This Month in Rochester History

May 1, 2016 by  
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Fifty years ago this month, Rochester took a big step forward in the redevelopment of the old Chapman mill pond lake bed.  The property lying east of the railroad track in downtown Rochester had been under water until June 1946, when a spring storm caused the bermage around the Western Knitting Mills dam to fail, thereby draining the pond.  The dam was never rebuilt, the old lake bed was filled, and the property lay vacant for two decades before plans for the parcel began to take shape in the mid-1960s.

In 1966, the former mill pond area was undergoing development and the Rochester Elks Club planned a $300,000 lodge building on the property.  The single-story building would include a dining room, banquet room, cocktail lounge, and two meeting rooms, plus an office and lobby.  A patio overlooking Paint Creek was also planned.  In May 1966, the official groundbreaking for the new Elks Club building was held.  The building stood until about 2003, when it was demolished to make room for the construction of the Royal Park Hotel, which now stands on the site.

The End of American Iraq: Poor Shiites invade Parliament over corrupt Spoils System

April 30, 2016 by  
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By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Baghdad is under a state of emergency on Sunday a day after members of the Sadr Trend stormed the Green Zone and invaded the parliament building, briefly imprisoning parliamentarians in the chamber (and some in a basement) before letting them go. Some apparently were beaten as they left. Most of the protesters, though, were relatively peaceful and had been ordered to avoid violence by their leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. As at Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011, of which the invasion of the Green Zone was a distant echo, they chanted “peacefully, peacefully” ( silmiyyah, silmiyyah).

When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 he established blast walls around central government offices, establishing a four square mile Green Zone (i.e. one that was safe and which the US controlled, with the rest of the country being a Red Zone; more or less, that situation never changed). The parliament building and Western embassies were in the Green Zone. I visited it in 2013. You enter through a narrow entranceway and can only really go in by foot (this measure stops car bombs from getting in). The security people who checked us in were international– Ghana and Peru or something. I doubt they would die for the cause. There were Iraqi troops on the outside of the blast walls. Apparently some of them sympathized with the Sadr Trend and let the crowd pull down a couple pylons of the blast wall, after which they streamed in.

Who were the protesters? The Sadr Movement is particularly popular in East Baghdad or Sadr City, a dense slum where a plurality of Baghdadis live. The father of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s secret police in 1998. Young Muqtada survived underground. He reemerged in 2003 to oppose the US military occupation of his country, forming the Mahdi Army, which more than once fought US troops. His was a movement of the poor and the street. After the US withdrew, al-Sadr adopted a lower profile. But now that President Obama has reestablished a US military command in the country, al-Sadr has come back out to protest the renewed US presence and the al-Abadi government, which the US props up.

What were they protesting?

The spoils system.

Now that Andrew Jackson is being taken off the $20 bill and his demerits and virtues are being debated, the spoils system is back in the news. He made enormous numbers of promises to his supporters about the goodies they would get if he won the 1828 election. He came in firing an unprecedented number of people from government jobs and filling those positions with member of his party. Win the election, you get the spoils.

A sitting President, James A Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 over the spoils system (his assassin had supported the party but wasn’t rewarded as he thought he should have been).

Not until the Pendleton Act of 1883 was a nonpartisan civil service commission created, and the spoils system began to decline at least a bit. (In today’s US government, sometimes the SES positions above GS-15 are given to political appointees, and of course the cabinet and sub-cabinet slots are all filled by political appointees; but this is a thin sliver of the upper bureaucracy, whereas most people who work in government offices have a career unaffected by the party in office).

So how is all this relevant to the storming of the Iraqi parliament?

The Bush administration in its years of military occupation of Iraq presided over the installation of an Iraqi spoils system more rowdy and rapacious than anything Andrew Jackson ever imagined. The Bushies and the UN put a parliamentary system in place, so that the parties that form the biggest coalition in the national legislature get to put forward a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. That prime minister then appoints a cabinet, with most cabinet ministers overseeing a ministry. The cabinet appointees came from the parties supporting the prime minister in parliament. Thus, the minister of housing might be from the Da`wa Islamic Party (the Islamic Call or Mission Party), a Shiite fundamentalist group drawn from what’s left of the Iraqi middle class and typically led by laymen rather than clergy. The Ministry of Labor would then be packed with members of the Da’wa Party.

