Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

 

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically.

The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts.

The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia.

This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih.

Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and even the UAE, have shown an increased eagerness to develop military and economic relations with Moscow, even if this means dealing with a global power currently supporting their archenemy Iran. Analysts wonder where the current visit of King Salman will really lead to, but all signs are on green for a straightforward Arab-Saudi support for a bigger Russian role in the region, and more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas markets.

In stark contrast to the difficult relationship of the West with the Arab world, Moscow seems to be playing the regional power game at a higher level. It can become an ally or friend to regional adversaries, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt and now Saudi Arabia. Arab regimes are also willing to discuss cooperation with Russia, even though the country is supporting adversaries in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and continues to supply arms to the Shi’a regime in Iran.

Investors can expect Russia and Saudi Arabia to sign a multitude of business deals, some of which have already been presented. Moscow and Riyadh will also discuss the still fledgling oil and gas markets, as both nations still heavily depend on hydrocarbon revenues. Arab analysts expect both sides to choose a bilateral strategy to keep oil prices from falling lower. Riyadh and Moscow have the same end goal: a stable oil and gas market, in which demand and supply keep each other in check to push price levels up, but without leaving enough breathing space for new market entrants such as U.S. shale.

Putin and Salman will also discuss the security situation in the Middle East, especially the ongoing Syrian civil war, Iran’s emerging power, and the Libya situation. Until now, the two have supported opposite sides, but Riyadh has realized that its ultimate goal, the removal of Syrian president Assad, is out of reach. To prevent a full-scale Shi’a triangle (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon), other options are now being sought to quell Tehran’s power surge. Moscow is key in this.

Putin’s unconditional support of the Iranian military onslaught in Iraq and Syria, combined with its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or Houthis in Yemen, will be discussed and maybe tweaked to give Riyadh room to maneuver into the Russian influence sphere. The verdict on this isn’t yet out, but Riyadh’s move must be seen

in light of ongoing Moscow discussions with Egypt, Libya, Jordan and the UAE.

A growing positive Putin vibe in the Arab world is now clear. The strong leadership of Russia’s new Tsar has become a main point of interest for the (former pro-Western) Arab regimes. The U.S. and its European allies have only shown a diffuse political-military approach to the threats in the MENA region, while even destabilizing historically pro-Western Arab royalties and presidents. Putin’s friendship, however, is being presented as unconditional and long lasting.

Even though geopolitics and military operations in the Middle East now are making up most headlines, the Saudi-Russian rapprochement will also have economic consequences. Riyadh’s leadership of OPEC is still undisputed, as it has shown over the last several years. Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to counter the free-fall of oil prices has been successful, but a much bigger effort is required to bring prices back to a level of between $60-75 per barrel. Russia’s role—as the largest of non-OPEC producers—has been substantial, bringing in not only several emerging producers, but also by putting pressure on its allies Iran, Venezuela and Algeria.

The historically important Moscow-Riyadh cooperation in oil and gas is unprecedented. Without Russia’s support, overall compliance to the OPEC production cut agreement would have been very low, leading to even lower oil prices.

The Saudi-Russian rapprochement could, however, be seen as a threat by the West and OPEC itself. Western influence in the region has waned since the end of the 1990s, not only due to the peace dividend of NATO, but especially because OECD countries are moving away from oil. Saudi Arabia had to find new markets, which happened with China and India. The Saudi future is no longer based on Western customers or support, but lies in Asia and other emerging regions. The FSU region has also popped up on Saudi screens. Investment opportunities, combined with geopolitical support and military interests, are readily available in Russia and its satellite states.

For OPEC, the Moscow-Riyadh love affair could also mean a threat. Throughout OPEC’s history, Riyadh has been the main power broker in the oil cartel, pushing forward price and production strategies; most of the time this was done in close cooperation with all the other members, most of them Arab allies. This changed dramatically after Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to cooperate in global oil markets. Through the emergence of this OPEC/ non-OPEC cooperation, Moscow and Riyadh have grown closer than expected. The two countries now decide the future of global oil markets before they discuss it with some of the other main players like UAE, Iran, Algeria and Nigeria. King Salman’s visit is seen as another step toward a more in-depth cooperation in oil and gas related issues.

