The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

by Jerome Roos on August 18, 2014

Post image for The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

The rise of fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon in which US imperialism has always played a major role. The Islamic State is no exception.

As the jihadi militants of the Islamist State — IS, formerly known as ISIS — rampage through Syria and Iraq, wantonly beheading infidels and sending hundreds of thousands scurrying for safety, many in the West are still all too eager to reduce the rapidly escalating conflict to a sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shias, or a broader clash of civilizations between Muslims and everyone else — between Islam and other religions, between Islam and non-believers, or between Islam and the modern world.

But, its own practices and ideological narratives aside, the Islamic fundamentalism of IS is not some kind of barbaric relic from an unenlightened religious past, nor can the ongoing wars in the Middle East be reduced to a simplistic binary narrative. Like European fascism, Islamic fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon, and wherever we look in modern history, we find that the Western powers have always played a major role in its rise. The Islamic State is no exception.

The jihadists of IS and its antecedent groups initially rose to prominence in the vacuum left by the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. When the US toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, they did not only purge the state apparatus of his Baathist allies, but they purged it of the entire Sunni minority of which Saddam himself had been a part. Most dramatically, large parts of the majority-Sunni army were disbanded, leaving tens of thousands of combat-savvy and frustrated young men without pay and without any meaningful influence on the new Shia-dominated and US-backed political establishment in the country.

As was already obvious to many observers back then, the US invasion thus set the stage for a disastrous backlash. Many of Saddam’s former Sunni soldiers ended up joining the jihadist insurgency against the US occupation, giving Al Qaeda a new foothold in Iraq — a country where it had previously had no real influence to speak of. The bloody sectarian strife that subsequently broke out, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and preparing the ground for further radicalization, was not the cause but the outcome of the destabilization of the Iraqi state at the hands of the occupying forces.

In fact, the link between the US occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq is more direct than most realize. Last week, the New York Times ran a fascinating background article about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Muslim cleric and ruthless leader of IS who just crowned himself Caliph of the Islamic world, which noted that, “at every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.”

When the US army first detained Baghdadi in Fallujah in early 2004, he was considered little more than a “street thug.” But according to the Hisham al-Hasimini, an Iraqi scholar who studied Baghdadi’s background for Iraq’s intelligence agency, the current IS leader underwent a process of radicalization during his five years’ imprisonment in a US detention facility. “Iraqi to the core,” the Times writes, “his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.”

In subsequent years, Baghdadi surrounded himself with former members of Saddam’s Baathist party, who — despite their lack of credentials as radical Islamists — turned out to be key allies in the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq (the immediate antecedent to ISIS) as an insurgent movement and para-state, replete with its own army of jihadists, its own base of taxation (or extortion), its own oil revenues from the fields it managed to capture in Syria (and now Iraq), and increasingly its own public services (like local transport and religious education) in the areas under its control.

But while the world’s morbid fascination with IS stems from its lightning advances and its campaign of brutality in western Iraq last June, it was in Syria — as the world largely looked the other way — that the jihadist group groomed its warrior feathers, gaining a strategic stronghold, mopping up moderate Islamist groups to significantly expand its own numbers, rooting out the Free Syrian Army, besieging the Kurdish resistance, and obtaining various additional sources of income that were to prove crucial in  its further campaigns and its efforts to cement itself as a self-sustaining para-state.

Meanwhile, as it brandished its anti-Shia credentials, ISIS received lavish financial support from one of the United States’ main allies in the region: Saudi Arabia. The other Gulf states — Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates — are also implicated in directly or indirectly financing various extremist groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in the country and second biggest faction after ISIS. But as one senior Qatari official affirms, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.” Patrick Cockburn, a long-term Middle East correspondent, notes that “Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control.”

Given the United States’ historical support for extremist groups — most notably its sponsoring of the mujahideen in their struggle against communism in Afghanistan, which directly paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — it should not come as a surprise that, this time around, the US has also been directly involved in enabling the rise of ISIS. In fact, it turns out that leading US lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, have been actively pressing their allies to support the Syrian opposition and oust Assad. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” McCain exclaimed as as recently as February 2014. (Prince Bandar is alleged to be the Saudi point man behind the funding of ISIS.)

At the same time, another important US ally in the region, Turkey — a NATO member — has been a crucial hub for ISIS by deliberately opening its 500-mile border to allow Syrian rebels to fall back onto Turkish territory and to permit Western jihadists – alienated young Muslim men from Europe, Australia and the US – to join their comrades in Syria. Consistent rumors have been doing the rounds that the head of Turkey’s intelligence services, Hakan Fidan, a key confidante of Prime Minister Erdogan, was personally responsible for the country’s covert support for ISIS.

Greatly strengthened by Gulf financing and an influx of foreign fighters, with Turkey providing a much-needed back-base and thoroughfare, and with the Obama administration actively refusing to support the democratic Syrian resistance, ISIS quickly destroyed and eclipsed the moderate opposition, solidly growing into the main rebel group in Syria and finishing off the last-remaining strongholds of the Syrian revolution — until it deemed itself powerful enough to launch back into Iraq and march right up to Tikrit without encountering any serious resistance.

Now, in one of the greatest ironies of all, the United States finds itself back in Iraq, eleven years after its original invasion, bombing its own tanks, its own artillery pieces, and its own armored personnel vehicles — once provided to the Iraqi army during the eight-year occupation and summarily seized by ISIS as it sacked deserted bases across western Iraq — to stem the advances of an extremist enemy that its own imperial misadventures gave rise to. Once again, the US and its allies have created a monster they can no longer control. Once again, they will go to war to try to eradicate it. And once again, they will probably end up making an even bigger mess in the process.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

Democratic Party operatives seek to stifle opposition, facilitate police crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri

By Eric London
18 August 2014

Democratic Party-affiliated organizations led by Al Sharpton held a meeting Sunday at Greater Grace Church outside Ferguson, Missouri in an effort to diffuse opposition to the August 9 police murder of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Over 700 people attended the meeting, a reflection of the mass anger in Ferguson over the killing of Brown and the militarized crackdown on protests that has followed. From start to finish, however, the meeting bore all the trademarks of a carefully planned Democratic Party operation, orchestrated by Sharpton’s National Action Network in close collaboration with the police, the local Democratic machine and the Obama administration.

Al Sharpton arrives at Greater Grace Church on Sunday

Aside from Sharpton, who gave the keynote address, the line-up included Democratic Congressman William Clay, Martin Luther King III, attorney Benjamin Crump, and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. Jesse Jackson was also present but did not speak.

The message issued by all the major speakers was clear: go home, register to vote and pray.

Religious paeans set the tone of the meeting, which unfolded as an exercise in obfuscation. Bishop L.O. Jones introduced the speakers by announcing his support for Johnson, who was appointed last Thursday by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon to oversee the antidemocratic crackdown that has swept the city. Nixon has declared a “state of emergency” to facilitate police repression.

The night after the event, police under Johnson’s direction fired tear gas and deployed armored vehicles against peaceful protesters, well before the midnight curfew, which has now been extended indefinitely.

“Captain Johnson has been doing a very fine job,” Jones said. “He is a fine man, he is working very hard, and may he be in our prayers.”

Johnson has played a central role in the ruling class’s efforts to divert opposition to widespread police brutality. As an African-American man from Ferguson, the political establishment felt he was well qualified to play the role of “good cop,” while giving them room to intensify the attack.

With consummate hypocrisy, Johnson told the audience: “I will protect your right to protest.” He then added that he hoped the events would teach him “to be a better black father.”

“This is my neighborhood,” he claimed. “You are my family, you are my friends. I am you.”

Johnson’s cynicism was outdone only by Sharpton himself, who expressly encouraged those in attendance to appeal to the most right-wing elements of the ruling class. Naming Florida’s Republican Governor Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by name, Sharpton shouted demagogically: “Nobody can go to the White House until they stop by our house.”

Sharpton went on to proclaim, “We’re not anti-police, we’re not anti-sitting down and solving the problem.”

He then denounced the residents of the town for not voting for the Democratic Party in recent elections: “Some of y’all that are mad now weren’t mad three weeks ago for election day,” he said. “We’ve got to vote. Twelve percent [election turnout] is an insult to your children.”

He went on to insult those who stayed out to demonstrate at night: “There is a difference between an activist and a thug,” he said. He concluded his remarks by calling for a voter registration drive and for young people to join his personal political machine, the NAN.

The biggest applause from the audience came when Sharpton made a brief reference to the immense social and economic crisis in Ferguson and similar cities throughout the country, saying that if the government had money to militarize the police, it had money to spend on jobs programs to put people to work. This point was greeted with a standing ovation.

Sharpton and all the main speakers at the event, however, are Democratic Party politicians and strong supporters of the Obama administration. Under Obama, vast resources have been handed out to the banks and Wall Street, while the ruling class has waged war against the jobs and living standards of the working class. Obama has also presided over an immense increase in the militarization of the police as part of a broader assault on basic democratic rights.

Several speakers made direct appeals to Obama. When Congressman Clay said, “I want to give a big shout out to the president and Attorney General Holder for stepping it up,” the applause was subdued. After Clay’s comment, a majority of the audience began engaging in side conversations. The parents of Michael Brown found their way off the stage.

The hollow refrain issued by the speakers stood in stark contrast to the explosive tensions that hung over the suburban city of 20,000 as the meeting took place. Several hours after the conclusion of the meeting, thousands of demonstrators gathered along West Florissant Street before dusk fell. The mood was a mix of elation and apprehension as the curfew approached.

Alongside the imposition of a curfew, Nixon has asserted for himself the powers available to him during a “state of emergency.”

According to Missouri law, a state of emergency may be called during a “man-made disaster of major proportions.”

Such a disaster allows the governor “to assume all direct operational control of all emergency [i.e. armed] forces and volunteers in the state” and to “seize, take, or requisition to the extent necessary to bring about the most effective protection of the public” any transportation, housing, or energy sources in the area.

