Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)
President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iraq has won an up-front $2 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese oil company, as it continues to struggle amid the pandemic-triggered collapse in energy prices. After numerous bids to Iraq's State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO), the deal was clinched by ZhenHua Oil Co, a subsidiary of state-owned China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco). The deal marks the first in which Iraq has sought a pre-payment for crude, with oil effectively used as security for a loan. According to Bloomberg, SOMO is to supply some 130,000 barrels a day of crude for five years. Norinco is primarily a defense company, with investments in oil and minerals in several countries.
Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of newspaper Cumhuriyet, was convicted Dec. 30 on charges of terrorism in Turkey and sentenced in absentia. The Istanbul court found Dündar guilty of aiding a terrorist organization and espionage, sentencing him to 27 years and six months in prison. Dündar was first sentenced to five years in 2016 on espionage charges and attempting to overthrow the government for publishing footage that allegedly showed Turkey's state intelligence agency transporting weapons to Syrian rebels in 2014. Dündar was later released when the matter went to appeal. Upon his release, Dündar fled the country while another Turkish court ordered the seizure of his property and froze his bank accounts in October. He is now living in exile in Germany.
Libya's eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, threatened Dec. 24 to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn't withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. The ultimatum is a theat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. Haftar's comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament's move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. "There will be no security or peace as long as the boots of the Turkish military are desecrating our immaculate soil," Haftar said in comments from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi on the 69th anniversary of Libya's independence. "We will carry weapons to bring about peace with our own hands and our free will."
The Russian government has for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland on the north coast of the Horn of Africa. Moscow's UN ambassador Vassiliy Nebenzia last week issued a statement urging both sides to find a compromise solution. "We are concerned about the breakdown...of talks between delegations of Somalia and the self-proclaimed Somaliland. We urge both sides to consider a compromise way of resolving the differences," Nebenzia said. "It is important to resume talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland."
The prosecutor-general of Azerbaijan announced Nov. 25 that his office is looking into allegations of war crimes during the recent conflict between his nation and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has already raised the alarm about possible war crimes, issuing a statement on Nov. 2 decrying indiscriminate artillery shelling of populated areas, use of cluster munitions by both sides, and videos on social media that appear to show summary executions of captured Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani troops. The two nations agreed to a Russian-brokered peace agreement on Nov. 10, under which several districts that Armenia had seized from Azerbaijan after the fall of the Soviet Union would be returned by December.