Countdown Clocks

Countdown Clocks

Posts tagged "World News"

h/t: J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed


LGBT activists in Kyrgyzstan are reaching out to the international community in hopes of averting a disaster that could stem from pending legislation that would rival Russia’s draconian antigay law, according to the blog 76 Crimes.

Russia’s notorious nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda makes it a crime to speak, write, or demonstrate in support of LGBT people and equality, claiming such advocacy “promotes nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors. However, the proposed Krygyzstani law would go further.

While Russian lawmakers have claimed the law is necessary to “protect children” from the dangers of homosexuality, the proposed law in the former Soviet nation of Kyrgyzstan law doesn’t even try to couch its repression in a faux concern for youth.

If passed, the Kyrgyzstani law would criminalize any positive comments about homosexuality, “sodomy, lesbianism, or any other forms of non-traditional sexual behavior,” made through any form of electronic or print media to any person of any age.

LGBT rights activists in Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim country of 5.6 million people, say they have “exhausted almost all domestic means to stop the bill,” reports 76 Crimes. The activists see no other choice remaining but to reach beyond their borders for support.

Kyrgyzstani LGBT rights activists are especially eager to increase pressure on members of the country’s Supreme Council or Jogorku Kengesh (equivalent to a unicameral parliament) from non-western countries — specifically from Latin America and Asia, according to 76 Crimes.

Yet it was a South African LGBT media outlet that appears to be the first to respond to the Kyrgyzstani activists’ plea for help. “Gay activists in the Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan are calling for international support as a proposed Putin-style anti-gay law is set to limit the rights of LGBT people,” wrote Luiz Barros in Johannesburg-based Mamba Online.

Kyrgyzstan already has a climate of hostility toward LGBT people, noted Human Rights Watch when news of the proposed law first hit in March. At that time, Human Rights Watch called on the Jogoku Kengesh to withdraw the bill.

“This draconian bill is blatantly discriminatory against LGBT people and would deny citizens across Kyrgyzstan their fundamental rights,” said Hugh Williamson, the group’s Europe and Central Asia director in March. The organization also urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe — which will consider Kyrgyzstan’s application for special “Partnership for Democracy” status with it April 8 — to “send a strong message that the bill is unacceptable, and make clear that partnership status is wholly incompatible with legislation of this kind.”

The Kyrgyzstani activists’ plea for help from international supporters of LGBT rights was specific in its call to action, listing five ways ordinary people can help. Those methods include getting the word out on the proposed propaganda ban via social media, direct outreach to elected and appointed officials, and word-of-mouth; organizing town halls, informational lectures and protests; asking donors to review their giving policies toward Kyrgyzstan; imposing sanctions by governments and nongovernmental organizations; and advocacy for better asylum policies for LGBT people from Kyrgyzstan.

According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, 75 percent of Kyrgyzstanis are Muslim, while another 20 percent are Russian Orthodox — while five percent are “other.” Russian Orthodoxy and much of the Islamic religious establishment have been driving forces in antigay oppression worldwide in recent decades.


KIEV, Ukraine — Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine’s prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime.

The resignation threw the government into disarray at a critical moment in its war against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The Ukrainian military is in the middle of an offensive, regaining control over towns and cities that had been held by the rebels, who are being forced to recede into more defensible positions in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

One piece of legislation before parliament would authorize a budget increase to fund the expanded military campaign. Ukraine’s depleted armed forces were caught flatfooted when the rebellion in the east began, and the military has scrambled to pay for adequate training and equipment to combat the separatists.

The immediate cause of Yatsenyuk’s resignation was the decision by two major parties earlier in the day to pull out of the coalition government that took over after President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February. Yanukovych fled the country amid large and raucous protests that he was drawing Ukraine closer to Russia and away from the European Union.

The pullout of the Svoboda and Udar parties was widely viewed as a maneuver calculated to nudge reform along by allowing President Petro Poroshenko to call elections this fall, two years early.

As volunteers were combing the crash site for bodies and debris, friends and family members were trying to cope with their loss.

Many critics argue that the existing parliament, elected in 2012, is riddled with corrupt and intransigent lawmakers held over from the previous government that the protesters fought to get rid of. The parliament is viewed as particularly resistant to many electoral and government reforms that Poroshenko vowed to have enacted when sworn into office in June. The Justice Ministry is trying to ban members of the Communist Party from parliament, saying the party should be outlawed because it has supported the pro-Russian rebels.

“We believe that in the current situation, such a parliament which protects state criminals, Moscow agents, which refuses to strip immunity from those people who are working for the Kremlin, should not exist,” Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok told parliament in announcing his nationalist party’s withdrawal from the coalition.

