeat of ISIS in Syria’s northeast has left many Arab-majority areas of the region under occupation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a situation obviously fraught with risk. Over the past weeks, protests have mounted in Arab villages across Deir ez-Zor province against the SDF, with residents demanding better services, employment and a greater role in decision-making. Finally, SDF fighters opened fire on protesters in the village of Shheil, killing one person. The protest came after an overnight raid in the village, in which SDF fighters besieged a neighborhood and killed six people. (Image via Rudaw)
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo, which quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry. The clash followed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel’s attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Photo via Syria Call)
The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax with the suicide of ex-president Alan García as he was being arrested over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. García’s last presidency was most significantly marked by Peru’s entrance into the Free Trade Agreement with Washington, and harsh repression against the indigenous protest wave that this set off. This repression was notoriously punctuated by the Bagua massacre of June 2009, when National Police troops attacked an indigenous roadblock—known as the “Amazon’s Tiananmen Square Massacre.” The grievances that animated the 2009 protests are still very much alive—and sparking renewed militant action by indigenous Amazonians. (Photo: La Mula)
Syria’s last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a “demilitarized zone” policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the “demilitarized zone.” UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi reports that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted. (Photo via EA Worldview)
In an amusingly grim development, Donald Trump formally designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization,” and Tehran’s Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by declaring the Pentagon’s Central Command a “terrorist organization.” Both moves mark a first, applying the designation to government entities. The perverse irony, of course, is that both Trump and Tehran can be seen as perfectly correct. Left-secular forces in the Middle East have long decried that the region is caught between two poles of terrorism—that of political Islam and that of US imperialism. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are complicit with “sectarian cleansing” of Sunni Muslims in Syria. CENTCOM’s warplanes meanwhile virtually destroyed the city of Raqqa in the battle against ISIS—with civilian casualties nearly doubling after Trump took over. Yet in Iraq, the US and Iran were in a de facto alliance—both supporting Baghdad and fighting ISIS. And indeed, given Washington’s growing tilt to Assad in the Syrian war, an element of this alliance can be seen there as well. That’s why they call it a Great Game.
Despite his boast to have “ended” the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico’s new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug “National Guard” drawing from the military and police forces. Use of the military in drug enforcement was already shot down by the Supreme Court, but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is going around the judiciary by changing the constitution. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and meanwhile the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Libya’s weak UN-backed government is bracing for an offensive on Tripoli by the country’s strong eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, generally referred to as a “renegade general.” Haftar ordered his forces amassed on the outskirts to advance on Tripoli and “conquer” it whether by peaceful means or force. Militias loyal to the “official” government are scrambling to erect defenses. This comes weeks after hundreds of Chadian rebel fighters were expelled from southern Libya by Hafter’s forces, and reportedly surrendered to Chad’s French-backed military. Already backed by Russia, Haftar now appears to be making a bid for French support as the man who can bring stability to Libya.
In Episode 30 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg decries the unseemly gloating from the (totally predictable) Glen Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and their ilk over the Mueller Report’s supposed (not actual) exoneration of Donald Trump. The report actually backs up the 2016 findings of the intelligence community that there was Russian meddling in the eleciton. There have been over 100 indictments issued by Mueller’s team, including for lying to Congress about meetings between Trump representatives and Russians. Meanwhile, the results of several other invesitgations and legal cases against Trump and his team remain pending. Yet paradoxical pro-Trump “leftists” ignore all this and echo the intepretation of the Mueller Report put forth by Attorney General William Barr—who was appointed by Trump precisely to protect his ass. Repudiating this Red-Brown pseudo-left jive that abets Trump’s lies, Weinberg joins with the ACLU and Robert Reich in calling for the complete and unredacted release of the Mueller Report. And hopefully using its contents to build a mass militant movement such as was seen in South Korea in 2016, to demand the impeachment of the president—or even nullification of the tainted election that brought him to power. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Turkish police conducted raids on 127 homes in Istanbul and arrested at least 53 people, including all candidates for the city council with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The sweeps come less than 24 hours before nationwide local elections commence. In southern Sanliurfa province, police arrested 11 other HDP candidates and campaigners on supposed “terrorism-related” charges. Some 30 more HDP candidates and supporters were arrested in the cities of Adana, Van, and Igdir. The government accuses the HDP of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and 10 lawmakers, 40 mayors and thousands of activists remain behind bars. Before the raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the accusation and called the party “terror lovers.”
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist, was released from prison after serving a five-year term. A prominent blogger and software engineer, he was once described by authorities as “the icon of the revolution” that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He was arrested in November 2013 on charges of organizing an illegal protest. Fattah’s release will not bring him complete freedom, as he will be required to sleep at a police station each night for five years and will be under close police surveillance.
A social leader seeking restitution for local peasants displaced by a hydroelectric mega-project in the Brazilian Amazon was slain by unknown assailants in an attack on her home. Dilma Ferreira Silva, 47, was a leader of the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams, MAB), founded after construction of the massive Tucuruí hydro project on the Río Tocantins. Built during Brazil’s military dictatorship, the project resulted in the forced displacement of some 30,000 local residents. She was slain along with her husband and a family friend when men arrived on motorcycles at their home in the settlement of Salvador Allende, Baião municipality, Pará state. The three were overpowered, tied up, and stabbed to death.