ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated bomb blasts and armed attacks that left at least seven dead—including five assailants—in the Indonesian capital Jakarta Jan. 14. Security forces battled militants for hours in the city's central business and shopping district. The online statement said the attack was carried out by "soldiers of the Caliphate," targeting "citizens of the Crusader coalition" against ISIS. Indonesia is not actually part of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It has been invited to join the new Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, but last month announced that it had not reached a decision to do so. (BBC News, SCD, Australia, Jan. 14; DNK, Pakistan, Dec. 18)
World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) established by the Bush White House. This year, the stakes got much higher, with multiple foreign interventions in Syria and ISIS striking in Europe. On the night of Obama's 2016 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 8 warned that the use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition against neighborhoods in Yemen may amount to a war crime. Cluster bombs spread bomblets over a wide area, many of which do not immediately explode, allowing the bomblets to kill or maim civilians long after a conflict ends. They were prohibited by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions treaty (PDF) adopted by 116 countries, not including Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the US. Of particular concern, the coalition has utilized indiscriminate bombing on several civilian areas in the city of Sanaa, including a wedding hall, chamber of commerce and a center for the blind. In a field visit the UN confirmed use of these munitions, finding remnants of 29 cluster bombs.
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 after Saudi authorities executed a dissident Shi'ite cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men beheaded in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region. Hundreds of al-Nimr's supporters also protested in his hometown of al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's east, and in neighboring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas and birdshot. (NYT, AP, Jan. 2) Days before the Saudi executions, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI reported that Iranian authorities are preparing the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners in the Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) prison in Karaj, northwest of Tehran. At least 27 Sunni death-row political prisoners at Gohardasht have had their sentences upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. They have been charged with offenses including "acting against national security," "propaganda against the state," "spreading corruption on earth," and "moharabeh" (waging war against God).
Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (official website)—a recent recipient of the prestigious European human rights award, the Sakharov Prize—has suffered fainting spells and deteriorating health owing to the lengthy hunger strike he initiated more than 20 days ago. According to Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's wife who was recently granted asylum in Canada, the strike was initiated primarily to protest Badawi's transfer to a different prison in Saudi Arabia. However, neither the government of Canada nor Amnesty International in Canada has been able to confirm the hunger strike. Regardless, Canada has expressed its commitment to continue its calls for clemency on Badawi’s behalf. Haidar stated that she last spoke with Badawi two weeks ago, and had been kept informed of Badawi's condition by a contact in Saudi Arabia whom she declined to identify. Haidar had been separated from Badawi for the past four years and was hoping to be reunited with him by the end of 2015.
It is looking like the supposed diplomatic breakthrough on Syria could actually end up only escalating the war. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last week to hash out a common position. (AFP, Dec. 15) This came just days after Kerry explicitly disavowed that the US is seeking "regime change" in Syria—making the US tilt to Assad clearer than ever, and vindicating Putin in his move to start bombing Syira. On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a six-month time-table for "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" in Syria. "Free and fair" elections are to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote. However, the official press release on the resolution made no mention of dictator Bashar Assad—and the notion that he will preside over such a transition defies five years of horrific reality.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Obama administration to cancel a pending arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the absence of serious investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen. On No. 17, the Pentagon announced that the State Department had approved a sale of $1.29 billion worth of air-to-ground munitions such as laser-guided bombs and "general purpose" bombs with guidance systems. "The purchase replenishes the Royal Saudi Air Force's current weapons supplies, which are becoming depleted due to the high operational tempo in multiple counter-terrorism operations," the Pentagon statement said. But HRW's Joe Stork countered: "The US government is well aware of the Saudi-led coalition's indiscriminate air attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen since March. Providing the Saudis with more bombs under these circumstances is a recipe for greater civilian deaths, for which the US will be partially responsible."
Well, here's a bizarre irony. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today warned Turkey that "only 24 hours" were left for Ankara to remove forces it sent into the north of his country. "We must be prepared and ready to defend Iraq and its sovereignty," said Abadi. "The air force has the capability...to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces." (Al Jazeera) Turkey says it has deployed the 150 soldiers to the town of Bashiqa to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. (BBC News) So Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its strongman Masoud Barzani have invited in Turkish forces, while the Baghdad regime is demanding that they leave. Turkey is doubtless motivated by the need to police northern Iraq against the growing influence there of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KRG and PKK are ostensibly allied against ISIS. But the KRG is shamefully acquiescing in Turkey's bombing of PKK fighters within its own territory—a terrible blow to Kurdish solidarity and the anti-ISIS struggle. Now this contradiction has just become clearer—and more urgent.