Tag Archives: ISIS

Disappearing the Middle East

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December 3, 2016

An Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Related story: Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks Above, an Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Strangely enough, I don’t want to start this column by talking about the Middle East. I start  instead in Afghanistan in Southeast Asia, because its case is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Middle East, and a valuable lesson in the way most media covers what’s happening there or — to put it bluntly — doesn’t cover it.

Are you aware that little more than a week ago, the top commander of the US and allied forces in Afghanistan said the Afghan government only controls about 60 per cent of the country? The rest is controlled by insurgent Taliban forces, which are getting stronger and are likely to take over even more territory. This despite the fact that the United States alone has spent billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan (as of January 1, 2015, the total was $685.6 billion, making it one of the two most expensive wars in American history – the more expensive one is Iraq). This includes training Afghan troops to fight the Taliban, supplying hardware and troops and drones attacks to wipe out Taliban commanders, yet it appears the Taliban is poised to recapture Afghanistan once again.

Do you remember reading about any of this? Or seeing it on America’s nightly news? Or hearing it being discussed on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC? The chances are highly unlikely. While the story was certainly covered by wire services like Associated Press, almost none of the major media outlets in America carried it for longer than about 10 minutes. It probably didn’t appear on cable news at all, a medium that is more fascinated by Donald Trump’s tweets than by America’s longest and second-most costly war.

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Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Now let’s look at the Middle East. Are you aware that over 600 car-bombs have been used against Iraqi security forces in their attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS)? Are you aware that the battle of Mosul is still happening? Do you know that Lebanon has a new president who is closely aligned with the terrorist group Hezbollah and Iran? Do you know that Libyan forces have almost wiped out IS forces in Libya, isolating the remainder in the Libyan town of Sirte? (The Pentagon claims IS forces now control only about two blocks and 50 buildings in Sirte itself.) Or that the biggest problem may come after the IS forces have been wiped out, because the various groups who came together to fight them don’t get along and could fall to fighting amongst themselves for control of the country? What about accusations that Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes against its battles against Shia Muslim Houti forces in Yemen? Did you even know Saudi forces were fighting in Yemen? Or that many experts have said the US and the UK may be complicit in some of these war crimes because of their support of Saudi Arabia? How about the recent success of Islamist, nationalist and liberal (strange bedfellows indeed) opposition forces in Kuwaiti parliamentary elections that may throw the country into complete chaos?

The answer to all these questions is … probably not. Because, to all intents and purposes, the Middle East has disappeared from American media. Americans have moved on: the recent presidential elections hardly focused on questions of foreign policy outside President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to block illegal Hispanic, and most Muslim, immigrants, and his claim that China is trying to destroy jobs in the US and so invented the climate-change “hoax” as a way to accomplish that goal.

Since covering Trump generated much, much more money for the news media —  in particular the cable news networks — these very important developments in the Middle East, which have serious implications for the United States and the world, were barely mentioned. Some were not mentioned at all.

The disappearance of the Middle East from American newspapers, radios and TV screens probably has several causes: President Obama’s attempted pivot away from the Middle East to focus on relations with Pacific nations; the non-stop Trump-fest coverage of the presidential election; media fatigue after almost 14 years of covering conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan; dwindling resources that force many outlets to focus on coverage of the Syria conflict (and even that is increasingly dropping off the media radar); and the fact that Americans are just bored and want the whole thing to go away.

But there’s the rub — it won’t just go away. The issue of millions of people displaced by war in the region isn’t going away; it played a role in both Brexit and the US election, and will likely also do so in Italian, Austrian, Dutch, and France elections in the coming months. While the Islamic State has been weakened, it isn’t going away. Iran’s presence in a divided Syria isn’t going away. The Palestinian issue is likely only to get worse under a Trump administration.

The Middle East is still the other elephant in America’s living room (the bigger one is racism). Despite the best efforts of the American media and the US public in general, the Middle East will continue to be a cause for concern. No matter how hard they try to ignore it.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

You might also wish to read:

Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks, by Alastair Macdonald

 Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Related in F&O’s Archives:

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle EastJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs, July 30, 2016

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and DaeshBy Simon Mabon, January, 2015  

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Afghanistan http://www.unocha.org/afghanistan

Further information:

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Conflict Induced Displacements graphic as of Nov. 27, 2016: http://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/afghanistan-conflict-induced-displacements-27-november-2016

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Nothing is simple about Canada’s support for Kurdish fighters

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

Kurdish PKK fighters Photo: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr/Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 18, 2016

There is a generation of British soldiers, civil servants and planters, now mostly dead, who swear bloodcurdling oaths at the mention of the name of Canada.

They were posted to the then-British colony of Malaya after the Second World War, and they blame Canada for training and arming the ethnic Chinese communists who waged guerrilla war against the colonial power from 1948 until 1960. About 12,000 people were killed, including nearly 3,000 civilians.