Poroshenko signaled his approval of the coalition’s death, swiftly issuing a statement that the collapse demonstrates that “the society wants a complete reload of state power.”

But the end of the coalition, Yatsenyuk said, means parliament would be politically hobbled as it tries to pass needed laws such as the budget increase and controversial government reforms.

“Who wants to go to elections and simultaneously vote for unpopular laws?” he said in announcing his resignation in parliament. “Putting narrow political interests above the future of the nation is impermissible. It is a moral and ethical crime.”

Yegor Firsov, a lawmaker from Donetsk who is in the Udar party, said that the faction was prepared to support government initiatives on reforms and more funding for the military and that he was surprised Yatsenyuk attributed his resignation to government paralysis.

“Now, it’ a kind of a vacuum,” Firsov said. Noting that Friday is a day set aside for cabinet ministers to ask questions of the prime minister, he said, “maybe he will change his mind and come to us.”

Meanwhile, artillery explosions could be heard around Donetsk on Thursday, a day after separatists fighting the Kiev government claimed responsibility for shooting down two warplanes near where a passenger airliner crashed last week after being struck by a missile. The most intense fighting appeared to be coming from a contested area near the city’s airport. Despite the clashes, Australia’s leader said Thursday that he was readying a policing team of 50 officers who he hopes will join an eventual United Nations mission to secure the airliner’s crash site, which is about 40 miles east of Donetsk.

The attack on the warplanes came just six days after the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which has drawn international outrage and showcased the advanced firepower that apparently is available on the ground in the region. The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that the two Sukhoi Su-25 strike aircraft were flying at nearly 17,000 feet — an altitude that is out of the reach of the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels said they had used to down the jets. Neither the government’s nor the rebels’ claims could be verified.

Ukraine has accused Russia of supplying fresh firepower to rebels over the porous border between the two countries in recent days, even as international attention has focused on a possible Russian role in the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Although the details of Wednesday’s incident remained unclear, it was a sign that the rebels may still be able to inflict significant damage on the Ukrainian military, whose major advantage over its rivals is in the air.

Countries whose citizens were among the 298 people killed in the crash of Flight 17 began to discuss how to secure and investigate the debris site, which has been left almost completely unguarded in recent days.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that he has sent 50 police officers to London to prepare for a potential U.N. mission that would deploy at the final resting place of the Boeing 777.

“We are ready to deploy Australian police to Ukraine to help secure the site as part of an international team under United Nations authority,” Abbott said in Canberra, the Associated Press reported.

The pilots of the two Su-25 jets, which were among four planes that were fired upon as they were returning from a mission near the Russian border, are thought to have bailed out over rebel-held territory. Their conditions and whereabouts were unknown, and both the rebels and the government said they had initiated search missions.

“We shot them down with MANPADS,” said rebel spokesman Sergey Kavtaradze, referring to shoulder-fired missiles that can reach a limited altitude.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kiev that the planes were flying too high to be hit by such a weapon.

“It can be reached only by heavy missile complexes,” he said.

Lysenko alleged that the missiles that hit the two planes were fired from Russian territory.

“They were shot down very professionally. The terrorists do not have such professionals,” he said in reference to the pro-Russian rebels.

Photos that have emerged since the Flight 17 crash last Thursday suggest that Buk missile launchers that apparently were in the rebels’ possession — and one of which Ukraine said was used to down the jetliner — have been transported to Russia. But U.S. officials have said that tanks, rocket launchers and other arms continue to flow into Ukraine from Russia.

The warplanes were shot down as the first 40 bodies of Flight 17 victims were en route to the Netherlands, where they are to be identified through DNA testing.

The Wednesday crashes in the vicinity of the Flight 17 site — about 25 miles south of its perimeter — provided an eerie reminder that the international shock over a missile strike on a passenger airliner has done little to deter the rebels from continuing to shoot down aircraft. It may even have given them some latitude, because commercial airliners now avoid flight paths over eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military, which says it is observing a cease-fire within a 25-mile radius of the Flight 17 crash site, is engaged in an operation to squeeze separatists out of the towns and villages encircling their stronghold of Donetsk.

Military officials say rebel forces are abandoning positions on the outskirts of Donetsk and regrouping in the city’s center.

A top rebel leader dismissed the retreat’s significance. “It’s a tactical retreat,” Pavel Gubarev told Russian state-run Rossiya 24 television. “It was all planned. Nobody has orders to fight to the bitter end. Tactical retreats are permissible. It’s normal military tactics.”

