March 2011

North Africa and the Middle East

North Africa and the Middle East

Mar 1  A pro-Gaddafi military force attempts to take control of the city of Az Zawfsiyah (50 kms west of Tripoli). The force is repelled, and residents of the city have a victory march. As they pass through the city's main square marchers chant, "Allahu Akbar [God is Great] for our victory.'' They carry on their shoulders an air force colonel said to have defected.

Mar 2  Gaddafi's "fight to the death" is in progress. Anti-Gaddafi forces have repelled a Gaddafi force that arrived in trucks and tried to take control of the oil town of Port Braga on the eastern coast, about 160 kms south of Benghazi. Anti-Gaddafi volunteers poured in to Braga from Benghazi. They are jubilant. Gaddafi's force, more like mercenaries, appear less willing to fight.

Mar 2  The US Supreme Court rules that members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas have constitutional free speech protections that give them the right to picket military funerals. (See January 13)

Mar 2  Islamists assassinate Pakistani Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Chrsitian. He spoke for reform of Pakistan's blasphemy laws – which carry a sentence of death.

Mar 5  The Saudi interior ministry declares on state television a ban on all protests and marches.

Mar 5  According to the Gallup World Poll only 6 percent of the Chinese people consider themselves happy. Denmark leads with 82 percent. In 2010 the US was listed as tied for 14th place at 57 percent. A Chinese Communist Party official, responding perhaps to the role of the internet in recent unrest in North Africa, has called upon the nation's leaders to listen to the opinions of internet users to learn what bothers and concerns them.

Mar 6  Republicans want to cut $100 billion from this year's federal budget while a battle of ideas rages including the metaphorical claim by Republicans that he country is "broke" and film-maker Michael Moore claiming it is not. Moore is attacked on Fox News as an example of Hollywood pinheadedness and dishonesty, and on Fox News he is described by Donald Trump as having communistic thoughts.

Mar 8  Beginning yesterday, NATO is sending surveillance aircraft over Libya. Anti-Gaddafi forces are under attack by Gaddafi's air force. NATO wants approval from the Arab League before forcing Gaddafi's war planes from the sky, and Arab League members are discussing the matter. Britain and France are seeking a UN resolution against Gaddafi employing his war planes.

Mar 10  Yemen's military has in the last two days moved against protesters, the soldiers firing rubber bullets, real bullets and tear gas. Yesterday, Gaddafi's military successfully pushed on anti-Gaddafi forces, killing a reported 400 and committing brutalities against non-combatants. In Cairo, Egypt's military forced revolutionaries out of Tahrir Square.

Mar 11  David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reports that in Tripoli military officers have visited schools, warning students to watch only state television, and offering 200 Libyan dinars (162 dollars) to attend rallies. A schoolgirl who learned English watching movies tells a newsman that opinion among the kids is divided. A school principal declares that all is well in Tripoli and that foreign journalists were "telling lies, all the news are lies."

Mar 12  Yesterday Japan suffered an earthquake worse than the 8.4 Jogan quake of the year 869. Yesterday's quake was measured at 8.8 on the Richter scale. That is 180 times the power that killed over 6,000 people in Japan in 1995. And it's 1,000 times the power of a 5.8 earthquake (ten times for every one point on the scale). Yesterday's quake is being described as a once every 1,000-year quake. Known dead as of now is 1,700, and about 10,000 people are unaccounted for. The tsunami that accompanied the quake took its toll. Japan has numerous atomic energy plants (despite the special sensitivity of the Japanese people to radiation) and a plant near the quake's epicenter has exploded – despite Japanese diligence and backup security systems.

map of Libya

Libya and neighboring states

Mar 14  Qaddafi forces continue to expand. They have overrun and smashed Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripol (halfway to Zuwarah)i. In Yemen, violence against demonstrators intensifies, including government use of the stronger CN type of tear gas. In Bahrain, dozens are injured as protesters push back police and they barricade roads. Troops arrive from Saudi Arabia, requested by the government.

Mar 15  Gaddafi's offensive slows. The NYTimes reports that some of Gaddafi's troops have refused to fire on civilians. In Bahrain, crushing the demonstrators rather than serious reforms appears to be the plan. The king of Bahrain (a Sunni) declares a state of emergency. Protesters (largely Shia) barricade vital roads. Iran (a Shia nation) complains that Saudi troops (Sunni) into Bahrain is unacceptable.

Mar 16  Well, not so slow afterall. Gaddafi forces, with aircraft, tanks and artillery, move against the town of Ajdabyia,100 miles from the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of Benghazi, Libya's second largest city. Meanwhile, a lot of talk in the international community about a no-fly zone over Libya is going nowhere. Also on this day, in Bahrain, the violent crackdown against protesters clears the center-city square and leaves at least six people dead. Autocracy gains but its image suffers.

Mar 17  In yesterday's New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff complains that in Bahrain – a US ally – he has seen protesters shot at close range, a girl clubbed to the ground writhing in pain and ambulance workers beaten while trying to do their job. He reports that a threatened newsman showed his passport and soldiers backed off, saying, "We love Americans. We're not after you. We're after Shia."

Mar 17  The UN Security Council votes 10 to 0 to aid the people of Libya with military action short of occupying Libyan territory – Resolution #1973. China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil abstain. China or Russia could have killed the resolution by veto. People in Benghazi are joyous and thankful. Earlier today, Gaddafi told the people of Benghazi that his troops would arrive "tonight" and would show "no mercy."

Mar 18  In the capital of Yemen, Sana'a, At least 45 anti-government protesters die and over 200 are injured from sniper fire. Saleh declares a state of emergeny.

Mar 18  Gaddafi changes his plans and puts himself in accord with the UN by declaring a ceasefire – "to protect civilians." Yemen authorities continue with their bloody crackdown, shooting protesters and killing thirty near the university in the capital, Sanaa.

Mar 18  Japan's government continues its assurances that the radiation risk from the damaged nuclear power plant is virtually nil beyond 20 kilometers. The nation holds a minute of silence one-week after the earthquake and tsunami struck. Elderly people weep.

Mar 19  Gaddafi's tanks and troops enter Benghazi. Reports of 26 dead and 40 wounded. Also dead reported in Misrata. Sarkozy's fighter planes spotted over Libya at 10:15 AM EDT. At 11:04, Sarkozy announces that French planes are combating Gaddafi aggression. Today a Libyan tweets: "Fed up of media saying Tripoli is where Gaddafi supporters are. I'm from there. We hate him, hate him, 1000's died in 4 weeks!"

Mar 20  Coalition forces damage Gaddafi's extended supply lines, especially his long supply line to Benghazi. They bombard and cripple pro-Gaddafi troops and equipment near Benghazi. Gaddafi troops are in Misrata, where fighting and dying is taking place. On television, by telephone, Gaddafi promises to open his armed depots so that his supporters can arm themselves. He promises a "long drawn out war." He calls on Arab, Islamic, African, Latin American and Asian countries to stand by Libya – extending his decades of faulty assessment.

Mar 20  From Yemen come reports of a spate of defections and resignations from the army and diplomatic corps. In the capital, Sana'a, rival tanks and armoured vehicles are in the streets.

Mar 21  Missile destroys command compound in Tripoli. Pro and anti-Gaddafi forces fight in Adjabiya (just south of Benghazi). Misrata and Zintan under attack by Gaddafi forces. (Map change may require a page refresh.) Protesters burn buildings in Daraa, Syria. The Saleh dictatorship in Yemen is disintegrating.

Mar 22  In the US the voluminous talk that preceded UN Resolution 1973 continues. A few criticize President Obama for his role in creating that resolution, arguing in effect that if we can't attack all the bad guys at once we should attack no one. Others are afraid to help protect people against a brutal dictator because we don't know exactly who they are. Some have a problem with the parameters of Resolution 1973: military action against Gaddafi's ability to employ violence while not targeting him for death. Some argue with Gaddafi that we have no business interfering in Libya's internal affairs – although the UN Charter (articles 55 and 56), which Libya has signed, says otherwise. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be cheering Resolution 1973 and maybe wanting more.) A few complain that Obama's "war" against Libya is not constitutional because it is done without congressional approval. A few complain about money being spent by the military. Some others in the US are grateful for the French having sided with the American revolution – without having asked exactly who we were – and grateful for President Sarkozy having cut through all the talk and nervous hand-wringing and having led the world in taking action against Gaddafi. Today in the Washington Post, columnist Anne Applebaum praises Obama for letting Sarkozy and the British exercise their leadership role.

Mar 23  Gaddafi appears in public before maybe one hundred followers and says his enemies will be swept into the "dust bin of history." Surreptitious interviews with journalists suggest that most people in Tripoli want Gaddafi into the dust bin of history. People there are asking for help from Obama, as are people elsewhere in Libya. Meanwhile, some in the US (Richard Haass among them) see giving any military help to Libyans as not in the US interest – while they believe that it is in the US interest to be more highly thought of in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Mar 23  A story in the press yesterday: At a bank in Tripoli, an elderly woman got into a long line of men. A man told her she should move to the other long line – for women. She stayed where she was and screamed: "All the men are in Benghazi" (in other words, fighting against Gaddafi). There was Mis immediate silence.

Mar 23  At 9 AM EDT, Allied planes to the rescue at Misrata.