The meeting called yesterday only confirms that the entire political establishment—including the likes of Sharpton and Jackson—are united in their determination to suppress and if necessary violently repress with all the powers of the state the popular opposition that has erupted over the police murder of Michael Brown.

Notes on Rabaa: revolt does not happen in a vacuum

by Philip Rizk on August 17, 2014

Post image for Notes on Rabaa: revolt does not happen in a vacuumOne year after the Rabaa massacre, Egypt’s prisons are full of dissidents of all political stripes. If we don’t stop this, we face a future of horrors.

I met Bassem Mohsen for a few moments in July 2013. He was upbeat and hopeful that the army had taken hold of power from the Muslim Brotherhood.

I remember being surprised by his quick optimism. He believed that these generals were different than those who had ruled during the period of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. After all, they had deposed our most recent nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood.

My only and very brief encounter with Bassem left me disappointed. A mutual friend had told me about his constant involvement in all stages of the January 25 revolution. He had already paid the price — he was incarcerated, and then lost his left eye in the critical battle of Mohamed Mahmoud in November 2011. It made me angry that this popular sentiment of black-and-white thinking could be so widespread, even among the most outspoken proponents of the revolt of our times.

Less than a month later, the soldiers Bassem had cheered for carried out a crime as they massacred Muslim Brotherhood supporters at a sit-in at the Rabea al-Adaweya mosque. Thousands killed, thousands injured, thousands arrested — most of whom are still jailed today. The biggest bloodbath the Egyptian army carried out on its own population.

Four months later, Bassem’s body was transferred from his native Suez to Cairo’s Qasr al-Aini hospital after an army sniper’s bullet penetrated his forehead.

At the hospital, his friend Eno, overcome with sorrow, told me that Bassem had joined the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators that day not in support of their cause, but out of protest against the police and military’s killing spree since taking power. I had been disappointed with what seemed to me Bassem’s simplistic analysis months earlier, but he clearly did not linger long in his short-sighted trust in the generals.

Unlike Bassem, I had opposed the military when they were celebrated into power on July 3. And again, unlike Bassem, I did not take to the street despite my rage at the horrors that ensued. After the decisive divide-and-rule tactic that the military and police generals carried out that July, I drew back, feeling with many around me that we needed to bide our time to be able to speak or to act again. Following a period of naive optimism, Bassem could clearly do no such thing. Injustice was injustice, torture and killing was just that, and he took to the street even if alongside his former enemy.

The coup that Bassem and I oppose not only eventually metamorphosed the Muslim Brotherhood into a terrorist entity, and condemned any other opposition with widespread popular blessing. This legitimization also opened a path of unprecedented police brutality.

Egyptians lost much support in the days following June 30, 2013, when they chanted into power the same police and military forces that they had chased out of it less than three years earlier. The widespread indifference toward the August 14 massacre that accompanied a rising fascistic spirit just confirmed that fall from grace.

One year after the massacre, Egypt’s prisons are full of dissidents and innocents of all political stripes. Every Friday, protesters take to the street against the newly gained power of the police and military. These are not just supporters of the Brotherhood. Hundreds of Bassems pass through the morgues, thousands fill the decrepit cells of the prisons — these are the “unknowns” with the courage to dissent. If these acts of protest are reported at all, the pro-military media will usually paint them wholesale as Muslim Brotherhood members, banned and thus deserving to be captured or killed.

Though I do not affirm the Brotherhood’s cause to return to power, I believe in their right to dissent. All those that risk their bodies, like Bassem, risk the bullet. I will by no means try to justify the shocking actions of Egyptians that started the morning of June 30, the rise of the fascistic, the acceptance of the torment of others. The most powerful tool to these ends is the discourse of terrorism that has fed into the deep fear in the hearts of so many living inside a regime of terror.

There is a vital lesson to be learned in Egypt: no revolt happens in a vacuum. Egypt’s revolutionaries cannot face the local police and military believing that we are unrelated to the incarceration of protesters in Bashar al-Assad’s dungeons, the neo-liberal policies spreading across the globe or black youths shot dead in the inner cities of the United States.

No revolt exists in a vacuum. And in this power balance we are all black, we are the underdogs, we are the wretched still trying to fight ourselves free from the stranglehold of the colonizer, metamorphosed into the prison warden in dark skin and leaders that are our kin, but still hold the whip over our heads. The lesson we must glean is that as our world becomes ever smaller, the weapons that your leaders grant ours are never to be trusted, and must be smashed.

Bassem Mohsen

The bombs dropping on Gaza are made far away, and the blood they shed is on the hands of those who do not stop them from reaching the mercenaries. The consequences of sealed borders preventing the dying from receiving some care lie on my shoulders. The twisted tales told by the agencies in your neighborhoods that falsify the history of the outcasts is a responsibility we must bare.

Like Bassem, we must find the courage to try and stop them, or else we prepare a future of horrors.

Rest in peace Bassem. We continue your struggle.

Philip Rizk is a filmmaker based in Cairo and a member of the Mosireen video collective. This piece was originally published on Mada Masr.

Israel’s turn to the right: the occupier devours itself


by Jerome Roos on August 16, 2014

Post image for Israel’s turn to the right: the occupier devours itself

The cyclical nature of Israel’s wars on Gaza and its crackdown on internal dissent is increasingly starting to look like a case of collective ouroboros.

Image: Right-wing nationalists attack left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014 (

In Greek mythology and philosophy, the ouroboros — a serpent devouring its own tail — symbolized the cyclical nature of being: the eternal return of the same phenomena that start afresh as soon as they come to an end. In biology, actual instances of ouroboros are known to occur when pet snakes, coldblooded creatures that cannot regulate their own body temperature, are kept in small cages and begin to overheat underneath their external heat source. Unable to cool down and with their metabolism artificially ramped up, the creatures become dazed and aggressive. Not finding a prey to feast on, they turn on their own tails and begin to self-cannibalize.

For lack of a more humane metaphor, the cyclical nature of Israel’s wars of aggression in Gaza is increasingly starting to look like a case of collective ouroboros. Overheating with hatred inside the physical and mental confinement of its own occupation, Israel has become so dazed and aggressive, so hungry for land, blood and revenge, that it now finally appears to have turned on its own children — especially those who still have the courage and conscience to speak out against their government’s atrocities in Gaza. In the past month, anti-war protesters have been attacked with sticks and stones by ultra-nationalists in various cities. In Tel Aviv, some of the attackers wore T-shirts bearing anti-leftist slogans popular among European neo-Nazis. It is difficult to imagine a more tragic case of symbolic self-cannibalization in Israel today.

Of course, protesting war has never really gone down well in Israeli society. A commentator once captured the public attitude towards anti-war protest in a simple catchphrase: “Quiet! We’re shooting!” In recent years, though, Israeli society has made a dramatic lurch to the right. Today, to oppose the war as an Israeli is to invite social exclusion, public ridicule and — if you persist in being reasonable — even physical aggression. Ask Gideon Levy, the well-known Haaretz columnist and an outspoken critic of the occupation: he knows all about it. Levy has been verbally assaulted on live TV and has received death threats in response to his hard-hitting criticism of IDF atrocities. He can no longer walk the streets without being cursed or spat on, and his employer recently saw itself forced to provide him with a private bodyguard.

Still, far from condemned by the political establishment as a self-destructive force, the cult of ouroboros is actively encouraged by those in power. Prominent Knesset member Yariv Levin has publicly called for Levy to be tried for treason — a crime that is punishable by death in times of war. Eldad Yaniv, a political adviser to former Premier Ehud Barack, supposedly a moderate, wrote a highly suggestive message on Facebook: “The late Gideon Levy. Get used to it.” Even Levy himself, no stranger to public ridicule and threats of aggression, is taken aback. “I’ve never had it so harsh, so violent, and so tense,” he recently told Foreign Policy. “We will face a new Israel after this operation … nationalistic, religious in many ways, brainwashed, militaristic, with very little empathy for the sacrifice of the other side. Nobody in Israel cares at all.”

And why would they? Most Israelis do not have the slightest clue what is really happening on the other side of their security fence. On one hand, the media consistently keep them from seeing it; on the other, many are so brainwashed as to refuse to even acknowledge the atrocities when they take place right in front of their eyes. This is not even to mention those — like the far-right extremists rampaging through Jerusalem screaming “death to Arabs!” and looking for Palestinians to lynch — who would happily commit such atrocities themselves.

Like a pet snake, the majority of Israelis today are trapped either inside the intellectually stultifying cage of religious extremism, or inside the hateful mental life-world of belligerent secular nationalism. With the loudmouthed war-mongering of the media, the racist rhetoric of the political establishment, and the coldblooded profit-seeking of the military-industrial complex (subsidized to the tune of $3 billion dollars in annual US military aid), the martial metabolism of this Spartan warrior society is being artificially ramped up to boiling point. Dazed and aggressive, the occupier first and most viciously assaults its neighbor — and, before long, turns on itself.

As with the ouroboros, the logic of Israel’s occupation is circular. Its atrocities must be permanently reproduced for the colonial order to sustain itself. Round and round it goes, repeating the same sickening cycle of aggression over and over again. Every day the occupation persists, however, Israel loses a little bit more of its own humanity. “Occupation has made us a cruel people,” a former chief of the Shin Bet security service recently admitted. “What is different this time is the anti-democratic spirit,” Gideon Levy tells The Guardian. “Zero tolerance of any kind of criticism, opposition to any kind of sympathy with the Palestinians. You shouldn’t be surprised that 95% [are in favour of the war], you should be surprised at the 5%. This is almost a miracle. The media has an enormous role. Given the decades of demonisation of the Palestinians, the incitement and hatred, don’t be surprised the Israeli people are where they are.”

