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Former FBI Investigator Of Blackwater Massacre Explains Why Pardons Were So Wrong

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Just as his critics had been predicting, President Donald Trump granted a long list of pardons and commutations this week — from his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort to former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter of California to Charles Kushner (father of White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner) to four former Blackwater security guards. Some of the sharp criticism that Trump has received for the Blackwater pardons has been coming from people in national security or law enforcement, and former FBI special agent Thomas O'Connor slams those pardons in an op-ed published on CNN's website on Christmas Eve Day.

The four security guards, who worked for the private security firm Blackwater during the George W. Bush era, were serving time in prison for their involvement in the slaughter of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is a far-right Trump supporter and the brother of Betsy DeVos, secretary of education in the outgoing Trump Administration.

O'Connor, who spent 23 years as an FBI special agent before retiring in 2019, explains, "I know that these men were undeserving of pardons because I was a member of the FBI evidence response team that traveled to Iraq and investigated the site of these killings."

O'Connor goes on to describe the events that occurred in Baghdad 13 years ago during Bush's second term as president.

"On September 16, 2007, Baghdad, Iraq was a dangerous place," the former FBI special agent recalls. "No one will dispute that fact. On that day, a bombing took place a few miles from a busy traffic circle called Al Nisour Square, which is used by Iraqis to access major roadways across Baghdad. A security detail from the private government contractor Blackwater was protecting a U.S. official attending a meeting at a government building when the bomb was detonated."

O'Connor notes that "the Blackwater Raven 23 defendants claimed that they responded to gunfire aimed at them while stopping traffic in Nisour Square that day." But after an "FBI team made four trips to Iraq to investigate this shooting," O'Connor writes, the evidence "was introduced into several U.S. court hearings.

"A jury heard the evidence and found four Blackwater guards guilty of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges," O'Connor notes. "The system worked, and justice was brought to the deceased, the injured victims and their families. The families of those killed and wounded at Nisour Square will now watch those responsible for this tragedy go free thanks to a pardon by the president of the United States. This simply makes me sad and angry."

O'Connor wraps up his op-ed by emphasizing that the four Blackwater guards were not acting in self-defense in Nisour Square.

"There is no forensic evidence of anyone shooting at the Blackwater team," according to O'Connor. "How do I know? The evidence told me that."

Pentagon In Chaos Over Response To Iraq Expulsion Of US Troops

An unsigned letter signaling what appeared to be a withdrawal of troops from Iraq threw Washington into chaos on Monday, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed its authenticity.In the letter, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said the United States is preparing to withdraw troops from Iraq after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American military from the country following the deadly attack last week that led to the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” Seely wrote in a letter to an Iraqi military official, according to Washington Post reporter Mustafa Salim.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that the letter is “inconsistent with where we are now,” according to defense reporter Paul McCleary.

After that first statement, Esper returned to tell reporters that the letter was real but that it was never meant to be seen as it was a draft.

The letter signaling the United States’ possible decision to pull troops from the country belies Donald Trump’s warning that if Iraq did vote to expel American troops, he would hit the country with “very big sanctions.”

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump said Sunday night from Air Force One, according to the New York Times.

Trump added, “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, who has covered wars across the world, said that expelling American troops from Iraq is “what Soleimani always wanted.”

“Maybe Iran gets its revenge without spilling a drop of blood,” Engel tweeted.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) echoed Engel’s sentiments. In a series of tweets on Monday, Merkley said that Trump’s attack, “strengthened the role of Iranian militias in Iraq, expanding Iranian influence — the exact opposite of our goal of reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Orders Airstrike Killing Top Iranian Military Leader Soleimani

Iraqi TV reported Thursday night that Qasem Soleimani, the leader of a special unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been killed. Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also reportedly killed.

While it was initially unclear whether the reports were true and who was to blame, the Pentagon eventually confirmed that, at the direction of President Donald Trump, it had carried out the strike. It said Soleimani had been planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members. Trump himself tweeted out simply an image of an American flag before the killing had been reported by the Pentagon, which many observers had interpreted as confirmation of the United States’ role.

“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Pentagon statement said.

Ahmed al-Assadi, an Iraqi militia spokesman, told Reuters: “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani.”

“The gloves are off,” warned Karim Emile Bitar, a professor of international relations, said on Twitter. “This could trigger a major escalation in the entire region, the consequences could be devastating.”

