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Syria in 2013 and the opposition to war

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The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

A newly elected government in the USA is as intent as its predecessors were on deepening war and conflict where it already exists, and on embarking on new campaigns of state aggression and violence. The conflict in Syria has been converted by the United States of America and its partner western aggressors from a civil movement for democratic rights into a bitter and bloody civil war that has killed more than 20,000 and has made refugees of more than half a million people.

Unnoticed almost in the clamour for war that resounds in the capitals of USA and its western allies is new evidence from a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry which has stated, finally and plainly, that a sectarian civil war is raging in Syria. Its findings are based upon extensive investigations and interviews between September 28 to December 16, 2012. The Commission has detailed massacres and gross violations of human rights that have polarised Syria.

Investigators, headed by Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees. The report produced is a devastating indictment of the United States and other western powers – said International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) – who have worked with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to depose of Bashar al-Assad by recruiting and aiding a Sunni insurgency overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Salafist and Al Qaeda-style groups.

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

“The UN independent panel finds more breaches of human rights law by parties to Syrian conflict,” said the UN news service. The Commission has been mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The conflict is now in its 22nd month and apart from the enormous number of refugees has left an estimated 4 million people inside Syria needing urgent humanitarian assistance. “The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country,” said the UN news report.

That lack of access may change in early 2013 if the movement Peace In Syria is successful. This initiative consists in calling a delegation of high-ranking personalities of the international public to go to Syria with the aim of opening a national dialogue between the main political and social forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict to pave a way for a political solution.

As highlighted by Monthly Review’s MRZine, the peace initiative has said: “We are highly concerned not only because the conflict has been acquiring a dangerous geo-political dimension. The legitimate and at the beginning also peaceful movement of the Syrian people – along with their Arab brothers – for democratic rights is also in danger of being converted into a sectarian civil war with massive regional and international involvement.”

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Utterly unmindful of the calls for peace within the Middle East and outside, the government of the USA is just as brazenly ignoring the anti-war movement at home. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey whose finding is that the American public continues to say that the USA does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there.

“And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria,” said the survey report. “Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March. Similarly, just 24% favor the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while 65% are opposed.”

Far more bluntly, Veterans For Peace has urgently called on the United States and NATO “to cease all military activity in Syria, halt all U.S. and NATO shipments of weapons, and abandon all threats to further escalate the violence under which the people of Syria are suffering. NATO troops and missiles should be withdrawn from Turkey and other surrounding nations. U.S. ships should exit the Mediterranean”.

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

The organisation draws upon the experiences of military veterans in working for the abolition of war. “We have not entered into this work without consideration of many situations similar to the current one in Syria,” said the organisation, and added, “No good can come from U.S. military intervention in Syria. The people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and dozens of other nations in Latin America and around the world have not been made better off by U.S. military intervention.”

But the USA, its aggressor western allies and NATO are intent on prosecuting war in Syria and gathering for greater, bloodier conflict. On December 17, Israel’s Haaretz reported that US cargo airplanes carrying military equipment landed in Jordanian airports over several days and that US military forces in the country have been significantly built up. The USA, Germany and the Netherlands have dispatched Patriot anti-missile systems and hundreds of troops to Turkey’s border and are seeking a pretext to use them. Hence last week, US officials accused the Syrian government of firing Scud missiles against opposition groups near Maara, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, a claim Syria denied as “untrue rumours”. [See Al Jazeera’s live diary of events in Syria for more.]

It is now left to the citizens of the USA and its western allies – citizens who are no less bludgeoned daily by the austerity measures imposed by their governments while their criminally-minded banking and corporate elite frame and set policy both national and international – to derail the war machine. A number of good reasons for doing so can be found in the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, whose new 10-page update – the latest in a series of reports and updates produced by the Commission since it began its work in August 2011 – paints a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.

The full 10-page update can be viewed here – it describes the unrelenting violence resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focuses on arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria. It describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians continue to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition have moved deeper into urban areas. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.

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World agri estimates 2012 February – 692 mt of wheat, 462 mt of rice

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The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) for 2012 February have been released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA, through its Economic Research Service of the Foreign Agricultural Service).