There is some justice in the British accusation against Canada, though not much. Canada’s purpose in Malaya in the 1940s was to arm and train the communist guerrillas to fight the occupying Japanese. Many of those involved were Chinese Canadians, who volunteered to fight in the expectation Ottawa would no longer be able to deny them full citizenship after the war. Chinese Canadians were given the vote in 1947.

Once parachuted into occupied Malaya and Burma, the Canadian commandos linked up with local fellow ethnic Chinese, who they trained in sabotage, ambushes, and all the dark arts of guerrilla warfare, and then led in attacks on the Japanese. When the Canadians left, the Chinese Malays remembered the lessons, hid their weapons and bided their time.

Today the Malay Emergency – the British had far too much experience of these things to be so foolish as to declare a “war on terrorism” – is remembered as one of the few textbook examples of how to defeat a guerrilla insurgency. And in what is now Malaysia, there is a pact that allows the minority ethnic Chinese to make money so long as they don’t challenge the majority Malays for political power.

Now Canada is doing something similar with the Kurds in Iraq as it did with the Chinese Malays in the 1940s. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the end of Canada’s deployment of CF-18 fighter-bomber aircraft, which with other coalition airforces have been bombing territory occupied by the Islamic State terror group. Instead, Canada will triple, to about 150, the number of special forces soldiers it will send to train and advise Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, known as Peshmerga. Ottawa will also be supplying the Peshmerga with small arms.

The reason for backing the Peshmerga is that they are killing more Islamic State fighters and reclaiming more territory than any other soldiers in the region. The Iraqi army is a disgrace, despite years of training by the United States. In Syria, Islamic State holds large swathes of territory and has its capital, Raqqa. The army of President Bashar al Assad, and the militaries of his allies Russia and Iran, are intent on trying to destroy the so-called moderate rebels, and are leaving IS largely untouched.

There are good tactical reasons to back the Kurdish Peshmerga. But, unlike in Malaya in the 1940s, the probable consequences of supporting the Kurds are clear. The Kurds hope to emerge from the current upheaval and civil war with an independent state of Kurdistan covering their traditional homelands in northern Iraq and Syria, which they already largely control. That, they hope, will be a stepping stone toward adding their homelands in eastern Turkey and north-western Iran.

There are about 32 million Kurds, the world’s largest distinct ethnic group without their own nation state. There are good arguments to be made that they deserve their own country. However, Canada’s NATO ally Turkey, home to about 15 million Kurds and about 18 per cent of Turkey’s total population, has been violently opposed to Kurdish independence, since the Kurds started a separatist movement in 1984.

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Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Kurdish occupied lands. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Many Canadians may support aiding the Kurds in creating Kurdistan. But Canada should be clear that that is the probable end result of Canada’s military policy in the war against Islamic State. Canada should have no illusions it will be a clean, cut-and-dried affair. We are, after all, trying in Iraq and Syria — to which one could add Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine — to clean up mistakes made a century ago at the end of the First World War. Then the collapsed Ottoman Empire was shared out as spheres of influence among European powers, principally Britain and France. From that emerged the modern states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, with the Kurds living in the mountains where the four boundaries meet. The Kurds have pursued the quest for Kurdistan with persistence and determination in the century since the end of the First World War. They even managed to briefly establish independent governments in their homelands in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. But these nascent Kurdistans were swiftly destroyed by the central governments.

It was the Americans who set the Kurds on their modern course to create an independent state. After the First Gulf War in 1991 United States forces withdrew without deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But Washington realised it had left Iraqis, and especially Kurds in the north, vulnerable to revenge attacks by Saddam’s forces. The U.S. and its allies therefore established a no-fly zone over the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. This created a de facto independent Kurdish state, which continues to exist as a self-governing region in post-Saddam Iraq. In November, Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani called for a referendum to measure support for de jure independence from Baghdad. He has said outright in the last few weeks he considers the Anglo-French Sykes-Pigott agreement, which carved up the Middle East 100 years ago, to be a dead document. The map of the region needs to be redrawn in line with ethnic, political and religious realities, he has said, and the creation of Kurdistan should be part of the new dispensation.

But after a century of separation into four different countries, the Kurds are no longer a homogenous group, if they ever were. Barzani himself is a good example of the complexities that will cloud the creation of a broad Kurdistan.

Barzani is a vehement Kurdish nationalist, but he is also very close to the Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan, who is in the midst of a renewed military campaign against the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after the breakdown of a cease-fire last year.

The relationship between Barzani and Erdogan is crudely practical. The Iraqi Kurds seized control of the major oil fields around Kirkuk in July 2014. This has given Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government control of about 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil reserves, which it is exporting at a rate of up to 600,000 barrels a day through a new pipeline to Turkey and earning an average of $US600 million a month.

In return for being able to use Turkey for oil exports, Barzani raises little outrage when Erdogan’s forces attack Turkish PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Barzani has been a fixture as the president of the Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade. His last elected term ended in 2013, and he now refuses to step down. This has spawned a significant opposition movement. In October last year, supporters of the main opposition party in the Kurdistan parliament, Gorran, attacked offices of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and five people were killed. In retaliation, Barzani expelled four Gorran ministers from the Kurdistan government.

