Michael T. Klare has a piece on TruthDig about last month's OPEC meeting in Doha, Qatar, where high expectations of a boost to chronically depressed prices were dashed: "In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers." Klare acknowledges the geopolitical factor in keeping prices down: "Most analysts have since suggested that the Saudi royals simply considered punishing Iran more important than lowering oil prices. No matter the cost to them, in other words, they could not bring themselves to help Iran pursue its geopolitical objectives, including giving yet more support to Shiite forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon." But he sees market forces and the advent of post-petrol technologies as more fundamental...
One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
An Egyptian court on Jan. 15 put ex-president Mohammed Morsi on trial over accusations of spying and leaking information to Qatar. Prosecutors, as part of the country's continued crack down on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, allege that Morsi endangered national security by leaking to Qatar state secrets and documents that exposed the location of Egyptian weapons and revealed a portion of the country's foreign and domestic policies. Egypt's relationship with Qatar has been strained since Qatar continued to support Morsi and Islamists after the his ouster in July 2013. Since taking over after Morsi, current President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has instituted an intense national security campaign against Islamists.
The US carried out its first air-strikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Sept. 22. In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the US used "a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles" launched from the USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf. Kirby said that because these strikes are ongoing, he could not give details about where they took place. But an unnamed Pentagon official told NPR the strikes targeted positions near Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital. Planes from five Arab countries participated in the strikes—also not named by Kirby, although FoxNews identified them as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. There was no indication that the Syrian government had been consulted on the strikes, as Damascus had demanded.
Iraq's new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Barack Obama's announcement of a new campaign against ISIS. On the same day Obama gave his speech, Abadi met in Baghdad with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss international support for Iraqi forces in the drive against ISIS. (BasNews, Sept. 12; Aswat al-Iraq, Sept. 10) While Abadi's government continues to be Shi'ite-dominated, there are signs of success in his efforts to forge a pact with Sunnis to resist ISIS. Sunni tribes in Salaheddin governorate have formed a council to mobilize tribesmen to retake the provincial capital of Tikrit from ISIS in coordination with Iraq's army. Significantly, the new command center established for the effort is in Auja, a district recently retaken from ISIS by Iraqi troops—and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, who was buried there following his execution in 2006. (Azzaman, Sept. 12)
US President Barack Obama announced May 31 that prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl had been released into US custody in exchange for five detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. Bergdahl was the only confirmed US prisoner of war from the conflict in Afghanistan remaining in enemy custody. The Obama administration brokered the deal for Bergdahl's exchange through the Qatari government; once Bergdahl was secured, five high-profile Guantánamo Bay detainees, including the former head of the Taliban army, were transferred to Qatar. Republicans in the US Senate and House of Representatives criticized the exchange, which had been conducted in violation of a law requiring the president to notify Congress 30 days before any detainees are transferred from Guantanamo bay (PDF). The Obama administration maintains that the provision of the law requiring the notification is an unconstitutional violation on his rights as Commander-in-Chief (signing statement, PDF).
Egypt's military is denying that its chief of staff, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, told Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasah that he will run for president in elections that are still yet to be scheduled. The newspaper quoted him as saying he could "not reject the demand" of the people that he should stand. Former strongman Hosni Mubarak meanwhile said in an interview with an independent Egyptian journalist that al-Sisi would be the next president. "The people want Sisi and the people's will shall prevail," journalist Fajer al-Saeed quoted Mubarak as telling her at the armed forces hospital where he is being held in Cairo.
A team of lawyers, doctors and professors specializing in the prosecution of war crimes and forensic evidence issued a report (PDF) Jan. 20 including numerous photographs alleged to be "clear evidence'" of torture and systematic killings amounting to war crimes in Syria. The report is derived from almost 27,000 photographs which were obtained by a former military police officer in Syria who has since defected. The defector's role was to photograph the bodies of deceased individuals brought from detention facilities to a military hospital, which could reach up to 50 bodies a day. The report documents starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of systematic killings, and the majority of the victims are men aged between 20-40. The report stands by the defector's credibility, who was interviewed over three sessions in the previous 10 days. The report arrived just 48 hours before the Geneva II Conference on Syria is scheduled to commence in Switzerland on Jan. 22, with intense political posturing surrounding the UN backed conference.