Syrian troops shoot dead protesters in day of turmoil

Dozens reportedly killed as live bullets and teargas used against rallies after Friday prayers

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Despite a string of government concessions earlier in the week, including the lifting of the hated 48-year-old emergency law, tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding greater political freedom and an end to Ba'ath party rule took to the streets after Friday prayers.

Although information was difficult to obtain, at least 88 people were reported killed, including two in Douma, one in Homs, and at least six in the southern town of Izraa, and others in Moudamiya, outside Damascus, the activists said.

The protesters’ demands varied from place to place. In Kisweh, near Damascus, people called for freedom. In the Mediterranean city of Banias, they chanted: “The people want to topple the regime.” Other protesters directed their anger directly at members of the ruling family. “God, freedom and Syria only. God is greatest!” was another rallying cry. In some Damascus neighbourhoods, statues and posters of Assad and his late father, the former president Hafez al-Assad, were torn down, and there was chanting against Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s younger brother, who commands the army’s elite 4th division. Its soldiers, regarded by many Syrians as a private militia, have been reportedly responsible for shootings in Deraa and elsewhere.

In the Damascus district of Midan, 2,000 people chanted: “Zanga zanga, dar dar, Maher is a bigger moron than Bashar!” Another Assad family member, Rami Makhlouf, a business tycoon who is the president’s cousin, was also a target of the protesters’ wrath.

In their first joint statement, seen by the Guardian, the self-styled “local co-ordination committees”, representing provinces across Syria, said that “freedom and dignity slogans cannot be achieved except through peaceful democratic change”.

“All prisoners of conscience must be freed. The existing security apparatus has to be dismantled and replaced by one with specific jurisdiction and which operates according to law.”

Earlier, Reem Haddad, spokeswoman for the ministry of information told al Jazeera: “I think if the people protest peacefully, if they cause no harm, if they don’t burn or destroy, I think [security forces] will allow them to do so [protest], and I think after a certain time they will actually disperse them, tell them to go home.”

Asked at what point forces would open fire on protesters, she said: “If they are shot at, which has been the case previously.”

While calling for an end to the violence and democratic reform, western and other Arab countries have mostly muted their criticism of the killings and repression in Syria for fear of destabilising the country, which plays a strategic role across the Middle East.

Read the full article here.

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AndroidPolitician's Funland: Christopher Hitchens's "Four Reasons" For Invading Iraq (also Cancer)

So I stumbled across this blog post a few days ago and I keep turning it over in my mind. I disagree with the author’s views, and I’m bored so I thought I’d type up why. 

The original blog is worth a read, as is of course Hitch’s body of work on the invasion of Iraq. I’ll try to tackle the four points in the same way the blogger, Emanuel Goldstein does, but I’ll examine each of his opinions in turn.

1. The Ba'ath Campaign of Genocide Against the Kurds

Goldstein points out that the chemical weapons used to carry out the genocide were actually given to Iraq by the US. Fair point, well made. But that doesn’t change the fact that Saddam used them to gas his own people. The US sells weapons with a contract in place. Normally they sell them for purely self-defense purposes, and stipulate that if they are used offensively the US will use force to punish the violation of the contract. 

In this case the weapons were sold for an invasion, and were definitely not for gassing innocent civilians. This means the invasion was justified purely on the grounds that Saddam didn’t use them for what he said he would. Goldstein seems to imply that the US was in some way complicit with the genocide, which is false to the point of being a shocking slander. Goldstein says, and I quote:

The blame for this is so patently spread out to the US it’s ridiculous, you don’t supply a genocidal country chemical weapons then lobby the UN not to take action and absolve yourself of responsibility.

I agree, the sale of chemical weapons to Iraq by the Reagan administration was exceptionally irresponsible. No one could argue otherwise (and such a mistake begs for correction by a future administration, no?). But implying the genocide was supported by the US is flat out offensive.

Secondly, the US government had changed between the sale of weapons, the gassing of the Kurds, and the invasion of Iraq. With each of these events it was a different group of people in the White House and a fairly different group of people in Congress. If you want to blame someone for the sale of chemical weapons, blame President Ronald Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld (who was complicit in the sale as a pharmaceutical executive). Blaming the government in general is unfair, as these actions were overseen by one specific administration, headed by Reagan.

2. The Iraqi Annexation of Kuwait and Invasion of Iran

Sorry but that simply won’t fly here. I can find no evidence whatsoever that Hitchens supported the Iraqi invasion of Iran (please prove me wrong, it would make my day). I think Goldstein is getting confused here; Hitchens felt the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait was UN chart-definition aggression, and he regularly said so. In no way is it hypocritical to think the annexation of Kuwait is dissimilar to the invasion of Iraq. The annexation was necessary to enact a genocide, the invasion was necessary to ensure no genocide could ever happen again.

3. Iraq’s Flirtation with Nuclear Weapons Acquisition

Goldstein says we should make our complaints to the French for selling the reactor to the Ba'ath Party. Of course he’s correct, and I doubt Hitchens would disagree; the sale of that reactor was an astonishingly stupid thing to do. But this falls into the same trap as Goldstein’s chemical weapon red herring; the reactor was sold for peaceful purposes, and the Ba'ath regime then went back on their word. If they had used it for only peaceful purposes like they had agreed to, Hitchens (and myself) would have absolutely no issue with that. The ‘nuclear flirtation’ issue wouldn’t appear on the list of four reasons for invasion. However Iraq did go back on their word, and that makes this a reason to invade, regardless of who sold the reactor or why.

4. State Sponsored International Terrorism

Here I’m more inclined to agree with Goldstein. It is hard to prove they sponsored state terrorism, but we have several good reasons to think so. Either way, Hitchens often said that there were terrorist attacks carried out in Iraq and Iran that involved equipment far too sophisticated for Al Qaeda to acquire elsewhere (for instance, unbelievably enormous truck bombs). I don’t have much difficulty believing this, given the way the Ba'ath regime behaved in other areas of their rule, but unless it is certain I agree with Emanuel that it shouldn’t be on the list of four, unless it is made clear that it is simply a hunch that if true would add great weight to the case for invasion.

The invasion of Iraq was justified. The Ba'ath party’s campaign of genocide, threatening foreign policy, their desire for nuclear weapons and their likely links to international terrorist organizations invalidated their right to autonomously rule their people. In my opinion the single point of genocide alone justified an invasion, and even if it is debatable whether the others occurred it is absolutely not debatable that a genocide occurred in Iraq, sponsored by the Ba'ath party.