Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Isis

Why Israel decided Not to intervene in Hezbollah clearing Lebanon Eastern Mountain chains fro terrorist Al Nusra group

Dr. Amilan Nahoum published in Israel Times (July 24, 2017) the story of why Israel decided Not to intervene in Hezbollah’s undertaking of clearing Lebanon Eastern Mountain chain from the terrorist Al Nusra group.

Abu Maher Al Talli, the Emir of Al Nusra in the village of Ersal mountain chains, had intelligence since May that Hezbollah had decided to free Lebanon Eastern Mountain Chains from all the terrorists groups (Al Nusra and ISIS).

Al Nusra was responsible of preparing exploding cars from the town of Yabroud in Syria and dispatching them into Lebanon, and particularly in Hezbollah stronghold in Dahiya.

ISIS (Daesh) had already executed 8 Lebanese soldiers made prisoners a few years ago and beheaded a Lebanese officer. It repeatedly tried to occupy a few villages close to Hermel and Rass B3albak, but the vigilant groups proved to be valiant resistant fighters.

Al Joulani in the Edleb province dispatched to Al Talli 750 additional fighters. Qatar was the main financial deep pocket for Al Nusra.

All the higher military generals of Saudi Kingdom, Gulf Emirate, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Qatar…met in Israel to coordinate Israel intervention, and promised $7 billion for that plan.

Israel satellites were scanning the entire operation when Germany delivered to Israel an ultimatum from Hezbollah: “If Israel intervene, then it is a full-fledged war against Israel”

Israel government met and decided to cancel the execution of this plan.

Hezbollah freed the Mountain chains from Al Nusra.  And the Lebanese army was given the honor of freeing it from ISIS, against the strong warning of the USA from involving Lebanon government in these  attacks. The Syrian army intervened from the Syrian borders and clamped down on whoever tried to flee and escape.

Actually, the USA wished to let these terrorist groups remain for another year on these mountains.

 

 

How We Were Misled About Syria: Amnesty International

Most of us living outside Syria know very little of the country or its recent history. What we think we know comes via the media. Information that comes with the endorsement of an organisation like Amnesty International we may tend to assume is reliable.

Certainly, I always trusted Amnesty International implicitly, believing I understood and shared its moral commitments.

As a decades-long supporter, I never thought to check the reliability of its reporting.

Only on seeing the organisation last year relaying messages from the infamous White Helmets did questions arise for me.[1]

Having since discovered a problem about the witness testimonies provided by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), I felt a need to look more closely at Amnesty International’s reporting.[2]

Amnesty had been influential in forming public moral judgement about the rights and wrongs of the war in Syria. (Actually, over 170,000 mercenaries from 33 countries crossed Turkey to join ISIS and Al Nusra)

What if Amnesty’s reporting on the situation in Syria was based on something other than verified evidence?[3]

What if misleading reports were instrumental in fueling military conflicts that might otherwise have been more contained, or even avoided?

(Asma al Assad, wife of the Syrian President and a British citizen, she recovered from breast cancer and refused to be treated outside Syria)

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Amnesty International first alleged war crimes in Syria, against the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, in June 2012.[4]

If a war crime involves a breach of the laws of war, and application of those laws presupposes a war, it is relevant to know how long the Syrian government had been at war, assuming it was. The UN referred to a ‘situation close to civil war’ in December 2011.[5]

Amnesty International’s war crimes in Syria were therefore reported on the basis of evidence that would have been gathered, analysed, written up, checked, approved and published within six months.[6] That is astonishingly – and worryingly – quick.

The report does not detail its research methods, but a press release quotes at length, and exclusively, the words of Donatella Rovera who ‘spent several weeks investigating human rights violations in northern Syria.’ luther

As far as I can tell, the fresh evidence advertised in the report was gathered through conversations and tours Rovera had in those weeks.[7] Her report mentions that Amnesty International ‘had not been able to conduct research on the ground in Syria’.[8]

I am no lawyer, but I find it inconceivable that allegations of war crimes made on this basis would be taken seriously.

Rovera herself was later to speak of problems with the investigation in Syria: in a reflective article published two years afterwards,[9] she gives examples of both material evidence and witness statements that had misled the investigation.[10]

Such reservations did not appear on Amnesty’s website; I am not aware of Amnesty having relayed any caveats about the report, nor of its reviewing the war crimes allegations.  What I find of greater concern, though, given that accusations of crimes already committed can in due course be tried, is that Amnesty also did not temper its calls for prospective action.  On the contrary.

In support of its surprisingly quick and decisive stance on intervention, Amnesty International was also accusing the Syrian government of crimes against humanity.

Already before Deadly Reprisals, the report Deadly Detention had alleged these. Such allegations can have grave implications because they can be taken as warrant for armed intervention.[11]

Whereas war crimes do not occur unless there is a war, crimes against humanity can be considered a justification for going to war. And in war, atrocities can occur that would otherwise not have occurred.

I find this thought deeply troubling, particularly as a supporter of Amnesty International at the time it called for action, the foreseeable consequences of which included fighting and possible war crimes, by whomsoever committed, that might otherwise never have been.

Personally, I cannot quite escape the thought that in willing the means to an end one also shares some responsibility for their unintended consequences.[12]

If Amnesty International considered the moral risk of indirect complicity in creating war crimes a lesser one than keeping silent about what it believed it had found in Syria, then it must have had very great confidence in the findings. Was that confidence justified?

If we go back to human rights reports on Syria for the year 2010, before the conflict began, we find Amnesty International recorded a number of cases of wrongful detention and brutality.[13]Deadly Reprisals.png 

In the ten years Bashar Al-Assad had been president, the human rights situation seemed to Western observers not to have improved as markedly as they had hoped.

Human Rights Watch spoke of 2000-2010 as a ‘wasted decade’.[14] The consistent tenor of reports was disappointment: advances achieved in some areas had to be set against continued problems in others. We also know that in some rural parts of Syria, there was real frustration at the government’s priorities and policies.[15]

An agricultural economy hobbled by the poorly managed effects of severe drought had left the worst off feeling marginalized. Life may have been good for many in vibrant cities, but it was far from idyllic for everyone, and there remained scope to improve the human rights record.

The government’s robust approach to groups seeking an end to the secular state of Syria was widely understood to need monitoring for reported excesses.

Still, the pre-war findings of monitors, are a long way from any suggestion of crimes against humanity.That includes the findings of Amnesty International Report 2011: the state of the world’s human rights.

A report published just three months later portrays a dramatically different situation.[16] In the period from April to August 2011, events on the ground had certainly moved quickly in the wake of anti-government protests in parts of the country, but so had Amnesty.

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In promoting the new report, Deadly Detention, Amnesty International USA notes with pride how the organisation is now providing ‘real-time documentation of human rights abuses committed by government forces’.

Not only is it providing rapid reporting, it is also making strong claims. Instead of measured statements suggesting necessary reforms, it now condemns Assad’s government for ‘a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and pursuant to a state policy to commit such an attack.’ The Syrian government is accused of ‘crimes against humanity’.[17]

The speed and confidence – as well as the implied depth of insight – of the report are remarkable. The report is worrying, too, given how portentous is its damning finding against the government: Amnesty International ‘called on the UN Security Council to not only condemn, in a firm and legally binding manner, the mass human rights violations being committed in Syria but also to take other measures to hold those responsible to account, including by referring the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

As well, Amnesty International continues to urge the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria and to immediately freeze the assets of President al-Assad and other officials suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity.’ With such strongly-worded statements as this, especially in a context where powerful foreign states are already calling for ‘regime change’ in Syria, Amnesty’s contribution could be seen as throwing fuel on a fire.

Since it is not just the strength of the condemnation that is noteworthy, but the swiftness of its delivery – in ‘real-time’ – a question that Amnesty International supporters might consider is how the organisation can provide instantaneous coverage of events while also fully investigating and verifying the evidence.

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Amnesty International’s reputation rests on the quality of its research. The organisation’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, has clearly stated the principles and methods adhered to when gathering evidence:

we do it in a very systematic, primary, way where we collect evidence with our own staff on the ground. And every aspect of our data collection is based on corroboration and cross-checking from all parties, even if there are, you know, many parties in any situation because of all of the issues we deal with are quite contested. So it’s very important to get different points of view and constantly cross check and verify the facts.’[18]

Amnesty thus sets itself rigorous standards of research, and assures the public that it is scrupulous in adhering to them. This is only to be expected, I think, especially when grave charges are to be levelled against a government.

Did Amnesty follow its own research protocol in preparing the Deadly Detention report? Was it: systematicprimarycollected by Amnesty’s own staff, on the ground, with every aspect of data collection verified by corroboration and by cross-checking with all parties concerned?

In the analysis appended here as a note [ – [19] –] I show, point by point, that the report admits failing to fulfill some of these criteria and fails to show it has met any of them.

Given that the findings could be used to support calls for humanitarian intervention in Syria, the least to expect of the organization would be application of its own prescribed standards of proof.

Lest it be thought that focusing on the technicalities of research methodology risks letting the government off the hook for egregious crimes, it really needs to be stressed – as was originally axiomatic for Amnesty International – that we should never make a presumption of guilt without evidence or trial.[20]

Quite aside from technical questions, getting it wrong about who is the perpetrator of war crimes could lead to the all too real consequences of mistakenly intervening on the side of the actual perpetrators.

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Suppose it nevertheless be insisted that the evidence clearly enough shows Assad to be presiding over mass destruction of his own country and slaughter in his own people: surely the ‘international community’ should intervene on the people’s behalf against this alleged ‘mass murderer’?[21]

In the climate of opinion and with the state of knowledge abroad at the time, that may have sounded a plausible proposition. It was not the only plausible proposition, however, and certainly not in Syria itself.

Another was that the best sort of support to offer the people of Syria would lie in pressing the government more firmly towards reforms while assisting it, as was becoming increasingly necessary, in ridding the territory of terrorist insurgents who had fomented and then exploited the tensions in the original protests of Spring 2011.[22]

For even supposing the government’s agents of internal security needed greater restraint, the best way to achieve this is not necessarily to undermine the very government that would be uniquely well-placed, with support and constructive incentives, to apply it.

I do not find it obvious that Amnesty was either obliged or competent to decide between these alternative hypotheses. Since it nevertheless chose to do so, we have to ask why it pre-empted and dismissed the method of deciding proposed by President Al-Assad himself. This was his undertaking to hold an election to ask the people whether they wanted him to stay or go.