The government claims to have regained control of several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the separatists rose up in April and established “people’s republics,” appointing new mayors and officials.

Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation, as the government calls its military campaign against the separatists, said Wednesday that it had “liberated” the towns of Karlivka, Netaylovo and Pervomayske near Donetsk. It said the Ukrainian flag is flying again in the towns, “as a symbol of peace returning to these places.”

Aleksey Dmitrashkovsky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said that in the city of Kramatorsk, also in the Donetsk region, separatists are shedding their uniforms and dressing as taxi drivers and market vendors. But he said the government will find and punish those who fought against the Ukrainian state and military.

“We’re going to find everyone,” he said. “Everyone who ever raised a hand to a Ukrainian soldier. Everyone who ever committed a crime against the state of Ukraine. Each and every one who caused women to shed tears and who stole the smiles from children. They will be held responsible under Ukrainian law.”

The sounds of pitched battles could be heard through a wide swath of rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, including near the crash site.

In the town of Torez, a large explosion rattled shop windows and halted conversations. All afternoon — both before and after the Ukrainian warplanes were shot down — jets could be heard over the region, but they could not be seen on the partly cloudy day. They circled at a high altitude, even as an observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was directly beneath in the village of Petropavlivka.

There, OSCE officials were examining for the first time a fragment of the Malaysia Airlines plane’s fuselage that is marked with small dents, as though from shrapnel — a potentially key piece of information for investigators that has been sitting unguarded for days, propped against a light pole on the street.

Even the rebels apparently now agree with U.S. and Ukrainian assertions that a Buk antiaircraft missile system downed Flight 17, although the separatists continue to blame the Ukrainian military.

“In an attack from the air, say by a fighter or other aircraft, the missile reacts to heat and, as a rule, hits the engine. Here the picture is somewhat different,” a rebel leader, Andrei Purgin, told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday.

“The distinctive feature of Buk-type systems is that they attack the forebody of the aircraft,” he said. “The cockpit is actually torn off from the rest of the fuselage, which apparently also happened this time when the cockpit fell much earlier and lies farther away from the rest of the fragments.”

H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW

h/t: Shannon Greenwood at Think Progress World


KIEV, Ukraine — As news broke of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 being downed in eastern Ukraine, the separatist’s shadowy commander with a pencil mustache issued a dark warning on social media.

Through his account, Russia’s version of Facebook, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin — who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov — boasted about shooting down a plane.

"We did warn you — do not fly in our sky," he wrote.

Thinking it was a Ukrainian transport plane, Strelkov added that “a plane has just been downed somewhere around Torez, it lays there behind the ‘Progress’ mine,” referring to the mining town of some 80,000 people.

“And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down,” he continued. “The bird went down behind a slagheap, not in a residential district. So no peaceful people were injured,” Strelkov wrote, adding that there is also information about a Ukrainian military plane shot down.

However, Strelkov deleted the post when he found out it was actually a commercial jetliner carrying 295 innocent people — not a military aircraft.


A man stands next to the wreckage of the malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 17, 2014.

When Mashable called Alexander Borodai, self-declared prime minister of Donetsk People’s Republic, to ask if the group was responsible for shooting down the plane, to which he responded:

"Listen, we don’t have these weapons [to down the 777]."

"Listen, we don’t have these weapons [to down the 777]."

Then he hung up.

The pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk have been colliding with Ukrainian forces for months and have brought down several military aircrafts. However, the rebels denied their involvement with two crashes this week, saying they didn’t have the kind of equipment to carry out such an event.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian government claimed that a Russian military plane shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Just two days ago, Ukrainian officials suggested that a military transport plane carrying food and water for troops was shot down by an advanced rocket system fired from Russia.

Strelkov, a native Muscovite, is known for his brutality. As reported inMashable, he led an illegal military tribunal and sentenced at least three Ukrainian citizens to death by firing squad under a 1941 Stalin-era law.


A Donetsk People’s Republic fighter throw a bottle of water to colleagues as they arrive at gas station to fill their tank with fuel in Snizhne, 100 kilometers east of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 17, 2014.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions began in April

Source: Christopher Miller for Mashable


Thanks to Mario Götze’s goal in extra time, Germany win the 2014 World Cup trophy. Miroslav Klose may have possibly played his final WC game.


With brutal efficiency, the Sunni extremist group has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. But the declaration, made on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, could trigger a wave of infighting among the Sunni militant factions that formed a loose alliance in the blitz across Iraq and impact the broader international jihadist movement, especially the future of a-Qaida.

The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the leader of the new caliphate, or Islamic state, and called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the organization’s control, to swear loyalty to al-Baghdadi and support him.

