Why Bombing ISIS Is Futile

If we had not supported so many brutal men in the Middle East, would things have turned out differently?

Is there a “Plan B” in Barack Obama’s brain? Or in David Cameron’s, for that matter? I mean, we’re vaguely told that air strikes against the ferocious “Islamic State” may go on for “a long time”. But how long is “long”? Are we just going to go on killing Arabs and bombing and bombing and bombing until, well, until we go on bombing? What happens if our Kurdish and non-existent “moderate” Syrian fighters – described by Vice-President Joe Biden last week as largely “shopkeepers” – don’t overthrow the monstrous “Islamic State”? Then I suppose we are going to bomb and bomb and bomb again. As a Lebanese colleague of mine asked in an article last week, what is Obama going to do next? Has he thought of that?

After Alan Henning’s beheading, the gorge rises at the thought of even discussing such things. But distance sometimes creates distorting mirrors, none so more than when it involves the distance between the Middle East and Washington, London, Paris and, I suppose, Canberra. In Beirut, I’ve been surveying the Arab television and press – and it’s interesting to see the gulf that divides what the Arabs see and hear, and what the West sees and hears. The gruesome detail is essential here to understand how Arabs have already grown used to jihadi barbarity. They have seen full video clips of the execution of Iraqis – if shot in the back of the head, they have come to realise, a victim’s blood pours from the front of his face – and they have seen video clips of Syrian soldiers not only beheaded but their heads then barbecued and carried through villages on sticks.

Understandably, Alan Henning’s murder didn’t get much coverage in the Middle East, although television did show his murder video – which Western television did not. But it didn’t make many front pages. Mostly the fighting between jihadis and Kurds at Ein al-Arab (Kobane) and the festival for the Muslim Eid – and the Haj in Saudi Arabia – dominated news coverage. In general, the Arab world was as uninterested in Henning’s murder as we have been, for example, in the car bomb that killed 50 Syrian children in Homs last week. Had they been British children, of course…

But I’m struck by friends who’ve asked me why we are really carrying out air strikes when we won’t put soldiers on the ground. They have noted how the families of American hostages – fruitlessly seeking mercy for their loved ones – keep repeating that they cannot make Obama do what they want him to do. Yet, don’t we claim that our democratic governments can be influenced by individuals, that they do what we want?

And watching David Cameron on my Beirut television last week, I asked myself why it was really necessary for the RAF to bomb the “Islamic State”. He knows very well that our four – or is it two? – clapped-out Tornadoes are not going to make the slightest difference to any assault on jihadi forces. Indeed, he was prepared to delay RAF strikes until the Scottish referendum was over. If so, why did he not defer them altogether to save British lives?

But it was obvious at the Tory party conference that Cameron’s greatest threat came not from a man in Mosul called Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, but from a man in Bromley called Nigel Farage. Thus he waffled on about how Britain would “hunt down and bring to justice” Henning’s killers and do “everything we can to defeat this organisation in the region and at home”, using “all the assets we have to find these [remaining] hostages”. By “all the assets”, he must mean ground troops – because the RAF is already being used – and this we are not, I think, going to do. “British troops held hostage by Islamic State” is not a headline he wants to read. Thus I fear we are going to do nothing except bomb. And bomb. And bomb. Farage can’t beat that.

Like all Western leaders faced with a crisis in the Middle East, Cameron does not want to deal with it – or explore why it happened. He wants to know how to respond to it politically or, preferably, militarily. Our refusal to broadcast the “Islamic State” beheading videos is understandable – absolutely in the case of the actual murders – but by preventing Brits from actually seeing these horrors, the Government avoids having to respond to the public’s reaction: either a call for more air strikes or to demand their annulment.

This secrecy means the hostages do not exist in our imagination; they only emerge from the mist into the horrible desert sunlight when that grisly video arrives. In the region itself, hostages become public property at once, relatives giving interviews and demanding action from their governments. As I write, the families of 21 captured Lebanese soldiers faced with beheading are blocking the main Damascus- Beirut highway. A Qatari envoy has arrived to help (presumably with lots of cash).

Perhaps we need to reframe our understanding of the “Islamic State”. British Muslim leaders have said, quite rightly, that Muslims show mercy, and that the “Islamic State” is a perversion of Islam. I suspect and fear that they are wrong. Not because Islam is not merciful, but because the “Islamic State” has nothing at all to do with Islam. It is more a cult of nihilism. Their fighters have been brutalised – remember that they have endured, many of them, Saddam’s cruelty, our sanctions, Western invasion and occupation and air strikes under Saddam and now air strikes again. These people just don’t believe in justice any more. They have erased it from their minds.

If we had not supported so many brutal men in the Middle East, would things have turned out differently? Probably. If we had supported justice – I hesitate to suggest putting a certain man on trial for war crimes – would there have been a different reaction in the Middle East? In the Syrian war, they say that 200,000 have died; in Gaza more than 2,000. But in Iraq, we suspect half a million died. And whose fault was that?

The “Islamic State” are the real or spiritual children of all this. Now we face an exclusive form of nihilism, a cult as merciless as it is morbid. And we bomb and we bomb and we bomb. And then?



Boom! for US arms-makers as war on IS brings in billions

Wall St cheers as US bombs are used to blow up US-made equipment that will all need replacing

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:25 ON Tue 7 Oct 2014
It looks like it is going to be a good year for America’s arms industry after all.

Things were looking bleak – at least by the standards of the US war machine – until Jihadi John and his cohorts started chopping off heads in the name of the Islamic State and over-running nation states blessed with oil supplies.

Barak Obama came to office as the “no more war” president and although his definition of war seems to exclude death by drone or special forces he has brought home most of the forces that had been fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This has had a dire effect on the production lines and bank accounts of what President Eisenhower so presciently named back in 1961 the Military-Industrial Complex. Share prices flattened on Wall Street, and blue-collar workers assembling the Humvees and smart bombs of contemporary combat were the first to lose their jobs as demand fell.