Besides global oil market cooperation, Saudi Arabia is and will become more interested to invest in natural gas development, not only to have an interest in Russia’s gas future but also to bring in Russian technology, investment and LNG to the Kingdom.

At the same time, media sources are stating that Saudi Arabia is NOT asking Russia to take part in the long-awaited Aramco IPO in 2018. Russian individual investors and financial institutions, however, are expected to take an interest.

Putin understands not only Russian chess tactics but also the Arab “Tawila” approach. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman already will prepare his Tawila strategy, putting enough stones on the table to ensure his successful end game. MBS, currently de-facto ruler of the Kingdom, is targeting a full house—Russian cooperation in energy, defense and investments—while softening Moscow’s 100% percent support of the Shi’a archenemy Iran.

For both sides, Moscow and Riyadh, the current constellation presents a win-win situation. Moscow can reach its ultimate goal in the Middle East: to become the main power broker and knock the US from the pedestal. For Riyadh, the option to counter the Iranian threat, while also bolstering its own economy and hydrocarbon future, is now within reach.

King Salman’s trip could go down in history as the point of no return for the West. Pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia could replace historic pictures of King Saud and U.S. President Roosevelt (Bitter Lake, 1945). In a few years, King-to-be Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman might tell his children that this was one of the pillars that changed not only the Middle East but also supported his Vision 2030 plan of becoming a bridge between the old (West) and the new (Russia-Asia).

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In an interview with RT in 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uttered perhaps one of his most intriguing statements since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Assad stated:

“Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

“Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar…This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better.” [emphasis added]

Putting aside Assad’s vast and extensive list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Assad highlighted one of the major flaws in Western thinking regarding America’s hostile policies toward a number of independent states.

Just look at the current to-and-fro-ing between North Korea and the United States to gather an accurate picture of what is being referred to here. The problem of North Korea is consistently portrayed in the media as caused by one person (current leader Kim Jong-un), a narrative that ultimately ignores the role America and its allies have played in this current crisis. As Anti-Media previously highlighted:

 

“…the problem [North Korean crisis] is constantly framed as one caused by North Korea alone, not the United States. ‘How to Deal With North Korea,’ the Atlantic explains. ‘What Can Trump Do About North Korea?’ the New York Times asks. ‘What Can Possibly Be Done About North Korea,’ the Huffington Post queries. Time provides 6 experts discussing ‘How We Can Solve the Problem’ (of North Korea). ‘North Korea – what can the outside world do?’ asks the BBC.”

What the media is really advancing here – particularly when one talks about a military option as a response to dealing with North Korea’s rogue actions – is the notion that if the U.S. could only take out Kim Jong-un, the problem of North Korea would disappear.

Would the death of one man rid every single North Korean of the hostility and hatred they harbor toward the United States when many know full well that in the early 1950s the U.S. bombed North Korea so relentlessly they eventually ran out of targets to hit — that the U.S. military killed off at least 20 percent of the civilian population?

If Kim Jong-un is removed, will North Koreans suddenly forget that nearly every North Korean alive today has a family relative that was killed by the United States in the 1950s?

In the simple corporate media narrative, yes they will. Killing that one person and removing them from office will not only save the country they brutalize but will also provide security and stability for the rest of the world.

Never mind that prior to the U.S.-NATO onslaught of Libya in 2011, Libya had the highest standard of living in the African continent. The Times once admitted that its healthcare system was the “envy of the region.” Now, the country has completely collapsed, with well over two million children out of school, countless migrants drowning in its waters, extremism running unchecked and unchallenged, and traders openly selling slaves like a commodity.

Let’s suppose every single accusation against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was true (they weren’t); how can it be said that destroying a country’s infrastructure and assassinating its leader in flagrant disregard of international law is a realistic solution to any problem? If you oppose Donald Trump, would a Russian-led military intervention solve your problems with the country he rules over?

Forget what you think you know about Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro – the narrative Western governments and their media mouthpieces have promulgated for the last few decades remains completely nonsensical. You can’t solve Syria’s or Venezuela’s problems by removing their current leaders, especially if you attempt to do it by force. Anyone who claims this is possible is lying to you and is also too naïve and indolent to bother researching the current situations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq – to name a few.

