UN: On third anniversary of ‘Islamic State’ attack on Yazidis, genocide continues

In August 2014, “Islamic State” militants launched what the UN calls a genocidal campaign against the religious and ethnic minority in northern Iraq. Despite the ouster of IS, the Yazidis’ ordeal is far from over.

Traumazentrum im Irak (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Martins)

A United Nations human rights committee investigating violations of international law in Syria said Thursday that Yazidis continued to face atrocities at the hands of “Islamic State” (IS) militants – and the world isn’t doing enough about it.

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WorldLink: Helping victims of Islamic State

“The genocide is ongoing and remains largely unaddressed, despite the obligations of States party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 to prevent and to punish the crime,” the OHCHR commission wrote in a statement to mark the anniversary of IS launching an assault on the Yazidis of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq near the Syrian border.

Read more: From the Sinjar mountains to Germany’s Rhineland: a Yazidi refugee’s story

The Yazidis, a religious community whose belief and practices span thousands of years, are reviled as infidels by IS. During the assault, their militants killed and kidnapped thousands of Yazidis, forcing many to flee their home region. The images of stricken survivors trapped on Mount Sinjar in its aftermath prompted the US to launch airstrikes against IS in Iraq.

Boys missing, girls enslaved

Three years on, thousands of Yazidi men and boys remain missing and IS continues to subject about 3,000 Yazidi women and girls in Syria to horrific violence, including daily rapes and beatings, the commission said, adding that it had received reports of IS fighters trying to sell enslaved Yazidi women and girls as international forces close in on its stronghold of Raqqa.

The commission called for everyone fighting against IS to work toward rescuing Yazidi captives and for the international community to recognize that IS was committing genocide against Yazidis and they should be brought to justice.

Sinjar and the region surrounding it had been home to about 400,000 Yazidi people before the IS onslaught began. IS has been driven out of the area but only about 1,000 Yazidi families have returned to Sinjar city. That’s because various groups including Kurdish and Shiite forces which drove out IS are vying for control of the area, making it difficult to guarantee security and advance reconstruction efforts.

Read more: A town in ruins: Sinjar liberated from IS

“The lack of services and political problems are preventing families from returning,” Jalal Khalaf, the director of the mayor’s office in Sinjar, told Reuters.

Watch video08:48

Psychologist helps IS victims in Iraq

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‘Excessive risk’: Leading NGOs unite to criticize Mosul bombing campaign

‘Excessive risk’: Leading NGOs unite to criticize Mosul bombing campaign
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, War Child and other advocacy groups have banded together to condemn the use of “inherently indiscriminate weapons” during the campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“The United Nations has estimated that 200,000 civilians remain in the two-square-kilometer area in west Mosul’s Old City, which Iraqi and US-led coalition forces are encircling in preparation for the battle there,” said a joint statement from the six prominent NGOs.

Iraq/US-Led Coalition: Weapons Choice Endangers Mosul Civilians http://ow.ly/9ctY50c1bO8 

Photo published for Iraq/US-Led Coalition: Weapons Choice Endangers Mosul Civilians

Iraq/US-Led Coalition: Weapons Choice Endangers Mosul Civilians

Thousands of families are trapped by ISIS in west Mosul, with its fighters preventing civilians from fleeing to safety. Iraqi and coalition forces should recognize that in the crowded Old City, using…

hrw.org

“All warring parties should cease using explosive weapons with wide area effects and inherently indiscriminate weapons in densely populated west Mosul. ISIS’s unlawful use of civilians as ‘human shields’ and the difficulty of identifying civilians in buildings increases the risk of civilian casualties.”

Iraqi forces, with air support provided by the US-led coalition, has been engaged in fierce urban combat, trying to wrestle Iraq’s second city back from the jihadists since October last year.

The remaining Islamic State forces, who Iraqis believe are readying to die in battle, are housed in fortified positions in the densely-built western side of the city, where civilian houses have been booby-trapped and turned into passage ways for the jihadists.

“Thousands of families are trapped by ISIS in west Mosul, with its fighters preventing civilians from fleeing to safety,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Iraqi and coalition forces should recognize that in the crowded Old City, using explosive weapons with wide area effects puts civilians at excessive risk.”

The statement was published the same day the UN said up to 80 civilians were killed in one strike on May 31.

The coalition says 484 civilians have been confirmed as accidental airstrike victims since the campaign began, but Airways, one of signatories of the open letter, estimates the death toll to be at nearly 4,000.

“Rising civilian casualties from aerial operations have heightened concerns regarding coalition and Iraqi forces use of airstrikes. The use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects such as air-dropped bombs of 500lbs and above, which have been used in the context of the operation, in densely populated civilian areas of western Mosul may be resulting in civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects that is excessive to the anticipated military objectives of the strikes,” said the NGOs.

“Such disproportionate military attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

But there is also urgency in completing the capture of the city, which has been under ISIS’ yoke since 2014, and where civilians are suffering the most.

The UN said at least 231 civilians have been shot by Islamic State as they attempted to flee the city, but the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe will not likely be known until the city is clear.

“Those fleeing Mosul have told humanitarian and human rights organizations that markets are being emptied of food, with civilians subsisting on little more than wheat and rainwater,” reported the NGOs.

In a summary of their recommendations, apart from reducing the number of airstrikes, the six advocacy groups urged less use of Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), mortars, and multi-barrel rocket launchers.

‘IS’ digs its heels in as Iraqi troops advance in Mosul

As the Iraqi army begins to surrounding them, the so-called “Islamic State” jihadist group has responded with a campaign of car bombs and sniper fire. Mosul was the terrorists’ last urban stronghold.

Irak Kämpfe im Westen von Mosul (Reuters/Stringer)

Snipers and suicide bombers fighting for the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadist group targeted combatants and civilians alike in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday. The terrorists seemed determined to fight to the last amidst a government push to completely retake the city.

Mosul had been the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, but recent offenses have cornered the jihadists into select pockets of the old city. Despite this, they continued their campaign of suicide car bombings and snipers placed on rooftops to making the fighting difficult in the neighborhoods they control, already a challenge because of the narrow streets and dense civilian population.

Read more: Iraqi army launches operation to seize last ‘IS’ enclave in Mosul

There were “sporadic” clashes on Sunday, according to Baghdad, and at least two military officers were killed in fighting near the Tigris River in the city’s Shafaa neighborhood.

Karte Mossul ENGIS’ remaining strongholds (click to enlarge)

On Saturday, however, US-backed Iraqi forces were able to take control of key territory as they try to surround IS from three different directions. They were able to capture the Ibn Sina hospital, which is also in the Shafaa neighborhood, providing them access to a major medical complex that the terrorists have controlled since they swept through the city in 2014.

Since Friday, the government has been working to get civilians out of the targeted areas, dropping leaflets to alert citizens to “safe passages” where they could flee with the help of “guides, protectors and (transportation).”

US admits high non-combatant casualties

The push to protect civilians came as the US military was receiving heavy criticism for the amount of civilian deaths caused by its coalition against IS.

The Pentagon recently admitted that one of its airstrikes had killed 105 non-combatants in Mosul in March, the largest single loss of civilian life since the coalition began its bombing campaign.

Watch video01:08

The destruction in western Mosul

According to a military investigation, both Iraqi forces and US military advisors did not know there were so many people in the building that collapsed as a result of the strikes near an IS target. They were similarly unaware that IS had placed explosives at the site, the report said.

In an interview on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that “everything humanly possible” is done to avoid civilian casualties, but in this kind of asymmetrical conflict, it becomes “a fact of life” that innocents could die.

Read more: US plan to ‘annihilate IS’ raises questions over civilian toll, larger strategy

“We have not changed the rules of engagement,” Mattis clarified to the CBS program Face the Nation. “There is no relaxation of our intention to protect the innocent.”