In Washington, Congress has been preparing a Pentagon appropriations bill of just $58.6 billion – that is $20 billion down on this year’s budget, and a huge hit on the fortunes of those who reap the profits of war.

But the boom is back in the nick of time.

The campaign to “degrade” Islamic State fighters from the air – already being deemed a failure, but we won’t go there – is calculated to have cost $1 billion so far, and that’s only the start of it.

Just three days after Washington took the war to Syria a fortnight ago, the Pentagon signed a $251 million dollar contract with Raytheon Co to replace the 47 cruise missiles fired in the opening barrage. This week came news that Apache helicopters (manufactured by Boeing) armed with Hellfire missiles (Lockheed Martin) have been thrown into the fray outside Baghdad.

Which is why Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is hard at work negotiating with Congress for a return of a good chunk of the very same $20 billion his Pentagon was negotiating to cut.

“We’re going to require additional funding from Congress as we go forward,” Hagel said at a news conference on 26 September. “We’re working now with appropriate committees on how we go forward with authorisations and funding.”

The Washington think-tank The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has estimated that the air campaign alone will cost around $3.8 billion a year at the current level of intensity, all of it being met by the US taxpayer.

“There are plenty of reasons to think that defence spending is going to be on the rise again,” Wayne Plucker, an aerospace analyst with research firm Frost & Sullivan, told the Los Angeles Times. “Defence companies are not being harmed by the current situation, I can tell you that much.”

Although Obama has restricted his war on IS to bombardment, there is no reason for manufacturers of ground weapons to despair. IS has stolen most of its equipment from the Iraqi Army, which abandoned billions of dollars’ worth of kit.

So the Tomahawks and smart bombs are blowing up Humvees and American-made armoured personnel carriers, artillery pieces and tanks, all of which will have to be replaced for the next Iraqi or other army to fail in its purpose.

Even more encouraging, business-wise, is that the Arab “allies” with whom Obama has gone to war are also using up stocks of American arms. The LA Times reports that Boeing has already sold 262,000 guidance kits which turn bombs into “smart bombs” to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, at $25,000 each.

The “privatisation” of war has spread the profits far beyond the makers of ships and planes and bombs. Obama’s sending thousands of private-contractors back to Iraq to help secure “American interests” as well as arm and train the proxy armies taking on the Assad regime and IS in Syria is seasonal good cheer to such companies as Halliburton.

Halliburton became a household name as the largest of the “privatised” contractors to emerge with coffers bulging from the wreckage of Iraq. It had been run by President Dubya Bush’s vice-president Dick Cheney before he left, putting his shares in trust, to run the “neo-con” project and the Iraq War.

According to a March 2013 report by the International Business Times, Halliburton had made $39.5 billion from the Iraq War by the time it was “ended” by Obama, and is still busy there now. Cheney held $39 million in Halliburton stock options when he quit the company in 2000 to take up office, and has been selling them off since retiring.

Is it a co-incidence that Obama declares his war on IS as the mid-term elections loom? Not entirely. The Democrats face a tough fight hanging on to their Senate majority, and further losses in the House of Representatives already in Republican hands.

The Military-Industrial Complex is unrivalled for the distribution of “pork”. That is one reason why military costs are so high: spreading the pork from the public purse to constituencies all over the country has always been more important than efficient concentrations of production. It is the congressman’s job to bring home the bacon, and there are dozens of relieved Democrats going home to face the November polls with fat contracts for subsidiaries of big corporations in their pockets.

The shares of the biggest hogs at the trough – Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics – have all been climbing back to record highs, and all of them are outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index. Wall Street cheers. · 

Marines in Kuwait; Turkey joins US coalition

New steps to wider war in Middle East

By Patrick Martin
3 October 2014

The US military has deployed a quick-reaction force of 2,300 Marines to the Middle East, the Pentagon revealed Wednesday, the latest step in a carefully planned escalation of American military power in the region.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, said that about half of the force, to be based in Kuwait, was in place, and the rest were on the way. Most of the troops come from Marine Corps bases in southern California, according to reports in the local press there.

The Marines are only the spearhead of a much larger US force in Kuwait, already numbering some 15,000 troops, including an entire armored brigade, which has only flat desert terrain separating it from the war zone in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Another 1,000 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit are stationed on board Navy warships in the Persian Gulf.

The deployment of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), as the new unit is called, was decided on before the current air war launched against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), officials said.

The decision came as part of a review of the security of US installations throughout the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the September 11, 2012 attack on US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Last year the Pentagon established its first MAGTF, headquartered at Morón, Spain, with some assets forward-deployed to Sigonella, Sicily, which is closer to Libya, Egypt and other points in the eastern Mediterranean. This force comprises 1,200 troops available for action anywhere in North Africa.

The second MAGTF, double the size of the first, will be headquartered in Kuwait, but its forces will be distributed to multiple locations in the Middle East, as yet unspecified. “The 2,100 troops will be stationed throughout the theater with the headquarters element in Kuwait,” Marine Corps Col. Kenneth DeTreux told Stars and Stripes, the semi-official military newspaper.

General Amos declined to discuss the specific tasks that the new Marine force might carry out. “All I am trying to do is provide another tool in the tool box,” he told the Journal. “This is a force ready for an array of mission sets.”

Among the likely missions is intervention into Syria or Iraq. This could include either a rescue-in-force of pilots of US warplanes shot down over ISIS-controlled territory in either Syria or Iraq, or reinforcement of the Marine garrisons guarding the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US mission in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The Marines are equipped with attack jet fighters, transport planes and V-22 Osprey vertical take-off and landing planes, which enable them to move within hours to a targeted area.

The announcement of the Marine deployment came at the end of the second week of US bombing of Syria, nominally directed at the ISIS, the Islamic fundamentalist group that overran much of western and northern Iraq during the summer.

The ultimate goal of the US intervention, as Obama administration spokesmen have repeatedly declared, is the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is allied to Iran and Russia, the two main targets of American imperialism in the region.