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Although not widely reported in the West, and virtually ignored by Amnesty[23] – a presidential election was held in 2014, with the result being a landslide victory for Bashar Al-Assad. He won 10,319,723 votes – 88.7% of the vote – with a turnout put at 73.42%.[24]

Western observers did not challenge those numbers or allege voting irregularities,[25]with the media instead seeking to downplay their significance. ‘This is not an election that can be analysed in the same way as a multi-party, multi-candidate election in one of the established European democracies or in the US, says the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Damascus. It was an act of homage to President Assad by his supporters, which was boycotted and rejected by opponents rather than an act of politics, he adds.’[26]

This homage, nonetheless, was paid by an outright majority of Syrians. To refer to this as ‘meaningless’, as US Secretary of State, John Kerry did,[27] reveals something of how much his own regime respected the people of Syria.

It is true that voting could not take place in opposition-held areas, but participation overall was so great that even assuming the whole population in those areas would have voted against him, they would still have had to accept Assad as legitimate winner – rather as we in Scotland have to accept Theresa May as UK prime minister.

In fact, the recent liberation of eastern Aleppo has revealed Assad’s government actually to have support there.

We cannot know if Assad would have been so many people’s first choice under other circumstances, but we can reasonably infer that the people of Syria saw in his leadership their best hope for unifying the country around the goal of ending the bloodshed.

Whatever some might more ideally have sought – including as expressed in the authentic protests of 2011 – the will of the Syrian people quite clearly was, under the actual circumstances, for their government to be allowed to deal with their problems, rather than be supplanted by foreign-sponsored agencies.[28]

(I am tempted to add the thought, as a political philosopher, that BBC’s Jeremy Bowen could be right in saying the election was no normal ‘act of politics’: Bashar Al-Assad has always been clear in statements and interviews that his position is inextricably bound up with the Syrian constitution.

Bashar didn’t choose to give up a career in medicine (eye doctor) to become a dictator, as I understand it; rather, the chance event of his older brother’s death altered his plans. Until actual evidence suggests otherwise, I am personally prepared to believe that Assad’s otherwise incomprehensible steadfastness of purpose does indeed stem from a commitment to defending his country’s constitution.

Whether or not the people really wanted this person as president is secondary to the main question whether they were prepared to give up their national constitution to the dictates of any body other than that of the Syrian people. Their answer to this has a significance, as Bowen inadvertently notes, that is beyond mere politics.)

Since the Syrian people had refuted the proposition that Amnesty had been promoting, serious questions have be asked. Among these, one – which would speak to a defense of Amnesty – is whether it had some independent justification – coming from sources of information other than its own investigations – for genuinely believing its allegations against the Syrian government well-founded.

However, since an affirmative answer to that question would not refute the point I have sought to clarify here I shall set them aside for a separate discussion in the next episode of this investigation.

My point for now is that Amnesty International itself had not independently justified its own advocacy position. This is a concern for anyone who thinks it should take full responsibility for the monitoring it reports. Further discussion has also to address concerns about what kinds of advocacy it should be engaged in at all.[29]

Personal note: In the first 2 years, the Syria regimes bombed extensively recalcitrant towns who joined the “rebellion”. After that, ISIS and Al Nusra did all the horrors that the Syrian people and the Iraqi people experienced.

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NOTES

[1] For background on concern about the White Helmets, a concise overview is provided in the video White Helmets: first responders or Al Qaeda support group? For a more thorough discussion, see the accessible but richly referenced summary provided by Jan Oberg. On the basis of all the information now widely available, and in view of the consistency between numerous critical accounts, which contrasts with the incoherence of the official narrative as made famous by Netflix, I have come to mistrust testimony sourced from the White Helmets when it conflicts with testimony of independent journalists on the ground – especially since reports of the latter are also consistent with those of the people of eastern Aleppo who have been able to share the truth of their own experiences since the liberation (for numerous interviews with people from Aleppo, see the Youtube channel of Vanessa Beeley; see also the moving photographic journals of Jan Oberg.)

There have certainly been efforts to debunk the various exposés of the White Helmets, and the latest I know of (at the time of writing) concerns the confession featured in the video (linked above) of Abdulhadi Kamel. According to Middle East eye, his colleagues in the White Helmets believe the confession was beaten out of him (report as at 15 Jan 2017) in a notorious government detention centre (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-white-helmet-fake-confession-filmed-assad-regime-intelligence-prison-344419324); according to Amnesty International, which does not mention that report in its appeal of 20 Jan 2017, states that there is no evidence he was a White Helmet and it is not known what happened to him (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/01/man-missing-during-east-aleppo-evacuation/). What I take from this is that some people want to defend the White Helmets, but that they cannot even agree a consistent story to base it on under the pressure of unexpected events in Aleppo showing behind the scenes – literally – of the Netflix version of events. It is also hardly reassuring about the quality of AI’s monitoring in Syria.

[2] My critical inquiry about Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was sparked by learning that their testimony was being used to criticise claims being made about Syria by the independent journalist Eva Bartlett. Having found her reporting credible, I felt compelled to discover which account to believe. I found that MSF had been misleading about what they could really claim to know in Syria.

In response to that article, several people pointed to related concerns about Amnesty International. So I had the temerity to start questioning Amnesty International on the basis of pointers and tips given by several of my new friends, and I would like to thank particularly Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, Patrick J.Boyle, Adrian D., and Rick Sterling for specific suggestions. I have also benefited from work by Tim Anderson, Jean Bricmont, Tony Cartalucci, Stephen Gowans, Daniel Kovalic, Barbara McKenzie, and Coleen Rowley. I would like to thank Gunnar Øyro, too, for producing a rapid Norwegian translation of the MSF article which has helped it reach more people. In fact, there are a great any others too, that have I learned so much from in these few weeks, among what I have come to discover is a rapidly expanding movement of citizen investigators and journalists all around the globe. It’s one good thing to come out of these terrible times. Thanks to you all!

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[3] For instance, it is argued by Tim Anderson, in The Dirty War on Syria (2016), that Amnesty has been ‘embedded’, along with the Western media, and has been following almost unswervingly the line from Washington rather than providing independent evidence and analysis.

[4] The report Deadly Reprisals concluded that ‘Syrian government forces and militias are responsible for grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes.’

[5] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40595 – .WIGzeZIpGHk

[6] ‘In the areas of the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo, where Amnesty International carried out its field research for this report, the fighting had reached the level and intensity of a non-international armed conflict. This means that the laws of war (international humanitarian law) also apply, in addition to human rights law, and that many of the abuses documented here would also amount to war crimes.’ Deadly Reprisals, p.10.

[7] Rovera’s account was contradicted at the time by other witness testimonies, as reported, for instance, in the Badische Zeitung, which claimed responsibility for deaths was attributed to the wrong side. One-sidedness in the account is also heavily criticized by Louis Denghien http://www.infosyrie.fr/decryptage/lenorme-mensonge-fondateur-de-donatella-rovera/ Most revealing, however, is the article I go on to mention in the text, in which Rovera herself two years later effectively retracts her own evidence (‘Challenges of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding during and after armed conflict’). This article is not published on Amnesty’s own site, and is not mentioned by Amnesty anywhere, as far as I know. I commend it to anyone who thinks my conclusion about Deadly Reprisalsmight itself be too hasty. I think it could make salutary reading for some of her colleagues, like the one who published the extraordinarily defensive dismissal of critical questions about the report in Amnesty’s blog on 15 June 2012, which, I would say, begs every question it claims to answer. (The author just keeps retorting that the critics hadn’t been as critical about opposition claims. I neither know nor care whether they were. I only wanted to learn if he had anything to say in reply to the actual criticisms made.) While appreciating that people who work for Amnesty feel passionately about the cause of the vulnerable, and I would not wish it otherwise, I do maintain that professional discipline is appropriate in discussions relating to evidence.

[8] ‘For more than a year from the onset of the unrest in 2011, Amnesty International – like other international human rights organizations – had not been able to conduct research on the ground in Syria as it was effectively barred from entering the country by the government.’ (Deadly Reprisals, p.13)

[9] Donatella Rovera, Challenges of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding during and after armed conflict, Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) 2014.

[10] The article is worth reading in full for its reflective insight into a number of difficulties and obstacles in the way of reliable reporting from the field, but here is an excerpt particularly relevant to the Syria case: ‘Access to relevant areas during the conduct of hostilities may be restricted or outright impossible, and often extremely dangerous when possible. Evidence may be rapidly removed, destroyed, or contaminated – whether intentionally or not. “Bad” evidence can be worse than no evidence, as it can lead to wrong assumptions or conclusions. In Syria I found unexploded cluster sub-munitions in places where no cluster bomb strikes were known to have been carried out. Though moving unexploded cluster sub-munitions is very dangerous, as even a light touch can cause them to explode, Syrian fighters frequently gather them from the sites of government strikes and transport them to other locations, sometimes a considerable distance away, in order to harvest explosive and other material for re-use. The practice has since become more widely known, but at the time of the first cluster bomb strikes, two years ago, it led to wrong assumptions about the locations of such strikes. … Especially in the initial stages of armed conflicts, civilians are confronted with wholly unfamiliar realities – armed clashes, artillery strikes, aerial bombardments, and other military activities and situations they have never experienced before – which can make it very difficult for them to accurately describe specific incidents.’ (Challenges of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding during and after armed conflict) In light of Rovera’s candour, one is drawn to an inescapable contrast with the stance of Amnesty International, the organization. Not only did it endorse the report uncritically, in the first place, it continued to issue reports of a similar kind, and to make calls for action on the basis of them.

[11] ‘This disturbing new evidence of an organized pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action … For more than a year the UN Security Council has dithered, while a human rights crisis unfolded in Syria.  It must now break the impasse and take concrete action to end to these violations and to hold to account those responsible.’ Deadly Reprisals press release. The executive director of Amnesty International USA at that time was on record as favouring a Libya-like response to the Syria ‘problem’. Speaking shortly after her appointment she expressed her frustration that the Libya approach had not already been adopted for Syria: ‘Last spring the Security Council managed to forge a majority for forceful action in Libya and it was initially very controversial, [causing] many misgivings among key Security Council members. But Gaddafi fell, there’s been a transition there and I think one would have thought those misgivings would have died down. And yet we’ve seen just a continued impasse over Syria… .’ Quoted in Coleen Rowley, ‘Selling War as “Smart Power”’ (28 Aug 2012)

[12] The question of what Amnesty International as an organization can be said to have ‘willed’ is complex. One reason is that it is an association of so many people and does not have a simple ‘will’. Another is that public statements are often couched in language that can convey a message but with word choice that allows deniability of any particular intent should that become subject to criticism or censure. This practice in itself I find unwholesome, personally, and I think it ought to be entirely unnecessary for an organization with Amnesty’s moral mission. For a related critical discussion of Amnesty International’s ‘interventionism’ in Libya see e.g. Daniel Kovalik ‘Amnesty International and the Human Rights Industry’ (2012). Coleen Rowley received from Amnesty International, in response to criticisms by her, the assurance ‘we do not take positions on armed intervention.’ (The Problem with Human Rights/Humanitarian Law Taking Precedence over the Nuremberg Principle: Torture is Wrong but So Is the Supreme War Crime’, 2013). Rowley shows how this response, unlike a clear stance against intervention, shows some creativity. I also note in passing, that in the same response Amnesty assure us ‘AI’s advocacy is based on our own independent research into human rights abuses in a given country.’ This, going by the extent to which AI reports cite reports from other organisations, I would regard as economical with the truth.