Mattis laid the blame for the deaths in Mosul at the hands of IS, saying the way they had laid explosives under the building full of civilians illustrated their “callous disregard that is characterized by every operation they have run.”

es/rc (AP, AFP)

Watch video03:40

Battle for Mosul: Revina Shamdasani (UNHCR spokesperson) speaks to DW

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ISIS executing civilians for trying to flee Mosul – eyewitnesses

ISIS executing civilians for trying to flee Mosul – eyewitnesses
Islamic State militants have been killing scores of civilians attempting to flee the war-torn city of Mosul in Iraq, according to eyewitness reports, with as many as 50 people being put to death in the latest mass execution.

Fighting in western Mosul has been intensifying in recent weeks as Iraqi troops, backed by Shia and Kurdish militias as well as airstrikes from the US-led coalition, close in on the Old City, a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

As it loses territory, IS has told the local population that the approaching forces will kill or imprison them in an attempt to deter people fleeing. But when this doesn’t work, the militant group has turned to mass executions of would-be refugees. In the latest incident, 50 civilians were executed in western Mosul on Saturday, a local source told Alsumaria News.

Another witness, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters he found a relative’s mutilated body left hanging on an electric pole in the Tenek district, along with three others who tried to flee.

“Their appearance was shocking. We weren’t able to get them down and they have been there for two days,” he said.

A woman who successfully made it out of IS-occupied territory described her narrow escape.

“They took our bags thinking there was gold or money in them and as they were busy checking the contents, we fled through the houses taking advantage of the pitch darkness,” she told Reuters. “I fear those families who stayed in Daesh’s [pejorative term for IS] grip met a terrible fate.”

The Kurdistan Regional Security Council has said that 140 civilians were killed trying to flee IS-controlled areas on Monday and Tuesday.

US military sources say that IS is using the civilian population as human shields in order to maximize casualties, giving the militants a propaganda boost.

“They brought the civilians back into the fight,” Brig. Gen. John Richardson, a coalition deputy commanding general in Irbil, told the Stars and Stripes, adding that Iraqi soldiers had recently found nine headless bodies at a traffic circle, along with a sign threatening more killings if anyone else tried to flee. “They’re actually telling them to stay in the neighborhoods.”

Some 150,000 civilians have fled the city, with a further 600,000 still in Mosul, 400,000 of whom are trapped in the embattled Old City, according to the United Nations.

But while the US-led forces might shift the responsibility for civilian casualties onto IS, scores have been reportedly dying in coalition airstrikes as well. In March, a Pentagon spokesman admitted the US “probably had a role” in a single bombing that killed around 240 people alone.

“You know that at the end of the missile there are four flaps, on that cartridge was written ‘made in USA’,” one man, who lost his wife and whose four-year-old child was left badly disfigured in separate airstrikes, told RT.

Biblical king’s palace uncovered beneath shrine destroyed by ISIS

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Archaeologists in Mosul have made a stunning find beneath the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah that was destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2014: the long-hidden palace of ancient Assyrian King Sennacherib.

Experts were documenting the jihadists’ destruction of the tomb’s ruins when they located the palace, which dates back to 600 B.C. ISIS had dug tunnels into the site in a search for ancient artifacts to plunder, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reports that Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih found a marble cuneiform inscription of Assyrian King Esarhaddon inside one of the tunnels. The inscription is believed to date to 672 B.C. when the palace was part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

TREASURE HUNTERS STRIKE GOLD WITH ANCIENT JEWELRY FIND

One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform harnesses wedge-shaped marks and was widely used in ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.

The palace was built for the Assyrian King Sennarcherib, expanded by his son Esarhaddon, and renovated by his grandson King Ashurbanipal, according to the Telegraph, which notes that the palace was partly destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Sennacherib’s invasion of the ancient kingdom of Judah is extensively documented in the Bible. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal are also mentioned in scripture, although feature less prominently.

Elsewhere in the tunnel, archaeologists found ancient Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, the Telegraph reports.