Here are the important numbers: total wheat production 692.88 mt, total wheat exports 140.25 mt (of which 26.54 mt is US, the former Soviet Union countries (12) is 35.21 mt); total coarse grains production 1,142.19 mt (coarse grains include corn, sorghum, barley, oats, rye, millet, and mixed grains), total coarse grains exports is 119.81 mt; total world corn production is 864.11 mt; total world rice production is 462.75 mt.

Families queue for food at a feeding point in BadBado IDP camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: IRIN / Kate Holt

Here is what WASDE has said about global wheat, coarse grains and rice:

Wheat – Global wheat supplies for 2011-12 are projected 2.1 million tons higher with larger beginning stocks in Kazakhstan and increased production for India, Kazakhstan, and Morocco. Kazakhstan beginning stocks are raised 0.6 million tons with reduced domestic consumption for 2010-11. India production for 2011-12 is increased 0.9 million tons reflecting the latest government revisions, which increased yields for the crop that was harvested last spring. Kazakhstan production is raised 0.2 million tons based on the recent official estimate. Production for Morocco is raised 0.2 million tons also on official revisions to estimated yields in a crop that was harvested several months ago.

Global trade is raised slightly for 2011-12 with world imports increased 0.7 million tons. Small increases in imports are made for Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Chile, and Ethiopia. Export reductions for Ukraine, Canada, and India are more than offset by increases for Russia, the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. Global wheat consumption is reduced 1.0 million tons mostly reflecting a 1.6-million-ton reduction in India food use. Partly offsetting are small increases in food use for Australia, Chile, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan. Global wheat feeding is nearly unchanged with a 1.0-million-ton reduction for Kazakhstan offset by increases for Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Mexico. Global ending stocks for 2011-12 are raised 3.1 million tons to a record 213.1 million. As projected, 2011-12 global wheat stocks would be 2.4 million tons higher than the previous record in 1999-2000.

A woman peels cassava in a village close to the northern Zambian town of Mpulungu. Photo: IRIN / Guy Oliver

Coarse grain – Global coarse grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected 3.1 million tons lower mostly reflecting reduced corn production prospects in Argentina and, to a lesser extent, Paraguay. Argentina corn production is lowered 4.0 million tons to 22 million as field reports confirm that high temperatures and extensive dryness during pollination in late December and early January resulted in irreversible damage to early corn in the central growing region. Late planted corn, which has been on the increase in recent years, will help offset some of the earlier losses, but additional rainfall is needed to stabilize production prospects. Corn production is lowered 0.4 million tons for adjacent Paraguay where hot, dry weather also reduced area and yields. Partly offsetting are small corn production increases for EU-27 and the Philippines. Global barley production is raised with Argentina production up 0.7 million tons on higher reported area and yields for the crop that was harvested during late 2011.

[You can get the data file here, and the pdf report here.]

Global coarse grain trade for 2011-12 is raised with higher corn imports for EU-27 and higher barley imports for Saudi Arabia, EU-27, and Jordan. Partly offsetting is a reduction in corn imports for Canada. Higher corn exports for a number of countries offset a 4.5-million-ton reduction for Argentina. Along with the projected increase for the United States, corn exports are raised 2.0 million tons for Ukraine, 0.5 million tons each for Brazil and EU-27, and 0.2 million tons for Russia. Barley exports are lowered 1.0 million tons for Ukraine, but raised 0.7 million tons for Russia, 0.5 million tons for Argentina, and 0.3 million tons each for Canada, EU-27, and Kazakhstan.

Global coarse grain consumption for 2011-12 is raised slightly with higher barley feeding in Ukraine and Jordan and higher corn feeding in Argentina and Ukraine. Corn feeding, however, is lowered for Canada and barley feeding is lowered for Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is expected to rebuild stocks as world barley production has rebounded from a 40-year low in 2010-11. Global coarse grain ending stocks for 2011-12 are lowered, with a 2.8-million-ton reduction in corn stocks and a 0.6-million-ton reduction in barley stocks. At the projected 125.4 million tons, global corn ending stocks would be the lowest since 2006-07.