Turkey is watching the political infighting in Irai Kurdistan with some anxiety. If Gorran or some other opposition party were to come to power, it would likely be far more sympathetic to the Turkish Kurds PKK and far less willing to allow Turkish forces to attack PKK bases in Iraq.

The political context of emergent Kurdish independence in Syria is just as fraught. There are about 1.5 million Kurds living in Syria, mostly along the country’s northern border with Turkey. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime never regarded the Kurds as a natural enemy or threat the way he regards the Sunni Muslim Arabs. As the Sunni insurgency mounted in 2011 and 2012, Assad withdrew his forces from the Kurdish areas, leaving the Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) free to operate self-government in three prefectures: Efrin close to the Mediterranean coast, Kobani on the central border region with Turkey, and Jazirah in the northeast. Over the course of the five-year civil war, the Syrian Kurds and their militia, the People’s Defence Units (YPG) have extended their territory so that they now control over half the nearly 900-kilometre-long border with Turkey. The main gap is a stretch between Azaz and Jarabulus, which is a battle ground between moderate Syrian rebels and hardline jihadists of the Islamic State and the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. It is through this corridor that supplies from Turkey have been reaching Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which is held by moderate Syrian rebels. But on February 3 Assad’s forces, supported by Russia’s air force, veteran Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and under the direction of officers of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, captured the territory north of Aleppo and cut the city off from its life-line to Turkey.

This may well give the Kurdish YPG forces an opportunity to take the land between Efrin and Kobani, and complete their aim of a contiguous Kurdish free state along the Turkish border.

This campaign would require air support from the U.S. and allies, especially the capture of the city of Jarabulus, and it is by no means certain the YPG will get it. Erdogan and the Turkish government are deeply suspicious of the YPG and the Syrian Kurds’ political wing, the PYD. Ankara sees the PYD as heavily influenced by Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Turkish Kurds’ PKK, who is now in prison serving a life sentence after being abducted from Kenya by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency in 1999. Thus if the Syrian Kurds are able to keep an independent state based on Ocalan’s political philosophy, Ankara fears this will become a long-term encouragement to Turkish Kurds and the PKK to ramp up their campaign for independence.

Ankara has already made it clear it would regard the capture of Jarabulus by the YPG as a red line requiring stern military action. It is to try to forestall this eventuality that the Erdogan government keeps calling on NATO and other allies opposed to the Assad regime to enforce creation of a safe zone for Syrian refugees in the border region between Jarabulus and Azaz. For Ankara, the zone would be to foil the Syrian Kurds as much as to save the refugees.

Because Turkey is a member of NATO, the extent to which other NATO members, such as Canada and the U.S., should encourage the creation of a wider Kurdistan is a significant question. In a world of harsh pragmatic politics, is the creation of Kurdistan, however much it is justified, worth the potential fracturing of NATO? That question has special potency when Turkey has the second largest NATO military after the U.S., and is a major element in containing Vladimir Putin’s rampant Russia.

On the other hand, Turkey’s Erdogan seems far more interested in making his country a power broker in the Middle East rather than looking west and, for example, pressing to join the Europen Union. Erdogan is also boosting Islamism in Turkey and seriously undermining democracy. He is trying to diminish the role of parliament and create an executive presidency with himself at the helm.

As I said at the beginning, the major reason for Canada and other allies to support and arm the Peshmerga Iraqi Kurdish fighters is that they are the best foot soldiers available and are killing more Islamic State fanatics than anyone else. But the fall out from such a decision can last a long time and have untold implications.

In 1943 the British were sending arms to royalist partisans fighting German occupying forces in Yugoslavia. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not persuaded the royalists had their hearts in the fight. Churchill called in a young veteran of the Long Range Desert Patrols, forerunner of the Special Air Service, in North Africa. Fitzroy Maclean later wrote that his mission was “simply to find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more.”

Maclean got into Yugoslavia and made his way to the headquarters of the communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. Maclean had no illusions about with whom he was dealing. Before the war he had been a British diplomat in Moscow and knew all about Stalinism. His accounts of Joseph Stalin’s purges and show trials are riveting. But Maclean came to the conclusion the royalist Chetniks were at best half-hearted and at worst collaborating with the German occupying forces. Only Tito and the communist partisans were an effective force, Maclean told Churchill. They were killing Germans and should be supported.

And so it happened, with the inevitable result that both Maclean and Churchill had foreseen. Tito took power in Yugoslavia after the war, and held it until his death in 1980.

Tito’s regime was not as repressive as the Soviet Union satellite states in Eastern Europe, but it was no holiday camp either. After Tito’s death the unresolved ethnic and political complexities of Yugoslavia began to unravel into conflict. By the mid-1990s what had been Tito’s Yugoslavia had shattered into fighting between Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Montenegrans, Kosovans and Albanians.

