When it comes to inflicting miseries on innocent Afghan people, there’s plenty of blame to be shared…Yet, unquestionably, the warring party in Afghanistan with the most sophisticated weapons and seemingly endless access to funds has been the United States. Funds were spent not to lift Afghans to a place of security from which they might have worked to moderate Taliban rule, but to further frustrate them, beating down their hopes of future participatory governance with twenty years of war and brutal impoverishment. The war has been a prelude to the United States’ inevitable retreat and the return of a possibly more enraged and dysfunctional Taliban to rule over a shattered population.
The troop withdrawal negotiated by President Joe Biden and U.S. military officials is not a peace agreement. Rather, it signals the end of an occupation resulting from an unlawful invasion, and while troops are leaving, the Biden Administration is already laying plans for “over the horizon” drone surveillance, drone strikes, and “manned” aircraft strikes which could exacerbate and prolong the war.
Kathy Kelly, a longtime peace activist has been in Afghanistan many times throughout the years. See her article, “Reckoning and Reparations in Afghanistan,” Progressive Magazine, July 15, 2021
Somalia: “Collective Defense”
The U.S. military was supposed to have pulled out of Somalia mid January of 2021, as announced by Trump. However, that doesn’t mean leaving the country. The U.S. military is stationed in adjacent countries and can still bomb Somalia as they did on July 20 and again on July 23. According to online news site, The Hill, U.S. Africa Command General Stephen Townsend claimed his own authority to strike under “collective defense”, meaning it’s conducted with partners veiled by “operational security.” The Pentagon claimed the bombing was done under the 9/ll Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which gave the president the power to strike anywhere, anytime, ignoring the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives had recently voted to repeal the AUMF and that even the President wasn’t informed of the action. So evidently a general can make decisions to bomb, independent of any branch of government.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota questioned the idea of collective defense and asked that “strategy focus first and foremost on the security of the Somali people and the stability of the Somali state.”
Eye Witness: Syria during the 2021 Presidential Election
Driving into Syria in the middle of the night was intense. The lights and bustle of Lebanon gave way to darkness and stone-faced soldiers along an empty highway. Our luggage was searched at military checkpoints. It felt like entering the warzone we’d all read about. But then we saw lights appear in the darkness: streetlamps, illuminated public art displays, traffic, nightlife. Even at 3 o’clock in the morning, we could discern that Damascus, one of the world’s oldest cities and a longstanding hub of Arab culture and resistance to Western imperialism, was coming back to life after a decade of war.
In the badly damaged Jobar neighborhood of Damascus, restorations like the charming balconies on a building (third from left) are an inspiring sign of Syrian resilience. Photo: Wyatt Miller
I was part of the International Delegation to the 2021 Syrian Presidential Election. Organized by the U.S.-based Syria Solidarity Movement and Arab Americans 4 Syria, the delegation included activists from Palestine, South Africa, France, Canada and the U.S. We spent a week in and around Damascus to witness the May 26 presidential election and see the conditions in which Syrians live.
As with much of Syria, the war had been over in Damascus for several years after the government restored control. In areas that were spared the fighting, like the Old City with its endless stalls of metalsmiths, woodworkers, soapmakers and other craftsmen, it looked much like it probably had for centuries. But in places like the Jobar neighborhood, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, and the eastern suburb of Douma, there was no avoiding the signs of war. Nearly every surface was covered in bullet holes. Stray dogs roamed in piles of rubble that stretched for miles.
Against that gruesome backdrop, we saw Syrians trying to return to their lives. Millions fled their homes in the early years of the war when so-called “rebels” took over their neighborhoods to use as bases to fight the government. Armed, funded and whitewashed by the U.S. and its allies, this patchwork of reactionary warlords and foreign mercenaries were more analogous to the Contras of Nicaragua than any authentic rebels. Years later, with control being restored to more and more areas, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have begun to rebuild their homes and businesses. We saw many surreal sights of otherwise damaged buildings with a quaint restored balcony here, a sleek new storefront there. People’s resilience in those conditions was as inspiring as it was heartbreaking.