Of course, none of this is unique to Israel. War and occupation have always brought out humanity’s inner bestiality — from Auschwitz to Abu Ghraib, from Hiroshima to Vietnam. (And no, observing that simple historical fact is not the same as equating Israel’s actions in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust.) The same fundamental human bestiality has been an undeniable feature of all massacres and all colonial regimes. Not too long ago, great thinkers like Paulo Freire, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon observed with great lucidity how the European colonizer, by brutalizing the colonized, ended up brutalizing himself. Running a colonial regime, they noted, requires not just the dehumanization of the oppressed, but — much more importantly — the thorough dehumanization of the oppressor. Human affects like empathy must be actively repressed to keep the colonial order intact; not only to justify the brutality ideologically, but simply to cope with one’s own atrocities emotionally.

In the long run, this endless cycle of aggression will end up harming Israel more than it can ever return in terms of “security” or “quiet”. Indeed, the images of hundreds of dead children in Gaza circulating around the world pose a much greater and much more existential threat to the country’s future than any of Hamas’ bottle rockets ever could. There are already signs that Israel has truly crossed a line this time around. Its relations with the Obama administration have never been this frosty, and public support for Israel within the United States — historically unquestionable — has hit an all-time low, especially among a younger generation that is not as beholden to historical sensitivities surrounding Jewish victimization and that witnessed the carnage in Gaza unfold real-time in its newsfeed. Internationally, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining traction, and a number of Latin American and even some European governments are pursuing diplomatic and economic sanctions.

Still, it would be a mistake to expect the cult of ouroboros to swallow itself whole. Israel may be turning on itself, but to wait for this horrific process of mutual dehumanization and collective self-cannibalization to run its full course would be a dangerously naive approach. Nor would it be wise to wait for Israel’s handler — the US government — to somehow come riding to the rescue, as it now vainly pretends to do with the Yazidis in Iraq. When all is said and done, and the international community has finally defanged the python and fully isolated the cult of ouroboros within the cage of its own occupation, the only ones capable of breaking the cycle of violence and redeeming the humanity of both oppressor and oppressed, are the people of Palestine who are currently bearing the full brutality of colonialism in their flesh and bones, and the people of Israel who refuse to let such historic injustice stand in their name.

As Frantz Fanon once so powerfully wrote, “although oppression dehumanizes both parties and stifles their humanity, the oppressed has to lead the struggle for a fuller humanity for both.” But, Fanon noted, this is far from a one-way process: “In such change, we can’t say that one person liberates himself, or another, but that people in communion liberate each other.” Luckily, there are still many sensible Israelis who are willing to look through the right-wing scaremongering and follow their Palestinian neighbors in the common struggle for a just peace. On Saturday night, as 10.000 protesters flooded into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to denounce the occupation and the cyclical wars of aggression in Gaza, a little bit of that humanity — and a little bit of hope — was already rekindled.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was slightly adapted from his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

Israel’s Real Target is Not Hamas



It’s Any Possibility of Palestinian Statehood





All colonial settler states are based on the violent dispossession of the native peoples – and as a result, their fundamental and overriding aim has always been to keep those native peoples as weak as possible. Israel’s aim for the Palestinians is no different.

Palestinian statehood is clearly an obstacle to this goal; a Palestinian state would strengthen the Palestinians. Genuine sovereignty would end Israel’s current presumed right to steal their land, control their borders, place them under siege, and bomb them at will. That is why Netanyahu’s Likud party platform “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”; that is why Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for even suggesting some limited self-governance for the Palestinians; and that is why every proposal for Palestinian statehood, however limited and conditional, has been wilfully sabotaged by successive Israeli governments of all hues.

Within three years of the 1993 Oslo declaration, for example, which promised self-governance for Palestinian areas, foreign minister Ariel Sharon was urging “everyone”  to “grab as many hilltops as they can” in order to minimise the size and viability of the area to be administered by Palestinian Authority. The 1999 election of a Labour Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, made no difference, ushering in “a sustained commitment by Israel’s government to avoid full compliance with the Oslo agreement”, according to Jimmy Carter, most notably in the form of the greatest increase in illegal Israeli settlements that had yet taken place. The popular story that Barak had made a ‘generous offer’ on Palestinian statehood at negotiations in Taba in 2001, turned out to be a complete myth.

In the 2000s, the stakes were raised by the discovery of 1.4trillion cubic metres of natural gas in Gaza’s territorial waters, leading Israel to immediately strengthen its maritime blockade of Gaza to prevent Palestinian access to the reserves. But Palestinian sovereignty over this gas would obviously enormously strengthen the economic position of any future Palestinian state – and thus made the Israelis more determined than ever to prevent such a state from coming into being.

The Saudi peace plan, then, in 2002, turned out to be something of a problem for Israel. Accepted by 22 members of the Arab League, and offering complete normalisation of Israeli-Arab relations in exchange for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders (just 22% of historic Palestine), it was welcomed by the US, and followed up with a statement by George W. Bush in support of a Palestinian state – the first such statement by any US president. This does not imply that the US is in any way committed to genuine Palestinian sovereignty. What the US seeks is rather a thoroughly compromised entity, devoid of all significant attributes of statehood (border control, airspace control, etc) and dependent on Israel, but which it would call a state – and thus would provide the Arab states with a pretext for overt collaboration with Israel . As Jeff Halper has explained, for the US, as for the Saudis, the idea behind the Saudi peace was actually to strengthen Israel, by facilitating Arab support for Israeli-US action against Iran, and thus establishing solid Israeli hegemony across the entire Middle East. In other words, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states wanted a (feeble) Palestinian state to come into existence, in order to justify the collaboration with Zionism being demanded of them by their US masters. But Israel does not particularly want or perceive the need for Arab support. Indeed, the image of the plucky little victim, besieged by ‘hostile enemies’ on all sides, is a fundamental plank of the Israeli national psyche, necessary to ensure the continued identification of the population with the militaristic state and its expansionist policies. And more importantly, in the zero-sum game of settler-vs-native politics, any Palestinian state, however toothless, represents an intolerable retreat for the Zionists.

This problem – of a growing consensus in support of a Palestinian state – was compounded for Israel in 2003, when the so-called “Quartet” (US, the UN, Russia and the EU) produced their ‘roadmap’ for peace, based, like the Saudi plan, on the principle of a Palestinian state being a fundamental prerequisite for lasting peace. Whilst the Israelis publicly accepted the ‘roadmap’, behind the scenes they listed 14 ‘caveats’ and preconditions which rendered it meaningless and unworkable – effectively refusing to make any concessions whatsoever until the Palestinians were completely disarmed and their major organisations dissolved, whilst other caveats stripped any ‘state’ that might somehow emerge of all major attributes of statehood and sovereignty, just in case.

Since then, there have been various attempts by the US at restarting ‘negotiations’ on this roadmap, despite Israel’s obvious hostility to its declared aim of Palestinian statehood. In the latest round, beginning in July 2013, the Palestinians – who had already conceded the 78% of historic Palestine conquered before 1967 – even agreed to drop their demand that talks should be based on the 1967 borders. Yet none of this made any difference to Israel, who worked hard to scupper the negotiations as best they could. As historian Avi Shlaim put it, “During the nine months of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks orchestrated by secretary of state John Kerry, Netanyahu did not put forward a single constructive proposal and all the while kept expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Kerry and his adviser, General John Allen, drew up a security plan that they thought would enable Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank. Israel’s serial refusnik dismissed it contemptuously as not worth the paper it was written on.” After nine months of this futile enterprise in self-humiliation, John Kerry threw in the towel in desperation, saying the two sides would have to work it out between themselves.

Israel’s excuse for its reluctance to take negotiations seriously has always rested on two planks: a) Palestinian ‘terrorism’ and b) Palestinian ‘disunity’. Both of these, Israel claims, means it has no ‘partner for peace’; no one to negotiate with – either because they are terrorists, or because there is no single entity representing the Palestinian population who they can talk to. In 2006, following the election of Hamas, the US and EU effectively supported this line, and joined forces with Israel in refusing to recognise Hamas as the governing body of the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, when a unity government was formed with Fatah the following year (combining the two parties who together represented 86% of the popular vote), it was not recognised as legitimate by Israel’s international backers who instead supported a government led by Salam Fayyad, whose party had gained just 2% in the previous year’s election.

However, reaction to the recent unity government announced in April this year was very different. A government of ‘technocrats’ – comprising not a single Hamas member – was endorsed by both Fatah and Hamas in an attempt to end the isolation and strangulation of the Gaza strip. As noted in the Independent at the time, this “new government would “adhere to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet [the EU, UN Russia and US], recognise Israel, ratify all signed agreements and renounce violence” according to a “senior Palestinian official” quoted on the Times of Israel site. As such, it was welcomed by both the US and the EU. Israel no longer had ‘Palestinian disunity’ as an excuse for refusing to engage in peace talks. Nor did they have ‘terrorism’ as an excuse, as Hamas had steadfastly stood by the terms of the 2012 ceasefire, not only ceasing their own rocket fire, but also successfully preventing rocket attacks by other Palestinian groups in Gaza. And all this despite continuous violations of the ceasefire by Israel beginning before the ink was even dry – from a refusal to lift the blockade (as required by the ceasefire terms), to continued attacks on Palestinians, killing 4 and maiming nearly 100 within the first three months of the ‘ceasefire’ alone. Even after Israeli attacks were stepped up over the past year, with four Palestinian children shot dead by Israeli forces between December 2013 and May 2014, including a 15 year old shot in the back from 100m, Hamas held their fire.

Netanyahu’s narrative of negotiations being impossible due to Palestinian terrorism and disunity was being increasingly undermined by reality – and crucially, his US-EU backers were not buying it. The Israeli government responded to the unity government by “what can only be described as economic warfare. It prevented the 43,000 civil servants in Gaza from moving from the Hamas payroll to that of the Ramallah government and it tightened siege round Gaza’s borders thereby nullifying the two main benefits of the merger” (Avi Shlaim). Still Hamas held their fire.

