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Posts Tagged ‘proxy wars

Understanding the Middle East with better clichés

Some people feel that western media coverage of the Middle East is dominated by too many clichés and stereotypes.

An emerging view now believes that there are actually too few rather than too many clichés, thereby making reporting less accurate.

This radical critique of what is really wrong with Western media coverage has already produced enlightening pieces that allow us to understand what exactly is happening in the Middle East, far better than we have managed in the past.

Below is a sample of this revolutionary trend.

Karl reMarks: Understanding the Middle East with better clichés. Feb. 27, 2015 karlremarks.com

In order to understand the Middle East and North Africa/the Arab World/The Near East Muslim, one must begin with its centre of gravity and most populous nation, Egypt.

Following the general tumult that ensued from the Arab Spring/Arab Uprisings, Egypt is now ruled by the military strongman and former army leader Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Sisi is presumed to be a bald Sunni Muslim secular leader who came to power after overthrowing democratically-elected moderate Islamist Sunni (not-bald) Mohammed Morsi .

Sisi’s secular takeover was supported by hardcore Wahhabi Sunni Saudi Kingdom and other moderate conservative Sunni Arab States.

However it was opposed by the only other Wahhabi state, Qatar, a “moderate” conservative small country that employs conservative Islamist journalists in Arabic and left-wing, socially-aware journalists in English. (The western media insist all these dictator Emirs/Sultans/Kings are moderates…)

This is not a surprise because the charm of the Middle East stems from its contradictions.

Now both Qatar and Saudi Arabia oppose the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a secular Alawi leader from the minority offshoot Shia sect, but they disagree on which of the moderate Sunni Muslim rebels against him they should support in public and which of the extreme Sunni factions they should support in secret.

Assad is in turn supported by conservative Shia Iran and the Lebanese Shia (not offshoot) militant group Hezbollah.

Conservative Shia Iran and uber-Conservative Sunni Saudi Arabia are locked in a fierce geopolitical struggle that some argue is the continuation of ancient sectarian divisions, while others believe is more of a struggle over influence embellished with sectarian rivalries.

Despite their many disagreements, Saudi Arabia and Iran agree on conducting their rivalry through proxy regional wars instead of an all-out war, probably because it’s more fun this way.

Besides Syria, there are several other mutually-acceptable venues in which Saudi Arabia and Iran conduct their proxy wars, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Recently in Yemen, the Houthis who are members of yet another Shia offshoot group, took over the country, once again as a consequence of the general tumult that ensued from the Arab Spring.

Some say Iran was behind the Houthis’ move, partially to punish Saudi Arabia for allowing oil prices to drop.

In traditional Persian culture it’s considered an insult to allow the prices of commodities to drop below production cost, which explains Iran’s anger.

But it’s in Iraq where the struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia gets really complicated.

The sudden rise of the Islamic State under the leadership of self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has taken everyone who wasn’t paying attention by surprise. (It was No surprise, just impotence from Iraq government)

Baghdadi, a very Sunni Muslim extremist, although I wouldn’t say it to his face, has led his forces to occupy large parts of Iraq including the second-largest city, Mosul.

The rise of the Islamic State threatened Iran’s influence in Iraq, which should have pleased Saudi Arabia, save for the fact that the new Caliphate is ideologically indisposed towards Saudi Arabia, which it sees as the epitome of liberal values.

Everything is relative, as they say.

So Saudi Arabia is in the tricky position of having to balance its competing aims of weakening Iran but containing the existential threat posed by the Islamic State. There are No non-existential threats in the Middle East.

For its part, Iran has thrown its weight behind the Shia forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, although this has aligned it momentarily with its old foe, the United States.

But Iran is also full of contradictions as, despite being a theologically-governed Islamic State, it seems to be capable of taking pragmatic decisions in its regional policies.

Recent photographic evidence obtained by Western media outlets even suggests that Iranian women, who must wear Islamic clothes in public, actually wear bras under their clothes.

They also watch television and laugh with their friends, much like people in the West sometimes do.

Western media clearly thought this was important to point out, so it must be so.

Another major Sunni player is Turkey, which is allied with Qatar against the Saudi-Egyptian axis.

Turkey is led by relatively moderate Sunni Muslim Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a suited non-bearded Islamist with latent Ottoman impulses.

Turkey opposed the removal of president Morsi in Egypt, not least because he was also a suited Islamist.

Turkey’s position has been close to that of Qatar in Syria and Libya, where everyone has been competing for influence since Gaddafi’s fall.