"The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas,” said the spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, in an audio statement posted online. “Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.”

Al-Adnani loosely defined the Islamic state’s territory as running from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala — a vast stretch of land straddling the border that is already largely under the Islamic State’s control. He also said that with the establishment of the caliphate, the group was changing its name to just the Islamic State, dropping the mention of Iraq and the Levant.

Muslim extremists have long dreamed of recreating the Islamic state, or caliphate, that ruled over the Middle East, much of North Africa and beyond in various forms over the course of Islam’s 1,400-year history.

It was unclear what immediate impact the declaration would have on the ground in Syria and Iraq, though experts predicted it could herald infighting among the Sunni militants who have joined forces with the Islamic State in its fight against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led government.

"Now the insurgents in Iraq have no excuse for working with ISIS if they were hoping to share power with ISIS," said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an analyst who specializes in Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, using one of several acronyms for the Islamic State. "The prospect of infighting in Iraq is increased for sure."

The greatest impact, however, could be on the broader international jihadist movement, in particular on the future of al-Qaida.

Founded by Osama bin Laden, the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. has long carried the mantle of the international jihadi cause. But the Islamic State has managed to do in Syria and Iraq what al-Qaida never has — carve out a large swath of territory in the heart of the Arab world and control it.

"This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, in emailed comments. “Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.”

Al-Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi militant who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, took the reins of the Islamic State in 2010 when it was still an al-Qaida affiliate based in Iraq. Since then, he has transformed what had been an umbrella organization focused mainly on Iraq into a transnational military force.

Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and the two had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. Fed up with al-Baghdadi and unable to control him, al-Zawahri formally disavowed the Islamic State in February.

But al-Baghdadi’s stature has only grown since then, as the Islamic State’s fighters have strengthened their grip on much of Syria, and now overrun large swathes of Iraq.

In Washington, the Obama administration called on the international community to unite in the face of the threat posed by the Sunni extremists.

"ISIL’s strategy to develop a caliphate across the region has been clear for some time now. That is why this is a critical moment for the international community to stand together against ISIL and the advances it has made," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The Islamic State’s declaration comes as the Iraqi government tries to wrest back some of the territory it has lost to the jihadi group and its Sunni militant allies in recent weeks.

On Sunday, Iraqi helicopter gunships struck suspected insurgent positions for a second consecutive day in the northern city of Tikrit, the predominantly Sunni hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi military launched its push to wrest back Tikrit, a hotbed of antipathy toward Iraq’s Shiite-led government, on Saturday with a multi-pronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters.

The insurgents appeared to have repelled the military’s initial push for Tikrit, and remained in control of the city on Sunday, but clashes were taking place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, two residents reached by telephone said.

Muhanad Saif al-Din, who lives in the city center, said he could see smoke rising from Qadissiyah, which borders the University of Tikrit, where troops brought by helicopter established a bridgehead two days ago. He said many of the militants had deployed to the city’s outskirts, apparently to blunt the Iraqi military attack.

Military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi told reporters Sunday that government troops in full control of the university and had raised the Iraqi flag over the campus.

"The battle has several stages. The security forces have cleared most of the areas of the first stage and we have achieved results," al-Moussawi said. "It is a matter of time before we declare the total clearing" of Tikrit.

A provincial official reached by telephone reported clashes northwest of the city around an air base that previously served as a U.S. military facility known as Camp Speicher. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Jawad al-Bolani, a security official in the provincial operation command, said the U.S. was sharing intelligence with Iraq and has played an “essential” role in the Tikrit offensive.

"The Americans are with us and they are an important part in the success we are achieving in and around Tikrit," al-Bolani told The Associated Press.

Washington has sent 180 of 300 American troops President Barack Obama has promised to help Iraqi forces. The U.S. is also flying manned and unmanned aircraft on reconnaissance missions over Iraq.

Iraq’s government is eager to make progress in Tikrit after weeks of demoralizing defeats at the hands of the Islamic State and its Sunni allies. The militants’ surge across the vast Sunni-dominated areas that stretch from Baghdad north and west to the Syrian and Jordanian borders has thrown Iraq into its deepest crisis since U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011.

More ominously, the insurgent blitz, which prompted Kurdish forces to assert long-held claims over disputed territory, has raised the prospect of Iraq being split in three, along sectarian and ethnic lines.

For the embattled al-Maliki, success in Tikrit could help restore a degree of faith in his ability to stem the militant tide. Al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been widely accused of monopolizing power and alienating Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities, is under growing pressure to step aside. But he appears set on a third consecutive term as prime minister after his bloc won the most seats in April elections.