In my next blog on Amnesty International, the role of Suzanne Nossel, sometime executive director of Ammesty International USA, will be discussed, and in that context further relevant information will be forthcoming about the purposes Amnesty’s testimony was serving in the period 2011-12.

[13] Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, October 2011,‘End human rights violations in Syria’. Without wanting to diminish the significance of every single human rights abuse, I draw attention here to the scale of the problem that is recorded prior to 2011 for the purpose of comparison with later reports. Thus I note that the US State Department does not itemise egregious failings: ‘There was at least one instance during the year when the authorities failed to protect those in its custody. … There were reports in prior years of prisoners beating other prisoners while guards stood by and watched.’ In 2010 (May 28) Amnesty had reported ‘several suspicious deaths in custody’: http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-syria-2010. Its briefing to Committee on Torture speaks in terms of scores of cases in the period 2004-2010: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde24/008/2010/en/

For additional reference, these reports also indicate that the most brutal treatment tends to be meted out against Islamists and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. There are also complaints from Kurds. A small number of lawyers and journalists are mentioned too.

[14] Human Rights Watch (2010), ‘A Wasted Decade: Human Rights in Syria during Bashar al-Assad’s First Ten Years in Power’.

[15] According to one account: ‘As a result of four years of severe drought, farmers and herders have seen their livelihoods destroyed and their lifestyles transformed, becoming disillusioned with government promises of plentitude in rural areas. In the disjuncture between paternalistic promises of resource redistribution favoring Syria’s peasantry and corporatist pacts binding regime interests to corrupt private endeavors, one may begin to detect the seeds of Syrian political unrest. … the regime’s failure to put in place economic measures to alleviate the effects of drought was a critical driver in propelling such massive mobilizations of dissent. In these recent months, Syrian cities have served as junctures where the grievances of displaced rural migrants and disenfranchised urban residents meet and come to question the very nature and distribution of power. … I would argue that a critical impetus in driving Syrian dissent today has been the government’s role in further marginalizing its key rural populace in the face of recent drought. Numerous international organizations have acknowledged the extent to which drought has crippled the Syrian economy and transformed the lives of Syrian families in myriad irreversible ways.’ Suzanne Saleeby (2012) ‘Sowing the Seeds of Dissent: Economic Grievances and the Syrian Social Contract’s Unraveling.

[16] The names, dates, and reporting periods of reports relevant here are easily confused, so here are further details. The Amnesty International Report 2011: the state of the world’s human rights mentioned in the text just here reports on the calendar year 2010, and it was published on May 13 2011. The separate report published in August 2011 is entitled Deadly Detention: deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria’ and covers events during 2011 up to 15 August 2011.

[17] Crimes against humanity are a special and egregious category of wrongdoing: they involve acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attackdirected against a civilian population. Whereas ordinary crimes are a matter for a state to deal with internally, crimes against humanity, especially if committed by a state, can make that state subject to redress from the international community.

[18] Salil Shetty interviewed in 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unl-csIUmp8

[19] Was the research systematic? The organising of data collection takes time, involving procedures of design, preparation, execution and delivery; the systematic analysis and interpretation of data involves a good deal of work; the writing up needs to be properly checked for accuracy. Furthermore, to report reliably involves various kinds of subsidiary investigation in order to establish context and relevant variable factors that could influence the meaning and significance of data. Even then, once a draft report is written, it really needs to be checked by some expert reviewers for any unnoticed errors or omissions. Any presentation of evidence that shortcuts those processes could not, in my judgment, be regarded as systematic. I cannot imagine how such processes could be completed in short order, let alone ‘in real-time’, and so I can only leave it to readers to decide how systematic the research could have been.

Was the evidence gathered from primary sources? ‘International researchers have interviewed witnesses and others who had fled Syria in recent visits to Lebanon and Turkey, and communicated by phone and email with individuals who remain in Syria … they include relatives of victims, human rights defenders, medical professionals and newly released detainees. Amnesty International has also received information from Syrian and other human rights activists who live outside Syria.’ Of all those sources, we could regard the testimony of newly released detainees as a primary source of information about conditions in prison. However, we are looking for evidence that would support the charge of committing crimes against humanity through ‘a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and pursuant to a state policy to commit such an attack’. On what basis Amnesty can claim definite knowledge of the extent of any attack and exactly who perpetrated it, or of how the government organizes the implementation of state policy, I do not see explained in the report.

Was the evidence collected by Amnesty’s staff on the ground? This question is answered in the report: “Amnesty International has not been able to conduct first-hand research on the ground in Syria during 2011” (p.5).

Was every aspect of data collection verified by corroboration? The fact that a number of identified individuals had died in violent circumstances is corroborated, but the report notes that ‘in very few cases has Amnesty International been able to obtain information indicating where a person was being detained at the time of their death. Consequently, this report uses qualified terms such as “reported arrests” and “reported deaths in custody”, where appropriate, in order to reflect this lack of clarity regarding some of the details of the cases reported.’

[This would corroborate descriptions of the pre-2011 situation regarding police brutality and deaths in custody. These are as unacceptable in Syria as they should be in all the other countries in which they occur, but to speak of ‘crimes against humanity’ implies an egregious systematic policy. I do not find anything in the report that claims to offer corroboration of the evidence that leads the report to state: ‘Despite these limitations, Amnesty International considers that the crimes behind the high number of reported deaths in custody of suspected opponents of the regime identified in this report, taken in the context of other crimes and human rights violations committed against civilians elsewhere in Syria, amount to crimes against humanity. They appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and pursuant to a state policy to commit such an attack.’]

As for corroboration of more widespread abuses and the claim that the government had a policy to commit what amount to crimes against humanity, I find none referred to.

Was the evidence relied on cross-checked with all parties concerned? Given that the government is charged, it would be a centrally concerned party, and the report makes clear the government has not been prepared to deal with Amnesty International. The non-cooperation of the government with Amnesty’s inquiries – whatever may be its reasons – cannot be offered as proof of its innocence. [That very phrase may jar with traditional Amnesty International supporters, given that a founding principle is the due process of assuming innocent before proven guilty. But I have allowed that some people might regard governments as relevantly different from individuals.] But since the government was not obliged to have dealings with Amnesty, and might have had other reasons not to, we must simply note that this aspect of the research methods protocol was not satisfied.

[20] I would note that a range of people have disputed whether there was any credible evidence, including former CIA intelligence officer Philip Giraldi http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/nato-vs-syria/ while also affirming that the American plan of destabilizing Syria and pursuing regime change had been hatched years earlier. That, unlike the allegations against Assad, has been corroborated from a variety of sources. These include a former French foreign minister http://www.globalresearch.ca/former-french-foreign-minister-the-war-against-syria-was-planned-two-years-before-the-arab-spring/5339112 and General Wesley Clark http://www.globalresearch.ca/we-re-going-to-take-out-7-countries-in-5-years-iraq-syria-lebanon-libya-somalia-sudan-iran/5166.

[21] Although quotation marks and the word alleged are invariably absent in mainstream references to accusations involving Assad, I retain them on principle since the simple fact of repeating an allegation does not suffice to alter its epistemic status. To credit the truth of a statement one needs evidence.

Lest it be said that there was plenty of other evidence, then I would suggest we briefly consider what Amnesty International, writing in 2016, would refer to as ‘the strongest evidence yet’. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/from-hope-to-horror-five-years-of-crisis-in-syria/ (15 March 2016; accessed 11 January 2017) The evidence in question was the so-called Caesar photographs showing some 11,000 corpses alleged to have been tortured and executed by Assad’s people. A full discussion of this matter is not for a passing footnote like this, but I would just point out that this evidence was known to Amnesty and the world as of January 2014 and was discussed by Amnesty’s Philip Luther at the time of its publication. Referring to them as ‘11,000 Reasons for Real Action in Syria’, Luther admitted the causes or agents of the deaths had not been verified but spoke of them in terms that suggest verification was close to being a foregone conclusion (remember, this was five months before Assad’s election victory, so the scale of this alleged mass murder was knowledge in the public domain at election time). These ‘11,000 reasons’ clearly weighed with Amnesty, even if they could not quite verify them. To this day, though, the evidence has not been credibly certified, and I for one do not expect it will be. Some reasons why are those indicated by Rick Sterling in his critical discussion ‘The Caesar Photo Fraud that Undermined Syrian Negotiations’. Meanwhile, if Amnesty International’s people had thought up hypotheses to explain why the Syrian electors seemed so nonchalant about the supposed mass murdering of their president, they have not shared them.

[22] Although this was very much a minority perspective in the Western media, it was not entirely absent. The Los Angeles Times of 7 March 2012 carries a small item called ‘Syria Christians fear life after Assad’ http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/07/world/la-fg-syria-christians-20120307  It articulates concerns about ‘whether Syria’s increasingly bloody, nearly yearlong uprising could shatter the veneer of security provided by President Bashar Assad’s autocratic but secular government. Warnings of a bloodbath if Assad leaves office resonate with Christians, who have seen their brethren driven away by sectarian violence since the overthrow of longtime strongmen in Iraq and in Egypt, and before that by a 15-year civil war in neighboring Lebanon.’ It notes ‘their fear helps explain the significant support he still draws’.

This well-founded fear of something worse should arguably have been taken into account in thinking about the proportionality of any military escalation. The LA Times article carries an interview: ‘”Of course the ‘Arab Spring’ is an Islamist movement,” George said angrily. “It’s full of extremists. They want to destroy our country, and they call it a ‘revolution.’ “… Church leaders have largely aligned themselves behind the government, urging their followers to give Assad a chance to enact long-promised political reforms while also calling for an end to the violence, which has killed more than 7,500 people on both sides, according to United Nations estimates.’ The LA Times carried several articles in a similar vein, including these: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/03/church-fears-ethnic-cleansing-of-christians-in-homs-syria.htmlhttp://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-05-09/syria-christians-crisis/54888144/1.

We also find that support for Assad’s presidency held up throughout the period following the initial protests: Since then, support for Assad has continued to hold up. Analysis of 2013 ORB Poll: http://russia-insider.com/en/nato-survey-2013-reveals-70-percent-syrians-support-assad/ri12011.