While the Obama administration has sought to use the crimes of ISIS, such as the beheading of prisoners and the slaughter of minority religious groups, to sway public opinion in the United States, US allies like Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf despotisms have made it clear that they are mainly concerned with overthrowing Assad.

The latest recruit to the US-led “coalition,” the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was even more explicit about this goal, as the Turkish parliament voted Thursday for a measure to allow Turkish troops to enter Iraq and Syria and to permit foreign troops to use Turkish territory.

The new law would allow Turkish troops to create a buffer zone inside Syria to prevent refugees from crossing the border. It would also allow the US to use its airbase at Incirlik, near the Syria-Turkish border, to launch airstrikes against targets in both Syria and Iraq.

In a speech before the vote, Erdogan dismissed the US-led bombing campaign against ISIS as ineffective and pointless, saying, “Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger” of terrorism. He renewed his call for the ouster of Assad. This was echoed by Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, who told parliament, “The main source of ISIS is the Syrian regime.”

The parliament passed authorization for Turkish military action by a vote of 298 to 98, with many of those opposing the bill advocating an even more aggressive role, and criticizing Erdogan for failing to enforce border controls against the influx of Islamic militants through Turkey and into the Syrian conflict.

Turkish Chief of Staff Necdet Ozel gave another pretext for possible military intervention in Syria, saying that the army was ready to act in defense of a small Turkish unit deployed in northern Syria to guard the tomb of an ancestor of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb of Suleyman Shah has been treated as Turkish territory under a longstanding arrangement with the Syrian government, with a token honor guard that is now surrounded by ISIS forces.

As these military and diplomatic maneuvers took place, there was heavy fighting in both Syria, around the Kurdish-populated town of Kobani, on the Turkish border, and in Hit, a city on the Euphrates River that has been largely overrun by ISIS. Hit is 115 miles northwest of Baghdad and a hub for oil pipelines.

In the Syrian city of Homs, the country’s third-largest, some 39 people, most of them children, were killed in two car-bombings near a school in a pro-Assad neighborhood. The district, known as Akrama, is largely populated by Alawites, the Shiite-linked sect to which the Assad family and most of the regime’s inner circle belong. It has been repeatedly targeted for terrorist attacks by the al-Nusra Front and other Syrian “rebel” groups.

US war against the people of Syria and Iraq


2 October 2014

US air strikes in Iraq and Syria will kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and the White House and Pentagon are fully aware of this fact. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from a remarkable public statement Tuesday by a top White House aide.

The statement coincided with the heaviest attacks so far in the air war in Syria and Iraq, with US and allied countries launching 24 strikes, 12 in each country on Tuesday, with British warplanes making their first attacks.

National Security Council press spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, in an e-mail to Yahoo News, confirmed that the targeting restrictions announced by President Obama for US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen do not apply to the war launched against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama announced those restrictions in a speech to the National Defense University, claiming that the US would only conduct drone strikes against supposed Al Qaeda targets if there was a “near certainty” of no civilian casualties, which he called “the highest standard that we can meet.”

“The specific standards at issue in the NDU speech apply only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as was noted at the time,” Hayden wrote. “That description—outside areas of active hostilities—simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.”

Hayden was responding to concerns over casualties in the village of Kafr Daryan in Idlib Province, in northwestern Syria, where a Tomahawk cruise missile killed as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children. The US Central Command confirmed the September 23 strike, saying it targeted the “Khorasan group,” the US-invented label for members of the Al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front, one of the main Syrian “rebel” groups fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Pentagon’s top spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, confirmed the more permissive standard for air strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq when questioned by reporters Tuesday. “When we say we’re going to go after them, we mean it,” Kirby said.

The restrictions that Obama claimed he was applying to drone missile strikes did not significantly limit the carnage inflicted by 500-pound warheads smashing into the huts of tribal villagers in rural Pakistan and Yemen. Pakistani officials and outside organizations like Amnesty International estimated the civilian death toll from more than 300 drone strikes in these areas as ranging from the high hundreds to many thousands.

After a series of studies on civilian casualties in drone missile strikes were published last year, the WSWS wrote, “The reports, in fact, provide prima facie evidence for a future war crimes tribunal whose defendants would include Obama and top officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.” (see: Report documents US slaughter of civilians in drone strikes).

In addition to the direct toll of dead and wounded, there is the effect of such constant attacks on the whole society. An April 2014 article in Rolling Stone observed: “The people of Yemen can hear destruction before it arrives. In cities, towns and villages across this country, which hangs off the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the air buzzes with the sound of American drones flying overhead. The sound is a constant and terrible reminder … Over half of Yemen’s 24.8 million citizens—militants and civilians alike—are impacted every day.”

The statements of the White House and Pentagon spokesmen indicate that the death and destruction inflicted on the people of Iraq and Syria will dwarf the horrific impact of drone warfare on Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia. And not a single voice of protest against such mass killing has been raised in official Washington, in either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Representatives of US-backed Syrian groups allied to al-Nusra briefed members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Kafr Daryan strike. One Republican congressman who attended the briefing, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, dismissed concerns about civilian deaths, telling Yahoo News, “Nothing is perfect,” and arguing that any collateral damage from US strikes was “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”

The death toll from bombs and missiles is only the beginning. As US officials were at pains to emphasize this week—most prominently Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations—the main goal of American imperialism in Syria remains that of the overthrow of Assad and his replacement by a US-backed puppet regime in Damascus.

That goal inevitably requires the deployment of tens of thousands of ground troops—whether American, British, French, Turkish, Saudi or some combination—and the military conquest of Syria. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to a million deaths from 2003 to 2011. A crime of even greater dimensions now looms in both Iraq and Syria.

Patrick Martin

US air strikes in Syria


…just the beginning

By Peter Symonds
24 September 2014

Following yesterday’s massive air attacks inside Syria, the Pentagon made clear that the operations were just the start of a protracted war. Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the media the strikes were “the beginning of a credible and sustainable, persistent campaign” against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militias. Asked about the length of the campaign, he said: “I think it would be in terms of years.”