What Netanyahu really needed was a provocation against Hamas to which they would be forced to respond. Such as response would again allow him to paint them as the bloodthirsty terrorists with whom one can never negotiate, would provide the opportunity for another wave of devastation in Gaza, and would exacerbate tensions within the unity government between Fatah and Hamas.

Nine days after the swearing in of the unity government, on June 11th, the IDF made a raid on Gaza in which they killed a 10 year old boy on a bicycle. But still Hamas held their fire.

The following day, however, the apparent kidnapping of three Israeli settlers in the West Bank provided the opportunity for a provocation on an altogether larger scale. Having blamed the kidnapping on Hamas (without ever producing a scrap of evidence), Netanyahu used it as an excuse for an attack on the entire Hamas leadership in the West Bank, while his economy minister Naftali Bennett announced that “We’re turning the membership card for Hamas into a ticket to hell”. Operation Brother’s Keeper did precisely that, with 335 Hamas leaders arrested (including over 50 who had only just been released under a prisoner exchange scheme), and well over 1000 house raids (which left them looking “like an earthquake had taken place” according to one Palestinian activist). Noam Chomsky notes: “The 18-day rampage….did succeed in undermining the feared unity government, and sharply increasing Israeli repression. According to Israeli military sources, Israeli soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six Palestinians, also searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000. Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing 5 Hamas members on July 7. Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 19 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext for Operation Protective Edge on July 8.” Thus having killed eleven Palestinians in under a month, Israel then used retaliatory rocket attacks which killed no one as an excuse to launch the biggest slaughter of Palestinians in decades.

Operation Protective Edge went on to kill or maim over 12,000 Palestinians over the course of the month that followed. But for Israel, it allowed it to push forward its key aim – prevention the formation of a functioning Palestinian state – on a number of fronts. Firstly, it helped to rekindle tensions between Fatah and Hamas that the unity government had threatened to heal. Fatah’s existing co-operation agreements with Israeli security obliged them to cooperate with the crackdown on Hamas in West Bank that was supposedly a ‘hunt for kidnappers’, which obviously led to suspicion and mistrust between the two parties. Furthermore, as Fadi Elhusseini has pointed out, ““Protective Edge” gave the new Palestinian unity government that irked Israel a heavy blow. Any plans of this new government to implement the reconciliation deal and prepare for national elections have gone by the wayside as priorities have changed in the face of Israeli aggression. Also, Israel bet — as it has always done — on contradictory positions among Palestinians on how to deal with its aggression, increasing the chances for setback in Palestinian reconciliation.” A breakdown in the unity government, of course, would once again provide Israel with the pretext for avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians on the grounds that they are not united.

Secondly, even as it enraged global public opinion, Israel’s blitzkrieg succeeded in getting Western governments back in line behind its ‘Hamas terrorists can never be trusted’ propaganda line: Elhusseini wrote that “Tellingly, whereas most of the actors in the international community started to accept the Palestinian position and reprimand the adamant stands of Israel, which became a quasi-loner state, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli fold, announcing that Israel has the right to defend itself, regardless of its excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians.” Indeed, having in April faced a US government supporting the unity government, once the massacre of Gazans (and corresponding rocket fire) was under way, the US Senate instead voted unanimously in support of Israeli aggression against Gaza while condemning “the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel” by Hamas and calling on “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.”

Third, the onslaught was an opportunity to destroy as much as possible of the infrastructure that would provide the basis for a Palestinian state. Of course, as the Israelis openly stated, this includes the military defence infrastructure, primitive as it is, but also all the economic infrastructure necessary for a functioning society. Thus, Israeli shelling destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, cutting off electricity for 80% of Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants, as well as dozens of wells, reservoirs and water pipelines, according to a recent report by Oxfam. A summary by Middle East Monitor notes that  Oxfam “estimate that 15,000 tons of solid waste is rotting on the streets, wastewater pumping stations are on the verge of running out of fuel and many neighbourhoods have been without power for days, due to Israel’s bombing of the only power plant in Gaza. Oxfam said it was working in an environment that has a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets, or washing hands, emphasising that the huge risk to public health. “Gaza’s infrastructure will take months or years to fully recover,” the head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel reported.” The head of UNICEF’s field office in Gaza, Pernille Ironside, added that “There is a very limited amount of water available and it is used for drinking which means that there is no enough water for sanitary purposes. We see children who come from shelters infected with scabies, lice and all kinds of infectious diseases. The worst thing is that most people outside the shelters did not receive water for several weeks now. It is horrible that they have not been able to receive any clean drinking water that is not contaminated by sewage which can lead to diarrhoea and increases child mortality, especially among those under five years old”.

In addition to attacks on water and electricity infrastructure, the private economy has also come under attack. The biggest factory in Gaza, a biscuit factory that had just won the contract to supply the UN in Gaza, was completely obliterated by Israeli shellfire, and even conservative British daily the Telegraph notes that “anecdotal evidence of the systematic destruction of Gaza’s civilian economy and infrastructure is compelling”. The report continues: “Outside central Gaza City, a string of businesses with no obvious links to militant activities lie in ruins after being demolished by missiles or shells. They include a plastics factory, a sponge-making plant and even the headquarters of the territory’s main fruit distribution near the northern town of Beit Hanoun, much of which has been levelled in the Israeli land invasion.donate now

A few miles north of the Alawada plant, the headquarters of the El Majd Industrial and Trading Corporation – producing cardboard boxes, cartons and plastic bags – was reduced to a heap of concrete and twisted metal.

It had taken two direct hits from missiles fired by an Israeli war plane in the early hours of Monday morning, according to Hassan Jihad, 25, the factory caretaker, who survived fortuitously because he had moved to the company’s administrative headquarters outside the main factory for the duration of the conflict.

He too had little doubt about the reason behind the strike. “The Israelis are trying to destroy the economy and paralyse Gaza,” he said. “This is the only factory in the Gaza Strip producing cardboard containers. We don’t have any rockets in the place.”

Roward International, Gaza’s biggest dairy importer and distribution company, met a similar fate on Thursday afternoon. Its plant in the al-Karama neighbourhood was totally flattened by a missile after an Israeli army operator phoned in a warning in time for its 60 workers to be evacuated.

Majdi Abu Hamra, 35, accounts manager in the family-run business, said the firm bought milk from producers in the West Bank, before importing it into Gaza via Israel.

The territory’s main power plant – also on Salaheddin Road, not far from the Alawada factory – went up in flames last Tuesday after being struck by Israeli shells. Israel denied targeting the plant but experts say it is now out of commission for the next year, leaving Gaza virtually without any electricity other than that supplied by generators. The resulting shortage has already affected the water supply, with power now insufficient to pump water to homes located above ground level.

In addition, a public health crisis may be looming after two sewage pumping stations – one in the crowded Zeitoun area, the other near Gaza’s coastal road – were damaged in strikes on neighbouring targets, prompting UN officials to warn that raw sewage could flow onto the streets in the coming days.

Trond Husby, head of the UN’s development programme in Gaza, was non-committal when asked if he believed Israeli forces were deliberately targeting private businesses in Gaza.

But about the effects of the damage, he was unequivocal. “This is a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “I was in Somalia for two years, Sierra Leone for five, and also South Sudan and Uganda, and this beats them all for the level of destruction.””

Finally, as many commentators have noted, even if Israel were successful in its stated aim of destroying or weakening Hamas, this would only result in even more militant groups emerging, perhaps even Al Qaeda type groups such as ISIS, gaining support from a traumatised population by promising revenge attacks and uncompromising armed jihad. Whilst many have argued that this would somehow be against Israel’s interests, the reverse is likely to be true. Groups such as ISIS have played a key role in facilitating US and British policies in the Middle East in recent years, by weakening independent regional powers (or potential regional powers) such as Libya, Syria and now Iraq. They would likely have the same effect on Palestine, and would certainly set back the prospects for the emergence of a Palestinian state: they would never countenance, for example, unity with Fatah, and would rather serve to provide a permanent pretext for savage Israeli attacks which Western Europe and North America would be obliged to support. Moreover, if Gaza became an ungoverned and ungovernable disaster zone – which is what Israel is in the process of creating – there would of course be no question of its gaining sovereignty over its territory, and even less over its waters and gas reserves. Israel would remain free to bomb at will, just as the US and Britain remain free to bomb at will in the failed states they have created in Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Iraq.

The desire to destroy any potential for Palestinian statehood, then, explains why Israel have launched their latest round of bloodletting. But to understand how it has become emboldened enough to launch their most destructive attack in decades requires an understanding of the regional context.

The Palestinian struggle for independence rises and falls with the overall Arab struggle for independence. Whilst many commentators have focused on the fall of President Morsi in Egypt to explain Hamas’ weakness and relative isolation, in fact the Western-sponsored wars against Libya, Syria and Hezbollah are of greater significance. These wars have respectively destroyed, weakened and preoccupied three of the major independent and anti-Zionist forces in the region, and thus strengthened Israel’s ability to act with impunity. As George Friedman explains, “Currently, Israel is as secure as it is ever likely to be….Israel’s economy towers over its neighbours….Jordan is locked into a close relation with Israel, Egypt has its peace treaty and Hezbollah is bogged down in Syria. Apart from Gaza, which is a relatively minor threat, Israel’s position is difficult to improve.” Clearly, the transformation of Libya into a failed state at the hands of Western-sponsored sectarian militias, and the attempt to do the same to Syria, serves the long term Israeli goal of dividing and weakening all its regional foes (real or potential). Recognising this obvious point, an incendiary 1982 journal piece by Israeli academic Oded Yinon (notable not so much for its originality as for its blunt honesty) explicitly called for the region’s balkanisation: “Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. … This state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area [sic – he means Israel] in the long run, and that aim is already within our reach today”. He goes on to describe the coming break-up of Iraq with remarkable prescience: “Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel….Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.” Thus, the Western-backed offensive in Syria, and its current spillover into Iraq, directly serves Israeli goals by weakening all potential counterweights to Israeli dominion in the region – and thus directly facilitates Israel’s current slaughter.