[23] No mention is made to it on Amnesty’s webpages, and the annual report of 2014/15 offers a cursory mention conveying that the election was of no real significance: ‘In June, President al-Assad won presidential elections held only in government-controlled areas, and returned to of ce for a third seven-year term. The following week, he announced an amnesty, which resulted in few prisoner releases; the vast majority of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners held by the government continued to be detained.’ (p.355, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/0001/2015/en/)

[24] Reported in the Guardian 4 June 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/bashar-al-assad-winds-reelection-in-landslide-victory. The total population of Syria, including children, was 17,951,639 in 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Syria

Although most of the Western press ignored or downplayed the result, there were some exceptions. The LA Times noted that ‘Assad’s regional and international supporters hailed his win as the elusive political solution to the crisis and a clear indication of Syrians’ will.’ http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-prisoner-release-20140607-story.html In a report on Fox News via Associated Press, too, there is a very clear description of the depth of support: Syrian election shows depth of popular support for Assad, even among Sunni majority. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/06/04/syrian-election-shows-depth-popular-support-for-assad-even-among-sunni-majority.html The report explains numerous reasons for the support, in a way that appears to give the lie to the usual mainstream narrative in the West.

The Guardian reports: ‘Securing a third presidential term is Assad’s answer to the uprising, which started in March 2011 with peaceful demonstrators calling for reforms but has since morphed into a fully fledged war that has shaken the Middle East and the world. And now, with an estimated 160,000 dead, millions displaced at home and abroad, outside powers backing both sides, and al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups gaining more control in the north and east, many Syrians believe that Assad alone is capable of ending the conflict.’

Steven MacMillan offers a pro-Assad account of the election in New Eastern Outlook http://journal-neo.org/2015/12/20/bashar-al-assad-the-democratically-elected-president-of-syria/

[25] Despite assertions from the states committed to ‘regime change’ that the election result should simply be disregarded, international observers found no fault to report with the process http://tass.com/world/734657

[26] It is deemed of so little consequence by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office that its webpage on Syria, as last updated 21 January 2015 (and accessed 16 January 2017) still has this as its paragraph discussing a possible election in Syria in the future tense and with scepticism: ‘there is no prospect of any free and fair election being held in 2014 while Assad remains in power.’

[27] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27706471

[28] A survey conducted in 2015 by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments, still showed Assad to have more popular support than the opposition. The report is analysed by Stephen Gowans: http://www.globalresearch.ca/bashar-al-assad-has-more-popular-support-than-the-western-backed-opposition-poll/5495643

[29] For earlier and preliminary thoughts on the general question here see my short piece ‘Amnesty International: is it true to its mission?’ (12 Jan 2017)

Where Do the Families of ISIS Fighters Go Now?

AL HOL CAMP, Syria — She left the Netherlands to join the Islamic State in Syria, and married a fighter here. He was killed, so she married another, who got her pregnant before he was killed, too.

Then this month, as the Islamic State collapsed, she surrendered with her son to United States-backed forces and landed in the sprawling Al Hol tent camp, which has swollen to the breaking point with the human remnants of the so-called caliphate.

“I just want to go back to a normal life,” said Jeanetta Yahani, 34, as her son Ahmed, 3, clung to her leg and shook with a violent cough.

The announcement a week ago that the Islamic State had lost its final patch of territory in Syria was a milestone in the battle against the world’s most fearsome terrorist network. But it also raised urgent questions about what to do with the tens of thousands of people who had flocked to join the jihadists from around the world and now have nowhere else to go.

Al Hol, a sprawling, isolated conglomeration of tents on rocky soil surrounded by a chain-link fence and armed guards, held about 9,000 people in December. As the Islamic State’s final territories fell, its population swelled to more than 72,000.

The population explosion has taxed the camp’s resources, leading to crowding and long lines for food, fuel and drinking water. (One of my teacher urged me to find another synonym to taxing: what would you suggest?)

On a rare visit to the foreigners’ section of the camp on Thursday, a team of New York Times journalists found a miserable international tableau of lost women and children.

Along muddy, trash-strewn lanes between rows of white tents, we heard groups of women chatting in English, Russian, French, Dutch and Chinese (and a single Irish woman?). We saw blond- and black-haired children playing together in the mud.

A German woman told me she had come to Syria with her husband, a doctor. Now she had no idea where he was, and she was stuck in the camp with a baby in her arms and a curly-haired toddler gripping her leg.

But she did not want to return to Germany, which she considered an infidel country.

“I don’t want to raise my kids in a society that’s totally corrupt, where every sin is promoted,” she said, declining to give her name.

It was better to tough it out in Syria, she said. “This is temporary. The afterlife is forever.”

Although the Islamic State no longer controls the vast territory that that once stretched across Iraq and Syria, the women in the camp still followed its rules, wearing black gowns and face veils with slits for their eyes.

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More than 9,000 camp residents are foreigners who are kept in a special section. CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
The camp’s Kurdish-led administration worries that the paucity of international support could help ISIS reconstitute itself.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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The camp’s Kurdish-led administration worries that the paucity of international support could help ISIS reconstitute itself.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
Camp officials say they are too busy scrambling to provide tents and food to offer schooling or other activities for children.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Camp officials say they are too busy scrambling to provide tents and food to offer schooling or other activities for children.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

Their clothes were dirty, the hems and shoes caked with mud. Many toted toddlers with hacking coughs and runny noses. Other children sold cookies and soda their relatives had managed to bring in, or stood in long lines for food, drinking water and gas for generators.

Al Hol is the largest of three detention camps run by the Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria. Other camps dot Iraq and Libya.

Along with tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis, the Syria camps hold 12,000 foreign women and children, according to Redur Xelil, a senior official with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States-backed militia that fought the jihadists. The force also holds more than 8,000 fighters, including 1,000 foreigners, in its prisons.

A handful of places, including France, Russia and Chechnya have taken back tiny numbers of their citizens, mostly women, children and orphans. But most of the home countries do not want the caliphate’s former residents back, so they are stuck here, in a stateless, unstable territory.

The local administration lacks the resources to deal with them and worries that the paucity of international support could help the Islamic State reconstitute itself.

“There is little support, little response,” said Mohammed Bashir, a camp administrator.

This week, local officials called for the creation of an international court to try foreign fighters, but the idea has garnered little international support and the Syrian government would probably block it.

While determining the exact backgrounds of the women and children in the camps is difficult since many lack identification and use fake names, they are generally considered less dangerous than the men. But some were also combatants. And some still endorse the extremists’ ideology, making local officials reluctant to let them leave.

Women and children who fled the last area of the Islamic State’s control arriving at a screening point in the desert last month.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Women and children who fled the last area of the Islamic State’s control arriving at a screening point in the desert last month.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
Women and children leaving the last area controlled by the Islamic State by bus to reach camps run by Syrian Kurdish militias.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Women and children leaving the last area controlled by the Islamic State by bus to reach camps run by Syrian Kurdish militias.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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An injured woman waiting last month to leave the last area controlled by the Islamic State.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

More than 9,000 of Al Hol’s residents are foreigners who are kept in a special section, which I visited with a photographer on Thursday.

As soon as we entered, women approached us to ask if we could help them return to their countries or find missing loved ones.

“Are you from the Swedish Red Crescent?” a woman asked, trotting away after I said no.

“I am from a country that no one knows about, so I will never get out of here,” said a woman from the Seychelles.

Spotting strangers in the camp, Lisa Smith, a former member of the Irish Defense Forces, said hello but declined to be interviewed.

Some women still clung to the jihadists’ ideology.

A 22-year-old Chechen woman who identified herself only as Um Aisha described life in the caliphate as “all very good.”

“There were brothers who believed in Shariah, an Islamic state, and it was not like this,” she said, pointing disapprovingly at two female aid workers wearing pants.

The woman’s husband was killed in an airstrike on the Islamic State’s final pocket this month, she said, but she did not think the jihadists’ project was over.

“Our brothers are everywhere, in Germany, in Russia, in America — we believe that al-Dawla al-Islamia will come back,” she said, using the group’s Arabic name.

Others expressed regrets.

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As the ISIS families flooded in, camp workers scrambled to put up enough tents to house them, crowding families together to protect them from an unseasonably cold and rainy winter.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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The women and children in the camps are considered less dangerous than the men, but there are still fears that Islamic State ideology will spread.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Children make up about two-thirds of the camp’s residents.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

Galion Su, from Trinidad, stood near the camp’s gate with her face uncovered, hoping to get out and look for her teenage son, who had been arrested by Kurdish forces in January.

Her husband brought them to Syria in 2014 and the couple divorced soon after, leaving her struggling to care for her son.

“I was like a whore in the Dawla,” said Ms. Su, 45. She had married four men, she said, each on the condition that they let her keep her son.

When the jihadists tried to force him to fight, she dressed him as a woman and fled, but Kurdish forces arrested him when they discovered the ruse, she said. Now, she had no idea where he is.

“I just want to be normal and go back to a normal society, sleep in a nice bed, eat nice food, watch TV and laugh,” she said.

Children make up about two-thirds of Al Hol’s residents. Some are orphans. Many described in detail and with little emotion how their fathers had been killed. All had witnessed violence, and some had been taught to practice it.

Camp officials say they are too busy scrambling to provide tents and food to offer schooling or other activities, much less to deal with people’s psychological problems or to re-educate children trained by the jihadists. The challenge is intensified because some parents still endorse the jihadists’ ideology.

“The mentality is the same. Nothing has changed,” said Mr. Bashir, the camp administrator. “The children are innocent, but when they end up in the camp, they will learn what their parents teach.”

As the sun set after a rare sunny day on Thursday, we found ourselves surrounded by hordes of children playing. A group of Turkish boys played a rowdy game of soccer while children from Iraq, Egypt, Russia and elsewhere pelted one another with fistfuls of gravel.

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Most of the home countries of the camp’s residents do not want them back, so they are stuck in a stateless, unstable swath of northern Syria.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Determining the exact backgrounds of the women and children in the camps is difficult, since many lack identification.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times
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Women and children who fled the last ISIS-held area in southeast Syria waiting to be screened last month by Kurdish and coalition forces in the desert near the village of Baghuz.CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Times

Standing atop a latrine, an Iraqi boy with a toy rifle shouted, “The Islamic State has invaded!” Training his sight on another child, he threatened, “I’m a sniper. I’ll shoot you in the head right away.”

Nearby, two toddlers got into a fight and fell to the ground punching each other while a 10-year-old boy who was missing his right leg looked on. He declined to give his name or say where he was from, and responded to questions with short answers.

How did you lose your leg?

“A plane. Shrapnel.”

What do you want to do now?

“Get a tent and stay in it. Or maybe a house.”

Where?

“I don’t know.”