“Senior Iraqi politician tells me ‘apparently’ Soleimani is dead,” tweeted Robin Wright, a joint fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace “This is an astounding escalation between the US and Iran — which will ripple across the entire Middle East.”

Tensions have been rising between the United States and Iran in recent days, as hundreds of Iran-supporting protesters assaulted the American embassy in Iraq following a U.S. strike.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) offered an early comment on the news from Congress:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of Trump and a foreign policy hawk, told Banco: “We need to get ready for a major pushback. Our people in Iraq and the Middle East are going to be targeted. We need to be ready to defend our people in the Middle East. I think we need to be ready for a big counterpunch.”

IMAGE: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. Picture taken March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Trump Faces Crises In Iraq And North Korea — After Alienating Allies

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Two separate crises roiled President Donald Trump on the first day of the year of his re-election campaign.

The U.S embassy in Baghdad is recovering from an assault that grew out of a pro-Iran protest. Some protesters stormed the grounds and set fires. Hundreds came to the facility over two days to protest American airstrikes on the Iran-supported militia group, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 people. That strike came in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor, according to the U.S.

And now, the Pentagon has announced it is sending 750 troops to Iraq in response to the embassy assault, and thousands more a reportedly preparing to be deployed. It is, apparently, a classic case of escalating tension, and it’s not clear where it will lead.

At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has uncorked a new round of aggressive rhetoric of his own. Kim has said he is ready to take “shocking actual action.” He has promised the release of a “new strategic weapon” in response to unproductive talks with the United States, undermining Trump’s claims that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated.

“If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Kim said, USA Today reported.

It’s never clear how seriously to take North Korea’s rhetoric — it’s often overblown and purposefully provocative. But it is a genuine signal that, as experts have argued since the beginning, Trump’s attempts at diplomacy with the rogue nation have amounted to very little and have done nothing to alter Kim’s strategic interests.

Likewise in Iran, Trump’s failure is also on display. He tore up the Iran deal President Barack Obama had established with no good justification, insisting that being tough on the country could induce it to accept even more punishing terms. But the international community largely rejected Trump’s abandonment of the deal, leaving the United States isolated on the issue. And Trump seems no closer to a new deal with the country than he ever was.

Now we find ourselves in yet another series of escalating punches and counter-punches with Iran, and the body count is rising. When tensions rose with Iran earlier in 2019 over attacks on an oil tanker and a U.S. drone, I feared that then-National Security Adviser could use the situation to engineer a full-scale conflict with Iran. That fate was avoided, and Bolton has since been ousted, but the ratcheting up of violence and provocation on both sides could lead Trump on the path to war even if he genuinely wants to avoid it.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed:

So after 3 years of no international crises, @realDonaldTrump is facing one w Iran b/c he has rejected diplomacy & another w N Korea b/c he has asked too much of diplomacy. He will face both w little allied backing, less interagency process, & amidst impeachment. Happy New Year.

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) December 31, 2019

Some noted that “diplomacy” is too generous to describe Trump’s treatment of North Korea. Laura Rosenberger, the director of Secure Democracy, said that the term “pageantry” is more apt.

But another point in Haass’s tweet is worth paying attention to. He noted that, in Trump’s North Korea and Iran foreign policy, he largely alienated American allies and the interagency staffers who typically shape U.S. diplomacy. As is readily apparent, going his own way hasn’t proved to be a successful method. But it also means it will be much hard to turn to these partners and tested strategies for diplomatic help now because he cut them out at the beginning. Trump has also dramatically undercut his own credibility by prematurely declaring victory in both North Korea and Iran.

“A very predictable consequence of the lack of Trump’s showmanship in place of any policy or strategy on North Korea,” noted Rosenberger of Kim’s aggressive talk. “Buckle up.”

The twin crises, of course, are arising when Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

“The timing of these new challenges is critical,” wrote David Sanger in the New York Times. “Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.:

Why John Bolton Is The Most Dangerous Man In The World

When National Security Adviser John Bolton demanded military plans to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Trump demurred, reportedly saying his national security adviser was trying to pull him “into a war.”

When Bolton demanded “regime change” in Iran and the Pentagon produced a plan to put 120,000 troops into the region, Trump demurred again.

“He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,’ which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion,” one unnamed official told the Washington Post.

When push comes to proverbial shove, Trump balks at shoving.

When U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido attempted to lead a popular uprising on April 30, Trump did not lend his voice to the call. As Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the alleged danger of Russian involvement, the president rubbished his message saying Vladimir Putin was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”

The uprising failed, and Bolton moved on to Iran.

