ISIS and the neocons: fearful symmetry?

Daniel Neep of Georgetown University in Discover Society last month provided a refreshingly skeptical overview of the various plans for redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East, in a piece entitled "The Middle East, Hallucination, and the Cartographic Imagination." We call it the balkanization agenda of the most hubristic neo-conservatives, although Neep doesn't use those terms ("DC policymakers," he says). He discusses how these ideas have been broached by imperial officialdom, e.g. in Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' writings in the Armed Forces Journal, and Wilson Center wonk Robin Wright in the New York Times. Neep's piece is most interesting for its comparative maps of all the schemes that have been floated. They all pretty much amount to the same thing: Iraq and Syria divided into Sunni and Shi'ite zones, an independent Kurdistan, Hijaz breaking off from Saudi Arabia, and so on. The irony is that all these theorists blabber on about how the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement created "artificial states," while the drawing of new maps by Beltway wonks merely replicates the hubris of Sykes-Picot!

Chem-armed ISIS being funded through US?

Well, probably not, but maybe we can get some hits by throwing cold water on the inflammatory claims. Russia Today of course jumps on a report in Pakistan's Express-Tribune Jan. 28 claiming that the ISIS commander for the country confessed under interrogation that he has been receiving funds through the United States. Authorities said Yousaf al Salafi was arrested in Lahore Jan. 22—although "sources" said he was actually arrested in December and it was only disclosed on Jan. 22. An anonymous "source" also said: "During the investigations, Yousaf al-Salafi revealed that he was getting funding—routed through America—to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria." Unnamed "sources" said al-Salafi's revelations were shared with the US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit to Islamabad, and with CentCom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin during his visit earlier in January. "The US has been condemning the IS activities but unfortunately has not been able to stop funding of these organizations, which is being routed through the US," the "source" taunted. OK, could be, but we are a little tired of the current craze for anonymous and therefore unverifiable sources.

Greece: populist bloc with xenophobes

We were very enthused that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister from Greece's leftist Syriza party, in his first act after being sworn in today laid flowers at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani, where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist partisan fighters on May 1, 1944. (Sky News) An unsubtle message, both to Greece's own resurgent neo-Nazi right, and to contemporary German financial imperialism. We applaud. Especially since the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (its leadership in prison awaiting trial for running a criminal organization) came in a highly disoncerting third in the election. This is a sign of polarization, with the pro-austerity "center" collapsing, and far right and radical left in a contest to seize the populist space. What's not so good is that Tsipras and Syriza, just short of the outright majority needed to govern alone, have quickly formed a bloc with lawmakers from a right-wing anti-immigrant populist party, the Independent Greeks. (AP)

Yemen's Houthi rebels: Iran's proxies?

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (put in power in a US-brokered political deal in 2012) remains holed up in his palace besieged by Shi'ite Houthi rebels, who drove off the guards in a gun-battle yeserday. But through intermediaries, he has reportedly expressed readiness to accept rebel leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi's demands for constitutional changes and a power-sharing agreement with the Houthis. (Reuters, Yemen Online, Jan. 21; Middle East Online, Jan. 20) The Jerusalem Post and, less predictably, Quartz play up the notion that the Houthis are Iran's proxies. The JP headlines that with the Houthi siege of the palace, "Yemen falls into Iran's orbit." As evidence, we are told that the Houthis' popular slogan is "Death to America, Death to Israel," also popular in Iran (and everywhere else in the Middle East). Quartz leads: "On the same day that US president Barack Obama warned Congress not to push for more sanctions against Iran, the regime in Tehran demonstrated why its threat to the world is not limited to nuclear weapons." Well, Iran doesn't actually have any nuclear weapons (hello?). And are the Houthis really Iran's proxies?

Egypt: court dismisses case against Mubarak

A Egyptian court on Nov. 29 dropped charges against former president Hosni Mubarakdismissing the case. Judge Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, who read the decisiom for the three-panel court, stated that charges should have never been brought. Critics alleged that the postponed ruling is a political one, but Rashidi denies that the decision had anything to do with politics and encouraged critics to read the court's reasoning. Mubarak, his former security chief Habib al-Adly and six former government aides were being retried on charges of corruption and complicity in the killing of more than 100 protesters during the country's 2011 uprising. The charges against Mubarak's government aides were also dropped. The court's decision may be appealed.

Peshmerga come to aid of Kobani: strings attached?

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga troops have entered the battle for the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, after having been allowed to pass through Turkish territory to approach the town from the north—the only remaining access. The sound of heavy weaponry the Peshmerga fighters brought with them from Iraq echoed across the Syrian-Turkish border, according to a team from the independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw on the Turkish side. And US-led coalition planes coninued to strike ISIS positions outside Kobani in the most intense bombing in weeks, with local witnesses counting between five and seven air-strikes overnight. Peshmerga forces are now fighting alongside the PKK-aligned People's Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia that has been leading the defense of Kobani.

US arms Kobani defenders —heightening contradictions

The US has started to air-drop weapons and medical supplies to Kurdish militia defending the north Syrian town of Kobani against ISIS forces—the first such drops to resistance fighters in Syria. In a statement Oct. 19, US Central Command said C-130 cargo planes made multiple drops of arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. (AP) And in an astonishing development that reveals the degree of pressure on Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to allow Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria. (AP, BBC News) A critical distinction, however, is that Ankara is only allowing Iraqi Peshmerga troops to pass through Turkish territory to reach Kobani from the north. The accounts say nothing about allowing PKK fighters to pass. And Erdogan is even now continuing to oppose US arming of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK-aligned militia that is defending Kobani. (Chinatopix)

China bars online images as Hong Kong explodes

Instagram has been blocked in mainland China since Sept. 28, in an evident attempt to stop images of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as street clashes entered their third day. Following repression of the massive Occupy Central demonstration, thousands of people have remained on the streets of Hong Kong, defying tear gas and ignoring orders to disperse. Overnight, riot police advanced on crowds who ignored official warnings that the demonstrations were illegal. In what can be read as a veiled threat, Hong Kong's chief executive CY Leung reassured the public that rumors the Chinese army might intervene are untrue. (Shanghaiist, Sept. 29; BBC News, Sept. 28)

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