Some of this spoils system is rooted in the Debaathification drive of Ahmad Chalabi, Nouri al-Maliki and other Shiite political entrepreneurs who wanted to fire Sunni Arabs from the Iraqi bureaucracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein. They tagged anyone who belonged to the Baath Party as unsuitable for government service, even down to school teachers. And, it wasn’t just members of the party but people who had relatives who were members of the party. Most Baath Party members committed no greater crime than conformism (or maybe they wanted to travel; you had to be a member to get a passport). So Chalabi et al. got rid of some 100,000 Sunnis from their government jobs at a time when the Bushies ran the Iraqi state factories and other state-owned companies into the ground because they didn’t believe in “socialism.” So the Sunnis were just made unemployed.

When Nouri al-Maliki reigned as Prime Minister 2006-2014, his spoils system became ever more corrupt and exclusive. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq were almost entirely excluded from spoils. Members of al-Maliki’s Da’wa Party got fabulously rich off the country’s oil income. The corruption of his officer corps led directly to the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul in 2014, allowing Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) to take over 40% of the country. The sense of deprivation of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who cooperated with Daesh also drove these events. You couldn’t say he was a successful prime minister.

Iraq is what is called by political scientists a “rentier state.” That just means that the government gets an income (or “rent”) from external payments (in this case foreign purchases of its petroleum). Rentier states famously don’t really need their people so much. In ordinary states like the US, a lot of politics is about how much the government will tax the people, and who will get the benefit of government services. In a Rentier state, there are no taxes. Politics is about how much the state officers have to share their bonanza with the people. Wise rentier states share liberally. Iraq’s elite is not wise.

Al-Maliki’s successor, Haydar al-Abadi, was, like al-Maliki, a leader of the Da’wa Party and continued the spoils system. Other parties complained that Da’wa got the lion’s share of lucrative ministerial appointments (and therefore that the party’s members got the good government jobs).

Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Ahrar Party (Party of the Free Ones; people complained when I called it the Liberty Party but that is what it amounts to) gained 36 seats in the 2014 parliamentary election and was given 3 cabinet seats. These appointments did not give the Sadrists much patronage.

But al-Sadr has only a tenuous relationship to the party, anyway. His power base is the poor Shiites of the slums, in East Baghdad, Amara, Basra and elsewhere in the Shiite south. Although Iraq is an oil country, you couldn’t tell it by looking. I was there in 2013 and was shocked by how decrepit everything was. It was like a third world country, not like Dubai or Doha. I wondered where all that oil money could be going. If I wondered that, imagine what the slum dwellers think.

So beginning last summer the Sadrists began saying they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it any more. They accused the party officials heading the ministries, along with many of the parliamentarians of essentially embezzling the country’s vast oil wealth.

By February al-Sadr had presented an ultimatum to al-Abadi to abolish the spoils system by appointing a technocratic cabinet. That is, the minister of health would be a high powered physician or hospital administrator, not a Da’wa Party hack. Sadr brought 200,000 people into the streets of downtown Baghdad demanding this outcome. It wasn’t only al-Sadr making this demand–many members of the smaller parties who felt that al-Da’wa had gotten greedy joined in.

Al-Abadi at length acquiesced and presented a list of technocrats to head ministries. But cabinets have to be approved by parliament. When the speaker of parliament looked like he would go along with al-Abadi and al-Sadr, the parties that dominate parliament voted to remove him and replace him. They weren’t giving up their spoils so easily. But others in parliament did not accept this parliamentary coup, so there are now two speakers of parliament.

The members of parliament are so busy with other things (including international travel and residences abroad) that they can’t easily get a quorum together to vote on al-Abadi’s technocratic cabinet, and it is not clear he could muster a majority for the measure. Parliament was trying to meet on Saturday when the angry people of the slums and run-down middle class neighborhoods made a breach in the blast walls around the Green Zone, which surround the parliament building and Western embassies, keeping them safe.