The fact that the U.S. evidently doesn’t want to solve any problems at all – that it merely seeks to overthrow leaders that don’t succumb to its wishes – is a topic for a separate article but is certainly worth mentioning here as well.

The same can ultimately be said of Donald Trump. Since his election victory, many celebrities, media pundits, and members of the intelligence community have sought to unseat and discredit him. Yet Donald Trump is merely a horrifying symptom of America’s problems; to think he alone caused them and that by removing him from office the U.S. would suddenly become a safe-haven of freedom and liberty is nothing short of idiotic.

If you agree with the latter sentiment, you must also concede that the problems facing North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere could never be solved by the U.S. forcibly removing their leaders.

If Assad was removed from Syria, would extremism disappear or would it thrive in the political vacuum as it did in Iraq? Could Syria’s internal issues — which are much more extensive than the corporate media would have us believe — be solved by something as simple as removing its current leader? Can anyone name a country where this has been tried and tested as a true model for solving a sovereign nation’s internal crises? Anyone who truly believes a country’s problems can be solved in this facile way needs to do a bit more reading.

If you can recognize this dilemma, you can agree that it’s time for the media to completely undo the simplicity in its coverage of these issues and start reporting on the genuine diplomatic options that could be pursued, instead.

By Jacob G. Hornberger

One thing is certain about the U.S. mainstream media’s memorialization of the 9/11 attacks. They are not about to mention, much less emphasize, that the attacks were among the rotten fruits of U.S. interventionism, the foreign-policy philosophy that continues to hold the United States in its grip. Given the ongoing debacles of death, destruction, tyranny, torture, ISIS, and refugee crises arising from U.S interventionism in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan, the last thing interventionists want Americans to focus on is that interventionism gave us 9/11 as well.

The 9/11 attacks were not the first time the World Trade Center came under a terrorist attack. The first attack came 8 years before, in 1993. When one of the terrorists, Ramzi Yousef, was brought before a federal judge for sentencing (because terrorism is a federal criminal offense, not an act of war), he angrily told the judge something to the effect of: Go ahead and call me a terrorist if you will. But the truth is that you all are “butchers.”

What he was referring to was the U.S. government’s intentional use of sanctions to kill thousands of children in Iraq prior to the 1993 terrorist attack on the WTC. In fact, it was the intentional killing of those children that partly motivated Yousef to attack the WTC in 1993. That’s why he called U.S. officials “butchers” prior to his sentencing — because they were intentionally killing children — lots of children, not one of whom had ever initiated any violence against the United States.

After Yousef was sentenced, U.S. officials continued their sanctions on Iraq knowing that there were killing even more children and knowing full well that Yousef had been motivated to attack the WTC by such killings.

Three years after Yousef’s sentencing — in 1996 — Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked if the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the U.S. sanctions were worth it. Albright said that it was not an easy call but that, yes, the deaths were “worth it.” Not one single U.S. official, as far as I know, issued any condemnation or even mild criticism of Albright’s statement. That’s undoubtedly because they agreed with her.

By “it” Albright meant regime change in Iraq. During the 1980s, U.S. officials had helped Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to kill Iranians in his war on Iran. By 1990, however, the U.S. government had turned against its former partner and ally because his army had invaded Kuwait as a result of an oil-drilling dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. U.S. officials decided that they wanted Saddam ousted from power and replaced with a pro-U.S. regime.

That’s what the deadly sanctions that killed all those Iraqi children were intended to do — bring regime change, which has long been a core element in U.S. interventionism. The idea was that as Iraqi parents saw their children dying from infectious illnesses and malnutrition (the Pentagon had intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage treatment plants with that purpose in mind), they would overthrow Saddam and install a pro-U.S. regime. Alternatively, U.S. officials figured that Saddam might abdicate rather than watch all those Iraqi children die.

It didn’t work. By the time of the 9/11 attacks, the sanctions were still in place, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were dead and more were still dying, and Saddam Hussein was still in power.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks, there were those who said: Stop the sanctions and stop killing those children because if you don’t, you’re going to have terrorist retaliation, just like the 1993 terrorist attack on the WTC. FFF was among them. Before the 9/11 attacks, we published op-eds and commentaries saying that if U.S. interventionism in the Middle East continued, there was the likelihood of terrorist retaliation on American soil. The noted scholar Chalmers Johnson said the same thing, especially in his excellent pre-9/11 book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

U.S. officials ignored the warnings, just as they scoffed when high UN officials resigned in protest against what they called the genocide that U.S. sanctions were committing against innocent children. Not surprisingly, Osama bin Laden cited the U.S. government’s massive killing of Iraqi children in his pre-9/11 declaration of war against the United States.

