Sunday, June 30

New White House Press Secretary gets into scuffle with NK officials. You go, girl! UPDATED 2X


It seems the altercation was a little more serious than the South Korean footage showed, and which Sputnik featured (see link at the earlier update). From the New York Daily News, in a report published 10:57 AM it seems the earlier Sputnik report, which I also posted below, was closer to the truth about what happened than the footage showed, although from the Daily News, the scuffle was with NK security guards, not NK officials. And that it didn't get worse might have been due to the U.S. Secret Service entering the fray. But I think Richard Engel nailed it (see below); it was a chaotic situation, unscripted, and it came up very suddenly. 

So the North Korean guards were reacting in knee-jerk fashion. But then so was Trump's new press secretary [smiling].  

Here's the Daily News report, which is based on an AP report I haven't looked at yet:
It was quite a start to her new job.
Incoming White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham was left with bruises following a nasty scuffle between reporters and Kim Jong Un’s security in North Korea on Sunday.
The melee took place as members of the U.S. press pool tried to enter a room where President Trump and the North Korean strongman were meeting, according to The Associated Press.
Grisham and others were roughed up as North Korean security guards tried to keep the reporters from entering the room, located inside the Freedom House on the southern side of Panmunjom.
A source described the scene to CNN as “an all-out brawl.” The Secret Service would intervene, the AP reported. [END REPORT]

Aw, it wasn't much of a scuffle, from the footage South Korean TV showed. She just shoved some guy aside to get American reporters into the room. Doesn't look like anybody shoved her back or hit her.  That's against the report that it was an "all-out brawl." Maybe off camera?

Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

It was an all-out brawl according to one source. I'll bet Melania was proud of her. I sure am. (She was Melania's press secretary before Melania reluctantly gave her to a Higher Cause.)  The scuffle happened in a meeting room that was being prepared at the DMZ for Trump and Kim to meet after The Handshake. North Korean and American reporters began jostling for vantage points; North Korean officials and Stephanie jumped in and it turned into a melee. 

From Sputnik's account:
... White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham ... was reportedly injured in a scuffle with North Korean officials as the two countries' press pools hastened to occupy the meeting room prepared for Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
A source told the news agency CNN that Grisham got into "an all-out brawl" with some North Koreans, adding that she was a little bit bruised.
The spokeswoman was later seen directing reporters outside the building where the Kim-Trump meeting was being held.
Have you seen footage of the handshake at the DMZ? The press pools were going crazy trying to get good shots of the unscripted historic occasion. For a couple moments, the situation was almost scary given that the camera crews weren't behind barriers and security people just weren't there -- or so far back from the stampeding photographers they were useless.

But as Richard Engel notes in his report following the handshake (see the video) this kind of chaotic press situation goes along with a surprise meeting of historical importance. 

Kim looked a little out of it during the handshake although he looked more comfortable once he settled into a chair in the meeting room. The chaotic outdoor part of the pageant was intimidating -- of course not for Trump, who is an old hand at being a media star. But by gum, he's going to make Kim Jong-un a media star if it's the last thing he does.  

And another surprise is that the closed-door meeting after the handshake between Trump and Kim, which was to supposed to last about two minutes,  lasted 50 minutes; in all, they met for more than an hour. No word yet on what they discussed.

Towering above everything else is the fact that Donald J. Trump is the first American president to set foot in North Korea -- not for many moments but he did it. 

See also: AFP's detail-rich Pandemonium in Panmunjom: Kim and Trump's hasty DMZ date


Thursday, June 27

What do false accusations against Trump and Assad have in common? The British.

The specific false accusation is that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government in order to weight the U.S. presidential election in his favor. In the case of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the false accusation is that he directed a number of chemical weapons attacks against Syrian civilians. 

The accusation against Trump has been thoroughly discredited by the investigation of a Special Counsel. But proving a direct link between the British government and what was clearly a plot to stymie Trump's presidency would be virtually impossible without cooperation from figures from within the British government itself. This means the trail of evidence about British involvement goes only so far then meets a firmly closed door.

Regarding Assad, it is taking independent investigators years to compile enough evidence to call the accusations into serious question. But there are clear links between certain evidence gathered thus far and a number of British operatives.

In other words, it wouldn't necessarily require cooperation from the British government to develop a charge that their government (or operatives 'once removed' from the government) falsified evidence about chemical weapons attacks in Syria. I doubt any such charge would ever see the International Criminal Court but it could serve to open a U.N. investigation into the OPCW -- Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 

Such an investigation would be important because there's a clear indication that the British government's actions regarding chemical weapon incidents in Syria have compromised the OPCW, which is now both an investigative and prosecutorial body. This dual role has given an international body the power to make accusations against a government that would help a group of nations rationalize military action against the government.

(For more on the OPCW's new role see this November 20, 2018 report from Reuters, Russia fails to curb new powers of chemical weapons watchdog.)

To boil it down, now no single government, such as the United States, has to bear the responsibility of blaming another government for use of chemical weapons. The accusation, and thus a casus belli, can now come from a U.N.-affiliated international body.   

So this is no longer just about investigating the record on chemical attacks in Syria. This is also about the abuse of a respected international organization and its mandate. Clearly, there are people within the OPCW who recognize this and the great danger it poses. They have been passing information to independent investigators about the OPCW investigations into the Syria chemical attacks. (The whistleblowers haven't come forward publicly but it may come to that.) 