The Sadrists among them accused the parliamentarians of being thieves and of neglecting services for the poor. They also resent Iran’s influence with the al-Abadi government, and some chanted against Tehran from the floor of parliament.

Al-Abadi is trying to reestablish order and has declared a state of emergency.

But you can’t imagine parliament forgiving him for presiding over this attack on their security, and some doubt he can remain prime minister. More important, the conflict brings into question the whole architecture of Iraqi governance put into place under American rule in 2003-11.

While this uprising of poor Shiites may seem a distraction to Americans of the fight against Daesh in the Sunni north, both situations derive from similar inequities. The spoils system deprived the Sunnis of a fair share in the oil wealth, just as it deprived the Shiite slum dwellers. The Sadr Trend’s relatively peaceful but dramatic breach of the Green Zone and the surrender of the Mosulis two years ago to Daesh are both protests of the deprived against the fat cats.

American pundits will find a way to make all this about sectarianism or Shiism or Islam. It isn’t. Much of what is going on in Iraq is a form of class struggle. It turns out that Neoliberalism and the Rentier State haven’t, as some imagined, made Marx irrelevant. But it is also true that some of the work the Communist and Baath Parties used to do in Iraq back in the 1960s is now being done by al-Sadr’s brand of puritanical slum Shiism.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Iraq parliament stormed | DW News

Confused Muslim-hating Bigots Target American Sikhs

April 30, 2016 by  
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Hasan Minhaj | (Comedy Central video report) | – –

“Hasan Minhaj sits down with designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia to find out how Islamophobia is affecting America’s (non-Muslim) Sikh population.”

Comedy Central: “The Daily Show – Confused Islamophobes Target American Sikhs”

Climate Change, Water Wars to create 40% Water Shortfall in 15 Years: UN

April 30, 2016 by  
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By Thalif Deen | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.

The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

The figures continue to be staggering: despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.

And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.

The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).

The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.

At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.
“If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.” — Darcey O’Callaghan, Food and Water Watch.

Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”

When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.

But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?

Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”

He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.

As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.

“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.

He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.

Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.

“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”

“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.

To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.

Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.

“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.

Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.

“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”

One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.

PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.

The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.

The writer can be contacted at

Via Inter Press Service

ISIL to Trapped people of Mosul: No TV or Internet for You!

April 30, 2016 by  
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Comments Off | (Mosul) | – –

The Islamic State has issued orders banning satellite TV because it spreads false news. They’re also demanding all Internet users’ names to find spies sending information for airstrikes.

He began his conversation on Facebook in an unusually serious way. Abdul Hamid*, a man living in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State since mid-2014, was messaging to tell a friend living in Dohuk that this would be the last time he would write.

The Internet company he used had asked him for his full name, his address and a copy of his identity card, he said. “It’s a trap set for Internet users,” Hamid explained. “It’s going to make it easier for the extremists to find whoever they want.”

The Islamic State group, which has controlled the northern city of Mosul for over a year, has already locked the citizens who remain here, in the city. The group has enforced strict rules on who can leave, when and how. And now it seems the extremists are determined to close one of the last windows that around one and a half million residents of Mosul still have on the world.

The Islamic State, or IS, group recently issued new rules that will censor anyone in Mosul using the Internet and, in the long run, decrease the number of Internet users. The IS group is also enforcing new rules about the use of broadcast satellites in an attempt to stop Mosul locals from watching satellite television stations.

They raided my house and searched my computer, accusing me of running an anti-IS Facebook page. In the end they arrested me for anti-Islamic notes and pictures.

On April 11, the IS group sent a message (see bottom image) to all of the Internet service providers still operating in the city that they must provide certain information to the group’s so-called information centre. This includes how many subscribers they have to their service, the full names and addresses of all subscribers as well as information on technology they are using to provide Internet services and how far their transmission reaches.