Once many Americans bought into the “they hate us for our freedom and values” line after the 9/11 attacks, it became easy for U.S. officials to use the 9/11 attacks to justify their invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq was intended to accomplish what the 11 years of sanctions had failed to accomplish — regime change in Iraq. The war on Afghanistan was initiated because the Taliban regime refused to comply with President Bush’s unconditional extradition demand for Osama bin Laden, notwithstanding the fact that there was no extradition treaty between Afghanistan and the United States.

In the process, by using the 9/11 attacks to double down with more U.S. interventionism, America ended up with a perpetual threat of terrorist blowback and the never-ending “war on terrorism,” not to mention ever-increasing budgets and totalitarian-like powers for the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.

That’s how it that we now live in a society of forever wars, out-of-control federal spending and debt, assassination, kidnappings, regime change, coups, alliances with dictatorial regimes, and foreign aid for dictators.

Obviously this was not the type of system envisioned by the Framers when they called the federal government into existence. Our American ancestors would never have ratified the Constitution if they had known that it was going to bring a federal government into existence that wielded totalitarian-like powers, intentionally killed children, and engaged in foreign interventionism.

Unfortunately, later generations of Americans decided to abandon our nation’s founding principles of non-interventionism and a constitutional, limited-government republic. Americans who would prefer a society based on peace, prosperity, harmony, morality, and freedom would be wise to reflect on that decision today, the anniversary date of the 9/11 attacks, and beyond.

 

A new bombshell joint report issued by two international weapons monitoring groups Tuesday confirms that the Pentagon continues to ship record breaking amounts of weaponry into Syria and that the Department of Defense is scrubbing its own paper trail. On Tuesday the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) produced conclusive evidence that not only is the Pentagon currently involved in shipping up to $2.2 billion worth of weapons from a shady network of private dealers to allied partners in Syria – mostly old Soviet weaponry – but is actually manipulating paperwork such as end-user certificates, presumably in order to hide US involvement.

The OCCRP and BIRN published internal US defense procurement files after an extensive investigation which found that the Pentagon is running a massive weapons trafficking pipeline which originates in the Balkans and Caucuses, and ends in Syria and Iraq. The program is ostensibly part of the US train, equip, and assist campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, a coalition of YPG/J and Arab FSA groups operating primarily in Syria’s east). The arms transfers are massive and the program looks to continue for years. According to Foreign Policy’s (FP) coverage of the report:

 

The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022. The total, $2.2 billion, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.

But perhaps more shocking is the following admission that Pentagon suppliers have links with known criminal networks, also from FP:

 

According to the report, many of the weapons suppliers — primarily in Eastern Europe but also in the former Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Ukraine — have both links to organized crime throughout Eastern Europe and spotty business records.

The sheer amount of material necessary for the Pentagon program — one ammunition factory announced it planned to hire 1,000 new employees in 2016 to help cope with the demand — has reportedly stretched suppliers to the limit, forcing the Defense Department to relax standards on the materials it’s willing to accept.

It is likely that the organized crime association is the reason why the Pentagon has sought to alter its records. In addition, the sheer volume of weaponry continuing to ship to the Syrian battlefield and other parts of the Middle East means inevitable proliferation among unsavory terror groups – a phenomenon which has already been exhaustively documented in

connection with the now reportedly closed CIA program to topple the Syrian government. The associations and alliances among some of the Arab former FSA groups the DoD continues to support in the north and east remains fluid, which means means US-supplied weapons will continue to pass among groups with no accountability for where they end up.

One of the authors of the OCCRP/BIRN report, Ivan Angelovski, told Foreign Policy that, “The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition.” The report is based on internal US government memos which reveal that weapons shipment destination locations have been scrubbed from original documents.

Is an EUC (End User Certificate) still an EUC if it doesn’t include an end user?