The worst feeling was knowing that reconstruction would be happening faster if it weren’t for U.S. sanctions. A few months before our trip, UN human rights rapporteur Alena Douhan stated that U.S. sanctions were “impeding access to supplies needed to repair infrastructure damaged by the conflict” and “[running] roughshod over human rights, including the Syrian people’s rights to housing, health, and an adequate standard of living and development.” Many Syrians we spoke to believed that the most recent round of severe sanctions, imposed by Trump in 2019, are deliberately intended to discourage the return of refugees.
Necessities as basic as cooking oil now cost large portions of people’s income. Many have had to find second and third jobs in the informal and black market economies. We saw dozens of people along the roadside selling jugs of gasoline, smuggled in from Lebanon—a sign of the ongoing illegal US occupation of Syria’s eastern oil fields. Even though ISIS has largely been defeated, and invasion by Turkey has been stopped by a compromise between the Syrian government and Kurdish groups seeking greater autonomy, US troops have remained in eastern Syria following Trump’s “keep the oil” policy.
Voters at the polling place in the city of Douma, a suburb northeast of Damascus. Photo: Wyatt Miller
As for the election, what we saw of it was nothing like the “fake” election conjured up by corporate media. Posters of the different candidates lined the streets. Trade unions and youth organizations held large rallies. Long lines formed outside polling places—not only inside the country but also at Syrian consulates in Lebanon, where refugees braved xenophobic violence to cast a ballot.
For the Syrians we spoke to, the election meant more than just picking a president (Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in a landslide). They were proud that their country had retained its independence and reclaimed most of its territory from foreign-backed contras. Rumors abounded that Arab and European countries would soon reopen their embassies in Damascus. People’s hopes were high that the election would bring stability after a decade of violence and uncertainty.
The U.S. is the main obstacle to peace in Syria. U.S. troops occupy Syria’s east. U.S. sanctions devastate Syria’s economy and preclude the return of many refugees, and U.S. think tanks lobby for renewed support for war, recently trying to rehabilitate an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria’s north.
We in the U.S. must be firm in rejecting more U.S. intervention in Syria. Otherwise this war will continue, and even after half a million of its people have died, Syria could be in for yet another round of violence, with no end in sight.
Wyatt Miller is a Youth Against Empire Committee member of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and a member of the Antiwar Committee, Minneapolis. In May 2021, he travelled with a delegation to Syria. His written work has appeared in CounterPunch, MintPress News, and the Orinoco Tribune.
The Biden Administration has continued the U.S. bombings in the Middle East that were ordered for decades under the presidencies of the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Trump. Without congressional authorization, on February 25, U.S. fighter planes dropped seven 500-pound bombs on two locations in Syria. On June 27, the U.S. military dropped 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions on facilities inside Iraq and Syria near the border of these two countries. Foreign and independent news sources report casualties of wounded and dead militia, and at least one civilian.
The rationale provided to the American public was that the bombings – violations of national sovereignty – were in retaliation for Iran’s alliance with Iraqi military units referred to as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), seen as a threat to the 2,500 American troops stationed in Iraq. These Iraqi military forces had been sending small drones packed with explosives into the U.S. bases. In February, one foreign contractor was reported killed and nine Americans were wounded in the attacks.
U.S. soldiers have been placed in a very dangerous position where there is strong opposition to them.
The most recent spate of incidents has its origins back in January of 2020, when former President Trump sent a drone to assassinate the leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and his colleague Iraqi General Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, at the Baghdad International Airport. In retaliation for those murders and the refusal of the U.S. to remove its troops out of the country, after a resolution was passed by the Iraqi parliament, the PMF began targeting U.S. interests, military bases, and diplomatic institutions in Iraq.
An overarching concern of the U.S. has been how to eliminate the Popular Mobilization Forces, which had begun to grow stronger every day.