In this respect, the overthrow of Egyptian President Morsi by the Egyptian army actually strengthened the Arab position, ending the divisive policies which were causing huge religious rifts internally, and ending the prospect of Egypt gratuitously tearing itself apart through direct military involvement in the Syrian civil war. Indeed, Morsi’s policies had been well on the way to realising Yinon’s dream of a balkanised Egypt. In 1982, he wrote that “Egypt, in its present domestic political picture, is already a corpse, all the more so if we take into account the growing Moslem-Christian rift. Breaking Egypt down territorially into distinct geographical regions is the political aim of Israel in the Nineteen Eighties on its Western front.”By thoroughly alienating the country’s Christian communities, Morsi was paving the way for precisely such a scenario to unfold. Regardless of Hamas’ relationship with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation, the army’s move against Morsi, by ending Egypt’s trajectory towards state breakdown and failure, strengthened Egypt’s ability to act as a counterweight to Israeli domination in the region – a necessary precondition for any advance on the Palestinian front.  As Ali Jarbawi put it after the Egyptian Presidential elections of April this year, “Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s election as the new Egyptian president has given Palestinians a sliver of hope that their cause will return to the forefront of Arab affairs — or that, at least, there will be a slight adjustment in the balance of power with Israel. This has nothing to do with any value judgments about the Egyptian revolution. It is a purely pragmatic stance, based on the fact that Mr. Sisi’s election will influence Palestinian affairs” positively, particularly by restoring the stability necessary for Egypt to act as a counterweight to Israeli power, but also by realigning Egypt more towards Russia and thus towards a less dependent relation with the US. Indeed, the desire on the part of Israel to destroy as much as possible of Gaza before Egypt fully regains its strength and independence may well have added urgency to their latest attack.

In sum, despite its current ability to rip thousands of Palestinians to shreds on the flimsiest of pretexts, all is not well for Israel. Even their short term goals have not been met in this latest attack. Despite everything, the unity government has not broken, and Fatah and Hamas are currently presenting a united front in the ceasefire negotiations. Likewise, Hamas has not been defeated, even militarily (let alone politically) by this attack, and has been able to continue its military resistance right up until the beginning of the various ceasefires that have taken place. If Kissinger is right that in asymmetrical warfare, “The conventional army loses if it does not win [whilst] the guerrilla wins if he does not lose”, then this is not a war that Israel has won. For all its delaying tactics, the Israelis cannot postpone forever Palestinian citizenship in some form or other – and if the Israelis make the creation of a separate Palestinian state impossible, they should not be surprised if demands shift instead to citizenship in a single state comprising the entirety of historic Palestine.

Dan Glazebrook is a political journalist and author of Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis

An earlier version of this article originally appeared on Middle East Eye.


Amnesty International report: Widespread killings of Afghan civilians under Obama administration

By Nick Barrickman
16 August 2014

A report released by Amnesty International, Left in the dark: Failures of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military operations in Afghanistan, investigates widespread civilian killings that have been carried out in recent years under the US-led occupation in Afghanistan.

Amnesty investigated nearly a dozen instances of mass killings by NATO and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) that took place between 2009 and 2013. The report focuses on the role played by US official occupying forces due to their numerical preponderance in the ISAF, the main international occupying force in Afghanistan.

“None of the cases that we looked into–involving more than 140 civilian deaths–were prosecuted by the US military,” the report concludes. “Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.” Witnesses recall being interviewed by numerous local groups, including human rights organizations, Afghan police and UN investigators. However, only two of the witnesses interviewed reported ever having been spoken to by military investigators, i.e. those with the “power to bring a criminal prosecution against the alleged perpetrators.”

This is largely due, the report states, to a military justice system which is “commander-driven” and based upon “self-policing.” In other words, war crimes are generally carried out with impunity.

Though crediting forces such as the Taliban for the majority of civilian deaths, the authors note that this statistic is largely due to the drawdown of occupying forces and the shift to native Afghan forces. It states that in the first eight months of 2007 alone, “pro-government forces” led by the US were responsible for nearly half of all civilian deaths.

The report details several events in which vast numbers of civilians were killed by ISAF operations.

These include:

* The September 4, 2009 strafing by F-15E fighter jets of two fuel tankers on the Kunduz River, which occurred after authorities had reported the vehicles stolen by militants. The report notes that “Rather than abandon the vehicles, the militants opened the tanks to siphon off the fuel,” encouraging locals to do the same. “Dozens of men and boys rushed to the area; people were doing what they could to bring free fuel home,” the report quotes a bystander as saying. ISAF commanders ordered the vehicles destroyed. At 1:20 am the following morning, the two jets fired on the tankers with several 500-bomb guided bombs, killing as many as 142 people.

* The killing of five people, including two pregnant women, at a party in Paktia province on February 12, 2010. US Special Forces members raided the home of then-70 year-old Haji Sharabuddin, who had been hosting a family event to celebrate the birth of his grandson. After demanding that the party goers “open up,” the team of elite commandos shot anyone who came to the door, including the two pregnant women, who had attempted to prevent others from being shot.

The report quotes a UN Special Rapporteur saying that nighttime raids in particular “are always dangerous for civilians,” before adding that there is no accurate accounting kept by the occupying forces of the civilian death toll such actions have produced.

The only military bodies tasked with monitoring civilian deaths, the Joint Incident Assessment Teams (JIATs), are largely toothless, possessing no “investigative function,” the Amnesty report explains. The deployment of such bodies is usually undertaken only for “incidents that have resulted in a high number of civilian casualties or that have received political attention,” in other words rendering them unable to be ignored.

Due to this, Amnesty International found only six cases in which soldiers had been prosecuted for the killing of Afghan civilians. It notes these circumstances were largely due to soldiers—disgusted by an act carried out by a fellow soldier—pursuing the case up the chain of command. The report notes that it is “extremely rare that Afghans themselves are invited to testify in these cases.”

The most well-known of such incidents was the March 2012 killing of 16 Afghan villagers by US army sergeant Robert Bales in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. At the time, numerous politicians, including President Obama and then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were trotted out in order to brand Bales a “rogue soldier” and justify the overall aims of the occupation.

In fact, as the report shows, far from being the actions of a “bad apple,” atrocities such as the Kandahar massacre are common and often go unreported by the military occupiers of Afghanistan, for whom oppression of the population is central to the bloody aims of US imperialism as a whole.

The report is also unable to determine the number of similar incidents involving the nearly 100,000 private military contractors operating inside Afghanistan. Considering the preponderance of such forces, as well as the virtual nonexistence of oversight involving these groups, one can only assume such incidents are even more widespread in the private military sector.

Other known causes of widespread tragedies include the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, a mainstay of the Obama administrations’ battle strategy, as well as incidents at checkpoints involving civilians misinterpreting an order, resulting in summary killings.

The so-called US “withdrawal” from Afghanistan declared by Obama in May of this year would continue to leave roughly 10,000 troops in the country through 2015 and will be subject to the government granting blanket immunity to all US forces.

Snowden discusses US surveillance and cyber-warfare programs in interview with Wired

By Thomas Gaist
15 August 2014

Wired magazine published an extended interview this week with former US intelligence agent and famed whistleblower Edward Snowden. Conducted in a hotel room somewhere in Russia, the interview included fresh revelations related to mass surveillance, cyber-warfare and information-grabbing operations mounted by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The meat of the interview centered on a number of operations run by the surveillance and intelligence agencies, painting a picture of an American government engaged in ever-expanding cyber-machinations worldwide.

Snowden spoke about the NSA’s MonsterMind program, an “autonomous cyber-warfare platform” which has been developed to launch cyber-attacks automatically against rival governments, without any need for human intervention. He noted that MonsterMind could easily be manipulated to provoke spasms of cyber-warfare between the US and its main rivals.

“These attacks can be spoofed. You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital,” Snowden said.

Far from restricting itself to cyber-defense, Snowden said, the US is constantly engaged in offensive hacking operations against China.

“It’s no secret that we hack China very aggressively,” Snowden said. “But we’ve crossed lines. We’re hacking universities and hospitals and wholly civilian infrastructure rather than actual government targets and military targets.”

Snowden offered new information about the role of the NSA in facilitating US imperialism’s geopolitical agenda in the Middle East. In 2012, Snowden said, the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) hacking unit accidentally disabled large portions of Syria’s Internet during an operation that sought to install information-capturing software on the routers of a main Syrian service provider.

Western media dutifully reported at the time that the Internet shutdown was ordered by the Assad regime, which was and remains a primary target for overthrow by US and European imperialism.

Describing “one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen,” Snowden said that the US routinely transfers bulk communications data acquired from Palestinian and Palestinian- and Arab-American sources to Israeli intelligence in support of Israeli military operations targeting the Occupied Territories.

Moreover, a Snowden-leaked NSA document published earlier this month stated that through its collaboration with US intelligence and surveillance agencies, the Israeli regime “enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access to world-class NSA crypto analytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also gains controlled access to advance US technology and equipment.” During Israel’s 2008-2009 military onslaught against Gaza, US and British intelligence provided Israel with reams of data captured from surveillance of Palestinian e-mail addresses and telephones, the document confirmed.

Speaking about the lies told by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper during congressional testimony in the wake of the initial leaks, Snowden denounced the culture of deception and criminality that pervades the US government and ruling elite.

During the March 2013 hearing, DNI Clapper was asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

In an absurd lie, repeated in one form or another by numerous top officials including President Barack Obama, Clapper answered, “No sir, not wittingly.”

Snowden correctly noted that Clapper’s brazen lying was merely standard operating procedure for top US officials. “He [DNI Clapper] saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders,” Snowden said.