Balkan insight, which is hosting the original investigative report: “Seven US procurement documents were whitewashed to remove reference to ‘Syria’ after reporters contacted the Pentagon to enquire about whether the exporting countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia – had been informed of the destination.”

The fact that Foreign Policy, which is the foremost establishment national security publication in the world, would admit that the Pentagon’s Syria weapons procurement program is tied to East European organized crime is itself hugely significant. At this point the evidence is simply so overwhelming that even establishment sources like FP – which itself has generally been pro-interventionist on Syria – can’t deny it.

FP further reports that the Pentagon program “appears to be turbocharging a shadowy world of Eastern European arms dealers.” And adds further that, “the Pentagon is reportedly removing documentary evidence about just who will ultimately be using the weapons, potentially weakening one of the bulwarks of international protocols against illicit arms dealing.”

Map/Infographic produced as part of the OCCRP/BIRN report, itself confirmed by Foreign Policy magazine. Notice the map denotes that prior CIA weapons went directly to Idlib province (northwest, section in green) and the Golan border region (south). Both of these areas were and continue to be occupied by al-Qaeda (in Idlib, AQ’s Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham). In Idlib specifically, analysts have confirmed genocidal cleansing of religious minorities conducted by AQ “rebels” directly assisted by CIA weapons.

Late last month we featured the story of Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who was fired from her job after being interrogated by national intelligence officials for exposing the same Pentagon arms network which is the subject of the latest OCCRP/BIRN investigation. At the time, Al Jazeera was the only major international outlet which covered the story, which confirmed that Bulgarian agents interrogated Gaytandzhieva and “tried to find out her sources.” An anonymous source had leaked a large trove of internal government files connected to the arms trafficking to the East European-based Trud Newspaper journalist, which was the basis of her reporting. The newest investigation released Tuesday appears to include some of the same documents, also confirmed by Gayandzhieva.

Read the full OCCRP/BIRN investigation here.

Read Zero Hedge’s original coverage of the Pentagon’s Balkan arms pipeline here.

Unless we come to terms with 9/11 and the obvious fact that the official government story is a ridiculous fairytale, it’ll be hard for our nation to move forward in an intelligent, courageous and ethical manner.

Many of the most destructive trends which have defined our post September 11, 2001 environment, such as a loss of civil liberties and endless barbaric wars of aggression abroad, have been directly related to our false understanding of that awful terrorist attack.

As I’ve always maintained, I have no idea what really went down on that day, I just know that the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies are not being honest.

Although it’s been a long time coming, we’re finally uncovering some kernels of truth about the attack and the role Saudi Arabia played in carrying them out. Much of this progress has been driven by family members of those who died, some of whom are suing the Saudis for their role in that despicable slaughter of civilians.

I’ve written about these lawsuits on several occasions, but here’s an updated summary from Common Dreams, published two days ago:

As our summer draws to a close and ushers in a cool and rainy September, there is a solemn chill in the air marking the approaching anniversary of the infamous attacks on the World Trade Center that took place September 11th, 2001 – nearly sixteen years ago. The memories are still fresh for the survivors and the family members of victims who are to this day living with their losses while continuing to fight for accountability through both the military court in Guantanamo, where individuals involved in the attacks have been tried or are still facing painstakingly slow trials. This upcoming sixteenth anniversary of 9/11 will be the first time since the attacks that the families now have another legal recourse for seeking accountability not only from individuals but from a nation involved in the attack: Saudi Arabia.

Introduced in the Senate on September 16th, 2015, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) removed a major roadblock to justice by opening the way for private US citizens to file suit against the Saudi government, which was previously protected by the blanket immunity given to foreign governments. There is much that we do not yet know about what went on behind closed doors with regard to the orchestration of the 9/11 attacks, but the declassification of the portion of the 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry known as the 28 pages on July 15th, 2016, after 14 years of secrecy, offered the preliminary hope of some much-needed answers. Of the 19 total hijackers who carried out the attacks, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, and evidence contained within the 28 pages pointed to financial connections between these individuals and members of the Saudi government.