The above considerations put me a number of steps ahead of findings from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media that Col. Patrick Lang's blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis, published yesterday. Those independent investigators are focused on untangling evidence about chemical attacks in Syria, although they are in communication with (unnamed) sources in the OPCW. In short, the investigators are well aware of the considerations I've brought up but at least for their report are hewing to the analysis of very specific data related to chemical attacks.

Yet just the title of their report for SST, which they asked Pat Lang to publish, conveys that their evidence-gathering has led to them to the British government on more than one occasion: How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled

Nobble means the attempt to "influence or thwart (someone or something) by underhanded or unfair methods" and specifically to influence a decision-making body by such methods. It is a British expression. 

Speaking of the British, the Working Group does mention in their report:
9. UK-led information operations associated with alleged chemical attacks
From combining all available information, it is now clear that several entities involved in reporting and documenting alleged chemical attacks have their origin in a covert programme launched by the UK government in 2012.
In this programme, like a low-budget theatrical production, the same actors reappear in different roles. For instance Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (HdBG) appears successively as covert agent collecting samples for Porton Down, as independent chemical weapons expert quoted in the media, as the founder of a small business setting up an NGO to collect evidence for the OPCW, and from 2016, described as a “former spy”, in the role of a humanitarian worker coordinating a network of hospitals.
It is likely that this programme would have attempted to co-opt OPCW staff, especially UK nationals.
From the spelling of "program" do you get the impression that at least some members of the Working Group are British? Anyhow, you may trust that within 15 minutes of the report's publication at SST a number of MI6 people were reading it along with half the spooks in other Five Eyes nations including those in the U.S. Intelligence Community. 

Perhaps CIA Director Gina Haspel can commiserate by sending MI6 a picture of dead ducks


Wednesday, June 26

Pentagon designates nuclear strikes as just another weapon in their arsenal

"Further, at a time of rising nuclear tensions, casually postulating about the potential upsides of a nuclear attack is obtuse in the extreme.”

I'd call it a lot worse than obtuse. 
A poll finding made headlines yesterday in the United States: 
More than a third of Americans would support a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea. But much bigger news got little attention in the U.S. mainstream media because it was quashed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The news is that the Pentagon has rationalized nuclear warfare not just as a pre-emptive deterrent against a distinct nuclear threat but as a tool in the U.S. warfighting toolkit. This situation has been on the way for years, as war hawks argued in favor of 'limited' U.S. nuclear strikes to bring recalcitrant governments to the American view of things.    

Nuclear weapons: experts alarmed by new Pentagon 'war-fighting' doctrine
By Julian Borger
June 19, 2019
The Guardian

The Pentagon believes using nuclear weapons could “create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability”, according to a new nuclear doctrine adopted by the US joint chiefs of staff last week.

The document, entitled Nuclear Operations, was published on 11 June, and was the first such doctrine paper for 14 years. Arms control experts say it marks a shift in US military thinking towards the idea of fighting and winning a nuclear war – which they believe is a highly dangerous mindset.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the joint chiefs’ document says. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

At the start of a chapter on nuclear planning and targeting, the document quotes a cold war theorist, Herman Kahn, as saying: “My guess is that nuclear weapons will be used sometime in the next hundred years, but that their use is much more likely to be small and limited than widespread and unconstrained.”

Kahn was a controversial figure. He argued that a nuclear war could be “winnable” and is reported to have provided part of the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove.

The Nuclear Operations document was taken down from the Pentagon online site after a week, and is now only available through a restricted access electronic library. But before it was withdrawn it was downloaded by Steven Aftergood, who directs the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

A spokesman for the joint chiefs of staff said the document was removed from the publicly accessible defence department website “because it was determined that this publication, as is with other joint staff publications, should be for official use only”.

In an emailed statement the spokesman did not say why the document was on the public website for the first week after publication.

Aftergood said the new document “is very much conceived as a war-fighting doctrine – not simply a deterrence doctrine, and that’s unsettling”.

He pointed out that, as an operational document by the joint chiefs rather than a policy documents, its role is to plan for worst-case scenarios. But Aftergood added: “That kind of thinking itself can be hazardous. It can make that sort of eventuality more likely instead of deterring it.”

Alexandra Bell, a former state department arms control official said: “This seems to be another instance of this administration being both tone-deaf and disorganised.”

Bell, now senior policy director at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, added: “Posting a document about nuclear operations and then promptly deleting it shows a lack of messaging discipline and a lack of strategy. Further, at a time of rising nuclear tensions, casually postulating about the potential upsides of a nuclear attack is obtuse in the extreme.”

The doctrine has been published in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from two nuclear agreements: the 2015 joint comprehensive programme of action with Iran, and the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia. The administration is also sceptical about a third: the New Start accord that limits US and Russian forces strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which is due to expire in 2021.

Meanwhile, the US and Russia are engaged in multibillion-dollar nuclear weapon modernisation programmes. As part of the US programme, the Trump administration is developing a low-yield ballistic missile, which arms control advocates have said risks lowering the nuclear threshold, making conceivable that a nuclear war could be “limited”, rather than inevitably lead to a global cataclysm.

The last nuclear operations doctrine, published during the George W Bush administration in 2005, also caused alarm. It envisaged pre-emptive nuclear strikes and the use of the US nuclear arsenal against all weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear.

The Obama administration did not publish a nuclear operations doctrine but in its 2010 nuclear posture review it sought to downgrade the role of nuclear weapons in US military planning.

It renounced the Bush-era plan to build nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs, and ruled out nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states, but it did not go as far towards disarmament as arms control activists had wanted or expected.


Apocalyptic, arson-driven wildfires continue to ravage farmland in N.E. Syria

Smoke from burning crop fields in the village of al-Zahriya. Source: Abd al-Ilah Mohammed

Could the Israelis help? Send in fire-fighting planes? Yes. Americans, Canadians, Europeans, even Australians could do the same. But they won't. 

Not until what was done to Syrians befalls peoples in those countries will they begin to understand the horrors they helped unleash on Syria. As for the vaunted Christian compassion -- I'm waiting to hear any hour from the Pope calling on nations to help fight the fires. I've been waiting for many days.

As to the perpetrators -- early reports designated Islamic State, but by now the situation has been politicized and so fingers are pointing everywhere. 

Fires consume thousands of hectares of farmland in northeast Syria; No end in sight
By Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim
June 24, 2019
Syria Direct

Amman- The fires burning in northeast Syria have entered their second month, consuming more than 40,000 hectares of farmland and claiming lives in a region heavily dependent on agriculture for its livelihood.

“The firetrucks from the Autonomous Administration reached my father’s land after we called dozens of times. But [by that point] everything was already gone,” Shereen Deireky, a 30-year-old farmer living on the eastern outskirts of the city of Qamishli, told Syria Direct.

Deireky’s wheat and barley crops had been reduced to ashes by the time firetrucks arrived.

The Agricultural and Economic Ministry of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria estimated the fire had burned more than 40,000 hectares and caused approximately 19 billion Syrian Lira in damage (around $35 million) in northeast Syria.

“The local [firefighting] teams are not prepared to deal with a disaster of this size, as the fires are spread over a wide area in the countryside of the al-Hasakah governorate,” Deireky added.

“The Autonomous Administration has suspended all projects and has designated most of its machinery to participate in putting out the fires,” an employee of the Autonomous Administration’s Qamishli municipality told Syria Direct under the condition of anonymity, as they are not authorized to talk to journalists.

“[The city of Qamishli] has allocated 90 fire-fighting devices to [battling] the fires and all of its firefighting forces are on full alert.”

However, despite the Autonomous Administrations efforts, fires not only continue to raze cropland but also threaten the lives of the area’s residents. Several civilians have already died trying to fight the blazes.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has documented six civilian deaths, including one woman, in the al-Hasaka governorate, as of June 15th. They were killed while trying to put out the fires on their farmlands.

“The fires have destroyed huge areas [of northeast Syria],” Suleiman Barudo, the Minister of Agriculture in the Autonomous Administration, told Syria Direct.

“Some of the fires are out of control.”

The Autonomous Administration’s inability to contain the fire’s spread in its territory has provoked anger from residents.

Rumors as to who is to blame for the fires are widespread, with videos circulating on social media supposedly showing the perpetrators, who at various times [are portrayed as]  Syrian Democratic Forces, Turkey, and Syrian government forces. One thing is agreed upon, however: the fires are manmade, and that compensation for damage sustained is necessary.


After the outbreak of the fires in northeastern Syria, the Autonomous Administration raised the price floor of wheat from 150 Syrian Lira (around 0.28 USD) to 160 Syrian Lira (around 0.30 USD) per kilo.

The Autonomous Administration receives financial and logistical assistance from its partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, as well as in-kind assistance in those areas cleared of IS. However, this assistance has not been extended to firefighting.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, a human rights advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., emphasized that “the international coalition should provide more funding and equipment for firefighters in SDF held territories.” They also stressed the need for impartial investigations to discourage further cases of arson.

The fires that swept across farms in northeast Syria dashed the hopes of Syrian farmers who were expecting a profitable season. In May 2019, the Syrian government predicted that “wheat production [will] exceed last year’s season by 35 percent.” However, after the punishing fires in northeast Syria during the last two months, such an outcome seems out of reach.

The fires raging in northeast Syria are the latest in a series of crises that the area’s residents have faced in recent years, having lived under IS rule before the SDF took control of the area.


Tuesday, June 25

Spanish meteorologist re European heat wave: "Hell is coming."

It's coming off the Sahara, with wind-driven record-breaking temperatures expected across all of Continental Europe, to include the Alps. The worst will be starting in France tomorrow, with a temperature that could reach or top 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The U.K. is expected to dodge the highest temperatures but temperatures in England, at least, will still be high.

The most alarming aspect of this heatwave is not only its intensity and reach but the earliness with which it's arriving. Last year's record-breaking heatwave in Europe, which was accompanied by widespread wildfires, came in July-August.

How far east will the heat wave spread on the continent and how long will it last? I haven't yet seen speculation about this, beyond expectations that it will last at least until the end of this week. But if Ukraine gets hit, then depending on the status of the wheat growing cycle, a heatwave could fry Ukraine wheat, and possibly also the crop in eastern Russia. In that event, we would be looking at another order of calamity. Those nations are among the top wheat exporters.


Iraq: Massive op to halt Islamic State cross-border smuggling

Hashd Al-Shaabi begins massive operation along Syrian-Iraqi border
June 25, 2019
Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:00 A.M.) – Hashd Al-Sha’abi (var. Population Mobilization Units) kicked off a large-scale operation on Monday that targeted the vast border region between Syria and Iraq.

Led by the 19th Brigade (Anbar HQ), Hashd Al-Sha’abi attacked several hideouts belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh) in a bid to halt the terrorist group’s constant smuggling between Iraq and Syria.

“The Anbar Command for the Popular Gathering (Brigade 19) carried out a security operation to secure the 120km long border with Syria,” the official media wing of Hashd Al-Sha’abi said on Monday.

The statement added that Hashd Al-Sha’abi heavily targeted the Wadi Suwab, Suwayb, and Albu Khalifah areas in Iraq’s Al-Anbar Governorate.



Breaking News: RU, Syrian air forces stage heavy attacks across Idlib

"These airstrikes by the Russian and Syrian air forces come just hours after jihadist rebels targeted the Christian town of Al-Sqaylabiyeh with rockets and artillery shells."
Breaking: Russian Air Force unleashes powerful assault on large jihadist base
June 25, 2019
Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (11:00 A.M.) – The Russian Air Force, alongside their Syrian partners, unleashed a heavy attack across the Idlib Governorate this morning.

According to a military source in northwestern Syria, the Russian and Syrian air forces targeted many sites under the control of the jihadist rebels, including the Taftanaz Airport.

The Taftanaz Airport was seized by the jihadist rebels of Jabhat Al-Nusra and their allies from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in late 2012.

Since its capture, the jihadist rebels have turned the Taftanaz Airport into one of their biggest bases inside northwestern Syria.

In addition to the airstrikes on the Taftanaz Airport, the Russian and Syrian air forces also heavily targeted the jihadist-held areas in Maar Tahroma and Sheikh Mustafa.



Report of direct military confrontation between Russia, Turkey, in Hama

FARS, June 24:

TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian parliamentarians from Idlib disclosed direct military confrontations between the Russian and Turkish armies in recent military confrontations in Hama province due to Ankara's direct backup for terrorists in the province.

Syrian lawmaker Safvan Qorba from Idlib Province, in an interview with the Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper [Syria], said that another dimension of the recent clashes in Hama province pertained to the direct confrontation between Russia and Turkey because the Turkish side due to its direct presence in Northern Syria battle was massively present in the frontline -- and not behind the contact line.

Qorba pointed to the Turkish Army commanders leading the terrorist groups in battles in Hama, and said that Ankara has unprecedentedly supplied the terrorist groups with state-of-the-art weapons and armored vehicles.

Meantime, another Syrian lawmaker from Idlib province Jamal Mostav noted that a large number of Idlib province's residents are waiting to join the Syrian Army, and said there is extensive cooperation between Idlib residents and the Syrian Army as Syrian citizens inform the Syrian Army of the places where the terrorist groups are stationed and expose their plots for conducting false-flag chemical attacks.

Mostav also pointed to Ankara's continued efforts to occupy Idlib province, and said that tens of thousands of foreign terrorists, including from Chechnya and China have arrived in Northern Aleppo with the help of Turkish Army and they have been fully stationed in several towns and prevent the Syrians from entering those regions.

"The foreign terrorists have the full support of Turkey and receive orders from Ankara," the Syrian lawmaker added.

On the other hand, another Syrian parliamentarian from Idlib province Fatemeh Khamis said that a large number of people abducted by the terrorist groups are currently in Turkey and even according to the intel their locations have been designated.

Khamis said that the terrorist groups use the kidnapped people as a pressure lever against the Syrian government.

In a relevant development on Saturday, the commanders of terrorist groups held a meeting in Idlib province to prepare for false-flag chemical attacks on areas under the control of the Turkish army to falsely accuse the Syrian Army.

Special sources in Idlib said that the commanders of Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at have decided to conduct fresh false chemical attacks in the province to point the finger of accusations at the Damascus Army.

They noted that the terrorist commanders have agreed to conduct chemical attacks on spots 9 and 10 controlled by the Turkish Army to portray that the Syrian Army has carried out the attack.

Meantime, the Syrian Army's artillery and missile units pounded the terrorists' military positions in the towns of al-Latamineh, Kafar Zita and al-Hobait in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib in response to the terrorists' rocket attacks on residential areas of Sheikh Hadid and al-Jornieh in Northern Hama.

The Syrian Army's artillery units also pounded Tahrir al-Sham's military convoys in the town of al-Mastoumeh and near Jabal al-Qarbain towards the city of Ariha in Southern Idlib, inflicting heavy losses on the militants.

The Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik news agency also quoted a military source as saying that over 25 terrorists have been killed in al-Jalmeh in Northern Hama and several of their military vehicles, including the Turkish Army's armored vehicles were destroyed.



Sunday, June 23

Why not ask the rain god to strike all Tamil Nadu water officials dead?

Not that I'm calling for mass murder, and besides, smiting officials dead is not a rain god's department. But I'm just saying that officials should stop treating the Indian gods like chumps. Spend decades studiously ignoring a huge problem and pile on a mountain of corruption, then break a few coconuts and ask a god to get them off the hook? I know what my response would be if I were an Indian god. 

Nevermind, but here's the story, from India Today, for those interested in seeing bare-chested officials in full puja mode making piteous pleas to a god for rain.

Meanwhile, "DMK treasurer Duraimurugan said that there will be protests in Vellore if the plan to give water to Chennai was carried out. Duraimurugan also mocked the state government for performing yagya [prayer rituals for a god] instead of finding ways to solve the water crisis."


Does Kushner's Palestine Deal of the Century take water into account?

See also:

Ticking time bomb: The water crisis which threatens chances for peace in the Middle East; January 21; (U.K.Independent. (Fifth in a series, "Water Wars.")

Yesterday the Thomson Reuters Foundation news page published an exclusive Reuters report, White House's Kushner unveils economic portion of Middle East peace plan:
The White House on Saturday outlined a $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
The "peace to prosperity" plan, set to be presented by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an international conference in Bahrain next week, includes 179 infrastructure and business projects, according to details of the plan and interviews with U.S. officials.
More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Some of the projects would be in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave.
The plan also proposes nearly a billion dollars to build up the Palestinians' tourism sector ...

The plan sounds pie-in-the-sky to Palestinians; it sounds the same to me unless the infrastructure projects put water first and foremost, and there's no indication of that as yet. 

Not that I like being a wet blanket, but for Mr Kushner's benefit, the Palestinian territories have been experiencing a severe water crisis with Gaza the worst and the West Bank not far behind. Resolving this crisis, or even making a stab at, will be incredibly expensive.

The Israelis have their side of the story but that's the point: it's two sides pointing fingers at each other, and meanwhile, the water crisis keeps getting rose.

I can't remember which year I first reported on the crisis -- could've been 2013 or a few years earlier, but here are quotes from an opinion piece at Gulf News, dated Apri 30, 2019, which will bring you up to speed: Water Crisis is Poisoning Palestine; the piece is based on a WHO report released in March of this year. Bottom line:
WHO indicated that 97 per cent of water pumped from Gaza’s aquifer, which is depleting at a rapid rate, fails to meet the minimum standards of quality for potable water.

In fact, the very sustainability of the Gaza Strip’s basin is now in jeopardy. WHO findings further confirm a previous United Nations report that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020.

Saudi Arabia and US/Euro regimes still trying to carve up Syria

"Syria affairs analysts are concerned about the US-Saudi plan to cut off Eastern Euphrates from the mainland, saying that the Saudi minister has paid some money to the tribal leaders to coax them into cooperation with the Kurdish militia and support for Riyadh's influence in the region."  

Saudi, US Envoys Meet in Deir Ezzur to Coordinate Syria Decomposition Plan
June 15, 2019

TEHRAN (FNA)- American and Saudi diplomatic delegations held a meeting with commanders of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a number of tribal leaders in a Washington-occupied base in Deir Ezzur in a bid to coordinate a plan for the separation of Eastern Euphrates from Syria.

The Arabic-language Step news website affiliated to the militants reported on Friday that recently a meeting was held between the two sides in al-Omar oilfield region in Eastern Deir Ezzur.

It added that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joel Rayburn, former US Ambassador to Bahrain William V. Roebuck and Saudi Minister for Persian Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan participated in a meeting with Qassan al-Yousef and Leili al-Hassan, the co-chairs of Deir Ezzur civil administration, noting that the event was meant do coordination for supporting the SDF-occupied regions against any possible threat and political and economic support for the SDF in Northern and Northeastern Syria.

According to the report, another meeting was also held between the Arab and US delegations and a number of tribal leaders of Deir Ezzur in al-Omar base to remove differences between the tribes and the SDF and discuss financial and logistical support for the Eastern Euphrates region.

Meantime, the Arabic-language Xeber 24 news website reported that al-Sabhan conveyed a message from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his full support for militants in Northeastern Syria.

Syria affairs analysts are concerned about the US-Saudi plan to cut off Eastern Euphrates from the mainland, saying that the Saudi minister has paid some money to the tribal leaders to coax them into cooperation with the Kurdish militia and support for Riyadh's influence in the region.

The US has increased military support for the Kurds in Eastern Syria in recent months.

Media sources reported earlier this month that hundreds of trucks carrying US military and logistical aid have been dispatched to areas under the control of the SDF in Eastern Syria despite declaring the end of the ISIL by Washington.

The pro-militant Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that a convoy comprising 55 trucks containing logistical and military consignments was sent to Eastern Euphrates via Simalka crossing in Northern Iraq.

The SOHR also reiterated that a sum of 1,115 trucks have been so far sent to areas under SDF's control in Deir Ezzur province.

Also last month, media reports said that the Kurdish forces backed by the US-led coalition had prepared to launch military offensive against the Syrian Army and resistance forces in Deir Ezzur Province.

The Turkish-language Anatoly news agency quoted local sources as saying that After taking control of Eastern Euphrates region, the Kurdish fighters are preparing to launch an attack on Damascus-backed forces in Deir Ezzur.

It noted that the US-led coalition forces were training the Kurdish fighters Ain Issa bases in Raqqa province and al-Amr oil region in Eastern Deir Ezzur, adding that the trainings include passing through mobile bridges and rivers.

The US-led coalition forces and Kurdish fighters are looking for winning the support of regional tribes for launching the attack after residents of the region called for holding massive protests in Eastern Euphrates and called for expulsion of the US-backed Kurdish fighters.

Meantime, the US-led Kurdish militants have held meetings with tribal leaders in al-Omar oil zone.


Is America's CBS News involved in a planned false-flag chemical attack in Idlib?

See also Video: New Chemical Attack Movie Trailer Found In Killed Terrorist’s Smartphone; Muraselon News (Syria), June 23 - 18:36:14.

"The sources noted that the terrorists intend to victimize civilians in real chemical attacks."

The sources would not have pulled the name "CBS" out of thin air. I have highlighted the passage in the following FARS report that mentions CBS. If CBS TV or a 'rogue' CBS cameraperson is involved in such planning, or even willing to studiously ignore it in order to get footage of carnage for airing on American TV, this is new. I could be wrong because I don't watch TV or 'live' at the CBS website, but my impression is that of the all the U.S. TV outlets, CBS does less propaganda for the U.S. civilian and military regimes than the others.

In any event, the warning about a planned false-flag chemical attack should be taken seriously. There have been so many such attacks (either real or hoaxes) launched by mercenaries in Syria since Obama made his infamous 'red line' threat against the Syrian government that they're routine. And their tactics are so well-established by now that the Russian and Syrian militaries have found it easy to spot planning for a false flag attack. 

By the way, I note from recent headlines at Google about FARS that Reuters has gone gaga for FARS reports, although they haven't mentioned the following one. Reuters has been featuring the name FARS in a number of their recent headlines in news about Iran. Here's one from yesterday: Iran summons UAE envoy to complain about U.S. drone launch: Fars.

As to why the sudden interest at Reuters in highlighting FARS reports -- my understanding is that with the exception of the British, West European EU members are not happy with the U.S. attempt to gin up a war against Iran that will surely draw in other NATO countries, which is the same as drawing in the European Union. So my guess is that the Europe-based Reuters news agency now has a firm rationale to give the Iranian government, via FARS, a chance to voice its side of the story to Western news readers, beyond what is announced in official Iranian statements. 

In any case, good for Reuters. Americans, in particular, need to know more about the Iranian side of Middle Eastern conflicts, particularly as it applies to Syria. FARS is a long-established perfectly legitimate news outlet with a large staff.       

White Helmets Preparing to Film Tahrir Al-Sham's False-Flag Chemical Attacks in Idlib
June 23, 2019 - 2:23

TEHRAN (FNA)- The pro-militant White Helmets Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) are reportedly preparing to shoot a scene in the demilitarized zone in Idlib that would show a chemical attack by the Syrian Army, media sources said.

The Arabic-language Morasseloun news website [
quoted special sources in Idlib province as saying that Tahrir al-Sham is planning to launch a new chemical attack on civilians and areas controlled by the Turkish Army in Mourek and Jbal al-Zawiyeh in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib.

The sources pointed to the preparedness of the White Helmets to take films from the preplanned chemical attacks, and said most probably the cameramen of the CBS television network who have recently obtained permits for preparing videos from Tahrir al-Sham terrorist commanders in Idlib will also contribute to shooting the scene.

According to intel, Tahrir al-Sham commanders have previously paid $200 to each of the White Helmets to take films and pictures from the aftermath of the chemical attacks on children in Saraqib and Jorjnaz in Idlib.

Meantime, the Tahrir al-Sham terrorists are also planning to conduct chemical attacks after the Syrian and Russian air forces carry out airstrikes on the town of Jorjnaz in Southern Idlib.

The sources noted that the terrorists intend to victimize civilians in real chemical attacks, and said that the White Helmets are also supposed to film the chemical attack to accuse the Syrian Army of the crime later.

In a relevant development, on Saturday the commanders of terrorist groups held a meeting in Idlib province to prepare for false-flag chemical attacks on areas under the control of the Turkish army to falsely accuse the Syrian Army.

Special sources in Idlib said that the commanders of Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at have decided to conduct fresh false chemical attacks in the province to point the finger of accusations at the Damascus Army.

They noted that the terrorist commanders have agreed to conduct chemical attacks on spots 9 and 10 controlled by the Turkish Army to portray that the Syrian Army has carried out the attack.

Meantime, the Syrian Army's artillery and missile units pounded the terrorists' military positions in the towns of al-Latamineh, Kafar Zita and al-Hobait in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib in response to the terrorists' rocket attacks on residential areas of Sheikh Hadid and al-Jornieh in Northern Hama.

The Syrian Army's artillery units also pounded Tahrir al-Sham's military convoys in the town of al-Mastoumeh and near Jabal al-Qarbain towards the city of Ariha in Southern Idlib, inflicting heavy losses on the militants.

The Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik news agency also quoted a military source as saying that over 25 terrorists have been killed in al-Jalmeh in Northern Hama and that several of their military vehicles, including Turkish Army ones, were destroyed.



"Istanbul mayoral re-run: Erdogan's ruling AKP lose again"

"Whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey" 

BBC, 45 minutes ago:

Turkey's ruling party has lost control of Istanbul after a re-run of the city's mayoral election, latest results show.

The candidate for the main opposition party, Ekrem Imamoglu, won 54% of the vote with nearly all ballots counted.

He won a surprise victory in March which was annulled after the ruling AK party complained of irregularities.

His opponent, ex-PM Binali Yildirim, has conceded. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the winner.

"I congratulate Ekrem Imamoglu who has won the election based on preliminary results," he tweeted.

But the result is being seen as a major setback for Mr Erdogan, who has previously said that "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey".

Ambitious mayor takes on Turkish president

In his victory speech, Mr Imamoglu said the result marked a "new beginning" for both the city and the country.

"We are opening up a new page in Istanbul," he said. "On this new page, there will be justice, equality, love."



More than half of trafficked slaves in US come from US foster care industry

I think it would help if they stopped calling it "human trafficking" and "forced sex labor" and called it for what it is: the buying and selling of slaves. Bringing sex into the issue is muddying the water about what a large segment of Americans is doing. These people are slavers, plain and simple. 

Need I remind American law enforcement, politicians, media, and the electorate at large that slavery is illegal in the United States of America?

I note that the term "industry" in the title isn't mine; I took it from the following report by Fox News. The report is the last in a six-part series based on two months of investigative reporting by Fox.  You can see their previous five television segments and articles here: One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.  

Also, I posted only the highlights in the report, omitting much information on what U.S. law enforcement is doing to combat slave trafficking in America, which frankly is a drop in the bucket and will remain so until Americans confront the fact that they are supporting wide-scale slavery -- not only in the USA but in countries, notably Mexico and Phillipines, which supply many of the slaves shipped to American customers. But as you will see from the Fox report, it's the internal slave trade in the U.S. that is responsible for much of the slave business in America. 

Yet a large internal slave trade is surely mirrored in other countries where slavery is routine; it's just that America, with the world's third largest population, is the worst-case situation for a vaunted advanced democracy. 
Human trafficking in America among worst in world: reportBy Andrew Keiper and Perry Chiaramonte
June 23, 2019
Fox News [H/T Drudge Report]
The United States is again ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. According to a recently released report by the State Department, the top three nations of origin for victims of human trafficking in 2018 were the United States, Mexico and the Philippines.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the Trafficking in Persons report, which is created annually by the State Department to document human trafficking in the year prior, and highlighted the growing focus that government agencies and nonprofit organizations have dedicated to stopping human trafficking.
The Department of Justice provided more than $31 million for 45 victim service providers that offered services to trafficking survivors across the country. It was a demonstrable increase; the DOJ only provided $16 million to 18 organizations in 2017, according to the report.
At the heart of the human trafficking trade in America is simple economics: Supply and demand.
“We have a major issue here in the United States” Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT), said in an interview with Fox News. “The United States is the No. 1 consumer of sex worldwide. So we are driving the demand as a society.”
“We're also driving the demand with our own people, with our own kids,” Rogers said. “So there are tremendous numbers of kids, a multitude of kids that are being sold as sex slaves today in America. These are American kids, American-born, 50 percent to 60 percent of them coming out of the foster care industry.”
This assertion is confirmed by the State Department’s report, which found that children in foster care, homeless youth, undocumented immigrant children and those with substance abuse problems were especially at risk to fall into the human trafficking trap.
Rogers says that because the demand is so great in the U.S., traffickers are filling that demand with an increased supply of forced sex workers.
“So the demand here in the United States is a global one,” he said. “We do have men traveling the globe to go to places like Thailand and other places in East Asia to purchase sex with kids. But, in fact, the demand is so great that the supply has needed to be filled here in the United States.”
“Because of the demand, then these traffickers are filling that demand with supply. And the demand is so great here in the United States that they're filling the supply with our very own kids,” Rogers continued.

Saturday, June 22

The last thing the world needs is a chemical weapons watchdog buckling from political pressure

"The credibility of the OPCW itself and every report and conclusion it has released concerning allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government are now suspect." 

Bias, Lies & Videotape: Doubts Dog ‘Confirmed’ Syria Chemical Attacks
Disturbing new evidence suggests 2018 incident might've been staged, putting everything else, including U.S. retaliation, into question.
By SCOTT RITTERJune 20, 2019

The American Conservative

Thanks to an explosive internal memo, there is no reason to believe the claims put forward by the Syrian opposition that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Douma back in April. This is a scenario I have questioned from the beginning.

It also calls into question all the other conclusions and reports by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was assigned in 2014 “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

As you recall, the Trump administration initiated a coordinated bombing of Syrian government facilities with the UK and France within days of the Douma incidentand before a full investigation of the scene could be completed, charging Assad with the “barbaric act” of using “banned chemical weapons” to kill dozens of people on the scene. Bomb first, ask questions later.

The OPCW began their investigation days after the strikes. The group drew on witness testimonies, environmental and biomedical sample analysis results, and additional digital information from witnesses (i.e. video and still photography), as well as toxicological and ballistic analyses. 

In July 2018, the OPCW released an interim report on Douma that said “no organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties,” but that chlorine, which is not a banned chemical weapon, was detected there.

The report cited ballistic tests that indicated that the canisters found at two locations on the scene were dropped from the air (witnesses blamed Assad’s forces), but investigations were ongoing.

The final report in March reiterated the ballistics data, and the conclusions were just as underwhelming, saying that all of the evidence gathered there provides “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place,” due in part to traces of chlorine and explosives at the impact sites.

Now, the leaked internal report apparently suppressed by the OPCW says there is a “high probability” that a pair of chlorine gas cylinders that had been claimed as the source of the toxic chemical had been planted there by hand and not dropped by aircraft. This was based on extensive engineering assessments and computer modeling as well as all of the evidence previously afforded to the OPCW.

What does this mean? To my mind, the canisters were planted by the opposition in an effort to frame the Syrian government.

The OPCW has confirmed the validity of this shocking document and offered statements to reporters, including Peter Hitchens, who published the organization’s response to him on May 16.

The ramifications of this turn of events extend far beyond simply disproving the allegations concerning the events in April 2018. The credibility of the OPCW itself and every report and conclusion it has released concerning allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government are now suspect. 

The extent to which the OPCW has, almost exclusively, relied upon the same Syrian opposition sources who are now suspected of fabricating the Douma events raises serious questions about both the methodology and motivation of an organization that had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for “its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”



Getting around U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sales

"If Russia’s help is successful, Iran would be able to export substantial amounts of oil to Europe." Meanwhile, the EU is trying to get its workaround off the ground. It's not the sanctions in themselves that have a number of European states ticked off; it's that the U.S. is throwing its weight around so much -- and everyone fall in line, or else.  

Russia To Lend Iran A Hand For Exporting Oil
By Julianne Geiger
June 21, 2019 - 5:00 PM CDT
Oil Price

Russia is willing to step in to help Iran export its oil while the Middle Eastern country is struggling to keep the oil flowing while pressured by sanctions levied by the United States.

Iran’s budget counts on raking in around $30 billion from oil and gas condensate exports.

Iran was holding out hope that Europe would have its Instex European payment system in place that would allow Europe to continue purchasing Iranian oil, but the system is not yet running, leaving Iran in tight spot when it comes to getting its oil out of country.

Russia, however, is happy to help, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday according to Reuters. It would also be willing to help with Iran’s banking sector as well, as Iran is finding it difficult to process payments.

The dynamic between the United States, Europe, Russia, and Iran is an interesting one, given the fact that some EU states have been irritated with the United States meddling in its affairs as it looks to purchase cheap Russian gas through the controversial Nord Stream 2 project. 

If Europe is unable to get its payment system off the ground, Russia could facilitate the transactions, making exports possible despite the sanctions. Russia may then find somewhat emboldened EU members who are willing to thumb their nose at the United States when it comes to Nord Stream 2.

If Russia’s help is successful, Iran would be able to export substantial amounts of oil to Europe, Russia would be able to export more gas to the EU, and Europe would be able to purchase both low-cost oil and gas. The United States, on the other hand, would find it near impossible to restrict Iran’s oil exports to zero, and would find it tough going to put the kibosh on Nord Stream 2.



Can you say the secret louder so all of us can hear?

Pundita comment: U.S.-Iran contretemps getting sillier by the hour

US Launches Secret Cyberattack Against Iranian ‘Spy Group’ – Report
June 22, 2019
Yahoo News via Sputnik

Iranian cyber-intelligence operatives are said to have hacked into a ship tracking website to track civilian vessels and used other measures to track US military ships, according to former US officials.

The US Cyber Command launched a retaliatory strike Thursday against what is said to be the Iranian intelligence group allegedly responsible for last week’s bombings of two oil tankers, according to a Yahoo News report citing two unnamed former intelligence officials.

According to the report, an undisclosed intelligence group, which has ties to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has “hacked” into marine traffic tracking websites and gathered information about civilian vessels, and somehow digitally tracked military ones operating in the Strat of Hormuz.

The report does not disclose why the Iranians needed to hack into a website openly available for anyone on the Web.



Friday, June 21

South India's water shortage calamity is the result of decades of "policy paralysis"

Although the water shortage crisis in Madras (Chennai) is grabbing the headlines, Bangalore (Bengaluru) is also teetering on the edge of a water crisis so severe there are predictions it will be uninhabitable within the next few years. 

Yet Madras and Bangalore are not just any old Indian cities.  Madras is the capital of Tamil Nadu state;, it is the cultural, economic and educational center of south India and according to a 2011 census, the sixth-most populous city and comprises the fourth-most populous urban region in India.

Bangalore, a megacity with a population of over 10 million, is the IT capital of India, the capital of Karnataka state, the second fastest-growing metropolis in India, and home to one of the most highly-educated workforces in the world.

So how did so many smart people turn up brain dead when it came to supplying their city with water? Bangalore is such an attractive city for work that it developed an overpopulation crisis, which fed into if not created its water crisis, and with all the knock-on effects that make up the dreary litany of urban water crises the world over. However, the basic calamity is assuredly the same one responsible for the water crisis in Madras, and which the following report deconstructs in detail. But it boils down putting water resources way down on the to-do list.
Why Chennai’s water crisis should worry you
Citizens are paying a heavy price for reckless destruction of water bodies, poor planning
June 21, 2019
Economic Times India
Having gone without a single drop of rain for about 200 days at a stretch, Chennai finally got some rain on Thursday. But this is way too little, and way too late for a city experiencing its worst water crisis in 30 years, and headed to becoming a Zero City.

School bags have grown bigger as children carry more water bottles, and Tamil Nadu’s apple of the eye – the famed Information Technology Corridor – has been pushed to the brink. Companies have started asking employees to work from home and bring their own water. Water is rationed in residential apartments and malls are asking their water-intensive outlets to either take a break or use the blue gold frugally.

Pipe-water supply to homes is not even 10% of what it used to be, and wait for a Metrowater tanker is as much as three to four weeks now. One does not know where the next pot of water will come from. It is that bad.

Chennai is today paying the price for its downright disrespect for waterbodies and water sources. Chennai and its two neighbouring districts – Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur – together used to be called ‘Yeri (lake) districts’. They had more than 6,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs that minimised run-off loss of rainwater and kept replenishing the groundwater table throughout the year. At present, authorities say only 3,896 have survived and Chennai city alone has lost nearly 150 such water bodies.
Further, whatever survived is nowhere near its actual size. Canals and supply routes have all disappeared while successive governments promoted housing projects called ‘Yeri schemes’ to convert water bodies into residential plots and apartments to house the city’s burgeoning population.
Policy paralysis for decades on the water front is to blame. For instance, the government opened the IT Corridor and showered builders and IT companies with floor space benefits, but no thought was given to the source of water for drinking and regular use.
Today, the IT Corridor has at least 150 mega structures owned by 650 big companies that employ 3.2 lakh people. Besides, there are more than 12.5 lakh residents, too. But they have no piped water supply and borewells are of no use as the clayey soil yields highly saline and soapy water. 
Their sole source of water is private tankers that [are] used to recklessly plunder farm wells located a short distance away.
I think it was in 2014 or 2015 that I took the unprecedented step of addressing a Pundita post directly to readers in India. I warned in the strongest possible terms that they had to put everything else aside and focus on dealing with the country's looming water crisis. The answer I got was the chirping of crickets, although one reader, who only later appreciated the scope and seriousness of the crisis, did ask whether I had a particular reason for addressing Indians.

The reason is in today's headlines out of South India.