Attacks Kill 120 and Wound Over 700 This Week Yet Public Outcry Scarce

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The world’s insurgentsia have been unusually active this week with attacks in Tunisia, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, and Ivory Coast. Interestingly, there has not been much public outcry (if any) in response to any of these attacks in the Western media — certainly not to the extent that the attacks at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris last November received. Nor have these attacks garnered the attention of the Charlie Hebdo attacks before that, despite some being similar in nature, i.e. targeting Western civilians. So, in case you missed it:

Last Monday, Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) fighters attacked army and police posts in the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia killing 12 soldiers and seven civilians. Ben Gardane is close to the border with Libya and known for being a hotbed of jihadist recruitment. If the town fell to IS, it could establish another transnational control area like the one they enjoy in Iraq and Syria.

On Tuesday, stabbing attacks by a Hamas member in the Israeli city of Jaffa killed one American and injured twelve others. The American was 28 year old Taylor Force, an MBA student at Vanderbilt University, former Army officer, and West Point graduate. Today, four Israeli security forces members were injured in an attack by Palestinian gunmen at a security checkpoint near the entrance of an Israeli settlement near Hebron in the West Bank. These attacks are part of a surge of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that have resulted in the deaths of 30 Israelis and roughly 180-200 Palestinians that some are calling the “Third Intifada”.

In Iraq, there were two attacks this week by IS using chemical weapons in the Shiite village of Taza, near Kirkuk, a region controlled by Kurdish militias. Reports suggest as many as 600 injured. According to the Department of Defense, IS is using chlorine and mustard gas in its attacks, which it is likely manufacturing itself. Last month, the head of the IS chemical weapons program was captured in a raid by US special operations forces. Additionally, 47 Iraqi soldiers were killed by IS in attacks near the recently liberated city of Ramadi.

In Ivory Coast, an attack most like the Paris attacks occurred. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters attacked a beach resort in the city of Grand Bassam yesterday, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. Four of the victims were Westerners, including one French and a German national. The beach resort was likely targeted because it is popular amongst Westerners. This is not the first attack by AQIM this year: in January, AQIM-affiliated group al-Murabitun attacked a hotel popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso, killing 30 and wounding 56.

Finally, 37 were killed and dozens more injured in a suicide car bombing in the Turkish capital of Ankara yesterday. The Turkish government claims a male and female member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were responsible. The target was a busy bus stop and mostly civilians were killed. In response, Turkey has begun airstrikes on Kurdish militia camps in northern Iraq.

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Protesters in Luxembourg in response the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris (Jwh/Wikimedia Commons)

The combined death toll of just these attacks this week is 57 civilians, 61 military, with over 700 wounded.  The civilian deaths are only about half that of the November 2015 Paris attacks, but almost five times as many as the Charlie Hebdo attack. Of course, only a small fraction of the attacks were on Westerners and none were in Europe. After years of violence, one might understand why Westerners would be numb to attacks in the Middle East and perhaps even in Africa, despite these victims also being human beings. But as one Ankara foreign resident pointed out, why do Westerners feel nothing for Turkey?

“It is very easy to look at terror attacks that happen in London, in New York, in Paris and feel pain and sadness for those victims, so why is it not the same for Ankara? Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities? Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq, like countries that are in a state of civil war, so therefore it must be the same and because you don’t care about those ones, then why should you care about Turkey? If you don’t believe that these attacks in Ankara affect you, or you can’t feel the same pain you felt during the Paris or London attacks, then maybe you should stop to think why, why is it that you feel like that.”

Perhaps we should take a look at the numbers on the top of this page, take note of our feelings, and think, “why?”

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What Does It Mean to Retake Ramadi?

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(Reuters/Stringer Photo)

By now we have learned the Iraqi Special Operation Forces (ISOF)-led operation to take Ramadi back from Islamic State (IS) has been mostly successful, retaking the government center and leaving only the eastern part of the city in IS control. In print, these words are sterile, devoid of context or richer meaning. A city “falling” reminds us of a domino toppling—a swift, deft, inevitable culmination of a small amount of external energy and a large amount of natural law.

Yet for the soldiers on the ground taking a city is an arduous crawl perfused by hidden dangers. When I was in Iraq, I never had to do the type of brutal house to house clearing that ISOF is doing now so it is difficult for me to conceptualize. But even during training, stacking outside of a door at a shoot house always brought an adrenaline-laden feeling of excitement of anticipation and nervousness of uncertainty. Luckily, VICE News has been producing some of the best mini-documentaries on the wars in Iraq and Syria to date.

In their latest video, Retaking Ramadi From the Islamic State: The Battle for Iraq (Dispatch 11), a journalist embedded with the Iraqi Golden Division (ISOF) describes the then-ongoing conflict for the city center. With bodies littering the streets, sniper teams take shots from rooftops and troops discover IS tunnels and caches.

What is most striking about this video to me is the role of the United States in this battle. In an interview, an Iraqi soldier describes the coalition airstrikes they relied on:

We should thank the Russians, because they encouraged America to increase their bombing. They helped our forces. Any place they find a threat to us, they [the US-led coalition] hit. We’ve started to give them coordinates—whatever coordinates we give them to hit, they blow up. It’s not like before [emphasis added.]

For me, thinking about this quote starts a long chain of causal relationships. Without the United States, the Iraqi government would likely not have retaken Ramadi. So are the US’s renewed efforts in Iraq good, just, necessary? In this instance, limited to this battle, it seems obvious. But during an interview with a masked ISOF member about sectarianism, this clarity on the US’s role becomes more ambiguous.

Warning: the following section contains graphic description of torture:

Do you want me to tell you how the militants kidnapped me? They took me to a house, they hung me upside down and lashed me. Then they took me down and put two nails and held me to the wall, another here [points to wrist] to hold my other arm. They got pliers and pulled out my nails. I fainted every time they pulled a nail, but they made sure I was awake before pulling the next one. He also cut my forehead, making a long cut across my forehead. He wanted to cut off my face. Unbelievable. What’s wrong with them? I kept saying I don’t work for the Americans.

In this instance it is his involvement with America that makes him the target for abduction and torture. And worse, the Shi’a militia that captured him is part of the side that we are backing against the Sunni IS. Much of the sectarian strife in Iraq was caused by the 2003 invasion. So much for moral clarity.