Curiously, however, Saudi Arabia’s suspected culpability in the attacks has not been reflected in US response. From the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan to President Trump’s attempted travel ban affecting a list of seven Muslim-majority countries—from which Saudi Arabia is notably absent, it would appear that our government’s enthusiasm for retaliation against “Islamic terror” has a blind spot in the shape of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia.

Getting at the truth of the extent to which the Saudi government sponsored and aided in the attacks is a vital step towards justice and closure for families that, until JASTA, had the power of foreign sovereign immunity standing in its way. Despite fierce oppositionfrom Saudi lobbyists and a presidential veto that argued that it would invite similar lawsuits against the United States government from victims of US war crimes, JASTA was successfully passed into law on September 28th, 2016. Only two days later, the first lawsuit under this new act went forward. DeSimone v. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, filed by the widow of US Navy Commander Patrick Dunn, set the precedent for many other lawsuits of its kind to follow.

While some JASTA lawsuits came from single individuals or families as in the case of DeSimone v. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, others were filed in the form of consolidated complaints with hundreds of plaintiffs issuing shared demands. Ashton et al v. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the largest class action lawsuits of this kind, sporting the names of over 800 family members and 1500 survivors. Filed March 20th, 2017, the lawsuit as of the time of this publication is contending with a motion filed by Saudi Arabia to dismiss it from the court. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have until October 2nd to submit documents opposing the motion.

Evidence of at least some Saudi complicity in the attacks is pretty much undeniable at this point, and if you missed it the first time, I suggest you read my summary of what we learned in the infamous “28 Pages.”

But now we have even more information. A lot more. For instance, take a look at some of what the New York Post reported over the weekend:

Fresh evidence submitted in a major 9/11 lawsuit moving forward against the Saudi Arabian government reveals its embassy in Washington may have funded a “dry run” for the hijackings carried out by two Saudi employees, further reinforcing the claim that employees and agents of the kingdom directed and aided the 9/11 hijackers and plotters.

Two years before the airliner attacks, the Saudi Embassy paid for two Saudi nationals, living undercover in the US as students, to fly from Phoenix to Washington “in a dry run for the 9/11 attacks,” alleges the amended complaint filed on behalf of the families of some 1,400 victims who died in the terrorist attacks 16 years ago.

The court filing provides new details that paint “a pattern of both financial and operational support” for the 9/11 conspiracy from official Saudi sources, lawyers for the plaintiffs say. In fact, the Saudi government may have been involved in underwriting the attacks from the earliest stages — including testing cockpit security.

“We’ve long asserted that there were longstanding and close relationships between al Qaeda and the religious components of the Saudi government,” said Sean Carter, the lead attorney for the 9/11 plaintiffs. “This is further evidence of that.”

Citing FBI documents, the complaint alleges that the Saudi students — Mohammed al-Qudhaeein and Hamdan al-Shalawi — were in fact members of “the Kingdom’s network of agents in the US,” and participated in the terrorist conspiracy.

They had trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan at the same time some of the hijackers were there. And while living in Arizona, they had regular contacts with a Saudi hijacker pilot and a senior al Qaeda leader from Saudi now incarcerated at Gitmo. At least one tried to re-enter the US a month before the attacks as a possible muscle hijacker but was denied admission because he appeared on a terrorist watch list.

Qudhaeein and Shalawi both worked for and received money from the Saudi government, with Qudhaeein employed at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Shalawi was also “a longtime employee of the Saudi government.” The pair were in “frequent contact” with Saudi officials while in the US, according to the filings.

During a November 1999 America West flight to Washington, Qudhaeein and Shalawi are reported to have tried multiple times to gain access to the cockpit of the plane in an attempt to test flight-deck security in advance of the hijackings.

“After they boarded the plane in Phoenix, they began asking the flight attendants technical questions about the flight that the flight attendants found suspicious,” according to a summary of the FBI case files.

“When the plane was in flight, al-Qudhaeein asked where the bathroom was; one of the flight attendants pointed him to the back of the plane,” it added. “Nevertheless, al-Qudhaeein went to the front of the plane and attempted on two occasions to enter the cockpit.”

 

The pilots were so spooked by the Saudi passengers and their aggressive behavior that they made an emergency landing in Ohio. On the ground there, police handcuffed them and took them into custody. Though the FBI later questioned them, it decided not to pursue prosecution.

