The Nine Circles of Hell! for Friday: A Whole Lotta Red Lines Nine Circles of Hell!

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Dozens more killed as bombings increase around Iraq.
Al Jazeera reports, “Two bombs near a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad have killed 48 people and wounded 89, police and a doctor say, after two days of attacks targeting Iraqi Shia Muslims in which dozens died.
“One bomb exploded on Friday as worshippers were departing the Saria mosque in the city of Baquba while a second went off after people gathered at the scene of the first blast, sources said.
“The violence raises the specter of tit-for-tat killings common during the height of sectarian violence in Iraq that killed tens of thousands of people, and comes at a time of festering sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunni minority and Shia majority.
“Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Erbil, said it was estimated that 90 to 100 people had been killed in the past three days in Iraq.”
Al-Saleh said, “The worrying factor in all of this is the nature of the attacks.
“You have attacks on Shia worshippers, you have attacks on Sunni worshippers so it appears that whoever is behind those attacks wants to ignite sectarian strife.”
Al Jazeera adds, “The bombings were the latest in a series of attacks, in the last two days targeting Shias.
“On Thursday, a suicide bomber killed 12 people at the entrance of Al-Zahraa Husseiniyah, a Shia place of worship in the city of Kirkuk, where relatives of victims from violence the day before were receiving condolences.
“Car bombs also hit three Shia-majority areas of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 10 people, while 21 people died in a series of bombings that mainly hit Shia areas of the capital the day before.
“Armed men also shot dead the brother of a Sunni MP in Baghdad on Thursday.”
Al-Saleh mentions, “It’s an indication that security conditions are really going downhill in this country.
“There is a huge and growing sense of fear among Iraqis.”
This ‘New Normal’ is brought to you by the nearly 25-year Iraq-US war.

At least 13 dead in Pakistan mosque bombings.
According to The Associated Press, “Bombs that exploded outside two mosques in a village in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 13 people Friday, underlining the challenge of militant violence facing a new government set to take power under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“The blasts at the two Sunni Muslim mosques also wounded 45 people, said tribal police officer Badshah Rehman. Both of the mosques were badly damaged, and the roof of one of them collapsed. The mosques were located in Baz Darrah village in the Malakand district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Rehman said.
“Shahid Ali, who was in the first mosque that was attacked, said the explosion came just as worshippers were starting Friday prayers.”
Ali is quoted saying, “I rushed out with others and saw several people bleeding and crying. There was dust and smoke around.”
The AP says, “Ali rushed to the second mosque after it was attacked and saw that its roof had caved in and it was on fire.”
Ali adds, “Many people are buried under the rubble.”
The AP continues, “No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but suspicion will likely fall on the Pakistani Taliban.
“The Sunni militant group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years that has killed thousands of civilians and security personnel. The militants have attacked Sunni mosques in the past, perhaps because the worshippers did not follow their extremist brand of Islam.
“The Pakistani army has mounted multiple operations against the militants in the northwest, but they have proven resilient and continue to carry out near-daily attacks.
“The Taliban recently launched a series of attacks in the run-up to national elections on May 11 in an attempt to derail the vote. Pakistanis defied the militant group by coming out in large numbers to cast their ballots.
“Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N Party was the big winner in the election and appears set to form the next government. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, is expected to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Both politicians have called for negotiations with the Taliban, and Khan has even said that Pakistani troops should stop battling the militants and pull out of areas of the northwest. Now he will face the challenge of applying his election platform to the challenges of governing one of Pakistan’s most violent areas.
“Sharif’s government will also face the challenge of turning around Pakistan’s economy, which is hampered by power outages that last up to 18 hours a day in some parts of the country.
“Pakistan has turned to neighboring Iran to help deal with the crisis. Iran provides electricity to several towns and villages in southwest Baluchistan province at cost of around $3 million a month, said Mohammad Ashraf, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce.”
The AP ends with, “Pakistan also has plans to build a pipeline to import natural gas from Iran, despite the threat of U.S. sanctions.”
Between paying Iran for energy needs and negotiating with the Taliban, you get the feeling that Pakistan has grown weary with the US.

Human Rights Watch finds evidence of torture in Syria.
The Associated Press reveals, “Rights activists visiting abandoned government prisons in the first Syrian city to come under rebel control have found torture devices and other evidence that detainees were abused there, Human Rights Watch said in a report Friday.
“Raqqa, in eastern Syria, was overrun in late February by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The rebels facilitated the New York-based group’s access to facilities that had belonged to a government security agency and military intelligence in late April.
“The HRW said its researchers found physical evidence that Syrians were tortured, including with a device which former detainees said was used to stretch or bend victims’ arms and legs. The group also found documents indicating Raqqa residents were detained for legal actions like demonstrating or helping the injured.
“Rights groups and opposition activists have long claimed that civilians have been detained arbitrarily, tortured, and sometimes have disappeared since the uprising against Assad’s regime began. HRW’s findings appear to be one of the largest finds of physical evidence bolstering those claims to date.”
Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director for HRW, said, “The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture devices we saw in the government’s security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us.”
The AP explains, “The group says abuses by the Assad regime remain far more deadly, systematic and widespread, including attacks on civilians with indiscriminate battlefield weapons such as widely banned cluster bombs. But the rights group also says rebel abuses have increased in frequency and scale in recent months.”
This story details how one Syrian was tortured and, upon his release, immediately joined the rebel cause.
It’s almost as if torture is a real bad idea when it comes to national security.
Almost.