The scope and extent of the air strikes underline that fact that Syria, rather than Iraq, has been the primary target all along. A senior American military official told the New York Times that the US and its allies “dropped as many bombs in one night as the United States had during all its previous operations against Islamic State in Iraq.” The cruise missiles and bombs rained down on Syria were not directed simply against ISIS, but also against Al Qaeda affiliates—Jabhat al-Nusra, and the hitherto unpublicised “terrorist” organisation, Khorasan.

While Mayville disclaimed any knowledge of civilian casualties, the first reports from inside Syria indicate substantial death and destruction. The Los Angeles Times cited a video from the north-western province of Idlib showing residents picking through the rubble of bombed houses with a voice over of an anti-government activist, declaring “mass destruction of the civilian homes [as] a result of the strikes of the Western alliance.” The article explained that one of five US missiles in the area had hit a residential neighbourhood in the village of Kafar Daryan, killing up to two dozen civilians, including children.

Yesterday’s assault consisted of three waves of strikes. The first was a volley of cruise missiles directed against targets around Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. The second involved US fighter jets and drones, along with war planes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan, attacking ISIS compounds and vehicles in northern Syria. The third round, which also included Arab countries, targeted ISIS positions in eastern Syria.

The fact that the first set of missiles was not directed against ISIS, but against Khorasan targets near Aleppo, is particularly significant. In justifying the attacks, US officials claimed that the small, obscure group of “seasoned Al Qaeda veterans” was in the “advanced stages of some type of terrorist attack against a European or US-based target.”

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby provided no evidence that a terrorist attack had been imminent. Unnamed counter-intelligence officials provided the media with lurid details about the group’s experiments with “next-generation undetectable bombs” to be smuggled onto international flights, including explosive devices inside toothpaste tubes and clothing dipped in liquid explosives.

This new terrorist scare serves to further intensify the climate of fear and suspicion being cultivated by the media and political establishment in the US and its allies as a means of blunting opposition to new US-led war in the Middle East. It lays the basis for further police-state measures and the suppression of dissent.

At the same time, the Obama administration seized on the “imminent threat” to the United States to bolster its threadbare justifications for a war of aggression in flagrant breach of international law. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, added the Khorasan “terrorist threat” to the absurd claim that the attacks on Syria were legitimate because they were undertaken on the request of the US puppet regime in Baghdad.

The attacks around Aleppo appear to be out of all proportion to any danger posed by Khorasan, which, according to US officials speaking to ABC News, consisted of “about 50 or so hardened fighters.” Most of the 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US Navy vessels in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf were directed at targets around Aleppo.

The real purpose of this assault was revealed in a Wall Street Journal article, which pointed out that the strikes were coordinated in advance with pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias in Aleppo. Syrian opposition spokesman Oubai Shahbandar told the newspaper that the CIA recently provided the FSA with fresh military supplies, “including American-made, heat-seeking anti-tank weapons known as TOWs, arms and communications equipment.”

The Wall Street Journal claimed that the US attacks were not directed against Syrian army positions, but rather were aimed at reinforcing the FSA against its various Islamist rivals, including ISIS. However, the intervention of US war planes in this hotly-contested area signifies Washington’s direct involvement in Syria’s protracted civil war. The primary US target is not ISIS, but the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Any threat or incident, real or concocted, involving the Syrian military can be turned by Washington into the pretext for the postponed air war on the regime that was planned last year and called off at the last minute.

Confronted with the threat of war, the Syrian government is attempting to manoeuvre by offering to collaborate with the US in its attacks on ISIS—an offer that Washington has flatly rejected. Instead of condemning yesterday’s devastating air assault on Syrian territory as illegal, the regime boasted that it had been given advance notice of the attacks. As deputy US national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes told the media, the only US notification was a menacing warning “not to pose a threat to our aircraft.”

The Assad regime’s main backers—Iran and Russia—issued cautious and conditional criticisms of the US air strikes. In comments to NBC News, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani complained that the attacks were launched without UN authorisation or the permission of the Assad government, but did not condemn them outright. The Russian foreign ministry made similar comments. Both governments are seeking to avoid a confrontation with the US, even though they are well aware that the US war in Syria is aimed against their strategic interests in the Middle East.

The Pentagon declared that yesterday’s attacks were not a repetition of the “shock and awe” bombardment that began the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. But there is no doubt that the raw display of US military might, including the use of some the latest and most sophisticated weapons systems, was aimed at intimidating and threatening. The US military used the opportunity to test out its F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and the latest versions of the Tomahawk missiles, sending an unmistakeable warning to US rivals in the Middle East and beyond.

How Google and the Big Tech Companies Are Helping Maintain America’s Empire

Military, intelligence agencies and defense contractors are totally connected to Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley has been in the media spotlight for its role in gentrifying and raising rents in San Francisco, helping the NSA spy on American citizens, and lack of racial and gender diversity. Despite that, Silicon Valley still has a reputation for benevolence, innocence and progressivism. Hence Google’s phrase, “Don’t be evil.” A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that, even after the Snowden leaks, 53% of those surveyed had high confidence in the tech industry. The tech industry is not seen as evil as, say, Wall Street or Big Oil.

One aspect of Silicon Valley that would damage this reputation has not been scrutinized enough—its involvement in American militarism. Silicon Valley’s ties to the National Security State extend beyond the NSA’s PRISM program. Through numerous partnerships and contracts with the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Silicon Valley is part of the American military-industrial complex. Google sells its technologies to the U.S. military, FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, NGA, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, has managers with backgrounds in military and intelligence work, and partners with defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Amazon designed a cloud computing system that will be used by the CIA and every other intelligence agency. The CIA-funded tech company Palantir sells its data-mining and analysis software to the U.S. military, CIA, LAPD, NYPD, and other security agencies. These technologies have several war-zone and intelligence-gathering applications.

