In Other News
News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq... PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
News that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to launch raids against ISIS forces in Syria from Incirlik Air Base comes one day after a border skirmish in which a Turkish solider was killed by presumed ISIS fire from the Syrian side and Turkish forces responded with tank shells. Turkey is also reported to have scrambled fighter jets to the border after the clash, which took place at the border town of Çobanbey, Kilis province. (Reuters, CBC, Daily Sabah, July 23) Since the border incident, Turkey has also launched mass sweeps, arresting more than 290—but targeting supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as ISIS. One death is also reported in the sweeps—a militant of the armed left faction Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), who apparently resisted arrest in a raid in Istanbul. Mainstream Turkish sources provided no breakdown as to how many of the detained were jihadists as opposed to radical leftists, but pro-PKK sources reported at least 60 of their followers among the detained. Some of the raids on PKK followers and sympathizers were in Suruç—the border town which was four days ago the scene of an ISIS suicide attack that left some 30 dead at a meeting called by leftist parties to organize solidarity for the anti-ISIS resistance in northern Syria. (Hurriyet Daily News, ANF, July 24)
The Pentagon announced July 22 that Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al-Qaeda operative from Kuwait, was killed on two weeks earlier "in a kinetic strike" while "traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria." Al-Fadhli was a leader of al-Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan Group," a cadre of veteran militants now based in Syria. The Khorasan Group has been "plotting external attacks against the United States and its allies," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. The statement acknowledged that al-Fadhli survived air-strikes on Khorasan Group targets in September 2014. According to US officials, the Khorasan Group is made up of operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya and North Africa who were ordered to Syria by al-Qaeda "emir" Ayman al-Zawahiri. Among al-Fadhli's missions was reportedly the failed effort to reconcile the Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front with ISIS. (Long War Journal, July 22)
Presumed Boko Haram militants killed more than 20 people in a double suicide attack in northern Cameroon on July 22—executed by two teenage girls, both under the age of 15. The attacks targeted a market and an adjoining neighborhood in Maroua, capital of the Far Northern Region. (See map) That same day, 42 lost their lives in a series of blasts at two bus stations in Gombe, northeast Nigeria. A new five-nation force—from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—is due for deployment to fight Boko Haram by month's end. Boko Harams has been calling itself Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) since affiliating with the ISIS franchise earlier this year. (The Guardian, July 23; Long War Journal, July 22)
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Mexico's independent Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center (or Centro Pro) on July 2 released new evidence that high-ranking military officers gave soldiers orders to kill prior to an army mass slaying of more than 20 supposed narco-gang members in June 2014. The facts of the bloody incident at Tlatlaya, México state, have been disputed for over a year now. Purported documents from the 102nd Infantry Battalion released by the Centro Pro read like extermination orders. "Troops must operate at night, in massive form, reducing daytime activity, to kill criminals in hours of darkness," one document says. This casts further doubt on the official version that the casualties died in a gun battle that began when suspects fired on soldiers in a warehouse raid. An investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has already determined that between 12 and 15 of the victims were killed unarmed or after surrendering. Yet the defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, continues to stand by the official story, charging that "people and groups who perhaps don't like what the army is doing have already convicted the soldiers."