But after the FBI discovered that a suspect in a counterterrorism investigation in Phoenix was driving Shalawi’s car, the bureau opened a counterterrorism case on Shalawi. Then, in November 2000, the FBI received reporting that Shalawi trained at terrorist camps in Afghanistan and had received explosives training to perform attacks on American targets. The bureau also suspected Qudhaeein was a Saudi intelligence agent, based on his frequent contact with Saudi officials.

More, investigators learned that the two Saudis traveled to Washington to attend a symposium hosted by the Saudi Embassy in collaboration with the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, which was chaired by the Saudi ambassador. Before being shut down for terrorist ties, IIASA employed the late al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a lecturer. Awlaki ministered to some of the hijackers and helped them obtain housing and IDs.

The FBI also confirmed that Qudhaeein’s and Shalawi’s airline tickets for the pre-9/11 dry run were paid for by the Saudi Embassy.

“The dry run reveals more of the fingerprints of the Saudi government,” said Kristen Breitweiser, one of the New York plaintiffs, whose husband perished at the World Trade Center.

Carter said in an interview that the allegations that the Saudi Embassy sponsored a pre-9/11 dry run — along with charges of other Saudi involvement in the 9/11 plot, from California to Florida — are based on “nearly 5,000 pages of evidence submitted of record and incorporated by reference into the complaint.”

They include “every FBI report that we have been able to obtain,” though hundreds of thousands of pages of government documents related to Saudi terror funding remain secret.

 

Finally, let me end this post by sharing a video put together by James Corbett, which has attained nearly 3 million views.

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The U.S. Army is ranked “weak” and the other branches of services “marginal” when it comes to military power, according a new think tank report. Military.com reports that overall, American military power is just “marginal” and trending toward “weak,” according to the 2017 Index of U.S. Military Power, released Wednesday by the Heritage Foundation.

The scores are based on the military’s “capability or modernity, capacity for operations, and readiness to handle assigned missions successfully,” the document states.

The group’s Army assessment is the same from last year (the index began in 2015) and stems from the service’s decision to decrease the size of the force and delay equipment upgrades to improve readiness — yet only a third of its units are prepared for war, according to the document.

“Even for units deployed abroad, the Army has had to increase its reliance on contracted support to meet maintenance requirements,” the report states. “In summary, the Army is smaller, older, and weaker, a condition that is unlikely to change in the near future.”

Military Boost

Based on the U.S. military fulfilling the strategic goal of waging two major wars at the same time, Heritage argues the size of the military must be increased to include 50 brigade combat teams in the Army, 346 surface combatants and 624 strike aircraft in the Navy, 1,200 fighter and ground-attack aircraft in the Air Force and 36 battalions in the Marine Corps.

Similarly, President-elect Donald Trump has called for increasing the size of the Army to about 540,000 active-duty soldiers, the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, the Navy to 350 surface ships and submarines, and the Air Force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.

The Obama administration in 2012 argued for changing the force-structure model based on the two-war scenario. The proposal came after Congress and the White House approved decade-long spending caps known as sequestration.

The Pentagon’s $583 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, requests funding for 460,000 active soldiers, 24 Marine infantry battalions, 287 naval ships and roughly 1,170 fighter aircraft (excluding A-10 ground attack aircraft) — all for the active component. The figures don’t take into account additional troops and equipment for the Guard and Reserve.

The United States spends more on defense than the next several nations combined, with annual outlays of more than $600 billion — three times more than China and seven times more than Russia, according to figures compiled earlier this year by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Other Service Rankings

The sea service is sacrificing long-term readiness to meet short-term needs, according to the Heritage report. “While the Navy is maintaining a moderate global presence, it has little ability to surge to meet wartime demands,” it states. “Deferred maintenance has kept ships at sea but is also beginning to affect the Navy’s ability to deploy.”

Despite an inventory of nearly 1,600 combat aircraft — including fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22A Raptor and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., the Air Force is facing a shortage of 700 pilots and 4,000 maintainers, affecting its ability to generate combat power, according to the report.

“The lack of ability to fly and maintain [aircraft], especially in a high-tempo/threat combat environment, means that its usable inventory of such aircraft is actually much smaller,” it states.