The interview provided an outline of Snowden’s career prior to 2013, which included significant high-level work on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NSA as an intelligence and technology specialist. During his years of employment by the government, Snowden attended a secret CIA school for tech experts and worked for the CIA’s global communications division as well as for the NSA office at the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo.

Snowden later held a position with Dell as its head technologist in relation to the CIA’s account with the company.

While working for the NSA contractor Booz Allen, Snowden worked to seize data from foreign service and inject malware into computer systems around the globe, he said. It was during this period that he became aware that the NSA was capturing and archiving huge amounts of US data, and doing so “without a warrant, without any requirement for criminal suspicion, probable cause, or individual designation.”

Snowden stressed the all-invasive character of the surveillance programs, stating categorically that the surveillance programs violate the Fourth Amendment.

“The argument [made by the US government] is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows. And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time,” Snowden said.

Responding to the interview, an official government statement reiterated the state’s longstanding demand for Snowden to return to the United States and face espionage charges in a US court.

“If Mr. Snowden wants to discuss his activities, that conversation should be held with the U.S. Department of Justice. He needs to return to the United States to face the charges against him,” the statement said.

During the interview, Snowden suggested that he might voluntarily accept a prison sentence as part of a deal with the US government allowing him to return home. While it is understandable that Snowden should seek every available means to avoid the fate of fellow whistleblower Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison and abused for years prior to his trial, it is a dangerous delusion to believe that the US government can be negotiated with on this matter.

In compromising mass spying operations that are considered essential to the stability and security of the capitalist state, Snowden’s actions have provoked significant anxiety within ruling circles. As a result, the most powerful elements within the US establishment view Snowden as a hated and mortal enemy, and are determined to lock him up and throw away the key.


Police Militarism in America



In Many Communities Cops are the Terrorists






The apparent murder by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black youth who was shot a number of times while he was allegedly on his knees with his hands up in the air, pleading “Don’t shoot, I’m not armed,” is exposing everything that is wrong with policing in the US today.

The Ferguson Police Department, reportedly nearly all white, patrols a St. Louis suburban community that is largely African-American, which is already a recipe for disaster in a country that is drenched in racism. The Ferguson PD is also reportedly using the kind of aggressive policing — arresting people over minor infractions — that can quickly escalate into violent confrontations. In this case, it appears Brown’s offense was jay-walking and perhaps talking back to the police officer — the first being a citation offense, and the second not even illegal.

When this shooting happened, instead of immediately attempting to calm things down, the Ferguson Police Department went all paramilitary, sending massive numbers of up-armed cops in military gear into the community, backed by armored vehicles. They  responded to understandable community protests with tear gas and, later, with solid wooden and rubber bullets designed to hurt and injure but not kill (though clearly at close range there is always that danger). Several more people have already been shot by police, leaving them in critical condition.

Adding to community outrage is the refusal by police to release the name of the officer responsible for killing Brown, or even to release the initial report of his autopsy — both the kind information that would be readily available were the shooter not a police officer.

What’s wrong here? So many things that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First of all, unless an officer is under attack, or unless members of the public are threatened, there is simply no justification for a police officer to unholster a service revolver or worse, to fire at, a person who is allegedly committing some minor offense.

Nor, even after having fired shots, is there any justification for an officer to continue to fire at someone who is manifestly unarmed and who is not threatening anyone, as appears to have been the case when this officer continued to fire at the kneeling Brown.

Second, once a tragic outrage like this has occurred, it is totally unacceptable for the police department involved to withhold the information concerning the officer’s identity. Police are not CIA agents. They are public employees responsible to the community in which they work. When they decide to become “peace officers,” they are signing on to be responsible members of the community they are policing. In a democratic society they cannot be permitted to hide behind their badges.  Public knowledge of who is doing that policing is a  critical deterrent to the dangerous tendency for police to see themselves in an oppositional role with respect to the community they are policing — as a sort of occupying army.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said he is withholding the name of the officer who killed Brown (who has been put on paid administrative leave from his patrol assignment), because of fears that he and his family could be at risk, but that is not an acceptable justification. Police, as I already mentioned, are public employees and know the risks they are taking when they decide to be cops. Their spouses also know the risks. If the police are worried about security, they can provide protection for the officer  and the officer’s family, but in an incident like this the community, and the family of the victim of this killing, also have rights — including the right to know who the officer is and what his prior history has been. For example, did he have a history of abusive arrests or other questionable shootings?

As for the withholding of the autopsy, police say they are awaiting the result of toxicology tests on the body. That’s a common ploy of police in shootings, on the theory that if they can find evidence of alcohol or drugs, it will somehow diminish public outrage over the shooting. But in this, as in many such police shooting cases, whether or not Brown was inebriated or drug addled would have no bearing at all on the justification for the shooting. According to witnesses Brown was on his knees with his hands raised when the officer, who had already shot the him at least once, walked up to him and fired more shots at him, killing him in the street. Toxicology tests are irrelevant. What is important is how many shots were fired, where they hit him, and what the trajectories of the bullets were. And the public has a right to know this information as soon as possible.

Particularly since 9-11 and the launching of the so-called War on Terror, police across the country have been deliberately mythologized into “heroes,” and have effectively been morphed from “peace officers” into “combat troops” in an amorphous and largely imaginary “war.”  In this “war,” the enemy, initially unseen and largely nonexistent foreign “terrorists,” gradually shifted to become a larger group of “others” –  in particular darker-skinned immigrants and, especially, African-Americans. Increasingly white people too have been added to this “enemy” category as police have become ever more militarized. (This author was threatened with arrest last year by a thuggish local suburban Pennsylvania cop when I questioned, correctly, the officer’s false assertion that hitch-hiking was illegal in the state. Had I continued to protest and to insist that I had a legal right to stand on the side of a secondary road, out of the roadway, with my thumb out, I would likely have been roughly grabbed, hand-cuffed, and hauled off to jail for something which, even if I had been too close to traffic, would have been a non-criminal charge, like a parking violation.)

In many communities of color today, police routinely patrol the streets all decked out in military-style gear, complete with kevlar helmets, semi-automatic weapons, and body armor. They do this not because they are in danger — the incidence of officers being shot in the line of duty has fallen to rates not seen since the late 19th century — but in order to make them more intimidating.

Back in the mid-1960s, when police forces in most cities were almost lily-white, black areas of major cities across the country erupted in riots over the same kinds of incidents as what just happened in Ferguson. Out of those riots, a resistance grew, including the founding of the Black Panthers. That kind or community resistance, while it  was brutally challenged by police and by the FBI, also led to reforms, such as the hiring of many minority police officers, to the establishment of civilian police review boards, and to the election of minority mayors and council members.

9-11 undid much of that.

In most communities in the US, we now have police who are described, quite appropriately, as law “enforcers.”  The term “peace officer” today sounds anachronistic.

We urgently need a new era of reforms that puts police back in the role of “public servant,” and  both of those words needs to be equally emphasized. As public employees, police must not be permitted to hide anonymously behind their badges. Their actions must be open to public inspection. And they need it to be made clear by their supervisors, and by the elected officials who ultimately are their bosses, that they are “servants” of the citizens of the community in which they work.

Such a change will not come easily. The police will not willingly surrender their new powers as “enforcers.”  Those powers will have to be wrested away from them. And doing that will require the kind of community organizing and resistance that we saw in the 1960s.

I’m not calling here for vigilantism, or street warfare. I am calling for a peaceful but militant community resistance to existing police militarism.

I’m reminded of an incident back in the late 1970s when I was living in Los Angeles. I had just come out of a theater where I had watched a showing of Ralph Bakshi’s excellent dystopic film “Wizards.” As I walked towards my car in the mall parking lot near the inter-racial working-class community of Silver Lake, I saw police helicopters and dozens of squad cars converging on a residential neighborhood across the main street. Curious to see what was going on, I trotted over to have a look.

I came upon the scene, flood-lit by noisy helicopters hovering above, of a car that had just been stopped by several LAPD squad cars. It had apparently been stolen by three joy-riding Latino teenagers. As I looked on, the three were yanked out of the vehicle by officers, some of whom had guns drawn. The boys were brutally slammed against the car amid a lot of yelling by the officers, whose numbers were growing by the minute as new squad cars arrived.

It was getting ugly, and I was worried about the boys, who were not very big. Suddenly a crowd began to grow, as local people, mostly Latino, from the surrounding houses, poured out into their yards to see what was going on. These local men and women began to yell at the cops:

“Don’t you hurt those boys!”

“We see you, and we see that they are not injured! Make sure they stay that way!”

“We’re watching you! If they get hurt, we’re going to report you!”

The scene visibly calmed down. The cops stopped yelling. The boys, cuffed, were led to squad cars to be brought downtown for booking. But there was no violence. None of the kids ended up getting hit.  I don’t know what happened to them later at Parker Center downtown, but what was developing into a nasty situation was defused by the presence of the community, who stood in solidarity against the cops.

This is what we need today: community resistance to police abuse, and a demilitarization of policing.

In too many communities across America today, as in Ferguson, Missouri, the “terrorists” in our midst are the police themselves. We need to end that situation.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

America Helped Make the Islamic State

By Charles Davis

ISIS social media image of ISIS fighters parading with captured Iraq security forces vehicles

History seems to start just before every humanitarian intervention, the full and often compromising account of what led to the latest war in some place where they are always fighting—the record of who killed who with weapons from which government—lost amid the deafening roar of Western self-satisfaction, the world’s ostensibly do-gooding imperial powers relishing the opportunity to be admired as simple concerned bystanders who could stand by no more. Whenever an altruistic set of airstrikes begins, the average news consumer—and I called my mother to check—is left with the impression that bombs are being dropped on bad people who are doing bad things (no one really knows why) by good people trying to do their best.