First, a little background to explain how the military has been involved with Silicon Valley since its conception as a technology center. Silicon Valley’s roots date back to World War II, according to a presentation by researcher and entrepreneur Steve Blank. During the war, the U.S. government funded a secret lab at Harvard University to research how to disrupt Germany’s radar-guided electronic air defense system. The solution — drop aluminum foil in front of German radars to jam them. This birthed modern electronic warfare and signals intelligence. The head of that lab was Stanford engineering professor Fred Terman who, after World War II, took 11 staffers from that lab to create Stanford’s Electronic Research Lab (ERL), which received funding from the military. Stanford also had an Applied Electronics Lab(AEL) that did classified research in jammers and electronic intelligence for the military.

In fact, much of AEL’s research aided the U.S. war in Vietnam. This made the lab a target for student antiwar protesters who nonviolently occupied the lab in April 1969 and demanded an end to classified research at Stanford. After nearly a year of teach-ins, protests, and violent clashes with the police, Stanford effectively eliminated war-related classified research at the university.

The ERL did research in and designed microwave tubes and electronic receivers and jammers. This helped the U.S. military and intelligence agencies spy on the Soviet Union and jam their air defense systems. Local tube companies and contractors developed the technologies based on that research. Some researchers from ERL also founded microwave companies in the area. This created a boon of microwave and electronic startups that ultimately formed the Silicon Valley known today.

Don’t be evil, Google

Last year, the first Snowden documents revealed that Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and other major tech companies provided the NSA access to their users’ data through the PRISM program. All the major tech companies denied knowledge of PRISM and put up an adversarial public front to government surveillance. However, Al Jazeera America’s Jason Leopold obtained, via FOIA request, two sets of email communications between former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. The communications, according to Leopold, suggest “a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass” and that “not all cooperation was under pressure.” In the emails, Alexander and the Google executives discussed information sharing related to national security purposes.

But PRISM is the tip of the iceberg. Several tech companies are deeply in bed with the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, and defense contractors. One very notable example is Google. Google markets and sells its technology to the U.S. military and several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, and NGA.

Google has a contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) that allows the agency to use Google Earth Builder. The NGA provides geospatial intelligence, such as satellite imagery and mapping, to the military and other intelligence agencies like the NSA. In fact, NGA geospatial intelligence helped the military and CIA locate and kill Osama bin Laden. This contract allows the NGA to utilize Google’s mapping technology for geospatial intelligence purposes. Google’s Official Enterprise Blog announced that “Google’s work with NGA marks one of the first major government geospatial cloud initiatives, which will enable NGA to use Google Earth Builder to host its geospatial data and information. This allows NGA to customize Google Earth & Maps to provide maps and globes to support U.S. government activities, including: U.S. national security; homeland security; environmental impact and monitoring; and humanitarian assistance, disaster response and preparedness efforts.”

Google Earth’s technology “got its start in the intelligence community, in a CIA-backed firm called Keyhole,” which Google purchased in 2004, according to the Washington Post. PandoDaily reporter Yasha Levine, who has extensively reported on Google’s ties to the military and intelligence communitypoints out that Keyhole’s “main product was an application called EarthViewer, which allowed users to fly and move around a virtual globe as if they were in a video game.”

In 2003, a year before Google bought Keyhole, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, until it was saved by In-Q-Tel, a CIA-funded venture capital firm. The CIA worked with other intelligence agencies to fit Keyhole’s systems to its needs. According to the CIA Museum page, “The finished product transformed the way intelligence officers interacted with geographic information and earth imagery. Users could now easily combine complicated sets of data and imagery into clear, realistic visual representations. Users could ‘fly’ from space to street level seamlessly while interactively exploring layers of information including roads, schools, businesses, and demographics.”

How much In-Q-Tel invested into Keyhole is classified. However, Levine writes that “the bulk of the funds didn’t come from the CIA’s intelligence budget — as they normally do with In-Q-Tel — but from the NGA, which provided the money on behalf of the entire ‘Intelligence Community.’ As a result, equity in Keyhole was held by two major intelligence agencies.” Shortly after In-Q-Tel bought Keyhole, the NGA (then known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency or NIMA) announced it immediately used Keyhole’s technology to support U.S. troops in Iraq at the 2003-2011 war. The next year, Google purchased Keyhole and used its technology to develop Google Earth.

Four years after Google purchased Keyhole, in 2008, Google and the NGA purchased GeoEye-1, the world’s highest-resolution satellite, from the company GeoEye. The NGA paid for half of the satellite’s $502 million development and committed to purchasing its imagery. Because of a government restriction, Google gets lower-resolution images but still retains exclusive access to the satellite’s photos. GeoEye later merged into DigitalGlobe in 2013.

Google’s relationship to the National Security State extends beyond contracts with the military and intelligence agencies. Many managers in Google’s public sector division come from the U.S. military and intelligence community, according to one of Levine’s reports.

Michele R. Weslander-Quaid is one example. She became Google’s Innovation Evangelist and Chief Technology Officer of the company’s public sector division in 2011. Before joining Google, since 9/11, Weslander-Quaid worked throughout the military and intelligence world in positions at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Reconnaissance Office, and later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Levine noted that Weslander-Quaid also “toured combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan in order to see the tech needs of the military first-hand.”

Throughout her years working in the intelligence community, Weslander-Quaid “shook things up by dropping archaic software and hardware and convincing teams to collaborate via web tools” and “treated each agency like a startup,” according to a 2014 Entrepreneur Magazine profile. She was a major advocate for web tools and cloud-based software and was responsible for implementing them at the agencies she worked at. At Google, Weslander-Quaid’s job is to meet “with agency directors to map technological paths they want to follow, and helps Google employees understand what’s needed to work with public-sector clients.” Weslander-Quaid told Entrepreneur, “A big part of my job is to translate between Silicon Valley speak and government dialect” and “act as a bridge between the two cultures.”

Another is Shannon Sullivan, head of defense and intelligence at Google. Before working at Google, Sullivan served in the U.S. Air Force working at various intelligence positions. First as senior military advisor and then in the Air Force’s C4ISR Acquisition and Test; Space Operations, Foreign Military Sales unit. C4ISR stands for “Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.” Sullivan left his Air Force positions to work as Defense Director for BAE Systems, a British-based arms and defense company, and then Army and Air Force COCOMs Director at Oracle. His last project at Google was “setting up a Google Apps ‘transformational’ test program to supply 50,000 soldiers in the US Army and DoD with a customized Google App Universe”, according to Levine.