It’s getting worse in Syria as refugee total is increasing quickly.
Reuters counts, “More than 1.5 million people have fled Syria as conditions there deteriorate rapidly, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
“The exodus has accelerated over the past four months and the agency estimates that nearly 1 million refugees have registered since January, U.N. officials said.”
UNHCR said in a statement, “The fact that more than 1.5 million have registered or have appointments with UNHCR sadly means the actual number is much higher.
“Refugees tell us the increased fighting and changing of control of towns and villages, in particular in conflict areas, results in more and more civilians deciding to leave.”
Reuters adds, “Most of the refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan where UNHCR said it had counted 470,457 and 473,587 respectively this week.
“Syria’s population is 23 million.”
That means if the same proportion of Americans were forced to flee, the number would total over seven million.
That’s like emptying the entire ‘Chicagoland’ area.
Think about that during your commute home today.

Manhood initiation rites kill 23 South Africans.
According to The Associated Press, “Twenty-three youths have died in the past nine days at initiation ceremonies that include circumcisions and survival tests, South African police said on Friday.
“Police have opened 22 murder cases in the deaths in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Leonard Hlathi. He said an inquest is being held into the 23rd death, of a youth who complained of stomach pains and vomited.
“Initiation ceremonies are common in South Africa, where youths partake in various activities as a rite of passage into adulthood, usually over the course of three weeks. Some 30,000 youths signed up for initiation this year.
“In addition to being circumcised, the boys and young men are put through a series of survival tests which sometimes include exposure to South Africa’s chilly winter conditions with skimpy clothing. Their faces are painted with red clay and they also are given herbal concoctions to drink.
“Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, described the experience in his autobiography as ‘a kind of spiritual preparation for the trials of manhood.’
“Hlathi said that all the deaths occurred at government-registered initiation sites where medical practitioners usually are present. The government became involved to prevent such unnecessary deaths.
“Mathibela Mokoena, chairman of the House of Traditional Leaders in Mpumalanga, says the Department of Health was alerted before the initiation ceremonies began, but only showed up after the first few deaths were reported. He said the department has now agreed to have officials present for the remainder of the ceremony.”
The AP explains, “The deaths are the highest recorded in Mpumalanga, surpassing the previous highest toll of eight some years ago, Mokoena said. He said early investigation by the House of Traditional Leaders showed some schools were negligent, leaving the youths in the care of young men instead of experienced adults.
“Mokoena said some of the initiates were not in ideal health when they enrolled. He said new legislation is being introduced outlining procedures to be followed, and including a punishment of a life ban for those found negligent.”
I’m going to stick with the American manhood initiation rites of a beer, cigarette and your favorite form of pornography.

US soldier gets life in prison for murdering five colleagues.
The Associated Press finds, “A US army sergeant has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2009 killings of five fellow service members at a combat stress clinic in Iraq.
“An army judge, Colonel David Conn, found Sergeant John Russell guilty of premeditated murder on Monday and imposed the sentence on Thursday. The only other possible penalty would have been life in prison with the possibility of release.”
The AP continues, “The 14-year veteran had previously pleaded guilty to unpremeditated murder in exchange for prosecutors removing the possibility of the death penalty. Under the agreement, prosecutors were allowed to try to prove to an army judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that the killings were premeditated. A streamlined court martial ended on Saturday.
“The shooting was one of the worst instances of soldier-on-soldier violence in the Iraq war and raised questions about the mental health problems for soldiers caused by repeated tours of duty.
“Russell’s lawyers argued that he was deluded by depression and despair at the time. An army mental health board found Russell suffered from severe depression with psychotic features and post-combat stress.
“Russell had long sought help with sleep troubles and was stammering and crying for help in the days before the shooting. His commanders were so alarmed that they disarmed him and sent him for repeated visits to mental health clinics, said attorney James Culp.
“However, prosecutors argued that Russell was trying to portray himself as mentally ill in an attempt to win early retirement, just as he was facing a sexual harassment complaint that could have derailed his career and his benefits.
“The day before the killings, psychiatrist Michael Jones told him that a mental disability retirement would require “some kind of suicidal psychotic crisis”, Major Daniel Mazzone said during closing arguments, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“But when Russell saw Jones again the next day, the psychiatrist said he had no intention of giving him ‘a golden ticket’ out of the army.”
I bet you didn’t think this story would have a ‘Willy Wonka’ reference.
The AP closes with, “When Russell returned about an hour later, prosecutors said, he was looking for Jones but wound up killing two patients, a bystander and two other mental health workers. Jones escaped injury by jumping out of a window.”
I have yet to ‘escape injury’ by jumping out of a window.