So it is with Iraq, where once again the dropping of explosive ordinance is being reported on in humanitarian terms with little in the way of historical context. “Obama authorizes airstrikes in Iraq to stop genocide,” reports a headline in USA Today, the newspaper you read when on vacation. The story provides some basic facts on the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group that has taken over much of Northern Iraq and nearly all of Syria’s oil fields, but we learn little about its motivations, how it came to be and what role those who now want to bomb it may have played in its creation. What we learn, courtesy of President Barack Obama, is that “America is coming to help.”

It warms the heart, this altruistic offer of help from the leader of a nation-state motivated by rational self-interest, but what’s left out—what’s always left out—is any real context. What led us to this particular moment in time? Was there anything that the benevolent governments in the West maybe did before, like perhaps kill a half-million or more people in Iraq, that would drive so many people to an Islamic militant group? To ask is to be anti-American, or at least a huge buzzkill, but the answer is unequivocal: yes, yes, at-least-half-a-million-times yes. The US absolutely created the problem it’s now courageously “coming to help” solve, and that it created that problem by dropping lots of bombs should trouble those who now argue that dropping some more is somehow a serious solution.

When I say the United States “created” the Islamic State (or “ISIS” as it’s sometimes known), one may very well think I’m also about to tell you that jet fuel can’t melt steel and that Bush knocked down the towers. But this is no convoluted conspiracy involving holograms and crisis actors. It’s quite simple and tragic: The United States invaded Iraq, killed an ungodly amount of people who had friends and family who loved them, unleashed a wave of terrorism across the Middle East—turns out, watching one’s mother die in a US airstrike does not nurture moderation—then installed and armed a sectarian Shiite leader in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, who proceeded to kill, torture, and generally alienate the Sunni population of Iraq, which is now, not coincidentally, lending support to the Islamic State’s vicious brand of Sunni extremism.

By arming Iraq’s military, the United States also effectively armed ISIS, which captured much of Iraq’s high-powered weaponry when it swept through the north of the country. The US also facilitated the shipment of weapons to a hodgepodge of rebel groups fighting in Syria, with some of those weapons no doubt finding their way into the hands of those whose commitment to liberal democracy is no stronger than dictator-for-life Bashar Assad’s. Add all that up and you have, as with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before, another instance of the United States arming a future foe and then creating the conditions necessary for them to thrive.

“What a mess,” said Peter Van Buren, a former State Department official who oversaw reconstruction efforts in Iraq (an experience that turned him into a whistle-blower). When I asked him if he agreed that the US government helped create ISIS, Van Buren was blunt: “Absolutely.” The 2003 invasion turned Iraq into a training ground for radical Islamic groups—and gave legions of young men a reason to fight for them, a recipe for disaster compounded by US support for a sectarian strongman. “Maliki has been our man in Iraq, or at least we have believed that, since the US installed him in 2006,” he told me. “From day one, Maliki has alienated and persecuted the Sunnis,” so it should come as no surprise that many would prefer a Sunni extremist group to a repressive Shia state.

Photo via

There are some figures in the mainstream blaming America for ISIS, but for all the wrong reasons. Hillary Clinton, the once and future presidential candidate, told a former Israeli prison guard turned journalist at The Atlantic that America had created ISIS by not sufficiently committing itself to the war in Syria.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said. An editor at The Wall Street Journal likewise suggested that ISIS was empowered by a failure to take “decisive action” in Syria, never mind that the “decisive action” politicians like Clinton had in mind was aimed at taking out Assad, not ISIS, one of the groups fighting his regime.

President Obama has also been busy massaging recent history with the help of a compliant elite press. In an interview with a mustachioed horse’s ass at The New York Times, Obama rejected the idea that insufficient American arms-peddling created ISIS, arguing that the “idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms” to the Syrian opposition and have that lead to something good “was never in the cards.”

What Obama didn’t mention, and his interviewer didn’t deign to go into, was that the United States did in fact arm the Syrian opposition, mostly by proxy. In March 2013, the Times itself reported that, “With help from the CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters.” The “scale of shipments,” according to government officials quoted in the piece, “was very large,” though some in the Syrian opposition expressed uneasiness at the time, telling the Times that “whoever was vetting which groups receive the weapons was doing an inadequate job.”

But those details are lost in the rush to humanitarian war since they suggest that a past intervention sold on humanitarian grounds failed to prevent the evil that exists today—and probably made it worse—to the point that the President of the United States won’t even rebut his hawkish critics by pointing out that he actually did arm Syria’s rebels.

“Be that as it may, professor, what do we now?” a concerned citizen might ask. “Do we let people die because you hate America?”

Well, friend: there is a genuine humanitarian crisis in Iraq and, since it helped create the disaster that is now unfolding, the United States does have a duty to help out. But—and this is really important, guys—bombing Iraq has never once made the situation there better. It has actually made things a lot worse, leading to body counts beyond the most committed jihadist’s wildest dreams (while creating loads of new jihadists, the presence of which can be cited to justify the next intervention).

The absence of a good answer to a problem like ISIS is not a good reason to embrace a snake-oil cure that has proven time and again to be worse than the disease. The US military is not a humanitarian organization, nor should it be expected to behave like one. If America wants to help, it should offer those fleeing the violence in Iraq the ability to seek refuge in the United States—and promise those who stay behind that it will never ever bomb them again.

Follow Charles Davis on Twitter

ISIS: the Birth of a Terrifying New State



A Counter-Revolutionary Caliphate




As the attention of the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) captured a third of Syria in addition to the quarter of Iraq it had seized in June. The frontiers of the new Caliphate declared by Isis on 29 June are expanding by the day and now cover an area larger than Great Britain and inhabited by at least six million people, a population larger than that of Denmark, Finland or Ireland. In a few weeks of fighting in Syria Isis has established itself as the dominant force in the Syrian opposition, routing the official al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, in the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor and executing its local commander as he tried to flee. In northern Syria some five thousand Isis fighters are using tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army in Mosul to besiege half a million Kurds in their enclave at Kobani on the Turkish border. In central Syria, near Palmyra, Isis fought the Syrian army as it overran the al-Shaer gasfield, one of the largest in the country, in a surprise assault that left an estimated three hundred soldiers and civilians dead. Repeated government counter-attacks finally retook the gasfield but Isis still controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. The Caliphate may be poor and isolated but its oil wells and control of crucial roads provide a steady income in addition to the plunder of war.

The birth of the new state is the most radical change to the political geography of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was implemented in the aftermath of the First World War. Yet this explosive transformation has created surprisingly little alarm internationally or even among those in Iraq and Syria not yet under the rule of Isis. Politicians and diplomats tend to treat Isis as if it is a Bedouin raiding party that appears dramatically from the desert, wins spectacular victories and then retreats to its strongholds leaving the status quo little changed. Such a scenario is conceivable but is getting less and less likely as Isis consolidates its hold on its new conquests in an area that may soon stretch from Iran to the Mediterranean.

The very speed and unexpectedness of its rise make it easy for Western and regional leaders to hope that the fall of Isis and the implosion of the Caliphate might be equally sudden and swift. But all the evidence is that this is wishful thinking and the trend is in the other direction, with the opponents of Isis becoming weaker and less capable of resistance: in Iraq the army shows no signs of recovering from its earlier defeats and has failed to launch a single successful counter-attack; in Syria the other opposition groups, including the battle-hardened fighters of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are demoralised and disintegrating as they are squeezed between Isis and the Assad government. Karen Koning Abuzayd, a member of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry in Syria, says that more and more Syrian rebels are defecting to Isis: ‘They see it’s better, these guys are strong, these guys are winning battles, they were taking territory, they have money, they can train us.’ This is bad news for the government, which barely held off an assault in 2012 and 2013 by rebels less well trained, organised and armed than Isis; it will have real difficulties stopping the forces of the Caliphate advancing west.

In Baghdad there was shock and terror on 10 June at the fall of Mosul and as people realised that trucks packed with Isis gunmen were only an hour’s drive away. But instead of assaulting Baghdad, Isis took most of Anbar, the vast Sunni province that sprawls across western Iraq on either side of the Euphrates. In Baghdad, with its mostly Shia population of seven million, people know what to expect if the murderously anti-Shia Isis forces capture the city, but they take heart from the fact that the calamity has not happened yet. ‘We were frightened by the military disaster at first but we Baghdadis have got used to crises
OR Book Going Rougeover the last 35 years,’ one woman said. Even with Isis at the gates, Iraqi politicians have gone on playing political games as they move ponderously towards replacing the discredited prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

‘It is truly surreal,’ a former Iraqi minister said. ‘When you speak to any political leader in Baghdad they talk as if they had not just lost half the country.’ Volunteers had gone to the front after a fatwa from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. But these militiamen are now streaming back to their homes, complaining that they were half-starved and forced to use their own weapons and buy their own ammunition. The only large-scale counter-attack launched by the regular army and the newly raised Shia militia was a disastrous foray into Tikrit on 15 July that was ambushed and defeated with heavy losses. There is no sign that the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi army has changed. ‘They were using just one helicopter in support of the troops in Tikrit,’ the former minister said, ‘so I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the Iraqi state has bought in recent years?

Probably the money for the missing 139 helicopters was simply stolen. There are other wholly corrupt states in the world but few of them have oil revenues of $100 billion a year to steal from. The sole aim of many officials has long been to get the largest kickback possible and they did not much care if jihadi groups did the same. I met a Turkish businessman in Baghdad who said he had had a large construction contract in Mosul over the last few years. The local emir or leader of Isis, then known as al-Qaida in Iraq, demanded $500,000 a month in protection money from the company. ‘I complained again and again about this to the government in Baghdad,’ the businessman said, ‘but they would do nothing about it except to say that I could add the money I paid al-Qaida to the contract price.’ The emir was soon killed and his successor demanded that the protection money be increased to $1 million a month. The businessman refused to pay and one of his Iraqi employees was killed; he withdrew his Turkish staff and his equipment to Turkey. ‘Later I got a message from al-Qaida saying that the price was back down to $500,000 and I could come back,’ he said. This was some time before Isis captured the city.