Last week, Bolton warned the Tehran government that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” On Wednesday, Trump spoke of negotiations, saying, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The national security adviser wants war, but his boss doesn’t want to be a war president. Trump’s combination of bluster (“bomb the shit out of them”) and antiwar rhetoric (“Bush lied”) is a political asset he doesn’t want to squander. Bolton’s job isn’t in any danger, because to Trump, tough talk is good politics. Insults, threats, sanctions, and covert operations are fine—as long as they don’t lead to an actual shooting war.

Some hope it’s a “good cop/bad cop” routine, designed to get Trump to the global stage of negotiations. But that is not how Bolton thinks. He has never suggested that any negotiated settlement between the United States and any adversary is worth pursuing.

When Trump came to office, official Washington hoped generals like Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would act as the “adults in the room.” In Washington-speak, the phrase expressed the bipartisan hope that Trump’s non-interventionist instincts, grounded in domestic politics, would be curbed.

Now, the dynamic has flipped. Now the generals are gone, replaced by Bolton and Boeing lobbyist Patrick Shanahan. As Bolton pursues regime change in Venezuela and Iran, the only restraining force is Trump himself.

It’s a thin orange line. Will it hold?

Trump’s Obama-like determination to stay out of wars shouldn’t be underestimated. Hillary Clinton, who advocated strongly for Timber Sycamore, would never have abruptly withdrawn 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as Trump did in December.

While Obama refused direct U.S. involvement in Syria, he did acquiesce to the CIA’s $1 billion covert arms transfer program, code-named Timber Sycamore. The goal was to aid the “moderate” rebels, who, unfortunately, did not exist. The program flooded the country with weapons, many of which wound up in the hands of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, funded by U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

Trump ended Timber Sycamore in the summer of 2017. His withdrawal order in December 2018 not only triggered Mattis’ resignation; it also deprived Bolton of real estate from which he planned to confront Iran. Bolton has been trying to walk back Trump’s order ever since, with some success. Approximately 400 U.S. troops remain in the country.

On Venezuela, it was Trump who started talk of “military option” in August 2017 before Bolton had even joined his administration. Bolton escalated confrontation, with the help of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, repeatedly saying “Maduro must go” and that his “time is up.” Trump, pondering the reality that U.S military intervention can only undermine the goal of ousting Maduro, now resists the option he put on the table.

The problem for the war-wary Trump is threefold.

First, Bolton is, objectively speaking, a warmonger. He has favored attacking Iran and North Korea, just as he favored attacking Iraq in 2003. The disastrous consequences of the invasion have had no effect on his impermeable thinking. He doesn’t want any advice on his schemes, and he doesn’t get any. If the policy doesn’t work, he changes the subject, not directions.

Second, because Bolton’s policies are developed in private, without the usual input from other sectors of the government, especially the military, they are underinformed and unsustainable. In Venezuela, Bolton failed to understand Venezuelan political realities leaving talk of military intervention as the only face-saving option.

Third, and most important, Trump’s regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are also seeking to goad the U.S. into taking action against Iran, their regional rival.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought authority to attack Iran in 2011, only to be thwarted by the opposition of President Obama and his own security Cabinet. Obama is gone and Trump has given Netanyahu everything he wanted: an embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of the Golan Heights. Why not a unilateral attack on Iran to degrade its infrastructure?

Saudi Arabia is openly calling for war. After four oil tankers last week suffered damage from some kind of attack, the United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran. Why? The New York Times reported that “Israeli intelligence had warned the United States in recent days of what it said was Iran’s intention to strike Saudi vessels.” The Times said the information came from a “senior Middle Eastern intelligence official.”

An Iranian parliamentary spokesman described the attacks as “Israeli mischief.” To date, there is no conclusive evidence about who was responsible.

Nonetheless, the Arab News, a Saudi outlet owned by the brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is now calling for “surgical strikes” on Iran.

It is one thing for Trump to privately rebuke Bolton. If and when Netanyahu and MBS ask for war, Trump will have more difficulty saying no—which is what Bolton is counting on.

It is no exaggeration to say Bolton is the most dangerous man in the world. It is a title he will only lose if Trump wants it.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Obama Advisor: Beware Bolton’s ‘Manufactured Crisis’ With Iran

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Although President Donald Trump has often advocated an isolationist “America first” brand of conservatism and received his share of favorable coverage from paleoconservatives like columnist Patrick Buchanan and the editorial team of Antiwar.com, his national security advisor, neocon megahawk John Bolton, appears to be pushing for a war against Iran. And paleoconservatives aren’t the only ones who believe that going to war with Iran would be a terrible idea.