Mustafa Ali contributed reporting.

Follow Ben Hubbard on Twitter: @NYTBen.

Note: Without the pictures, this is Not much of an article. With all the horrors and most States refusing to consider the repatriation of their citizens, I expected a few useful news Not covered by the media.

US Slaughter Of Syrian Troops Risks World War 3

Sean Adl-Tabatabai. Editor-in-chief at Your News Wire

US warplanes and artillery batteries carried out the massacre in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor Wednesday.

Wsws.org reports: The Syrian government denounced the attack as a “war crime” and “direct support to terrorism,” insisting that its forces came under US attack as they were carrying out an operation against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) elements between the villages of Khasham and al-Tabiya on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.

While the Pentagon proudly claimed to have killed 100 pro-government fighters, Damascus allowed that the US strikes claimed “the lives of dozens, injuring many others and causing massive damage in the area.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said it had confirmed only 20 dead among the pro-government forces.

Whatever the precise number of casualties—the Pentagon’s figures are suspect given that the bombings and artillery barrages were not followed up by any ground attack—the incident marks a major escalation of US aggression against Syria, eclipsing the firing of 59 US cruise missiles last April in response to an unsubstantiated allegation of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province.

The only previous US attack resulting in comparable bloodshed was the September 17, 2016 US airstrike against a Syrian army position near the Deir Ezzor airport, which killed 62 soldiers and wounded some 100 more. The Pentagon claimed that attack was the result of an “unintentional, regrettable error.”

This time around, the US military said that it was exercising its “inherent right of self-defense” in attacking the forces of a government whose territory American troops are occupying without either its consent or any mandate from the United Nations.

The official story from the Pentagon is that a column of 500 pro-government fighters, including tanks and artillery, had attempted to take control of territory east of the Euphrates River that had been seized by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US proxy ground force that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

It accused the government forces of launching “an unprovoked attack on a well-established SDF position,” where US Special Forces “advisors” who direct the Kurdish fighters were deployed.

Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the media that they believed Russian military contractors operating with the Syrian government forces were among the dead.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported that it had no military personnel in the area. It also said it was aware only of 25 Syrian militia members having been wounded in the US strikes.

Russia’s Defense Ministry added in a statement that the American attack once “again showed that the US is maintaining its illegal presence in Syria not to fight the Daesh group [ISIS], but to seize and hold Syrian economic assets.”

The area where the fighting took place is a center of Syria’s oil and gas fields.

The village of al-Tabiya is the site of the Conoco gas plant, which was previously run by ConocoPhillips until the energy corporation turned it over to the Syrian government in 2005. After the area fell under ISIS control, the Islamist militia used gas and oil exports to secure much of its financing.

Washington is determined to deny the Syrian government control over these resources and to that end has sought to carve out a US zone of control covering roughly 30 percent of the country, while cutting off its borders with Turkey and Iraq.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry raised pointed questions about the US version of events, particularly the vast disparity between the claim of 100 Syrian government troops killed and, on the other side, a total of one SDF fighter wounded.

“First of all, how could a 500-strong unit attack a headquarters with tank and artillery support and, as a result, inflict an injury on one counter-attacker?” asked Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. “How could those who were in that headquarters remain in those conditions for the half hour or more needed to call in and ensure air support?”

“How, within such a short period of time, could a decision have been made to open massive fire for effect on Syrian armed forces?” she continued. “To clarify all these questions, and to get a full picture of what happened, relevant information is now being gathered, both through our military experts and through the Foreign Ministry.”

Despite the words of protest from Moscow, the Pentagon reported that it had used its “deconfliction line” with the Russian military to provide advance notice of its strike on the Syrian government forces and remained in contact during and after the attack.

“We had a very productive conversation,” said Pentagon spokesperson Dana White. “…we told them, they knew what was happening. They agreed not to attack Coalition forces. So, from that respect, it was successful.”

The attack on Deir Ezzor is part of a steady ratcheting up of the multisided conflict in Syria, provoked overwhelmingly by Washington’s announced decision to maintain a permanent US military occupation of the country and pursue a “post-ISIS” policy centered on the original US objectives of Syrian regime change and rolling back Iranian and Russian influence in the region. Until launching the anti-ISIS campaign in 2014, Washington had sought the ouster of the government of President Bashar al-Assad by means of supporting and arming the Al Qaeda-linked militias out of which ISIS itself emerged. This sparked the bloody seven-year-long war that has claimed the lives of some 350,000 Syrians, while displacing millions of others.

Since invading the country over three years ago, the US military has relied primarily on the Kurdish YPG as its proxy ground force, but it also continues to arm and train Islamist militia groups.

During the US-backed siege of Raqqa and other formerly ISIS-occupied towns, the US military and its Kurdish proxies organized the evacuation of large numbers of ISIS fighters and their redeployment to Deir Ezzor in order to turn them against the Syrian government forces advancing on the province’s strategically vital oil and gas fields.

To the west, the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, which came in response to US plans to organize a 30,000-strong “border security force” based largely on the Kurdish YPG and create what Ankara sees as a de facto Kurdish state on its border, threatens to escalate into a direct conflict between the US and Turkey, ostensible NATO allies.

On Wednesday, the top US commander in Syria and Iraq, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, visited Manbij, the Syrian city on the western side of the Euphrates that has been occupied by the YPG and its US Special Forces handlers. The visit came just one day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that the American forces withdraw from Manbij, vowing that the Turkish military would extend its offensive into the city.

Asked if he was worried about the Turkish threat, Gen. Funk responded, “It’s not in my job description to worry; my job is to fight.”

Meanwhile, both the US and French governments have issued condemnations of Damascus over bombings in Idlib province and Eastern Ghouta, as well as unverified allegations of using chlorine gas against civilian populations. The State Department issued a statement saying that the bombings “must stop now.”

The hypocritical Western media, which went largely silent as the US killed tens of thousands of civilians and razed entire cities to the ground in last year’s sieges of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, has suddenly woken up to report the civilian casualties resulting from the bombardments by Syrian and Russian warplanes.

Once again they are churning out propaganda to prepare for a military escalation that has the potential of triggering a direct military confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers, the US and Russia.

For once, burning extremist religious hate books makes sense: Damascus

The religious clerics in Syria ordered the burning of the books and manuals of ISIS and Al Nusra found in re-conquered regions, and the countless fatwa that their clerics have been issuing since 2011, particularly the books of Ibn Taymiya, and Al Jawziyat and Wahhab.

Since 1980, Saudi Wahhabi Kingdom has been printing faked Koran and Hadith and distributing them for free in Islamic countries.

In 1979, over 300 extremist Wahhabis have taken over the Kaaba in Mecca for 15 days and proclaimed their leader a Caliph. The Kingdom was teetering on the verge of collapse. A French special team came to tame this revolt.

And Saudi Kingdom that was opening up its society to modern culture was pressured to revert to its former desert-tribal type of customs and traditions and allowed the Wahhabi clerics to guide the values of its messages and teaching to society.

This revolt is very suspicious since the USA demanded that Saudi Kingdom open up its purse to dispatch extremist Muslims to Afghanistan in order to liberate it from the Soviet troops.

Consequently, for 5 decades now, Saudi Kingdom has been creating religious schools (Madrassat) and mosques all over Islamic countries, by the thousands, and appointing its own kinds of preachers.

الأوقاف السورية تحرق كتب ابن تيمية وابن عبد الوهاب

أعلنت وزارة الأوقاف السورية أن دمشق والغوطة الشرقية أصبحت خالية من كافة الكتب الوهابية والفتاوى التي صدرت عن تنظيمي “داعش” و”جبهة النصرة” الإرهابيين.

العالم – سوريا

أعلن مدير مكتب وزير الأوقاف السوري، الدكتور نبيل سليمان، أن دمشق والغوطة الشرقية أصبحت خالية من كافة الكتب الوهابية والفتاوى التي صدرت عن تنظيمي “داعش” و”النصرة” الإرهابيين، وذلك بعد تنفيذ الجولات الميدانية في كل الأماكن والمناطق التي تم تحريرها من قبل وحدات الجيش السوري.

مشيرا إلى أنه تم البحث في كافة المساجد في الغوطة الشرقية التي كان تنظيما “داعش” و”النصرة” الإرهابيان يقومان باستخدامها كمقرات لنشر الفكر الوهابي من خلال نشر فكر ابن تيمية الوهابي، وسواه ممن يدعون للفكر التكفيري.

ولفت الدكتور سليمان إلى العثور في مناطق الغوطة الشرقية التي حررها الجيش السوري منذ أشهر على العديد من المكاتب والمكتبات والمساجد التي تحوي عددا كبيرا من كتب ابن تيمية، حيث قامت وزارة الأوقاف بمصادرتها وحرقها، خوفا من تسرب هذه الكتب وما تحمله من فكر تكفيري وظلامي، إلى المناطق الآمنة في دمشق وغيرها، مؤكدا بأنه منذ عام 2012 تمت مصادرة كافة الكتب التكفيرية لابن تيمية وكتب ابن القيم الجوزية، وكتب قطب، ومنع تداولها في كافة الأراضي السورية.

وكان وزير الأوقاف السوري قد أصدر تعميما يؤكد فيه على تعميم سابق صدر في عام 2012 تم توجيهه إلى مديري وزارة الأوقاف والمفتين والخطباء وأئمة المساجد ومديري المعاهد والثانويات الشرعية ومدراء المعاهد بالطلب منهم التدقيق والتشديد في كافة مكتبات المساجد والمعاهد والمدارس الشرعية، بحثا عن وجود كتب أو كتيبات وهابية أو فتاوى ابن تيمية ومؤلفاته، ومصادرتها فورا، ومنع تداولها في أي مؤسسة دينية،

والتأكيد على خطباء المساجد والمفتين بعدم طرح أي أفكار، أو إصدار أية فتاوى تستند إلى الوهابية، أو إلى فتاوى ابن تيمية الضالة التكفيرية، وأكد التعميم على رفع الصفة الدينية على كل من يخالف هذا القرار وإحالته إلى القضاء.

وتتعرض سوريا منذ نحو 8 سنوات لحرب ضد “جماعات العنف التكفيري” التي تمارس القتل، وتنشر التكفير في آن معا، حيث شكلت “القاعدة” مجموعات إرهابية مسلحة تحت مسميات عدة، تحمل في طياتها أهدافا مختلفة، أهمها الوصول إلى السلطة لبناء الدولة وفق رؤيتها التكفيرية.

