In Other News

Next: Free Siberia?

Shelling in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk left two dead Sept. 17, despite a ceasefire and a law passed by Kiev's parliament a day earlier granting greater autonomy to the country's east. Fighting centered on the city's airport, which remains in government hands, with nearby neighborhoods caught in the crossfire. Civilian casualties have continued to rise since the supposed ceasefire, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed in the conflict so far. (The Independent, Sept. 17) In an asburd irony little noted by the world media, as Vladiimir Putin backs the brutal "People's Republics" (sic) in eastern Ukraine, he has cracked down on a separatist movement that has emerged in Siberia. Last month, when the Ukraine crisis was at a peak, Russian authorities banned a Siberian independence march and took hrash measures to prevent the media from even reporting it—threatening to block the BBC Russian service over its coverage of the movement. BBC's offense was an interview with Artyom Loskutov, an organizer of the "March for Siberian Federalization," planned for Aug. 17 in Novosibirsk, The Guardian reported.

Eight Palestinians survive migrant shipwreck

The director of the Euro-Mid Observer For Human Rights said Sept. 16 that eight Palestinian migrants from Gaza survived a devastating ship-wreck near Malta, with dozens feared dead. "We have search teams in Malta, Italy, and Greece trying to get information on those Palestinians," Rami Abdo told Ma'an News Agency. According to survivors of the Sept. 14 shipwreck, the Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian, and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on Sept. 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe. The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them. When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized, the survivors told the maritime organization.

Low oil price: calm before the storm?

We've long maintained that global oil prices are not determined by scarcity or even the laws of supply and demand so much as by politics—the price rises or falls in response to war or comparative stability in the Middle East. Oil fields don't have to actually go up in flames—the mere fear that this will happen is sufficient to drive up the price: it is about perception. We've also noted that the global petro-oligarchs are hoping to reap a windfall from the multiple global crises, plugging the North American energy boom as a key to security and low prices. But ultimately, high prices are needed to fuel continued expansion of the industry, whether in North America, the Arctic, Persian Gulf or Caspian Basin. So, to an extent, the global price is manipulated—we are alternately told that energy self-sufficiency is reducing reliance on unstable global markets, and that instability threatens our "way of life" so we had better loosen burdensome environmental restraints on new exploitation. At the moment, we are on the first part of the cycle: After an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, prices have now stabilized, and we are being told it is thanks to domestic fracking and tar-sands oil. Soon enough (just you wait) they will be surging up again, especially if (as seems all too likely) the Middle East continues to escalate. This much is admitted in a Sept. 15 National Public Radio report, "With Turmoil Roiling Abroad, Why Aren't Oil Prices Bubbling Up?"...

Chile: who's behind the bombing spree?

Fourteen people were injured, four of them seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded at 2 PM on Sept. 8 in a shopping center restaurant at the busy Escuela Miltar subway station in Santiago, the Chilean capital. In response, President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist Party of Chile (PS) leader who began her second term on March 11, held a special security meeting in the La Moneda palace on Sept. 9; she called for increased vigilance and for modifications to the Antiterrorist Law, a measure passed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The bombing came shortly before the 41st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which Pinochet's military overthrew Socialist president Salvador Allende Gossens.

Guatemala: bishop's killer runs prison ring

On Sept. 3 the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced that a joint operation with Guatemala's Public Ministry and Governance Ministry had captured seven members of a criminal network that took bribes to arrange transfers for prisoners; the ring also supplied prisoners with cell phones, special food, conjugal visits and other benefits. According to the authorities, the network's leaders were Penitentiary System Director Edgar Camargo Liere and a prisoner, Byron Miguel Lima Oliva, who is serving a 20-year term for carrying out the April 26, 1998 murder of Catholic bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, a well-known human rights campaigner. A total of 14 people are charged with participating in the bribery ring, but apparently not all had been captured as of Sept. 3. (CICIG, Sept. 3)

Peru: guards union leader brutally beaten

Luis Cárdenas Velásquez, the secretary general of a union representing Peruvian employees of the Spanish security firm Prosegur Compañía de Seguridad, was assaulted near his home early on the morning of Aug. 22 as he was on his way to work. The assailant beat Cárdenas' head with a rock and then fled in a car which had been kept waiting a block away with the motor running. Nothing was stolen. Cárdenas reported the attack to the authorities and received four stitches at a hospital. A month earlier pamphlets were circulated among Prosegur staff accusing Cárdenas of stealing union funds. Management denied responsibility for the pamphlets and for similar anti-union pamphlets that have been reported at Prosegur sites in Colombia. The company has subsidiaries in a total of eight Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Haiti: UN mission reduced; opposition grows