Mar 23  In Yemen, President Saleh outlaws protests, a move supported by parliament. In Deraa, Syria, at least six people die when security forces fire on protesters outside a mosque.

Mar 24  The iodine-131 radiation in Tokyo's tap water is of the kind that dissipates in days – with a half-life of eight days. Government authorities declare that the radiation is in amounts small enough that the water is safe to drink now for all but infants less than one year old, and they call for an end to the panic that has emptied the stores of bottled water.

Mar 24  Libya's pro-democracy fighters have formed an "interim government" headed by Mahmoud Jibril, a Libyan with a masters degree in political science and a doctorate in strategic planning from the University of Pittsburg.

Mar 24  Scientists find a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain of mice (mammals) that controls sexual preference.

Mar 24  The Cuban government has freed Jose Ferrer and Felix Navarro, the last of the 75 imprisoned dissidents arrested eight years ago.

Mar 25  Someone tweets: Hannity [of Fox News] blasted O[bama] for getting us involved in Libya. Then McCain came on and said we needed ground troops and Hannity agreed. WTF?

Mar 25  In Syria, the Assad regime, a hereditary dictatorship, says it is considering reforms that include opening up the media, allowing political parties and lifting an emergency law in place since 1963. The death toll from shooting protesters on the 23rd has risen to between 15 and 51. Today protests erupt across Syria. Three reported killed in Damascus as of 2 PM EDT.

Mar 26  In Syria, protesters burn down Baath Party headquarters in Daraa, Tafas and Latakia. In Latakia, twelve people are reported killed and at least 200 injured by rifle fire from rooftops.

Mar 28  Qatar is the first Arab country to recognize Libya's anti-Gaddafi government. Anti-Gaddafi forces are stall about 80 miles east of Surt (Sirte) – Gaddafi's hometown. Their communications and supply line is stretched and their gasoline meager. A bigger battle, and perhaps the decisive battle, will be for Misrata maybe later this or next week. (My misjudgment.)

Mar 29  Today, President Obama's French, British and German allies agree with his statement that the Libyan people should have "the political space to determine their own future." Obama has said again that the US will help the Libyan people but not with ground forces. Some of his critics in the US want a greater use of US power and control. This, they claim, would create "clarity." Some speak in favor of a US invasion of Libya, a date certain for a military victory and a withdrawal that leaves in power people they know and trust. Speaker of the House, John Boehner, says that Obama has failed "to provide Americans much clarity to our involvement in Libya." Boehner adds, "Nine days into this military intervention, Americans still have no answer to the fundamental question: what does success in Libya look like?" Meanwhile, some who support Obama see movements for freedom and democracy as messy, as filled with uncertainties and as the work essentially of a people rather than of outsiders – a people whom many Americans want to help but not control. Some who appreciate the ability of the US to influence and support military action also recall the mistake made in Iraq in 2003 by an over-eagerness to control.

Mar 29  In the Iraqi city of Tikrit, gunmen storm a council building and take hostages. Security forces move in and several council members are among the dead, reported as at least forty-one.

Mar 30  In Syria, Bashar Assad has the ruling Baath Party and other government supporters to consider. It's a group dictatorship, as dictatorships usually are. No man holds political power alone, and power elites have and use their figureheads. To Syria's parliament, Assad describes protests as a foreign plot and protesters as "dupes." He vows to defeat the plot. Parliamentarians – Baathists – interrupt him with declarations of support. Then he declares that reforms are needed and that it is necessary to "listen to the voice of the people." Meanwhile more than 60 have died in demonstrations and the government has its supporters in the streets, some of them members of labor unions controlled by the Baath Party.

Mar 30  In Libya, anti-Gaddafi forces have retreated in a disorganized fashion to east of Brega. Gaddafi's forces are extending their line and rushing into a trap, exposing themselves to air assaults. People fighting with the Gaddafi forces are describing those fighting against Gaddafi as rats. Reconciliation doesn't appear to be at hand.

Mar 30  Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post's senior foreign correspondent and a measured centrist observer, describes President Obama in the past month as having "adeptly balanced diplomacy and the use of force." He writes: "President Obama's military intervention in Libya reflects the hard times in which he governs. He is recalibrating American power in a world where a financially weakened, politically polarized United States no longer commands but can still lead — if with a lighter touch."

Mar 31  The UN asks Japan to consider expanding the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear reactors from a radius of 20 kilometers to 40 kilometers – beyond which, it claims, safe radiation limits exist. Radioactive iodine levels in seawater near the plant are reported to be 4,385 times the legal limit. The nuclear plant operators have announced that four of the five problem nuclear reactors will be "decommissioned."

Mar 31  Concerning Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, says of government forces: "The last few nights they have been raiding houses and beating and arresting people." He adds that approximately 400 people are either missing or in custody.

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Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.