Google not only has a revolving door with the Pentagon and intelligence community, it also partners with defense and intelligence contractors. Levine writes that “in recent years, Google has increasingly taken the role of subcontractor: selling its wares to military and intelligence agencies by partnering with established military contractors.”

The company’s partners include two of the biggest American defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, an aerospace, defense, and information security company, and Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company. Both Lockheed and Northrop produce aircraft, missiles and defense systems, naval and radar systems, unmanned systems, satellites, information technology, and other defense-related technologies. In 2011, Lockheed Martin made $36.3 billion in arms sales, while Northrop Grumman made $21.4 billion. Lockheed has a major office in Sunnyvale, California, right in the middle of Silicon Valley. Moreover, Lockheed was also involved in interrogating prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo, through its purchase of Sytex Corporation and the information technology unit of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), both of whom directly interrogated detainees.

Google worked with Lockheed to design geospatial technologies. In 2007, describing the company as “Google’s partner,” the Washington Post reported that Lockheed “demonstrated a Google Earth product that it helped design for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s work in Iraq. These included displays of key regions of the country and outlined Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, as well as U.S. and Iraqi military bases in the city. Neither Lockheed nor Google would say how the geospatial agency uses the data.” Meanwhile, Google has a $1-million contract with Northrop to install a Google Earth plug-in.

Both Lockheed and Northrop manufacture and sell unmanned systems, also known as drones. Lockheed’s drones include the Stalker, which can stay airborne for 48 hours; Desert Hawk III, a small reconnaissance drone used by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the RQ-170 Sentinel, a high-altitude stealth reconnaissance drone used by the U.S. Air Force and CIA. RQ-170s have been used in Afghanistan and for the raidthat killed Osama bin Laden. One American RQ-170 infamously crashed in Iran while on a surveillance mission over the country in late 2011.

Northrop Grumman built the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude surveillance drone used by the Air Force and Navy. Northrop is also building a new stealth drone for the Air Force called the RQ-180, which may be operational by 2015. In 2012, Northrop sold $1.2 billion worth of drones to South Korea.

Google is also cashing in on the drone market. It recently purchased drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, which makes high-altitude, solar-powered drones that can “stay in the air for years without needing to land,” reported the Wire. Facebook entered into talks to buy the company a month before Google made the purchase.

Last December, Google purchased Boston Dynamics, a major engineering and robotics company that receives funding from the military for its projects. According to the Guardian, “Funding for the majority of the most advanced Boston Dynamics robots comes from military sources, including the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US army, navy and marine corps.” Some of these DARPA-funded projects include BigDog, Legged Squad Support System (LS3), Cheetah, WildCat, and Atlas, all of which are autonomous, walking robots. Altas is humanoid, while BigDog, LS3, Cheetah, WildCat are animal-like quadrupeds. In addition to Boston Dynamics, Google purchased eight robotics companies in 2013—Industrial Perception, Redwood Robotics, Meka, Schaft, Holomni, Bot & Dolly, and Autofuss. Google has been tight-lipped about the specifics of its plans for the robotics companies. But some sources told the New York Times that Google’s robotics efforts are not aimed at consumers but rather manufacturing, such as automating supply chains.

Google’s “Enterprise Government” page also lists military/intelligence contractors Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Blackbird Technologies among the companies it partners with. In particularly, Blackbird is a military contractor that supplies locators for “the covert ‘tagging, tracking and locating’ of suspected enemies,” according to Wired. Its customers include the U.S. Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command. SOCOM oversees the U.S. military’s special operations forces units, such as the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and Green Berets. Blackbird even sent some employees as armed operatives on secret missions with special operations forces. The company’s vice president is Cofer Black, a former CIA operative who ran the agency’s Counterterrorist Center before 9/11.

Palantir and the military

Many others tech companies are working with military and intelligence agencies. Amazon recently developed a $600 million cloud computing system for the CIA that will also service all 17 intelligence agencies. Both Amazon and the CIA have said little to nothing about the system’s capabilities.

Palantir, which is based in Palo Alto, California produces and sells data-mining and analysis software. Its customers include the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command, CIA, NSA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Counterterrorism Center, LAPD, and NYPD. In California, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), one of 72 federally run fusion centers built across the nation since 9/11, uses Palantir software to collect and analyze license plate photos.

While Google sells its wares to whomever in order to make a profit, Palantir, as a company, isn’t solely dedicated to profit-maximizing. Counterterrorism has been part of the company’s mission since it began. The company was founded in 2004 by investor Alex Karp, who is the company’s chief executive, and billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel. In 2003, Thiel came up with the idea to develop software to fight terrorism based on PayPal’s fraud recognition software. The CIA’s In-Q-Tel helped jumpstart the company by investing $2 million. The rest of the company’s $30 million start-up costs were funded by Thiel and his venture capital fund.

Palantir’s software has “a user-friendly search tool that can scan multiple data sources at once, something previous search tools couldn’t do,” according to a 2009 Wall Street Journal profile. The software fills gaps in intelligence “by using a ‘tagging’ technique similar to that used by the search functions on most Web sites. Palantir tags, or categorizes, every bit of data separately, whether it be a first name, a last name or a phone number.” Analysts can quickly categorize information as it comes in. The software’s ability to scan and categorize multiple sources of incoming data helps analysts connect the dots among large and different pools of information — signals intelligence, human intelligence, geospatial intelligence, and much more. All this data is collected and analyzed in Palantir’s system. This makes it useful for war-related, intelligence, and law enforcement purposes. That is why so many military, police, and intelligence agencies want Palantir’s software.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan who used Palantir’s software, particularly the Marines and SOCOM, found it very helpful for their missions. Commanders liked Palantir’s ability to direct them at insurgents who “build and bury homemade bombs, the biggest killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan,” the Washington Times reported. A Government Accountability Office report said Palantir’s software “gained a reputation for being intuitive and easy to use, while also providing effective tools to link and visualize data.” Special operations forces found Palantir to be “a highly effective system for conducting intelligence information analysis and supporting operations” and “provided flexibility to support mobile, disconnected users out on patrols or conducting missions.” Many within the military establishment are pushing to have other branches, such as the Army, adopt Palantir’s software in order to improve intelligence-sharing.