“If it is discovered that the subscribers’ names are false, or wrong, or if some of the names have been omitted, then the Internet service provider will be held personally accountable,” the message said. Reading between the lines, those running Internet companies in Mosul knew this was a death threat – so they obeyed the orders.

After Mosul fell to the IS group in mid-2014, the Iraqi government disrupted or blocked Internet and mobile phone services in the area. However the IS group kept communications alive by allowing Internet service providers to operate via privately-owned satellite systems that are outside of the government’s control.

As news agency Reuters reported earlier this year: “Mobile networks are largely inoperable in the Islamic State-held swathes of Iraq, areas which also have little fixed-line broadband infrastructure. Militants instead use satellite dishes to connect to the web, or illicit microwave dishes that hook them into broadband networks in government-held areas”.

To access the Internet what is known as a V-sat terminal is needed and then, a subscription to services; the V-sat terminals can be bought for between US$2,000 and US$3,000 at electronics markets in the city, Reuters reports.

Those satellite dishes and other technology, often sold by Syrian traders, are then usually managed by Iraqi civilians or members of the IS group posing as civilians. Anyone who subscribes to the service, or who uses an Internet café, can then get online. Since June 2014, the number of Internet cafes in Mosul has increased dramatically due to the high cost of getting the Internet at home and the poor quality of service to private residences. Now only certain kinds of people in Mosul get private Internet: Those in the city who still earn enough money to afford it, those who must remain in contact with the outside world either because of business or family, such as owners of currency exchange shops who manage their rates online, and also individuals who are very active, running pages or accounts on social media.

For several months the IS group has been cracking down on local Internet users, especially anyone considered an activist on sites like Facebook. Dozens of people have been arrested.

“They raided my house, searched my computer and my phone and then they blindfolded me and took me away,” says one young man from Mosul, who recently arrived in Istanbul after fleeing the Iraqi city. He had spent ten weeks under arrest in a basement in the centre of the city. “They accused me of being the administrator of a Facebook page that supports the international coalition [fighting against the IS group] and the Iraqi army, and they said I’d given information about the IS group to those parties. But they couldn’t prove any of it. In the end I was arrested because they found some publications on my computer that they think are anti-Islamic as well as some jokes, pictures of good looking women and some notes that they felt had sexual connotations.”

The campaign against Internet users in Mosul is continuing, particularly because the international coalition has stepped up airstrikes against IS targets inside Mosul. The extremists believe that locals are identifying targets from inside the city, sending messages to anti-IS forces outside the city. Given that mobile phones cannot be used in the city, they assume that the only way that these kinds of messages could be sent is via the Internet.

So the fact that the IS group will know the names and addresses of those subscribing to Internet services will make it easier for them to find the “spies” they believe are sending the information – for one thing, they could begin by investigating the Internet users in the areas that the international coalition is striking more regularly.

As a result of the new IS rules on Internet services, a lot of locals in Mosul have decided to stop going online. NIQASH selected a random group of ten people in Mosul who had been active online, on services like Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. All ten said they were now afraid of going online and that they didn’t want to reveal their personal information or their addresses. Seven said that they would cancel their Internet services subscription at the beginning of May.

It’s obviously impossible to generalize based on a sample of this size but it seems clear enough that the number of Mosul locals going online regularly is going to decrease.

And then there are Mosul’s satellite channel watchers. It seems that soon, Mosul locals will also be prevented from seeing what’s going on in the outside world.

A plan formulated by the IS group to ban satellite TV in Mosul is being carried out gradually. It started in mid-March this year when the extremist group halted sales and maintenance of satellite dishes. And for the first time, the confiscation of satellite dishes is being used as a punishment, in lieu of a fine by the IS group’s morality police, or Hisbah. The morality police patrol the city looking for individuals who infringe the IS group’s strict rules on pious lifestyle. This includes men who shave their beards, anyone caught smoking, women whose veils are not hiding enough and so forth.

Punishments can range from minimal to severe but recently they started to involve satellite dishes too.