United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon plans to continue the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) one more year but wishes to cut it significantly, according to a report that the military and police mission's current head, the Trinidadian diplomat Sandra Honoré, presented to the UN Security Council on Sept. 11. Secretary General Ban recommended extending MINUSTAH for another year when its mandate ends on Oct. 15. However, the military component would be reduced to 2,370 soldiers by June 2015; currently the mission has 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents, along with nearly 2,000 civilian employees and volunteers. Honoré said the Haitian National Police (PNH), which now has 10,963 agents, would be able to take over many of MINUSTAH's functions. She admitted that "[t[he reinforcement of the national police needs to be accompanied by measures for accelerating the reform of the justice system to support the construction of institutions and to improve local governance." (AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 12)

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China factor in the fight against ISIS

We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)

China: writer detained for articles critical of official

Chinese writer Huang Zerong, 81, known also by his pen name Tie Liu, was detained by Chinese authorities Sept. 14 for allegedly publishing articles critical of Communist Party propaganda chief Liu Yunshan (Brookings backgrounder). According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the 81-year-old writer was criminally detained on charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble.'" Huang spent 23 years in prison after being labeled a "rightist" by the Chinese regime during Mao Zedong's crackdown on liberals. His name was later cleared by the Communist Party in 1980.

Pakistan: probe of PM over protester deaths

An Islamabad court on Sept. 15 ordered police to register a first information report (FIR) against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet members for killings of protesters on Aug. 31 in Islamabad's Red Zone. The FIR comes as a response to the political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) filing an application to the court requesting a case against the prime minister and other top government officials for the August killings. (Jurist, Sept. 15) The protests were coordinated by PAT and Tehreek-i-Insaf.  (PTI, Sept. 11)

ISIS burns Syrian cannabis fields

The extremist ISIS—now calling themselves the "Islamic State"—have left a bloody trial of mass murder in their advance across large swaths of northern Syria and Iraq over the past three months, slaughtering and enslaving Christians, Shi'ites and others deemed to be heretics. It is hardly surprising that they've been taking a tough line on cannabis. ISIS militants have posted footage on the Internet showing their men burning cannabis fields in the Syrian governorate of Aleppo. The video, online at The Telegraph, shows men cutting down the plants in a large field, making a number of piles, dousing them with a flammable liquid and setting them alight. ISIS claim they discovered the farm after having captured the town of Akhtarin from the rival Free Syrian Army in recent weeks. The militants claim the farm owner fled over the nearby border with Turkey, according to Huffington Post.

Colombia: freed cartel hitman demands protection

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vasquez AKA "Popeye" is notorious in Colombia as former personal enforcer for late drug lord Pablo Escobar—and is now a free man after 22 years behind bars, two-thirds of his original sentence. But he seems to be more troubled than relieved about his release on parole—just before getting popped from the top-security Cómbita prison in Boyacá, Popeye asked Colombia's official human rights office, the Defensoría del Pueblo, for protection. "Please grant me police security from the moment I leave the prison gate," he wrote. We can imagine that Popeye has made a few enemies over the years. In jailhouse interviews with journalists, he boasted that he personally killed around 300 people and helped arrange for the murder of 10 times that many. A judge granted nonetheless his parole application, and he was sprung on a bond of 9 million pesos ($4,700) Aug. 27. "In his own hand he asked [authorities] to protect his right to life," the Defensoría said of the request, adding that the office has contacted the appropriate authorities to arrange security measures.

Anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and 'bad facts'

We've stated repeatedly: Ritual squawking that "anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism" is just that—an empty ritual bereft of meaning—if we don't call out real anti-Semitism. Beyond that, the failure to call out real anti-Semitism only plays into the Israeli propaganda ploy that seeks to tar all anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. A frustrating case in point is provided by Ben-Dror Yemini, who writes an opinion piece today on the Israeli news site YNet entitled flatly "Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism." Certainly providing examples of anti-Zionists who are anti-Semitic does not in itself prove the thesis. But one of the examples he provides really is pretty damn disturbing. Yemini writes:

AQIM renegades pledge fealty to ISIS

A new armed group calling itself the "Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria" has split from al-Qaeda's North African framchise and sworn loyalty to ISIS. In a communique released Sept. 14, a regional commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said he has from the group, accusing it of "deviating from the true path." Seeming to address ISIS "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he commander, Gouri Abdelmalek AKA Khaled Abu Suleimane, wrote, "You have in the Islamic Maghreb men if you order them they will obey you." The newly created "Caliphate Soldiers" or "Jound al Khilafa fi Ard al Jazayer" is the second group to break with AQIM and pledge loyalty to ISIS, the first one being Mokhtar Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in Blood," which observers say is now likely based in southern Libya. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Sept. 15)