Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
Syria's last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a "demilitarized zone" policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the "demilitarized zone." Most recently, five civilians were injured April 14 in a regime air-strike on the Idlib villages of Urum al-Jawz and Bsanqul and Jabal al-Arabaeen, outside the town of Ari, within the demilitarized zone. UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva last week that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted.
In Episode 31 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg documents the ugly far-right politics of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and how the 2010 document dump risked the lives of dissidents under authoritarian regimes in places like Zimbabwe—and may have constituted outright collaboration with the repressive dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. An objective reading of the circumstances around the 2016 Wikileaks dump of Democratic Party e-mails reveals Assange as a Kremlin asset and Trump collaborator, an active agent in a Russian-lubricated effort to throw the US elections—part of Putin's grander design to impose a fascist world order. Weinberg also notes that the ACLU and Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements warning that the charges against Assange may pose a threat to press freedom. But he argues that even if we must protest his prosecution, we should do so while refraining from glorifying Assange—and, indeed, while forthrightly repudiating him as a dangerous political enemy of all progressive values. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Russia has announced plans for a "rehabilitation center" in the annexed Crimean Peninsula to "re-educate" Muslims considered to be under the influence of "extremist ideology." The move comes less than a week after Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out raids targeting Crimean Tatars thought to be linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist party that is legal in Ukraine. Detained in the raids were 23 civic activists and journalists, all now facing what monitoring group Human Rights in Ukraine calls "fundamentally flawed charges." Human Rights in Ukraine calls it "profoundly disturbing" that the Crimean Muftiate, or Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea, is apparently cooperating in the "rehabilitation center" plan, which was announced this week by Ruslan Balbek, a member of the State Duma's Social and Religious Organizations Committee. Human Rights in Ukraine calls Balbek "one of the first Crimean Tatars to have collaborated with the Russian occupation regime." The plan is moving ahead despite that fact that Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner pledged last month to review the legality of a 2003 court order labeling Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in 13 countries around the world, including countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. It operates legally in the United States and United Kingdom. (More at Moscow Times)
Libya's weak UN-backed government is bracing for an offensive on Tripoli by the country's strong eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, generally referred to as a "renegade general." Haftar ordered his "Libyan National Army" forces amassed on the outskirts to advance on Tripoli and "conquer" it whether by peaceful means or force. Militias loyal to the "official" government are scrambling to erect defenses. (Libyan Express, Al Jazeera) Tellingly, the newly-formed Western Region coalition of anti-Hafter forces are calling their operation to defend the capital "Wadi [Ouadi] Doum 2." This is a reference to an airstrip built by Qaddafi in northern Chad to support local rebels, where Hafter was defeated and captured by Chadian government forces in 1987, in an operation backed by French support. (Libya Herald) Today, the tables have turned, and both France and Hafter oppose the rebels fighting the current Chadian government. Several hundred fighters from Chad's rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) were expelled from southern Libya by Hafter's LNA last month, and reportedly surrendered to the French-backed Chadian military. (Defense Post)
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) raided the homes of several Crimean Tatars on March 27, officially as part of an investigation of activities linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned as a "terrorist" organization in Russia although operating lawfully in Ukraine. FSB agents carried out at least 25 searches and detained at least 20 people. The searches were conducted in the Crimean capital Simferopol, the nearby village of Strohonivka, and the village of Volodymyrivka in the Bilohirsk district. In Simferopol's Kamyanka district, officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs cordoned off the neighborhood and ordered residents who assembled during the operation to disperse. According to reports, residents were not allowed to enter their homes and their lawyers were not permitted to be present during searches.
In Episode 30 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg decries the unseemly gloating from the (totally predictable) Glen Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and their ilk over the Mueller Report's supposed (not actual) exoneration of Donald Trump. The report actually backs up the 2016 findings of the intelligence community that there was Russian meddling in the eleciton. There have been over 100 indictments issued by Mueller's team, including for lying to Congress about meetings between Trump representatives and Russians. Meanwhile, the results of several other invesitgations and legal cases against Trump and his team remain pending. Yet paradoxical pro-Trump "leftists" ignore all this and echo the intepretation of the Mueller Report put forth by Attorney General William Barr—who was appointed by Trump precisely to protect his ass. Repudiating this Red-Brown pseudo-left jive that abets Trump's lies, Weinberg joins with the ACLU and Robert Reich in calling for the complete and unredacted release of the Mueller Report. And hopefully using its contents to build a mass militant movement such as was seen in South Korea in 2016, to demand the impeachment of the president—or even nullification of the tainted election that brought him to power. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.