ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have fled to Afghanistan via Iran, to escape "Operation Roundup," a final offensive against remnant Islamic State pockets in Syria's eastern desert. The operation was launched last week by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Baghdadi is believed to have reached Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. According to Pakistani security sources, Baghdadi crossed through the Iranian border city of Zahedan. The sources claimed Baghdadi received protection from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as he passed through the country's territory. ISIS now holds only three towns in Syria—Hajin, a-Baghouz and al-Sussa, all close to the Iraqi border.
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Algerian Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 protests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morocco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.
The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights reported Dec. 5 that over the past days some 1,400 migrants, mainly from West Africa, were taken from their homes in Algiers by riot police—including children, pregnant women, asylum-seekers, refugees. Some were injured in the raids, and most were taken to a holding center outside the city. A convoy of 11 buses is already reported to have left Algeirs for Tamanrasset in the south, presumably to expel the detained across the border to Mali. Algerian authorities warned at the end of September that they intended to expel tens of thousands of migrants. Recent weeks have seen clashes in southern Algeria between migrants and local residents. (BBC World Service)