Younis Shabaan*, a heavy smoker living in Mosul, was recently caught puffing on a cigarette by the Hisbah patrol. He was told off and his identification card was taken from him; he would need to show up at the Hisbah office in a week’s time to pay a fine, he was told. When Shabaan went, he took his satellite dish with him to give it to the morality patrol officers. While he watched, they destroyed the dish before giving him back his ID card. This type of punishment involving the destruction of satellite dishes is becoming more common.

A week ago, the IS group distributed another document. In this one, they listed 20 reasons why locals should stop watching satellite TV. The reasons included the fact that satellite TV was spreading false news about the IS group, it promoted of heresy, Shiite Muslim beliefs and female exhibitionism and because it was distracting good Muslims from worshipping.

In practice though, most people in Mosul who can watch satellite TV stations are still doing so. The full ban on the channels doesn’t begin until the start of the month of Ramadan, which begins in June 2016.

At the moment it seems more likely that people in the city will still be able to communicate online than they will be able to watch TV shows beamed in from outside Mosul. Then again, given that all fronts appear to be preparing for fighting in Mosul, it’s hard to say: The only thing that is clear right now is that the extremists want to isolate the city from the rest of the country, and the world, both physically and metaphorically.

*Names of individuals still in Mosul, or with families still in Mosul, have been changed for security reasons.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 from mid-April: “Battle for Mosul: Civilians flee as coalition prepares to launch assault”

UN must hold Perpetrators accountable for War Crime of Hospital Bombings: HRW

April 30, 2016 by  
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Human Rights Watch | – –

An airstrike on April 27, 2016, that hit al-Quds Hospital and surrounding areas, killed 58 civilians, including medical staff and many patients, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, an opposition search-and-rescue volunteer group. On April 29, another airstrike hit a clinic in the opposition-held al-Marja neighborhood, injuring 10 people, according to the Syrian Civil Defense. First responders reached by Human Rights Watch said they knew of no military objective close to the hospital or the clinic.

“As the cease-fire frays, Syrian civilians are again paying the price in blood,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy. “The UN Security Council should act immediately over the attack on al-Quds Hospital and demand an inquiry to determine who is responsible.”

The Russian government denied responsibility for the attack on al-Quds Hospital. The US State Department blamed the Syrian government.

According to Bibars Mish’al, a first responder with the Aleppo branch of the Syrian Civil Defense, airstrikes struck al-Quds Hospital, which is supported by the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), at 10 p.m. on April 27. There were no military targets in or around the medical facility at that time, Mish’al said.

“It was such a painful sight,” Mish’al told Human Rights Watch from inside Aleppo city. “We worked for 30 hours to get one small child out of the rubble. And people are still working to extricate others, even as the planes keep flying above our heads and firing.”

Video of the carnage at the Aleppo strikes shot by opposition journalists showed a man carrying a dead child with severe head wounds. The video showed people digging others out from under rubble and fires burning in nearby buildings. According to a statement by MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross, al-Quds Hospital had eight beds in their pediatrics unit and was the main center for referrals for sick children in opposition-held Aleppo.

The United Nations Security Council should immediately act in response to these attacks on medical facilities. Under international humanitarian law, medical facilities are afforded a special protection, while also retaining the general protections applied to civilians and civilian structures. The council should request that the UN secretary-general conduct an independent inquiry into the events within two weeks, identify who conducted the strikes, and evaluate the impact the attacks will have on access to health care in the area.

Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on December 18, 2015, called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”

Armed groups in opposition areas were also responsible for the death of civilians in government-held Aleppo city as they shelled civilian neighborhoods. According to the Syrian state news agency SANA, 16 civilian worshippers were killed and 41 injured in armed group shelling on a mosque on April 29, during Friday prayers in Aleppo city.

The Syria peace talks in Geneva have all but collapsed. The opposition’s High Negotiations Committee suspended its participation on April 18, partly in protest over the renewed violence in Syria. Casualties had decreased since the cessation of hostilities was announced on February 26, but escalated again in the past two weeks. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on April 30 a total of 244 civilians killed in Aleppo over eight days of airstrikes and shelling – 140 of whom died because of airstrikes in opposition-held Aleppo – including 19 children and 14 women. The group also said that 96 civilians, including 21 children and 13 women, were killed in government-held Aleppo from shelling by armed groups.

The UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo that would suspend all military sales and assistance, including technical training and services, to all forces credibly implicated in serious violations in Syria, Human Rights Watch said. The council should also impose sanctions against officials from all sides who are shown to be implicated in the most serious abuses, and commit to a credible process to ensure criminal accountability for grave abuses by all sides. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Security Council to give the International Criminal Court a mandate in Syria.

Deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians and civilian structures committed with criminal intent are war crimes. The laws of war require that the parties to a conflict take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects. Like other civilian structures, hospitals may not be targeted. Furthermore, they remain protected unless they are “used to commit hostile acts” that are outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such a warning has gone unheeded.

Via Human Rights Watch


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Channel 4 News: “Aleppo hospital attack: CCTV footage shows Al Quds air strike in Syria”

So proud, @joellek2! Congratulations! #gvsu #graduation (at Van…

April 30, 2016 by  
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So proud, @joellek2! Congratulations! #gvsu #graduation (at Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Mix Tape April

April 30, 2016 by  
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At the Moment: 
Today is Della’s 3rd birthday, and she’s having a blast today. We got her a bed (whoa, no more crib!) and Roy got her a little guitar that she is very excited about. She woke up this morning and insisted that she was still 2 for a while, then finally got excited to be 3 and changed her mind. We took her out for brunch, she got to listen to the Rolling Stones for a bit, then an afternoon cupcake & trip to Detroit Kid City. She’ll have pizza for dinner, and a couple visitors. I can’t think of a more “Della” kind of birthday.

Louisville! I had a great time and was so happy to start off my road-selling season there. I’m continuing to post a lot more vintage T shirts both here and on Ebay, and more coming in May too. Keep coming back, and sign up on my mailing list on the front page of the site to hear about new additions to both shops!

A couple new Record Jacket Embroideries (coming to the shop soon) and a TON of new jewelry for stores and upcoming festivals I’ll be at this summer.

Listening to:
Radiohead “OK Computer”, Nick Cave “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!”,  Haim “Days are Gone”, Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream”, David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust”, St Vincent ST,  and binging on WTF with Marc Maron. Also completely blown away by Cheerleader’s “Bitchcraft” – go give it a listen & buy it on Bandcamp!

Della’s Fav song at the moment: Harlem Shuffle by Rolling Stones.
Shopping and Drooling Over:
I am not ashamed to admit that I went a little crazy over the Marimekko for Target collab. I know there were a lot of people who didn’t care for the mix, but I loved the majority of it! Did you love it or hate it?

Love these fictional hotel notepads!

I’ve been hunting for the perfect 80s dress to wear to the Ferris Fest “Shermer High School 1986 Dance” and can’t make up my mind yet on what to wear. It’s been a lot of fun shopping for it!

This Catherineholm Poster by Handz on Etsy is so wonderful!

I found the most incredible macrame treasure this month (in the picture montage up there), but decided to sell it knowing that it would be too tempting for my kiddos to play with and ultimately break. Happy to have it in a friend’s home that also loved it now!

and Other Things I’m Loving Right Now:
Driving with the windows down and radio up, planting new bulbs in the garden, watching Purple Rain at the Redford Theater, Della’s first haircut, eating dinner out on our deck again, long runs, sundae bar parties, shopping at the Mid Century Modern Expo, Red Bull slushies, going to a Pistons playoff game (been years since those, so great to be back Bad Boys!), seeing Iggy Pop in concert, planning out summer trips & adventures, seeing the penguins’  new home at the Detroit Zoo, these found pictures from the filming of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and laying in the hammock to read a new book.

Looking Forward to:
Running a 10k on a mini-weekend getaway, the Miss Fabulous Flora Pin-Up Contest at Handmade Toledo, and Ferris Fest with my BFF!

