Tag Archives: torture

The Shah, the Cold War, and the Islamists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 March 2019

Abbas Milani’s The Shah gives a portrait of Iran’s last monarch, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the impact that his downfall forty years ago continues to have in the Middle East, notably the emboldening of the Islamist movement. Continue reading

The Establishment of the Qajar Dynasty in Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 February 2019

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, founder of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) in Iran [source]

Gavin R.G. Hambly, a Middle East scholar and historian, wrote a paper in 1963 about the establishment of the Qajar dynasty, the second-to-last ruling House in Iran, and particularly about its first monarch, Agha Mohammad Khan. The paper is slightly revisionist about Agha Mohammad, countering the long-standing reputation of him as solely a ruthless despot. The Qajars, for all their faults, prevented the outright colonisation of Iran in the nineteenth century, and imposed an order that held the country together, albeit while losing tracts of territory on the periphery—the Caucasus and Turkmenistan to the Russians in the north, and areas in the east to the British, notably Herat, which was annexed to Afghanistan, and parts of Baluchistan and Sistan to what would later become Pakistan. This resilience of the Iranian state is largely ascribable to Agha Mohammad, argues Hambly, who showed a sense of public spirit he is rarely credited with in consciously making the lives of ordinary Iranians better. Continue reading

The Turkey-Saudi Rivalry for America’s Attention

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 October 2018

The Turkish government’s recent record in foreign policy is hardly a success story. It is therefore noteworthy that, so far, Ankara has handled the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with a singular deftness. Whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can see this through is now the key question. Continue reading

The Failure of the United Nations in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 14 May 2018

United Nations in East Ghouta, Syria (image source)

At best, the United Nations has been impotent as Syria was destroyed. But when the U.N.’s role is examined more closely it looks more like a collaborator, than a bystander, to that destruction. Continue reading

The Criminality of the Syrian Regime

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 April 2018

A satellite image of Sednaya prison, about 20 miles north-east of the presidential palace. CNES and ASTRIUM / Amnesty International via AFP

To accompany the release of “Syria’s Slaughterhouses”, a film by TRT World’s “Off The Grid”, I was asked to give an overview of the available evidence of the Assad regime’s crimes against humanity.

The launching of a limited punitive raid against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for the use of poison gas has brought some attention to the regime’s crimes. The regime’s visible crimes are numerous and devastating.

In addition to using weapons of mass destruction, fighter jets have levelled ancient cities, sieges have starved populations into submission, and improvised explosives like barrel bombs have maimed thousands. These tactics are part of what UN investigators have called a “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population”.

The UN commission recently noted that what the Assad regime has done amounts to crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, rape, and torture.

What does not get enough attention is the part of Assad’s criminality that is most difficult to see: that which takes place in the prisons, a vast network of concentration camps where torture and murder is routine. Continue reading

Human Rights Abuses in Rojava and the Anti-ISIS War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 March 2018

Guerrillas from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), the name the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) uses in Sinjar, Iraq, together with operatives from the People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed units of the PKK inside Turkey, holding a picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (image source)

The American-led Coalition’s partner against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), presents itself, ideologically and in terms of the governance structure it controls, in universalistic liberal and democratic terms, emphasizing ecological and feminist themes. The reality is that the SDF is under the politico-military control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has run a four-decade-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK has brought some measure of stability to the areas it controls, but it continues to struggle for legitimacy and without locally-legitimate government IS and other jihadi-Salafists will find political room to operate. The PKK’s continued monopolization of power and abusive governance practices undermine the chances for the “Rojava” system to evolve into a long-term solution to the jihadist terrorists that have used Syrian territory to threaten the region and the wider world. Continue reading

The End of the Line for “The Beatles” of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 February 2018

El Shafee Elsheikh (image source) and Alexanda Kotey (image source)

Last night, The New York Times reported and Reuters confirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading