Jonathan Rugman on Iraq.

On August 8th 2014, the U.S. announced that they had started carrying out air strikes in northern Iraq. The major reason given for this was that the United States couldn’t stand idly by while the Islamic State killed, displaced and persecuted minority groups, with the fate of the Yazidis at the forefront of the justification.

Barack Obama was quoted as saying that:

‘when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye’.

Meanwhile, over the preceding 4 weeks, Israel had been busily massacring circa 2000 people in the Gaza Strip.

The Obama administration’s response to this was to block attempts at the U.N. to hold Israel accountable for war crimes, and to replenish the Israeli military’s arsenal. There were also some mildly critical statements from the U.S. towards Israel, particularly in regards to the bombing of U.N. schools sheltering refugees, but their actions demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they generally supported and wanted to facilitate the massacre.

Despite this glaring double standard, an awful lot of corporate media reporting has taken Obama at his word. That the U.S. is indeed bombing Iraq to protect Yazidis, that their actions are well intentioned, and that they should be supported to this end.

On Friday 22nd August, The New Statesman published an article by Jonathan Rugman, the foreign correspondent at Channel 4 news, very much along these lines.

Here’s a few brief comments on why I think the article is problematic, and symptomatic of the shallow approach that currently dominates reporting of this conflict.


‘Britain and the US veered from over-intervening in Iraq to neglecting it’.

An illegal invasion, predicated on blatant lies and half-truths, which lead to 500’000+ excess deaths and millions of displacements, is here airily dismissed by Rugman as ‘over-intervening’.

Within that phrase lie a multitude of sins, from the disproportionate and indiscriminate attack on Fallujah; to the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib; to the massacre at Haditha; to the use of fire bombs, cluster bombs and white phosphorous; to the general disregard for Iraqi lives inherent among their supposed liberators and now saviours.

This history is surely important in judging whether the U.S./U.K. can in any way be trusted to act in a humane and ethical manner in Iraq, but is airbrushed out entirely by Rugman.

The people primarily responsible for instigating the current carnage in Iraq are then accused of ‘neglecting’ it (that it might be a good thing if the U.S./U.K. et al left Iraq alone apparently doesn’t occur to Rugman).

It is ‘our’ duty and ‘our’ prerogative to ‘intervene’ – although perhaps the porridge has to be at just the right temperature . .  .


‘Now, there’s the inevitable talk of “mission creep” and being “sucked in” but at least we are trying to find a middle way: surveillance, arming the Kurds, air strikes, using special forces for whom discretion is the better part of valour’.

An interesting use of the word ‘we’ here, if only because it makes clear Rugman self-identifies as being on the same side as the people currently bombing Iraq.


‘Intervention came too late for 100,000 Assyrian Christians abandoning some of Christendom’s earliest outposts. And too late for the vast majority of Yazidis – but at least their exodus caught the world’s attention’.

A lot of reporting currently coming out of Iraq reads like the persecution of minority groups is a fairly recent development, including the above sentence. But this is far from being the case.

Amnesty International reported in 2011, for example, that:

‘Within weeks of the US-led invasion in 2003, members of religious and ethnic minority communities were targeted for violent attack, including abductions and killings’.

Human Rights Watch reported in 2009 how:

‘Minorities in Iraq find themselves in an increasingly precarious position as the Arab-dominated central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government vie for control of the disputed territories . . . Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks have suffered extensively since 2003 . . . Iraqi authorities, both Arab and Kurdish, need to rein in security forces, extremists and vigilante groups to send a message that minorities cannot be attacked with impunity’.

Nor is the ‘exodus’ of minority groups anything new. As Amnesty International again reported in 2008:

‘The displacement crisis caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent internal armed conflict has reached shocking proportions. Millions of people at risk – Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Mandean-Sabeans, Palestinians and others – have fled their homes and most are now struggling to survive . . .

. . . the world’s governments have done little or nothing to help, failing both in their moral duty and in their legal obligation to share responsibility for displaced people wherever they are. Apathy towards the crisis has been the overwhelming response’.

As these reports make clear, the persecution and mass displacement of minority groups in Iraq was actually exacerbated by ‘intervention’ – namely the 2003 invasion – and the current phase of it is just a continuation of that.

Rugman arguing that ‘intervention has come too late’ to save minority groups in Iraq is, in a sense, a reversal of the truth: U.S./U.K. ‘Intervention’ in Iraq has been a major cause of the problem, rather than any kind of solution to it.

By neglecting to mention this history, Rugman is once again omitting some crucial context.


‘My reporting rarely changes anything but maybe the first pictures broadcast on Channel 4 News of desperate Yazidi refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar helped prick the conscience of reluctant policymakers. Anyway, that’s what I like to think’.

I’m sure that is what Rugman likes to think. But it is highly likely that the U.S. would have ‘intervened’ with or without his reporting. And i’m not sure that the ‘intervention’ is in any way motivated by the ‘consciences’ of the people planning it and executing it, ‘pricked’ or not.

It might – and I stress might there –  be more accurate to say that Rugman’s reporting has helped drum up public support for such an ‘intervention’, by highlighting the plight of the Yazidis, but stripping it of the historical context and critical commentary that might cause people to think twice about U.S./U.K. military ‘intervention’ as a solution.

What’s more, as someone who has followed events in Iraq fairly closely for years, I don’t remember much media clamour to ‘save’ Iraqi minorities during the U.S./U.K. occupation years, or much concern about their well being, even though their problems were just as grave.  As an issue it was covered, but it was never treated as pressing or urgent.

‘Apathy towards the crisis’ was ‘the overwhelming response’, as Amnesty International put it (just as now, as we speak, there is general media apathy about the ongoing ‘hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis’ currently afflicting Afghanistan).

A cynic might say that this is because expressing concern about the plight of minority groups in Iraq wasn’t politically expedient back then (when ‘the surge’ was supposedly working, and a corner was being turned, and all of that palava).

It is politically expedient now though, as a pretext for the U.S., U.K. et al to ‘intervene’ in Iraq once again, for what are likely amoral economic and geo-strategic reasons.

But correspondents like Rugman apparently want us to believe that the same States which showed near total apathy towards the plight of displaced and persecuted Iraqi minority groups circa 2007 and 2008 – and which have killed Iraqis in such huge numbers since 1990 – now all of sudden care so deeply about them that they have no choice but to bomb.

As the saying goes, ‘It’s got bells on’.

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‘Every far-Lefty’s worst nightmare’.

That’s the text accompanying a picture tweeted by Ghaffar Hussain of the Quilliam Foundation (who count among their associates former English Defence League bigwig ‘Tommy Robinson’), and retweeted by Independent columnist and all-around war fan John Rentoul.

Here’s the picture in question:

As the caption says, it was a taken at a demonstration in Erbil, the de facto Kurdish capital, in which one of the demonstrators holds a sign expressing gratitude to the U.S. for their recent airstrikes against ISIS. Given that, as opinion polls have long shown, the Kurdish areas of Iraq do tend to have a strong current of pro-U.S. sentiment, such signs are not particularly surprising.

The implied message from Hussain (and Rentoul via proxy) is that such sentiment is problematic for those who oppose the current U.S. strikes in northern Iraq – or ‘far-Lefty’s’, as Hussain has it. How can we possibly oppose them when many people in northern Iraq themselves welcome the strikes?

And it’s quite a familiar pro-war refrain, actually, to say that some people in the targeted country are all for any given ‘intervention’, and so anti-war activists should be for it as well. It was used in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, and in the first few years of the occupation; it’s still used now to justify the bombing of Kosovo and Serbia; it was used to justify the bombing and regime change operation in Libya, and so on.

And personally, while I do think you’ve ultimately got to come to your own moral and political conclusions in regards to the validity and legitimacy of any war, the wishes and thoughts of some of the people in the targeted country do at least have to be acknowledged.

Which is why I am sure that Hussain and Rentoul would agree, using their own logic, with the conclusion that follows these pictures:

The conclusion being: a sizeable number of people in eastern Ukraine would welcome Russian military intervention in the region, and this therefore proves that such an intervention would be totally justified.

No? Thought not.

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Tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers.

According to The New York Times, four civilians, including two women, were killed in a U.S. lead airstrike in Shindand, Afghanistan on Wednesday.

The article outlines how:

The strike took place a day earlier in Shindand District, in western Afghanistan, after Taliban fighters fired rockets at an Afghan military air base that also houses coalition forces, said Abdul Qayum Noorzai, the district police chief. The insurgents escaped on a pair of motorcycles.

A short time later, around 7 p.m., a coalition aircraft targeted four people on two motorcycles, but those struck were civilians, not the Taliban fighters who had fired the rockets, Mr. Noorzai said.

It’s a familiar enough narrative at the moment, isn’t it? ‘Terrorist’ bad guys firing rockets, and then civilians being accidentally killed when fire is returned.

Who knows if Abdul Qayum Noorzai’s version of events is accurate? The New York Times certainly don’t make any kind of effort to substantiate or refute it. Instead, we just get a bit of spiel about how the U.S. ‘ have tightened the rules governing airstrikes in recent years, and the number of deaths from them has dropped significantly’, which places the deaths in a context of the U.S. doing all it can to prevent civilian casualties. Again, a familiar enough narrative at the moment.

Nor do we learn from the article what the names of the victims were, their ages, occupations, what they looked like, their personalities, hopes, dreams, desires. Anything that might humanize them, in other words, and underline the horror of their being blown apart by high explosives.

Instead, the tone is very much one of ‘News In Brief’. A few more Afghan civilians killed by the U.S. et al, but moving swiftly on . . . People might argue that this is because details are sketchy at the moment, but if past experience is anything to go by, I don’t think the New York Times will follow the story up. And most other ‘papers and T.V. news outlets, in the U.S. and U.K., won’t even report it at all.

Shindand, incidentally, was the site of a major atrocity carried out by U.S. bombers in August 2008. A U.N. Investigation found that a whole hamlet was flattened by them, killing 60 children, 15 civilian women, and 15 civilian men.

Ask most people about the ‘Shindand massacre’, though, and I expect they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about. That’s not a criticism of them, as much as it’s a criticism of the way corporate media very much treat stories highlighting Our atrocities as tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers.

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Why actions must always speak louder than words.



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President of the Canadian Green Party channels Mark Regev.

Paul Estrin is the President of the Green Party of Canada. He recently shared his thoughts on the current fighting in Israel and Gaza.

I thought his comments were worth going over in some detail, if only because they’re so incongruous with what I believe to be some fundamental ‘Green’ principles: namely equality, social justice, human rights and self-determination.

So without further ado . . .

On the Israeli ‘withdrawal’ from Gaza in 2005, Estrin writes:

‘Israel decided to leave, fighting its own citizens, showing once more that it sticks to its word about the settlements not being permanent, but instead something to be removed painfully if peace is achievable to be had’.

But Alvaro De Soto, who was the U.N.’s Peace Envoy to the Middle East at the time, gives quite a different version of events.

In a leaked U.N. report from 2007, he writes that:

‘I don’t think the disengagement marked in any way a conversion by Sharon to the idea of an independent and viable Palestinian state – on the contrary, it was basically a spectacular move that killed and put into ‘formaldehyde’ the Road Map, to quote his key advisor. Sharon used the disengagement to gain vital concessions from the U.S. – including the Bush letter of assurances on retention of settlement blocs and non-return of Palestinian refugees to Israel – while proceeding with the construction of the barrier and the implementation of more settlers in the West Bank’. – p.8

The number of settlers living in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by over 100’000 since 2005, giving credence to De Soto’s analysis.

The De Soto report also disputes that the Israeli occupation of Gaza ever ended, saying that:

‘Since, as I recall, the test of occupation in international law is effective control of the population, few international lawyers contest the assessment that Gaza remains occupied, with it’s connections to the outside world by land, sea and air in the hands of Israel’. – p.10

That remains as true in 2014 as it was in 2007, and mainstream Human Rights NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch concur.

On how Hamas came to be the dominant political force in Gaza, Estrin writes:

‘And then Hamas took power. It has nearly been ten years. Since August 2005, Gazans have been in control of their own destiny’.

It might be worth mentioning here that Hamas actually won parliamentary elections in 2006.

The usual narrative is then to say that Hamas went on to wrest complete control of Gaza in a coup in 2007, driving Fatah out in the process. But that isn’t the full story.

Another facet to the story is that elements in Fatah, working alongside Israel and a George Bush/Condoleezza Rice/Elliot Abrams axis in the U.S., had themselves planned a coup to overthrow Hamas – the democratically elected government of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, remember –  and Hamas had simply got wind and pre-empted it.

This is according a lengthy Vanity Fair article based on leaked documents and the testimony of some of those involved.

Either way, to say that Hamas simply ‘took power’ is to remove some important context (and the claim that ‘Gazans have been in control of their own destiny’ since 2005 is just downright false, for reasons already mentioned).

On the state of the economy in Gaza, Estrin writes:

‘instead of showing openness to the world, or managing, or caring . . . Gaza has instead shown that it is not interested in peace, in building a stable economy, in a secure future’.

Notice here that he’s stopped referring to ‘Hamas’, and is openly referring to Gaza as a whole. And Gaza as a whole is not ‘interested in peace, in building a stable economy, in a secure future’, apparently. Is he implying a kind of collective guilt?

But it is no secret that, since 2007, Israel has been deliberately trying to strangle the Gazan economy, as a means of inflicting collective punishment on the population of Gaza. That’s what the so-called blockade is expressly designed to do.

As the International Committee of the Red Cross put it in 2010:

‘The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development . . . The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law’.

Estrin is quite simply engaged in victim blaming here. Lambasting Gazans for not building their economy, while Israel has been deliberately implementing policies to prevent them doing so.

And I just wonder how the U.S., U.K. and Canada would manage their economies if a near total ban on imports and exports was placed on them, and their means of production were destroyed via aerial bombardment every couple of years.

On the Hamas charter, Estrin writes:

 ‘In Canada and elsewhere, national charters protect the people. In Gaza, the first article calls for the death of Israel and the Jew. (Let me quote just a bit: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”‘.

Personally, i’m more perturbed by the fact that whole areas of Gaza are being obliterated right now, than I am about what a Charter written in 1988 says.

And there are in fact real questions over just how relevant to Hamas’ political program the 1988 charter is anymore.

In January 2009, Jeremy Greenstock – who is a former U.K. ambassador to the U.N., and who has negotiated with Hamas leaders as part of his work with the Ditchley Foundation – told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that Hamas:

‘ . .  . are not intent on the destruction of Israel. That is a rhetorical statement of resistance . . . The charter was drawn up by a Hamas linked Imam some years ago, and has never been adopted, since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government in January 2006, as part of their political program. This is a grievance based organisation desperate to end the occupation’.

Greenstock is Establishment to the bone, and yet even he recognises that the focus on Hamas’ charter is a red herring while Israel continues to build settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, thus making a just two-state solution a virtual impossibility.

On Gaza Vs Syria, Estrin writes:

‘It looks very bad for Israel. 800+ Gazans dead. 1000s injured. Lots of destruction. Meanwhile, in Syria, how many hundreds of thousands of people, including so many Palestinians, are dead or injured … where are the inflammatory protests …’.

This is basically a claim that Israel is being unfairly singled out as compared to Syria.

First and foremost, it’s worth pointing out that the regime in Israel is heavily supported by the governments of the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. That support takes the form of military sales, economic aid, general praise and diplomatic protection (e.g. the U.S. using its veto to thwart attempts by the U.N.S.C. to hold Israel accountable for its serial war crimes).

I suspect that protests against Israel in the U.K., U.S.A and Canada are as much designed to get the respective governments in those countries to stop facilitating Israeli crimes as they are designed to express outrage at Israel itself.

Such support for the Assad regime, however, hasn’t been forthcoming from said same governments, and so there have been no protests designed to stop it.

You could argue that there should still have been more protests against the Assad regime regardless, but that doesn’t change this basic context.

And indeed, in other important ways, Israel is actually being given highly preferential treatment as compared to Syria. There is no talk of formally sanctioning Israel, for example. No talk of ‘no-fly zones’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’, and no talk of equipping Palestinian rebels with high-tech weaponry so they can better defend themselves and their people.

Compare that to Syria now or Libya in February 2011, when some or all of those things were put on the agenda pretty much straight away, and were then carried out to a greater or lesser degree (for reasons that had nothing to do with humanitarianism or human rights, obviously).

Israel is literally getting away with mass murder scot free, for the third time in five years, and so the idea of Israel being singled out is simply untenable.

On the people who have attended protests against Israeli state violence over the last couple of weeks, Estrin writes:

 ‘if it is anti-Israel it is an easy band-wagon to get on, to get their anti-Israel war-paint on and join their friends between potlucks, veggie smoothies and coffee breaks’.

Seriously, why didn’t he just call them Long Haired Hippy Freaks and have done with it?

On Israel’s military tactics, Estrin writes:

‘Military experts look at Israel’s military strategy: No carpet bombing, no quick actions, but instead pinpoint strikes whilst warning the enemy in advance of what their plans are, and slow movements . .  . What other military calls up the enemy on their phone to tell them that their building will be bombed, to kindly leave, yes, you have enough time to leave, just thought it would be the neighbourly thing to do … anyone else in war, and that is what Hamas is calling this time in Gaza, would simply bomb, kill and destroy’.

Once again, research carried out by mainstream human rights organisations belies this claim that the IDF is a profoundly moral army that tries its hardest to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.

On July 16th, Human Rights Watch published a short report documenting how:

‘Israeli air attacks . . .  have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war . . . Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties’.

On July 21st, Amnesty International published a short report documenting how:

‘Israel’s continuing bombardment of civilian homes in several areas of the Gaza Strip, as well as the shelling of a hospital, add to the list of possible war crimes that demand an urgent independent international investigation’.

Also on July 21st, Medicins Sans Frontieres published a short report documenting how:

‘Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, the majority of the dead and wounded in Gaza are civilians and medical workers are also coming under fire’.

Circa 1000 Palestinian civilians now lie dead, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and over 100’00 civilians have been displaced. ‘Hell of a pin-point operation’, as John Kerry said.

I am absolutely certain that when international investigators get into Gaza and research these attacks in more detail, they will conclude that Israel has indeed been wilfully targeting civilian infrastructure, and systemically as well, to the extent that both war crimes and Crimes against Humanity have been committed by them.

On ‘Gaza’s’ respect for human life, Estrin writes:

‘And that is it in a nutshell: Whilst Israel does all that is in its power to protect the lives of all its citizens and the lives of those it is attacking, Gaza does all in its power to have all the more die’.

Once again, Estrin is engaged in shameless victim blaming here, and once again he is referring to ‘Gaza’ as a whole. They are trying to get themselves killed in large numbers, see, to make Israel look bad.

But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, as on previous occasions, the claim that Hamas uses Palestinians as ‘human shields’ turns out to be without foundation – Israeli propaganda, in other words.

For example, the BBC’s senior middle east correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, recently wrote in an article for the New Statesman:

‘I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields’.

And as they are doing now, Israeli spokespeople also continually accused Hamas of using ‘human shields’ during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009, but the Goldstone Report found:

‘ . . . no evidence . . . to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks’. – p.18

They did, however, uncover:

‘ . . . four incidents in which the Israeli armed forces coerced Palestinian civilian men at gunpoint to take part in house searches during the military operations . . .  The Mission concludes that this practice amounts to the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and is therefore prohibited by international humanitarian law’. – p.22/23

So if anything, it is the IDF, and not Hamas, who have form for using Palestinians as ‘human shields’ in this kind of operation.

To conclude:

Only in the bizarro world inhabited by apologists for Israeli state violence is Gaza free from occupation, and Israel keen on ending the settlement enterprise in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Only in the bizarro world inhabited by apologists for Israeli state violence are Gazans responsible for the ruination of their own economy, and desperate to get themselves killed.

And only in the bizarro world inhabited by apologists for Israeli state violence does the IDF make strenuous efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

In the real world inhabited by the rest of us, the complete opposite is true, and demonstrably so.

Estrin has apparently chosen to firmly ensconce himself in that bizarro world, and its to the detriment of the Green Party of Canada.

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The Times amplifies Israeli propaganda.


And what The Goldstone Report found the last time Israel fired on hospitals in Gaza, and then accused Hamas of using them as military bases:

‘The Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes. On the basis of its own investigations and the statements by UN officials, the Mission excludes that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from UN facilities that were used as shelters during the military operations’.

The Israeli government are proven liars in this regard, and no-one should be surprised if they are lying this time around as well.

That they are proven liars in this regard apparently isn’t enough to stop The Times taking the Israeli government at their word, and then publishing cartoons which can only have the effect of helping to justify war crimes.

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War crime in Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera America on how a U.S. backed paramilitary unit carried out the extrajudicial executions of three men in Alizai, a village in eastern Afghanistan, on June 1st 2014.

Mohammad, Nasrullah and Fazaldin, as they were known, had been detained along with a 100 or so other men from the village (remember, for the Obama regime the definition of a ‘militant’ is ‘military aged male’ ) in a joint U.S./Afghan night raid only hours previously. They were then apparently removed from the larger group while U.S. soldiers looked on, driven to the outskirts of the village, and then shot ‘more than 100 times’ before being thrown into a ditch.

The article quotes a U.N. Official saying they had ‘verified allegations of extrajudicial killings of three men by a pro-government militia’, adding that ‘there has so far been no accountability for these executions’.

The man responsible for ordering the executions, a paramilitary leader known only as Abdullah, has even admitted culpability, saying that ‘I killed these three people’, claiming that they were ‘Taliban’ (and therefore fair game). Abdullah also claims that the ‘weapons, salaries and other equipment’ used by his paramilitary unit are provided by the U.S..

Despite the U.N. establishing that these executions did take place, the perpetrator of the executions owning up to it, and U.S. military personnel being present when the men were snatched, the U.S. military have denied all knowledge, saying they ‘found no information that substantiates the allegations’.

You have to admire the bare faced chutzpah, I suppose.

Allegations of this nature – extrajudicial killings and death squad activity by U.S. Special Forces and their Afghan proxies, basically – do surface occasionally in the press, and i’m willing to bet decent money that they are far more widespread than is reported.

But there doesn’t seem to be any great clamour to properly investigate the issues, let alone campaign for the perpetrators to be held responsible. It’s just something that (if you ask me) a lot of journalists, pundits, analysts and columnists sort of know or suspect is going on, but generally ignore anyway, even in the left wing media and blogosphere (which can at least point to a genuine lack of resources and access as a reason for the dearth of indepth coverage).

The war, occupation and their attendant horrors – at least 27’000 Afghan ‘casualties’ in 2013 alone, with a minimum of 630’000 internally displaced –  do continue apace though, even if you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.


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