The hope that a Sunni uprising will overthrow ISIS in their areas of control is daily given a boost by each new report of the organization's repression of the traditional "folk Islam" practiced by the common people of northern Iraq and Syria. Reuters on Sept. 13 reports the claim of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that ISIS militants have destroyed several Sufi shrines and tombs in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor—the latest in a string of such desecrations across their territory. In March, ISIS bombed the mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni in Raqqa, once a destination for Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Destroying even sites revered by Sunnis is precisely the kind of overreach that even al-Qaeda warned its regional franchises against when they were in control of northern Mali last year. But the affiliate organizations didn't listen, and the local populace did indeed turn against them. Can we hope for a replay?
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)
Well, it sure gives us a sense of deja vu. Obama's Sept. 10 speech making the case for military intervention against ISIS (Time transcript) comes exactly a year after his call for military intervention against Bashar Assad. Except this time, he seems to really mean it. Last year, he punted to Congress, saying he needed authorization to wage war—which some sarcastically called Obama's "brilliant strategy to keep us out of Syria," despite Assad having called his "red line" bluff with the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. The way it played out, Congress never even had to vote, due to Obama's acceptance of the Russian plan for "voluntary elimination" of Assad's chemical weapons—which has failed to acheive even that, and was really Putin's bid to buy time for Assad to go on killing his people by "conventional" means. Now, in contrast, that a real intervention in Iraq and eventually Syria is in the works—not against Assad but against ISIS—there isn't a peep about asking Congress for permission. Isn't that funny? Hate to say "told you so," but we've long predicted that when the US finally intervened in Syria it would not be against Assad but the jihadists. Note that Obama's speech says nothing about his erstwhile demand that Assad step down—but, on the contrary, invokes the need for a "political solution" in Syria. This implicitly means a deal with the genocidal dictator who has abetted the rise of ISIS by buying their oil. What an insult to the Syrian resistance (including the democratic civil resistance) that has been staking everything to fight the dictator and the jihadists alike.
Libyan militia forces battling for control of Tripoli and surrounding areas have engaged in attacks on civilians and civilian property that in some cases amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 8. Thousands of residents fled their homes during five weeks of fighting between the Libyan Dawn alliance, led by militias from the coastal city of Misrata, and a coalition of militias from the inland mountain town of Zintan. Human Rights Watch has documened a series of attacks by Libyan Dawn forces on civilians and civilian property since they took control of Tripoli, beginning with its civilian airport, on Aug. 24. "Commanders on both sides need to rein in their forces and end the cycle of abuses or risk being first in line for possible sanctions and international prosecution," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
Four Asháninka indigenous leaders, well known for their work against illegal logging in the Amazon, were murdered near their home in eastern Peru, authorities admitted this week. The men—Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Melendez and Francisco Pinedo—were traveling from their community of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, in Masisea district of Ucayali region, to attend a meeting with other Asháninka leaders in Brazil. Their dismembered remains were found Sept. 1 by a local search party that was organized when they failed to return from the meeting. The widows of the men traveled for three days through the jungle, arriving in the regional capital of Pucallpa, arriving late on the night of Sept. 8, to demand immediate action by Peruvian authorities to bring the killers to justice. Vice minister for Interculturaity Patricia Balbuena announced that she will fly to Pucallpa to meet with the survivors. Chota, had received frequent death threats from illegal loggers he sought to expel from traditional Asháninka lands for which his community is seeking title. (Survival International, Sept. 9; El Comercio, AIDESEP, AP, Sept. 8)
Human Rights Watch on Aug. 22 called on Mexico's government to ensure an "impartial and effective" investigation into the killing of 22 civilians by soldiers on June 30, during an alleged confrontation at an empty warehouse at Tlatlaya, a town in the mountains of central México state. Witness accounts have cast doubt on the official version of events, HRW found. A press release from the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) said soldiers responded to gunfire when they raided the warehouse. The SEDENA statement said the soliders later found 38 firearms, a grenade, and several cartridges in the warehouse, and liberated three women who had been kidnapped. On July 1, the governor of México state, Eruviel Ávila Villegas, said that the soldiers had acted "in legitimate defense" and "taken down delinquents." However, an Associated Press reporter who visited the area three days after the incident filed a story July 8 saying there was "little evidence of sustained fighting," and that he found only a small number of bullet holes in the warehouse walls. In other words, what happened seems to have been a massacre rather than a shoot-out. Government officials have yet to disclose the names of those killed or the status of the investigation. "It's been two months since soldiers killed 22 civilians in Tlatlaya, and there are more questions than answers about what really took place that day," said HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco.
Brazilian authorities reached a deal with inmates Aug. 25 after a deadly prison uprising at Cascavel in Paraná state. The riot erupted the day before as breakfast was being served, when inmates overpowered guards. In apparent score-settling between rival drug gangs, two prisoners were beheaded, and two others thrown to their deaths off the roof of a cellblock. At least 25 were injured in the fighting. Under the deal, two guards who had been taken hostage are to be freed in exchange for a commitment to improve conditions at the facility and the transfer of some inmates to other prisons. The prison had already exceeded its intended 925 capacity. Negotiations on the specifics are ongoing between prisoners and the Paraná attorney general's office. Some 574,000 are incarcerated in Brazil; only the US, China, and Russia have more people behind bars. It is an open secret in Brazil that with prison overcrowding at unmanageable levels, guards routinely keep the peace by handing control of cellblocks to the inmates. The overcrowding has been exacerbated by a legal reform eight years ago that dramatically increased sentences for drug trafficking. (AFP, BBC News, Al Jazeera, Aug. 25; AP, Aug. 24)
Guatemala's unicameral Congress voted 117-111 on Sept. 4 to repeal Decree 19-2014, the Law for Protection of Procurement of Plants, in response to a lawsuit and mass protests by campesinos and environmentalists. The law, which was to take full effect on Sept. 26, provided for granting patents of 25 years for new plants, including hybrid and genetically modified (GM) varieties; unauthorized use of the plants or seeds could result in one to four years in prison and a fine of $130 to $1,300. The law had already been weakened by the Court of Constitutionality; acting on an Aug. 25 legal challenge from the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement (MSICG), the court suspended the law's Articles 46 and 55. The law was originally passed to comply with an intellectual property requirement in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), and it was unclear whether Guatemala might now be excluded from the US-promoted trade bloc.