The US-led Coalition's ongoing failure to admit to—let alone adequately investigate—the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a "slap in the face" for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust ISIS. On Oct. 17, 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the Coalition's Kurdish-led partners on the ground—announced victory over ISIS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price—almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by Coalition bombardment. In a letter to Amnesty on Sept. 10, 2018, the US Department of Defense made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa, and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.
The "buffer zone" through Syria's northern Idlib province, negotiated by Russia and Turkey to forestall an Assad regime offensive on the opposition-held portion of the province, officially takes effect this week. Rebels began withdrawing heavy weapons from the zone at the start of the month, but said that fighters are remaining. Fighters from designated "radical terrorist groups"—primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—are supposed to withdraw entirely from the zone. HTS initially said it would comply on a "de facto" basis, but the zone is being implemented despite the fact that a deadline has been missed for withdrawal of all its fighters. The zone, some 20 kilometers wide, stretches from Latakia to Aleppo, through Idlib and portions of Hama province. (See map.) (Qantara, Oct. 17; AFP, Oct. 10; BBC News, Oct. 8; EA Worldview, Oct. 7) But Bashar Assad insisted that the so-called "demilitarized zone" is temporary. Addressing the central committee of his Baath Party, Assad reiterated his pledge to retake "every inch" of Syrian territory: "This province and other Syrian territory remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state." (EA Worldview, Oct. 8)
In Episode 20 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the forgotten legacy of libertarian socialism—considered by many today a contradiction in terms. While the word "socialism" is suddenly viewed as legitimate in American political discourse again for the first time in generations, the word "libertarian" continues to be associated with the free-market right—despite its origins on the anarchist left. Weinberg discusses his own involvement in New York's Libertarian Book Club—founded by anarchist exiles from Europe in the 1940s, to keep alive their ideals and pass the torch to a new generation. Libertarian socialists seek inspiration in such historical episodes as the Zapatistas in Mexico (1910-19), Makhnovists in Ukraine (1917-21), Spanish anarchists in Catalonia (1936-7), and Zapatistas in Mexico again (1994-date)—peasants and workers who took back the land and the factories, building socialism from below, without commissars or politburos. Other movements inspired by this vision on the world stage today include anarchist-influenced elements of Syria's civil resistance, and the autonomous zone of northern Syria's Rojava Kurds. Weinberg argues that far from being an irrelevant anachronism, a libertarian socialist vision is necessary for human survival. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar, Oct. 12. The Taliban said in a statement (PDF) that their delegation met with US special adviser for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. The statement said the two sides discussed the prospects for an end to the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, and the return of "true peace" to the country. (Khaama Press, Long War Journal, Oct. 13) These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an Aug. 25 air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. (CNN, Sept. 3) Earlier in August, more than 200 ISIS fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, after a two-day battle that was a decisive victory for the Taliban. (NYT, Aug. 1)
Aymara leader Walter Aduviri was elected governor of Peru's Puno region Oct. 7—just two days after the country's Supreme Court declared void a seven-year prison term against him for "disturbing public order" during a 2011 protest wave in which he was the principal leader. Aduviri had carried out his campaign from hiding, and only emerged from clandestinity with announcement of the high court ruling. He will now face a new trial on the charges related to the so-called "Aymarazo"—an Aymara uprising against an unpopular mineral development project, which was ultimately suspended. His Mi Casita Movement for Regional Integration and Development won 48% of the vote in the race, ahead of the other candidates. It also took several municipal races in Puno region. (El Comercio, Oct. 12)
Protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in New York as the General Assembly met on Oct 1, to demand an end to state-sponsored forced labor in Turkmenistan's cotton industry. The small but spirited protest came as Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov arrived for his first visit to the United States in three years. Each year the government of Turkmenistan forces tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors to pick cotton during the harvest season or else pay a bribe to supervisors to hire a replacement worker, according to protest organizer Cotton Campaign. This takes place under threat of punishment, including public censure, loss of wages from regular jobs and termination of employment. The government treats refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage and "contempt of the homeland."
Eight environmental activists arbitrarily detained in Iran in January and February remain in detention eight months later without clear charges, Human Rights Watch said Oct. 11. The organization called upon Iranian authorities to either immediately release them or charge them with recognizable crimes and produce evidence to justify their continued detention. On Sept. 30, family members said on social media that judicial authorities had told them that the detained environmentalists can only be represented by lawyers from a pre-approved list of 20 that the judiciary had published in June. Authorities have not allowed the detainees access to lawyers of their choice, or set a trial date. "Iran's judiciary is again highlighting its role as key functionaries in a repressive state machinery rather than defenders of justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Even though the environmentalists have spent eight months in pre-trial detention, the authorities have still not come up with a criminal charge against them."
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Oct. 11 that the federal government does not have a responsibility to consult with First Nations before introducing legislation, even in cases when it would impact their lands and livelihood. The 7-2 ruling in Chief Steve Courtoreille et al vs Governor in Council et al ends a challenge by the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Alberta to a 2013 reform of Canada's environmental laws by the administration of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. The reform altered the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, reducing the number of projects that require environmental assessment studies and narrowing the scope of those assessments. The Mikisew Cree contended that the reform violated constitutionally-protected treaty rights of Canada's indigenous First Nations.