Palantir’s friends include people from the highest echelons of the National Security State. Former CIA Director George Tenet and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are advisers to Palantir, while former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus “considers himself a friend of Palantir CEO Alex Karp”, according to Forbes. Tenet told Forbes, “I wish I had Palantir when I was director. I wish we had the tool of its power because it not only slice and dices today, but it gives you an enormous knowledge management tool to make connections for analysts that go back five, six, six, eight, 10 years. It gives you a shot at your data that I don’t think any product that we had at the time did.”

High-tech militarism

Silicon Valley’s technology has numerous battlefield applications, which is something the U.S. military notices. Since the global war on terror began, the military has had a growing need for high-tech intelligence-gathering and other equipment. “A key challenge facing the military services is providing users with the capabilities to analyze the huge amount of intelligence data being collected,” the GAO report said. The proliferation of drones, counter-insurgency operations, sophisticated intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) systems, and new technologies and sensors changed how intelligence is used in counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries.

According to the report, “The need to integrate the large amount of available intelligence data, including the ability to synthesize information from different types of intelligence sources (e.g., HUMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, and open source), has become increasingly important in addressing, for example, improvised explosive device threats and tracking the activities of certain components of the local population.” This is where Palantir’s software comes in handy. It does what the military needs — data-mining and intelligence analysis. That is why it is used by SOCOM and other arms of the National Security State.

Irregular wars against insurgents and terrorist groups present two problems— finding the enemy and killing them. This is because such groups know how to mix in with, and are usually part of, the local population. Robotic weapons, such as drones, present “an asymmetric solution to an asymmetric problem,” according to a Foster-Miller executive quoted in P.W. Singer’s book Wired for War. Drones can hover over a territory for long periods of time and launch a missile at a target on command without putting American troops in harm’s way, making them very attractive weapons.

Additionally, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies are increasingly relying on signals intelligence to solve this problem. Signals intelligence monitors electronic signals, such as phone calls and conversations, emails, radio or radar signals, and electronic communications. Intelligence analysts or troops on the ground will collect and analyze the electronic communications, along with geospatial intelligence, of adversaries to track their location, map human behavior, and carry out lethal operations.

Robert Steele, a former Marine, CIA case officer, and current open source intelligence advocate, explained the utility of signals intelligence. “Signals intelligence has always relied primarily on seeing the dots and connecting the dots, not on knowing what the dots are saying. When combined with a history of the dots, and particularly the dots coming together in meetings, or a black (anonymous) cell phone residing next to a white (known) cellphone, such that the black acquires the white identity by extension, it becomes possible to ‘map’ human activity in relation to weapons caches, mosques, meetings, etcetera,” he said in an email interview. Steele added the “only advantage” to signals intelligence “is that it is very very expensive and leaves a lot of money on the table for pork and overhead.”

In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) commandos combined images from surveillance drones with the tracking of mobile phone numbers to analyze insurgent networks. Commandos then used this analysis to locate and capture or kill their intended targets during raids. Oftentimes, however, this led to getting the wrong person. Steele added that human and open source intelligence are “vastly superior to signals intelligence 95% of the time” but “are underfunded precisely because they are not expensive and require face to face contact with foreigners, something the US Government is incompetent at, and Silicon Valley could care less.”

Capt. Michael Kearns, a retired U.S. and Australian Air Force intelligence officer and former SERE instructor with experience working in Silicon Valley, explained how digital information makes it easier for intelligence agencies to collect data. In an email, he told AlterNet, “Back in the day when the world was analog, every signal was one signal. Some signals contained a broad band of information contained within, however, there were no ‘data packets’ embedded within the electromagnetic spectrum. Therefore, collecting a signal, or a phone conversation, was largely the task of capturing / decoding / processing some specifically targeted, singular source. Today, welcome to the digital era. Data ‘packets’ flow as if like water, with pieces and parts of all things ‘upstream’ contained within. Therefore, the task today for a digital society is largely one of collecting everything, so as to fully unwrap and exploit the totality of the captured data in an almost exploratory manner. And therein lies the apparent inherently unconstitutional-ness of wholesale collection of digital data…it’s almost like ‘pre-crime.'”

One modern use of signals intelligence is in the United States’ extrajudicial killing program, a major component of the global war on terror. The extrajudicial killing program began during the Bush administration as a means to kill suspected terrorists around the world without any due process. However, as Bush focused on the large-occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the extrajudicial killing program was less emphasized.

The Obama administration continued the war on terror but largely shifted away from large-scale occupations to emphasizing CIA/JSOC drone strikes, airstrikes, cruise missile attacks,proxies, and raids by special operations forces against suspected terrorists and other groups. Obama continued and expanded Bush’s assassination program, relying on drones and special operations forces to do the job. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes and other covert operations have killed nearly 3,000 to over 4,800 people, including 500 to over 1,000 civilians, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. During Obama’s five years in office, over 2,400 people were killed by U.S. drone strikes. Most of those killed by drone strikes are civilians or low-level fighters and, in Pakistan, only 2 percent were high-level militants. Communities living under drone strikes are regularly terrorized and traumatized by them.

Targeting for drone strikes is based on metadata analysis and geolocating the cell phone SIM card of a suspected terrorist, according to a report by the Intercept. This intelligence is provided by the NSA and given to the CIA or JSOC which will then carry out the drone strike. However, it is very common for people in countries like Yemen or Pakistan to hold multiple SIM cards, hand their cell phones to family and friends, and groups like the Taliban to randomly hand out SIM cards among their fighters to confuse trackers.