The United Nations dived in to separate the combatants, the Canadians, ever willing to don blue helmets with them. And then in May 1995 came a moment that should have been the end of innocence for Canada.

Canadian Capt. Patrick Rechner, an unarmed UN military observer, was captured by Bosnian Serb soldiers at Pale and chained to a lightning rod outside a warehouse holding mortar bombs. The aim of the Serb fighters was to stop NATO aircraft bombing their positions, and distressing pictures of Capt. Rechner were broadcast world wide. Capt. Rechner was held for 24 days, and the pictures became a clear statement that the age of classic UN peacekeeping was over.

Anyone overcome by nostalgia, who hopes that the rededication of the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the UN will mean Canada again being able to wrap itself in the cosy blanket of classic peacekeeping, is dreaming in Technicolor.

And the greatest irony is that the Bosian Serb fighters who captured and held Capt. Rechner were commanded by Nicholas Ribic, a Canadian who travelled to Serbia in 1992 because he “wanted to fight Muslims.”

In years to come there will undoubtedly come a time when people will ask how wise it was to train and arm the Kurds simply because they were killing more Islamic Group fighters than anyone else.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related:

War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan. Jonathan Manthorpe, October, 2014

Before going to war it is always a good idea to have a clear purpose and outcome in mind.  Yet six Royal Canadian Airforce CF-18s are set for bombing missions in the Middle East without any clear vision of what victory will look like. The whole thing is depressingly reminiscent of the Libyan campaign in 2011 when allied warplanes enabled rebels to oust and kill dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. But then they all declared “mission accomplished,” packed up their kit and headed home. Meanwhile Libya has turned into bloody chaos and a killing ground for rival Islamic factions, tribal fighters and would-be new dictators. There are many days when Gaddhafi, for all his evil, looks a lot better than what Libyans have got now. … read more 
Related: Nation of Kurdistan springs from Arab chaos. Jonathan Manthorpe July 4, 2014

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State. By Humeyra Pamuk

 Cemal Dede fled his home in a remote Turkmen village in Syria after warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State bombed the house next door. He had no idea he wouldn’t be coming back. Dede says the Kurdish YPG militia did not let his family of seven return to Dedeler near the Turkish border, telling him it was now Kurdish territory and Turkmens like him had no place there.

Who are the Yazidis? By Christine Allison

In 1918, the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain received an ultimatum from Ottoman forces – to hand over their weaponry and the Christian refugees they were sheltering, or face the consequences. They tore it up and sent the messengers back naked. The Sinjaris are the “Highlanders” of the Iraqi Yazidis – tough and proud. After suffering terrible casualties and appealing to the allied forces for help they were able to survive the subsequent attack and live out the war in their mountain homeland.

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Findings: the best of the web

Susan MacLeod: Amid heated debate about taking Syrian refugees, two points of view emerge in conversation at a Canadian nursing home reflects two points of view. The woman on the left is 107, and descended from United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada from the U.S.; the woman on the right is 98 and came to Canada at age three from inner-city London with her family. © Susan MacLeod 2015

Amid heated debate about taking Syrian refugees, two points of view emerge in conversation at a Canadian nursing home. The woman on the left is 107, and descended from United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada from the U.S.; the woman on the right is 98 and came to Canada at age three from inner-city London with her family. — Susan MacLeod © 2015

You’ve read F&O’s latest work, I assume? (If not, may I respectfully remind you, here, of the essential stories on our Contents page?)

We’d also like to share with you some findings elsewhere on this marvel of a web –starting with the image above by Canadian artist Susan MacLeod, drawn in response to heated debate in the West over taking Syrian refugees.

You might appreciate:

World Philosophy offerings, Oxford University Press

The ultimate Thinky trove: For World Philosophy Day earlier this month, Oxford University Press  collated some of its most popular research across various disciplines, and have made them available to download until January 1, 2016. Click here to find works at no charge ranging from Rousseau and Hobbes, to short introductions to topics, to Public Health Ethics….

This is why they hate us: The real American history neither Ted Cruz nor the New York Times will tell you, by Ben Norton, Salon, November 18, 2015

We talk democracy, then overthrow elected governments and prop up awful regimes. Let’s discuss the actual history … “Regime change” is not a phrase you hear discussed honestly much in Washington, yet it is a common practice in and defining feature of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. … read This is why they hate us (you will leave F&O)

State of Terror — What happened when an Al Qaeda affiliate ruled in Mali. By Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, July 1, 2013

Extremists attacked a hotel in Mali on Friday, taking hostages before a bloodbath ensued. Mali’s context was eloquently captured by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker in 2013.  From the New Yorker: “In 2012, Islamist extremists seized the north of Mali, ruling until French troops intervened. “However remote Mali may seem to Westerners, its travails exemplify the security problems posed by neglected places in the age of Islamist terror.” …. read State of Terror at the New Yorker (you will leave F&O’s site)