KIEV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked parliament to repeal a resolution granting him the authority to deploy troops to Ukraine, raising hopes of a political settlement to quell the conflict in the country’s east.

Putin wrote a letter Tuesday to the chair of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, asking to repeal the March 1 resolution in order to “normalize the atmosphere and regulate the situation” in east Ukraine after multi-party negotiations began this week, the Kremlin said in a statement. A rubber-stamp institution pliant to Putin’s every wish, the Federation Council passed the initial resolution in just 103 minutes and is expected to repeal it tomorrow, according tostate media.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Putin’s decision was the “first practical step” taken by Russia toward ending the two-month pro-Russian separatist uprising in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, according to a statement on the presidential website. Rebel leaders — some of whom are from Moscow and have no obvious connection to the region — declared their support on Monday for a ceasefire called by Poroshenko last week after Putin partially endorsed it over the weekend.

Though reports of sporadic violence continue to trickle through Ukrainian media, the conflict appears to have stabilized considerably after taking a brutal turn following Poroshenko’s election victory in late May. Ukraine says well-trained fighters have swept over the Russian border — much of which is under rebel control — armed with heavy equipment like anti-aircraft weapons and tanks supplied by Russia. Some weapons Ukraine says it captured bore identification marks tracing them back to bases inside Russia.

On Friday, a senior U.S. official said that Russia had redeployed special forces units, tanks, and heavy artillery to within a few miles of the Ukrainian border, “the closest they’ve been” since Russia annexed Crimea in March. Putin sent special forces to seize the peninsula on Feb. 20, 10 days before he sought permission from parliament, and repeatedly denied they were Russian troops until mid-April. The U.S. official also said Russia was supplying the rebels with decommissioned weapons still used by the Ukrainian army, “leaving the impression that the desire is to mask the Russian hand and for the separatists to assert this is material they’ve captured from the Ukrainians.”

Kiev’s pro-European government and its Western allies say the conflict is tantamount to a proxy war stage-managed by Moscow for greater influence in its near abroad. The U.S. and European Union have revived a longstanding, but dormant threat to pass sanctions against broad sectors of Russia’s economy after EU leaders meet in Brussels later this week.

Source: Max Seddon for Buzzfeed



The radical militants of ISIS continue to expand their control over the Anbar region of Iraq, capturing their fourth town in just two days. Among the conquests was the town of Rutba, which is located just 90 miles east of the Iraqi border with Jordan.

As the Associated Press reports, by wresting control of Rutba, ISIS now runs a strip of a major highway, “a key artery for passengers and goods” heading to and from neighboring Jordan. The capture of al-Qaim, as we noted earlier, has already given ISIS control of a vital border crossing post between Iraq and Syria.

ISIS also took the towns of Rawah and Anah, which some fear will lead to the capture of Haditha, home to an important dam that, if destroyed, could cause massive flooding and damage the country’s electrical grid.

This is the latest in a continuing series of setbacks for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shiite government has failed to stop the advance of ISIS across western and northern Iraq. His government is awaiting the arrival of 300 military advisers from the United States to help Iraqi forces find a way to stabilize the country.

Iran is now voicing its opposition to any “intervention” by the Americans, whom Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuse of trying to re-take control of the country.

American authorities are trying to portray this as a sectarian war, but what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shi’ite and Sunnis.”

Let’s hope he watches the Sunday shows this morning.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, arriving in Cairo this morning, plans to ask the leaders of a number of Arab states to use their influence with Iraqi politicians to convince them to form a government that appeals to broader parts of Iraq’s population. According to the New York Times, Kerry will also push governments to stem the (sometimes covert) flow of funds to ISIS.

Original Post

After a fierce battle with Iraqi forces, the Sunni militant group ISIS took control of a crossing on the border between Iraq and Syria, making it easier for the group to shuttle weapons and supplies between the two countries. 

By the day’s end, a number of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and Iraqi troops had died in clashes, mainly over the strategic town of Al-Qaim, near the border with Syria. Once the town was under ISIS control, the border crossing was abandoned, giving the group unfettered access to move fighters, weapons, and supplies between the two frontiers. 

Syria and Iraq comprise the basis for the area that ISIS aims to use to establish a new Islamist state in the Middle East.

Elsewhere in the country, Baghdad was the site of a massive parade by Shiite militiamen, a show of force against what’s seen as an inevitable ISIS offensive against the Iraqi capital. Crowds amassed as groups in all different uniforms marched with guns, swords, rocket launchers, and rifles.

