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’I need a blanket’: Lebanon winter storm batters refugee tents

BEIRUT: They always anticipated US support would run out, but President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to rapidly pull US forces out of northeast Syria has nevertheless stunned the Kurds there, who for the past three years have been America’s partner in fighting Daesh. A withdrawal will leave Syrian Kurds exposed to Turkish threats of an invasion…

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’I need a blanket’: Lebanon winter storm batters refugee tents

BEIRUT: They always anticipated US support would run out, but President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to rapidly pull US forces out of northeast Syria has nevertheless stunned the Kurds there, who for the past three years have been America’s partner in fighting Daesh.

A withdrawal will leave Syrian Kurds exposed to Turkish threats of an invasion from one side and Syrian government troops on the other.

It stung even more because the Kurds in the Middle East have been abandoned before by the United States and other international allies on whose support they’d pinned their aspirations.

What happens next is uncertain because of confusion in the US plans. Initially, Trump declared the pullout of the 2,000 American troops would happen “now,” but White House officials have since suggested it would not be immediate. Further muddling the policy, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, on a visit Monday, tried to win assurances from Turkey that Ankara would not harm the Kurds but was apparently snubbed.

Over the past century, Kurds have gotten close to setting up their own state or autonomous regions on several occasions, only to have their dreams shattered after being abandoned by world powers. An old Kurdish proverb reflects a history of disappointments: “We have no friends but the mountains.” Here’s a look at that past:

Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds are an ethnic group numbering some 20 million people spread across four nations — 10 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, 3.5 million in Iraq, and a little over 2 million in Syria. They speak an Indo-European language, related to Iran’s Farsi, and are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

The 191,000-sq. km Kurdish area arcs through a mountainous zone from southeast Turkey to the Zagros mountains in northwest Iran. They’re divided not only by borders but by tribal, political and factional splits that the regional powers have often used to manipulate them.

Struggle and betrayals

With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent homeland in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But the treaty was never ratified, and “Kurdistan” was carved up. A Kurdish state was briefly established with support from the Soviet Union in Mahabad, northern Iran, in January 1947, but it collapsed 11 months later. Since then, there have been almost continuous Kurdish rebellions in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

Over the following decades, two events have been burned in the Kurds’ memories as betrayals by Washington.

In 1972, the US helped arm the Iraqi Kurdish insurrection against Baghdad. It did so on behalf of Iran, then led by America’s ally, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was hoping to pressure the Iraqi government in an ongoing border dispute. Three years later, the shah signed a border agreement with Baghdad and shut off the weapons pipeline. Then-Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani wrote an impassioned letter to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pleading for support, but the American help ended. The Iraqi government crushed the Kurdish rebellion.

Iraq’s Kurds rose up again, in the 1980s, with Iranian backing, during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s army waged a brutal scorched-earth campaign, using poison gas and forcibly resettling up to 100,000 Kurds in the southern desert.

The second event came in 1991, after the US-led Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi forces. Then-President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam. The Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south revolted, at one point controlling 14 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Saddam responded with a brutal crackdown and while Bush had not explicitly promised support, Kurds and Shiites felt left in the lurch.

Still, a US-enforced no-fly zone over northern Iraq helped ensure a degree of Kurdish autonomy there. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, the US helped ensure that Iraq’s new constitution enshrined that autonomous zone. But Washington has drawn the line against Kurdish independence. In September 2017, a referendum in the self-rule region overwhelmingly backed independence. 

The US opposed it and the Baghdad government took over the zone’s border crossings and closed its airports for months, forcing the Kurds to back down.

In Syria, everything to lose?

Syria’s Kurds have hoped for autonomy in the northeast corner of the country where their population is concentrated. The Damascus government has not allowed it, and Turkey is vehemently opposed to it. Ankara views the main Syrian Kurdish militia, which is linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, as a terrorist group. During Syria’s civil war, as Damascus was busy in the fight against rebels, the Kurds succeeded in setting up a degree of self-rule that had been unthinkable before.

The US needed a partner on the ground to fight the Daesh group after its takeover of the eastern and northern third of Syria, and found in the Kurds an effective, organized force. The US armed the Kurdish militia, along with some Syrian Arabs and Christian Assyrians, and backed them with US troops and airpower.

The Kurds had their own interest in allying with the Americans, hoping to give weight to their autonomy ambitions. It took more than a year of fighting, with thousands of Kurds killed, but Daesh was driven out of almost all the territory it once held.

Turkey sent troops into Syria in August 2016 to clear a border area from Daesh militants and limit Kurdish expansion. In early 2018 it overran the northwestern enclave of Afrin to oust the Kurdish militia, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds while the US stood by and watched.

Now if the Americans leave, they stand to lose everything.

“So far it’s unclear what will happen, but the Syrian Kurds feel betrayed,” said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an Iraq-based Kurdish affairs analyst. “They say they were the ones who sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fight against” Daesh.

The situation raises shades of Kissinger in the eyes of some Kurds, he said. “President Trump in the past praised Kurds as great fighters and great people,” said van Wilgenburg.

“Now he risks putting them in grave danger by pulling out … Turkey could attack them at any time.”

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents,  published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.

Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.

In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.

“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.

It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”

The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.

It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

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