New Report: From Crisis to Catastrophe, The Situation of Minorities in Iraq

In the United States, we seem to be surrounded by irrational hysteria these days. Two, perhaps three cases of ebola within our borders have

Click on the image above to download the full report

Click on the image above to download the full report

generated a great deal of fear despite the fact that there are far more virulent, widespread and equally deadly diseases around us all the time.

The Islamic State has generated similarly cowardly reactions in the US. The media and, especially, members of Congress from both parties are whipping up terror far beyond what IS is capable of on its own, despite its murderous ideology and actions so brutal even al-Qaeda is appalled. The hysteria is, itself, something to be addressed because rational decisions cannot be made under such conditions and no decisions call out for rationality than military ones. But more than that, the panic over IS allows the United States to reframe the entire view of the Middle East’s descent into ever-widening sectarian war.

It is the evil “ISIS” or al-Qaeda, or the “Nusra Front” or this or that Islamic cleric that is at the root of this. No one thinks in terms of the US’ own responsibility for the conditions in the entire region. But in fact the US, while certainly not the root cause of sectarianism in the Arab world, is very much responsible for unleashing the madness engulfing the region, through decades of politically invasive policy decisions based on US self-interest and rooted in an appalling ignorance of the social, economic, religious and political realities of the region and capped off by the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago which served as the spark to light the fire.

The problems in Iraq go far beyond IS, even of IS is the most horrifying symptom of them right now. That’s why this new report on the conditions for minorities in Iraq is so helpful. The perspective it brings goes beyond IS into the larger problems of sectarianism in Iraq and the difficulties that arise not only from the ongoing strife but also from the weakness of security and the Iraqi government. Americans in particular need to see this. The solutions lie in international law and international action, but the responsibility lies with us.

Tipping the First Domino: An Israeli-Syrian Agreement

The Israeli daily, Yediot Ahoronot reported recently that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, had reassessed its view on Syria’s sincerity in seeking talks with Israel. Mossad now agrees with all the other branches of Israeli intelligence that the Syrian overtures are sincere and that Israel should put Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s willingness to the test.

The potential benefits of an agreement between Syria and Israel are enormous for many parties. The United States is one of those parties, although one of the few players who stand to lose from such an agreement are the neoconservatives and hawks in the Bush administration. There are also real obstacles to an agreement, especially in the arenas of domestic politics in Israel and the US. But the chief factor blocking Israel-Syria talks at this time is the Bush Administration’s refusal to allow them. This is not something often talked about, which is not surprising–one can only picture the response of the overwhelming majority of Jews to the news that the US is blocking Israel-Arab peace talks that Israel desires.

Yet for all the difficulties, a deal with Syria is a lot easier to attain for Israel than one with the Palestinians, and it might have just as many, maybe even a few more, benefits for Israel as well as the region as a whole.

The Ground On Which To Build An Israel-Syria Agreement

To understand the potential benefits, we must first understand where we are now. The Middle East as a whole is engulfed in burning conflicts, simmering conflicts and growing potential for conflict. The ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and Sudan, the deepening tensions in Lebanon and growing concerns over increasingly tense situations in Bahrain, other Gulf states, Egypt and even to some extent, Saudi Arabia make this always explosive region all the more so. The fuse that is sitting too close to the flame is Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Though not always reported, there are multiple, daily incidents of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank as well as ongoing clashes between Fatah and Hamas as well as other Palestinian factions from time to time. Israel’s deepening of the infrastructure of the occupation makes matters worse. The wall continues to be built, Palestinian land continues to be appropriated and Israel continues to discuss its plans to hold onto various chunks of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. Promised relief from checkpoints and settlement “outposts” has not materialized, echoing for Palestinians the Oslo years when Israeli promises of peace were accompanied by a massive acceleration in settlement expansion. Continue reading

Over-Estimating AIPAC: The Iraq Spending Bill and the Stricken Language on Iran

Congresswoman Lynn WoolseyThe recent House of Representatives vote to extend $100 billion in funding for the war in Iraq has managed to once again feed the myth of the all-powerful AIPAC/Israel lobby. This time, it was the late exclusion of a clause in the bill that would have required Congressional approval for any military action against Iran.

The measure, of course, would have been a welcome bit of prudence. Even many of his one-time supporters have come to realize that George W. Bush’s administration cannot be trusted. And from all reports, AIPAC did indeed lobby vigorously for the removal of that clause. But to say they were the reason for, or even a major factor in that clause being rescinded flies in the face of the facts. Continue reading