A woman tends to her goods while at a morning market in Kathmandu. Agriculture accounts for about 75 percent of the nation's workforce. Photo: IRIN / David Longstreath

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Rice – Global 2011-12 projections of rice production, consumption, trade and ending stocks are raised from last month. The increase in the global rice production forecast is due mostly to increases for India and the Philippines, which are partially offset by reductions for Brazil, Egypt, Argentina, and the United States. The U.S. rice crop (milled equivalent basis) is lowered slightly resulting entirely from the decrease in the average milling yield. India’s rice crop is forecast at a record 102 million tons, up 2 million from last month due to an increase in both harvested area and yield. According to the U.S. agricultural counselor in New Delhi, favorable 2011 monsoon rains coupled with overall good weather conditions in the major rice producing areas supported higher kharif rice acreage and productivity.

The Brazil rice crop is lowered 340,000 tons due to the effects of drought in Rio Grande do Sul, an important rice producing State. Global exports are raised by 1.4 million tons, primarily due to an increase for India and Egypt, which are partially offset by reductions for Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Forecast India exports are raised 2 million tons to a record 6.5 million tons, while exports for Thailand and Vietnam are lowered 500,000 and 200,000 tons, respectively. Forecast imports are sharply raised for Egypt based on information from the agricultural counselor in Cairo. Global ending stocks are up slightly from last month to 100.1 million tons mainly due to an increase for the Philippines.

Neither with the West nor against it, and not ‘Arab street’

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Map of the social uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, for Le Monde Diplomatique by Philippe Rekacewicz

Map of the social uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, for Le Monde Diplomatique by Philippe Rekacewicz

In the ever thoughtful Le Monde Diplomatique, senior commentators Alain Gresh and Serge Halimi consider aspects of ‘The New Arab Awakening’, which is the theme for the 2011 March edition.

“The fantasy that the Arabs are passive and unsuited to democracy has evaporated in weeks. Arabs have overthrown hated authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt” – Gresh has written in his commentary, ‘Neither with the West, nor against it’.

In Libya, they have fought a sclerotic regime in power for 42 years that has refused to listen to their demands, facing extraordinary violence, hundreds of deaths, untold injuries, mass exodus and generalised chaos. In Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Iraqi Kurdistan, the West Bank and Oman, Arabs have taken to the streets in vast numbers. This defiance has spread even to non-Arab Iran.

And where promises of reform have been made but were then found wanting, people have simply returned to the streets. In Egypt, protesters have demanded faster and further-reaching reform. In Tunisia, renewed demonstrations on 25-27 February led to five deaths but won a change of prime minister (Mohamed Ghannouchi stepped down in favour of Beji Caid-Essebsi). In Iraq, renewed protests led to a promise to sack unsatisfactory ministers. In Algeria, the 19-year emergency law was repealed amid continuing protests. The demands are growing throughout the region, and will not be silenced.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprising in Libya, and all the other popular movements that have shaken the region are not just about how people want to live and develop, but about regional politics. For the first time since the 1970s, geopolitics cannot be analysed without taking into account, at least in part, the aspirations of people who have retaken control of their destinies.

“Governments of very different shades find common ground in the same disinformation. Iran has claimed that the Arabs’ democratic revolt heralded an Islamic revival, inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution” – Halimi has written, in ‘Could Iran be next?’

Israel repeated this claim, and pretended to be alarmed. But when the Iranian opposition gathered to celebrate the demonstrations in Cairo, the ruling theocracy opened fire on the crowd. The Israeli army does not massacre unarmed civilians – unless they are Palestinian (1,400 dead in Gaza two years ago) – but Binyamin Netanyahu does not welcome young Arabs’ demands for freedom any more than Iran does. Israel fears it might lose excellent partners in power, autocratic but pro-American. Its only recourse then would be to cry wolf against Iran.

But tensions with Israel and international sanctions enable the Iranian regime, emboldened by the weakening of regional rivals Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to play the nationalist card. It sees this as useful, since the 2009 Green Movement has not succumbed to ceaseless repression. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hoped the vaccine of hanging and torture had eradicated the virus of opposition. Sadly for him, the Arab revolt and the humiliating contrast between a highly educated population and an archaic political system undermine the dubious legitimacy of his regime.

Rather than follow the Libyan example and order the air force to machinegun the crowd, the ruling elite has unleashed the murderous demands of its followers. When the opposition mustered its forces, 222 of the 290 members of the Iranian parliament called for Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, former government dignitaries under house arrest for opposing the Supreme Leader, to be brought to trial.