وعمد تنظيما “داعش” و”النصرة” الإرهابيان اللذان سيطرا خلال السنوات الماضية على أكثر من نصف مساحة سوريا، إلى إلغاء مناهج التعليم والتربية، واستبدالها بمناهج وهابية ضمن سياسة واستراتيجية مدروسة تركز على الأطفال لتنشئتهم على الفكر التكفيري، وبالتالي خلق أجيال بأكملها تعتقد بمعتقداتهم وتدين بتعاليمهم، ويستند معظم هذه المناهج على أفكار وفتاوى ابن تيمية وأفكار وتعاليم محمد بن عبد الوهاب.

ويعد ابن تيمية الذي عاش في القرن الثالث عشر الميلادي من أخطر أئمة الفتنة الذين نشروا الفكر المتطرف والإرهابي في الأمة الإسلامية من تكفير المسلمين وغير المسلمين، واستحلال دمائهم وحرماتهم لمجرد الاختلاف على أبسط المسائل في أداء العبادات.

وتتناقل الجماعات الإرهابية والمتطرفة مؤلفاته وفتاويه، وصولا إلى تنظيمي “داعش” و”النصرة” الإرهابيين، اللذين سفكا باسم هذا الفكر وبالاعتماد على فتاويه دماء مئات الآلاف من الأبرياء، مستخدمين أبشع طرق التعذيب والقتل وقطع الرؤوس وحرق الأحياء.

The ISIS Files: When Terrorists Run City Hall

Note: Read the original article below for the many pictures

  April 4, 2018

MOSUL, Iraq — Weeks after the militants seized the city, as fighters roamed the streets and religious extremists rewrote the laws, an order rang out from the loudspeakers of local mosques.

Public servants, the speakers blared, were to report to their former offices.

To make sure every government worker got the message, the militants followed up with phone calls to supervisors. When one tried to beg off, citing a back injury, he was told: “If you don’t show up, we’ll come and break your back ourselves.”

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, a New York Times foreign correspondent, has covered ISIS since 2014. She has tracked the group’s rise around the world from their encrypted, online chatrooms to on-the-ground reporting on four continents. Her new audio series, Caliphate, launches later this month.

The phone call reached Muhammad Nasser Hamoud, a 19-year veteran of the Iraqi Directorate of Agriculture, behind the locked gate of his home, where he was hiding with his family.

Terrified but unsure what else to do, he and his colleagues trudged back to their six-story office complex decorated with posters of seed hybrids.

They arrived to find chairs lined up in neat rows, as if for a lecture.

The commander who strode in sat facing the room, his leg splayed out so that everyone could see the pistol holstered to his thigh. For a moment, the only sounds were the hurried prayers of the civil servants mumbling under their breath.

Their fears proved unfounded.

Though he spoke in a menacing tone, the commander had a surprisingly tame request: Resume your jobs immediately, he told them. A sign-in sheet would be placed at the entrance to each department. Those who failed to show up would be punished.

Muhammad Nasser Hamoud worked at the agriculture ministry under ISIS. He was instructed to list properties owned by non-Sunnis and sieze them for redistribution. Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Meetings like this one occurred throughout the territory controlled by the Islamic State in 2014. Soon municipal employees were back fixing potholes, painting crosswalks, repairing power lines and overseeing payroll.

“We had no choice but to go back to work,” said Mr. Hamoud. “We did the same job as before. Except we were now serving a terrorist group.”

The disheveled fighters who burst out of the desert more than three years ago founded a state that was acknowledged by no one except themselves.

And yet for nearly three years, the Islamic State controlled a stretch of land that at one point was the size of Britain, with a population estimated at 12 million people.

At its peak, it included a 100-mile coastline in Libya, a section of Nigeria’s lawless forests and a city in the Philippines, as well as colonies in at least 13 other countries. By far the largest city under their rule was Mosul.

How Far ISIS Spread Across Iraq and
Syria and Where It’s Still Holding On

Since declaring a caliphate in 2014, the Islamic State has controlled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. But after the group retreated from Mosul and Raqqa in 2017, it lost nearly all of its territory.

Nearly all of that territory has now been lost, but what the militants left behind helps answer the troubling question of their longevity:

How did a group whose spectacles of violence galvanized the world against it hold onto so much land for so long?

Part of the answer can be found in more than 15,000 pages of internal Islamic State documents I recovered during five trips to Iraq over more than a year.

The documents were pulled from the drawers of the desks behind which the militants once sat, from the shelves of their police stations, from the floors of their courts, from the lockers of their training camps and from the homes of their emirs, including this record detailing the jailing of a 14-year-old boy for goofing around during prayer.

This arrest record was for one of three boys who were accused of fooling around during prayer.

The ticket book was recovered in early 2017 north of Mosul in the town of Tel Kaif, in a house that ISIS had turned into a police station.

B Ibrahim Muhammad Khalil, who was 14, was arrested at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2015, by an ISIS police officer who booked him on charges of “laughing during prayer.”

C “You are requested to transport the prisoner described above to … the Ministry of the Hisba, Nineveh Province, Tel Kaif Sector … as soon as possible, and hand over the prisoner and all the reports, observations and documents related to him as well as his belongings and personal possessions.”

Reason for arrest: D “The propagation of virtue and prevention of vice.”

A little more than a decade later, after seizing huge tracts of Iraq and Syria, the militants tried a different tactic.

They built their state on the back of the one that existed before, absorbing the administrative know-how of its hundreds of government cadres. An examination of how the group governed reveals a pattern of collaboration between the militants and the civilians under their yoke.

One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream.

The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.

Ledgers, receipt books and monthly budgets describe how the militants monetized every inch of territory they conquered, taxing every bushel of wheat, every liter of sheep’s milk and every watermelon sold at markets they controlled.

From agriculture alone, they reaped hundreds of millions of dollars. Contrary to popular perception, the group was self-financed, not dependent on external donors.

More surprisingly, the documents provide further evidence that the tax revenue the Islamic State earned far outstripped income from oil sales. It was daily commerce and agriculture — not petroleum — that powered the economy of the caliphate.

The United States-led coalition, trying to eject the Islamic State from the region, tried in vain to strangle the group by bombing its oil installations. It’s much harder to bomb a barley field.

It was not until last summer that the militants abandoned Mosul, after a battle so intense that it was compared to the worst combat of World War II.

While the militants’ state eventually crumbled, its blueprint remains for others to use.

“We dismiss the Islamic State as savage. It is savage. We dismiss it as barbaric. It is barbaric. But at the same time these people realized the need to maintain institutions,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, author of “ISIS: A History.”

“The Islamic State’s capacity to govern is really as dangerous as their combatants,” he said.

Land for the Taking

The day after the meeting, Mr. Hamoud, a Sunni, returned to work and found that his department was now staffed 100 percent by Sunnis, the sect of Islam practiced by the militants. The Shia and Christian colleagues who previously shared his office had all fled.

For a while, Mr. Hamoud and the employees he supervised at the agriculture department went on much as they had before. Even the stationery they used was the same, though they were instructed to use a marker to cover up the Iraqi government’s logo.

SHARING THE RECORDS 
The New York Times is working to make the trove of ISIS documents publicly available to researchers, scholars, Iraqi officials and anyone else looking to better understand the Islamic State.

But the long-bearded men who now oversaw Mr. Hamoud’s department had come with a plan, and they slowly began to enact it.

For generations, jihadists had dreamed of establishing a caliphate.

Osama bin Laden frequently spoke of it and his affiliates experimented with governing in the dunes of Mali, in the badlands of Yemen and in pockets of Iraq. Their goal was to recreate the society that existed over a millennium ago during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Mosul, what had been called the Directorate of Agriculture was renamed Diwan al-Zera’a, which can be translated as the Ministry of Agriculture. The term “diwan” harks back to the seventh-century rule of one of the earliest caliphs.

ISIS printed new letterhead that showed it had branded at least 14 administrative offices with “diwan,” renaming familiar ones like education and health. Then it opened diwans for things that people had not heard of: something called the hisba, which they soon learned was the feared morality police; another diwan for the pillaging of antiquities; yet another dedicated to “war spoils.”

What began as a cosmetic change in Mr. Hamoud’s office soon turned into a wholesale transformation.

The militants sent female employees home for good and closed the day care center. They shuttered the office’s legal department, saying disputes would now be handled according to God’s law alone.

And they did away with one of the department’s daily duties — checking an apparatus, placed outside, to measure precipitation. Rain, they said, was a gift from Allah — and who were they to measure his gift?

Employees were also told they could no longer shave, and they had to make sure the leg of their trousers did not reach the ankle.

Glossy pamphlets, like the one below, pinpointed the spot on the calf where the hem of the garb worn by the companions of the Prophet around 1,400 years ago was said to have reached.

Eventually, the 57-year-old Hamoud, who wears his hair in a comb-over and prides himself on his professional appearance, stopped buying razors. He took out the slacks he wore to work and asked his wife to trim off 5 centimeters.

But the biggest change came five months into the group’s rule, and it turned the hundreds of employees who had reluctantly returned to work into direct accomplices of the Islamic State. The change involved the very department Mr. Hamoud headed, which was responsible for renting government-owned land to farmers.

To increase revenue, the militants ordered the agriculture department to speed up the process for renting land, streamlining a weekslong application into something that could be accomplished in an afternoon.

That was just the beginning.

It was then that government workers got word that they should begin renting out property that had never belonged to the government. The instructions were laid out in a 27-page manual emblazoned with the phrase “The Caliphate on the Path of Prophecy.” The handbook outlined the group’s plans for seizing property from the religious groups it had expelled and using it as the seed capital of the caliphate.

“Confiscation,” the manual says, will be applied to the property of every single “Shia, apostate, Christian, Nusayri and Yazidi based on a lawful order issued directly by the Ministry of the Judiciary.”

Islamic State members are exclusively Sunni and see themselves as the only true believers. Mr. Hamoud’s office was instructed to make a comprehensive list of the properties owned by non-Sunnis — and to seize them for redistribution.

The confiscation didn’t stop at the land and homes of the families they chased out. An entire ministry was set up to collect and reallocate beds, tables, bookshelves — even the forks the militants took from the houses they seized. They called it the Ministry of War Spoils.

It was housed in a stone-faced building in western Mosul that was hit by an airstrike in the battle to retake the city. The ensuing fire consumed the structure and blackened its walls. But the charred shapes left behind still told a story. Each room served as a warehouse for ordinary household objects: kerosene heaters in one; cooking ranges in another; a jumble of air coolers and water tanks in yet another.

The few papers that did not burn up showed how objects seized from the religious groups they had chased out were offered as rewards to ISIS fighters.

“Please kindly approve the request of the family of the late Brother Durayd Salih Khalaf,” says one letter written on the letterhead of the Islamic State’s Prisoners and Martyrs Affairs Authority. The request was for a stove and a washing machine. A note scribbled at the bottom says: “To be provided with a plasma TV and stove only.”

Another application from the General Telecommunications Authority requested, among other things, clothes hangers.