The Marine Corps also faces a partially utilized aviation fleet, with less than a third of its F/A-18 Hornets made by Boeing Co. about a quarter of its CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters made by Lockheed’s Sikorsky unit available to fly operational missions, according to the report.

While its modernization programs are relatively on track, the Corps “has only two-thirds of the combat units that it actually needs, especially when accounting for expanded requirements that include cyber units and more crisis-response forces,” it states.

Strategic Threats

Even the nation’s nuclear forces only received a score of “marginal,” according to the document.

While the delivery platforms such as the B-2 Spirit bomber “are good, the force depends on a very limited set of weapons (in number of designs) and models that are quite old, in stark contrast to the aggressive programs of competitor states,” it states.

“Russia has rattled its nuclear saber in a number of recent provocative exercises; China has been more aggressive in militarily pressing its claims to the South and East China Seas; North Korea is heavily investing in a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability; and Iran has achieved a nuclear deal with the West that effectively preserves its nuclear capabilities development program for the foreseeable future,” the document states.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made the case for a down payment of $108 billion over the next five years in the long-term effort to modernize the nation’s nuclear triad that will eventually cost hundreds of billions.

Notably, while Trump has taken a softer approach toward Russia — he recently talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the telephone about possible ways to combat terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — the Heritage report states “Russia and China continue to be the most worrisome, both because of the investments they are making in the modernization and expansion of their offensive military capabilities and because of the more enduring effect they are having within their respective regions”

As Islamist forces led by the al-Nusra front tried unsuccessfully to break the siege of eastern Aleppo in Syria, the future of the country’s largest city, and the war-torn country more broadly, seems predetermined, Alexander Mercouris, editor-in-chief of The Duran, told.

Washington’s “plan B” in Syria is now starting to emerge, Mercouris told Loud & Clear host Brian Becker, commenting on the failed counter-offensive by rebel groups in Aleppo.

“The US is expecting eastern Aleppo to be liberated within few next weeks,” he said, referring to reports from the National Security Council Meeting held earlier this month.
Despite this summer’s negotiations between Moscow and Washington, the corridor for opposition groups to retreat from eastern Aleppo with their light weapons on hasn’t been established. That means that the US-backed rebels won’t give up efforts to win over Aleppo, the country’s major industrial center and most populous urban area.
“For all the Jihadist groups [Aleppo is] a symbol of war in Syria,” Mercouris asserted. “If they have a presence there, they are a serious contender for political power in Syria. If they are thrown out of Aleppo, that ambition dies.”
Still, the defeat of rebels in Aleppo is only a question of time, he explained: “They are encircled by all sides now by the Syrian Army; more forces from Southern Syria and government-controlled areas will be concentrated there. They are cut off from supplies so they cannot replenish or reinforce. But I don’t think they will go quietly.”
Citing National Security Council Meeting reports, Mercouris suggested that the US is now seeking to develop a safe zone in north-eastern Syria controlled by Jihadi rebels that Washington could use as a “bargaining chip in future talks of political future Syria.”
“In essence, what they actually mean is partitioning of Syria into a rebel-controlled Northern and North East areas and a government-controlled Western area,” that includes large cities like Aleppo and Damascus.
In this scenario, Mercouris continued, Raqqa, which is now held by Daesh, would become a center for another constellation of Jihadi groups.
“What the US doesn’t want is Raqqa to fall to the Syrian military,” which is why Washington indicated it does not want Moscow or Damascus involved in the liberation of Raqqa.
However, to bring that plan to fruition, the US needs its protégés to destroy Daesh, and that’s another challenge for the Pentagon. Washington’s initial plan suggested that the YPG, a Kurdish militia, would liberate Raqqa, helping to establish the US protectorate there. But this met with a fierce opposition from Turkey, which has long opposed Kurdish forces, and which sent troops to both Syria and Iraq.
“If the US and Turkey will be working together in North-East Syria, it might be a way of smoothing relations” between Washington and Ankara, following Turkey’s failed coup attempt on July 15. “The problem with doing it, however, is that it sets Turkey, and by extension the US, against the Kurds in Syria.”
“If the US cannot carry out attacks on Syria trying to achieve its objective in very indirect ways, they are ultimately so counterproductive that it’s better for the US to stop doing them,” Mercouris said.