ANCIENT HONORS: INSCRIPTIONS UNCOVERED AT SYNAGOGUE IN ISRAEL

The Tomb of Jonah, or Nebi Yunus in Arabic, is located on a hill in Eastern Mosul. The site was recaptured from ISIS by the Iraqi army last month during its Mosul offensive.

Jonah is revered in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. The Prophet’s tomb, which was located within a Sunni mosque, was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.

Dr. Paul Collins, Chair of The British Institute for the Study of Iraq, which is working with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and UNESCO to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, told Fox News that there could be more damage at the site. “The tunnels, probably dug for looting, are in imminent danger of collapse,” he explained, via email. “If this happens the result will be even more destruction at a site that had already been devastated by the explosions that destroyed the ancient Shrine of Jonah – in effect we will lose a place where Iraq’s ancient, medieval and modern cultural heritage rests one above the other.”

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Archaeologists have been aware since the nineteenth century that ancient Assyrian royal buildings are beneath the shrine, according to Collins, who notes that inscriptions and a relief from a dig in the 1870s are now in the British Museum. “Iraqi excavations in the 1950s revealed an entrance to an Assyrian royal arsenal and in 1990 a large Assyrian building to the east of the mosque guarded by colossal human-headed winged bulls was excavated, but this work came to an end with the Iraq/Kuwait war,” he said.

Interview: Gains made to retake Mosul and Raqqa from ISIL

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military and U.S.-backed opposition forces in Syria are advancing on the Islamic State’s key strongholds with a new confidence not seen since the militants routed Iraqi forces two years ago, U.S. military commanders said.

“It’s fair to say we have the initiative,” Army Lt. Gen.Sean MacFarland, the top coalition commander here, said in an interview at his headquarters. “The momentum is growing.”

He said Iraqi forces in recent weeks have made rapid advances toward the city ofMosul, while U.S.-backed opposition forces in northern Syria are advancing on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital.

“We’re closing in on both of them,” MacFarland said about Mosul and Raqqa.

MacFarland and other top leaders acknowledge that tough fighting lies ahead. Both cities are home to thousands of civilians, and the U.S.-backed forces will face a complex urban battlefield, making it difficult to use airstrikes against the militants.

Commanders declined to predict about timing, but any final assault is at least still months away. Raqqa will likely take longer.

Militants have had two years to build a network of defenses in and around Mosul, and Iraqi forces are just now arriving at the outer belts. The coalition estimates between 5,000 and 6,000 fighters are inside the densely populated city.

“We expect that the fight will get more and more difficult the closer we get to Mosul,” Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky said.

The progress of recent weeks has given an air of inevitability to the campaign in both Iraq and Syria, as airstrikes and ground fighting have worn down the Islamic State.

Iraq’s military, much of which collapsed when the Islamic State swept into Iraq from Syria two years ago, has had a string of successes, including the recapture ofFallujah and Ramadi. Last month, U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes decimated a militant convoy attempting to flee Fallujah, killing more than 400 militants.

As Iraqi forces were driving the Islamic State from Fallujah, other forces advanced on Mosul in a series of complex maneuvers that highlighted the progress Iraq’s military has made both in capabilities and willingness to fight.

Iraq’s 9th armored division and a brigade of Iraqi special operations forces spearheaded an advance of more than 50 miles up the Tigris River Valley. Iraqi forces also built an expeditionary bridge across the Tigris while fighting militants.

“This is a different Iraqi army than what was here a year ago,” Volesky said.

The bridge and the Qayyarah West air base, about 39 miles south of Mosul, will ensure secure supply lines for the Mosul offensive and have disrupted and isolated militants in the area south of Mosul.

In Syria, U.S.-backed opposition forces have circled the town of Manbij and seized parts of the city, including a hospital where militants had set up a headquarters.

Capturing the city would consolidate territory held by U.S.-backed forces in northern Syria and also prove the worth of a growing number of U.S.-backed Arab fighters who will be essential for taking Raqqa, about 70 miles south of Manbij.