‘The Statue of Liberty Must Be Crying With Shame.’ By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, Nov.  21, 2015

I wonder what (anti-refugee politicians) would have told a desperate refugee family fleeing the Middle East. You’ve heard of this family: a carpenter named Joseph, his wife, Mary, and their baby son, Jesus. According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus’ birth they fled to save Jesus from murderous King Herod (perhaps the 2,000-year-ago equivalent of Bashar al-Assad of Syria?). Fortunately Joseph, Mary and Jesus found de facto asylum in Egypt  .… read The Statue of Liberty Must Be Crying With Shame (you will leave F&O)

Last but not least, Tracy Chapman’s new greatest hits album celebrates a quietly powerful legacy, promises PBS.
 

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Facts and Opinions, a journalism boutique of words and images, is independent, non-partisan and employee-owned. F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. You are welcome to try one story at no charge. If you value our work, please support us, with at least .27 per story. Click here for details.  Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Suicide Bombing: history’s least successful military tactic

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs 
November 20, 2015

It is cold comfort, certainly, with the horrors of Paris and Beirut still fresh, but the terrorist tactics adopted by the Islamic State show clearly the group is heading down a path of political irrelevance and self-destruction.

The adoption by Islamic State (IS) of suicide attacks as its terrorist brand is a sure sign this is a doomed, nihilist group. Its destruction is only a matter of time.

Suicide attacks have been used throughout the history of warfare — and they have an unrivalled record of total failure. They have never worked either as a last-ditch defence or as an offensive tactic aimed at overwhelming the opponent.

In the midst of last week’s attacks in Paris there was a compelling picture of the stupidity and futility of suicide attacks. One of the would-be suicide bombers was foiled by security guards from getting into the Stade de France, packed for a soccer match between the national team and Germany. So the bomber wandered off about 500 meters down a dead-end street and blew himself up, killing or injuring no one else. What a lonely and pointless “martyrdom operation,” IS’s preferred description of suicide attacks.

Suicide attacks have always been pointless. In the 1980s Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka started using suicide bombers in an effort to force the Colombo government to give them independence. They failed utterly.

More recently, various Palestinian terror groups used suicide attacks – first with bombs and now knives – with the aim of conclusively demoralizing the state of Israel. That has not happened and there is no sign it will happen.

In September 2011, al-Qaida launched suicide attacks on New York and Washington with the purpose of terrorising the United States into abandoning its Arab allies. Osama bin Laden believed al-Qaida could take over Saudi Arabia with the U.S. out of the equation. His entire strategy was wrong.

IS is going down the same well-trodden and entirely misconceived route. It seems to think that its suicide attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere will terrorize its opponents into abandoning their campaigns to drive IS out of the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

Wrong yet again. Not only have France’s allies rallied around the Paris government as it steps up its efforts in the anti-IS campaign in Syria/Iraq, the threat of a widening terror campaign is creating an extraordinary alliance of necessity among the group’s enemies. The U.S., Russia and Iran are not about to make a formal pact to fight together against IS, but there is clearly a degree of co-ordination of their campaigns being managed.

The task for European, North American and other leaders of the anti-IS coalition is how to help facilitate the group’s self-immolation with as little collateral damage as possible.

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015.   REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, the day after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

Sadly, the announcement by French President Francois Hollande, that in the wake of last weekend’s attacks on Paris his country is “at war” with IS, is the wrong strategy. It is an entirely understandable political response in the face of the Paris outrage, but it gives IS a stature and appeal among the world-wide reservoir of young, naïve and impressionable recruits on which it depends to survive.

It is the same mistake President George W. Bush made when he declared “war on terror” a few days after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. We are still dealing with the backlash of Bush’s ignorant stupidity. Indeed, the rise of IS in the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars and its occupation of large tracts of territory in the border region is a direct result of Bush’s 2001 mistake.

If Hollande persuades France’s allies to re-commit to an outright “war” against IS, the long-term results will be just the same. It will give IS an appearance it does not deserve, of being a major enemy of the West, equal in stature and potency to its opponents. That is the most powerful recruiting poster IS can hope for.

A far more effective strategy would be to treat IS as the gang of thugs that it is. IS should be contained, constrained and constricted without fanfare. The campaign should be more a police and civilian security action than a military one. IS’s ability to draw recruits from the West via poisonous, jihadist Internet sites should be targeted ever more vigorously, as should the venom spread by radical Muslim mullahs, many of them financed from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

(One of the best arguments I know for investment in renewable and alternative energy sources is that it will empty Saudi and Gulf State coffers, and limit their ability to spread their murderous religious and political doctrines. It will also liberate Western governments from oil supply blackmail and allow them to deal with the Arab oil tsars with the contempt they deserve.)