Ben Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security advisor under President Barack Obama, is warning that the Trump Administration’s Iran policy is sounding more and more like the George W. Bush Administration pushing for an Iraq invasion in 2002 and 2003.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Rhodes recalls that President George W. Bush “made the case that the United States had to attack” Iraq before dictator Saddam Hussein “could use weapons of mass destruction that Iraq didn’t really have.” And similarly, Rhodes warns, “Trump’s administration has made every effort to manufacture a crisis with Iran.”

“This month,” Rhodes writes, “the manufactured crisis was escalated. Bolton announced the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region.” Rhodes notes that Bolton has long advocated for “regime change” in Iran, asserting, “It’s hard not to conclude that Trump’s administration has pursued a clear strategy: provoke Iran into doing something that gives a pretext for war. And as with Iraq, the administration has used exaggerations and unspecified intelligence reports to lay the predicate that an offensive war against Iran will be defensive.”

Rhodes notes that a British military ally of the U.S., Major Gen. Chris Ghika—who has been a key figure in anti-ISIS and anti-terrorist efforts in the Middle East—recently asserted that there has been “no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.” And Rhodes concludes his op-ed on an ominous note, warning, “If we slide into another war based on a fundamentally dishonest premise, Trump’s lies could wind up producing painful and far-reaching consequences.”

 

 

We’re Living ‘The Hunger Games’ — And We Need To Change That

Most of us are familiar with The Hunger Games — the story of a fictional future society where an elite has everything and is oblivious to the suffering all around them, beyond an occasionally peek at their ubiquitous screens to see the tragedies unfolding beyond their borders.

I founded Lions Gate Entertainment, which distributed that dystopian film to the world eight years ago. I never thought it would become a reality, but I’m afraid it has.

After spending three days in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where I was doing some desperately needed humanitarian work to help Christians terrorized by ISIS, I returned to my home in Vancouver. By habit, I opened my Instagram account and mindlessly browsed through postings of people I knew, to see what had happened while I was gone.

It was like leaving The Hunger Games’ District 13 and returning to the privileged life of Panem. As I gazed at photo-shopped selfies, hot vacation spots, and cute pets, I realized I just couldn’t connect with them. And I realized that most of the friends on my Instagram account couldn’t connect to the devastation I’d witnessed just hours before.

What I saw in Mosul was the aftermath of the nine-month battle to liberate the city, often called the birthplace of Christianity, from its ISIS captors — who had held the city’s civilians hostage for the preceding three years.

After the biggest urban battle since World War II, eight million tons of rubble is pretty much all that is left of the western part of this ancient city. It was mind-boggling to walk the streets, knowing there are still many undiscovered bodies buried beneath the bombed-out buildings. As many as 40,000 people may have died in the battle for Mosul. (Neither the Iraqi government nor the US coalition will acknowledge any total number of casualties).

Now in the safety of Vancouver, browsing through those Instagram photos, I realized that our society faces a profound challenge.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault the folks who posted those pretty photos; I’ve posted plenty of my own. But we are in an existential crisis, absorbed with life in our comfortable, social-media driven bubbles, a phenomenon that isolates us from the world’s major challenges.

Until three years ago I was equally isolated. Then I visited Lesbos, Greece, and saw refugees landing on the beaches. That personal moment, which I could never have experienced on social media, motivated me to immerse myself in doing something to help the 65 million-plus human beings who are now refugees.

Since I began that work, I have grown increasingly frustrated that our social media addiction is making us like the citizens of The Hunger Games’ Panem — clueless to what is happening in the world around us.

But why?

Partly it is a matter of what media choose to cover — and what we choose to follow — in an era fueled by political scandal and celebrities. When was the last time you turned on any cable news outlet and saw a report about the thousands of civilians killed during the recapture of Mosul? Or a story about the millions of Yemenis now on the brink of starvation because of a US-backed, Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in their country? How much coverage have you seen of the Russian-backed Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own citizens that has killed hundreds of thousands and left half the population displaced?

My guess would be that you haven’t seen much.

But our growing isolation from these brutalities can’t be blamed only on the paucity of coverage, because media does provide some reporting of these tragedies. The broader problem is that we are being anesthetized by the technology now shaping our society and its discourse.