(Regional Middle Eastern powers are like the nightclub circle, they all want to be seen in the new place. Lately, Qatar revealed that their activities in Syria in funding the extremist organizations was dictated by USA)

The situation in Libya was complicated by the fact that there are no sectarian divisions in the country, which made things difficult for a while until Libyans decided to create random divisions.

(You can get a sense of this by reading any article on Libya and trying to understand who is against whom and why).

This greatly facilitated the involvement of external powers and made proxy wars much easier to wage.

Although it is a bit unfair to Iran, which being Shia can’t find any allies in an exclusively Sunni Muslim country.

Oh look, this is almost one thousand words already and we don’t have time to wrap up all the loose strands neatly, so it’s best to end on a timeless-sounding platitude about the Middle East and how it will always be the same.

Perhaps even a quote from Khalil Gibran or Omar Khayyam, hinting at our sorrow about lost potential and showing how learned we are.

 

 

 

 


Why most US-backed airstrikes kill children and civilians? The case of Yemen people

You can’t bomb a country into existence, however much America seems determined to try.

In the last week, 164 Yemeni civilians have lost their lives in the Saudi bombardment of my country (and increasing rapidly reaching 1,400 today). In media reports – full of geopolitical talk of “proxy wars” and “regional interests” – the names of the dead are absent.

As always, it is ordinary Yemeni families who are left grieving, and forgotten. (Over 100,000 have already fled their hometowns)

The US has a central role in all of this. As US officials told the Wall Street Journal, “American military planners are using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb”. (And bomb the life out of the Yemenis?)

Investigating US drone strikes on my country, I have seen the aftermath of aerial bombardment time and time again. The weeping father; the young girl unable to walk from shrapnel wounds; the mother, mute from shock.

I try to record what has taken place; most of them just ask in return what my questions will do to bring back their loved ones.

The few that find words express powerlessness and confusion as to why the might of a distant US military has been visited on their simple lives.

I represented the youth in Yemen’s revolution in 2011. I had never been particularly politically interested before the revolution, but those remarkable days changed my life forever, and I was proud to take my place in the process that was set up by the international community to guide my country to democracy.

Over months of hard negotiation, we created the framework for Yemen’s new constitution.

yemen boy rubble

A Yemeni boy stands in front of a damaged house in the village of Bani Matar, a day after it was reportedly hit by an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Huthi rebel positions. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, inexplicably, US drones continued to drop bombs on communities across the country .

The blanket claims by the American government that these attacks were clinically picking off terrorists were patently untrue: I went to the attack sites, and met the bereaved relatives of builders, children, hitchhikers.

I know my country, and my fellow countrymen; the people I was meeting were simple souls, scraping a living in Yemen’s tough agricultural hinterland.

Large political questions were far from their minds. When asked, they would all condemn the terrorist groups who had provided the pretext for the attacks.

We took reports of our investigations to President Hadi, and begged him to stop the attacks. They clearly destabilised all our genuine political efforts.

Hadi would try and change the subject: he knew full well that the US economic support propping up our country was dependent on turning a blind eye to American counter-terrorism activities.

Even last week, as Saudi warplanes were refuelling to fly more sorties, anti-aircraft guns were barking over the capital, and President Hadi was fleeing the country, the White House Press Secretary was still trying to defend the so-called “Yemen model” of counterterrorism that was founded on these drone attacks.

I listened to his words with incredulity, that he could so blindly ignore the evidence of his own eyes.

I understand that Yemen’s problems are complicated, and need time to resolve, but America’s desire to see my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens was a grave mistake.

The National Dialogue was the forum for mending Yemen; US drone attacks consistently undermined our claim to be the sole, sovereign forum for Yemenis to resolve Yemeni disputes.

Truly concerning is President Obama’s belief that Yemen should act as some sort of model for other conflicts – notably the one being waged in Iraq and Syria.

Reporters have already revealed Centcom’s efforts to cover up a drone strike in el-Bab in Syria in which 50 civilians died, as well as the botched attack on Kafr Daryan in which 12 more were killed.

When I read those reports, I am taken straight back to the awful drone attack sites I have visited in Yemen: 12 dead when a wedding convoy was hit in Yakla; a mother, father and young daughter all blown up together when a minibus was hit in al-Saboul.

The surest way to ensure America’s security isn’t bombing my countrymen and women; it’s to help countries build strong institutions, which doesn’t happen through the crosshairs of a drone feed. It’s been tried in Yemen. Please take our current pain as proof it won’t work anywhere else.

Note 1: NBC News has obtained exclusive videos and photos taken in the aftermath of the strike.