And when IS does present a target, it should be destroyed methodically, quickly and conclusively. IS depends for its survival on seeming to have momentum; appearing to be an ever-victorious, ever-expanding movement. Without that image it will quickly shrink into irrelevance as the supply of brainwashable recruits dries up. This is what is happening to al-Qaida, which has atrophied as IS has grown.

No doubt a new brand of vermin will emerge as IS withers and dies. This destructive, wack-a-mole cycle will continue until the people of the Middle East stop continuously blaming other people for their misfortunes, recognize they are to a large extent the authors of their own anguish, and take their futures into their own hands.

And part of that self-assertion should be that suicide attacks never won anybody anything.

Military history has plenty of examples of what are described as suicide squads. But it is often difficult to make a clear distinction between those who went into battle with the clear intention of dying and those prepared to fight to the death through fanaticism or simple military discipline.

One of the most clear modern examples of an attack by a suicide squad was the 2008 attack on the Indian commercial centre of Mumbai by 10 Pakistani-trained jihadis. They killed 164 people in four days of roving murder and mayhem. Only one of the attackers, Adjmal Kasab, was captured. He was tried, convicted and hanged.

Last week’s attacks in Paris, using both the machinegunning of crowds and suicide bombs to spread death and terror, appears to owe much to the Mumbai example.

The first clearly distinct suicide bombing was on March 31, 1881, outside the Russian Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. After left wing assassins had failed to penetrate the armoured coach of Tsar Alexander II with their bombs, one of the attackers, Ignaty Grinevitsky, waited until the Tsar arrived at his destination and disembarked. Then Grinevitsky rushed up to the Tsar and detonated his bomb, killing both of them.

The most blatant military use of suicide bombers came towards the end of the Second World War. The Japanese deployed Tokkotai – Special Attack Units – more popularly known as Kamikaze, to try to halt the allied advance on Japan. These were simple, bomb-armed aircraft piloted by young men with minimal training. Their task was to crash their planes into oncoming American, British and other allied warships. The young pilots were ostensibly volunteers, but in a military culture that scorned and forbade any form of surrender, it was a moot point.

There were about 3,000 Kamikaze attacks on the advancing allies, including some in small boats converted into floating bombs. They sank about 50 allied ships, most effectively the 30 that were sunk by Kamikaze at the Battle of Okinawa.

These attacks had a distinct psychological effect on the allied soldiers and sailors, however. The Kamakaze created a strong mood of foreboding among the allies about the intensity of the defence that awaited them as they approached the Japanese heartland. It was, of course, to avoid what was shaping up to be a merciless bloodbath that the allies justified using the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender.

Thus the argument can be made that the use of the Kamakaze led directly to the first and so far only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Since then, the use of suicide bombers has been almost exclusively by Islamic terrorists and mostly in Muslim countries, according to a study by the University of Chicago.

The first major modern use of a suicide bomb was on October 23, 1983, when militants linked to what is now Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group sustained by Iran, attacked two targets in Beirut. In the first attack a truck loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosive was driven into a U.S. Marine base, killing 241 soldiers. A few moments later another bomb truck crashed into a French paratroopers’ barracks, killing 58 people.

These attacks are among the very few where suicide bombings can be argued to have been strategically successful. As a result of the attacks, the Multinational Force withdrew from attempting to moderate the Lebanese civil war, with the result that Hezbollah was able to emerge as the dominant force within the country that it is today.

An irony is that with Iran’s backing, Hezbollah fighters are now deeply involved in Syria fighting IS. Now, Hezbollah are not allied with the U.S. in fighting IS, they just happen to be on the same battlefield with the same enemy. The IS suicide bomb attack on a Shia district of Beirut a few days before the Paris attacks had, of course, the similar intention of trying to terrorize Hezbollah to quit the Syria conflict.

Among the people in Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon in 1983 were several members of the Tamil Tigers from northern Sri Lanka, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran. He was much impressed by the effect of the suicide truck bombs, the withdrawal of international forces and the rising power of Hezbollah. The Tamil Tigers became the only non-Muslim terrorist group to extensively adopt suicide bombing in their drive for independence for their region of northern Sri Lanka. In July, 1987, the Tamil Tigers mimicked the Beirut attacks with the truck bombing of a Sri Lankan Army baracks in which 55 soldiers were killed.

Among the dubious achievements of the Tamil Tigers was the invention of the suicide belt, a vest with pockets into which explosives and detonation devices are packed. And while the Tamil Tigers became in the 1990s the world’s most successful terrorists, their forte, with the aid of their suicide belts, became the murder of prominent politicians. In 1993 they killed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Rangasinghe Premadasa and, even more spectacularly in May, 1991, the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during an election campaign. The Tigers used suicide bombers to kill another five Sri Lankan cabinet ministers during the 1990s.

But it was all to no end. Attempts at a negotiated settlement got nowhere, in large part because of the intransigence of Tigers’ leader Prabhakaran. In 2009 the Sri Lankan Army made a determined and concerted push into Tiger-controlled areas of northern Sri Lanka. The 30-year civil war ended with tens of thousands of Tamil Tigers, their families, and supporters, being slaughtered in their last stronghold in the jungles of the Jaffna Peninsular.