In the face of these failures Iraq’s Shia majority is taking comfort from two beliefs that, if true, would mean the present situation is not as dangerous as it looks. They argue that Iraq’s Sunnis have risen in revolt and Isis fighters are only the shock troops or vanguard of an uprising provoked by the anti-Sunni policies and actions of Maliki. Once he is replaced, as is almost certain, Baghdad will offer the Sunnis a new power-sharing agreement with regional autonomy similar to that enjoyed by the Kurds. Then the Sunni tribes, former military officers and Baathists who have allowed Isis to take the lead in the Sunni revolt will turn on their ferocious allies. Despite all signs to the contrary, Shia at all levels are putting faith in this myth, that Isis is weak and can be easily discarded by Sunni moderates once they’ve achieved their goals. One Shia said to me: ‘I wonder if Isis really exists.’

Unfortunately, Isis not only exists but is an efficient and ruthless organisation that has no intention of waiting for its Sunni allies to betray it. In Mosul it demanded that all opposition fighters swear allegiance to the Caliphate or give up their weapons. In late June and early July they detained between 15 to 20 former officers from Saddam Hussein’s time, including two generals. Groups that had put up pictures of Saddam were told to take them down or face the consequences. ‘It doesn’t seem likely,’ Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadists, said, ‘that the rest of the Sunni military opposition will be able to turn against Isis successfully. If they do, they will have to act as quickly as possible before Isis gets too strong.’ He points out that the supposedly more moderate wing of the Sunni opposition had done nothing to stop the remnants of the ancient Christian community in Mosul from being forced to flee after Isis told them they had to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. Members of other sects and ethnic groups denounced as Shia or polytheists are being persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. The moment is passing when the non-Isis opposition could successfully mount a challenge.

The Iraqi Shia offer another explanation for the way their army disintegrated: it was stabbed in the back by the Kurds. Seeking to shift the blame from himself, Maliki claims that Erbil, the Kurdish capital, ‘is a headquarters for Isis, Baathists, al-Qaida and terrorists’. Many Shia believe this: it makes them feel that their security forces (nominally 350,000 soldiers and 650,000 police) failed because they were betrayed and not because they wouldn’t fight. One Iraqi told me he was at an iftar meal during Ramadan ‘with a hundred Shia professional people, mostly doctors and engineers and they all took the stab-in-the-back theory for granted as an explanation for what went wrong’. The confrontation with the Kurds is important because it makes it impossible to create a united front against Isis. The Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, took advantage of the Iraqi army’s flight to seize all the territories, including the city of Kirkuk, which have been in dispute between Kurds and Arabs since 2003. He now has a 600-mile common frontier with the Caliphate and is an obvious ally for Baghdad, where Kurds make up part of the government. By trying to scapegoat the Kurds, Maliki is ensuring that the Shia will have no allies in their confrontation with Isis if it resumes its attack in the direction of Baghdad. Isis and their Sunni allies have been surprised by the military weakness of the Baghdad government. They are unlikely to be satisfied with regional autonomy for Sunni provinces and a larger share of jobs and oil revenues. Their uprising has turned into a full counter-revolution that aims to take back power over all of Iraq.

At the moment Baghdad has a phoney war atmosphere like London or Paris in late 1939 or early 1940, and for similar reasons. People had feared an imminent battle for the capital after the fall of Mosul, but it hasn’t happened yet and optimists hope it won’t happen at all. Life is more uncomfortable than it used to be, with only four hours of electricity on some days, but at least war hasn’t yet come to the heart of the city. Nevertheless, some form of military attack, direct or indirect, will probably happen once Isis has consolidated its hold on the territory it has just conquered: it sees its victories as divinely inspired. It believes in killing or expelling Shia rather than negotiating with them, as it has shown in Mosul. Some Shia leaders may calculate that the US or Iran will always intervene to save Baghdad, but both powers are showing reluctance to plunge into the Iraqi quagmire in support of a dysfunctional government.

Iraq’s Shia leaders haven’t grappled with the fact that their domination over the Iraqi state, brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, is finished, and only a Shia rump is left. It ended because of their own incompetence and corruption and because the Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011 destabilised the sectarian balance of power in Iraq. Three years on, the Isis-led Sunni victory in Iraq threatens to break the military stalemate in Syria. Assad has been slowly pushing back against a weakening opposition: in Damascus and its outskirts, the Qalamoun mountains along the Lebanese border and Homs, government forces have been advancing slowly and are close to encircling the large rebel enclave in Aleppo. But Assad’s combat troops are noticeably thin on the ground, need to avoid heavy casualties and only have the strength to fight on one front at a time. The government’s tactic is to devastate a rebel-held district with artillery fire and barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, force most of the population to flee, seal off what may now be a sea of ruins and ultimately force the rebels to surrender. But the arrival of large numbers of well-armed Isis fighters fresh from recent successes will be a new and dangerous challenge for Assad. They overran two important Syrian army garrisons in the east in late July. A conspiracy theory, much favoured by the rest of the Syrian opposition and by Western diplomats, that Isis and Assad are in league, has been shown to be false.

Isis may well advance on Aleppo in preference to Baghdad: it’s a softer target and one less likely to provoke international intervention. This will leave the West and its regional allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – with a quandary: their official policy is to get rid of Assad, but Isis is now the second strongest military force in Syria; if he falls, it’s in a good position to fill the vacuum. Like the Shia leaders in Baghdad, the US and its allies have responded to the rise of Isis by descending into fantasy. They pretend they are fostering a ‘third force’ of moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and Isis, though in private Western diplomats admit this group doesn’t really exist outside a few beleaguered pockets. Aymenn al-Tamimi confirms that this Western-backed opposition ‘is getting weaker and weaker’; he believes supplying them with more weapons won’t make much difference. Jordan, under pressure from the US and Saudi Arabia, is supposed to be a launching pad for this risky venture but it’s getting cold feet. ‘Jordan is frightened of Isis,’ one Jordanian official in Amman said. ‘Most Jordanians want Assad to win the war.’ He said Jordan is buckling under the strain of coping with vast numbers of Syrian refugees, ‘the equivalent of the entire population of Mexico moving into the US in one year’.

* * *

The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’ In a speech in London in July, he said the Saudi policy towards jihadis has two contradictory motives: fear of jihadis operating within Saudi Arabia, and a desire to use them against Shia powers abroad. He said the Saudis are ‘deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shiadom’. It’s unlikely the Sunni community as a whole in Iraq would have lined up behind Isis without the support Saudi Arabia gave directly or indirectly to many Sunni movements. The same is true of Syria, where Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence from 2012 to February 2014, was doing everything he could to back the jihadi opposition until his dismissal. Fearful of what they’ve helped create, the Saudis are now veering in the other direction, arresting jihadi volunteers rather than turning a blind eye as they go to Syria and Iraq, but it may be too late. Saudi jihadis have little love for the House of Saud. On 23 July, Isis launched an attack on one of the last Syrian army strongholds in the northern province of Raqqa. It began with a suicide car-bomb attack; the vehicle was driven by a Saudi called Khatab al-Najdi who had put pictures on the car windows of three women held in Saudi prisons, one of whom was Hila al-Kasir, his niece.

Turkey’s role has been different but no less significant than Saudi Arabia’s in aiding Isis and other jihadi groups. Its most important action has been to keep open its 510-mile border with Syria. This gave Isis, al-Nusra and other opposition groups a safe rear base from which to bring in men and weapons. The border crossing points have been the most contested places during the rebels’ ‘civil war within the civil war’. Most foreign jihadis have crossed Turkey on their way to Syria and Iraq. Precise figures are difficult to come by, but Morocco’s Interior Ministry said recently that 1122 Moroccan jihadists have entered Syria, including nine hundred who went in 2013, two hundred of whom were killed. Iraqi security suspects that Turkish military intelligence may have been heavily involved in aiding Isis when it was reconstituting itself in 2011. Reports from the Turkish border say Isis is no longer welcome, but with weapons taken from the Iraqi army and the seizure of Syrian oil and gasfields, it no longer needs so much outside help.

For America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of Isis and the Caliphate is the ultimate disaster. Whatever they intended by their invasion of Iraq in 2003 and their efforts to get rid of Assad in Syria since 2011, it was not to see the creation of a jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria run by a movement a hundred times bigger and much better organised than the al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden. The war on terror for which civil liberties have been curtailed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent has failed miserably.

The belief that Isis is interested only in ‘Muslim against Muslim’ struggles is another instance of wishful thinking: Isis has shown it will fight anybody who doesn’t adhere to its bigoted, puritanical and violent variant of Islam. Where Isis differs from al-Qaida is that it’s a well-run military organisation that is very careful in choosing its targets and the optimum moment to attack them.Many in Baghdad hope the excesses of Isis – for example, blowing up mosques it deems shrines, like that of Younis (Jonah) in Mosul – will alienate the Sunnis. In the long term they may do just that, but opposing Isis is very dangerous and, for all its brutality, it has brought victory to a defeated and persecuted Sunni community. Even those Sunnis in Mosul who don’t like it are fearful of the return of a vengeful Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

So far Baghdad’s response to its defeat has been to bomb Mosul and Tikrit randomly, leaving local people in no doubt about its indifference to their welfare or survival. The fear will not change even if Maliki is replaced by a more conciliatory prime minister. A Sunni in Mosul, writing just after a missile fired by government forces had exploded in the city, told me: ‘Maliki’s forces have already demolished the University of Tikrit. It has become havoc and rubble like all the city. If Maliki reaches us in Mosul he will kill its people or turn them into refugees. Pray for us.’ Such views are common, and make it less likely that Sunnis will rise up in opposition to Isis and its Caliphate. A new and terrifying state has been born.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising

This article originally appeared on London Review of Books.