We increasingly get most of our information from social media, where we select the kind of information or opinions we want. To make matters worse, we allow the algorithms used by these platforms to reinforce our preferences and make those decisions for us. In this way, we can easily tune out the hard-core reality of what’s happening in the world.

Why should we care about what seems like an unstoppable trend? So what if we choose to exist in our comfortable bubble, paying little heed to the problems of people on the other side of the planet? We’re just civilians. We can’t fix wars, can we?

Perhaps not, but we should still worry about one very dangerous result of our intellectual and social isolation. Tyrants are now taking advantage of this public-interest vacuum to perpetrate astonishing atrocities against civilians, destabilizing whole societies and holding power — as the International Crisis Group outlined in its recent paper, Misery as a Strategy.

A dumbed-down public can be manipulated, fooled, and distracted more easily, allowing those in power to get away with murder, quite literally and on a massive scale. Robespierre said it best: “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”

While we live in a world where the rules of conduct are melting away at a dizzying pace, there is a solution to this growing entropy on the international stage. We must change our social media behavior.

Accompanying me in Mosul was my friend, the global philanthropist Amed Khan. One of his ideas is to invite Vice President Mike Pence to come to Mosul and witness the plight of Christians there. We can hope that Pence and other leaders will take Amed up on that invitation.

But I would extend it even further.

We don’t have to give up Instagram or any other platform. But we do need to log off from time to time, to take personal responsibility to engage with the world beyond the screen. When we choose to live within an isolated bubble, allowing barbarism to prevail, everyone will lose eventually.

The Hunger Games teaches us that, too.

Founder of the Radcliffe Foundation, which sponsors his continuing work on refugee issues, Frank Giustra is the former chair of Yorkton Securities and the co-founder of Lionsgate Entertainment. He is also an active executive member of the International Crisis Group and created the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership with former president Bill Clinton. 

IMAGE: Displaced Iraqi civilians who fled Mosul gather at Khazer camp, Iraq December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

‘Our City Is In Ruins’: Crushing Wars Are Raging On In Syria And Iraq With No End In Sight

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

On 10 July 2017, Iraqi’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in the city of Mosul to declare it liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesperson of the Iraqi forces, told Iraqi television, “Their fictitious state has fallen.”

Prime Minister al-Abadi has been a senior member of one Iraqi government after the other since the illegal US invasion and occupation of that country in 2003. He was dismayed by the privatization plans of the US Viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and he participated in the lawsuit against the US mercenary army – the private company called Blackwater. At the same time, al-Abadi participated in governments led largely by his Islamic Dawa Party (which he joined in 1967 at the age of fifteen). This party has overseen – with US aid and encouragement – the breakdown of Iraqi society. The brutality of the US invasion and occupation as well as the sectarian policies of the Islamic Dawa Party drove the creation of ISIS in 2006 and then its expansion by 2014. This is a man with a front-row seat for the unraveling of his country.

What did al-Abadi see when he looked across the expanse of Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities? He would have seen not only the violence visited by ISIS upon this historic city – including destroying a large part of its Great Mosque of al-Nuri – but also the destruction of the city by this current onslaught that has lasted nine months. A million civilians fled Mosul; many thousands of civilians have been killed. They live in nineteen emergency camps – each wanting in basic needs. “The levels of trauma we are seeing are some of the highest anywhere,” said Lise Grande of the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. “What people have experienced is nearly unimaginable.” The UN requested nearly $1 billion of the international community. It has received just over 40 percent of what is required. With oil prices down, Iraq simply does not have the revenue to rebuild this destroyed city. It will need help.

Humanitarianism wars are easier to fund than the humanitarian peace.

“Our city is in ruins,” said Ayman who lives in the western part of Mosul. “They have treated us like we are absolutely nothing.” Who is the “they” in Ayman’s statement? ISIS surely, but also the Iraqi military and its US allies.

Ayman’s statement appears in an Amnesty International report that was released on 11 July – At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul. It is a careful report, but with a point that should not be ignored. Amnesty suggests that the United States and the Iraqi forces “carried out a series of unlawful attacks in west Mosul.” The report further says, “Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives and in some cases appears to have constituted disproportionate attacks.”

The United States government attacked Amnesty for its conclusions. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said, in Washington, “I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful or excessively targeted civilians.”