The Islamic State’s promise of taking care of its own, including free housing for foreign recruits, was one of the draws of the caliphate.

“I’m in Mosul and it’s really the top here,” Kahina el-Hadra, a young Frenchwoman who joined the group in 2015, wrote in an email that year to her secondary school teacher, according to a transcript contained in a report by the Paris Criminal Brigade, which was obtained by The Times.

“I have an apartment that is fully furnished,” Ms. Hadra gushed. “I pay no rent nor even electricity or water lol. It’s the good life! I didn’t buy so much as a single fork.”

When her concerned teacher wrote back that the apartment had probably been stolen from another family, she shot back: “Serves them right, dirty Shia!

Ms. Hadra, according to police records, was the pregnant wife of one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up in the packed Bataclan concert hall during the Paris attacks of 2015.

The Paper Trail

I got into the habit of digging through the trash left behind by terrorists in 2013, when I was reporting on Al Qaeda in Mali.

Locals pointed out buildings the group had occupied in the deserts of Timbuktu. Beneath overturned furniture and in abandoned filing cabinets, I found letters the militants had hand-carried across the dunes that spelled out their vision of jihad.

Those documents revealed the inner workings of Al Qaeda, and years later I wanted to investigate the Islamic State in the same way.

When the “coalition forces?” moved to take Mosul back from the militants in late 2016, I rushed to Iraq. (It was the Iraqi militia 7ashed Sha3bi that reconquered Mosul)

For three weeks, I tried — and failed — to find any documents. Day after day, my team negotiated access to buildings painted with the Islamic State logo, only to find desk drawers jutting out and hard drives ripped out.

Then, the day before my return flight, we met a man who remembered seeing stacks of paper inside the provincial headquarters of the Islamic State’s Ministry of Agriculture in a small village called Omar Khan, 25 miles southeast of the city. The next day we traveled to the town, no more than a speck on the map of the Nineveh Plains, and entered House No. 47.

My heart sank as we pushed open the door and saw the closets flung open — a clear sign that the place had already been cleared.

But on the way out, I stopped at what seemed to be an outhouse. When we opened the door, we saw piles of yellow folders cinched together with twine and stacked on the floor.

We pulled one out, laid it open in the sun — and there was the unmistakable black banner of the Islamic State, the flag they claim was flown by the Prophet himself.

Folder after folder, 273 in all, identified plots of land owned by farmers who belonged to one of the faiths banned by the group. Each yellow sleeve contained the handwritten request of a Sunni applying to confiscate the property.

Doing so involved a step-by-step process, beginning with a report by a surveyor, who mapped the plot, noted important topographical features and researched the property’s ownership. Once it was determined that the land was owned by one of the targeted groups, it was classified as property of the Islamic State. Then a contract was drawn up spelling out that the tenant could neither sublet the land nor modify it without the group’s permission.

The outhouse discovery taught me to stay off the beaten track. I learned to read the landscape for clues, starting with باقية — “baqiya” — the first word of the Islamic State slogan. It can be translated as “will remain,” and marked the buildings the group occupied, invoking its claim that the Islamic State will endure.

Once we confirmed that a building had been occupied by the group, we lifted up the mattresses and pulled back the headboards of beds. We rifled through the closets, opened kitchen cupboards, followed the stairs to the roof and scanned the grounds.

The danger of land mines and booby-traps hung over our team. In one villa, we found a collection of records — but could search only one set of rooms after security forces discovered an unexploded bomb.

Because the buildings were near the front lines, Iraqi security forces nearly always accompanied our team. They led the way and gave permission to take the documents. In time, the troops escorting us became our sources and they, in turn, shared what they found, augmenting our cache by hundreds of records.

The Times asked six analysts to examine portions of the trove, including Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, who maintains his own archive of Islamic State documents and has written a primer on how to identify fraudulent ones; Mara Revkin, a Yale scholar who has made repeated trips to Mosul to study the group’s administration; and a team of analysts at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center who analyzed the records found in Bin Laden’s hide-out in Pakistan.

They deemed the records to be original, based on the markings, logos and stamps, as well as the names of government offices. The terminology and design were consistent with those found on documents issued by the group in other parts of the caliphate, including as far afield as Libya.

As lease after lease was translated back in New York, the same signature inked at the bottom of numerous contracts kept reappearing: “Chief Technical Supervisor, Mahmoud Ismael Salim, Supervisor of Land.”

On my first trip back to Iraq, I showed the leases to a local police officer. He recognized the angular signature and offered to escort me to the home of the ISIS bureaucrat.

The officer shrugged when asked why a man who had taken part in the group’s organized land theft had not been arrested. His men were overwhelmed investigating those who had fought and killed on behalf of the terrorist group, he said. They didn’t have time to also go after the hundreds of civil servants who had worked in the Islamic State’s administration.

Hours later, the man whose signature appeared on the lease for farmland seized from a Christian priest, on the contract for the orchards taken from a monastery, and on the deed for land stolen from a Shia family allowed us into his modest home.

The only decoration in his living room was a broken clock whose hand trembled between 10:43 and 10:44.

A stooped man with thick glasses, the 63-year-old Salim was visibly nervous. He explained that he had spent years overseeing the provincial office of the government of Iraq’s Directorate of Agriculture, where he reported to Mr. Hamoud, whom we contacted for the first time a few days later.

Mr. Salim acknowledged that it was his signature on the leases. But speaking haltingly, he claimed to have been forcibly conscripted into the bureaucracy of the terrorist state.

“They took our files and started going through them, searching which of the properties belong to Shia, which of them belong to apostates, which of them are people who had left the caliphate,” he said.

He described informants phoning in the addresses of Shias and Christians.

Sunnis who were too poor to pay the rent upfront were offered a sharecropping agreement with the Islamic State, allowing them to take possession of the stolen land in return for one-third of the future harvest.

On busy days, a line snaked around his office building, made up of Sunni farmers, many of them resentful of their treatment at the hands of a Shia-led Iraqi government. In the same compound where we found the stacks of yellow folders, Mr. Salim received men he knew, whose children had played with his. They came to steal the land of other men they all knew — whose children had also grown up alongside theirs.

With the stroke of his pen, farmers lost their ancestors’ cropland, their sons were robbed of their inheritance and the wealth of entire families, built up over generations, was wiped out.

“These are relationships we built over decades, from the time of my father, and my father’s father,” Mr. Salim said, pleading for understanding. “These were my brothers, but we were forced to do it.”

A Clean Sweep

As 2014 blurred into 2015 and Mr. Hamoud and his colleagues helped keep the machinery of government running, Islamic State soldiers set out to remake every aspect of life in the city — starting with the role of women.

Billboards went up showing an image of a woman fully veiled. The militants commandeered a textile factory, which began manufacturing bales of regulation-length female clothing. Soon thousands of niqab sets were delivered to the market, and women who didn’t cover up began to be fined.

Mr. Hamoud, who is known as “Abu Sara,” or Father of Sara, gave in and bought a niqab for his daughter.

As he walked to and from work, Mr. Hamoud began taking side streets to dodge the frequent executions that were being carried out in traffic circles and public squares. In one, a teenage girl accused of adultery was dragged out of a minivan and forced to her knees. Then a stone slab was dropped onto her head. On a bridge, the bodies of people accused of being spies swung from the railing.

But on the same thoroughfares, Mr. Hamoud noticed something that filled him with shame: The streets were visibly cleaner than they had been when the Iraqi government was in charge.

Omar Bilal Younes, a 42-year-old truck driver whose occupation allowed him to crisscross the caliphate, noticed the same improvement. “Garbage collection was No. 1 under ISIS,” he said, flashing a thumbs-up sign.

The street sweepers hadn’t changed. What had was that the militants imposed a discipline that had been lacking, said a half-dozen sanitation employees who worked under ISIS and who were interviewed in three towns after the group was forced out.

“The only thing I could do during the time of government rule is to give a worker a one-day suspension without pay,” said Salim Ali Sultan, who oversaw garbage collection both for the Iraqi government and later for the Islamic State in the northern Iraqi town of Tel Kaif. “Under ISIS, they could be imprisoned.”

Residents also said that their taps were less likely to run dry, the sewers less likely to overflow and potholes fixed more quickly under the militants, even though there were now near-daily airstrikes.

Then one day, residents of Mosul saw earthmovers heading toward a neighborhood called the Industrial Area in the eastern half of the city. Laborers were seen paving a new blacktop road that would eventually run for roughly one mile, connecting two areas of the city and reducing congestion.

The new highway was called “Caliphate Way.”

The new government did not concern itself only with administrative matters. For morality, as for everything else, there was a bureaucracy.

Citizens stopped in the street by the hisba, the morality police, and accused of an offense were ordered to hand over their IDs in return for a “confiscation receipt.” The ID was taken to the group’s office, where residents were forced to appear and face judgment. Religious specialists weighed the crime, filling out a form.

Afterward, the offender was made to sign another form: “I, the undersigned, pledge not to cut or trim my beard again,” said one. “If I do that again, I will be subject to all kinds of punishmentsthat the Hisba Center may take against me.”

The zeal with which the Islamic State policed the population is reflected in the 87 prison transfer records they abandoned in one of their police stations. Citizens were thrown into jail for a litany of obscure crimes, including eyebrow plucking, inappropriate haircuts, raising pigeons, playing dominoes, playing cards, playing music and smoking the hookah.

In early 2016, Mr. Hamoud’s daughter Sara ran out for a quick errand without covering her eyes.

She was spotted by an officer from the morality police. Before she could explain, he smashed his fist into her eye.

From then on, her father forbade her to leave the house, except to drive to the hospital for the appointments that followed the assault, which left her with vision loss, the family said.

With change sweeping the region, residents were forced to make fraught choices, among them: Stay or leave, rebel or accommodate.

Mr. Hamoud decided to try to escape. He and his eldest son, 28-year-old Omar, had set aside over $30,000 to buy a new home. The morning of their planned departure, Omar withdrew all but around $1,000 from the bank account.

Not even two hours later, a unit of masked fighters banged down the family’s front door. One of them was holding the bank slip Omar had signed.

“Try this again and we’ll kill every last one of you,” the militants warned.

The Money Machine

On the western banks of the Tigris River, in a pulverized building, I found an abandoned briefcase.

The documents that spilled out revealed that the briefcase belonged to Yasir Issa Hassan, a young professional whose photo identification shows a balding man with a large, aquiline nose. He was the administrator of the Trade Division inside the Islamic State Ministry of Agriculture.

The group’s outsize ambitions and its robust bureaucracy hinged on its ability to generate funds. Bulging with accounting forms, budget projections and receipts, as well as two CD-ROMs containing spreadsheets, the briefcase shed light on the scope of the organization’s revenue machine and offered a blueprint for how it worked.