In recent days, ISIS has captured Iraq’s largest oil refinery as well as Saddam Hussein’s old chemical weapons plant. They’ve also displaced tens of thousands of Iraqis, bringing the tally of refugees to over a million this year.

Source: Adam Chandler for The Wire

H/T: Carlos Santoscoy at OnTopMag


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday that he will order a unilateral ceasefire in Ukraine, which would give Russian separatists a chance to stop fighting.

Poroshenko made his announcement following a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainian president explained that the ceasefire marks the first steps in a peace process designed to relieve tensions in the restive east, where authorities say hundreds have been killed in clashes.

Poroshenko stated that the ceasefire should quickly lead to a more permanent solution, saying: "the ceasefire time will be pretty short. We expect that disarmament of military groups and restoration of order will take place right after it… we expect that hostages and seized premises will be liberated.” Reuters offers some more details: 

Speaking to students at a military institute in Kiev, Poroshenko outlined a 14-step plan, including an amnesty for separatist fighters who lay down arms, and tighter controls over Ukraine’s border with Russia. Acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval told journalists in Kiev the ceasefire “will happen in the next few days.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the ceasefire must be comprehensive, adding that "then it could be the step President Poroshenko has promised and which in general we were all waiting for."

Source: Danielle Wiener-Bronner for The Wire


ISTANBUL, Turkey — It was never simply about Syria for the extremists who have overrun Iraq so suddenly this week, even as they built their brand and carved out territory amid the chaos of the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. They called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — and they were deadly serious about the name. The goal was to take big pieces of each nation and use them to build their own, to be ruled by a harsh and rudimentary Islam. The war in Syria was most useful in this sense: A weakened regime gave them room to operate, as well as an easy means of recruitment.



For those who say ISIS doesn’t have a strategy. #blackgold

This desire for statehood manifested itself across Syria. ISIS plastered its logo over the towns and cities it controlled with exuberance. Its fighters were said to be irked by the nickname other rebels gave the group — Daesh, its acronym in Arabic — preferring the grandeur of the full title.

Now the offensive sweeping Iraq — a blitzkrieg assault that saw the surprise takeover of Mosul on Monday, and has seen ISIS and allied militants pressing closer by the day to Baghdad — suggests ISIS is booming. And it seems as intent as ever on state-building — taking over banks and security installations, even the airport, in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, whose population of 2 million would put it fifth on the list of U.S. cities. As jihadi expert Aaron Zelin noted, taking a look at these boundaries on a map, the territory includes a number of oil refineries. “For those who think ISIS doesn’t have a strategy. #blackgold,” he wrote.

To be sure, ISIS seems to have collaborated in this offensive with some of Iraq’s disenchanted Sunni groups, including Baathist officers from the Saddam Hussein era. And much of its success can be blamed on the dysfunction of the Iraqi state, marred by the U.S. war and the disastrous tenure of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister. Iraqi troops reportedly laid down their arms and fled before the far smaller invading force. Though ISIS leaders are urging their forces onward to Baghdad, it remains to be seen whether the group will hold its recent gains or pull back to its stronghold in Syria.

Regardless, the idea of a possible ISIS state has now been made very real — both to a worried international community, and to potential supporters watching from the sidelines. One of the group’s first moves after its win in Mosul, according to images posted by fighters online, was to take commandeered bulldozers and demolish the borderline between Syria and Iraq.



Refugees fleeing Mosul. AP Photo

As ISIS grew into one of Syria’s most fearsome militant groups, signs of the intensity of its vision became apparent. The group cracked down relentlessly on its opponents, be they regime, fellow rebel, or simply civilian. It employed abduction,imprisonment and torture on a grand scale, beheadings, and crucifixions — all a dark preview for the new reality the group was trying to create.

This brutality made ISIS increasingly unpopular among Syrians, as did the presence among its ranks of so many foreign jihadis, recruited from across the world, from Saudi Arabia to England. These outsiders developed reputations as some of the group’s most brutal and extreme members, adding to its image as an alien oppressor. The group’s senior leadership, though secretive, was believed to be Iraqi. After those in the organization’s ranks came other foreigners, some Syrians complained, saying that local recruits were used mainly as rank and file, guards and frontline soldiers, and fodder for suicide attacks. Other rebel groups launched aninternal war against ISIS earlier this year, and even the local branch of al-Qaeda joined the fight — even for them, ISIS had become too extreme. At times, ISIS seemed to be on the ropes in Syria, but its recent gains in Iraq will put that narrative to rest.



Kurdish Iraqi Peshmerga forces deploy their troops and armored vehicles on the outskirts of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, not far from areas under ISIS control. MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP / Getty Images

There is a word for the relationship between ISIS’s steady growth in Syria and its newfound surge in Iraq: spillover.

