Iraq: disaster feared as Mosul campaign launched

UN humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq are bracing for what could be a displacement catastrophe of massive proportions as the US-led offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS is launched. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that up to one million people may be forced from their homes in the operation, which is expected to last months. (UN News Centre) The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Fillippo Grandi arrived in Erbil Oct. 17 to discuss preparations for the anticipated deluge. (Rudaw) With fighting now underway on the outskirts of the city, at least 2,000 residents have massed on the border with Syrian Kurdistan, hoping to cross over to safety. Another estimated 3,000 Mosul residents have arrived at an IDP camp near Hasakah in northern Syria. (BasNews)

Narco-fascism in the Philippines?

The Philippines' new ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte just took things to a new level. He had previously compared himself to genocidal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in pledging to unleash a reign of terror on drug users and dealers. But on Sept. 30, he actually invoked Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as a favorable model for what he intends to do in his own country. "Hitler massacred three million Jews," Duterte told reporters. "Now, there are three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them." He said thusly purging the Philippines would "save the next generation from perdition." (Reuters, Oct. 1; PhilStar, Sept. 30)

Yemen and Syria: fearful symmetry

Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.

Colombians re-mobilize for peace

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Oct. 9 that he will donate the money from his Nobel Peace prize to assist the victims of the 52-year civil war in his country. He was awarded the prize for reaching a peace agreement with the FARC rebels, despite the accord being rejected by Colombian voters in a plebiscite last week. Some 260,000 have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. (BBC News, Oct. 9) Medellin, which voted "No" to the peace accord only five days earlier, saw a massive march to demand peace on Oct. 7, the day the peace prize was announced. Several such marches were held around the country, but the one in Medellín was especially significant; the city is one of the main electoral bastions of former president Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" campaign. Marchers chanted "Antioquia is not Uribe." (Colombia Reports, Oct. 8)

Philippines: more Duterte death-squad links revealed

President Rodrigo Duterte's ultra-hardline anti-drug policies took center-stage in the Philippines in mid-September as the country's Senate held televised hearings on the matter. By now, the National Police force has acknowledged that its troops have killed 1,506 suspected drug dealers or users since Duterte took office in June. (Amnesty International, adding those killed by unaccountable "vigilantes," puts the figure at 3,000.) Duterte openly boasts that the killings will continue. The hearings heard impassioned testimony both for and against this lawless crackdown.

More US troops to Iraq —on whose side?

The Pentagon plans to send some 600 additional troops to Iraq to help launch a long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS in the coming weeks. Added to the 560 new troops announced in July, this will bring total US troop strength in Iraq to over 5,000. Most of the new troops will be deployed to Qayyarah, an Iraqi air-base also known as Q-West, about 40 miles south of Mosul that has become the key staging base for the offensive. Some also will be deployed to the al-Asad base, which is further west in Anbar province. (LAT, Sept. 28)

Colombia: FARC peace deal signed in Cartagena

Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko"  to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country." 

Colombia: official apology for 'political genocide'

In a public ceremony in Bogotá, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos asked forgiveness for the state's role in the systematic killings of leftist activists in the 1980s. The ceremony at the presidential palace Sept. 15 was attended by surviving members of the Patriotic Union, some wearing shirts in the yellow colors of the recently reorganized party, with the slogan "They can cut the flowers, but they can't stop the birth of spring." Some 3,000 members of the short-lived political party were slain by right-wing paramilitary forces in what has been termed a "political genocide." Said Santos in his remarks at the ceremony: "This tragedy should have never occurred. The persecution of members of the Patriotic Union was a tragedy that led to its disappearance as an organization and caused untold damage to thousands of families and our democracy." (AP, Sept. 16)

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