Citing a lack of clear response from Peru's government, a group of some 50 apus (traditional leaders) of indigenous peoples in the Pastaza and Corrientes watersheds on July 18 suspended dialogue in the "consultation" process over expansion of oil operations at Bloc 192, in the northern Amazon region of Loreto. For the past 15 years, the bloc has been under development by PlusPetrol, but next month the government is take bids on its expansion over the next 30 years. Pacific Rubiales and Perenco as well as PlusPetrol are expected to place bids. Indigenous organizations FEDIQUEP and FECONACO have been in talks over the expansion with agencies including PeruPetro, the Culture Ministry, the Mines & Energy Ministry, and the General Directorate of Environmental and Energy Issues (DGAAE). FECONACO president Carlos Sandi charged, "The State seeks to repeat that same history of 45 years of oil exploitation," which for rainforest communities has meant "45 years of oil pollution." Added Magdalena Chino of FEDIQUEP: "Mother Earth is suffering, her breast has gone dry and she is crying for us; the animals are missing... It is easy to make standards that destroy us, but when it comes to making standards to protect us, they say it is too difficult." A representative of the Culture Ministry categorically denied negotiating in bad faith. (Diario Uno, July 20; El Comercio, July 19; Observatorio Petrolero, July 18; RPP, June 25)
A suicide bomb attack in the southern Turkish town of Suruc killed at least 30 people and injured some hundred more during a meeting of young activists to organize solidarity with the reconstruction of the neighboring town of Kobani across the Syrian border. The explosion took place during a press conference under a banner reading (in Turkish), "We defended it together, we're building it together." The 300-strong meeting was organized by the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), linked to Turkey's Socialist Party of the Oppressed, at Suruc's Amara Culture Center. Anarchists and other supporters of the Rojava Kurds were also in attendance, and among the dead. (BBC News, Rudaw, Hurriyet Daily News, Revolución Real Ya Facebook page, July 20) Street clashes broke out with police after the blasts, with youth chanting "Erdogan is a killer!" and "Martyrs are immortal!" Police used water cannons to disperse the angry crowd. The clashes reportedly started when police arrived on the scene in an armored vehicle even before ambulences, blocking the street and aiming their rifles at survivors. (Rudaw, NBC, Black Rose)
We aren't sure whether to believe it, and it seems not to have been reported elsewhere, but the pro-opposition Syria Mirror website on July 20 says that activists and eye-witnesses have "confirmed" that five buses full of fully armed North Korean soldiers were seen in Damascus, heading towards Jobar and Eastern Ghouta—two suburbs that have been the scene of fierce fighting for months. The account claims Bashar Assad has long maintained a sort of Praetorian Guard of North Korean troops in a special unit dubbed "Tshulima"—supposedly named for a mythical winged horse, although we can find no reference to either the unit or the mythical beast online. The report also notes longstanding claims of North Korean involvement in the Assad dictatorship's nuclear program.
The US Department of Justice and county officials in Phoenix on July 15 agreed to settle parts of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in 2012. The DoJ filed charges against the Sheriff's Office for discriminatory practices in traffic stops, work and home raids, and in county jails, as well as claims of retaliation. The settlementreached with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors did not address the allegation that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's agency racially profiled Latinos when making traffic stops in their effort to prevent illegal immigration. Supervisor Steve Gallardo said the settlement is in the best interest of saving tax-payer's money by avoiding an expensive trial. The remaining issue will proceed to a scheduled Aug. 10 trial in the US District Court for the District of Arizona.
Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT?
After suicide bombings July 11 in Fotokol by two women wearing burqas, Northern Cameroon this week banned women from wearing burqas and face-covering veils [hijab]. The suicide bombers smuggled the bombs into public areas by hiding them under their veils. The attack, initiated by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, killed at least 14 people. As part of the ban, it was also decided by government officials that Muslims are not permitted to meet in large groups without permission. The governor of Cameroon's Far North Region, Midjiyawa Bakari, plans to increase security and further investigate the unexpected bombings. Some have protested the new ban, arguing that wearing a burqa is not a choice and that it is necessary to wear for religious reasons. However, government officials plan to keep the ban in effect as long as necessary to prevent further attacks.
Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.
The UN International Commission Against Impunity on July 18 reported that approximately a quarter of the money used for Guatemalan political campaigns is from criminal groups. The main criminal group being drug traffickers. The report also indicated that government contractors themselves contribute to more than half of the funds. Ian Velásquez, head of the commission, stated: "Corruption is the unifying element of the Guatemalan political system based on an amalgam of interests that include politicians, officials, public entities, businessmen, non-governmental organizations and criminal groups." The report suggested several campaign finance reforms including limiting private funding, strengthening institutional coordination, and reforming the system itself.
For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico opened its oil industry to foreign companies, offering 14 offshore exploration blocs in a July 15 auction. However, only two of the blocs were sold, falling short of expectations. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocs in the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium of Mexico-based Sierra Oil & Gas, Texas-based Talos Energy and UK-based Premier Oil Plc won Bloc No. 2 after the first bloc didn't receive a bid, Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission and Energy Secretariat announced. Only nine companies took part in the auction, fewer than the 25 originally planned. A larger auction is planned for next month. The blocs are near the US-Mexico transboundary waters, and close to some of the most significant discoveries of the past 15 years on the US side. A new Hydrocarbon Law, allowing for production-sharing and profit-sharing, was instated in 2014. Over the past decade, Mexico has fallen from the world's fifth oil producer to tenth. (FuelFix, July 16; FuelFix, BBC News, July 15; WSJ, July 12)