‘Monstrous’ violence in Aleppo as ‘Regime of Calm’ begins in rest of Syria

April 30, 2016 by  
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by Juan Cole:

The US and the Russian Federation agreed Friday that from Saturday there would be a “regime of calm” in most of Syria. Two areas where clashes have broken out in the past week are East Ghouta east of Damascus and the northern countryside of the Mediterranean province of Latakia (72 hours), and it was agreed that the regime of calm would be implemented in those two places on Saturday. It is not clear why the regime of calm is for such a short duration. It is intended to shore up the cessation of hostilities agreed on in late February, which held until a week ago when fierce fighting broke out in key hotspots.

The US appears to have pushed for the northern metropolis of Aleppo to be included in this ‘regime of calm,’ but was rebuffed by Russia. Unofficial reports on the internet have suggested that Russia and the Syrian regime want to reconquer rebel-held east Aleppo. At least, that was the impression of one seasoned journalist covering the White House press conference Friday morning:

If the regime controlled the lion’s share of both the Damascus and Aleppo metropolitan areas, it would be in a position to virtually dictate the terms under which the civil war was brought to a close. Those are the country’s two major cities and likely a third of the country’s population now lives in them and in their environs (refugees have croweded into them in search of security).

Clashes and bombardments continued on Friday, but note that AFP thought that the death totals were similar in the rebel and regime-held areas:

“Bombardment of the city killed 17 people in rebel-held districts and 13 people in the government-controlled western neighbourhoods . . .”

A lot of Western reporting is neglecting to mention that al-Qaeda and other rebel units are subjecting West Aleppo to heavy mortar bombardment that is killing a dozen or more people every day.

At the same time, it is true that the regime is flying fighter jets to bombard East Aleppo indiscriminately, which is producing high civilian casualties, in what the UN called a a “monstrous disregard for civilian lives.”

Regime airstrikes on a hospital on Wednesday and Thursday left 50 dead.

Rebels in east Aleppo maintain that the regime is hitting civilian targets in order to force them to surrender unconditionally. Deliberate or even indiscriminate bombings of non-combatants are a war crime in international law.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “The United Nations appeals to save the truce and negotiations in Syria”

ISIL Digging in Against new US Troops in Syria

April 29, 2016 by  
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By By James Miller| ( RFE/RL ) | – –

On June 29, 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a speech from the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq, announcing the formation of an Islamic caliphate, the newly proclaimed [so-called] "Islamic State" did indeed have many of the hallmarks of an actual state.

It had borders, patrolled by its agents. It had a military, special-forces units, police, an intelligence apparatus, a press office, tax collectors, engineers, a stratified leadership, and both foreign and domestic policies. Unlike its predecessors Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had only been able to establish a state of mind among their followers, Baghdadi's organization had managed to capture and rule actual territory, not just individual cities or neighborhoods.

That is no longer the status quo. If an observer were giving a State Of The So-Called Islamic State speech, one would have to acknowledge that the "state" is weak. The United States estimates that Kurdish forces and the Iraqi military have taken back 40 percent of the territory held by Islamic State (IS). An unnamed U.S. defense official recently told USA Today that IS oil revenues had been cut by 50 percent. U.S. Major General Peter Gersten said that a series of coalition air strikes have destroyed as much as $800 million in cash that IS was hiding in various safe houses and hidden stockpiles, and that there had been a 90 percent increase in IS defections.

Gersten also said that there has been a massive drop in the flow of foreign fighters to IS, from a high of about 2,000 per month just a year ago to about 200. If true, it is now likely that the U.S.-backed coalition is killing IS extremists faster than foreign fighters can join the organization's ranks.

To make matters worse for IS, many of the militant group's top leaders have been killed by coalition air strikes. In March, a strike killed Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, IS's "top financier." Earlier that month, another air strike killed Umar al-Shishani, or "Omar the Chechen," the "minister of war" for IS.