Palestinians from groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad began using suicide bombers in the 1990s, and purposefully targeting Israeli civilians. The aim was to demoralize Israelis and to make them feel uncertain and unsafe in their homes. The hope, of course, was that Israelis would either accede to Palestinian territorial demands or even give up on the idea of sustaining a Jewish homeland. “The Israelis will fall to their knees,” said the leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, in 2001. “You can sense the fear in Israel already; they are worried about where and when the next attacks will come. Ultimately, Hamas will win.”

Well, not yet and probably never. After thousands of suicide bomb attacks and even more thousands of deaths and injuries, Israel is still going strong. It has adapted its security procedures as the efforts of the terrorists demand. As it has become more and more difficult for Hamas and the others to get suicide bombers into Israeli communities, they have gone low tech. The latest Hamas suicide killers are young men with knives. On Thursday five civilians were killed in Israel in knife attacks. So were the two killers.

A definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome every time. Well by that description, after over 20 years of using suicide killer attacks on Israel without any strategic effect, Hamas and the other jihadist Palestinian organization are clearly demented and deserve to be treated as such.

The same goes for IS too if it continues to look at the evidence of history and still believe using suicide squads to slaughter civilians in Europe, the Middle East or elsewhere is going to hasten the creation of an Islamic earthly paradise.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O, Focus on Paris:

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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ISIS destruction of ancient artefacts a message of intent

By Peter Edwell
March, 2015

Distressing scenes of the destruction of ancient artefacts by ISIS in the Archaeological Museum in Mosul in northern Iraq have been widely reported in recent days.

Nimrud Lamassu's at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Nimrud Lamassu’s at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Video footage (see below) showed individuals wielding sledgehammers at ancient statues which the perpetrators claimed were images of gods. The exact identification of the destroyed artefacts is speculative, but most of the destruction appears to have been wrought on statuary of the Assyrian period (1365 BCE–609 BCE) and from the ancient trading principality of Hatra.

These items would be too difficult to smuggle out to the international black market for antiquities, a practice which ISIS appears to have been employing for smaller looted items from museums and archaeological sites across Iraq and Syria.

A number of rich archaeological sites lie in the immediate vicinity of Mosul and some of these rank among the most significant yet discovered in the Middle East.

Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) and Niniveh were successive capitals of the neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BCE-609 BCE) the latter thought to have been the largest city in the world in the seventh century BCE.

The remains of Nimrud lie approximately 30km to the south-east of Mosul while those of Niniveh are located on east bank of the Tigris in the immediate vicinity of the city. Foreign excavations of both sites began in the 1840s and many impressive items of statuary, architecture and other sculptures were transported to museums including the British Museum and the Louvre.

Some of this material stayed in Iraq where it is still held at museums in Baghdad and Mosul.

Mosul’s occupation of a strategic crossing point of the Tigris River for many centuries means that the city has a rich history, reflected in the museum’s holdings and the, until recently, diverse population of the city.

Mosul was a key crossing point for invading Parthian, Persian and Roman armies from the first century BCE to the seventh century CE and it formed an important trade connection between northern Mesopotamia and Syria, especially with the wealthy trading principality of Hatra (first century BCE – third century CE), some 90km south-west of Mosul, and the more distant trading emporium of Palmyra in central Syria.

Mosul was also an important trading centre during various Islamic Caliphates and in the Ottoman period. Today it is the second largest city in Iraq and its bridge across the Tigris is an important part of connecting the whole region of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which ISIS controls.

While the destruction of ancient artefacts in Mosul is without question cultural vandalism at its worst, ancient cultures in Iraq and elsewhere were equally capable of cultural vandalism, often on grand scales.

When the Assyrian empire disintegrated towards the end of the seventh century BCE, Nimrud was sacked and levelled by an alliance of enemies including Babylonians and Persians. In 330 BCE Alexander the Great looted the ancient city of Persepolis in Iran and burnt its palace to the ground in a drunken rampage.

Roman Emperors and Persian Kings besieged Hatra on five occasions in the second and third centuries before it was finally captured and mostly destroyed while the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE resonates to this day.

There is a clear distinction, however, between the devastation of priceless cultural items by ancient powers and the targeted destructive activities of ISIS.

The vandalism perpetrated in the Mosul Museum is part of a targeted program of desecration and devastation undertaken in Mosul by ISIS since it overran the city in June 2014. Reports of the demolition of six Shi’ite mosques and four shrines to Sunni and Sufi figures emerged in early July last year and later that month the 14th-century Prophet Younis (Jonah) shrine and associated mosque were blown up.

The obliteration of other Islamic monuments and places of worship has continued while the Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox Cathedrals were occupied after the vast proportion of Christian residents fled the city. Reports emerged in late February that the Mosul Public Library had been ransacked with approximately 100,000 books and manuscripts burned.