The financial reports tallied over $19 million in transactions involving agriculture alone.

The documents describe how it made money at every step in the supply chain: Before a single seed of grain, for example, was sown, the group collected rent for the fields it had confiscated. Then, when the crops were ready to be threshed, it collected a harvest tax.

It did not stop there.

The trucks that transported the grain paid highway tolls. The grain was stored in silos, which the militants controlled, and they made money when the grain was sold to mills, which they also controlled. The mills ground the grain into flour, which the group sold to traders.

Then the bags of flour were loaded onto trucks, which traversed the caliphate, paying more tolls. It was sold to supermarkets and shops, which were also taxed. So were the consumers who bought the finished product.

In a single 24-hour period in 2015, one of the spreadsheets in the briefcase shows, the Islamic State collected $1.9 million from the sale of barley and wheat.

Another table shows that the militants earned over $3 million in three months from gross flour sales in just three locations in Mosul.

The organization appeared intent on making money off every last grain — even crops that were damaged.

On just one day, according to another statement, it took in over $14,000 from wheat described as having been scorched in a bombing, and $2,300 from the sale of spoiled lentils and chickpeas. It also took in over $23,000 from grain that had been scraped off the bottom of a tank, according to one spreadsheet.

The Islamic State’s tax arm reached into every facet of life in Mosul. Households in Iraq were taxed 2,000 dinars per month (less than $2) for garbage collection, 10,000 dinars (about $8) for each 10 amperes of electricity, and another 10,000 for municipal water.

Businesses wishing to install a landline paid a 15,000-dinar (about $12) installation fee to the group’s telecommunications office, followed by a 5,000-dinar monthly maintenance fee.

Municipal offices charged for marriage licenses and birth certificates.

But perhaps the most lucrative tax was a religious tax known as zakat, which is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. It is calculated at 2.5 percent of an individual’s assets, and up to 10 percent for agricultural production, according to Ms. Revkin, the Yale researcher. While some of these fees had been charged by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, the mandatory asset tax was a new development.

Ordinarily in Islamic practice, the zakat is a tithe used to help the poor. In the Islamic State’s interpretation, an act of charity became a mandatory payment, and while some of the funds collected were used to help needy families, the Ministry of Zakat and Charities acted more like a version of the Internal Revenue Service.

Most accounts of how the Islamic State became the richest terrorist group in the world focus on its black-market oil sales, which at one point brought in as much as $2 million per week, according to some estimates.

Yet records recovered in Syria by Mr. Tamimi and analyzed by Ms. Revkin show that the ratio of money earned from taxes versus oil stood at 6:1.

Despite hundreds of airstrikes that left the caliphate pocked with craters, the group’s economy continued to function, fed by streams of revenue that could not be bombed under international norms: the civilians under their rule, their commercial activity and the dirt under their feet.

According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the land that the militants seized was Iraq’s most fertile, and at the group’s height, the fields that were harvested accounted for 40% of the country’s annual wheat production and more than half of its barley crop.

In Syria, the group at one point controlled as much as 80%  of the country’s cotton crop, according to a study by the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.

It all added up to astonishing sums, as much as $800 million in annual tax revenue, according to the study.

Still, the group’s ambition of running a state meant it also had large bills.

On a single day in the summer of 2016, the owner of the briefcase handed over $150,000 to one of the group’s accountants to pay for the transport of wheat from one town to another, according to one financial report.

In a two-week period the same year, he paid over $16,000 to the Islamic State trade division in the Dijlah district and $14,000 to the one in Kirkuk. He gave an $8,400 cash advance to the group’s Hawija office, $16,800 to the land department and $8,400 to the Islamic State province straddling the Euphrates River.

Tax collection continued until the very end. At least 100 documents

labeled “Daily Gross Revenue” that showed incoming cash were dated November 2016, a month after the start of the coalition’s push to take back the city.

Even as tanks were rolling in and taking surrounding neighborhoods, the trade division continued to make money, pocketing $70,000 in a single sale.

After ISIS

One day in late 2016, a flier decorated with the Iraqi flag floated down onto the Hamoud family’s home.

The agricultural department official and his extended family were hunkered down inside the living room, sitting elbow-to-elbow on an L-shaped couch, he recalls. By then, the militants had banned both cellphones and satellite dishes. They were cut off from the world.

The flier was one of millions dropped over Mosul warning the population to take cover. The military assault was about to begin.

“Could this really be happening?” Mr. Hamoud wondered. Then he used a lighter to incinerate the flier.

The fighters whose plans of building a state had been met with ridicule proved surprisingly good at it.

It took nine months to wrest Mosul from the militants’ grip, a slog that one senior American general said was the most difficult battle he had witnessed in 35 years.

Since then, the militants have lost all but 3% of the territory in Iraq and Syria they once held. (The USA keeping ISIS safe in these remaining zones in order to disturb the Syrian and Iraqi trade union on the eastern front)

But they clung so tightly to their caliphate that block after city block was leveled during the battle to take back cities and towns. Thousands of people have lost their homes. New mass graves are being discovered every month. One of them contains the remains of four of Mr. Hamoud’s cousins.

His daughter Sara now wears thick glasses to correct her vision, which has been blurry since the day she was punched by the hisba. Even through her compromised eyesight, she can see the mountain of trash rising in the empty lot across from her family’s home.

Few have anything good to say about their old rulers — unless prodded to talk about the services they provided.

“We have to be honest,” Mr. Hamoud said. “It was much cleaner under ISIS.”

Though the militants are gone, reminders of the Islamic State and their particular style of governance remain.

In the northern town of Tel Kaif, for example, residents recall how the militants conscripted a committee of electrical engineers to fix an overloaded power grid. They installed new circuit breakers, and for the first time, residents who had been accustomed to at most six hours of electricity a day could now reliably turn on lights.

In early 2017, Iraqi soldiers reclaimed the town, and were welcomed as heroes. But then they disconnected the Islamic State circuit breakers — and the power failures resumed.

“If the government was to go back to the system that ISIS put in place, we would go so far as to kiss their foreheads,” Mr. Younes, the truck driver, said at the time.

Within a few months, the government did just that.

The irony that it had taken a terrorist group to fix one of the town’s longstanding grievances was not lost on its citizens.

“Although they were not recognized as a state or a country,” said one shopkeeper, Ahmed Ramzi Salim, “they acted like one.”

Reporting was contributed by Falih Hassan from Baghdad; Alaa Mohammed from Mosul; Muhammad Nashat Mahmud, Mohammed Sardar Jasim from Erbil; and Abduljabbar Yousif, Runa Sandvik and Paul Moon from New York.

Produced by Craig Allen, David Furst, Eric Nagourney, Meghan Petersen and Andrew Rossback. Document photography by Tony Cenicola. Map by Tim Wallace and Jugal Patel.

Over more than a year, The Times recovered more than 15,000 pages of Islamic State documents. They reveal the inner workings of a complex system of government.

We unearthed thousands of internal documents that help explain how the Islamic State stayed in power so long.
NYTIMES.CO

The New York Times worked with outside experts to verify their authenticity, and a team of journalists spent 15 months translating and analyzing them page by page.

Individually, each piece of paper documents a single, routine interaction: A land transfer between neighbors. The sale of a ton of wheat. A fine for improper dress.

But taken together, the documents in the trove reveal the inner workings of a complex system of government. They show that the group, if only for a finite amount of time, realized its dream: to establish its own state, a theocracy they considered a caliphate, run according to their strict interpretation of Islam.

The world knows the Islamic State for its brutality, but the militants did not rule by the sword alone. They wielded power through two complementary tools: brutality and bureaucracy.

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.

They also suggest that the militants learned from mistakes the United States made in 2003 after it invaded Iraq, including the decision to purge members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from their positions and bar them from future employment. That decree succeeded in erasing the Baathist state, but also gutted the country’s civil institutions, creating the power vacuum that groups like ISIS rushed to fill.

Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 99

Note 1: I take notes of books I read and comment on events and edit sentences that fit my style. The page is long and growing like crazy, and the sections I post contains months-old events that are worth refreshing your memory.

Il y a trop de pauvre gens: Je demande Equite’ au lieu d’egalite’ pour commencer. Un sens pragmatique que tout le monde sent qu’ils ne sont pas egaux ou ne le veulent pas

Too many poor people that elite classes require that they are needed: apply equitable laws and refrain from the non pragmatic “equality” rhetoric. 

The range of grievances in quality and a quantity increases with mastering the language.

All those invented new jargon by gang youth are symptoms of their inability to articulate in common language their new grievances and sorrows to a community that does not share their life-styles

Writing is the best means of expressing our list of doleances, as we feel a lack of quick verbal intelligence for effective communication of our miseries, or inability to associate with people and feel comfortable in gathering

Il y a toujours, faute de mieux, la passion de l’echec et ca arrive un peu au tard. Une passion est une passion et vaut mieux que nulle

Le probleme majeur du regime Syrien durant la period 2011-14 c’ est qu’ il bombardait les villes des Syriens civils du Nord, et quotidiennement avec des barils devastateurs. Pour quelles raisons? Pour qu’ ils fuient dans les campagnes et la Turkie? Et les Islamistes provenaient en premier temps a la survie des restant.
Al Nusra et ISIS partagent les memes positions sur le status des femmes: ma fi 3akel
Pour recevoir les revenus de l’ association de “charite'” Al Ihsan a Idlib, les veuves etaient forcees de se soumettre aux dictats de Ahrar Al Cham, allie’ d’ Al Nusra.
Et les fils-peres celibataires? A qui peuvent-ils s’ adresser pour secour? Bein sure, a la grande-mere si elle est tolerante.
Quel espece de voleur serait-il s’ il avoue pendant l’ interrogation? Ce ne serait plus drole
Robe de soir transparent? A tout? Quelles instructions l’ industrie de la mode donne-t-elle aux males? Sorte of “Warning” tags
Les courts supremes ont un mal fou a definir l’ obscenite’: Ils sont tous d’ accord quand meme.
There is no avoiding the total silence of coming major cataclysms: We pray for some noises to avoid death 
Reasonable people know about experimental concepts, requirements, and limitations.
L’avenir, cette etrange menace: Mon fils veut etre President d’une Republique. 
If you are interested in a topic, write about it…” Good or bad, at least you reached a position on the topic. 
The environment of reading needs to acquires a festive feeling and joy. And if you got the habit of writing, you’ll write a couple of articles just by reading and perusing a few book strewn around you…
Writing was my best means to bypass the world of rational thinking and discovering the wide set of emotional intelligence.
Take any story of any colonial period, change the names of the colons and settlers to the after independence autochtones, and the story can stand alone, unchanged, same background, same content, same dialogue, same psychological framework.

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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