Regional spillover is the alarm that has been sounded about the Syrian conflict from the start — often by critics of U.S. policy who called on the White House to put an end to the conflict by helping moderate rebels topple Assad. The risk was that a long war would destabilize Syria’s five neighbors, all of them important allies. (The Obama administration’s supporters countered that serious U.S. involvement would only magnify the effect.) In Lebanon, which has descended into regular sectarian bloodletting, the spillover happened gradually, in fits and starts. Turkey and Jordan, likewise, were pulled ever deeper into the murky world of offering assistance to the rebels while taking on the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The recent ISIS surge in Iraq has been far more jarring. It threatens to undermine any progress U.S. forces made before leaving the country in late 2011. It also looks a lot like a worst-case scenario, threatening to throw the region even further into chaos. The world’s most dangerous extremists — as many experts now describe ISIS — now control significant territory, appear to be armed with significant weaponry, and have just received a very significant boost to morale. ISIS and its allies captured the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah earlier this year, prompting a flurry of international concern that soon dropped from the news headlines. But Mosul is a far greater prize.



AP Photo

It remains to be seen whether Iraq’s neighbors will be drawn into this brewing and sectarian fight. If they do make it to Baghdad, ISIS and its allies will deal a bracingblow to Prime Minister Maliki; with his army in a shambles, he has reportedly turned to irregular Shiite militias. Iraq’s Kurds are already up in arms and reportedly skirmishing with ISIS, playing out tensions inflamed by the war in Syria, where ISIS has engaged in bitter fighting with Syrian Kurds.

In Turkey, the military has already sent shells, on occasion, across the border into Syria, aimed at both ISIS and the regime. But the crisis in Iraq threatens to draw in the powerful NATO country even deeper, with ISIS having kidnapped Turkish diplomats and staff from the consulate in Mosul on Wednesday. Markets in Turkey dipped at news of the Mosul offensive while the press has speculated that the Turkish military may somehow intervene. But after years of allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders into northern Syria, Turkey has given ISIS the chance to build up a dangerous presence in its own back yard.

Iran, Maliki’s Shiite benefactor, has been heavily engaged in propping up the Assad regime in Syria. It may now see fit to step lend a hand to its ally in Iraq. On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Tehran would not “tolerate this violence and terror.”

Smaller countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, meanwhile, would only suffer from any further regional instability. “The problem is that the U.S. expected its regional allies to bear the brunt of the containment of the Syria crisis,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, adding that the Obama administration’s best chance of stemming the ISIS tide is to help its moderate Sunni rivals. “You can’t defeat ISIS without having a moderate Sunni force in Syria. The same goes for Iraq.”



U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Memorial Day event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. Drew Angerer/SIPA/Abaca Press / MCT

But as in Syria, Iraq’s moderate Sunnis are looking weak, and the U.S. will likely remain “late, very late” in addressing such concerns, Tabler said. The Obama administration has been deliberate in its approach of limited action in Syria as elsewhere in the world, as it tries to wean the U.S. public and policymakers off the idea of America as the world’s policeman. The U.S. may well stick to that mind-set, even as warnings of spillover and worst-case scenarios sound louder than ever.

Source: Mike Giglio for Buzzfeed


(via quickhits)


Twenty-five years ago, the Communist Party leadership of China violently suppressed student demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing countless peaceful protesters. The demonstrations began in April as spontaneous rallies commemorating the life of Hu Yaobang, a politician whom students regarded as open-minded and pro-reform. But soon, the protests had become a nationwide call for increased democratic rights, government transparency and freedom of the press. The movement threatened the top leadership to its core, and during the night of June 3 and the morning of June 4, 1989, troops cleared the square. These photos trace the short arc of the demonstrations and their devastating aftermath.

April 21, 1989​: According to official government documents compiled in the Tiananmen Papers, an exhaustive account of the demonstrations, emotions in the Square reached a “fever pitch” on this day. In this photo, taken on April 21, people flock around the Monument to the People’s Heroes, where, several days earlier, a group of art students had placed a portrait of their hero, Hu Yaobang, opposite Mao’s portrait (which you can see in the background). Students representing ten universities marched on the square on the day photographed, circulating petitions demanding competitive elections and political reforms. According to an official government account, they chanted: “Long live democracy!” and “oppose dictatorship!” (Sadayuki Mikami/AP)

May 1989: Wang Dan, a 20-year-old freshman studying history at Beijing University, rose to prominence in the student occupation of the square, seeming to hold “the greatest influence,” according to a New York Times profile filed at the time. The characters on Wang’s headband read “hunger strike,” because hunger strikes were a key element of the protests. After the crackdown, Wang was one of 21 people the government identified as key leaders of the protests, and was among those who were rounded up and sent to prison. He was released in 1993, only to be re-arrested in 1995 and sentenced to 11 more years.