The graphic images show the scorched bodies of young men who villagers say were part of a convoy on their way to the wedding celebration when they were killed in their pickups by two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone.

The video and photographs were shot by Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, and given to NBC News by Reprieve, a human rights group critical of U.S. drone policy.

NBC News showed the video to White House and Pentagon officials who declined comment on it. A Yemeni official said the images are consistent with what its government knows about what happened after the attack.

“You cannot imagine how angry people are (about the strike). They turned a wedding into a funeral,”  Al-Sane, who lives near the town of Radda, where the drone strike took place, told NBC News.

Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist who interviewed local villagers two days after the  strike, said he saw no sign that  Badani was anywhere near the village, noting that he was from another region of Yemen, and, as a “stranger” to the area, was unlikely to have been invited to a gathering celebrating the wedding between a groom and bride in two neighboring villages.

“There was clearly a wedding party,” said Shiban. He said he believes U.S. officials “may have been fed the wrong intel. They saw a group of people waiting in trucks for a convoy and they assumed they were militants, so they made the decision to strike.”

Nasser Al-Sane / Reprieve

The bodies of nine men allegedly killed in a U.S. drone strike on Dec. 12 are lined up prior to burial near the town of Radda, Yemen. Villagers said the victims, among the dozen people killed in the strike, were on their way to celebrate a wedding when the attack occurred.

Shiban said he has compiled a list of the 12 men killed in the strike. They were shepherds and khat farmers, who ranged in age from 20 to 65, he said.

Al-Sane, the journalist who shot the video and also interviewed local villagers, acknowledged that the young men killed in the strike were carrying rifles.

But he said this is not at all unusual for a wedding procession. “In an Arab wedding, it is a tradition for people to carry arms,” he said. “They shoot bullets in the air as a form of expression. That’s how they celebrate a wedding.”

The disputed U.S. drone strike in al-Baydah province in central Yemen came just a week after al Qaeda militants launched one of the most-devastating insurgent attacks in the country — an assault on the  Yemen Ministry of Defense and a military hospital that killed 52 people, including  women, children and doctors.

While the attack reportedly stirred anger toward al Qaeda in the country, the drone strike triggered a strong backlash against the U.S. as well.

Within days, Yemen’s Parliament voted for a resolution calling for an end to all drone strikes in the country. (The US can no longer claim that is has Yemen government approval)

Shiban is a member of Yemen’s National Dialogue, an officially sanctioned assembly of citizens tasked with finding solutions to the critical issues facing the country, and serves as the local coordinator for Reprieve, a human rights group that has been critical of drone strikes.

Abubakr Al-Shamahi / Reprieve

A pickup hit by a missile fired by a U.S. drone on Dec. 12.

In a report Shiban filed for Reprieve, and which the group shared with NBC News, he said local villagers told him the drone attack had taken place on a convoy of 11 cars and trucks carrying about 60 people traveling from the home of the bride to the neighboring village of the groom. While the convoy was waiting  in a valley for more guests to join, the group heard the sound of a drone approaching, it said.

He quoted Ahmed Mohammed Al Shafe’ee, a 70-year-old shepherd, as saying his 25-year-old son – the father of seven, including a 15 day old baby — was among those killed in the attack.

“We heard a loud explosion coming from down in the valley,” he said, according to Shiban’s report. “I arrived to the site and there were bodies scattered all over the place. The people told me that my son Aref had died.” When he returned to the village, Al Shafe-ee was quoted as saying, “I saw the women of the village gathered crying and screaming.”

Another villager, Sheikh Salah Al-Taisy, is quoted as saying that there was no place to take cover.

“There was no way to run. It is a very remote area,” he said. “…We live in fear day and night. Our children and women cannot sleep.”

Nasser Al-Sane / Reprieve

A piece of one of the U.S. Hellfire missiles that villagers say hit the celebrants.

According to Shiban’s report, nine bodies were taken to the village of Radda for a mass burial. The photos and videos Shiban sent to Reprieve show a row of burned corpses lined up on the ground surrounded by local villagers, as well as a scorched truck purportedly destroyed in the attack. They also show villagers holding up a banner in Arabic saying, “America Spills the Blood,” as well as local residents playing with the remains of a Hellfire missile bearing the words “Warning — two man lift” in English.

Andrew Bossone shared this link on FB

“You can’t bomb a country into existence, however much America seems determined to try.”

America saw my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens, which was a mistake. Instead of fixing the problems, drone strikes made them worse
theguardian.com|By Baraa Shiban

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