A slew of less infamous IS leaders has also been killed, including the IS-appointed "governor" of the Al-Hamadaniya district of Iraq, Barzan al-Husam, and many other field commanders. While the big names make the headlines, the killing of local governors and military commanders and the strikes that hit IS in the pocketbook may have a more tangible impact on disrupting local governance, and thus shaking the perception that IS is indeed a state rather than just a terrorist insurgency.

Not Dead Yet

However, for all the military defeats IS has suffered, it is far from dead — and a number of challenges for the United States remain.

The United States has had a military presence in one form or another in Syria for months. While U.S. soldiers have been in Syria since late last year, working with coalition members on the ground to "tighten the squeeze" on IS and establishing a headquarters at the Rmeilan air base in northern Syria, it appears that this mission may be expanding. U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that the United States will deploy 250 Special Forces soldiers to Syria.

One key challenge is that the United States does not have adequate intelligence on the ground to effectively target its air strikes. According to recent statements by U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) Colonel Pat Ryder, the anti-IS coalition has flown 91,000 sorties and conducted 12,000 air strikes — that sounds like a lot until you realize that only about 13 percent of coalition sorties end in air strikes. As IS shrinks on the battlefield, it will only become more difficult to find, identify, and destroy targets from the air.

IS's leaders have also adopted a simple-yet-sinister plan to block U.S. air strikes — militants are reportedly covering the roads of cities they occupy with canvas roofs. An activist news agency covering the IS occupation of Raqqah, its so-called capital, has posted pictures of these canvas awnings, which make it impossible for coalition drones or jets to follow the movement of IS fighters below.

It could become very difficult, then, to differentiate the terrorists from the civilians that they are terrorizing. Worse, if this strategy works we can expect to see it copied in other locations IS controls, a move that could prove to be far more effective at stopping U.S. air strikes than even the most advanced antiaircraft weapons. IS may be hemorrhaging money, but tarps are a lot cheaper than guns.

Changing U.S. Tactics

To help defeat IS, the United States may be attempting to refine its tactics and address a sectarian dynamic that is working against Washington.

Last week, pro-IS social-media accounts tweeted pictures they say show that U.S. fighter jets and A-10 Warthogs have been supporting the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime who have been locked in heavy battle with IS for months but are currently backed up against the Turkish border.

Earlier in the year, a coalition of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) troops, Hizballah fighters, and Iraqi Shi’ite militias fought side by side with the Syrian military to break the battle lines of the anti-Assad rebels who have held northern Syria for years. IS took full advantage of this situation and launched its own offensive, capturing large amounts of territory as its fighters pushed west from their strongholds and north toward the Turkish border. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters to the west also launched an offensive against the struggling anti-Assad rebels, and a small group of those rebels are now trapped.

The rebels in the area east of Azaz had been making gains against IS in early April, but by the middle of the month that progress had now been reversed. While it’s dangerous to ever take the word of jihadist propaganda as truth, the presence of the A-10 in this area would suggest that the United States is providing close air support for the anti-Assad rebels as they push back against IS — a level of coordination between the United States and local ground forces typically reserved for Iraq or eastern Syria.

If the United States is conducting air strikes against IS, and in support of anti-Assad rebels, it may be an attempt to protect the Turkish border and reassure a frustrated NATO ally. However, IS is still making gains. On April 27, there were reports that IS had captured five rebel-held villages, including Dudyan, west of Al-Rai and right on the Turkish border. IS is now close to closing off and destroying the anti-Assad rebels who are defending their most important border crossing — and the only one they still control in northern Aleppo.

IS, even more so than Al-Qaeda before it, which survived 15 years of the war on terror, has proven its ability to constantly adapt to both its victories and its defeats. Despite military victories against IS over the last 20 months, even the commanders of the U.S. coalition admit that there are new challenges ahead. IS is currently exploiting the military weakness of one of its principal enemies, the anti-Assad rebels, and it is digging in to its positions in both Syria and Iraq.

The next phase of this fight is far less straightforward, and IS clearly knows that the storm is coming and is preparing accordingly — with new offensives and canvas tarps.

Via ( RFE/RL )

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Obama: New US Troops in Syria Will Be Essential”

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