These actions are directly linked with the adherence by ISIS members to the Salafi movement, an extreme branch of Islam which views the centuries of development in Islamic theology and thinking after Mohammed as accretions which have polluted the faith.

The veneration of saints’ tombs and images is a particular problem for Salafists, which explains the destruction wrought on Islamic monuments in Mosul. It mirrors the destruction of saints’ tombs in Mecca and Medina in the early 1800s when Salafists captured the holy cities in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The destruction of artefacts depicting what are claimed to be gods in the Mosul Museum is part of making a broader statement to the Islamic world while enforcing an extreme doctrinal position in the city. It is also part of a message aimed more broadly at Iraq and the West.

On the same day that the video was released, the National Museum in Baghdad reopened after 12 years of painstaking effort to rebuild it following the looting which took place during the US-led invasion in 2003. The reopening of the museum is a moment of national pride for a country whose very existence is under threat.

The destruction of artefacts in Mosul sends a clear message, reflective of the intent of ISIS, which is to destroy whatever stands in the way of its ideology. The release of video footage of this vandalism has other purposes as well, especially with regard to the West, where museums and the precious artefacts they hold are treasured and sacred.

The infinitely more gruesome video footage of defenceless hostages being murdered has a similar purpose, partly to terrorise all who see it but also to entice the West back into a high-stakes war which will be difficult to prosecute and far more difficult to win. ​

Creative Commons

Peter Edwell is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Macquarie University,  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading and viewing:

UNESCO chief condemns destruction of Nimrud heritage site in northern Iraq, UN press release

6 March 2015 – The United Nations agency mandated with protecting cultural heritage around the world today strongly condemned the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, deploring such “criminal chaos” as yet another attack against the Iraqi people.

 “Nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” Irina Bokova, Director-General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a statement.

 

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Will Islamic State zealots bring U.S. and Iran together?

Relations between Iran and the United States have been ice cold since 1979. The terrorist attack of 9/11 could have been one opportunity for  a thawing, but “among the plethora of murderously stupid things former United States President George W. Bush did was to shut that door by including Iran in his “axis of evil” speech in 2002,” writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe

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James Foley. Photo © Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

But now, the common threat posed by the Islamic State extremists — in the news this week for their grotesque murder of journalist James Foley — may finally open channels of communication. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State:

It’s always a bit of a shock when the stern clerics that run Iran display an impish sense of humour.

So when Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was quoted today as offering to help the West’s campaign against the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions against Tehran, the natural inclination was to chuckle at his gall and turn the page.

But not so fast. A close reading of Zarif’s remarks shows that he was not being whimsical. He was entirely serious and while his suggestion is not feasible at the moment, it reflects the reality that there is a growing convergence of interests in the Middle East between Iran on one side and the United States and its European allies on the other.

That convergence has been brought into focus by the rise of the fanatical Sunni Muslim group, the Islamic State (IS) …  read Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State. (Log in first; subscription required*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

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On Iraq and America’s Folly

saddam

United States forces captured Saddam Hussein December 13, 2003, at ad-Dawr near Tikrit. Iraqi courts found him guilty of numerous offences. He was executed by hanging December 30, 2006. U.S. Army Photo

From five words flow the events we see today in Iraq, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe in today’s column. As the United States grappled with a response to 9/11 Donald Rumsfield, then Secretary of Defense, said, “What if Iraq is involved?”  What has  been largely overlooked about America’s invasion of Iraq, Manthorpe argues, “is how conclusively the Iraq invasion fouled the west’s moral authority in a world where new centres of cultural, political and military power are rapidly emerging.” An excerpt: 

There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein.

But they came to power in 2000 intent on vendetta, and within hours of the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington the closest officials and advisers around Bush were looking for a Saddam connection. Within days, senior officers in the Pentagon realized with alarm the administration had already loosed the unstoppable juggernaut that would lead to the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam in 2003.

In the intervention months an entirely spurious paper trail was fabricated in Washington and London, creating the fantasy desired by the ideologue dunderheads around Bush. Saddam, they claimed, not only conspired with Osama bin Laden in the attacks on the United States, he had also developed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the entire Middle East and beyond.

Blitzkriegs built on lies never end well. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in over a decade of warfare in Iraq. But now it gets even worse. It is beginning to look as though the Bush coven has created the conditions for bin Laden’s heirs to realize their master’s dream.

Well armed fighters of the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida spin-off group, is marching on the Iraqi capital Baghdad after capturing the central towns of Tikrit and Mosul, the old heartland of Saddam’s regime. The ISIS is, like al-Qaida, a militant group from the Sunni Muslim faction of Islam. The government of Iraq is led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, whose intolerance for the Sunnis has given ISIS the foothold to become the voice of the Sunni regions.

Bin Laden’s dream was to recreate the Caliphate of Islam’s early days when all Muslims came under one government … read more (subscription)*

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Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream.

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