June 28, St. Vitus' Day, marks a century since the Serb nationlist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, thereby starting World War I. Commemorations in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, the scene of the 1914 assassination, were predictably—indeed, inevitably—contested by the two political entities that make up contemporary Bosnia: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, supported by Muslims and Croats, and the Republika Srpska or Serb Republic. (See map.) The Institute for War & Peace Reporting notes that the commemorations were boycotted by Serb leaders, who instead held an alternative event in the Republika Srpska. Aleksandar Vucic, prime minister of Serbia, charged that what was supposed to be a joint commemoration had been co-opted by the Federation. Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic said the event amounted to an "accusation" against his people. Nebojsa Radmanovic, Serb member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency, declined his invitation in a letter to Austria's President Heinz Fischer, stating that the Sarajevo city government had abused the commemoration and "subordinated its meaning to the context of the 1990s civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21)
President Obama said June 19 that he is prepared to send up to 300 US military advisors to Iraq to help government forces beat back the ISIS militants that have seized up to a third of the country. In a national address, Obama said the US team will assess how best to "train, advise and support" Iraqi forces—and that the new advisors will be "prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine the situation on the ground requires it." But he emphasized: "American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well." (Chicago Tribune, ABC, June 19) We noted at the time that the supposed US "withdrawl" from Iraq in 2011 was largely fictional, with thousands of military contractors and hundreds of "advisors" to stay behind. While news accounts have not made clear how many "advisors" are already in Iraq, Obama referred to the new force as "additional military advisors." (AP) The phrase "targeted and precise military action" makes clear that the distinction between "advisors" and "combat forces" is also largely fictional.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria on June 17 warned the UN Human Rights Council that the continuing civil war in Syria has "reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region." The Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011 to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law during the Syria conflict. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the Commission, condemned the international response to the conflict in Syria, stating:
A May 20 Reuters report picked up by Israel's dialy Ha'artez portrays Lebanon's government as having basically thown in the towel on cannabis eradiction in the Bekaa Valley, apparently afraid of the war spilling across the border from neighboring Syria. Towns in the Bekaa were hit by rocket fire last year, and the valley continues to be shaken by periodic sectarian attacks related to the fighting across the border in Syria. During Lebanon's own 1975-1990 civil war, the fertile Bekaa Valley produced up to 1,000 tons of hashish annually, before production was nearly stamped out under an aggressive eradication program. "From the 1990s until 2012, cannabis eradication took place on an annual basis," Col. Ghassan Shamseddine, head of Lebanon's drug enforcement unit, told Reuters. "But in 2012...it was halted because of the situation on the Lebanese borders and the instability in Syria."
Now comes the disturbing news that a Frenchman arrested in the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum had traveled to Syria as an insurgent and is apparently linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Police in Marseille arrested the suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, after he arrived on a bus from Amsterdam May 30. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he had an automatic weapon like that used in the Brussels attack, and ballistics analysis is underway to determine if it is the same weapon. The rifle was reportedly wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of ISIS. Police in Belgium meanwhile say the suspect had tried to film the May 24 killings, but his camera failed. Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: "The new elements in this investigation draw attention once more to the problem of the 'returnees'—in other words the people going to Syria to participate in combat and return afterward to our country. All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem." (AP, June 1) The days since the arrest have seen more raids on suspected "returnees" in France. Four were arrested in the Paris area and southern France on suspicion of recruiting militants to fight in Syria. Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve told Europe 1 radio: "There are people who recruit jihadists... We are acting everywhere. There will be no respite in the fight against terrorists." (BBC News, June 2)
Well, this is rich. Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have referred the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). More than 60 countries supported the French-drafted text calling for an investigation into "likely" war crimes committed by regime forces or "non-State armed groups." (BBC News, May 22) Will all those on the "anti-war" left in the West who called for ICC action "instead of" military action (as if ICC action would stop Bashar Assad from killing his people) now protest this? Just asking, Kevin Zeese. We feel we should add a parenthetical "(sic)" after the phrase "anti-war," because those who oppose any pressure on the Assad regime are of course enabling an actually existing war that has now cost more than 150,000 lives. Repetition of the mantra that "the USA is not the world police" is worse than meaningless when accompanied by silence over the blocking of UN and ICC efforts to hold mass-murderers accountable, which effectively means the world order is set by thugs.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on May 13 that it has strong evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons on three rebel-held towns in northern Syria last month. The announcement reveals results of a two-week investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into the alleged chemical warfare. HRW asserts that evidence strongly indicates that the Syrian government dropped "barrel bombs" containing cylinders full of chlorine gas from helicopters into Keferzita, al-Teman'a and Telmans, three towns in northern Syria, between April 11 and 21. HRW also alleges that the attacks were targeted at civilians and that doctors treating the victims reported eleven deaths and approximately 500 injuries. A chemical warfare agents expert stated that information obtained through witness interviews and videos of the incidents "strongly support" the use of chlorine gas in the attacks. Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy director of its Middle East and North Africa division, condemned the use of chlorine gas as a weapon emphasizing that it is a violation of an international treaty that Syria joined last year. Houry recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Syrian government is suspected of the attacks, in part because it is the only party to the unrest with access to the necessary aircraft.