Since this methodology targets a SIM card linked to a suspect rather than an actual person, innocent civilians are regularly killed unintentionally. To ensure the assassination program will continue, the National Counterterrorism Center developed the “disposition matrix,” a database that continuously adds the names, locations, and associates of suspected terrorists to kill-or-capture lists.

The Defense Department’s 2015 budget proposal requests $495.6 billion, down $0.4 billion from last year, and decreases the Army to around 440,000 to 450,000 troops from the post-9/11 peak of 570,000. But it protects money — $5.1 billion — for cyberwarfare and special operations forces, giving SOCOM $7.7 billion, a 10 percent increase from last year, and 69,700 personnel. Thus, these sorts of operations will likely continue.

As the United States emphasizes cyberwarfare, special operations, drone strikes, electronic-based forms of intelligence, and other tactics of irregular warfare to wage perpetual war, sophisticated technology will be needed. Silicon Valley is the National Security State’s go-to industry for this purpose.

Adam Hudson is a journalist, writer, and photographer.


More US troops and air strikes in Iraq


By Peter Symonds
21 August 2014

Less than two weeks after President Obama authorised air strikes in Iraq, the Pentagon is continuing to expand its air operations and preparing to dispatch hundreds more American troops to the country.

The initial pretexts for the renewed US military intervention in Iraq—protecting the country’s Yazidi minority, as well as American personnel—have been quickly pushed to one side. Having assisted Iraqi and Kurdish forces this week to seize the Mosul Dam from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militias, Washington is weighing up the further use of US air power to support the Iraqi military.

There has been no letup in the US air war following the release of a ghastly video of the murder of American journalist James Foley. US Central Command reported that US drones and aircraft conducted 14 more strikes yesterday on targets close to the Mosul Dam, including on ISIS roadblocks and vehicles. The number of attacks since Obama’s authorisation on August 8 now totals 84.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that “military planners are considering new airstrikes to prevent militants with the Islamic State from taking control of another strategic site, the Haditha Dam, which lies in Iraq’s Sunni stronghold of Anbar Province.”

Unlike the Mosul Dam, the Haditha Dam is already under the control of Iraqi government troops. It is nowhere near American personnel stationed in Baghdad or in the northern Kurdish Autonomous Region. The dam provides a convenient pretext for air strikes that would allow the Iraqi military to open up a new front against ISIS in Sunni heartland in Iraq’s west.

ISIS seized Fallujah in January and declared the western city to be its Iraqi capital. In June, its forces captured the northern city of Mosul and moved south to take Tikrit and menace the capital Baghdad. Several Iraqi army offensives to retake Tikrit have failed, including the latest this week, which bogged down on roads leading to the city.

US officials told the Wall Street Journal that “the short air campaign that helped Kurdish forces retake the Mosul Dam on Monday could become the model the US uses in the weeks ahead: massive air power with no US forces on the ground in harm’s way.”

No US troops “in harm’s way” does not preclude a further expansion of the number of American military personnel in Iraq, including advisers, special forces troops and intelligence operatives. A US official who spoke to Stars and Stripes said the Pentagon was weighing up a request from the State Department to station another 300 troops in Iraq.

The US already has about 850 troops in Iraq, including around 100 as part of the Office of Security Cooperation. Of the remainder, about half are protecting the American embassy in Iraq, and Baghdad International Airport. The rest are involved in joint operations centres with the Iraqi military in Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, as well as unspecified intelligence and assessment activities.

The International Business Times reported on Monday that an elite unit of about 100 CIA agents and US special forces had been formed to hunt down and kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Given the rapidly expanding scope of the US military intervention in Iraq, the dispatch of further combat troops is not excluded.

US officials have been drawing up military plans since the ISIS seizure of Mosul, but the White House held off as a means of forcing the departure of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now that Maliki has been replaced by Haider al-Abadi, the Obama administration is putting its plans into operation. At the same time, it is pressing Abadi, from the Shiite Islamist Dawa Party, to form a more “inclusive” government with Sunni and Kurdish politicians.

Washington’s overriding concern is to establish a pliable client regime in Baghdad that is more amenable to US strategic and economic interests in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. While blaming Maliki for fostering sectarian and ethnic divisions, the US deliberately fomented such antagonisms after 2003 as a means of shoring up its occupation of Iraq. Having fuelled tensions that could fragment the country, Washington is appealing for a “national unity” government as the best vehicle for its ambitions in Iraq.

USA Today yesterday reported that “US and Iraqi officials [have] pressed tribal sheiks and other Sunni leaders to turn on the Islamic State militants, who have taken over towns and cities.” These tactics are a re-run of the “Sunni Awakening” in 2006–07, when the US paid Sunni tribal militias to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS.

While President Obama pulled out US troops from Iraq in 2011, the US embassy in Baghdad, built at a cost of $750 million, remained one of the largest in the world. Following the ISIS advances in June, some embassy staff in Baghdad were relocated to Erbil and Basra, in southern Iraq, as well as the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The US has about 5,500 staff at the embassy and its two Iraqi consulates, down from 16,000 in 2009.

American diplomats and CIA operatives are undoubtedly active in the political manoeuvring and intrigues to form the next government.

Kurdish politician Hoshiyar Zebari has returned to his position of Iraqi foreign minister after suspending his involvement in the government during July as a protest over Maliki’s accusation that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was harbouring Sunni “terrorists.”

Zebari’s return is tentative, however. Kurdish and Sunni politicians have a long list of demands, including the amendment or abolition of some 300 to 400 laws passed by the Maliki government. At the top of the list of Kurdish demands is the KRG’s right to export oil from areas under its control, independently of the Baghdad government.

The continuing tensions between the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the KRG were on display after the recapture of the Mosul Dam. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that scuffles broke out between Iraqi army units and Kurdish peshmerga militias as journalists were being given a victory tour of the site. Both sides claimed responsibility for driving out ISIS—a signal of wider disputes over territory in northern Iraq if ISIS is defeated.