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Showing posts from March 31, 2016

Breaking bad in the Middle East and North Africa: Drugs, militants, and human rights

This April, the U.N. General Assembly will meet for a Special Session on the World Drug Problem. After decades of conformity with a hardline “war on drugs” formerly promoted by the United States, there is increasing dissensus within the international community about how to best address the costs and harms posed by drugs. For years, some European countries have quietly diverged from policies based on aggressive suppression of drug production and the criminalization of users. More recently, some key Latin American states have openly challenged the global counternarcotics regime and called for reforms.

Yet the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) states still cling to hardline drug policies, an approach that is also supported by Russia and many Asian countries.

On March 7 in Doha, we met with police and military officials, NGO representatives, and academics from across the Middle East to discuss the rising drug challenges in the region and the increasingly contested global regime. We found…

There is more to Sunni militancy than language and culture

When I read a recent post by two of my colleagues suggesting that “French political culture” may be to blame for Sunni militancy around the world, Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s paraphrase of Voltaire came to mind: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But that doesn’t prevent me from disagreeing with some of the premises of the piece by Will McCants and Chris Meserole, which confuses correlation with causation.

There is a long list of cities targeted by jihadis: Paris was attacked twice last year, in January (17 people killed) and November (130 killed, 400 injured); Brussels was targeted three times, once at the Jewish Museum in May 2014 (4 dead), and this month by the two suicide bombings that caused 35 deaths; Madrid was struck in March 2004 in an al-Qaida-related train bombing that killed 192 people and injured over 1,800; and the July 2005 series of suicide bombings in London killed 52 and injured over 700.

It’s not just a European problem, o…

Iraq Situation Report, Part I: The military campaign against ISIS

The military campaign is gathering steam

The U.S.-led coalition’s military campaign to “defeat” Da’esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) appears to be going better than is widely realized. The media has begun to pick up on this, but so far, the accounts do not seem to do it justice. The coalition has trained (or retrained) six Iraqi brigades, typically called the “Mosul Counterattack Brigades” or just the “Counterattack Brigades.” It was these formations that did most of the work at Ramadi and several are being shifted north to begin the Mosul operation. They are performing considerably better than other Iraqi brigades, a fact that is increasingly understood throughout the Iraqi government, boosting their prestige and the influence of the United States.

Coalition air power is hitting Da’esh much harder than in the past, not because any additional assets have been allocated, but because the American military leadership has been able to convince the Iraqis to forego copious on-call fire supp…

China and North Korea: The long goodbye?

China’s estrangement from North Korea continues to fester and deepen. Following protracted negotiations in the aftermath of Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear testand subsequent satellite launch, the U.N. Security Council has imposed far more severe restrictions on North Korean trade, finance, and maritime activities. The resolution—which passed on March 2 and for which China was a key drafter—portends a much edgier and uncertain relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Though there are ambiguities and loopholes in the criteria and enforcement provisions governing the resolution (UNSCR 2270), the new sanctions have much sharper teeth than previous resolutions—and China has unequivocally pledged to uphold the letter and spirit of the council’s decision. Even before the resolution passed, South Korean and Chinese media reported that financial transactions in the city of Dandong (where most border trade takes place between China and North Korea) had been sharply curtailed.

By mid-March, Beijin…

Total Confusion: Did Merkel Take a Selfie With Brussels Attack Suspect?

A photo depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking a selfie with a man allegedly resembling Brussels bomber Najim Laachraoui has gone viral.

The image published online depicts Merkel posing for a selfie with a refugee whose resemblance to the Paris bomb-maker and Brussels attacker Najim Laachraoui has been vividly discussed by Internet users.

The picture was taken in September and has caused heated debate after recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.

A series of terrorist attacks took place in the Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek metro station on Tuesday morning. As result of the attacks at least 31 people were killed and over 300 injured.

​The Belgian police released the picture of 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui on Friday, with the prosecutor's office announcing that the man detonated an explosive device in the airport.

Some social networks users argue that Laachraoui looks like the person they've seen on selfie with Angela Merkel. Their assumptions, however, remain unconfirmed…

Surprise Syrian showdown: 'Pentagon-backed rebels fighting CIA-backed rebels'

American soldiers never used to shoot at our CIA agents, and vice-versa, but that’s what’s reportedly happening in the northern part of Syria, former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT from Washington, DC.

In February, the CIA-armed group ‘Fursan al Haq’, or Knights of Righteousness, were apparently forced out of their positions by the so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, backed by the Pentagon.

The report - put out by a US Veterans group - comes as President Obama this month authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian anti-government fighters.

RT: How much control do the US military and intelligence have over the groups they are funding on the ground?

Ray McGovern: Well, let’s start with the good news. The good news is that because of Russian intervention and President Obama’s sensible reaction to it, namely, no longer pressing for priority for removing Assad and also allowing Iranians to participate in negotiations, the ceasefire - or what we call the ‘cessation of hostilitie…