Syria
Syrian refugee children

From revolution to genocide: Syria’s grim anniversary

Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II. (Photo of refugee children on Jordanian border: Peter Biro/ECHO via The New Humanitarian)

Syria
Syria oil map

Great powers jockey for control of Syrian oil

In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF is selling oil from the those fields to the Assad regime. This is certainly an absurd irony, as US forces are backing up the SDF in control of the fields. Further evidence that, rhetoric and even official policy notwithstanding, the US is actually tilting to Assad in the Syrian war. The sales would appear to be another bid by the Kurds to win a separate peace with the Assad regime now that they are caught between foreign powers. The bitter irony is that Assad, ultimately, is also hostile to Kurdish autonomy. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Afghanistan
Hazara ceremony

Massacre at Hazara ceremony in Kabul

Gunmen stormed a memorial ceremony honoring a martyred leader of the Hazara Shi’ite minority in Afghanistan’s capital. Key politicians including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were on hand for the commemoration of the Hazara Mujahedeen commander Abdul Ali Mazari, who was assassinated by the Taliban in 1995. At least 27 people were killed in the attack, and some 30 more wounded. Soon after the massacre, the Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility. Shortly after that, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed the attack in a communique, and also asserted that the actual death toll was 150. An ISIS-claimed attack on the same ceremony last year saw a barrage of mortar fire that killed at least 11 people. The new attack comes just as a tentative “peace deal” with the Taliban is raising concerns for the fate of Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious minorities. (Photo of ceremony just before attack via Khaama Press)

Afghanistan
Afghanistan

Will human rights be betrayed in US-Taliban deal?

More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit with the signing in Doha of what is being called a “peace deal” by Washington’s envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. “Intra-Afghan” talks are to follow, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. Amnesty International, however, raised concerns about what the  deal could mean for Afghanistan’s women and religious minorities, urging: “Any peace process involving the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan must not ignore the voice of victims.” (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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)

Africa
ISIS Nigeria

Vigilantism fears in Nigeria’s conflicted north

Traditional rulers in Nigeria’s strife-torn north are warning that vigilante militias now forming to fight Boko Haram are a sign of a generalized social breakdown in the region. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, told a public meeting in Kaduna that the new paramilitaries could themselves metamorphose into terror groups. “Governors must see that they do more to address insecurity, just imagine that there are over 50,000 orphans. They will be worse than Boko Haram if allowed to grow without proper care,” he said. Abubakar is chair of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, but a youth-led Coalition of Northern Groups has emerged outside control of the traditional rulers, and launched a paramilitary network called Shege Ka Fasa to defend against the Islamist militias. (Photo: Sahara Reporters)

Africa
Mozambique displaced

ISIS behind Mozambique insurgency?

The UN refugee agency is boosting its response in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, where a recent escalation of violence has forced thousands to flee for their lives. At least 100,000 people are now displaced throughout the province. There has been a dramatic increase of brutal attacks by armed groups, with recent weeks being the most volatile period since the outbreak began in October 2017. Bands of gunmen have been targeting local villages and terrorizing the populace. Those fleeing report random killings, maiming and torture, torched homes and shops, and crops burned in the fields. There have been reports of beheadings, kidnappings and disappearances of women and children. Several of the attacks have been claimed in the name of the Islamic State. (Photo: UNHCR)

Iraq
yazidi protest

Protest Turkish bombardment of Yazidi territory

The Turkish air force again carried out raids targeting the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia, in the autonomous Sinjar area of Iraq’s Ninevah province. Reports said at least four people were killed, including militia commander Zardasht Shingali. The YBS, aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), played a key role in liberating the Sinjar area from ISIS after the Islamic State’s genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. After the new air-strikes, the Kurdish Freedom Movement umbrella group called for protests against the Turkish aggression in cities across Europe. Demonstrations were reported from Athens, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Marseille, Stockholm and Utrecht. (Photo via The Canary)

Africa
Coalition for the Sahel

France prepares more troops for Sahel

At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region’s growing militarization. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Iran
Syria shepherds

Syria: ‘retaliatory’ massacre after Soleimani killing

More than 20 shepherds were killed in eastern Syria, with pro-opposition activists claiming that Iran-backed militias were responsible. The shepherds were slain in the Maadan area, on the border of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, and also near the line between territory held by the Assad regime and that held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The regime is being massively backed by Iranian forces, and Iran-backed militia units had establsihed checkpoints along the border of the zones of control. The media-activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently claimed that the shepherds were shot and stabbed in retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Damascus state media blamed the massacre on ISIS. Soleimani’s elite Quds Force intervened in Syria to prop up the Assad regime along with Russia in 2015.  (Photo: EA Worldview)

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)

Syria
Syria oil map

Trump lays claim to Syrian oil

Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the US can do “what we want” with the oil-fields it now controls in northeast Syria. This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: “I’ll take the oil”—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon. A military showdown over the oil looms, as all sides to the conflict await the new order that will emerge from the current scramble for northern Syria. A contest between the US and Russian-backed Assadist forces is a terrifying possibility. One restraining factor is that the US holds the fields jointly with Kurdish forces—and Washington, Moscow and Damascus alike are attempting to groom the Kurds as proxies. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)