The Assad regime is now said to be in full control of the Damascus area for the first time since 2012, with the fall of Yarmouk, the long-besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside the capital. Under another "surrender deal," resistance fighters were allowed to flee to rebel-held Idlib governorate in the north, although those apparently affiliated with ISIS were provided transportation to unspecified locations in Syria's eastern desert. It is clear that many of the camp's civilian residents are also choosing to evacuate, fearing reprisals from the regime. Some 7,000 have been displaced from camp, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some of these had already fled to pockets of rebel control around the Damascus area which have since also fallen to regime forces, and their fates remain uncertain. Reports are already emerging of looting and pillaging of abandoned properties by regime troops and their militia allies. (MEM, Al Bawaba, Madamasr.com, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria)
Iraq's first parliamentary elections since the defeat of ISIS were supposed to herald a return of stability to the country after 15 years of practically incessant war since the US invasion of 2003. But turn-out in the May 12 poll was at a mere 44%—a record low since 2003. And candidates were openly aligned with foreign powers playing for influence in Iraq. Incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, appears to be squeaking past more populist tickets seen to be in the sway of Iran. These include the State of Law coalition of current vice president and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who darkly warned that the results could be "rigged through electronic devices" as the returns started to come in. The ruling Dawa Party split into rival coalitions as Abadi and Maliki fell out, and a special law was passed in parliament allowing one party to run in competing lists. A third list, Fatah—headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigades paramilitary militia—is considered solidly pro-Tehran. But the surprise so far is the strong showing of the Sairoon (Marchers) bloc, led by Shi'iite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in an unlikely alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party. Independent of outside powers, Sadr played to resentment against the cronyism and corruption endemic to both factions of Dawa.
US special forces have been deployed to Saudi Arabia to help locate and destroy ballistic missiles and launch sites used by Houthi rebels in Yemen, a news report has claimed. A team of Green Berets, the US army’s special forces, deployed to the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen in December, in the wake of missile attacks by Houthi rebels targeting the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the New York Times reported May 3. The special forces team is said to be working with US intelligence analysts based in the city of Najran, near the border, to help locate missile sites in Yemen. It is also training Saudi forces to better defend the border, the report claims, citing interviews with unnamed officials from the US as well as European and Arab nations. The US commandos, reported to number around 12, are using surveillance aircraft to track the movement of Houthi missiles and launch sites. There is no indication the special forces have crossed into Yemen, the report said. (Middle East Eye, May 4)
Reports have been mounting for months that Assad is replacing those (mostly Sunni Arabs) displaced from his reconquered territories with Iranians and Iraqi Shi'ites, in a form of "sectarian cleansing." Now come reports that Turkey is replacing the Kurds displaced from its conquered "buffer zone" in Syria's north with those displaced by Assad—specifically, the Kurdish residents who fled the town of Afrin are being replaced by Sunni Arabs that fled Eastern Ghouta, according to Middle East Eye. Alarmingly, the Kurdish YPG militia tweeted in reference to the Ghouta displaced now resettled in Afrin: "We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces." (Emphasis added.) The tweet was apparently deleted after an outcry, but a screenshot of it remains online. The Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria that we have long warned of now seems to be arriving.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 2 approved the death penalty for 10 condemned militants, including those convicted in the 2016 slaying of Amjad Sabri, one of the country's most revered singers of qawwalii, traditional Sufi devotional music. The accused, who were tried by special military courts, were held responsibile in a total of 62 deaths, also including those at the 2009 bombing of Peshawar's Pearl Continental Hotel. Sabri, 45, was on his way to a televised Ramadan performance in Karachi when his car was attacked. He was the son of renowned qawwal Ghulam Farid Sabri of the Chishti Sufi order, who was himself honored this week across Pakistan and India on the 24th anniversary of his death.. Amjad Sabri's widow, Nadia Sabri, said she could not understand why her husband was killed. “He was a man who praised Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him),” she said. The Hakimullah Masood faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sabri. (UrduPoint, April 5; PTI, Samaa, April 2)
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
A coordinated attack on a compound of the Afghan army in capital Kabul left at least 11 soldiers dead Jan. 29, authorities report. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the barracks of the army's 111th division in Qargha district before a small team of gunmen moved in. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. This was the third large attack in Kabul since Jan. 20, when Taliban insurgents launched an assault on the Intercontinental Hotel that left over 20 dead. The second attack came Jan. 27, when presumed Taliban militants detonated an ambulance packed with explosives near an Interior Ministry compound, killing over 100. Another six people were killed in an assault claimed by ISIS on the office of aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. (Khaama Press, NPR, Reuters)
Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.