That’s because – taking the timeline back further to 2003 – the U.S. has tried to prevent Iraq from having its own strong, efficient armed forces. When the leadership of Saddam Hussein and the secular Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party was removed (the de-Ba’athification of Iraq), Paul Bremer was appointed the U.S. civil administrator, replacing the former Iraqi president. Bremer came with 100 orders, the first of which was the abandonment of the Iraqi army, which had been ranked the fourth most powerful in the world prior to the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq. The infrastructure of roads, bridges, power stations, water purification plants, and more than 3,500 factories producing goods for the Iraqi people was destroyed and closed. More than 25 American bases took complete control of Iraq’s airspace, water, and land, and Iraq was not to able to rebuild itself. The so-called creative chaos, heralded by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006, pervaded Iraq’s vital institutions and facilities. The only thing that functioned smoothly was Iraq’s formerly nationalized oil industry taken over by U.S., UK, and multinational corporations, which began pumping out exports to profit for themselves.
As for neighboring Syria, we found that the United States funded proxy terrorist groups with various names as opposition forces to fight, on behalf of the United States and its allies, against the Syrian government. The U.S. maintained more than 25 military bases to occupy Iraq while in 2014 allowing ISIS to penetrate Iraq’s borders from the Syrian side and travel to and occupy Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. PMFs filmed many videos of the U.S. and its Middle East proxy client-state, Israel, supporting and aiding these terrorists on the ground by dropping food and weapons from U.S. planes, as well as by treating injured ISIS fighters at medical facilities.
The official Iraqi army, trained by the U.S., carried out a poor defense of Mosul against ISIS. On the ground, the Iraqi army fought and fled, leaving remnants of ISIS and its weapons behind.
After the fall of Mosul, the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa ordering Iraqi youth to perform sufficient jihad to expel the remaining forces of ISIS from Iraq. And in record time, and in response to the call, hundreds of thousands of young people flocked to form the Popular Mobilization Forces for the purpose of supporting the official Iraqi army. The PMF fought fiercely against the remnants of ISIS, forcing them out.
The PMF became a ghost haunting unwanted elements in Iraq. This is especially true since the nation of Iran is behind them in strength, organization, and training. Iran and the PMF are allied in opposition to the U.S. policies towards Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East.
As the PMF grew strong, they were recognized as legitimate forces by Iraqi law. It was as if the once powerful Iraqi army, dissolved by Paul Bremer in 2003, had returned.
Iraq’s neighbor, Syria, continued to struggle. The terroristic mercenaries which had infiltrated Syria and were backed by the U.S. and its regional partners, the oil monarchies, fought against the official army of the Syrian government with the aim of weakening the Syrian state in a way that would cause it to collapse. However, the presence of the PMF in Syria reminded everyone that it has become difficult to weaken the Syrian government, as was the case in Iraq.
Hence, the U.S. and Israel have continued bombing the Popular Mobilization Forces wherever they were found in an attempt to keep the Middle East divided, separate, and weak. They want to prevent the rebirth of the movement which began in the 1950s to throw off the colonial yoke and to unify the region, keeping its resources for its own people.
Unless something changes, military skirmishes will continue between Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine on the one hand, and the U.S. and its allied client-partners on the other, and may develop into a devastating new war in the Middle East.
In order for peace to prevail for everyone in the Middle East region, we must continue to promote a culture of nonviolence and tolerance in our homes, schools, and societies until each of us becomes a true human being.
Sami Rasouli was born, raised, and educated primarily in Iraq. He lived in the U.S. for many years and returned to Iraq in 2005 to found the Muslim Peacemaker Teams in his city of origin, Najaf. Among other projects, he established the American Institute of Language in Najaf (which had no political affiliation, but in 2020 was blown up and destroyed, believed due to a misunderstanding about its name). Rasouli now resides in the U.S., where he plans to continue his people-to-people outreach and peace work through the American-Iraqi Initiative.