Airwars, the group that studies aerial bombardment, shows – in a new report – that the US aerial bombardment of western Mosul increased by 21 percent in the past month, with the munitions concentrated on certain neighborhoods. This has led, Airwars says, to increased civilian deaths. Chris Woods of Airwars says, “The speed and intensity of these attacks – which the US now describes as a war of ‘annihilation’ – have placed civilians at far greater risk of harm. Heavy weapons also continue to be used on densely populated areas. The consequences are inevitable.” Lt. General Townsend has not commented yet on the Airwars report. The term “annihilation” is chilling.

The numbers put out by Airwars are deflated. “It is highly probable,” the report notes, “that the death toll is substantially higher than this Airwars estimate, with multiple reports referencing thousands of corpses still trapped under the rubble.” Reports from the ground suggest the use of illegal weapons – including white phosphorus (although the US has denied this) – as well as “horrific scenes of bodies scattering the streets.” It will take a great deal of investigation to piece together the full-scale of the human tragedy first in the ISIS capture of Mosul and then in the US-Iraqi assault on the city.

Al-Abadi would also know that ISIS was able to expand in 2013 and 2014 partly because the Iraqi government crushed any attempt by ordinary Iraqis to get a better deal. A major political uprising from 2011 brought together groups such as the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Their demands were for the recreation of their destroyed society, for an economy that benefits Iraqis and for a political project that unifies the people and does not tear open sectarian divides. The government did not listen to them. The path of nonviolent resistance was blocked in 2011, and then sent backwards when Iraqi security forces massacred peaceful protestors in al-Hawija in April 2013. After the massacre, ISIS scouts came into al-Hawija to recruit fighters. They said, “You tried the peaceful route. What did it bring you? Now come with us.” Many did. Al-Hawija remains in ISIS hands. In fact, after the apparent death of ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of al-Hawija – Abu Haitham al-Obaidi – declared that he was the new caliph. His forces are arrayed in the western part of al-Hawija, ready for a major battle.

Little wonder that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Zeid al-Hussein – said that “dialogue between communities needs to begin now to try to halt the cycle of violence.” Much water has slipped under the bridge. Not only the history of the brutality of the US invasion and occupation – which razed many of the cities in Anbar Province such as Fallujah and Ramadi – but also the ruthlessness of the Iraqi government as well as of the US-Iraqi war on Mosul. The way one fights a war suggests to the defeated the terms of the future. A brutal war can only mean that there will be no real “dialogue” to prevent precisely the “cycle of violence.”

ISIS fighters fled Mosul for other parts of Iraq as well as for Syria. The battle is far from over. US aerial assaults on the Syrian cities of Raqqa, Hasakah and Deir Ezzor continue, increasing with great ferocity. Airwars suggests that the number of civilian deaths from the US-led air war in Syria is at the highest it has been for a long while. What is most startling is the assertion by Airwars that “casualty events attributed to the [US-led] Coalition in Iraq and Syria outpaced those reportedly carried out by Russia in Syria” for the sixth consecutive month. That means that the civilian toll from US airstrikes has been greater than the casualty toll from the Russian strikes. Yet it is the latter that gets the attention by the Western media, while the former is largely – if not entirely – ignored. There is a theory, as I have written about previously, that Western bombing is benevolent, whereas Eastern bombing is malevolent. This seems to operate for the Western media.

US bombing in Raqqa has hit civilian infrastructure – including internet cafes and swimming pools, shops and mosques. There are reports of civilians being killed as they flee Raqqa. Lt. General Stephen Townsend, who derided Amnesty’s allegations about war crimes in Mosul, told the New York Times’ Michael Gordon a few days ago, “And we shoot every boat we find. If you want to get out of Raqqa right now, you’ve got to build a poncho raft.” This is a violation of the UN’s 1981 Protection of Asylum-Seekers in Situations of Large-Scale Influx.

Meanwhile, the de-escalation zones continue to be formed in Syria to the great relief of the population. It is the only glimmer of hope in the region. Most of these de-escalation zones are in western Syria, with the most recent declared along the Jordanian border, including the provinces of Dara’a, Quneitra and Sweida. The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR – said that 440,000 internally displaced people have returned to their homes during the first six months of this year. Over 30,000 Syrians who had left the country have now returned home. Some of these ceasefires relied upon discussions between Iran and Qatar. It is clear that one of the reasons for Saudi Arabia’s annoyance with Qatar is that it has participated actively in the creation of these de-escalation zones. Expansion of this zone is essential for the well-being of the people.

It would be valuable if this example of the de-escalation zones would set the ethical foundation for peace-making in Iraq as well as in northeastern Syria. Total warfare wins battles, but it can often prolong the war.

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013) and The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.