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. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. 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. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
Drone strikes on Sept. 27 targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq, at al-Bukamal near the Syrian border. Hours later, a second attack struck a base in the Fallujah area used by the same militia force. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, which has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. (Haaretz, ToI) On Sept. 24, Turkish warplanes attacked the Chamanke area of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Rudaw) On Sept. 10, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters who had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Iraq News, Stars & Stripes)
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged Aug. 24, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. Three were said to be killed in the attack, suposedly launched to head off a planned Quds Force drone attack on West Bank settlements. (Jerusalem Post) Two days later, an Israeli drone struck a supposed compounds of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-aligned faction, in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun called the attacks a "declaration of war." (Jerusalem Post)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a midyear report July 30 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 being attributed to a shift away from ground engagements and suicide bombers. Aerial operations continue 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.
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 on July 10, 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).
So Iran shot down a US Navy Global Hawk surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz June 20, with the two sides at odds over whether it was within Iranian airspace. Trump now tweets that he was on the verge of ordering retaliatory strikes on Iranian bases when he called it off the following day due to concern about the likely death toll of some 150. We are again expected to believe that Donald "bomb the shit out of 'em" Trump is a hippie pacifist at heart. The same guy who just weeks earlier vetoed a Congressional resolution calling for the withdrawal of US military forces from Yemen, and whose bombing campaign against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq jacked up an horrific toll in civilian casualties.
Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which are said to have caused damage but no casualties, Trump has dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf, and ordered a partial evacuation of US diplomatic staff from Iraq. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom's energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and "sectarian cleansing" in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let's hope that Trump's mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime.