Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen and amasses troops on border ready to invade

Latest reports are that up to 150,000 Saudi troops have massed at the border with Yemen together with heavy artillery. There are a number of allies supporting the Saudis including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt.
The Saudis have already carried out bombing attacks. The attacks were against Shia military camps in Sanaa. One attack was on the al-Dalamy air force base adjacent to the civil airport. Rescue workers said at least 15 houses had been destroyed at the civilian compound at the airport. Rescuers had found 25 bodies by Thursday afternoon but said more might be in the rubble. Egypt confirmed that it has a number of troops on transport ships off the Yemen coast who plan to join the invasion.
The US confirmed both that it was in contact with the Saudi government and that President Obama has given permission for the Pentagon to provide the Saudis with logistical and intelligence support. General Lloyd Austin, head of US forces in the region, said that the US would aid in keeping the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the very tip of the Red Sea open to ensure shipments through the Suez canal are not threatened: "We would work in conjunction with our GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) partners to ensure that those straits remain open."
The Saudis struck an air force base near an oil field east of the capital Sanaa, destroying a radar station as air strikes were extended on Friday. The air campaign, that has been code-named "Operation Decisive Storm", is said to be targeting military commands, air defenses, and communications facilities.
President Hadi apparently has left Aden, where he was located, and gone to the safety of the Saudi capital Ryadh.
The Houthis advanced from their northern stronghold to the south capturing Sanaa last fall.The Houthis are allied with the former president Ali Saleh who still has strong influence in the armed forces. When talks failed to produce a government acceptable to the Houthis, they took control and are setting up their own government.
The Houthis are a minority Shia group and it will be difficult for them to gain control of the southern areas where Sunnis predominate. In some areas, Sunni tribes are allying with the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) to resist the Houthi advance. The Houthis are supported by Iran but it is not clear how much support they are getting. Many Arab states in the middle east are pursuing a more aggressive policy in the area often with the open or tacit support of the United States:The oil-rich Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf, longtime U.S. allies, have pursued more assertive foreign policies in recent years, sending troops to crush a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain and taking part in U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State in Syria. They’re seeking to ward off perceived threats to their absolute monarchies, especially from Shiite groups or from Sunni Islamist movements that seek power via the ballot box, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Saudis and others also worry about the increasing influence of Iran in the region.
The coalition plans will no doubt receive the blessing of the Arab League at an upcoming meeting. Five of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations have signed on to the military action with Kuwait, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain joining the Saudi operation. However, Oman, Yemen's neighbor to the east has said it will not take part.


Friday, March 27, 2015

CIA-linked General Hafter may sabotage any LIbyan peace agreement

UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, proposed a unity government composed of a three-person presidential council but it also would incorporate the House of Representatives of the Tobruk-based internationally recognized government.
Leon said that his plan "gives the Tripoli government to have very important participation". Actually, the Tripoli government would give up any claim to legitimacy while recognizing that of the Tobruk government. Up to now the Tripoli government has claimed legitimacy and that view was supported by the Libyan Supreme Court. On November 6th last year, the Supreme Court ruled that June elections last year were unconstitutional and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives(HoR) should be dissolved. If the Tripoli government actually agrees to the UN proposal it would represent a huge concession. It is not clear how the main militia associated with the Tripoli government, Libya Dawn, would fit into this scenario.
Leon claimed: “My impression is that the majority of people from both sides view this as positive.” As often seems to be the case, Leon's optimism appears to have little relation to realty. Representatives of the Tobruk government rejected the proposal. Ahmed Wahidi a member of the HoR said: “We provided the UN representative our vision of the new government and its roles, and asked him to agree on this vision among the different parties, and he did not do that. This road map has been issued not by the negotiators chosen by the parliament . . . nor by the parliament itself. It was made by the UN.”
Leon ignores the fact that the Tobruk government and the commander of its armed forces bombed the Tripoli airport twice just before talks began. The last time the bombing delayed the departure of the Tripoli representatives causing the postponement of the talks for a day. Shortly before the last round of talks Haftar started an offensive south of Libya meant to take back the capital from the Tripoli government. Leon seems in a state of denial about Haftar's obvious contempt for the whole dialogue process: "Nowhere was this clearer than on Friday 20 March, when a military offensive was declared on the same day in which talks were due to resume in Morocco. The eastern-based, internationally recognised government of Abdullah al-Thinni and its “top military commander” Khalifa Haftar stated that the goal of the offensive was to recapture Tripoli."
Haftar dismissed the peace dialogue as talks with terrorists. He takes not just radical groups such as the Islamic State to be his enemies but all his opponents. Haftar will no doubt refuse any power sharing agreement that has any representation from Islamist groups but without such representation the Tripoli government will not be able to convince its own government to accept the unity government.
Haftar has the backing of the UAE and Egypt in his offensive against Islamists. While the US the UK and others may emit bleats of dissent from time to time and refuse to support lifting the arms embargo imposed on Libya until there is a unity government, this is unlikely to deter Haftar. Haftar has bombed his own people including civilian airports with impunity a number of times. If Gadaffi had done this there would cries for foreign intervention to protect the people. Yet, in spite of the Libyan Supreme Court claiming that the Tobruk government is unconstitutional and even though the commander of the Tobruk government had a warrant out for his arrest at one time for attempting a coup, the Tobruk government is still recognized internationally. To add to the irony the present prime minister of the Tobruk government was interim prime minister in the government that Haftar tried to overthrow but now that same al-Thinni has made Haftar commander of his forces.
To radical Islamists such as the Islamic State, it is crystal clear that there is no hope for dialogue and a peaceful solution. They want all Islamists to join them against both Haftar's forces and Libya Dawn which refuses to accept their radical ideology. While forces from Libya Dawn are fighting to regain control of the city of Sirte from the Islamic State, Haftar is busy attacking Libya Dawn rather than the Islamic State. Libya Dawn may very well decide its forces in Sirte need to be redeployed to defend Tripoli. The Islamic State will no doubt take advantage of this situation.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

NATO angered by Russian treaty with South Ossetia

A new treaty between Russia and South Ossetia merges a portion of the South Ossetian armed forces with those of Russia and also increases the economic integration of the two countries 
Coat of Arms of  South Ossetia


South Ossetia was originally an autonomous part of the Georgian Soviet Republic. However, at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 it declared itself independent, angering newly independent Georgia which considers both it and another independent area Abkhazia as part of its sovereign territory. Georgia has continually attempted to enforce its rule and occupy South Ossetia.

In 2008 an attack on South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers in the area resulted in a disastrous war for Georgia. Russia recognized South Osssetia and Abkhazia both as independent states after the war. Only Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru of UN members recognize the independence of South Ossetia. Nauru may have done so because of Russian foreign aid but Nauru denies this.

NATO claims the treaty violates international law but then it insists every treaty entered into by South Ossetia with anyone is against international law since it regards South Ossetia as part of Georgia. The signing of this treaty follows the signing of a similar treaty with Abkhazia last year. Both countries are subsidized by Russia. As well.as further integrating the South Ossetian economy with that of Russia, it will make it easier for South Ossetians to get Russian citizenship and will also raise salaries for South Ossetian civil servants and pensions within the country.

Not only NATO but also the US was angered by the agreement. Jen Psaki, US State Department spokesperson said: "The regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are integral parts of Georgia and we continue to support Georgia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,"

The treaty was signed after talks between Russian president Vladiimir  Putin and South Ossetian president Leonid Tibilov in Moscow on March 18. The treaty includes a pledge of collective security. Putin said the treaty improved the two countries' legal system and in coordination of economic development. Tibilov said: “We know the Russian Federation is the only guarantor for our people and for our republic.” South Ossetia has supported Russia in the annexation of the Crimea. There seems almost zero possibility of either Abkhazia or South Ossetia being reintegrated back into Georgia.

Sources:

http://news.yahoo.com/putin-signs-treaty-integrating-south-ossetia-russia-134209512.html

http://news.yahoo.com/russian-treaty-south-ossetia-breaks-international-law-nato-162225556.html

http://rt.com/politics/241929-russia-ossetia-treaty-alliance/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauru

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauru

Okinawa governor orders work suspended on US base

Governor Takeshi Onaga of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has ordered a branch of the Defense Ministry to suspend all work in an area where a key U.S. military air base was to be relocated.
Onaga claimed that an anchor of concrete thrown in the sea as part of a drilling survey is thought to have damaged part of a coral reef. The governor who had preceded Onaga changed his position on the relocation and supported the agreement between the US and Japanese government for the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
At a news conference, Onaga said that the use of concrete blocks had not been authorized and that damage had to be assessed. He also demanded that the Defense Bureau cease all activity relating to the relocation or lose its license for the drilling work. This could put the entire project on hold. In November last year Onaga won the governorship from Hirokazu Nakaima who had supported the transfer. Onaga campaigned against the base relocation. Opponents of the relocation claim that the proposed replacement of Futema, a V shaped runway on reclaimed land would threaten the safety of local residents and destroy the sensitive marine ecosystem. Onaga also complained that the Japanese central government has not made a sufficient effort to appreciate Okinawa's understanding of the relocation and he urged that the Defense Bureau take the order seriously. It was unclear whether the Defense Bureau would obey his order.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that while officials were studying the suspension order, the survey should proceed in spite of the order. He said: "I don't see any reason why we should halt the operation. This is a law-abiding nation. It is extremely regrettable that (Onaga) submitted the document (ordering the suspension) at this stage." US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, also said that the US understood that construction would go ahead as planned.
Futenma is currently located in a densely populated part of the island and the projected move was meant to allay safety and other concerns at the present location. Many Okinawans want Futenma gone completely off the island. The underwater drilling had been halted before last November's election, apparently to avoid controversy that might hurt the incumbent governor. He lost in any event to Onaga.
The relocation plan was agreed to back in 1996 but has been continually stalled by protests. There are about 50,000 US troops located in Japan and almost half are in Okinawa.. The relocated Futenma airstrip would be just across another US base Camp Schwab. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has forged a strong military alliance with the US, relying on it to counter the rise of China and North Korea's threats.
Okinawa was the site of fierce battles between the US and Japanese during the Second World War. The US occupied Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands until June 1972 but there is still a huge US presence on the islands:There are 32 U.S. military bases[14] located on Okinawa Island. In total, these bases occupy approximately 20% of the island's area, but the footprint is far greater than this statistic implies as core urban areas continue to be fragmented by the bases, which have severe environmental contamination issues and heavily disturb and disrupt urban life... The bases primarily exist to serve Japanese and US strategic interests, but are unpopular with most local residents[16] despite recent efforts to move the bases out of core areas following incidents involving military personnel and resultant protests (including 1995 Okinawa rape incident).
The economic importance of these bases has lessened over time especially since the return of Japanese sovereignty. Many locals think that the bases actually hamper tourism and investment in the islands. In 2012 the US agreed to reduce the number of troops on the island by 9,000. While there are attempts to close bases in the heavily urbanized area near greater Naha the capital, many islanders do not approve of relocation but want troops off the island. There are also a small number of Japanese bases on the island. They are not viewed favourably either but considered as part of Japanese efforts to colonize Okinawa. This is not too surprising, since whether it is the Americans or the Japanese both seem more concerned about their own interests rather than the welfare and interests of the island inhabitants. As you can see from the enclosed video, Russian TV finds it worth while to cover the protests at Camp Schwab. The new Futenma base would be adjacent to that camp.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Haftar and Tobruk government sabotaging UN-sponsored peace talks

The UN and western powers simply refuse to face the fact that the internationally recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni in Tobruk and his newly minted CIA-linked military chief Khalifa Haftar are on a mission to recapture Tripoli.
The UN Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) and the UN envoy Bernardino Leon have warned the two governments, one in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli not to bomb or battle as this conflicted with the peace talks and the transition to democracy. In response, the Tobruk government bombed the one functioning airport in Tripoli before earlier talks and again on Thursday just as the Tripoli government representatives were ready to fly to Rabat Morooco for the talks. The talks had to be postponed until Friday. Since then the same Tobruk government and allied forces have tried to advance on Tripoli and there have been further air strikes on Tripoli.The Al-Thinni government proudly announced that "forces linked to General Khalifa Haftar have launched a military offensive to "liberate" Tripoli. On its Facebook page the government said: "The government salutes the operations launched by army units south of Tripoli which constitute the start of an offensive to liberate Tripoli and its suburbs,"So instead of doing as requested by the UN, the Tobruk government is launching a military offensive, not against the Islamic State but against the Tripoli government, a government that the Supreme Court of Libya recognizes while declaring the Tobruk House of Representatives should be dissolved since it was the result of an unconstitutional election last June.
The dialogue is intended to lead the formation of a unity government and a cease fire as well. The talks are still going on. Originally, Leon hoped an agreement would be signed and announced today March 22, but this has been postponed until at least tomorrow. Leon said that reaching an agreement was "going to be difficult". Leon had already commented on the beginning of the offensive on Friday directed toward the capital saying: "[On Friday] we had a new military operation against Tripoli precisely during decisive moments of the talks and our reaction today is as strong as it was in the past.Military activities undermine the situation in Libya and prevent the unity of the Libyans fighting terrorism. This operation we condemn in the strongest possible terms because it's undermining dialogue."The strong reaction is a tongue-lashing UN-style that refuses even to name who is the object of the lashing. No doubt there will be more condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the renewed bombing of Tripoli. However Al Jazeera's reporter, Hashem Ahelbarra, said that the international community will hold "whoever is held responsible for undermining the political process by launching more attacks in Libya is going to be targeted by UN sanctions". It is clear that it is Haftar's armed forces, commander of the Tobruk government recognized by that same international community, who is bombing Tripoli and launching an offensive against the rival government. Prime Minister al-Thinni is bombing his own people. When Gaddafi did that the international community was up in arms and committed to regime change and the measures needed to ensure that right away.
Tomorrow, Leon is to leave for Brussels where there are talks with representatives from municipalities and other political stakeholders. Who exactly they are has never been publicized. The representatives of the two rival governments will remain in Morocco to draft plans for a unity government and a cease fire. Given that the Tobruk government is busy launching a military offensive, it is not clear what relevance the dialogue has except that it provides a convenient platform for western governments to support to show that their hearts are in the right place.
Western powers have strongly supported resumption of the peace talks. They see a unity government as a much better way to tackle the Islamic State in Libya than supporting Haftar's campaign against all Islamists and the Tripoli government. Taking Haftar's route would lead to civil war. A joint statement by France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain and the US said:We call on the Libyan political leaderships to act responsibly and to make clear their support for the dialogue and call on them to exercise authority over military and militia leaders and ensure civilian oversight and control of their actions and disavow military actions not taken in that framework,”Have they not noticed that the Tobruk government has given its full support for the bombing of Tripoli and the offensive against Tripoli while the peace talks are ongoing. So far neither side has even talked directly to the other. The Tripoli group are willing to do so but the Tobruk representatives refuse direct talks unless the other side recognizes them as the sole legitimate government. Even if an agreement is reached on a unity government and a cease fire by the dialogue group, there is almost no chance Haftar will agree. If the Al-Thinni government objects, they may find that Haftar burns down the Tobruk House of Representatives as he did the Tripoli parliament before when al-Thinni was head of the GNC transitional government.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Human Rights Watch statement on Houthi rebels in Yemen's mistreatment of journalists

This came to me courtesy of  Munir Alhemyari a resident of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen:

Statement of HRW Yemen: Attacks on Journalists Escalate
End Arbitrary Detention, Mistreatment
MARCH 23, 2015

© 2015 Nadia Abdullah
(Sanaa) – Houthi forces and others in Yemen have committed a spate of attacks and other abuses against the media amid deteriorating political and security conditions.
In recent weeks, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists and other media workers by Ansar Allah, the Zaidi Shia armed group known as the Houthis that now controls the capital, Sanaa. Armed Ansar Allah militia has stormed the headquarters of three media outlets since January 2015. Other groups may also be involved in attacks. On March 18, unidentified gunmenkilled Abdul Karim Mohammed al-Khaiwani, an Ansar Allah supporter and critic of the former government, near his home in Sanaa.
“The breakdown in security across Yemen has put the country’s media in particular danger,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “All sides in Yemen should send a clear message to their forces to stop threats and attacks against journalists.”
Ansar Allah has controlled much of northern Yemen since September 2014, and in January 2015 effectively ousted President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, sparking widespread protests. On February 8, Yemen’s interim interior minister ordered Sanaa police to prevent all unauthorized demonstrations due to “the exceptional circumstances” in Yemen. This indefinite ban on public protests violates the right to peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said. Five employees of state broadcast and print media outlets told Human Rights Watch that since taking control of Sanaa, Ansar Allah has inserted its own people into senior positions at various media outlets.
Human Rights Watch documented seven incidents involving attacks on journalists and the media between December 31, 2014, and March 7, 2015. Ma`d al-Zekri, a cameraman for Azal TV, told Human Rights Watch that armed men took him and his 20-year-old brother from their home at 1:30 a.m. on December 31, 2014, blindfolded them, and drove them to a building where the men held the brothers in separate rooms. Al-Zekri said a man interrogated him about a news clip he had made about the Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that had aired in October, and demanded to know where an AQAP leader al-Zekri had interviewed could be found.
The cameraman said he was kept blindfolded, given electric shocks, had dirty water poured over him, and was given food and a restroom visit only once each day. “On the third day some men came in, apologized for having detained me, and said it had been a mistake,” al-Zekri told Human Rights Watch. They then warned him “not to write about or against Al-Qaeda as much,” and freed him and his brother. Al-Zekri filed a complaint with the police and the attorney general but the authorities told him they could do nothing and he should take his complaint to Ansar Allah directly.
Kamal Gamal of Suhail TV told Human Rights Watch that armed men in civilian clothes detained him and a cameraman, Yahya al-A`awar, on February 3, 2015, as they filmed a political polling process among students at Sanaa University. Gamal said the two men spoke into walkie talkies, told them that no photography or filming was permitted, and detained them when they kept filming. The armed men held the two journalists on the campus until police came and took them to a police station. Hours later, the police returned their equipment and released them.
Saif al-Haddiri, chairman of the al-Shumoa Press Foundation, which prints four publications, told Human Rights Watch that about 40 armed men believed to be Ansar Allah forced their way into the foundation’s offices on February 5. They ordered all staff to leave the five-story building, then seized computers, broadcasting and other equipment, videos, and CDs whose total value he estimated at US$18,600. Some wore military-style uniforms while others were in civilian clothes and carried slogans in support of Ansar Allah. More than a month later, the men still control the foundation’s building and continue to remove property from it, al-Haddiri said.
Ameen Dabwan, a correspondent for Yemen Shabab TV, told Human Rights Watch that five armed men in police uniforms with Ansar Allah stickers detained him on February 6 as he filmed an anti-Ansar Allah demonstration in Sanaa’s Change Square. They took his camera and later his cell phone and detained him overnight at the police station with five arrested protesters, threatening to beat them. Police released him after 24 hours but did not return his camera or his phone.
Nabil al-Sharabi, an editor at Akhbar al-Yom newspaper, told Human Rights Watch that on March 5, five men carrying assault rifles bearing Ansar Allah stickers broke into the building housing the newspaper’s staff.

Houthi rebels seize airport at Taiz and set up checkpoints at entrances into Yemen city

Houthi fighters along with troops loyal to former president Saleh have taken control of the airport at the southern city of Taiz and also parts of the city, setting up checkpoints at entrance points. Taiz is the third largest city in Yemen.
The Houthi Shia rebels originally based in the north of Yemen have taken control of most of the north including the capital Sanaa. After President Mansour Hadi was unable to form a government acceptable to the Houthis, they seized power and have formed their own government. Former president Ali Saleh who still has considerable power with the armed forces appears to be allied with the Houthis. The UN imposed sanctions on Saleh and two Houthi commanders last November. This did nothing to stop the Houthi advance but certainly made it more difficult for UN-brokered talks to come up with a political solution. The rise of the Houthis supported by Iran sends shivers down the spines of the US, Saudi Arabia, and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council who brokered the deal to have Saleh step down and transfer power to his then vice-president Mansour Hadi.
Hadi later ran unopposed for president and won in an event touted in the west as a sign democracy was working in Yemen, that is, the important neighbouring powers and the US approved of him. He cooperated with the US in the war against terrorism, supporting unpopular drone strikes.There was a long consultative process called the National Dialogue Conference(NDC) that gathered together a large number of Yemen stakeholders in the political process designed to map a way forward towards democracy for Yemen. However, some groups from the southern separatist movement boycotted the conference. The Houthis took part but withdrew after two of their representatives were assassinated, and they rejected the results:On January 21, 2014, Ahmed Sharif Al-Din, a Houthi representative in the NDC, was assassinated in Sana’a on his way to the conference, fueling tensions between Houthis and government-aligned elements.[5] This was the second assassination of a Houthi representative, after Abdulkarim Jadban in November 2013.[6] As a result, the Houthis withdrew from the conference and denounced the outcomes.[7] On January 25, the closing ceremony of the NDC was held and the Final Outcomes Document was signed.[8]
In particular, the Houthis objected to the plan to divide Yemen into six regions. The southern separatist movement also disagreed with the six division plan that was drafted by Hadi: Mohammad Ali Ahmed, a southern representative to the NDC who resigned in November 2013, stated that, "what has been announced about the six regions is a coup against what had been agreed at the (NDC) dialogue."[28] Al-Hirak member Nasser al-Nawba rejected the NDC outcomes and stated that, "We will continue our peaceful struggle until we achieve independence.”[29] Most southern leaders boycotted the Dialogue from the beginning of the process.[30]
Al-Hirak is one of the main southern separatist movements. South Yemen was formerly independent.
Hadi was able to flee from virtual house arrest in Sanaa to the southern port of Aden. Even there the castle where he stayed was attacked by planes and he had to flee. While the southern Sunnis are opposed to Houthi rule, many also detest Hadi. The southerners may hope to form an autonomous or independent area. If the Houthis have trouble establishing their sway in the south, they may very well come to some type of agreement with the southern separatist movement. Western support for Hadi is little help for him.
While Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) hates Hadi they hate the Houthis even more. They have gained support from Sunni tribes helping to slow or stop the Houthi advance into Sunni majority areas. Added to this stew of conflicting groups, some radical jihadists in Yemen are now claiming allegiance to theIslamic State and have claimed responsibility for bloody suicide attacks on two mosques in Sanaa. The quadruple suicide attacks killed at least 137 people and wounded another 350 others. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says that the US is investigating the claim by the IS that it is responsible for the attack but cautioned that the IS often claimed responsibility for attacks for propaganda value. However, radical groups often associated with Al Qaeda have been splitting off members who claim allegiance to the IS in many areas. In Libya recently Ansar al-Sharia suffered a split with many members pledging allegiance to the IS and the same seems to be happening in Tunisia. The IS in Yemen is no doubt composed mainly of former members of AQAP. It may be embarrassing to the US to have another even more radical group in Yemen than AQAP whom they consistently represent as a clear and present danger not only to Yemen but the US. Along with their Arab allies they are witnessing the demise of all their plans to control the political process in Yemen and the likely demise of their chosen leader Mansour Hadi. Instead they face southern separatists, Iran-backed Houthis, and several growing groups of militant jihadists allied with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The US has decided the situation is so bad for them that they are withdrawing almost 100 Special Operations Forces from the Al Anad airbase as the security situation deteriorates. The US had closed its embassy in Sanaa last month. The exit of the Special Forces makes it clear that the US has had boots on the ground for some time in Yemen. There have been numerous attacks against AQAP and the US has also been involved in rescue efforts. At the request of Mansour Hadi, who still calls himself president, and is supported by all the important powers, the UN is to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. So all the countries who helped create this mess will now decide how to mess it up further with some sort of intervention. The best outcome is that the Security Council Members will not be able to agree on any course of intervention. While battles may continue for some while eventually the Yemenis themselves may be able to sort things out. The Houthis would rather be kingmakers than rule themselves so they could ally with the southern movement and local tribe elders to eventually reach a political agreement.


Greece receives over $2 billion from European Commission to avoid cash crunch

Head of the European Commission(EC), Jean-Claude Juncker says that 2 billion euros($2.15 billion) in unused funds will be made available to help Greece avoid a looming cash crunch.
The offer of the funds, comes just a day after talks between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European leaders in Brussels dealing with Greece's compliance with the terms of the extended bailout loan. The leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Greece has agreed to draft a new reform plan that would allow it to receive further funds as part of the loan. Tsipras said that he was now "more optimistic" subsequent to the talks. Greek authorities also claimed that they were gradually coming closer to meeting the requirements of the loan extension.
The Troika of creditors, the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund now rebranded at the insistence of Greece as "the institutions", agreed they would extend the current bailout program until June of this year. However, there have been constant conflicts between Greek's creditors and the Greek government.The Syriza government has been passing humanitarian legislation that will help the poorest Greek households with free food and electricity and will also allow taxes that are in arrears to be paid by instalments. The European Commission has in effect vetoed such legislation on the grounds that it was introduced without consultation and violated the terms of the loan extension. The creditors demand reforms in the economy including cutting government expenditures and continuing with privatizations
Since the two bailouts in 2010 and 2014, and the implementation of austerity conditions, the Greek GDP has shrunk by 25 per cent. One third of Greeks now live below the poverty line. Unemployment is around 30 percent but half the young people are unemployed. Gaining access to this new money is a victory of sorts for the Greek government.
Juncker, the EC president, said that the new funds will not be tied to the existing bailout loan. but can be used as aid for people and companies hardest hit by the debt crisis. This sounds very much as if even the EC recognizes the need behind the very legislation it had just vetoed. No doubt, Juncker hopes that this move will.make it easier for the Greek government to propose reforms that will meet the approval of creditors as Greece has pledged to do. Since these funds are not tied to the bailout, they can be used for purposes that might run counter to the conditions for the bailout funds. Greek Prime Minister Tsipras praised the decisionsaying:"It is a good sign. It was recognized that there is a humanitarian crisis in our country and that there must be a common effort against it — because it was the not the result of some natural catastrophe."
The EU creditors have been complaining that Greece is not cooperating with technical staff who are trying to monitor Greece's compliance with the bailout terms. The IMF calls Greece the least cooperative client they have ever had. EU leaders have told Tsipras that within the next few days he must come up with detailed budget cuts, and also tax increases, and other reforms before any more bailout money will be released. Tsipras refused to specify a date for delivery of the reforms. What is happening may be another case of kicking the can down the road only to face the same issues within a short time. For now, however, Tsipras seems finally to have gained more breathing space and some recognition of the political problems he faces in Greece.


Heavy casualties as Iraq forces attempt to retake Tikrit

Reports on casualties in the Iraqi offensive led by an Iranian general and including many Shia militia groups, are now beginning to emerge. The heavy toll may be one reason why the offensive is stalled.
Unofficial reports indicate that already 1,000 of the attackers have been killed. The government refuses to confirm any figures. The offensive was paused last weekend. It was supposed to last only two days while awaiting reinforcements. Now the pause is to continue through this weekend March 21 and 22. Attacks against the Iraqi forces during the pause are still resulting in 100 security forces being brought to a hospital in Samarra each day either wounded or dead according to a source there. About 20,000 are taking part in the operation against Tikrit.
Even the highest-ranking Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was concerned about the skills of the Shiite militia and said that better planning by the government was needed and greater professionalism if the IS militants were to be defeated. Earlier reports had suggested that the offensive was successful with the militants being cornered in a part of central Tikrit up against the Tigris river. While IS forces do appear surrounded, the Iraqi forces are still just in the suburban areas of Tikrit. The vastly outnumbered IS forces have built up formidable defenses that are taking a heavy toll on the attackers. The US has not been involved in carrying out this attack. Iraq decided that it would be carried out by a combination of Shia militia and regular forces under the overall command of an Iranian general.
Many are concerned that the Shia militia will take revenge on the Sunni population for supporting the Islamic State. US General David Petraeus, once the commander of US troops in Iraq even claims that political instability is an even greater threat to Iraq than the Islamic State. He mentioned Shia militia specifically. Revenge actions could exacerbate the sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. Tikrit was Saddam Hussein's home town and its citizens strong supporter of Sunni interests.
There appear to be disagreements among government officials and military leaders of Iraqi special forces as to how to continue the offensive. Some in the government want a full assault against the IS. While this might be successful special forces commanders claim the cost in casualties make that strategy inadvisable. No doubt the Iraqi government would emphasize the successful retaking of Tikrit and ignore the cost. Many worry that some Shia militia are quite willing to suffer casualties in order to wreak revenge on the IS and Sunni supporters. Last summer Tikrit was the scene of the massacre of almost 1,000 Shia air force recruits that IS recorded on video.Reports of the number killed vary as shown on the enclosed video. Hadi al Ameri, who leads the Badr Organization militia refers to the attack on Tikrit as revenge for the attack on the recruits. Iranian advisers are also apparently in favour of an advance no matter the cost.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi wants a better plan. Al-Abadi appears to fear that there will be a US backlash if there is a full assault with Shia militia taking revenge. US commanders were opposed to the Tikrit operation and have not used US air power to support it so far. The Islamic State apparently has only a few hundred fighters in Tikrit compared to the twenty thousand attackers. However their area is heavily fortified with booby traps everywhere with many snipers and suicide bombers ready to defend the area. There are also hundreds of roadside bombs. The militia want to press ahead using artillery and bombing that will inevitably cause significant civilian casualties.
The US is said to be concerned that there will be more abuses by militia and even by security forces the US has trained. There have been numerous videos showing these abuses on the internet. Probably the US is not so much concerned about the casualties and abuses per se as that they will complicate the political situation and exacerbate the sectarian aspects of the Iraq conflict.
For now, it seems that the Iraqi military is moving in heavy equipment to clear booby traps while tightening the ring around the city denying the fighters supplies. A spokesperson for the largest Shia militia The League of Righteousness, Abu Zergawi said that operations would resume in a couple of days after more men and equipment were brought into the area.
Back last November, Iraqi forces launched an assault to retake the town of Baiji and a nearby refinery. They met fierce resistance but finally in December secured the refinery and the town. Later much of the town and surrounding area were retaken. The government has been unable to restart the refinery and it has to be constantly guarded. The Iraqi government would like to retake the larger city of Mosul but given what is happening in Tikrit this seems unlikely to happen any time soon.


Bombing of Tripoli airport by Haftar delays arrival of Tripoli delegates at Libyan peace talks

The internationally recognized government in Tripoli sent planes to bomb Tripoli's only functioning airport just as some representatives from the Tripoli government were preparing to leave for scheduled peace talks in Morocco.
The Matiga airport is also a military base but is now used for commercial flights as the main airport was badly damaged in earlier clashes between forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, now commander of the Libyan Armed forces of the Tobruk government, and Libya Dawn. His allies were driven out of the airport by Libya Dawn militia associated with the Tripoli government. At the time, Haftar also bombed Tripoli a number of times in association with planes thought to be from the UAE and supported by Egypt. The recent attack by Haftar damaged the runway but repairs were expected to be finished later the same day. A spokesperson for the airport, Abdusalam Buamoud reported:"Fighting jets conducted air strikes on Matiga airport early today which damaged the runway." No one was hurt by the bombing. However, the air strike did delay the arrival of the delegation from Tripoli to the peace talks in Rabat Morocco. Mohamed El Hejazi, a spokesman of forces allied to Thinni responsible for the attack claimed that the strike was part of a war against terrorism a war that would continue until Libya has been freed of terrorism. Tobruk government planes also bombed Tripoli before the talks first began in Morocco. Haftar promised that he would do no bombing for three days during the talks. During one period in late February, the Tobruk government withdrew from the talks.
After peace talks in early February, both sides agreed to a cease fire. However Haftar insisted that the battle against terrorism would continue and carried on battling in Benghazi against opponents there. Groups associated with the Tripoli government also violated the cease fire. However, media attention lately has been focused on the actions of the Islamic State forces in Libya who carried out several attacks on oil fields, a luxury hotel in Tripoli, as well as beheading a number of Egyptian Coptic Christians. This was followed by Egyptian planes bombing IS positions in Derna and then a revenge suicide attack by the IS. Areas held by both sides have been attacked by the Islamic State. Recently forces from the Tripoli government have been clashing with the IS in Sirte which has been taken over the by the group. In recent clashes a top IS commander from Tunisia was killed.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemned the recent bombing of Tripoli :This latest attack is risking sparking an escalation that threatens to undermine the ongoing political dialogue process at a time when the talks are at a decisive phase. The United Nations is gathering information about the attack, but its timing suggests it might be intended to undermine the national dialogue.An earlier attack by Tripoli forces on the Zintan airport held by Haftar allies was also condemned.The UN press release notes that the bombing delayed the arrival of the Tripoli delegates to the talks. The talks are to resume today March 20.
While it is in the interest of all Libyans to have a unity government, one of the aims of the talks, Libyans also need a cease fire that applies to all battles except against forces of the Islamic State. However, Haftar hopes to gain western support for what he calls a battle against terrorism, but as the bombing of Tripoli indicates he considers all those opposed to him as terrorists. Neither government recognizes the others' legitimacy and the two sides have not yet directly talked to the other but only with the UN officials. Even if there should be a political agreement, it is not clear that the armed forces associated with the two sides would implement any agreement. Haftar has shown his contempt for the whole dialogue process and aims to retake Tripoli by force if necessary:"..probably in agreement with his sweepingly anti-Islamist friends in Egypt, Haftar told The New Yorker that he would retake Tripoli from Libya Dawn militarily. Regarding dialogue with the GNC/LD, Haftar declared: “There will be no dialogue with terrorism,” asserting that Libya had to be “purified.”"


AdSense bans ads from antiwar site because of Abu Ghraib prison torture photos

The antiwar site, antiwar.com, has been informed by Google Adsense that all ads on its website have been disabled. The site claims that this is because it has a page that has photos of the abuse by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The page of Abu Ghraib photos had been up for 11 years and during all that time Google Adsense had been running ads on the site. The page can be found here and has had two million hits since posted. The letter sent to the site can be found here.
The author of the editorial at the antiwar.com site, Eric Garris, sees the timing of the removal of the ads as significant since Washington is now expanding its presence in Iraq saying: "..as Washington gets ready to re-invade Iraq, and in bombing, killing, and abusing more civilians, they suddenly decide that their "anti-violence" policy, which prohibits "disturbing material," prohibits any depiction of violence committed by the U.S. government and paid for with your tax dollars...To say this is an utter outrage would be an understatement: it is quite simply the kind of situation one might expect to encounter in an authoritarian country where state-owned or state-connected companies routinely censor material that displeases the government.As some commentators point out this response rather jumps to conclusions — the facts hardly support that strongly.
One commentator claimed to have had a site with the same issue after 10 years with no problem and the site had nothing to do with politics. The letter sent to the antiwar site makes clear that the photos violate AdSense policy:As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on pages with violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images.
The photos of events at Abu Ghraib surely violate this policy. It is understandable that advertisers would not want their ads beside those photos. Of course Islamic State recruiters might think that it was an ideal place for them to place ads. Google's own AdSense blog violated its own policy rules by showing explicit sexual material from the French video website Imineo.com and was roundly criticized for doing so.
Compliance with policy is obviously not closely monitored so that notices such as antiwar.com received are no doubt the result of a complaint or complaints. This complaint could have come from the government or from someone else at the urging of government, or it could just be an individual who has it in for the site and wants to deprive them of revenue. The site has not removed the link to the photos and is using the disabling of ads as a fundraising issue since they receive significant funds from their ad revenue. The commentator mentioned earlier suggested that the site could simply ask that the ads be removed from the offending page with the photos and be reinstated everywhere else. There is an appeal process as mentioned in the letter. The site is libertarian to a degree and so tries to tie this event to big government censorship. However in this case it is a corporation Google, that owns AdSense, that is doing the "censoring" and using its power, not the government. In the first quarter of 2014 Google earned $3.4 billion or 22 percent of its total revenue from AdSense.
Of course big corporations such as Google often have cosy relations with government. The former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt along with head of Google Ideas a Google-sponsored think tank , Jared Cohen, interviewed Julian Assange back in 2011 while he was under house arrest in the UK. Assange describes the meeting and also the relations of the two to the US government and its policy in a fascinating article in Newsweek. Jared was a former employee at the State Department. As Wikipedia notes:Google Ideas has come under scrutiny for its links with the US State Department and its 'regime change' activities.
Google has profited from its government connections. In 2004 Google took over Keyhole. This was a mapping technology startup that had been funded by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the CIA. Google further developed the technology that resulted in Google Maps, a version of which was sold to a number of federal and state agencies in multimillion dollar contracts. It also helped launch a spy satellite:In 2008, Google helped launch an NGA spy satellite, the GeoEye-1, into space. Google shares the photographs from the satellite with the U.S. military and intelligence communities. In 2010, NGA awarded Google a $27 million contract for “geospatial visualization services.”
There is no doubt that Washington is keeping its eye on antiwar.com and would be happy to see its demise, so it is possible that the AdSense move is meant to help kill the site, but it could be an action by someone who wants to see the site punished for publishing the Abu Ghraib photos. The site could simply appeal the decision or suggest that the ads at the one web page be removed as suggested in a comment. Maybe this will be done after the fund raising campaign has finished.


International Monetary Fund complains that Greece is its most uncooperative client ever

Officials from the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, complained in a conference-call Tuesday that Greek officials are not adhering to the conditions of the bailout extension deal or cooperating with creditors.
The officials did not want to be identified since the call was private. A letter was also sent by the European Commission objecting to legislation that would give free food and electricity to households in poverty and also to allow tax arrears to be paid in instalments. The letter said that the laws were in violation of the bailout agreement. since they were not cleared by the Troika. International Monetary Fund(IMF) officials claimed that Greece was the most unhelpful client they had dealt with in their entire history. German finance officials said trying to get the Greek authorities to present a rigorous economic reform policy was like trying to ride a dead horse.
According to a Reuters report the teleconference was supposed to allow Greece to report on its reform process but instead Greek officials insisted that discussions should be held at the upcoming European Union summit on Thursday. One anonymous euro zone official said that for many people the teleconference "could be something of a last straw."
If the Greek government does not implement the unpopular austerity provisions of the bailout extension required by creditors, Greece may end up not getting the money needed for its upcoming debt payments. Tsipras is hoping to have a meeting with Mario Draghi, head of the ECB , Angela Merkel German Chancellor, French President Francois Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker the head of the European Commission later this week in Brussels. Tsipras wants a political deal to unlock funds from the $254 billion bailout, but the euro zone officials may be in no mood to grant Greece any leeway as the Greek government goes ahead with reform policies without getting approval from creditors. Without concrete proposals and evidence that reforms the creditors want are being implemented, there will be no political agreement to release the funds. There may however be political agreement not to release the funds.
The Dutch Finance Minister Dijsselbloem said that Greece might require capital controls as happened in 2013 in Cyprus. His remarks helped Greek bank shares to lose over 5 percent. The Athens stock exchange lost 1.8 percent and interest on Greek bonds rose to a whopping 20.5 percent. Progress of technical personnel from the Troika working in Athens has been very slow. They too complained of the Greek government passing legislation whose implications for Greek finances was not at all clear and without consultation, a clear violation of the bailout extension agreement. Greece has large payments due as early as this Friday.
German Finance Minister Schaeuble said that time was running out for the Greek government. He noted also that Greece has insisted it does not want a third bailout program. He said: "We have the impression, and everyone who is dealing with the question shares the impression, that time is running out for Greece. They obviously have certain problems."
It is not clear how Greece could possibly continue to pay its debts without further loans.
As well as talking with European officials and meeting with Angela Merkel in Berlin, the Greek Prime Minister, Tsipras, also intends to visit Putin on April 8. Some worry that Greece's debt problems may lead the country to form alliances outside the west including with Russia. The US sent Victoria Nuland , the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs to Athens to meet with Tsipras. She was active in seeing to it that Ukraine turned toward Europe. Now she no doubt will warn Tsipras not to cosy up to Putin.
The Greek government faces the impossible task of trying to implement its election promises, to show Greeks that the government can improve conditions, and at the same time convince its creditors that it is carrying out the reforms demanded as part of the bailout deal. But reform measures by the Greek government continually violate the terms of the bailout deal. The government then call the demands of the creditors blackmail. In a further slap in the face to the Troika or "institutions" the Deputy Finance Minister Nadia Valavani said that proceeds from any privatizations will be used ,not to repay debt as desired by the creditors, but for social programs. She said:"There will be a new Sovereign Wealth fund ... and the revenue will be used to fund the government's social policies and to support the social security system."Having annoyed all those parties who hold the purse strings, it seems unlikely that Greece will be able to get any concessions at all from euro zone officials.