The U.S. military backs a force of about 30,000 opposition fighters in Syria. The U.S. has deployed about 300 special operations forces to the region to help organize and recruit opposition fighters willing to take on the Islamic State.

Still, much of the success in battling the Islamic State in northern Syria has been the work of Kurdish forces, who have pushed the militants out of their territory. The United States has attempted to build a coalition of Arab forces who can expand the fighting beyond Kurdish-controlled areas.

Earlier this year the White House authorized an additional 250 special operations forces to deploy to Syria, largely to expand Arab involvement in the Syrian Defense Force.

Manbij is a key test of those efforts. “We’re learning a lot about how to work with theSyrian Arab Coalition in the Manbij fight,” MacFarland said. The U.S.-led coalition has refined its ability to coordinate airstrikes with the forces fighting in Manjib, providing the opposition with a key advantage over the militants.

The fighting has been difficult, since the militants defending Manbij put up a more determined resistance than many of their counterparts in Iraq.

“They are more inclined to trade space for time in Iraq,” MacFarland said. “They’re less able to do that in Syria, because Syria is really their core holding.”

But the opposition force, most of whom are part of the Arab coalition, continued to press into the city, raising hopes it will be capable of expanding and taking on militants in Raqqa.

“It has been building by building, block by block fighting,” he said of Manbij.

Commanders expect to see similar resistance in Raqqa. “The enemy will probably fight harder in Raqqa than they will in Mosul,” MacFarland said.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, is increasingly turning to terror attacks on civilian targets around the world as it has lost territory in Iraq and Syria.

“When Mosul falls, it’s not going to be like ISIL is just going to disappear,” Volesky said. “They are going to go out and try to maintain relevance.”

The U.S.-led coalition will need to continue pressuring the Islamic State even if it loses its self-proclaimed caliphate, officials said.

“Destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. “ISIL’s influence and activities continue to pose a threat.”

 

Obama Talks About Terrorism and Demagoguery

DECEMBER 7, 2015

BY AMY DAVIDSON
ShareTweetPresident Barack Obama, speaking from the Oval Office on Sunday night.
President Barack Obama, speaking from the Oval Office on Sunday night.
CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY SAUL LOEB/GETTY
“So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people,” President Barack Obama said near the beginning of his speech, delivered from the Oval Office on Sunday night, in response to the shooting in San Bernardino. Obama looked tired as he began, and the address, despite moments of real feeling, had a certain built-in weariness. When it comes to gun violence, the President believes—as he said last Wednesday, after Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed fourteen people with semi-automatic assault rifles that had been purchased legally, and said again last night—that there are very easy and effective things he could do to help if only Congress would let him, which it won’t. When it comes to terrorism, there are things that are very hard that he is nonetheless trying to do, he keeps telling people (“Since the day I took this office, I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad. … For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes” against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), even as politicians in both parties talk about destroying ISIS as if it were a matter of simple will, which Obama somehow lacked. This is particularly true of those running for President.

More strongly, Obama spoke about the positions that some politicians have found it easy or, rather, tempting, to push now and yet are dangerous or corrosive. “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam,” he said. “If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.” He didn’t mention any of the Republican candidates by name, or refer directly to the Presidential race. But he did mention some of the rhetoric that has been bandied about regarding “religious tests on who we admit into this country” (Ted Cruz) and “proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently” (Donald Trump). Americans had a responsibility “to reject discrimination,” Obama said, “because when we travel down that road, we lose. … Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our coworkers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.”
At times, Obama seemed to be carrying out a dialogue with the conservatives who complain, with no factual basis, that he doesn’t believe America is exceptional. “Let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear,” he said. He also said that while ISIS did not “speak for” Islam—they were a tiny faction of “thugs and killers, part of a cult of death”; most of their victims were Muslim—there was no denying that “an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.” He added, “This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.” Confronting it meant speaking out not only against the violence but the ideology, he said, meaning “those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.” Of course, as Obama seemed to recognize, it may be easier for Muslim leaders to focus on exhorting members of their community to adhere to those values if they themselves experience them in this country, and are not disdained by their fellow citizens and leaders. But there is no artifice in the message itself; these things are worth saying, even, or especially, when one is surrounded by bigots.