Canadian journalist Jan Wong wrote that during his time in prison, Wang Dan marked each anniversary of the massacre with a 24-hour hunger strike: ”I plan to do so every June 4th for the rest of my life,” Wang said. These days, Wang Dan describes himself as “an incorrigible idealist” on his Twitter profile. (AP Photo)

May 17, 1989: This photo captures the spirit of the early protests, which were raucous and attracted broad support from locals and the media. International coverage of the 1989 events might lead you to believe the student protests only happened in Beijing. But on May 17 alone, 27 provinces reported large-scale demonstrations—sixteen of which included 10,000 or more protesters, according to the Tiananmen Papers. The widespread unrest put the pressure on leaders to come up with a solution, and in the Chinese corridors of power, the embattled and divided Politburo was reaching the conclusion that martial law was a necessary step in putting down the protests. (Sadayuki Mikami/AP)

Friday May 19: Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party General Secretary who had pioneered market reforms, meets with fasting students in Beijing to urge them to stop their hunger strike. Zhao, who had pushed for a more lenient reaction to the protests, was later ousted from government. “We have come too late,” he said to the students that day, in comments broadcast on television. “I am sorry, fellow students. No matter how you have criticized us, I think you have the right to do so. We do not come here to ask you to excuse us.” After negotiations with the students failed, Communist Party leaders ordered a troop take-over of Beijing, and People’s Liberation Army troops began to occupy Beijing. (Xinhua/AP)

May 21, 1989: University students wave fists and flags as five Chinese military helicopters fly over Beijing at dawn. The number of people in the Square swelled to some three hundred thousand on this day. Reports said that locals pleaded with army officers to resist using force, and prevented troops on the ground from reaching the Square. (AP Photo)

May 22, 1989: A young couple dances among a crowd, which had been occupying Tiananmen Square for nine days at this point. What strikes me about this photo is how different the Square—and young peoples’ relationship to politics—is today. A generation on, young Chinese have been deprived of the cultural memory of Tiananmen. Many young Chinese have never learned about the events around June 4th. If they have heard anything about what is euphemistically called the “incident,” it’s often that it was a blip on the radar in the otherwise unblemished history of Communist rule. Of course, the sanitized version is far from the truth… Louisa Lim, NPR’s Beijing correspondent, calls today’s China The People’s Republic of Amnesia.(Mark Avery/AP)

May 30, 1989: Protesters occupying Tiananmen Square work on the statue of the Goddess of Democracy, a plaster symbol of resistance and unity modeled after the Statue of Liberty. (Jeff Widener/AP)

June 3, 1989: This photo depicts a moment just before the government’s response to the demonstrations turned violent. On June 3, huge crowds gathered at a Beijing intersection. The bloody crackdown was about to begin. This time, the troops had strict orders: clear the Square. (Jeff Widener/AP)

June 4, 1989: The bodies of dead civilians rest among mangled bicycles near the Square. (AP Photo)

June 5, 1989: In eastern Beijing, a Chinese couple on a bicycle take cover at an underpass as tanks roll past overhead. (Liu Heung Shing/AP)

June 5, 1989: "This guy’s going to screw up my picture," Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener thought as a man appeared in front of four tanks in Tiananmen Square. "I really thought I’d missed the hoop on that basketball court," Widener told me in a 2009 interview, explaining that he took this photo while leaning over a balcony of the Beijing Hotel, with all the wrong camera settings, concussed from a stray rock, and suffering from a cold. "I think about how close I came to not getting the picture," he added.

Widener was able to smuggle the film out of the hotel with the help of a young tourist. The next day, he arrived at the AP offices in Beijing to learn that his photo was on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Its power only dawned on him later: “It’s a bit like David and Goliath,” he said. “It’s just so overpowering, it’s like an ant against an elephant.”

We still don’t know the identity of Tank Man. “Many people would like to know who he is, and personally, my feeling is is that it’s kind of neat that we don’t know who he is, because he’s sort of representative of the unknown soldier,” Widener said. This photo is “part of me,” he added. “I’m responsible for telling its story over and over and over again.” (Jeff Widener/AP)

June 5, 1989: The military crackdown ended the seven week pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square. (Jeff Widener/AP)

Source:  and  for Mother Jones