Syria
Atmeh

Syria: protests against ex-Nusra rule in Idlib

Protesters gathered in the town of Atmeh in Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province to demand the release of a locally based British aid worker arrested by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Islamist militia formerly known as the Nusra Front that now controls much of the province. Tauqir Sharif, a British Muslim, was working with a grassroots aid and media group called Live Updates from Syria. He was detained by HTS in a raid on his home. Footage of the protest showed many women and children among dozens chanting and holding banners calling for Sharif to be freed. The crowd finally gathered outside the closed gates of a compound guarded by masked militiamen. Demonstrators also protested the closure of education and social services by HTS, chanting “We want schools to open.” (Photo via Middle East Eye)

Iran
Bombardment

Turkey, Iran in coordinated Iraq intervention

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned both the Turkish and Iranian ambassadors to protest military operations both their countries launched on Iraqi territory, in a seemingly coordinated drive against revolutionary Kurdish forces. In a series of raids, Ankara’s warplanes and Tehran’s artillery targeted presumed strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), respectively. Local Kurdish and Yazidi communities reported that fields and woodlands had been set ablaze and families forced to flee by the bombardment. Turkey has also sent a contingent of special forces troops across the border into northern Iraq as a part of the operation, codenamed “Claw Eagle.” The troops are backed up by combat helicopters and drones. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

Watching the Shadows
PNP_Checkpoints

Global COVID-19 police state escalates

Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is openly defying Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing the lockdown. His security forces have arbitrarily detained hundreds in containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the government may not continue using tracking capabilities developed by the internal security service Shin Bet in efforts to contain COVID-19, imposing a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek legislative approval for the practice. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, already threatening to shoot lockdown violators, has escalated to warning of an imminent declaration of martial law. (Photo: Philippine National Police via Wikipedia)

Syria
Idlib ruins

Syria: endgame or escalation?

Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening in Idlib, with over half a million displaced and pouring into camps along the Turkish border. Regime forces this week recaptured Kafranbel, an important symbolic victory, as the town was among the first to rebel against Assad and was long a symbol of the revolution. Regime and Russian aerial bombardment continues to take a horrific toll, with schools and hospitals intentionally targeted.  (Photo: White Helmets)

Afghanistan
Kunar

Afghanistan headed for four-way war?

Five months after Afghanistan’s presidential elections, a winner has finally been declared—the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani. But hours after the announcement, rival Abdullah Abdullah declared himself the victor, claiming irregularities in the vote and calling the results “national treason.” The showdown portends a divided government just as US is attempting to broker a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ostensibly to be followed by “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. In addition to the ongoing war with the Taliban, NATO-backed government forces are continuing to battle the Islamic State’s “Khorasan Province” in Afghanistan. Following a long offensive, President Ghani in November triumphantly declared that ISIS had been “obliterated.” However, air-strikes continue against the group in its remaining stronghold in the Spin Ghar mountains of eastern Kunar province. (Map via Khaama Press)

Iran
soleimani

Trump and Soleimani: clash of barbarisms

Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. In fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a “dirty war” in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. This is why all the media talk (echoing Trump) about how he “killed Americans” reeks of racism and imperial narcissism. However many US troops Soleimani may have been responsible for killing, this was the least of his massive crimes. Similarly, calling him a “terrorist,” implying he was responsible for attacks on Westerners (always the connotation of that label in mainstream Western discourse), is a vast understatement. He was worse than a terrorist: he was a war criminal. And so is Trump—in his destruction of ISIS-held Raqqa and Mosul (which could only have cheered Soleimani), in his targeted-assassination drone strikes, and now in his threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites. (Photo: Iran Briefing)

Iran
Persian Gulf

Trump sends more troops to Persian Gulf

In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait—and hudreds more Marines into Iraq itself. The US and Iran are playing a geo-strategic game for control of Iraq, and the greater region. Both sides are treating the Iraqi people as pawns. As long as ISIS and Sunni jihadists remain a threat, Washington and Tehran can only push things so far. But things could still escalate toward US war with Iran, even if neither side is seeking that outcome. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

North Africa
drone

Drone wars over Libya

With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (Photo of Wing Loong II drone via Xinhua)

Iraq
warplane

Multiple powers still bombing Iraq

Drone strikes targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq near the Syrian border, and in the Fallujah area. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, whch has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. Turkish warplanes meanwhile attacked a village near Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Days earlier, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters wh had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Photo via IraqNews)

Iran
Iran

Oil shock, wider war after Saudi refinery attack?

With some some 5% of the daily global supply wiped out by the drone attack on Saudi facilities, a new oil shock now appears imminent—putting paid to the conventional wisdom that such spikes are a thing of the past due to increased US domestic production. The Persian Gulf reserves remain determinant in global political power. How realistic is the fear of a new shock—or Western military confrontation with Iran? (Map: myket)

Afghanistan
warplane

US allies maintain lead over Taliban in civilian deaths

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a midyear report detailing the 3,812 civilian casualties in Afghanistan since Jan. 1, 2019. According to this report, Afghan government forces and their allies killed 717 civilians, while the Taliban and other militant groups have killed 531 civilians. Nonetheless, there was an overall 27% decrease in civilian casualties from the same period of 2018, with the decrease attributed to a shift away from ground engagements and suicide bombers. Aerial operations continued to be a rising cause of civilian casualties. The report also states that women are disproportionately affected by the ongoing attacks, not only due to loss of life or serious injury, but also secondary effects such as economic insecurity and displacement. In addition, women are at a higher risk of sexual violence and gender-based violence. (Photo: USAF)

Iran

Iran bombs Iraqi Kurdistan

Following recent Turkish air-strikes on the border area of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Iranian artillery and drones struck a village in Sidakan district of Erbil province, killing one civilian and wounding two more. The mayor of Sidakan said a young girl who was working in the fields outside the hamlet of Dere was killed in the attacks, and her two bothers wounded. Orchards and pastures were also set ablaze in the strikes. Sidakan has frequently come under attack by Turkish warplanes targeting presumed strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Iranian attack was apparently aimed at an allied Kurdish armed group that opposes Tehran, the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). (Photo via Al Monitor)