Speaking of which, Donald Trump didn’t like the speech. He announced big plans to live-tweet it, only to be caught by surprise when it ended after about fifteen minutes, before he’d had a chance to find anything particularly devastating: “Is that all there is? We need a new President—FAST!” He then complained about Obama using the acronym ISIL instead of ISIS “like almost everyone else” (fair enough), about the absence of a reference to “WAR with radical Islamic terrorists” (Obama: “we are at war with ISIL“), and, peculiarly, that “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?” To that, some social-media users tweeted pictures of Trump standing with Muhammad Ali.

Trump and others have worked to turn wariness about Muslims and about immigrants generally into one big belt of fear. On this subject, Obama’s speech included a point of confusion. “I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa-waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country,” he said. Within hours, the White House had added a correction to the official transcript: he hadn’t meant to say “waiver,” since Malik did not come to the U.S. under that program, which is what allows people from thirty-eight countries, ranging from Switzerland to Singapore, to enter the country without being interviewed for a visa. She came on a K-1 “fiancée” visa, and underwent screening for it. (Farook, her husband, was born here.) Obama said that there wasn’t yet evidence that the couple had been dispatched by ISIS, as opposed to self-radicalizing, but said that they had certainly gone down a “dark path.”
Obama asked for another sort of clarification: “If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.” There should be a caveat there: when and if he gets an authorization, its wording should not be so elastic that it can be used for just about anything. Indeed, the contours of the Administration’s planned military action were the blurriest part of the speech. High on Obama’s list of what should not be done was this: “We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.” But this may represent an aspiration rather an actual line that won’t be crossed. At the same time, Obama mentioned “deploying special-operations forces” in both countries, air strikes directed not only at ISIS leaders but at “infrastructure,” and the provisioning of tens of thousands of local forces.

If the speech had a single theme, it was that confrontation with ISIS would involve collaboration more than anything else. In addition to Congress and Muslim communities at home, Obama’s plan includes working with “friends and allies” on the battlefield, in stopping the financing of terror, and in other areas: “We’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies. We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria.” America is also, he said, working with the international community on “a process—and timeline—to pursue ceasefires and a political resolution to the Syrian war.” This, Obama said, would allow everyone, from the Russians to the Syrian people, to concentrate on fighting ISIS, “a group that threatens us all.” What that means in terms of the future of the Assad regime may be the hardest question to answer. (Obama also said that he would “urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice,” something that sounds practical but could have troubling civil-liberties implications.)

“The threat of terrorism is real, but we will overcome it,” Obama said. With a slight tweak of the words, he might have gone for “we shall overcome,” and echoed both the civil-rights anthem and Lyndon Johnson’s great address on the need for the Voting Rights Act, which was also about what was considered, in its time, to be an intractable problem. Obama did not come close to those rhetorical heights on Sunday night. One unusual element of the address was that the President, who had only twice before spoken from the Oval Office, didn’t sit at the desk—the Resolute Desk, a piece of furniture so iconic that it has a name—but stood at a lectern that his staff had set up in front of it. Apparently, speaking while sitting is not a mode he favors. The effect, though, was somewhat awkward. Some of his most powerful moments as a speaker have come after mass shootings, but they also have tended to be the addresses in which he found his theme in memorializing individual victims. On Sunday night, they were presented as a group, a variegated abstraction: “They were white and black; Latino and Asian; immigrants and American-born; moms and dads; daughters and sons.” Perhaps the great speech on San Bernardino is one he has yet to give. For now, the people taking up too much space in his head seemed, again, to be the Presidential candidates. If Obama’s speech was a message to them, it was straightforward: stop making the easy things hard and the hard ones a matter of demagoguery.

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amy davidson
Amy Davidson is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between.
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