Russian military considering return to Afghanistan border.
Reuters informs us, “Russia, predicting instability once NATO-led troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, is considering deploying border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border, Moscow’s envoy to Kabul told Reuters in an interview.
“Moscow, still sore from its disastrous, decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is increasingly concerned by what it describes as the combined threat of narcotics and terrorism reaching Russia through former Soviet Central Asian countries.”
Andrey Avetisyan said late on Thursday in the Russian embassy in Kabul, “We prefer to tackle this problem on the Afghan border to stop these threats.
“We used to have a serious presence on the Afghan-Tajik border and, at that time, the situation there was much better, so it would be in the interest of both Russia and Tajikistan and even Afghanistan if Russia is present there.”
Reuters adds, “Russian border guards used to patrol the Tajik frontier with Afghanistan but left in 2005, ending a Soviet-era legacy and handing all power over to local authorities. Ex-Soviet Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also border Afghanistan to its north.”
Reuters continues, “Intensifying violence across Afghanistan, less than two years before foreign combat troops withdraw, has sent tremors of worry across Russia, which is battling an Islamist insurgency in its North Caucasus as well as widespread use of heroin and a huge increase in the incidence of HIV and AIDS.
“Russia is involved in a series of ambitious construction projects in Afghanistan, including rebuilding its Soviet-era cultural centre, aimed at fostering stability in the country which produces 90 percent of the world’s opium.
“Avetisyan, who also worked for the Soviet government in Kabul during Moscow’s war, said fighting in northern Afghanistan — traditional bastions of anti-Taliban power groups — offers proof of a ‘general destabilisation of the situation’.”
Avetisyan goes on to ask, “What have [the US] been doing for the past 12 years [in Afghanistan]?
“Fighting against terrorism with 150,000 troops without any success. [A continued troop presence after 2014] doesn’t make any sense.
“A long-term or permanent military presence of a foreign force will be a reason of concern for us, especially if they are military bases. We would like to know what the purpose is and we still don’t have answers to these questions.”
Don’t hold your breath while waiting for those answers.

At least 15,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews take to Israel’s streets to protest military conscription.
Deutsche Welle observes, “Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken to the streets of Jerusalem in protest over plans by the Israeli government to enlist them in the military. Many are currently exempt on religious grounds.
“Police said between 15,000 to 20,000 protesters gathered outside the army recruiting office in Jerusalem, with some throwing stones and other objects at officers.
“Many wore black coats – the traditional attire of ultra-Orthodox men – and crowded streets around the office, hearing rabbis warn that the proposal would harm their way of life.
“In Israel, military service is compulsory; upon reaching 18 years of age, men are expected to serve three years and women two. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempt from military service on religious grounds, as well as most Arab citizens of Israel. The coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed to increasing the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men enlisted in the military, in order to more evenly share the burden across Israeli society.
“The party of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, fared well in January’s polls, in part owing to a promise to resist religious pressure on the issue of conscription. Broadening the military’s recruitment pool is strongly opposed by the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.”
DW adds, “Police said about a dozen arrests were made, with stun grenades used to calm the unrest, while a water cannon was deployed after rubbish bins were set alight. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least six officers required medical treatment and two were hospitalized.”
Next time someone tells you that all Israelis must serve in the military, remember it’s not true.

With raid of leading Shi’ite cleric’s home, Bahrain may have crossed “red line.”
Reuters tells us, “Bahraini security forces raided the house of top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim on Friday, the opposition said, an act likely to enrage the island’s majority Shi’ite population which is at loggerheads with its Sunni rulers.
“Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet has its base on Iran’s doorstep, has been in violent turmoil since Shi’ite-led pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011.
“Protests continue and often end in clashes between demonstrators and police. At least two people have died this year.
“Security personnel forced open the door of Sheikh Isa’s home in the village of Duraz in the early hours of Friday morning and searched the house, Bahrain’s main opposition bloc al-Wefaq said on its website.”
Reuters continues, “A leading Bahrain human rights activist said he believed security forces had entered the sheikh’s house in pursuit of fugitives who had fled there from a neighboring house.”
Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, is quoted saying, “This is the first time (his house was raided) and it’s hugely offensive for a huge number of Shi’ites in Bahrain.
“People see him as a red line. I expect that this will cause a big reaction.”
Let the protests and US media blackout commence.

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